Dalai Lama begins exile

Dalai Lama begins exile

The Dalai Lama, fleeing the Chinese suppression of a national uprising in Tibet, crosses the border into India, where he is granted political asylum.

Born in Taktser, China, as Tensin Gyatso, he was designated the 14th Dalai Lama in 1940, a position that eventually made him the religious and political leader of Tibet. At the beginning of the 20th century, Tibet increasingly came under Chinese control, and in 1950 communist China invaded the country. One year later, a Tibetan-Chinese agreement was signed in which the nation became a “national autonomous region” of China, supposedly under the traditional rule of the Dalai Lama but actually under the control of a Chinese communist commission. The highly religious people of Tibet, who practice a unique form of Buddhism, suffered under communist China’s anti-religious legislation.

After years of scattered protests, a full-scale revolt broke out in March 1959, and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee as the uprising was crushed by Chinese troops. On March 31, 1959, he began a permanent exile in India, settling at Dharamsala, where he established a democratically based shadow Tibetan government. Back in Tibet, the Chinese adopted brutal repressive measures against the Tibetans, provoking charges from the Dalai Lama of genocide. With the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China, the Chinese suppression of Tibetan Buddhism escalated, and practice of the religion was banned and thousands of monasteries were destroyed.

Although the ban was lifted in 1976, protests in Tibet continued, and the exiled Dalai Lama won widespread international support for the Tibetan independence movement. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in recognition of his nonviolent campaign to end the Chinese domination of Tibet.

Dalai Lama begins exile - HISTORY

Reading time: Less than 10 minutes


This will be a short post about the fourteen Dalai Lamas. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama recently celebrated his 80th birthday. The follow up to this celebration was did the other past Dalai Lamas live as long? We will dive straight into our dataset to look into the birth places and ages of the past 13 Dalai Lamas.


Before reading further, please note Tibet's past and present geography. Tibet has been historically divided into three main regions (U-Tsang, Amdo and Kham). Under the authoritarian Chinese regime, Tibet has been split into different regions, mainly Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Sichuan and Qinghai. The map below depicts both the past and present-day regions. I will use the past historical classification (Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang) for this analysis.

Tibet's three main regions along with present day Chinese regions [Source]


Time to dig into the dataset and plot it. This is what we get.

1. Did the first Dalai Lama really live that long?

The graph shows that the first Dalai Lama has lived the longest. He was born in 1391 and died in 1474. Although the data source is derived from the Wikipedia page, I also referred to Shakabpa's book, Tibet, A Political History. He also quotes the first Dalai Lama's age at 84. He does mention in the footnote that two other books quote the age at 82. Regardless, 82 years is still remarkably long for someone born in the late fourteenth century. This mapping history initiative [image shown below] by University of Oregon begins at 1850 and even then the average life expectancy for someone at 1850 is under 40 years old. It should be noted that this life expectancy is based on men at birth and if they did live until 60, the maximum life expectancy was around 72 years old at 1850. What we do know for a fact is the first Dalai Lama received teachings directly from Tsongkhapa, founder of Gelugpa-sect. He founded the Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Shigaste (western Tibet) and was also called Panchen Gedun Druppa.

Life Expectancy beginning at 1850 [Source]

2. Ye powerful, ye live long!

Another interesting argument we could make based on this age graph is that the more powerful Dalai Lamas lived a longer life. The fifth Dalai Lama was considered one of the most important rulers in Tibet's history. The reign of the fourth and fifth Dalai Lamas were the time of religious wars with different regional rulers (Beri, U, Tsang, Kham) siding with their respective sects/religion (Gelug-pa, Kagyu-pa, Bon, etc.). Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, the fifth Dalai Lama successfully got many of the regions under his control with help from Gusri Khan and Desi Sonam Chospel. This "Desi" title was equivalent to that of a prime minister and for the first time, the Dalai Lama had become the temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet (although all the political matters were handled by Desi).

The 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas lives are well-documented to understand the challenges faced by them. The corallary to the above paragraph is the weaker Dalai Lamas, especially from 8th-12th did not live very long. [More info needed here.]

3. Arunachal and Mongolia: Precedent set for reincarnation in exile?

One may dispute if both these regions (especially Tawang town in Arunachal) were under the influence of the Mongols and Dalai Lamas during these two periods but the precedent for reincarnation in exile has been set.

The second Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso, founded the monastery of Chokhorgyal in 1509 (about 90 miles southeast of Lhasa). There is a lake nearby whose reflections are reputed to prophesy future events and led to discoveries of the 13th and 14th incarnations of Dalai Lama. The title of Dalai Lama was given to the third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso by Altan Khan of Tumat Mongols in 1578. On his journey back to Lhasa from Mongolia, the third Dalai Lama visited Kokonor (built a monastery there as it was Tsongkhapa's birth place) and the region of Kham (including Lithang and Chamdo). Altan Khan passed away and the third Dalai Lama went to Mongolia and lived there for two years. He passed away at the start of his journey back to Tibet. Not surprisingly, the fourth Dalai Lama was born in Mongolia. This led to a close spiritual relationship between Mongolia and TIbet and the Gelug-pa sect emerged as the stronger group. The Sakya-pa sect, whose influence dated from the time of Sakya Pandita, began to wane. Another interesting fact to note is that Yonten Gyatso, the fourth Dalai Lama, was tutored by Lobsang Chosang from Tashi Lhunpo monastery. He received the title of Panchen Lama (meaning "Great Scholar"). Since then, his reincarnations have been known as Panchen Lama.

Arunachal Pradesh, India:

Tsangyang Gyatso, the sixth Dalai Lama was born in Tawang town, present-day Arunachal Pradesh in India. It would not be surprising to see if this region was in fact under Tibet's rule back then as the majority of the residents there are devout Buddhists and speak fluent Tibetan.[source. ] Shakabpa's book mentions that Sangye Gyatso had become the Desi during the fifth Dalai Lama's reign and concealed the Dalai Lama's death for a period of fifteen years. The explanation given to the officials and subjects then was that the Dalai Lama had gone into meditation for an indefinite period and could not be disturbed.

Desi Sangye Gyatso was an excellent administrator (and a powerful one) but had trouble with the sixth Dalai Lama who wanted to renounce his monastic vows. During this period, Sangye Gyatso was forced to resign and ultimately killed by Lhazang Khan's men. Lhazang Khan deposed the sixth Dalai Lama and sent him into exile. Tsangyang Gyatso is believed to have died in the Kokonor region. Lhazang Khan then announced the sixth Dalai Lama was not the true reincarnation and appointed Nawang Yeshe Gyatso as the true rebirth and enthroned him in Potala as the "real" sixth Dalai Lama. However, the Tibetans never accepted it and when there were reports of the reincarnation of the sixth Dalai Lama in Lithang. Certain Mongol tribes sympathetic of the sixth Dalai Lama heard of this discovery and decided to offer the boy recognition and protection. The boy was escorted from Derge to the Kokonor region where he was warmly received by the Mongols. Even the Manchus saw this as an opportunity to extend their influence and sent their representative - is history repeating itself again?

Concluding thoughts:

  • How did the seventh Dalai Lama, Kelzang Gyatso, get rid of Lhazang Khan and become the ruler of Tibet again?
  • Is there any lessons for Tibetans to learn from the past regarding controversial reincarnations?
  • Is there any correlaton between the life expectancy of the Dalai Lama and the power of Desi (or regents later on)?

These questions are not for us Tibetans to make judgements about our past. In fact, one should learn and analyze these facts critically so we do not repeat them again. We have paid a great price by losing our nation and Tibetans inside Tibet continue to suffer under the authotarian Chinese regime. If we fail to learn from our past again, we are bound to pay a greater price and that is something we cannot afford to do.

You can view or download the data on on Google drive here (updated as of September 27, 2015).

How and Why the Dalai Lama Left Tibet

T he invitation seemed innocuous: A Chinese general asked if the 14th Dalai Lama would like to see a performance by a Chinese dance troupe. But when he was told to come to the Chinese military headquarters without soldiers or armed bodyguards, according to his official biography, the Tibetans sensed a trap.

After years of guerrilla war between Tibetan rebels and the Chinese soldiers in a land that China considered to be its territory, the friendly overture seemed suspicious enough that, on the day of the performance, thousands of protesters surrounded the Dalai Lama&rsquos palace in Lhasa to keep him from being abducted, arrested or killed. Over the following few days, the protests expanded into declarations of Tibetan independence and the mobilizing of rebel troops to fight the Chinese forces. The State Oracle, the Dalai Lama&rsquos advisor, urged him to flee.

On this day, March 17, in 1959, Tibet&rsquos spiritual and political leader, then 23, disguised himself as a soldier and slipped through the crowds outside the palace he&rsquod never see again. He embarked on a dangerous journey to asylum, crossing the Himalayas on foot with a retinue of soldiers and cabinet members. They traveled only at night, to avoid detection by Chinese sentries. Rumors later circulated among Tibetans that the Dalai Lama &ldquohad been screened from Red planes by mist and low clouds conjured up by the prayers of Buddhist holy men,&rdquo according to TIME&rsquos 1959 cover story about the escape. But until he appeared in India, two weeks after taking flight, people around the world feared that he had been killed, according to the BBC.

Back in Tibet, thousands died fighting the Chinese forces. Per the BBC, &ldquoAll fighting-age men who had survived the revolt were deported, and those fleeing the scene reported that Chinese troops burned corpses in [Lhasa] for 12 hours.&rdquo

It was the latest flare-up of the longstanding discord between Tibet and China, as TIME summarized:

Over the centuries, the mountain-locked nation of Tibet has often been overrun by invaders &mdash Mongols, Manchus and Gurkhas, but most often Chinese. Whenever China was strong, it would send a garrison to occupy Lhasa. Whenever China was weak Tibetans would drive the garrison out.

That discord endures today. Tibetans can still be arrested if caught with the writings or a picture of the Buddhist leader and recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. And Chinese leaders were outraged last month when President Obama made his first public appearance with the Dalai Lama, whom he called a &ldquogood friend.&rdquo And as the New York Times reported last week, they were also incensed by the 79-year-old Dalai Lama&rsquos recent speculation that he might not reincarnate this time around, foiling Chinese plans to hand-pick a 15th Dalai Lama who would follow the Communist party line. Per the Times, &ldquo[Chinese] officials repeatedly warned that he must reincarnate, and on their terms.&rdquo

China&rsquos official version of the Dalai Lama&rsquos 1959 escape sees him as forced to flee due to a failed attempt on his part “to maintain the serfdom in the region, under which the majority of Tibetans were slaves leading a life of unimaginable misery,” per TIME.

Tibetans tend to disagree with this retelling. According to TIME’s coverage of the Dalai Lama’s recent trip to the United States, &ldquoSo profound is the despair among some Tibetans that more than 130 people have committed suicide since 2009 by setting themselves on fire, according to exile organizations. As they burn, self-immolators reserve their final breaths to praise the Dalai Lama and denounce Chinese rule.&rdquo

Read TIME’s 1959 cover story about the Dalai Lama: The Dalai Lama Escapes from the Chinese

Correction, March 5, 2019

The original caption for the photo that appears with this article misstated the issue date for the TIME cover it shows. That is the April 20, 1959, issue of the magazine, not the April 2, 1959, issue.

The Dalai Lama Has Been the Face of Buddhism for 60 Years. China Wants to Change That

M orning has broken on the cedar-strewn foothills of the Himalayas. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama sits in meditation in his private chapel in Dharamsala, a ramshackle town perched on the upper reaches of North India&rsquos Kangra Valley. Rousing slowly, he unfolds his legs with remarkable agility for a man of 83, finds the red felt slippers placed neatly beneath his seat and heads outside to where a crowd has already gathered.

Around 300 people brave the February chill to offer white khata scarves and receive the Dalai Lama&rsquos blessing. There&rsquos a group from Bhutan in traditional checkered dress. A man from Thailand has brought his Liverpool F.C. scarf, seeking divine benediction for the U.K. soccer team&rsquos title bid. Two women lose all control as they approach the Dalai Lama&rsquos throne and are carried away shaking in rapture, clutching prayer beads and muttering incantations.

The Dalai Lama engages each visitor like a big kid: slapping bald pates, grabbing onto one devotee&rsquos single braid, waggling another&rsquos nose. Every conversation is peppered with giggles and guffaws. &ldquoWe 7 billion human beings &mdash emotionally, mentally, physically &mdash are the same,&rdquo he tells TIME in a 90-minute interview. &ldquoEveryone wants a joyful life.&rdquo

His own has reached a critical point. The Dalai Lama is considered a living Buddha of compassion, a reincarnation of the bodhisattva Chenrezig, who renounced Nirvana in order to help mankind. The title originally only signified the preeminent Buddhist monk in Tibet, a remote land about twice the size of Texas that sits veiled behind the Himalayas. But starting in the 17th century, the Dalai Lama also wielded full political authority over the secretive kingdom. That changed with Mao Zedong&rsquos conquest of Tibet, which brought the rule of the current Dalai Lama to an end. On March 17, 1959, he was forced to escape to India.

In the six decades since, the leader of the world&rsquos most secluded people has become the most recognizable face of a religion practiced by nearly 500 million people worldwide. But his prominence extends beyond the borders of his own faith, with many practices endorsed by Buddhists, like mindfulness and meditation, permeating the lives of millions more around the world. What&rsquos more, the lowly farmer&rsquos son named as a &ldquoGod-King&rdquo in his childhood has been embraced by the West since his exile. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and was heralded in Martin Scorcese&rsquos 1997 biopic. The cause of Tibetan self-rule remains alive in Western minds thanks to admirers ranging from Richard Gere to the Beastie Boys to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who calls him a &ldquomessenger of hope for millions of people around the world.&rdquo

Yet as old age makes travel more difficult, and as China&rsquos political clout has grown, the Dalai Lama&rsquos influence has waned. Today the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that drove him out of Tibet is working to co-opt Buddhist principles &mdash as well as the succession process itself. Officially atheist, the party has proved as adaptive to religion as it is to capitalism, claiming a home for faith in the nationalism Beijing has activated under Xi Jinping. In January, the CCP announced it would &ldquoSinicize&rdquo Buddhism over the next five years, completing a multimillion-dollar rebranding of the faith as an ancient Chinese religion.

From Pakistan to Myanmar, Chinese money has rejuvenated ancient Buddhist sites and promoted Buddhist studies. Beijing has spent $3 billion transforming the Nepalese town of Lumbini, birthplace of Lord Buddha, into a luxury pilgrimage site, boasting an airport, hotels, convention center, temples and a university. China has hosted World Buddhist Forums since 2006, inviting monks from all over the world.

Although not, of course, the world&rsquos most famous. Beijing still sees the Dalai Lama as a dangerous threat and swiftly rebukes any nation that entertains him. That appears to be working too. Once the toast of capitals around the world, the Dalai Lama has not met a world leader since 2016. Even India, which has granted asylum to him as well as to about 100,000 other Tibetans, is not sending senior representatives to the diaspora&rsquos commemoration of his 60th year in exile, citing a &ldquovery sensitive time&rdquo for bilateral relations with Beijing. Every U.S. President since George H.W. Bush has made a point of meeting the Dalai Lama until Donald Trump, who is in negotiations with China over reforming its state-controlled economy.

Still, the Dalai Lama holds out hope for a return to his birthplace. Despite his renown and celebrity friends, he remains a man aching for home and a leader removed from his people. Having retired from &ldquopolitical responsibility&rdquo within the exiled community in 2011, he merely wants &ldquothe opportunity to visit some holy places in China for pilgrimage,&rdquo he tells TIME. &ldquoI sincerely just want to serve Chinese Buddhists.&rdquo

Despite that, the CCP still regards the Dalai Lama as a &ldquowolf in monk&rsquos robes&rdquo and a dangerous &ldquosplittist,&rdquo as Chinese officials call him. He has rejected calls for Tibetan independence since 1974 &mdash acknowledging the geopolitical reality that any settlement must keep Tibet within the People&rsquos Republic of China. He instead advocates for greater autonomy and religious and cultural freedom for his people. It matters little.

&ldquoIt&rsquos hard to believe a return would happen at this point,&rdquo says Gray Tuttle, a professor of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia. &ldquoChina holds all the cards.&rdquo

The boy born Lhamo Thondup was identified as the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama at just 2 years old, when a retinue of top lamas, or senior Buddhist Tibetan monks, followed a series of oracles and prophecies to his village in northeastern Tibet. The precocious toddler seemed to recognize objects belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama, prompting the lamas to proclaim him the celestial heir. At age 4, he was carried on a golden palanquin into the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and ensconced in its resplendent Potala Palace. A daily routine of spiritual teaching by top religious scholars followed.

&ldquoSometimes my tutor kept a whip to threaten me,&rdquo the Dalai Lama recalls, smiling. &ldquoThe whip was yellow in color, as it was for a holy person, the Dalai Lama. But I knew that if the whip was used, it made no difference &mdash holy pain!&rdquo

It was a lonely childhood. The Dalai Lama rarely saw his parents and had no contact with peers of his own age, save his elder brother Lobsang Samden, who served as head of household. Despite his tutors&rsquo focus on spiritual matters, or perhaps because of it, he was fascinated by science and technology. He would gaze from the Potala&rsquos roof at Lhasa street life through a telescope. He took apart and reassembled a projector and camera to see how they functioned. &ldquoHe continually astonished me by his powers of comprehension, his pertinacity and his industry,&rdquo wrote the Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, who became the Dalai Lama&rsquos tutor and was one of six Europeans permitted to live in Lhasa at the time. Today the Dalai Lama proudly describes himself as &ldquohalf Buddhist monk, half scientist.&rdquo

The Dalai Lama was only supposed to assume a political role on his 18th birthday, with a regent ruling until then. But the arrival of Mao&rsquos troops to reclaim dominion over Tibet in 1950 caused the Tibetan government to give him full authority at just 15. With no political experience or knowledge of the outside world, he was thrust into negotiations with an invading army while trying to calm his fervent but poorly armed subjects.

Conditions worsened over the next nine years of occupation. Chinese proclamations calling Lord Buddha a &ldquoreactionary&rdquo enraged a pious populace of 2.7 million. By March 1959, rumors spread that the Dalai Lama would be abducted or assassinated, fomenting a doomed popular uprising that looked likely to spill into serious bloodshed. &ldquoJust in front of the Potala [Palace], on the other side of the river, there was a Chinese artillery division,&rdquo the Dalai Lama recalls. &ldquoPreviously all the guns were covered, but around the 15th or 16th, all the covers were removed. So then we knew it was very serious. On the 17th morning, I decided to escape.&rdquo

The two-week journey to India was fraught, as Chinese troops hunted the party across some of the world&rsquos most unforgiving terrain. The Dalai Lama reached India incognito atop a dzo, a cross between a yak and a cow. Every building in which he slept en route was immediately consecrated as a chapel, but the land he left behind was ravaged by Mao&rsquos disastrous Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. Hundreds of thousands died. By some reckonings, 99.9% of the country&rsquos 6,400 monasteries were destroyed.

Tibet&rsquos desire to remain isolated and undisturbed had served it poorly. The kingdom had no useful allies, the government of Lhasa having declined to establish official diplomatic relations with any other nation or join international organizations. The Dalai Lama&rsquos supplications were thus easy to ignore. Tibet had remained staunchly neutral during World War II, and the U.S. was already mired in a fresh conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

&ldquo[First Indian Prime Minister] Pandit Nehru told me, &lsquoAmerica will not fight the Chinese communists in order to liberate Tibet, so sooner or later you have to talk with the Chinese government,&rsquo&rdquo the Dalai Lama recalls.

Chronology of Events

1954 / Confers 1st Kalachakra Initiation in Norbulingka Palace, Lhasa.

July 1954 to June 1955 / Visits China for peace talks and meets with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders, including Chou En-Lai, Chu Teh and Deng Xiaoping

November 1956 to March 1957 / Visits India to participate in 2500th Buddha Jayanti celebrations

February 1959 / Receives Geshe Lharampa Degree during Monlam Ceremonies in Lhasa (Earth-Pig Year, 1st month, 13th day)

10 March 1959 / Tens of thousands of Tibetans gathered in front of Norbulingka Palace, Lhasa to prevent His Holiness from going to a performance at the Chinese Army Camp in Lhasa. Tibetan People's Uprising begins in Lhasa.

15 March 1959 / Artillery Shells fired from Chinese troops land outside Norbulingka Palace

17 March 1959 / Escapes at night from Norbulingka Palace in Lhasa

March 1959 / Tibetan Government formally reestablished at Lhudup Dzong. 17-Point Agreeement formally repudiated by Tibetan Government
31 March 1959 / Enters India from Tibet after a 14-day harrowing escape

18 April 1959 / Hold international press conference and formally repudiates the 17-Point Agreement

20 April 1959 / Arrives Mussoorie and resides at Birla House

30 April 1960 / Arrives in Dharamsala to take up residence at Swarg Ashram

1963 / Presents a draft democratic constitution for Tibet. First exile Tibetan Parliament (Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies) established in Dharamsala.

1967 / First visits abroad (since coming into exile) to Japan and Thailand

1968 / Moves residence from Swarg Ashram to present day Thekchen Choeling (Byrne Estate)

September to November 1973 / First visit to the West (Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, UK, West Germany & Austria)

1979 / First contact with the Government of the People's Republic of China established since coming into exile in 1959

21 September 1987 / Delivers historic Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet in Washington, D.C. to members of the U.S. Congress

June 1988 / Delivers historic Strasbourg Proposal for Tibet in Strasbourg, France to members of the European Parliament

10 December 1989 / Awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace in Oslo, Norway

1992 / Initiates a number of additional major democratic steps, including the direct elections of Kalons (Ministers) by the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies and the establishment of a judiciary branch. Previously Kalons appointed directly by His Holiness.

2001 / First direct democratic elections held by the Tibetan people for the post of Kalon Tripa (Senior Minister) in the history of Tibet

March & May 2011 / On March 14 His Holiness the Dalai Lama sends a letter to the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies (Tibetan Parliament in exile) requesting them to devolve his temporal power. On May 29 His Holiness signs into law the formal transfer of his temporal power to the democratically elected leader. This brings to an end the 368-year old tradition of the Dalai Lamas being both spiritual and temporal head of Tibet.

The Story of Tibet : Conversations with the Dalai Lama

Over the course of three years, journalist Thomas Laird spent more than sixty hours with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in candid, one-on-one interviews that ranged widely, covering not only the history of Tibet but science, reincarnation, and Buddhism. Laird brings these meetings to life in this vibrant, monumental work that outlines the essence of thousands of years of civilization, myth, and spirituality.

Tibet’s story is rich with tradition and filled with promise. It begins with the Bodhisattva Chenrizi (“The Holy One”) whose spirit many Tibetans believe resides within the Dalai Lama. We learn the origins of Buddhism, and about the era of Great Tibetan Emperors, whose reign stretched from southwestern China to Northern India. His Holiness introduces us to Tibet’s greatest yogis and meditation masters, and explains how the institution of the Dalai Lama was founded. Laird explores, with His Holiness, Tibet’s relations with the Mongols, the Golden Age under the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Tibet’s years under Manchu overlords, modern independence in the early twentieth century, and the Dalai Lama’s personal meetings with Mao just before His Holiness fled into exile in 1959. The Story of Tibet is “a tenderly crafted study that is equal parts love letter, traditional history and oral history” (Publishers Weekly).

Life in exile of the 14th Dalai Lama

In the wake of the Lhasa uprising and the Chinese consolidation of power across Tibet, tens of thousands of Tibetans followed the Dalai Lama into exile. In 1960 he established his government-in-exile in Dharamsala, a former British hill station in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, where he continued to reside. The government of India, however, was reluctant to allow all the Tibetan refugees to concentrate in one region and thus created settlements across the subcontinent, where the Tibetans established farming communities and built monasteries. The welfare of the refugees and the preservation of Tibetan culture in exile, especially in light of reports of the systematic destruction of Tibetan institutions during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–76), were the primary concerns of the Dalai Lama during this period.

The Dalai Lama traveled little during the early part of his exile and published only two books, an introduction to Buddhism and an autobiography. In later years, however, he traveled quite extensively, visiting Europe for the first time in 1973 and the United States for the first time in 1979. He subsequently traveled to dozens of other countries, delivering addresses at colleges and universities, meeting with political and religious leaders, and lecturing on Buddhism.

His activities focused on two main goals, one of which was to build and sustain international awareness of the plight of Tibet. In 1988, at a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, he set forth a plan in which Tibet would be an autonomous region of China rather than an independent state. He continued to advocate what he called a “middle way approach” between the complete independence of Tibet and its complete absorption into the People’s Republic of China. He also sent numerous delegations to China to discuss such proposals, but they met with little success. In recognition of his efforts, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989.

His other goal was to disseminate the central tenets of Buddhism to a wide audience. He is the author of dozens of books on Buddhist themes, many of which are derived from public lectures or interviews. Some of these works are written in the traditional form of commentaries on Buddhist scriptures, while others range more widely over topics such as interreligious dialogue and the compatibility of Buddhism and science.

Throughout his life, the Dalai Lama has fulfilled his traditional roles for the Tibetan community: he is revered by Tibetans both in Tibet and in exile as the human incarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara and as the protector of the Tibetan people. In the latter role he consulted with oracles in making major decisions and made pronouncements on the practice of Tibetan Buddhism, as in 1980 and again in 1996, when he spoke out against the propitiation of the wrathful deity Dorje Shugden, one of the protectors of the Dge-lugs-pa sect.

After the Dalai Lama reached the age of 70, the question of his successor was repeatedly raised. In the 1980s his public speculation about whether there would be a need for another Dalai Lama was taken by some as a call to the Tibetan community to preserve its culture in exile. During the first decade of the 21st century, he declared that there would be a 15th Dalai Lama and that he would be discovered not in Chinese-controlled Tibet but in exile. Yet he subsequently suggested that he might appoint his successor. The Chinese government rejected this idea and insisted that the tradition of selecting a new Dalai Lama by determining the reincarnation of the predecessor had to be maintained. In 2011 the Dalai Lama stepped down as the political head of the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Previous Dalai Lamas were often figures cloaked in mystery, living in isolation in the Potala Palace in Lhasa. The 14th Dalai Lama, in contrast, achieved a level of visibility and celebrity that would have been unimaginable for his predecessors. He became the most famous Buddhist teacher in the world and is widely respected for his commitment both to nonviolence and to the cause of Tibetan freedom. In 2012 he won the Templeton Prize.

Exile Endurance and the Rise of the Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama is one of the most recognizable people on the planet today. With his bald head, bright robes and smile, most people can quickly pick out his picture. He has written over one hundred books, given dozens of talks and gained thousands of followers on social media. The Dalai Lama, however, has lived a far more serious life than people who only see his smiling image may have realized.

Born on July 6, 1935, the Dalai Lama was only two when he was identified as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. Four years later, the Dalai Lama began his monastic education to learn about the religious tradition of which he was the leader. Before he could finish his education, however, China invaded Tibet, and the Dalai Lama was forced to take up the full burden of his political power as Tibet&rsquos head of state. He met with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders and was initially impressed by the ideals they spouted about social justice and equality. Then, however, the truth came out as the Chinese worked to uproot &ldquofeudal serfdom&rdquo in Tibet. The crackdown became increasingly brutal until Tibet finally rebelled in 1959. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee for his life. He made the perilous crossing through the Himalayas to India where he has lived ever since.

Even in exile, life went on. When he was 23, the Dalai Lama took his final examination during the Great Prayer Festival at Lhasa&rsquos Jokhang Temple. He earned the Geshe Lharampa degree which is equivalent to the highest doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. Around the same time, the Dalai Lama appealed to the United Nations on behalf of Tibet. In a bizarre contradiction that the Dalai Lama somehow managed to shoulder, a young Buddhist monk was the exiled leader of a stateless nation in a rapidly modernizing world.

The Dalai Lama, however, was not interested in retaining all the trappings of tradition. In exile, he drafted a democratic constitution for Tibet and worked to democratize the Tibetan administration. For centuries, the Dalai Lama had been head of state as well as head of faith, but the Dalai Lama felt things needed to change. The political institution of the Dalai Lama was outdated. &ldquoAs a Buddhist,&rdquo he said, &ldquoWe must be realistic.&rdquo

Despite living in exile, the Dalai Lama helped reform the Tibetan administration into a democracy and saw the Tibetan people elect their political leaders for the first time in history. That same year, the Dalai Lama stated that he was officially retired from political life. Unfortunately for his plans, the Dalai Lama had become the face of Tibet to the Tibetan people, Tibet&rsquos supporters as well as the Chinese. The Chinese still consider the peaceful man a criminal and see their conflict with the Dalai Lama&rsquos calls for Tibetan autonomy as &ldquoa fight to the death.&rdquo

All of this means that the hunt for the Dalai Lama&rsquos reincarnation will be politically charged, and the fate of an entire people may hang in the balance. The Chinese, however, have no intention of allowing the scattered Tibetan people to find and train the next incarnation of their spiritual leader. The atheist Chinese government passed a series of laws meant to grant it &ldquomanagement of living Buddha reincarnations&rdquo in order to keep an iron grip on their control of the populace. They have already made one Lama effectively disappear. After the Panchen Lama, the second most prominent Tibetan Lama died, the Dalai Lama identified Gehdun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. The Chinese government responded by seizing the six year old boy and his family. The Chinese then appointed their own Panchen Lama and gave him several official posts. Neither Gehdun Choekyi Nyima nor his family have been seen since they were taken by the Chinese government. Given the international eyes on the Dalai Lama, the Chinese will undoubtedly try to pull something similar. The Dalai Lama, however, has stated that his reincarnation will not be found in Tibet. Given how the Tibetan people have scattered, they are likely hoping the 15th Dalai Lama will be lucky enough to be born safely out of China&rsquos reach.

The question of the Dalai Lama&rsquos reincarnation is fascinating. International foreign policy will hinge on a largely religious issue, and the decisions made will effect generations of Tibetans. All of this, of course, will not take place until the Dalai Lama has passed. The Dalai Lama tends to keep his focus on life and the living, but that does not mean he ignores his very real mortality. &ldquoI visualize death every day,&rdquo the Dalai Lama said. This visualization does not frighten him, and he refers to death as a &ldquochange of clothing.&rdquo

The Dalai Lama has accomplished an incredible amount while wearing this set of clothing, and no doubt has more to accomplish. He has brought Buddhism into the limelight in a way that no one could have imagined. Hundreds of thousands of people have heard him speak and millions more have read his books. He has engaged in dialogue with psychologists, neurobiologists, cosmologies and quantum physicists in order to help scientists find ways to assist individuals in finding peace of mind. His interest in the sciences has also led him to add modern science to traditional Tibetan monastic education. The Dalai Lama has also pushed for greater interfaith dialogue and communication. He has been involved in long-running dialogues with Rabbis, met with Muslim leaders in India and referred to Jesus as an &ldquoenlightened master&rdquo who spread a message of tolerance and compassion. To the Dalai Lama, &ldquo[Compassion is] a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. And these days we need to highlight what unifies us,&rdquo the Dalai Lama said. &ldquoHarmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world&hellip [It] is not merely the business of religious believers &ndash it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.&rdquo

Dalai Lamas are said to be reincarnations of holy men who choose to return to the world life after life in order to better all of humanity. Given his emphasis on compassion and his bright smile, the Dalai Lama seems to have done an excellent job.

The Story Behind the Dalai Lama’s Controversial Remarks

A transgender Tibetan scholar provides context for the Dalai Lama’s problematic statements and explains why we shouldn’t rush to judgment.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Photo by Artemas Liu | https://flic.kr/p/21jJWmb

The Internet is buzzing with an excerpt from a BBC interview with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. In it, he repeats a joke he made in 2015 that a future female Dalai Lama “must be very attractive, otherwise not much use.” As a Tibetan born to refugees in India who weren’t formally educated past high school and as a transgender person familiar with the violence of misogyny and gender stereotypes , I want to share what went through my mind as I watched him make this joke.

Ever since I started learning to read and write in English, I have been watchful of the Dalai Lama’s remarks. He’s the same age as my grandmother, and when I look at him I don’t see a Nobel Peace Prize laureate or a celebrity. I see someone who, as an adolescent, was given the responsibility to lead his people through foreign invasion and decades of ongoing colonialism. Someone who is denied entry into countries such as South Africa, Thailand, and South Korea, because they want to avoid offending one of the most powerful nations in the world (China). I see someone with a deep spiritual understanding who does not accept compensation for any of his talks or appearances. Someone with limited fluency in English and its nuances, who is a permanent guest in a foreign land (India). I see a refugee and an elder, with everyday imperfections.

As a Tibetan familiar with the format of jokes in my community and how different they sound in English, I immediately knew what the Dalai Lama was saying in his 2015 interview . I could see him struggle through an improper delivery, in which he is trying to make himself the butt of a joke about being ugly. Self-deprecatingly pointing to his face, he unsuccessfully tries to convey how any female Dalai Lama would be, “must be” attractive in comparison.

First, it is not appropriate for anyone to be discussing the appearance of a woman or any person as a barometer of performance. The mention of make-up shows how ignorant and unaware the Dalai Lama is of the social pressures on women. The Dalai Lama should clarify his remarks and apologize for their problematic nature. [ Update: The Dalai Lama’s office issued this statement of clarification on July 2. I highly recommend viewing it.]

Next, I could see him misunderstand why the journalist brought it up. He thinks he’s being asked to repeat the joke, to engage in something lighthearted. But no, she is asking him to reconsider his words. That doesn’t get across. He looks slightly mystified and like he doesn’t quite follow the beats of the conversation. This is where it’s helpful to keep in mind that not only is the Dalai Lama a non-native English speaker, he is a refugee . Since his youth, he has learned the welfare of his people rely on the good graces of others. He does everything with genuine sincerity and compassion, and he also (in my opinion) embodies that trait common to all refugees — he tries to please his host, to set others at ease. A refugee’s welcome can be revoked at any time. Every refugee knows this, and the Dalai Lama is no different.

It is a common refrain among Tibetan parents to cultivate a compassionate heart, to not be jealous or speak ill of others, to engage in right conduct and intention, and that even with all of this, the inner goodness won’t be seen if you don’t tend to your presentation. Be as clean as you can in your attire, adopt a good mood and easy manner so that others will feel happy in your presence. These are age-old Tibetan sayings, and I can see his mind switch to a philosophical mode when BBC interviewer Rajini Vaidyanathan asks, “Isn’t what’s inside more important?” When he answers “both,” he isn’t taking a moral position on character versus looks, but is rather thinking about how the onus is, at a practical level, always on the individual (or oppressed group) to make a case for themselves. He is a Tibetan, after all. If what’s on the inside is what was most important, Tibet would have genuine autonomy instead of a security checkpoint network imposed over several hundred thousand square miles. Tibetan refugees in Nepal would not be denied identity documents over the last two decades. Tibetan would not at risk of becoming an endangered language in its own land. No, unfortunately, the material world matters.

Regarding his most recent statements on the current refugee crisis, the Dalai Lama will likely issue remarks clarifying his opinion. But he will probably not think to explain what is obvious to me, though perhaps not to others who cycle through headlines and don’t know (and perhaps don’t even care) about the reality this 84 year old refugee comes from.

It would be a game-changing event if the Dalai Lama was able to safely return to Tibet. Diaspora Tibetans call ourselves “in exile,” because the vast majority of us are unable to actually get a visa to return. We cannot get in, and many of our brethren inside Tibet cannot leave. So when the Dalai Lama says refugees should receive training and education and “go back,” his words reflect the landscape of his most hopeful imagination — one where Tibetans have the option to return home, reunite with their relatives and neighbors, and help improve conditions in their communities they have dwelled painful decades away from. (His statement at 4:32–5:42 in the interview about not anxiously waiting to return reflects a polite consideration for the feelings of his host, the Indian government. By saying he will go wherever he is most useful, he can avoid entanglement in the political maneuverings between India and China.)

When I first heard his comments on Europe accepting refugees and that everyone cannot stay because Europe cannot become Muslim or African, I was very pained. On paper, the sound bite is identical to racist verbiage by far right nationalists who barely feel the need to hide their sense of white supremacy these days. But I would ask you to consider his intention and actions of record. The Dalai Lama has repeated time and again that refugees ought to be welcomed and that Islam is a peaceful religion. His visitors and audiences span the range of the world. He harbors no ill will when countries refuse his visa requests. Nor does he try to shame or condemn the many formerly colonized nations that avoid standing up for Tibet at the United Nations and other arenas. He knows these nations’ leaders are being practical, and that they don’t want to risk problems with China. On the global stage Tibet is an underdog among underdogs, without anything of obvious value to offer these countries that have regained their independence. But he doesn’t mind, because he has a compassionate, open outlook on the world and its many priorities and possibilities. Wherever he is allowed he speaks a few simple words for Tibet and peace, and doesn’t say anything negative if someone doesn’t want to be an ally to Tibetans.

Homeland is a sacred idea to him, and it is this priority that drives much of his language, to the point where it sounds like he is against migration. I read him as trying to offer a suggestion that meets multiple needs — allay discomfort of Europeans who are clearly making a swing rightward, and promote free education and other resources for refugees.

Pragmatism is common to Tibetan character, and similarly part and parcel of who the Dalai Lama is (though non-Tibetans are usually only familiar with his compassion, spirituality, optimism, and ethics). He knows firsthand that refugees don’t leave their homes as a lark, and are only driven to it from dire circumstances. At the same time, he knows support from neighboring countries is never guaranteed. Thousands of Tibetans died in refugee camps and walking across the Himalayas when first escaping Tibet, including my paternal grandmother. He understands the desperation, and this is what makes him be the first to suggest compromise in order to secure something, anything for a people in need.

In conclusion, I would like to be the first to acknowledge what most of the world was perhaps unaware of before this week. Yes, the Dalai Lama is human. He makes mistakes. He is no stranger to pain and suffering, and he will regret having caused pain and confusion to people taken aback by his words. And I also want to note something I think the world too easily forgets. The Dalai Lama is not just human. Like every person, he comes from somewhere. He speaks a language that is a mother-tongue. Tibet rarely makes the news anymore, much less Twitter or meme culture. It is a source of anguish for many of my fellow Tibetans. It is also in my opinion a small moral failing on the part of the world that the media and public seem more interested in a clickbait headline but hardly stop to consider how fluency in English is a prerequisite to understanding what is going on in today’s world, as well as to being understood.

I hope this incident can be an educative one, for the Dalai Lama and for this rapidly more connected world. I’d like to end with a quote from the Dalai Lama that reminds me of some advice my parents gave me as I was growing up.

A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively. Genuine compassion is based not on our own projections and expectations, but rather on the needs of the other: irrespective of whether another person is a close friend or an enemy, as long as that person wishes for peace and happiness and wishes to overcome suffering, then on that basis we develop genuine concern for their problem. This is genuine compassion…the goal is to develop this genuine compassion, this genuine wish for the well-being of another, in fact for every living being throughout the universe.
—From The Compassionate Life by the Dalai Lama

This article originally appeared on Medium under the title “ An opportunity to reflect: The Dalai Lama and the world ”.

Today in History: The Dalai Lama Goes Into Exile

Even the date of the beginning of the China-Tibet conflict is debatable, depending on where you look. We&rsquore sure you&rsquove heard of this, as it has often been in the news over the last fifty years.

The Dalai Lama is a key figure in the conflict between Tibet and China, and has been since the 1950s. If you&rsquore completely new to the topic of Tibet, then you might not know that the Dalai Lama is actually a position and not really the name of one man. Tensin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama and has been since 1940.

On this day in 1959, the current Dalai Lama fled Tibet to India where he was granted asylum. Now the question for those of us that are unfamiliar with the situation is this: What&rsquos going on and why did he have to flee?

What it all comes down to, in the simplest of terms, is that Tibet sometime in the past was an independent, sovereign nation, outside of China&rsquos control. Historians disagree when exactly that was, but since 1959 China has had an iron grip on the region. China&rsquos rule has been controversial, with massacres and tragedies left and right during the entire time.

The people of the region of Tibet, for quite obvious reasons, have rebelled against the rule of the People&rsquos Republic of China. And they have done so in many ways. From self-immolation (setting yourself on fire) to large-scale protests, there have been countless uprisings over the last six decades.

The Dalai Lama led the beginning of these revolts in March 1959, and on the 31st of that month was forced to flee to India because the Chinese put the protests down hard. While in India, he formed a shadow Tibetan government.

Dalai Lama | Asian History Weekly

As with many territorial fights, this one was based on religion. In the end, China banned Tibetan Buddhism, causing even more unrest. In 1976 the ban was lifted, but the firm and extraordinary control of the region was still held by China, causing protests to continue.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1989 for his work to bring independence and peace to the region.

Watch the video: Dalai Lama Recounts His Exile and Admits To Marxist Beliefs. Larry King Now.