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Dalai Lama


The 14th Dalai Lama is the political and religious head of Tibetans living inside and outside Tibet. He is also the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism (Thubten, Norbu  & Colin, Turnbull 1968). The Dalai Lama was awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the liberation of Tibet, continued opposition to the use of violence in the struggle, as well as efforts to establish global peace through his philosophy of reverence of all living things. In the Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is believed to be a reincarnation of his predecessor. According to this belief, the 14th Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama and a human manifestation of the Buddha (Samphel & Tendar 2004). Before a Dalai Lama dies, he is said to have visions, which help priests identify his incarnate and successor, once he dies. The priests then use these visions, as well as other omens, to identify the new Dalai Lama (Mullin 2001). The 13th Dalai Lama is said to have had visions of the house in which his incarnate would be born. It is also said that the head of the dead body of the thirteenth Dalai Lama mysteriously turned to look in the direction where his incarnate would be born. Using this information and other numerous omens, the search party was able to identify two-year old Lhamo Dondrub as the reborn 13th Dalai Lama.

The 14th Dalai Lama (born Lhamo Dondrub) was born on 6th July 1935 in Takster, Amdo, in Qinghai province of the then Republic of China. He was the eleventh child in a peasant family of twelve (Samphel & Tendar 2004).  However, only six of his siblings did not die at infancy. His family had already been identified as a priestly family. His eldest brother had been identified as the reincarnation of the great priest (Lama) Thupten Rinchope. At the time of birth, the Republic of China was being governed by Chiang Kai Sheik’s Kuomintang government. The Qinghai province, in which Lhamo was born, was under the jurisdiction of the Muslim general Ma Bufang. The general was afraid that the newborn would bring extensive unity to Tibet, which bordered on his region and which he perceived as a threat to the stability of his province. He was, therefore, prepared to do all within his power to prevent Lhamo from succeeding his predecessor. He placed the young Dalai Lama under house arrest in the name of protection and refused to allow him to travel to Tibet. He then demanded 100, 000 silver dollars before he could allow the Dalai Lama to travel from Qinghai to Tibet. The sum was raised and paid to Ma Bufang when the Dalai Lama was four, after which he was taken by the lamas of Lhasa to a palace in Norbunglika where he grew up. At the age of six, he commenced his education and took lessons in religion, philosophy and economics among others. He took his final examinations during 1959 at Jokhang Temple and passed them with honors, for which he was awarded the highest degree in Buddhist philosophy. On November 17, 1950, at the age of fifteen he finally officially took office as the Dalai Lama and the head of Tibet from the regent.

Throughout his life, the 14th Dalai Lama has been fighting for the liberation of Tibet from China. This has earned him great criticism from China and has seen China pressure other countries to dissociate from him. As early as 1941, Chiang Kai Sheik’s Kuomintang had declared Tibet as dangerous to the cohesion of the Republic of China. Chiang then ordered general Ma Bufang to invade Tibet, which he did in 1941, attacking various monasteries in Tibet. Initially, the Dalai Lama had received support from the People’s Liberation Army of China, which had taken control of Tibet after defeating the warlords controlling Tibet (Shakya 1999). They had then sent a delegation to the Dalai Lama asking for cooperation. Later, he sent a delegation to Beijing to negotiate peaceful liberation of Tibet. In 1954, he met Mao Zedong in Beijing and was a delegate in the 1954 National People’s Congress which was a delegation to primarily discuss China’s constitution. From 1954 to 1964, he was Deputy Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. In 1956, the 14th Dalai Lama requested political asylum in India, but President Jawaharlal Nehru denied the request citing the 1954 Sino-Indian agreement that stipulated that neither of the two states was to interfere with the other’s internal affairs. The US Government volunteered to give him asylum but he declined the offer.

The Dalai Lama fled to India during the 1959 uprising as a result of dissenting opinions between him and China (Goldstein 1999). China regarded the uprising as having been instigated by feudal landlords. However, the Dalai Lama viewed the uprising as an expression of discontent by the Tibetan people. He, therefore, denounced the People's Republic of China and set up a Tibetan government in exile. Since then, he has used his oratory skills to advocate for the unity and welfare of Tibetans. He has travelled widely throughout the world teaching the tenets and ideals of Tibetan Buddhism. He has authored numerous books and given many lectures in many universities around the world. He also teaches on the immerging issues affecting the contemporary world, such as sexuality, economics and firearms. He preaches that compassion is the genesis of all happiness. His biggest opponent and critic has been China, which has used its economic power to pressurize institutions to denounce him. Shakya (1999) notes that he is a self-proclaimed Marxists and considerers Marxism the best economic system for the world. In his own words he says

"Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilisation of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes — that is, the majority — as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair." (Laird 2006)

While he is against homosexuality, he has called for respect and equality for all, including homosexuals. He explains that this is both his personal opinion, as well as that advocated for by Buddhism. He says:

“In his 1996 book Beyond Dogma, he described a traditional Buddhist definition of an appropriate sexual act as follows: "A sexual act is deemed proper when the couples use the organs intended for sexual intercourse and nothing else... Homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact."- (Laird 2006)

The 14th Dalai Lama has been a great crusader for unity of religions. He has frequently visited leaders of major religions in the world, including Pope Paul IV, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie. He has also met Gordon B. Hinckley, who is the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints . He has held meetings with the heads of Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Sikh religions. He has sought to use religion to bring unity rather than discord to the world. The Dalai Lama has also been consistent in the philosophy of sacredness of all living things. He supports the theory that love is capable of solving all problems that face the world today. He also believes that love for nature tends to nurture love between human beings. He condemns the eating of meat, as it brings suffering to the animals.          

 Like all great revolutionaries, the Dalai Lama has faced severe criticism. He has been criticized for many things, including accepting the CIA’s support and facilitating the activities of a resistance movement in Colorado. His cosy relations with India has also been a subject of debate, since he has in several instances referred to himself as being more Indian than Tibetan, which critics claim undermines his right to rule Tibet.

The 14th  Dalai Lama has strived to balance his duties as a political leader, as well as the chief religious leader of the Tibetan Buddhism (Shakya 1999). It has not been a smooth road for him, but he has largely been successful. His life has been one of long struggle, but he has always stood by his people, being a beacon of hope for all Tibetans living inside and outside Tibet. His course has been a rough one, and in addition to earning him many friends and admirers, it has earned him powerful enemies. The fact that his struggle has led him against the Chinese authorities and that he has been subjected to humiliation has not deterred from fighting for the rights of his people. He has faced more problems than most heads of states. At the age of two, he had already been placed under house arrest. He has been living in exile for nearly all his life and has been prevented from ever visiting his home. The Chinese government has labelled him an anti-reformist and come up with propaganda to tarnish his name (Mullin 2001). Many countries do not want to run afoul with China, and hence distance themselves from Dalai Lama. A recent example is when he was prevented from attending a birthday party of anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu. Being a major trading partner to China, the South African government simply denied him an entry visa. Yet, in all these trials he has stood firm for what he believes in. He has also proved that he does not shy away from expressing his opinion, however controversial it may be. His stance on the issue of abortion, for instance, goes against the mainstream view of religious leaders. The Dalai Lama considers expected disability of the unborn child a sufficient reason to have an abortion. This has earned him widespread criticism, as many religious leaders worldwide think otherwise. The Dalai Lama has ceaselessly advocated unity and peaceful coexistence between the various religions of the world (Mullin 2001). His efforts have begun to bear fruit with the establishment of the World’s Religions Council, of which he is a member. It is clear that his convictions and ideals are too great for the People’s Republic of China to suppress (Goldstein 1999). He will stop at nothing, until his people of Tibet are liberated. His struggle has greatly endeared him to his people, who fondly refer to him as Tenzin Gyatso, which means ‘the wise counsellor’. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama is truly a revolutionary worthy of respect and admiration.                     

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