A Biography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, is the spiritual and temporal leader of the six million Tibetan people. He was born Lhamo Dhondup on July 6, 1935, in a small village called Taktser in northeastern Tibet. Born to a peasant family, His Holiness was recognized at the age of two. In accordance with Tibetan tradition, as the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama, His Holiness is an incarnation of Avalokiteshvar, the Buddha of Compassion.
The Dalai Lama began his education at the age of six and completed the Geshe Lharampa Degree (Doctorate in Buddhist Philosophy) when he was 25 in 1959. (At 24, he took the preliminary examinations at each of the three monastic universities: Drepung, Sera, and Ganden, outside Lhasa, the Tibetan capital city). The final examination was conducted in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa during the annual Monlam Chenmo or the great Prayer festival, held in the first month of the Tibetan calendar year. In the morning, he was examined by 30 scholars on logic. In the afternoon, he debated with 15 scholars on the subject of the Middle Path, and in the evening 35 scholars tested his knowledge or the canon of monastic discipline and the study of metaphysics. His Holiness passed the examination with honors, conducted before the 20, 000 monk scholars. In addition to Buddhist subjects, he studied English, Sciences, Geography and Mathematics.
In 1950, at 15, His Holiness was called upon to assume full political responsibility (head of the state and Government) when Tibet was threatened by the might of China. In 1954, he went to Beijing to hold peace talks with Mao Tsetung and other Chinese leaders including Chou En-Lai and Deng Xiaoping. In 1956, while visiting India to attend the 2500th birth anniversary of the Buddha, he had a series of meetings with Indian Prime Minister Nehru and Premier Chou about the deteriorating situation in Tibet.
His efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the Sino-Tibetan problem were thwarted by Beijing's ruthless policy in eastern Tibet, which ignited a popular uprising. This resistance movement spread to other parts of the country, and on March 10, 1959, the capital of Tibet, Lhasa exploded with a massive demonstration. The demonstrating Tibetans called on China to leave Tibet and reaffirmed Tibet's independence.
His Holiness escaped to India where he was given political asylum. Some 80, 000 Tibetan refugees at the time managed to follow His Holiness into exile. Today there are more than 120, 000 Tibetan refugees in India, Nepal, Bhutan, and in the West. Since 1960, His Holiness has resided in Dharamsala, a small town in Northern India, aptly known as "Little Lhasa," the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-exile.
In the early years of exile, His Holiness appealed to the United Nations on the question of Tibet, resulting in three resolutions adopted by the General Assembly in 1959, 1961, and 1965, calling on China to respect the human rights of Tibetans and their right to self-determination.
With the re-establishment of the Tibetan Government in India, His Holiness saw that his immediate and urgent task was to preserve Tibetan culture. He founded 53 large-scale agricultural settlements for the refugees to live on. As an economic base developed, he oversaw the creation of an autonomous Tibetan school system (there are over 80 Tibetan schools in India and Nepal today) to raise refugee children with full knowledge of their language, history, religion and culture. The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts was established in 1959 while the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies became a university for Tibetans in India. He inaugurated several cultural institutes to preserve Tibet's arts and sciences and helped re-establish more than 200 monasteries to keep alive the vast corpus of Buddhist teachings, the essence of the Tibetan spirit.
In 1963, His Holiness promulgated a democratic constitution, based on Buddhist principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as a model for a future free Tibet. Since then, His Holiness has been the most rigorous advocate for the refugees' own democratic experiment, while consistently reaffirming his desire not to hold political office once Tibet regains its independence. His Holiness continues to present new initiatives to resolve the Tibetan issue. At the Human Rights Caucus of the US Congress in 1987, he proposed a Five Point Peace Plan as a first step toward resolving the future status of Tibet. This plan calls for the designation of Tibet as a zone of non-violence, and end to the massive transfer of Chinese into Tibet, restoration of fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms, and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for nuclear weapons production and the dumping of nuclear waste, as well as urging "earnest negotiations" on the future of Tibet.
In Strasbourg, France on June 15, 1988, he elaborated on this Five Point Peace Plan and proposed the creation of a self-governing democratic Tibet "in association with the People's Republic of China." In his address, the Dalai Lama said that this represented "the most realistic means by which to re-establish Tibet's separate identity and restore the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people while accommodating China's own interests." His Holiness emphasized that "whatever the outcome of the negotiations with the Chinese may be, the Tibetan people themselves must be the ultimate deciding authority."
However, on September 2, 1991 (Tibetan Democracy Day), the Tibetan Government-in-exile released a statement declaring the Strasbourg Proposal no longer binding and added: "His Holiness the Dalai Lama made it very clear in his statement on 10th March this year that because of the closed and negative attitude of the present Chinese leadership he felt that his personal commitment to the ideas expressed in the Strasbourg proposal became ineffectual, and that if there was no new initiatives from the Chinese he would consider himself free of any obligation to the proposals he had made in his Strasbourg address. He, however, remains firmly committed to the path of non-violence and in finding a solution to the Tibetan issue through negotiations and understanding. Under these circumstances His Holiness the Dalai Lama no longer feels obligated or bound to pursue the Strasbourg Proposal as a basis for finding a peaceful solution to the Tibetan problem."
Contact with West and East
Since 1967, His Holiness has initiated a series of journeys that have taken him to some 42 nations. In February, 1990, His Holiness was invited to Czechoslovakia by President Vaclav Havel. President Havel and His Holiness issued a joint statement urging "all politicians to rid themselves of the restrictions of particular private or group interests and to lead their minds by their conscience and their feeling and responsibility for truth and justice." In 1991, His Holiness met President George Bush of the United States, Neil Kinnock, the British Opposition Leader, the Swiss and French Foreign Ministers, the Chancellor and President of Austria, as well as other senior foreign government officials. In meetings with political, religious, cultural and business leaders, as well as before large audiences at universities, churches and town halls, he has spoken of his belief in the oneness of the human family and the need for each individual to develop a sense of universal responsibility.
His Holiness said, "We are living today in an interdependent world. One nation's problems can no longer be solved by itself. Without a sense of universal responsibility, our very survival is in danger. Basically, universal responsibility is feeling for other people's suffering just as we feel our own. I have always believed in the need for better understanding, closer cooperation and greater respect among the various nations of the world. Besides, I feel that love and compassion are the moral fabric of world peace."
His Holiness met with the late Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1973, and with His Holiness Pope John Paul II in 1980, 1982, 1986, 1988 and 1990. At a press conference in Rome, His Holiness the Dalai Lama outlined his hopes for the meeting with John Paul II: "We live in a period of great crisis. It is not possible to find peace without security and harmony between peoples. For this reason, I look forward with faith and hope to my meeting with the Holy Father; to an exchange of ideas and feelings, and to his suggestions, so as to open the door to a progressive harmony between peoples."
In 1981, His Holiness talked with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie, and with other leaders of the Anglican Church in London. He also met with leaders of the Roman Catholic and Jewish communities and spoke at an interfaith service held in his honor by the World Congress of Faiths. In October 1989, during a dialogue with eight rabbis and scholars from the United States in Dharamsala, India, His Holiness remarked: "When we became refugees, we knew that our struggle would not be easy; it would take a long time, generations. Very often we would refer to the Jewish people, how they kept their identity and faith despite such hardship and so much suffering. And, when external conditions were ripe they were ready to rebuild their nation. So you see, there are many things to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters."
His talks in other forums focused on the commonality of faiths and the need for unity among different religions: "I always believe that it is much better to have a variety of religions, a variety of philosophies, rather than one single religion of philosophy. This is necessary because of the different mental dispositions of each human being. Each religion has certain unique ideas to techniques, and learning about them can only enrich one's own faith."
Recognition and Awards
Since his first visit to the west in 1973, His Holiness's reputation as a scholar and man of peace has grown steadily. In recent years, a number of universities and institutions in the world have conferred Peace Awards, honorary Doctorates and fellowships on His Holiness in recognition of distinguished writings in Buddhist philosophy and of his distinguished leadership in the service of freedom, peace and nonviolence. One such Doctorate was conferred by Seattle University, Washington, USA.
The following extract from the University's citation reflects a widely held view of His Holiness' stature: "In the realm of mind and spirit, you have distinguished yourself in the rigorous academic tradition of Buddhist universities, earning the Doctor's degree with the highest honors at the age of 25. In the midst of governmental and diplomatic affairs you nonetheless found time to teach and record in writing your keen insights in philosophy and the meaning of the contemplative life in the modern world. "Your books represent a significant contribution not only to the vast body of Buddhist literature, but to the ecumenical dialogue of the great religions of the world. Your own dedication to the contemplative life of the Buddhist monk has won the admiration and awe not only of the Buddhist, but of Christian contemplatives as well, including the contemplative monk Thomas Merton, whose friendship and conversation with you were mutually cherished."
In presenting the Raoul Wallenberg Congressional Human Rights Award, Congressman Tom Lantos said, "His Holiness the Dalai Lama's courageous struggle has distinguished him as a leading proponent of human rights and world peace. His ongoing efforts to end the suffering of the Tibetan people through peaceful negotiations and reconciliation have required enormous courage and sacrifice."
The Nobel Peace Prize
The Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision to award the 1989 Peace Prize to His Holiness the Dalai Lama won world wide praise and applause. In its citation, "the committee wants to emphasize the fact that the Dalai Lama in his struggle for the liberation of Tibet has consistently opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people. The Dalai Lama has developed his philosophy of peace from a great reverence for all things living and upon the concept of universal responsibility embracing all mankind as well as nature. In the opinion of the Committee the Dalai Lama has come forward with constructive and forward-looking proposals for the solution of international conflicts, human rights issues and global environmental problems."
On December 10, 1989, in Oslo, Norway, His Holiness accepted the prize on behalf of the oppressed everywhere and all those who struggle for freedom and work for world peace and the people of Tibet. In his remarks, he said, "The prize reaffirms our conviction that with truth, courage and determination as our weapons, Tibet will be liberated. Our struggle must remain nonviolent and free of hatred."
He also had a message of encouragement for the democracy movement in China. "In China the popular movement for democracy was crushed by brutal force in June of this year. But I do not believe the demonstrations were in vain, because the spirit of freedom was rekindled among the Chinese people and China cannot escape the impact of this spirit of freedom sweeping in many parts of the world. The brave students and their supporters showed the Chinese leadership and the world the human face of that great nation."
His Holiness often says, "I am just a simple Buddhist monk—no more, no less." His Holiness follows the life of a Buddhist monk. Living in a small cottage in Dharamsala, he rises at 4 A.M. to meditate and pursues a busy schedule of administrative meetings, private audiences and religious teachings and ceremonies. He concludes each day with further prayer before retiring. In explaining his greatest sources of inspiration, he often cites a favorite verse, found in the writings of the renowned eight century Buddhist saint Shantideva:
"For as long as space endures
And for as long as living beings remain,
Until then may I too abide
To dispel the misery of the world."
The above information was provided by the Office of Tibet. For further information, please see the Office of Tibet website: http://www.tibetoffice.org