Belief in brief

Dalai Lama
Saturday, May 19, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:51 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dalai Lama is the political and spiritual leader of Tibet.

Dalai Lama is a Mongolian title that means “Ocean of Wisdom,” because Tibetans believe that the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara.

The Dalai Lamas are also believed to be manifestations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Chenrezig. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana in order to help others.


The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th Dalai Lama. He was born Lhamo Dhondrub on July 6, 1935, in a small village in northeastern Tibet. At the age of 2, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. The 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, died in 1933.

The current Dalai Lama, renamed Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso — Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom — began his monastic education at the age of 6.

In 1950, the Dalai Lama was asked to assume full political power after China’s invasion of Tibet in 1949.

In 1959, after Chinese troops suppressed a national Tibetan uprising, the Dalai Lama and about 100,000 men and women went into exile in India. Since then, they have been living in north India, in Dharamsala.

Dharamsala is known as “Little Lhasa,” and there, Tibetans have set up a government and rebuilt monasteries. They have also built schools in order to educate more than 10,000 children supported by international sponsors.

Work and travels

The Dalai Lama has three main commitments. He promotes values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and self-discipline; he promotes peace and understanding among the world’s major religions; and he is the spokesman of Tibetans in their struggle for peace with China. The Dalai Lama travels around the world spreading a message of peace. He first visited the United States and Canada in 1979. He has authored dozens of books, many of which have become best-sellers. On Dec. 10, 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo, Norway.


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