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Profile: The 14th Dalai Lama

 INSP 25 June 2019

In March 1959, as Chinese troops crushed an attempted uprising in Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled into India. Then a young man in his mid-20s, the future must have seemed bleak. (1017 Words) - By Danielle Batist

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Dalai Lama provides hope where politicians have failed 2

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama during his last visit to Scotland in 2006Photo: courtesy of Dalailamascotland.org

INSP_Dalai Lama

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama greets children as he visits a school for the blind in Friedberg.Photo: REUTERS/Alex Domanski

Dalai Lama provides hope where politicians have failed 1

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama during his last visit to Scotland in 2006Photo: courtesy of Dalailamascotland.org

Reuters_Dalai Lama

Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama (L) and South African Archbishop and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu walk after their visit to a Tibetan temple in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala February 10, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Stringer India

Reuters_Tibetan monks vigil

Tibetan monks and activists pray during a candlelight vigil at the Liberty Square in Taipei March 10, 2019, to mark the 51st anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama will appeal to the elite in the Chinese-run Himalayan region in a speech on Wednesday, inviting them to visit communities of exiled Tibetans. Photo: REUTERS/Nicky Loh


With few countries prepared to respond to China's actions, he faced a difficult task to protect Tibetans and their traditions. Yet despite 50 years in exile, the reach of Tibet's spiritual leader has extended far beyond his community and he is now recognised as one of the world's leading religious figures.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his consistent opposition to the use of violence in his quest for Tibetan self-rule. But Beijing continues to view him as a "splittist", although he has repeatedly stated that his goal is for Tibetan autonomy rather than independence.

Child leader

The 14th Dalai Lama was born on 6 July 2019, in a small village just outside the current boundaries of Tibet. His parents, who named him Lhamo Dhondub, were farmers with several other children.

When he was two years old, a search party of Buddhist officials recognised him as the reincarnation of the 13 previous Dalai Lamas and he was enthroned before he turned four. He was educated at a monastery and went on to achieve the Geshe Lharampa Degree, a doctorate of Buddhist philosophy.

But in 1950, when he was 15, the troops of Mao Tse-tung's newly-installed Communist government marched into Tibet. As soldiers poured into the country, the Dalai Lama - his title means Ocean of Wisdom - assumed full power as head of state.

In May 1951, China drew up a 17-point agreement legitimising Tibet's incorporation into China. When Tibetans took to the streets in 1959 demanding an end to Chinese rule, troops crushed the revolt and thousands of protesters were killed.

The Dalai Lama fled to India on foot and settled in Dharamsala, in the north of the country, which is now home to the Tibetan government-in-exile. He was followed into exile by about 80,000 Tibetans, most of whom settled in the same area.

Exile in India

In exile, the Dalai Lama began the task of trying to preserve the culture of the Tibetan people and publicise their plight on the world stage. He appealed to the United Nations and persuaded the General Assembly to adopt resolutions in 1959, 1961 and 1965 calling for the protection of the Tibetan people.

He has met political and religious leaders throughout the world and visited the late Pope John Paul II on several occasions. The Dalai Lama has advocated a "middle way" to resolve the status of Tibet - genuine self-rule for Tibet within China.

In 1987, amid protests in Lhasa against the large-scale relocation of Han Chinese into Tibet, the Dalai Lama proposed a five-point plan, in which he called for the establishment of Tibet as a zone of peace.

But he did not move from his stance of peaceful resistance and in 1989 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee praised his policy of non-violence, which it called "all the more remarkable when it is considered in relation to the sufferings inflicted on the Tibetan people".

Increased tension

Despite their disagreements, the Dalai Lama has continued to seek dialogue with Beijing. Talks between the two sides broke down in 1993 and there were no more for nearly a decade. Discussions resumed in 2002 and have continued intermittently but with no apparent progress.

Tensions between China and the Tibetan government-in-exile worsened in the wake of unrest in Tibet in March 2008 - the worst for 20 years. Protests sparked by the anniversary of the 1959 uprising turned into riots on the streets of Lhasa. Violent protests were also reported among Tibetan communities in neighbouring regions. China says at least 18 people were killed by rioters. Tibetan groups say as many as 200 people died in a crackdown by Chinese security forces.

In March 2011, the Dalai Lama handed his political responsibilities to an elected representative and proclaimed he would only continue as Tibet's spiritual leader. The move was seen as a way to transform the Tibetan government-in-exile into a more assertive and democratic body in the face of Chinese pressure.

Self-immolations

Lobsang Sangay was elected prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile in northern India. In April 2012 he urged Tibetans not to celebrate Losar, the traditional new year, and instead to pray for those "who have sacrificed and suffered under the repressive policies of the Chinese government."

At least 35 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2011 in protest against China's six-decade rule over Tibet, according to Tibetan rights groups. At least 27 have died, most of them Buddhist monks in Tibetan parts of Sichuan and Gansu provinces, next to what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region. China branded the self-immolators "terrorists" and criminals and has blamed exiled Tibetans and the Dalai Lama for inciting them.

Diplomatic rows

By stepping back from political power last year, it was believed that the Dalai Lama could find it far easier to travel and be seen greeting Western leaders who can often be reluctant to meet him amid worries it could upset diplomatic and trade ties with China. However, diplomatic rows over Dalai Lama visits have continued in recent months.

During his UK tour in June, the Dalai Lama walked into an Olympic row with China on a visit to Leeds, the city chosen as the base for the Chinese Olympic team this summer. The BBC reported that China had urged Leeds City Council to stop his visit and threatened to pull out of the city, but the council insisted the visit to address a business convention was private.

It was the latest low-level diplomatic tussle between China and Britain since Prime Minister David Cameron angered the Chinese by meeting the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader in London in May. China told Britain's envoy to Beijing the meeting had "seriously interfered" with China's internal affairs.

The now 76-year-old Dalai Lama shrugged off the controversy, telling reporters Beijing's displeasure over his foreign trips were commonplace. "That always happens. It's almost like routine."

(Sources: Reuters and BBC)

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