His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet. He was born on 6 July 1935, to a farming family, in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, northeastern Tibet. At the very young age of two, the child who was named Lhamo Dhondup at that time, was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso.
The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are believed to be enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth in order to serve humanity.
Education in Tibet
His Holiness began his monastic education at the age of six. The curriculum consisted of five major and five minor subjects. The major subjects were logic, Tibetan art and culture, Sanskrit, medicine, and Buddhist philosophy. The five minor subjects were poetry, music and drama, astrology, composition and phrasing, and synonyms. At 23, he passed with honors and was awarded the Geshe Lharampa degree, the highest-level degree, equivalent to a doctorate of Buddhist philosophy.
In 1950 His Holiness was called upon to assume full political power after China’s invasion of Tibet in 1949/50. But finally, in 1959, with the brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops, His Holiness was forced to escape into exile. Since then he has been living in Dharamsala, northern India.
On 21 September 1987 in his address to members of the United States Congress in Washington, DC, His Holiness proposed a Five-Point Peace Plan for Tibet as the first step towards a peaceful solution to the worsening situation in Tibet. The peace plan contained five basic components:
- Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace.
- Abandonment of China’s population transfer policy that threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people.
- Respect for the Tibetan people’s fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms.
- Restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment and the abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste.
- Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.
On 15 June 1988 in an address to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, His Holiness made another detailed proposal elaborating on the last point of the Five-Point Peace Plan. He proposed talks between the Chinese and Tibetans leading to a self-governing democratic political entity for all three provinces of Tibet. This entity would be in association with the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Government would continue to remain responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy and defense.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a man of peace. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.
His Holiness has travelled to more than 67 countries spanning 6 continents. He has received over 150 awards include Templeton prize award, honorary doctorates, prizes, etc., in recognition of his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion. He has also authored or co-authored more than 110 books.
His Holiness has held dialogues with heads of different religions and participated in many events promoting inter-religious harmony and understanding.
Three Main Commitments
His Holiness has three main commitments in life.
Firstly, on the level of a human being, His Holiness’ first commitment is the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline. All human beings are the same. We all want happiness and do not want suffering. Even people who do not believe in religion recognize the importance of these human values in making their life happier. His Holiness refers to these human values as secular ethics. He remains committed to talk about the importance of these human values and share them with everyone he meets.
Secondly, on the level of a religious practitioner, His Holiness’ second commitment is the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religious traditions. Despite philosophical differences, all major world religions have the same potential to create good human beings. It is therefore important for all religious traditions to respect one another and recognize the value of each other’s respective traditions. As far as one truth, one religion is concerned; this is relevant on an individual level. However, for the community at large, several truths, several religions are necessary.
Thirdly, His Holiness is a Tibetan and carries the name of the ‘Dalai Lama’. Therefore, his third commitment is to work to preserve Tibet’s Buddhist culture, a culture of peace and non-violence.
Devolution of Political Authority
In 1950, at the young age of 16, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to take the temporal and religious authority of Tibet. Even at this tender age, he found the system of governance not satisfactory and initiated reforms to rectify the administrative flaws and to improve the welfare of the common people. Unfortunately, these reforms could not make much headway because of Chinese interference. Soon after His escape into exile in 1959, he initiated democracy and election in Tibetan community. In 1960, the first 13 deputies of people were elected: three each from the three provinces and one each from the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
Since then His Holiness dedicated his life in mustering international support for justice and freedom for his homeland and for the welfare of his people. He nurtured and led the poor and displaced refugee community to a strong and vibrant democratic polity in exile. After more than sixty years of selfless service, he devolved his political authority to the democratically elected leadership in 2011. Today, the Tibetan community in exile boasts of a highly democratic and vibrant administration.
Although His Holiness the Dalai Lama has retired from the Tibetan political leadership, he still remains the spiritual head and hope of the Tibetans in and outside Tibet. He travels around the world preaching the message of Buddha and Gandhi: peace, tolerance and compassion. He is highly revered and respected by international community as apostle of peace and non-violence. His message of promotion of human value and religious harmony has gained international following and acclamation.