Dalai Lama


Dalai Lama
/dah"luy lah"meuh/
(formerly) the ruler and chief monk of Tibet, believed to be a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara and sought for among newborn children after the death of the preceding Dalai Lama. Cf. Tashi Lama.
[ < Mongolian, equiv. to dalai ocean + lama a celibate priest]

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Head of the dominant Dge-lugs-pa order of Tibetan Buddhism.

The first of the line was Dge-'dun-grub-pa (1391–1475), founder of a monastery in central Tibet. His successors were regarded as his reincarnations and, like himself, manifestations of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. The second head of the order established the 'Brasspungs monastery near Lhasa as its base, and the third received the title Dalai ("Ocean") from Altan Khan. The fifth, Ngag-dbang-rgya-mtsho (1617–1682), established the supremacy of the Dge-lugs-pa over other orders. The 13th Dalai Lama, Thub-bstan-rgya-mtsho (1875–1933), held temporal and spiritual power after the Chinese were expelled in 1912. The 14th and current Dalai Lama, Bstan-'dzin-rgya-mtsho (b. 1935), was enthroned in 1940 but fled in 1959 with 100,000 followers after a failed revolt against the Chinese, who had gained control of Tibet in 1950–51. His government-in-exile is in Dharmsala, India. A respected figure worldwide, he was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his "constructive and forward-looking proposals" for solving world problems.

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▪ Tibetan leader
 head of the dominant Dge-lugs-pa (Yellow Hat) order of Tibetan Buddhists and, until 1959, both spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet.

      The first of the line was Dge-'dun-grub-pa (1391–1475), founder and abbot of Tashilhunpo monastery (central Tibet). In accordance with the belief in reincarnate lamas, which began to develop in the 14th century, his successors were conceived as his rebirths and came to be regarded as physical manifestations of the compassionate bodhisattva (“buddha-to-be”), Avalokiteshvara (Avalokiteśvara).

      The second head of the Dge-lugs-pa order, Dge-'dun-rgya-mtsho (1475–1542), became the head abbot of the 'Bras-spungs (Drepung) monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa, which thenceforward was the principal seat of the Dalai Lama. His successor, Bsod-nams-rgya-mtsho (1543–88), while on a visit to the Mongol chief Altan Khan, received from that ruler the honorific title ta-le (Anglicized as “dalai”), the Mongolian equivalent of the Tibetan rgya-mtsho, meaning “ocean” and presumably suggesting breadth and depth of wisdom. The title was subsequently applied posthumously to the abbot's two predecessors. The Tibetans themselves call the Dalai Lama Rgyal-ba Rin-po-che (“Precious Conqueror”).

      The fourth Dalai Lama, Yon-tan-rgya-mtsho (1589–1617), was a great-grandson of Altan Khan and the only non-Tibetan Dalai Lama.

      The next Dalai Lama, Ngag-dbang-rgya-mtsho (1617–82), is commonly called the Great Fifth. He established, with the military assistance of the Khoshut Mongols, the supremacy of the Dge-lugs-pa sect over rival orders for the temporal rule of Tibet. During his reign the majestic winter palace of the Dalai Lamas, the Potala (Potala Palace), was built in Lhasa.

      The sixth Dalai Lama, Tshangs-dbyangs-rgya-mtsho (1683–1706), was a libertine and a writer of romantic verse, not entirely suited for a seat of such authority. He was deposed by the Mongols and died while being taken to China under military escort.

      The seventh Dalai Lama, Bskal-bzang-rgya-mtsho (1708–57), experienced civil war and the establishment of Chinese Manchu suzerainty over Tibet; the eighth, 'Jam-dpal-rgya-mtsho (1758–1804), saw his country invaded by Gurkha troops from Nepal but defeated them with the aid of Chinese forces. The next four Dalai Lamas all died young, and the country was ruled by regents. They were Lung-rtogs-rgya-mtsho (1806–15), Tshul-khrims-rgya-mtsho (1816–37), Mkhas-grub-rgya-mtsho (1838–56), and 'Phrin-las-rgya-mtsho (1856–75).

      The 13th Dalai Lama, Thub-bstan-rgya-mtsho (1875–1933), ruled with great personal authority. The successful revolt within China against its ruling Manchu dynasty in 1912 gave the Tibetans the opportunity to dispel the disunited Chinese troops, and the Dalai Lama reigned as head of a sovereign state.

      The 14th in the line of Dalai Lamas, Bstan-'dzin-rgya-mtsho (Dalai Lama XIV), was born Lhamo Thondup in 1935 in what is currently Tsinghai province, China, of Tibetan parentage. He was recognized as the incarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1937, enthroned in 1940, and vested with full powers as head of state in 1950. He fled to exile in India in 1959, the year of the Tibetan people's unsuccessful revolt against communist Chinese forces that had occupied the country since 1950. The Dalai Lama set up a government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, in the Himalayan Mountains. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end Chinese domination of Tibet. He has written a number of books on Tibetan Buddhism and an autobiography. (See Sidebar: A Call to Compassion.)

Additional Reading
Freedom in Exile is his autobiography. Roger Hicks and Nga-kpa Chögyam, Great Ocean (1984, reissued 1990), is an authorized biography. Noel Barber, From the Land of Lost Content: The Dalai Lama's Fight for Tibet (1969), is based on interviews with numerous people. Sidney Piburn (compiler), The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness, 2nd ed. (1993), is a collection of essays by and about him.

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Universalium. 2010.

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