The young 14th Dalai Lama through old photographs, 1935-1959


The title Dalai Lama refers to a person who serves as the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people. In English, the Dalai Lama roughly translates as "Ocean of Wisdom". Throughout history, each Dalai Lama has been recognized as a reincarnation of the people before him.

The belief is deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism that the soul of a person remains after the physical body dies.
The 13th Dalai Lama of Tibet died in 1933.

At that time, the Tibetan people began a search to identify their future leader, their reincarnation. In 1937, Lhamo Thondup, later renamed Tenzin Gyatso, was identified as the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

Lhamo Thondup (translated as "wish-fulfilling goddess") was born on July 6, 1935, into a poor family in the city of Taksar, located in the Amdo region of northeastern Tibet.

Exactly two years later, in 1937, High Lama Keistang Rinpoche (a Tibetan Buddhist spiritual master) had a vision at Lhamo Lhatso, an oracle lake in southern Tibet, which guided a group of Tibetan monks to the home of Lhamo Thondup.

According to Khoja lore, when the monks came disguised as pilgrims, their leader, Sera Lama, pretended to be servants and sat apart in the kitchen. He had an old garland that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama, and the boy Lhamo Dhondup, two years old, came up to him and asked for it.

The monk said, "If you know who I am, you can have it." The child said "Serra Lama, Serra Lama" and spoke with him in a Lhasa accent, in a dialect the boy's mother could not understand.

Later, when the young boy was presented with a variety of objects, he said, "It's mine", choosing the objects belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama. In every case, he chose the Dalai Lama's own objects and rejected the others. The series of arduous trials that followed confirmed that Lhamo Thondup was the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama.

The young man was taken to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, on a three-month journey. In 1940, the 14th Dalai Lama was installed on the Lion Throne at the Potala Palace, a 1,000-room winter home of the Dalai Lama on a hill overlooking Lhasa City.

Foreign dignitaries are seen following the traditional Tibetan recognition process at the ceremony to enthrone the 14th Dalai Lama. A regent ruled the country while the 5-year-old Dalai Lama completed his rigorous religious education.

In 1950, 84,000 troops from the newly created People's Republic of China launched a major invasion of Tibet. The small Tibetan army was unable to handle such an invasion.

As a result, the Dalai Lama was forced to finish his studies and assume full political rule of Tibet. The teen ruler struggled with his responsibilities, but he kept all his decisions and actions firmly in Buddhist philosophy.

Finally, on March 31, 1959, the Dalai Lama recognized that he was no longer safe and that he could better serve the Tibetan people from outside Tibet. He fled the country and more than 80,000 Tibetans followed him into exile and went to India.

More than 1.2 million Tibetans (one-fifth of the population) have died as a result of China's occupation of Tibet. Tens of thousands were arrested and tortured for their political views. More than 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed, ancient texts burned, and Buddhist followers prevented from becoming monks and nuns.

Despite this abuse against his people, country and religion, the Dalai Lama refuses to feel hatred for China and its leaders. Continuing to follow a code of Buddhist ethics, he believes that all people have suffered at some point or another. He says the Chinese, including their leaders, should be treated with kindness.

The Dalai Lama appeals to the United Nations on the rights of Tibetans. This appeal resulted in three resolutions adopted by the General Assembly in 1959, 1961 and 1965, before allowing the People's Republic to be represented in the United Nations.

In 1970, he opened the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala (India), which houses more than 80,000 manuscripts and important knowledge resources related to Tibetan history, politics and culture. It is considered one of the most important institutes of Tibet science in the world.

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