Dalai Lama


The Dalai Lama was born on 6 July 1935, named Lhamo Thondup, to a poor family in Taktser in the province of Amdo. The name, Lhamo Thondup, literally means 'Wish-Fulfilling Goddess'. Taktser (Roaring Tiger) was a small and poor settlement which stood on a hill overlooking a broad valley. "Its pastures had not been settled or farmed for long, only grazed by nomads. The reason for this was the unpredictability of the weather in that area," The Dalai Lama writes in his autobiography 'Freedom in Exile'. "During my early childhood, my family was one of twenty or so making a precarious living from the land there."

The Dalai Lama's parents were small farmers who mostly grew barley, buckwheat and potatoes. The Dalai Lama's father was a man of medium height with a very quick temper. I remember pulling at his moustache once and being hit hard for my trouble," recalls the Dalai Lama. "Yet he was a kind man too and he never bore any grudges." The Dalai Lama recalls his mother as "undoubtedly one of the kindest people I have ever known."

The Dalai Lama had an elder sister and three elder brothers at that time. Tsering Dolma, the eldest child, was eighteen years older than the Dalai Lama. "At the time of my birth she helped my mother run the house and acted as my midwife. When she delivered me, she noticed that one of my eyes was not properly open. Without hesitation she put her thumb on the reluctant lid and forced it wide fortunately without any ill effect," the Dalai Lama writes. The Dalai Lama's three elder brothers were Thupten Jigme Norbu - the eldest, who had already been recognised as the reincarnation of a high lama, Taktser Rinpoche - Gyalo Thondup and Lobsang Samten.

"Of course, no one had any idea that I might be anything other than an ordinary baby. It was almost unthinkable that more than one tulku (reincarnation) could be born into the same family and certainly my parents that I would be proclaimed Dalai Lama," His Holiness writes. Though the remarkable recovery made by the Dalai Lamaís father from his critical illness at the time of the Dalai Lama's birth was auspicious, it was not taken to be of great significance. "I myself likewise had no particular intimation of what lay ahead. My earliest memories are very ordinary." The Dalai Lama recollects his earliest memory, among others, of observing a group of children fighting and running to join in with the weaker side.

"One thing that I remember enjoying particularly as a very young boy was going into the hen coop to collect the eggs with my mother and then staying behind. I liked to sit in the hens' nest and make clucking noises. Another favourite occupation of mine as an infant was to pack things in a bag as if I was about to go on a long journey. "I'm going to Lhasa, I'm going to Lhasa," I would say. This, coupled with my insistence that I be allowed always to sit at the head of the table, was later said to be an indication that I must have known that I was destined for greater things."

The Dalai Lama is held to be the reincarnation of each of the previous thirteen Dalai Lamas of Tibet (the first having been born in 1351 AD), who are in turn considered to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, or Chenrezig, Bodhisattva of Compassion, holder of the White Lotus. The Dalai Lama is also believed to be a manifestation of Chenrezig, in fact the seventy-fourth in a lineage that can be traced back to a Brahmin boy who lived in the time of Buddha Shakyamuni. "I am often asked whether I truly believe this. The answer is not simple to give. But as a fifty-six year old, when I consider my experience during this present life, and given my Buddhist beliefs, I have no difficulty accepting that I am spiritually connected both to the thirteen previous Dalai Lamas, to Chenrezig and to the Buddha himself."

Discovery as Dalai Lama


When Lhamo Thondup was barely three years old, a search party that had been sent out by the Tibetan government to find the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama arrived at Kumbum monastery. It had been led there by a number of signs. One of these concerned the embalmed body of his predecessor, Thupten Gyatso, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who had died aged fifty-seven in 1933. During its period of sitting in state, the head was discovered to have turned from facing south to north-east. Shortly after that the Regent, himself a senior lama, had a vision. Looking into the waters of the sacred lake, Lhamoi Lhatso, in southern Tibet, he clearly saw the Tibetan letters Ah, Ka and Ma float into view. These were followed by the image of a three-storeyed monastery with a turquoise and gold roof and a path running from it to a hill. Finally, he saw a small house with strangely-shaped guttering. He was sure that the letter Ah referred to Amdo, the north-eastern province, so it was there that the search party was sent.

By the time they reached Kumbum, the members of the search party felt that they were on the right track. It seemed likely that if the letter Ah referred to Amdo, then Ka must indicate the monastery at Kumbum which was indeed three-storeyed and turquoise-roofed. They now only needed to locate a hill and a house with peculiar guttering. So they began to search the neighbouring villages. When they saw the gnarled branches of juniper wood on the roof of the Dalai Lamaís parentsí house, they were certain that the new Dalai Lama would not be far away. Nevertheless, rather than reveal the purpose of their visit, the group asked only to stay the night. The leader of the party, Kewtsang Rinpoche, then pretended to be a servant and spent much of the evening observing and playing with the youngest child in the house.

The child recognised him and called out Sera lama, Sera lama'. Sera was Kewtsang Rinpocheís monastery. Next day they left only to return a few days later as a formal deputation. This time they brought with them a number of things that had belonged to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, together with several similar items that did not. In every case, the infant correctly identified those belonging to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama saying, "It's mine. It's mine." This more or less convinced the search party that they had found the new incarnation. It was not long before the boy from Taktser was acknowledged to be the new Dalai Lama.

The boy Lhamo Thondup was first taken to Kumbum monastery. "There now began a somewhat unhappy period of my life," the Dalai Lama was to write later, reflecting on his separation from his parents and the unfamiliar surroundings. "However, there were two consolations to life at the monastery." First, the Dalai Lama's immediate elder brother Lobsang Samten was already there. The second consolation was the fact that his teacher was a very kind old monk, who often held his young disciple inside his gown.

Lhamo Thondup was eventually to be reunited with his parents and together they were to journey to Lhasa. This did not come about for some eighteen months, however, because Ma Bufeng refused to let the boy-incarnate be taken to Lhasa without payment of a large ransom. It was not until the summer of 1939 that he left for the capital, Lhasa, in a large party consisting his parents, his brother Lobsang Samten, members of the search party and other pilgrims.

The journey to Lhasa took three months. "I remember very little detail apart from a great sense of wonder at everything I saw: the vast herds of drong (wild yaks) ranging across the plains, the smaller groups of kyang (wild asses) and occasionally a shimmer of gowa and nawa, small deer which were so light and fast they might have been ghosts. I also loved the huge flocks of hooting geese we saw from time to time."

Lhamo Thondup's party was received by a group of senior government officials and escorted to Doeguthang plain, two miles outside the gates of the capital. The next day, a ceremony was held in which Lhamo Thondup was conferred the spiritual leadership of his people. Following this, he was taken off with Lobsang Samten to the Norbulingka, the summer palace of His Holiness, which lay just to the west of Lhasa.

During the winter of 1940, Lhamo Thondupwas taken to the Potala Palace, where he was officially installed as spiritual leader of Tibet. Soon after, the newly-recognised Dalai Lama was taken to Jokhang temple where His Holiness was inducted as a novice monk in a ceremony known as taphue, meaning 'cutting of the hair'. "From now on, I was to be shaven-headed and attired in maroon monkís robes."

His Holiness then began to receive his primary education. The curriculum - same as that for all monks pursuing a doctorate in Buddhist studies included logic, Tibtean art and culture, Sanskrit, medicine and Buddhist philosophy. The last and the most important (ìand most difficultî) was subdivided into further five categories: Prajnaparamita, the perfection of wisdom; Madhyamika, the philosophy of the Middle Way; Vinaya, the canon of monastic discipline; Abidharma, metaphysics; and Pramana, logic and epistemology.

Dalai Lama in his youth

On the day before the opera festival 'most favourite entertainment' summer 1950, the Dalai Lama was just coming out of the bathroom at the Norbulingka when His Holiness felt the earth beneath begin to move. As the scale of this natural phenomenon began to sink in, people naturally began to say that this was more than a simple earthquake: it was an omen.

Two days later, Regent Tathag received a telegram from the Governor of Kham, based in Chamdo, reporting a raid on a Tibetan post by Chinese soldiers. Already the previous autumn there had been cross-border incursions by Chinese Communists, who stated their intention of ìliberating Tibet from the hands of imperialist aggressorsî. "It now looked as if the Chinese were making good their threat. If that were so, I was well aware that Tibet was in grave danger for our army mustered no more than 8,500 officers and men. It would be no match for the recently victorious Peopleís Liberation Army (PLA)."

Two months later, in October, news reached Lhasa that an army of 80,000 soldiers of the PLA had crossed the Drichu river east of Chamdo. "So the axe had fallen. And soon, Lhasa must fall." As the winter drew on and the news got worse, people began to advocate that the Dalai Lama be given his majority, his full temporal power. The Government consulted the Nechung Oracle, 'a very tense moment', who came over to where the Dalai Lama was seated and laid a kata, a white offering scarf, on His Holiness's lap with the words "Thu-la bapí, 'His time has come.' At the age of fifteen, the Dalai Lama was on 17 November 1950 enthroned as the temporal leader of Tibet.

At the beginning of November, about a fortnight before the day of His Holiness's investiture, the Dalai lama's eldest brother arrived in Lhasa. "As soon as I set eyes on him, I knew that he had suffered greatly. Because Amdo, the province where we were both born, and in which Kumbum is situated, lies so close to China, it had quickly fallen under control of the Communists. .He himself was kept virtual prisoner in his monastery. At the same time, the Chinese endeavoured to indoctrinate him in the new Communist way of thinking and try to subvert him. They had a plan whereby they would set him free to go to Lhasa if he would undertake to persuade me to accept Chinese rule. If I resisted, he was to kill me. They would then reward him."

To mark the occasion of his ascension to power, the Dalai Lama granted general amnesty whereby all the prisoners were set free. "I was pleased to have this opportunity, although there were times that I regretted it. When I trained my telescope on the compound, it was empty save for a few dogs scavenging for scraps. It was as if something was missing from my life."

Shortly after the 15-year-old Dalai Lama found himself the undisputed leader of six million people facing the threat of a full-scale war, His Holiness appointed two new Prime Ministers. Lobsang Tashi became the monk Prime Minister and an experienced lay administrator, Lukhangwa, the lay Prime Minister.

"That done, I decided in consultation with them and the Kashag to send delegations abroad to America, Great Britain and Nepal in the hope of persuading these countries to intervene on our behalf. Another was to go to China in the hope of negotiating a withdrawal. These missions left towards the end of the year. Shortly afterwards, with the Chinese consolidating their forces in the east, we decided that I should move to southern Tibet with the most senior members of the Government. That way, if the situation deteriorated, I could easily seek exile across the border with India. Meanwhile, Lobsang Tashi and Lunkhangwa were to remain in an acting capacity."

While the Dalai Lama was in Dromo, which lay just inside the border with Sikkim, His Holiness received the news that while the delegation to China had reached its destination, each of the others had been turned back. "So it was almost impossible to believe that the British Government was now agreeing that China had some claim to authority over Tibet." The Dalai Lama was equally saddened by Americaís reluctance to help. ìI remember feeling great sorrow when I realised what this really meant: Tibet must expect to face the entire might of Communist China alone."

Frustrated by the indifference showed to Tibetís case by Great Britain and America, the Dalai Lama, in his last bid to avoid a full-scale Chinese invasion, sent Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, governor of Kham, to Beijing to open a dialogue with the Chinese. The delegation hadnít been given the power to reach at any settlement, apart from its entrusted task of convincing the Chinese leadership against invading Tibet.

"However, one evening, as I sat alone..A harsh, crackling voice announced that a Seventeen-Point 'Agreement' for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet had that day (May 23, 1951) been signed by representatives of the Government of the Peopleís Republic of China and what they called the 'Local Governmentí of Tibet.' As it turned out, the delegation headed by Ngabo had been forced into signing the agreement by the Chinese who even forged the Tibetan seal. The Chinese had in effect secured a major coup by winning Tibetan compliance, albeit at gun-point, to their terms of returning Tibet to the fold of the motherland.

Countdown to escape

The next nine years saw the Dalai Lama trying to evade a full-scale military takeover of Tibet by China on one hand and placating the growing resentment among Tibetan resistance fighters against the Chinese aggressors on the other. But disheartening reports of increasing brutality towards his own people continued to pour in when the young Dalai Lama was giving his final monastic examinations.