The Dalai Lama is a high lama in the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" branch of Tibetan Buddhism. The name is a combination of the Sino-Mongolian word (dalai) meaning "Ocean" and the Tibetan word bla-ma (with a silent "b") meaning "chief, high priest".
In religious terms, the Dalai Lama is believed by his devotees to be the rebirth of a long line of tulkus who are considered to be manifestations of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokite vara. Traditionally, the Dalai Lama is thought of as the latest reincarnation of a series of spiritual leaders who have chosen to be reborn in order to enlighten others. The Dalai Lama is often thought to be the leader of the Gelug School, but this position belongs officially to the Ganden Tripa, which is a temporary position appointed by the Dalai Lama who, in practice, exerts much influence. The line of Dalai Lamas began as a lineage of spiritual teachers; the 5th Dalai Lama assumed political authority over Tibet.
For certain periods between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lamas sometimes directed the Tibetan government, which administered portions of Tibet from Lhasa. The 14th Dalai Lama remained the head of state for the Central Tibetan Administration ("Tibetan government in exile") until his retirement on March 14, 2011. He has indicated that the institution of the Dalai Lama may be abolished in the future, and also that the next Dalai Lama may be found outside Tibet and may be female. The Chinese government was very quick to reject this and claimed that only they have the authority to select the next Dalai Lama.
The original use of the name Dalai Lama
In 1578 the Mongol ruler Altan Khan bestowed the title Dalai Lama on Sonam Gyatso. The title was later applied retrospectively to the two predecessors in his reincarnation line, Gendun Drup and Gendun Gyatso. Gendun Gyatso was also Sonam Gyatso's predecessor as abbot of Drepung monastery. However, the 14th Dalai Lama asserts that Altan Khan did not intend to bestow a title as such and that he intended only to translate the name "Sonam Gyatso" into Mongolian.
The 14th Dalai Lama commented:
Whatever the intention may have been originally, the Mongolian "Dalai", which does not have any meaning as a Tibetan term, came to be understood commonly as a title.
The name or title Dalai Lama in Mongolian may also have derived originally from the title taken by Tem jin or Genghis Khan when he was proclaimed emperor of a united Mongolia during 1206. Tem jin took the name ingis Q ghan or "oceanic sovereign", the anglicized version of which is Genghis Khan.
Tibetans address the Dalai Lama as Gyalwa Rinpoche ("Precious Victor"), Kundun ("Presence"), Yishin Norbu ("Wish fulfilling Gem") and so on.
Sonam Gyatso was an abbot at the Drepung Monastery who was considered widely as one of the most eminent lamas of his time. Although Sonam Gyatso became the first lama to have the title "Dalai Lama" as described above, since he was the third member of his lineage, he became known as the "Third Dalai Lama". The previous two titles were conferred posthumously upon his supposed earlier incarnations.
Yonten Gyatso (1589 1616), the 4th Dalai Lama, and a non-Tibetan, was the grandson of Altan Khan.
The tulku tradition of the Dalai Lama has evolved into, and been inaugurated as, an institution:
Verhaegen mentions the trans-polity influence that the Institution of the Dalai Lama has had historically in areas such as western China, Mongolia, Ladakh in addition to the other Himalayan Kingdoms:
The current Dalai Lama is often called "His Holiness" (HH) by Westerners (by analogy with the Pope), although this does not translate to a Tibetan title.
Before the 20th century, European sources often referred to the Dalai Lama as the "Grand Lama". For example, in 1785 Benjamin Franklin Bache mocked George Washington by terming him the "Grand Lama of this Country". Some in the West believed the Dalai Lama to be worshipped by the Tibetans as the godhead.
During 1252, Kublai Khan granted an audience to Drog n Ch gyal Phagpa and Karma Pakshi, the 2nd Karmapa. Karma Pakshi, however, sought the patronage of M ngke Khan. Before his death in 1283, Karma Pakshi wrote a will to protect the established interests of his sect by advising his disciples to locate a boy to inherit the black hat. His instruction was based on the premise that Buddhist ideology is eternal, and that Buddha would send emanations to complete the missions he had initiated. Karma Pakshi's disciples acted in accordance with the will and located the reincarnated boy of their master. The event was the beginning of the teacher reincarnation system for the Black-Hat Line of Tibetan Buddhism. During the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Yongle bestowed the title Great Treasure Prince of Dharma, the first of the three Princes of Dharma, upon the Black-Hat Karmapa. Various sects of Tibetan Buddhism responded to the teacher reincarnation system by creating similar lineages.
Unification of Tibet
In the 1630s, Tibet became entangled in power struggles between the rising Manchu and various Mongol and Oirat factions. Ligden Khan of the Chakhar, retreating from the Manchu, set out to Tibet to destroy the Yellow Hat sect. He died on the way to Qinghai (Koko Nur) in 1634. His vassal Tsogt Taij continued the fight, even having his own son Arslan killed after Arslan changed sides. Tsogt Taij was defeated and killed by G shi Khan of the Khoshud in 1637, who would in turn become the overlord of Tibet, and act as a "Protector of the Yellow Church." G shi helped the Fifth Dalai Lama to establish himself as the highest spiritual and political authority in Tibet and destroyed any potential rivals. The time of the Fifth Dalai Lama was, however, also a period of rich cultural development.
The Fifth Dalai Lama's death was kept secret for fifteen years by the regent (), Sanggye Gyatso. This was apparently done so that the Potala Palace could be finished, and to prevent Tibet's neighbours taking advantage of an interregnum in the succession of the Dalai Lamas.
Tsangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama, was not enthroned until 1697. Tsangyang Gyatso enjoyed a lifestyle that included drinking, the company of women, and writing love songs. In 1705, Lobzang Khan of the Khoshud used the sixth Dalai Lama's escapades as excuse to take control of Tibet. The regent was murdered, and the Dalai Lama sent to Beijing. He died on the way, near Koko Nur, ostensibly from illness. Lobzang Khan appointed a new Dalai Lama who, however was not accepted by the Gelugpa school. Kelzang Gyatso was discovered near Koko Nur and became a rival candidate.
The Dzungars invaded Tibet in 1717, and deposed and killed Lobzang Khan's pretender to the position of Dalai Lama. This was widely approved. However, they soon began to loot the holy places of Lhasa, which brought a swift response from Emperor Kangxi in 1718; but his military expedition was annihilated by the Dzungars, not far from Lhasa.
A second, larger, expedition sent by Emperor Kangxi expelled the Dzungars from Tibet in 1720 and the troops were hailed as liberators. They brought Kelzang Gyatso with them from Kumbum to Lhasa and he was installed as the seventh Dalai Lama in 1721.
Thubten Jigme Norbu, the elder brother of the present 14th Dalai Lama, describes these unfortunate events as follows:
Throne awaiting Dalai Lama's return. Summer residence of 13th Dalai Lama, Nechung, Tibet.
Thubten Gyatso, the 13th Dalai Lama, assumed ruling power from the monasteries, which previously had great influence on the Regent, during 1895. Due to his two periods of exile in 1904 1909, to escape the British invasion of 1904, and from 1910 1912 to escape a Chinese invasion, he became well aware of the complexities of international politics and was the first Dalai Lama to become aware of the importance of foreign relations. After his return from exile in India and Sikkim during January 1913, he assumed control of foreign relations and dealt directly with the Maharaja and the British Political officer in Sikkim and the king of Nepal rather than letting the Kashag or parliament do it.
Thubten Gyatso issued a Declaration of Independence for his kingdom in Central Tibet from China during the summer of 1912 and standardised a Tibetan flag, though no other sovereign state recognized the independence. He expelled the Ambans and all Chinese civilians in the country, and instituted many measures to modernise Tibet. These included provisions to curb excessive demands on peasants for provisions by the monasteries and tax evasion by the nobles, setting up an independent police force, the abolishment of the death penalty, extension of secular education, and the provision of electricity throughout the city of Lhasa in the 1920s. Thubten Gyatso died in 1933.
The 14th Dalai Lama was not formally enthroned until 17 November 1950, during the People's Republic of China invasion of the kingdom. In 1951, he and the Tibetan government formally accepted the Seventeen Point Agreement by which Tibet was formally incorporated into the People's Republic of China. Fearing for his life in the wake of a revolt in Tibet in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India where he has led a government in exile since. In 2001, he ceded his absolute power over the government to an elected parliament of selected Tibetan exiles. His original goal was full independence for Tibet, but by the late 1980s, he was seeking high-level autonomy instead. He is still seeking greater autonomy from China, although Dolma Gyari, deputy speaker of the parliament-in-exile has stated "If the middle path fails in the short term, we will be forced to opt for complete independence or selfdetermination as per the UN charter".
Starting with the 5th Dalai Lama and until the 14th Dalai Lama's flight into exile during 1959, the Dalai Lamas spent winters at the Potala Palace and summers at the Norbulingka palace and park. Both are in Lhasa and approximately 3 km apart.
Following the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising, the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in India. The then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, allowed in the Dalai Lama and his coterie of Tibetan government officials. The Dalai Lama has since lived in exile in Dharamshala, in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, where the Central Tibetan Administration is also established. Tibetan refugees have constructed and opened many schools and Buddhist temples in Dharamshala.
File:Potala.jpg|Potala Palace File:Norbulinka. August, 1993.JPG|Norbulingka
Searching for the reincarnation
The search for the 14th Dalai Lama took the High Lamas to Taktser in Amdo Palden Lhamo, the female guardian spirit of the sacred lake, Lhamo La-tso, who promised Gendun Drup the 1st Dalai Lama in one of his visions that "she would protect the reincarnation lineage of the Dalai Lamas"
By the Himalayan tradition, phowa (Tibetan) is the discipline that transfers the mindstream to the intended body. Upon the death of the Dalai Lama and consultation with the Nechung Oracle, a search for the Lama's reincarnation, or yangsi (yang srid), is conducted. Traditionally it has been the responsibility of the High Lamas of the Gelugpa Tradition and the Tibetan government to find his reincarnation. The process can take around two or three years to identify the Dalai Lama, and for the 14th, Tenzin Gyatso it was four years before he was found. The search for the Dalai Lama has usually been limited historically to Tibet, although the third tulku was born in Mongolia. Tenzin Gyatso, though, has stated that he will not be reborn in the People's Republic of China. In his autobiography, Freedom In Exile, he states that if Tibet is not free, he will reincarnate elsewhere." The High Lamas used several ways in which they can increase the chances of finding the reincarnation. High Lamas often visit the holy lake, called Lhamo La-tso, in central Tibet and watch for a sign from the lake itself. This may be either a vision or some indication of the direction in which to search and this was how Tenzin Gyatso was found. It is said that Palden Lhamo, the female guardian spirit of the sacred lake, Lhamo La-tso, promised Gendun Drup, the 1st Dalai Lama in one of his visions "that she would protect the reincarnation lineage of the Dalai Lamas." Ever since the time of Gendun Gyatso, the 2nd Dalai Lama, who formalised the system, the Regents and other monks have gone to the lake to seek guidance on choosing the next reincarnation through visions while meditating there. The particular form of Palden Lhamo at Lhamo La-tso is Gyelmo Maksorma, "The Victorious One who Turns Back Enemies". The lake is sometimes referred to as "Pelden Lhamo Kalideva", which indicates that Palden Lhamo is an emanation of the goddess Kali, the shakti of the Hindu God Shiva. It was here that during 1935, the Regent, Reting Rinpoche, received a clear vision of three Tibetan letters and of a monastery with a jade-green and gold roof, and a house with turquoise roof tiles, which led to the discovery of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. High Lamas may also have a vision by a dream or if the Dalai Lama was cremated, they will often monitor the direction of the smoke as an indication of the direction of the rebirth. Once the High Lamas have found the home and the boy they believe to be the reincarnation, the boy undergoes a series of tests to affirm the rebirth. They present a number of artifacts, only some of which belonged to the previous Dalai Lama, and if the boy chooses the items which belonged to the previous Dalai Lama, this is seen as a sign, in conjunction with all of the other indications, that the boy is the reincarnation. If there is only one boy found, the High Lamas will invite Living Buddhas of the three great monasteries together with secular clergy and monk officials, to confirm their findings and will then report to the Central Government through the Minister of Tibet. Later a group consisting of the three major servants of Dalai Lama, eminent officials and troops will collect the boy and his family and travel to Lhasa, where the boy would be taken, usually to Drepung Monastery to study the Buddhist sutra in preparation for assuming the role of spiritual leader of Tibet. However, if there are several possibilities of the reincarnation, in the past regents and eminent officials and monks at the Jokhang in Lhasa, and the Minister to Tibet would decide on the individual by putting the boys' names inside an urn and drawing one lot in public if it was too difficult to judge the reincarnation initially.
List of Dalai Lamas
There have been 14 recognised reincarnations of the Dalai Lama:
dge 'dun 'grub
|G d n Chub
Ged n Drup
dge 'dun rgya mtsho
|G d n Gyaco
|Ged n Gyatso
Gend n Gyatso
bsod nams rgya mtsho
|S nam Gyatso
yon tan rgya mtsho
|Yontan Gyatso, Y nden Gyatso
||Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso
blo bzang rgya mtsho
tshang dbyangs rgya mtsho
|Tsa yang Gyatso
bskal bzang rgya mtsho
byams spel rgya mtsho
lung rtogs rgya mtsho
tshul khrim rgya mtsho
|C chim Gyaco
|Tsh ltrim Gyatso
mkhas grub rgya mtsho
phrin las rgya mtsho
thub bstan rgya mtsho
(currently in exile)
bstan 'dzin rgya mtsho
There has also been one nonrecognised Dalai Lama, Ngawang Yeshey Gyatso, declared 28 June 1707, when he was 25 years old, by Lha-bzang Khan as the "true" 6th Dalai Lama however, he was never accepted as such by the majority of the population.
Future of the position
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso in 2007 Dharamshala]], India
The government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) has claimed the power to approve the naming of "high" reincarnations in Tibet, based on a precedent set by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. The Qianlong Emperor instituted a system of selecting the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama by a lottery that used a golden urn with names wrapped in clumps of barley. This method was used a few times for both positions during the 19th century, but eventually fell into disuse. In 1995, the Dalai Lama chose to proceed with the selection of the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama without the use of the Golden Urn, while the Chinese government insisted that it must be used. This has led to two rival Panchen Lamas: Gyaincain Norbu as chosen by the Chinese government's process, and Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as chosen by the Dalai Lama.
During September 2007 the Chinese government said all high monks must be approved by the government, which would include the selection of the 15th Dalai Lama after the death of Tenzin Gyatso. Since by tradition, the Panchen Lama must approve the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, that is another possible method of control.
In response to this scenario, Tashi Wangdi, the representative of the 14th Dalai Lama, replied that the Chinese government's selection would be meaningless. "You can't impose an Imam, an Archbishop, saints, any religion...you can't politically impose these things on people," said Wangdi. "It has to be a decision of the followers of that tradition. The Chinese can use their political power: force. Again, it's meaningless. Like their Panchen Lama. And they can't keep their Panchen Lama in Tibet. They tried to bring him to his monastery many times but people would not see him. How can you have a religious leader like that?"
The Dalai Lama said as early as 1969 that it was for the Tibetans to decide whether the institution of the Dalai Lama "should continue or not". He has given reference to a possible vote occurring in the future for all Tibetan Buddhists to decide whether they wish to recognize his rebirth. In response to the possibility that the PRC may attempt to choose his successor, the Dalai Lama has said he will not be reborn in a country controlled by the People's Republic of China or any other country which is not free. According to Robert D. Kaplan, this could mean that "the next Dalai Lama might come from the Tibetan cultural belt that stretches across northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan, presumably making him even more pro-Indian and anti-Chinese".
- Engaged Spirituality
- Tibet Autonomous Region
Notes and references
- Dowman, Keith. (1988). The Power-Places of Central Tibet: The Pilgrim's Guide. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., London. ISBN 0-7102-1370-0 (pbk).
- Laird, Thomas (2006). The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama. Grove Press, New York. ISBN 978-0-8021-827-1.
- Richardson, Hugh E. (1984). Tibet and its History. Second Edition, Revised and Updated. Shambhala. Boston & London. ISBN 0-87773-376-7 (pbk)
- Murray Silver, "When Elvis Meets the Dalai Lama," (Bonaventure Books, Savannah, 2005).
- Norbu, Thubten Jigme and Turnbull, Colin M. (1968). Tibet: An account of the history, the religion and the people of Tibet. Reprint: Touchstone Books. New York. ISBN 0-671-20559-5.
- Schulemann, Guenther: Geschichte der Dalai-Lamas, Harrassowitz, Leipzig, 1958.
- Sheel, R. N. Rahul. "The Institution of the Dalai Lama." The Tibet Journal, Vol. XIV No. 3. Autumn 1989.
- Stein, R. A. (1972). Tibetan Civilization. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 0-8047-0901-7 (paper).
- Diki Tsering, edited & introduced by Khedroob Thondop. (2000). Dalai Lama, My Son: A Mother's Story. Virgin Publishing Company, London. ISBN 0-7535-0571-1.
- Verhaegen, Ardy (2002). The Dalai Lamas: The Institution and Its History. Emerging Perceptions in Buddhist Studies, no. 15. New Delhi, India: D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd. ISBN 81-246-0202-6.
- Y H nzh ng : The Biographies of the Dalai Lamas (D l i L m chu n ; Beijing, Foreign Languages Press 1993); ISBN 7-119-01267-3.
- Dalai Lama. (1991) Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama. San Francisco, CA.
- Goodman, Michael H. (1986). The Last Dalai Lama. Shambhala Publications. Boston, MA.
- Mullin, Glenn H. (2001). The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation. Clear Light Publishers. Santa Fe, NM. ISBN 1-57416-092-3.
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