Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism. He was born on July 6, 1935, to a farming family, in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, northeastern Tibet.
The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which is the largest and most influential tradition in Tibet.
About Dalai Lamas
The institution of the Dalai Lama is a relatively recent one. There have been only 14 Dalai Lamas in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, and the first and second Dalai Lamas were given the title posthumously.
The 14th Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally has been responsible for the governing of Tibet, until the Chinese government took control in 1959. Before 1959, his official residence was Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
At just over five years old, he was enrolled in the local monastery and began his training. He was also trained by the highest monks in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital city.
He was enthroned at the age of 15 in 1950 amidst the start of troubles with China, but continued to study until the age of 25.
When did Dalai Lama go into exile
The political landscape of China started changing in the 1950ies. Plans were made to bring Tibet officially under Chinese control. But in March 1959, Tibetans took to the streets demanding an end to Chinese rule. Chinese People’s Republic troops crushed the revolt and thousands were killed.
The Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to India with thousands of followers during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, where he was welcomed by former Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru who gave him permission to form the 'Tibetan government in exile' in Dharamsala.
How Dalai Lama and his followers promoted the Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism across the world
The Dalai Lama, and the refugees who followed him, created a society in which Tibetan language, culture, arts, and religion are promoted. In 1989 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for maintaining a policy of non-violence with the Chinese government.
He has traveled the world and has spoken about the welfare of Tibetans, environment, economics, women's rights, nonviolence, interfaith dialogue, physics, astronomy, Buddhism and science, cognitive neuroscience, reproductive health, and sexuality, along with various topics of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist teachings.
How is the Dalai Lama chosen
The Dalai Lama is found rather than chosen. Following the Buddhist belief in the principle of reincarnation, the Dalai Lama is believed by Buddhists to be able to choose the body into which he is reincarnated. That person, when found, will then become the next Dalai Lama.
The search for the reborn Dalai Lama is the responsibility of the High Lamas of the Gelgupa tradition and the Tibetan government.
This process can take several years: it took four years to find the 14th (current) Dalai Lama, Tensin Gyatso. The search is generally limited to Tibet, although the current Dalai Lama has said that there is a chance that he will not be reborn, and that if he is, it will not be in a country under Chinese rule.
Who will succeed the 14th Dalai Lama?
Because of the threat from China, the 14th Dalai Lama has made a number of statements that would make it difficult for a Chinese appointed 15th Dalai Lama to be seen as legitimate.
According to him, the institution of the Dalai Lama might not be needed any more. However, he has also said it was up to the people if they wanted to preserve this aspect of Tibetan Buddhism and continue the Dalai Lama lineage.
Another option the Dalai Lama has proposed would be for him to appoint his reincarnation before he dies. In this scenario, the Dalai Lama would transfer his spiritual realization to the successor. The Dalai Lama has also stated that if he dies outside of Tibet, his reincarnation would be located abroad, most likely India. He also mentioned the possibility of being reborn as a woman.