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Tenzin Gyatso
Tenzin Gyatso speaking
The Dalai Lama in 2012
14th Dalai Lama
Reign 22 February 1940 – present
Predecessor Thubten Gyatso
  • 5th Reting Rinpoche (1934–1941)
  • 3rd Taktra Rinpoche (1941–1950)
Head of the Tibetan Administration for Tibetans-in-exile
In office 14 June 1991 – 2011
Head of State of Tibet
In office 10 March 1963 – 13 June 1991
Director of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region
In office 1956–1959
Predecessor Office established
Successor 10th Panchen Lama (acting)
Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
In office 15 September 1954 – 17 December 1964
Born Lhamo Thondup
(1935-07-06) 6 July 1935 (age 88)
Taktser, Amdo, Tibet,Republic of China
Father Choekyong Tsering
Mother Diki Tsering
Religion Tibetan Buddhism (Gelug school)
Signature Tenzin Gyatso's signature

The 14th Dalai Lama (spiritual name: Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, also known as Tenzin Gyatso;  Lhamo Thondup; 6 July 1935), known to the Tibetan people as Gyalwa Rinpoche, is, as the incumbent Dalai Lama, the highest spiritual leader and head of Tibet. He is considered a living Bodhisattva; specifically, an emanation of Avalokiteśvara in Sanskrit, and Chenrezig in Tibetan. He is also the leader and a monk of the Gelug school, the newest school of Tibetan Buddhism, formally headed by the Ganden Tripa. The central government of Tibet, the Ganden Phodrang, invested the Dalai Lama with temporal duties until his exile in 1959.

The 14th Dalai Lama was born to a farming family in Taktser (Hongya Village), in the traditional Tibetan region of Amdo (administratively Qinghai, Republic of China). He was selected as the tulku of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1937, and formally recognised as the 14th Dalai Lama in a public declaration near the town of Bumchen in 1939. As with the recognition process for his predecessor, a Golden Urn selection process was exempted and approved by the Central Government of the Republic of China. His enthronement ceremony was held in Lhasa on 22 February 1940 and he eventually assumed full temporal (political) duties on 17 November 1950 (at fifteen years of age), after the People's Republic of China's occupation of Tibet. The Tibetan government administered the historic Tibetan regions of Ü-Tsang, Kham and Amdo.

Subsequent to the annexation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China, during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the Dalai Lama escaped to India, where he continues to live in exile while remaining the spiritual leader of Tibet. On 29 April 1959, the Dalai Lama established the independent Tibetan government in exile in the north Indian hill station of Mussoorie, which then moved in May 1960 to Dharamshala, where he resides. He retired as political head in 2011 to make way for a democratic government, the Central Tibetan Administration.

The Dalai Lama advocates for the welfare of Tibetans and since the early 1970s has called for the Middle Way Approach with China to peacefully resolve the issue of Tibet. The Dalai Lama travels worldwide to give Tibetan Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism teachings, and his Kalachakra teachings and initiations are international events. He also attends conferences on a wide range of subjects, including the relationship between religion and science, meets with other world leaders, religious leaders, philosophers, and scientists, online and in-person. .....

The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Time magazine named the Dalai Lama one of the "Children of Gandhi" and Gandhi's spiritual heir to nonviolence.

Early life and background

Lhamo Thondup was born on 6 July 1935 to a farming and horse trading family in the small hamlet of Taktser, or Chija Tagtser (Chinese: 红崖村; pinyin: Hóngyá Cūn; literally "Redcliff Village"), at the edge of the traditional Tibetan region of Amdo in Qinghai Province.

He was one of seven siblings to survive childhood and one of the three supposed reincarnated Rinpoches in the same family. His eldest sister Tsering Dolma, was sixteen years his senior and was midwife to his mother at his birth. She would accompany him into exile and found Tibetan Children's Villages. His eldest brother, Thupten Jigme Norbu, had been recognised at the age of three by the 13th Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the high Lama, the 6th Taktser Rinpoche. His fifth brother, Tendzin Choegyal, had been recognised as the 16th Ngari Rinpoche. His sister, Jetsun Pema, spent most of her adult life on the Tibetan Children's Villages project. The Dalai Lama has said that his first language was "a broken Xining language which was (a dialect of) the Chinese language", a form of Central Plains Mandarin, and his family speak neither Amdo Tibetan nor Lhasa Tibetan.

The 14th Dalal Lama as a child, 1940s
The Dalai Lama as a child

After the demise of the 13th Dalai Lama, in 1935, the Ordinance of Lama Temple Management (Chinese: 管理喇嘛寺廟條例) was published by the Central Government. In 1936, the Method of Reincarnation of Lamas (Chinese: 喇嘛轉世辦法) was published by the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission of the Central Government. Article 3 states that death of lamas, including the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, should be reported to the commission, soul boys should be located and checked by the commission, and a lot-drawing ceremony with the Golden Urn system should be held. Article 6 states that local governments should invite officials from the Central Government to take care of the sitting-in-the-bed ceremony. Article 7 states that soul boys should not be sought from current lama families. Article 7 echoes what the Qianlong Emperor described in The Discourse of Lama to eliminate greedy families with multiple reincarnated rinpoches, lamas. Based on custom and regulation, the regent was actively involved in the search for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Following reported signs and visions, three search teams were sent out to the north-east, the east, and the south-east to locate the new incarnation when the boy who was to become the 14th Dalai Lama was about two years old. Sir Basil Gould, British delegate to Lhasa in 1936, related his account of the north-eastern team to Sir Charles Alfred Bell, former British resident in Lhasa and friend of the 13th Dalai Lama. Amongst other omens, the head of the embalmed body of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, at first facing south-east, had turned to face the north-east, indicating, it was interpreted, the direction in which his successor would be found. The Regent, Reting Rinpoche, shortly afterwards had a vision at the sacred lake of Lhamo La-tso which he interpreted as Amdo being the region to search. This vision was also interpreted to refer to a large monastery with a gilded roof and turquoise tiles, and a twisting path from there to a hill to the east, opposite which stood a small house with distinctive eaves. The team, led by Kewtsang Rinpoche, went first to meet the Panchen Lama, who had been stuck in Jyekundo, in northern Kham. The Panchen Lama had been investigating births of unusual children in the area ever since the death of the 13th Dalai Lama. He gave Kewtsang the names of three boys whom he had discovered and identified as candidates. Within a year the Panchen Lama had died. Two of his three candidates were crossed off the list but the third, a "fearless" child, the most promising, was from Taktser village, which, as in the vision, was on a hill, at the end of a trail leading to Taktser from the great Kumbum Monastery with its gilded, turquoise roof. There they found a house, as interpreted from the vision—the house where Lhamo Dhondup lived.

The 14th Dalai Lama claims that at the time, the village of Taktser stood right on the "real border" between the region of Amdo and China. According to the search lore, when the team visited, posing as pilgrims, its leader, a Sera Lama, pretended to be the servant and sat separately in the kitchen. He held an old mala that had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama, and the boy Lhamo Dhondup, aged two, approached and asked for it. The monk said "if you know who I am, you can have it." The child said "Sera Lama, Sera Lama" and spoke with him in a Lhasa accent, in a dialect the boy's mother could not understand. The next time the party returned to the house, they revealed their real purpose and asked permission to subject the boy to certain tests. One test consisted of showing him various pairs of objects, one of which had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama and one which had not. In every case, he chose the Dalai Lama's own objects and rejected the others.

House where the 14th Dalai Lama was born in Taktser, Amdo

From 1936 the Hui 'Ma Clique' Muslim warlord Ma Bufang ruled Qinghai as its governor under the nominal authority of the Republic of China central government. According to an interview with the 14th Dalai Lama, in the 1930s, Ma Bufang had seized this north-east corner of Amdo in the name of Chiang Kai-shek's weak government and incorporated it into the Chinese province of Qinghai. Before going to Taktser, Kewtsang had gone to Ma Bufang to pay his respects. When Ma Bufang heard a candidate had been found in Taktser, he had the family brought to him in Xining. He first demanded proof that the boy was the Dalai Lama, but the Lhasa government, though informed by Kewtsang that this was the one, told Kewtsang to say he had to go to Lhasa for further tests with other candidates. They knew that if he was declared to be the Dalai Lama, the Chinese government would insist on sending a large army escort with him, which would then stay in Lhasa and refuse to budge. Ma Bufang, together with Kumbum Monastery, then refused to allow him to depart unless he was declared to be the Dalai Lama, but withdrew this demand in return for 100,000 Chinese dollars ransom in silver to be shared amongst them, to let them go to Lhasa. Kewtsang managed to raise this, but the family was only allowed to move from Xining to Kumbum when a further demand was made for another 330,000 dollars ransom: one hundred thousand each for government officials, the commander-in-chief, and the Kumbum Monastery; twenty thousand for the escort; and only ten thousand for Ma Bufang himself, he said.

Two years of diplomatic wrangling followed before it was accepted by Lhasa that the ransom had to be paid to avoid the Chinese getting involved and escorting him to Lhasa with a large army. Meanwhile, the boy was kept at Kumbum where two of his brothers were already studying as monks and recognised incarnate lamas. The payment of 300,000 silver dollars was then advanced by Muslim traders en route to Mecca in a large caravan via Lhasa. They paid Ma Bufang on behalf of the Tibetan government against promissory notes to be redeemed, with interest, in Lhasa. The 20,000-dollar fee for an escort was dropped, since the Muslim merchants invited them to join their caravan for protection; Ma Bufang sent 20 of his soldiers with them and was paid from both sides since the Chinese government granted him another 50,000 dollars for the expenses of the journey. Furthermore, the Indian government helped the Tibetans raise the ransom funds by affording them import concessions.

On 22 September 1938, representatives of Tibet Office in Beijing informed Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission that 3 candidates were found and ceremony of Golden Urn would be held in Tibet.

Released from Kumbum, on 21 July 1939 the party travelled across Tibet on a journey to Lhasa in the large Muslim caravan with Lhamo Dhondup, now 4 years old, riding with his brother Lobsang in a special palanquin carried by two mules, two years after being discovered. As soon as they were out of Ma Bufang's area, he was officially declared to be the 14th Dalai Lama by the Central Government of Tibet, and after ten weeks of travel he arrived in Lhasa on 8 October 1939. The ordination (pabbajja) and giving of the monastic name of Tenzin Gyatso were arranged by Reting Rinpoche and according to the Dalai Lama "I received my ordination from Kyabjé Ling Rinpoché in the Jokhang in Lhasa." There was very limited Chinese involvement at this time. The family of the 14th Dalai Lama was elevated to the highest stratum of the Tibetan aristocracy and acquired land and serf holdings, as with the families of previous Dalai Lamas.

In 1959, at the age of 23, he took his final examination at Lhasa's Jokhang Temple during the annual Monlam Prayer Festival. He passed with honours and was awarded the Lharampa degree, the highest-level geshe degree, roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.

The Dalai Lama, whose name means "Ocean of Wisdom," is known to Tibetans as Gyalwa Rinpoche, "The Precious Jewel-like Buddha-Master;" Kundun, "The Presence;" and Yizhin Norbu, "The Wish-Fulfilling Gem." His devotees, as well as much of the Western world, often call him His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the style employed on the Dalai Lama's website. According to the Dalai Lama, he had a succession of tutors in Tibet including Reting Rinpoche, Tathag Rinpoche, Ling Rinpoche and lastly Trijang Rinpoche, who became junior tutor when he was nineteen. At the age of 11 he met the Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, who became his videographer and tutor about the world outside Lhasa. The two remained friends until Harrer's death in 2006.

Life as the Dalai Lama

Potala Palace, Tibet
Lhasa's Potala Palace, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 2019

Historically the Dalai Lamas or their regents held political and religious leadership over Tibet from Lhasa with varying degrees of influence depending on the regions of Tibet and periods of history. This began with the 5th Dalai Lama's rule in 1642 and lasted until the 1950s (except for 1705–1750), during which period the Dalai Lamas headed the Tibetan government or Ganden Phodrang. Until 1912 however, when the 13th Dalai Lama declared the complete independence of Tibet, their rule was generally subject to patronage and protection of firstly Mongol kings (1642–1720) and then the Manchu-led Qing dynasty (1720–1912).

Afterwards in 1939, at the age of four, the Dalai Lama was taken in a procession of lamas to Lhasa. The traditional ceremony enthroning the 14th Dalai Lama was attended by observing Chinese and foreign dignitaries after a traditional Tibetan recognition processes.

Sir Basil Gould, the British representative of the Government of India, has left a highly detailed account of the ceremonies surrounding the enthronement of the 14th Dalai Lama in Chapter 16 of his memoir, The Jewel in the Lotus. Gould disputes the Chinese claim to have presided over it.

Map of Tibet- "TIBET CONFIDENTIAL" "Ethnographic Boundary of Tibet" "Approximate Line of Communist Advance" and "Reportedly occupied by Communists" "11518, CIA, 2-50" February 1950 map- 305945 11518 01
Territorial extent of Tibet and approximate line of the Chinese Communist advance in 1950

Tibetan scholar Nyima Gyaincain wrote that based on Tibetan tradition, there was no such thing as presiding over an event, and wrote that the word "主持 (preside or organize)" was used in many places in communication documents. The meaning of the word was different from what we understand today. He added that Wu Zhongxin spent a lot of time and energy on the event, his effect of presiding over or organising the event was very obvious.

After his enthronement, the Dalai Lama's childhood was then spent between the Potala Palace and Norbulingka, his summer residence, both of which are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Chiang Kai Shek ordered Ma Bufang to put his Muslim soldiers on alert for an invasion of Tibet in 1942. Ma Bufang complied, and moved several thousand troops to the border with Tibet. Chiang also threatened the Tibetans with aerial bombardment if they worked with the Japanese. Ma Bufang attacked the Tibetan Buddhist Tsang monastery in 1941. He also constantly attacked the Labrang monastery.

In October 1950 the army of the People's Republic of China marched to the edge of the Dalai Lama's territory and sent a delegation after defeating a legion of the Tibetan army in warlord-controlled Kham. On 17 November 1950, at the age of 15, the 14th Dalai Lama assumed full temporal (political) power as ruler of Tibet.

Cooperation and conflicts with the People's Republic of China

Dalai lama, panchen lama and Mao in Beijing, 1954
An iconic photo showing Panchen Lama (left), Mao and Dalai Lama (right) at Qinzheng Hall on 11 September 1954, four days before they attended the 1st National People's Congress.
Mao Zedong, Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama
Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai meeting with Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama to celebrate Tibetan New Year, 1955
Dalai and Panchen
A rare shot of an adult Dalai Lama without eyeglasses (right) and Panchen Lama (left). 1954–1955.

The Dalai Lama's formal rule as head of the government in Tibet was brief although he was enthroned as spiritual leader on 22 February 1940. When Chinese cadres entered Tibet in 1950, with a crisis looming, the Dalai Lama was asked to assume the role of head of state at the age of 15, which he did on 17 November 1950. Customarily the Dalai Lama would typically assume control at about the age of 20.

He sent a delegation to Beijing, which ratified the Seventeen Point Agreement without his authorisation in 1951. The Dalai Lama believes the draft agreement was written by China. Tibetan representatives were not allowed to suggest any alterations and China did not allow the Tibetan representatives to communicate with the Tibetan government in Lhasa. The Tibetan delegation was not authorised by Lhasa to sign, but ultimately submitted to pressure from the Chinese to sign anyway, using seals specifically made for the purpose. The Seventeen Point Agreement recognised Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, but China allowed the Dalai Lama to continue to rule Tibet internally, and it allowed the system of feudal peasantry to persist.

The nineteen year old Dalai Lama toured China for almost a year from 1954 to 1955, meeting many of the revolutionary leaders and the top echelon of the Chinese communist leadership who created modern China. He learned Chinese and socialist ideals, as explained by his Chinese hosts, on a tour of China showcasing the benefits of socialism and the effective governance provided to turn the large, impoverished nation into a modern and egalitarian society, which impressed him. In September 1954, he went to the Chinese capital to meet Chairman Mao Zedong with the 10th Panchen Lama and attend the first session of the National People's Congress as a delegate, primarily discussing China's constitution. On 27 September 1954, the Dalai Lama was selected as a Vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, a post he officially held until 1964.

In 1956, on a trip to India to celebrate the Buddha's Birthday, the Dalai Lama asked the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, if he would allow him political asylum should he choose to stay. Nehru discouraged this as a provocation against peace, and reminded him of the Indian Government's non-interventionist stance agreed upon with its 1954 treaty with China.

Long called a "splitist" and "traitor" by China, the Dalai Lama has attempted formal talks over Tibet's status in China. In 2019, after the United States passed a law requiring the US to deny visas to Chinese officials in charge of implementing policies that restrict foreign access to Tibet, the US Ambassador to China "encouraged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, to seek a settlement that resolves differences".

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has warned the US and other countries to "shun" the Dalai Lama during visits and often uses trade negotiations and human rights talks as an incentive to do so. China sporadically bans images of the Dalai Lama and arrests citizens for owning photos of him in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is a target of Chinese state sponsored hacking. Security experts claim "targeting Tibetan activists is a strong indicator of official Chinese government involvement" since economic information is the primary goal of private Chinese hackers. In 2009 the personal office of the Dalai Lama asked researchers at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto to check its computers for malicious software. This led to uncovering GhostNet, a large-scale cyber spying operation which infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including embassies, foreign ministries, other government offices, and organisations affiliated with the Dalai Lama in India, Brussels, London and New York, and believed to be focusing on the governments of South and Southeast Asia.

A second cyberspy network, Shadow Network, was discovered by the same researchers in 2010. Stolen documents included a years worth of the Dalai Lama's personal email, and classified government material relating to India, West Africa, the Russian Federation, the Middle East, and NATO. "Sophisticated" hackers were linked to universities in China, Beijing again denied involvement. Chinese hackers posing as The New York Times, Amnesty International and other organisation's reporters targeted the private office of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Parliament members, and Tibetan nongovernmental organisations, among others, in 2019.

Exile to India

IMG 1206 Lhasa Potala
The abandoned former quarters of the Dalai Lama at the Potala. The empty vestment placed on the throne symbolises his absence
The 14th Dalai Lama with Lillard Hill in 1959
The 14th Dalai Lama interviewed by Voice of America journalist Lillard Hill in 1959.
The Dalai Lama opens art exhibit in Tokyo, 1967
In 1967, Dalai Lama was out of India for the first time since he resided there from 1959. The Japanese government granted him visa on the condition he would not attack PRC while in Japan.

At the outset of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, fearing for his life, the Dalai Lama and his retinue fled Tibet with the help of the CIA's Special Activities Division, crossing into India on 30 March 1959, reaching Tezpur in Assam on 18 April. Some time later he set up the Government of Tibet in Exile in Dharamshala, India, which is often referred to as "Little Lhasa". After the founding of the government in exile he re-established the approximately 80,000 Tibetan refugees who followed him into exile in agricultural settlements.

He created a Tibetan educational system in order to teach the Tibetan children the language, history, religion, and culture. The Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts was established in 1959 and the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies became the primary university for Tibetans in India in 1967. He supported the refounding of 200 monasteries and nunneries in an attempt to preserve Tibetan Buddhist teachings and the Tibetan way of life.

The Dalai Lama appealed 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, all before the People's Republic was allowed representation at the United Nations. The resolutions called on China to respect the human rights of Tibetans. In 1963, he promulgated a democratic constitution which is based upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, creating an elected parliament and an administration to champion his cause. In 1970, he opened the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamshala which houses over 80,000 manuscripts and important knowledge resources related to Tibetan history, politics and culture. It is considered one of the most important institutions for Tibetology in the world.

In 2016, there were demands from Indian citizens and politicians of different political parties to confer the Dalai Lama the prestigious Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour of India, which has only been awarded to a non-Indian citizen twice in its history.

In 2021, it was revealed that the Dalai Lama's inner circle were listed in the Pegasus project data as having been targeted with spyware on their phones. Analysis strongly indicates potential targets were selected by the Indian government.

International advocacy

Die Schweiz für Tibet - Tibet für die Welt - GSTF Solidaritätskundgebung am 10 April 2010 in Zürich IMG 5703
The flag of Tibet (designed by the 13th Dalai Lama) shares the stage with Gyatso in April 2010 in Zurich, Switzerland

At the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1987 in Washington, D.C., the Dalai Lama gave a speech outlining his ideas for the future status of Tibet. The plan called for Tibet to become a democratic "zone of peace" without nuclear weapons, and with support for human rights. The plan would come to be known as the "Strasbourg proposal," because the Dalai Lama expanded on the plan at Strasbourg on 15 June 1988. There, he proposed the creation of a self-governing Tibet "in association with the People's Republic of China." This would have been pursued by negotiations with the PRC government, but the plan was rejected by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile in 1991. The Dalai Lama has indicated that he wishes to return to Tibet only if the People's Republic of China agrees not to make any precondition for his return. In the 1970s, the Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping set China's sole return requirement to the Dalai Lama as that he "must [come back] as a Chinese citizen ... that is, patriotism".

The Dalai Lama celebrated his seventieth birthday on 6 July 2005. About 10,000 Tibetan refugees, monks and foreign tourists gathered outside his home. Patriarch Alexius II of the Russian Orthodox Church alleged positive relations with Buddhists. However, later that year, the Russian state prevented the Dalai Lama from fulfilling an invitation to the traditionally Buddhist republic of Kalmykia. The President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Chen Shui-bian, attended an evening celebrating the Dalai Lama's birthday at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. In October 2008 in Japan, the Dalai Lama addressed the 2008 Tibetan violence that had erupted and that the Chinese government accused him of fomenting. He responded that he had "lost faith" in efforts to negotiate with the Chinese government, and that it was "up to the Tibetan people" to decide what to do.

Thirty Taiwanese indigenous peoples protested against the Dalai Lama during his visit to Taiwan after Typhoon Morakot and denounced it as politically motivated.

The Dalai Lama is an advocate for a world free of nuclear weapons, and serves on the Advisory Council of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

The Dalai Lama has voiced his support for the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, an organisation which campaigns for democratic reformation of the United Nations, and the creation of a more accountable international political system.

Teaching activities, public talks

Dalai Lama 1997
Gyatso during a visit to Washington, D.C. in 1997
His Holiness giving teachings at Sissu, Lahaul
Gyatso giving teachings at Sissu, Lahaul

Despite becoming 80 years old in 2015, he maintains a busy international lecture and teaching schedule. His public talks and teachings are usually webcast live in multiple languages, via an inviting organisation's website, or on the Dalai Lama's own website. Scores of his past teaching videos can be viewed there, as well as public talks, conferences, interviews, dialogues and panel discussions.

The Dalai Lama's best known teaching subject is the Kalachakra tantra which, as of 2014, he had conferred a total of 33 times, most often in India's upper Himalayan regions but also in the Western world. The Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) is one of the most complex teachings of Buddhism, sometimes taking two weeks to confer, and he often confers it on very large audiences, up to 200,000 students and disciples at a time.

The Dalai Lama is the author of numerous books on Buddhism, many of them on general Buddhist subjects but also including books on particular topics like Dzogchen, a Nyingma practice.

In his essay "The Ethic of Compassion" (1999), the Dalai Lama expresses his belief that if we only reserve compassion for those that we love, we are ignoring the responsibility of sharing these characteristics of respect and empathy with those we do not have relationships with, which cannot allow us to "cultivate love." He elaborates upon this idea by writing that although it takes time to develop a higher level of compassion, eventually we will recognise that the quality of empathy will become a part of life and promote our quality as humans and inner strength.

He frequently accepts requests from students to visit various countries worldwide in order to give teachings to large Buddhist audiences, teachings that are usually based on classical Buddhist texts and commentaries, and most often those written by the 17 pandits or great masters of the Nalanda tradition, such as Nagarjuna, Kamalashila, Shantideva, Atisha, Aryadeva and so on.

Dalai lama teaching room
The Dalai Lama's main teaching room at Dharamshala
14th Dalai Lama at Bodh Gaya Kalachakra in December 1985
Dalai Lama conferring Kalachakra initiation at Bodh Gaya, India, December 1985
Bodh Gaya Kalachakra crowd overview December 1985
Overview of teaching venue at Bodh Gaya Kalachakra, 1985

The Dalai Lama refers to himself as a follower of these Nalanda masters, in fact he often asserts that 'Tibetan Buddhism' is based on the Buddhist tradition of Nalanda monastery in ancient India, since the texts written by those 17 Nalanda pandits or masters, to whom he has composed a poem of invocation, were brought to Tibet and translated into Tibetan when Buddhism was first established there and have remained central to the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism ever since.

As examples of other teachings, in London in 1984 he was invited to give teachings on the Twelve Links of Dependent Arising, and on Dzogchen, which he gave at Camden Town Hall; in 1988 he was in London once more to give a series of lectures on Tibetan Buddhism in general, called 'A Survey of the Paths of Tibetan Buddhism'. Again in London in 1996 he taught the Four Noble Truths, the basis and foundation of Buddhism accepted by all Buddhists, at the combined invitation of 27 different Buddhist organisations of all schools and traditions belonging to the Network of Buddhist Organisations UK.

In India, the Dalai Lama gives religious teachings and talks in Dharamsala and numerous other locations including the monasteries in the Tibetan refugee settlements, in response to specific requests from Tibetan monastic institutions, Indian academic, religious and business associations, groups of students and individual/private/lay devotees. In India, no fees are charged to attend these teachings since costs are covered by requesting sponsors. When he travels abroad to give teachings there is usually a ticket fee calculated by the inviting organisation to cover the costs involved and any surplus is normally to be donated to recognised charities.

He has frequently visited and lectured at colleges and universities, some of which have conferred honorary degrees upon him.

Dozens of videos of recorded webcasts of the Dalai Lama's public talks on general subjects for non-Buddhists like peace, happiness and compassion, modern ethics, the environment, economic and social issues, gender, the empowerment of women and so forth can be viewed in his office's archive.

Interfaith dialogue

The Dalai Lama met Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1973. He met Pope John Paul II in 1980, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990, and 2003. In 1990, he met a delegation of Jewish teachers in Dharamshala for an extensive interfaith dialogue. He has since visited Israel three times, and in 2006 met the Chief Rabbi of Israel. In 2006, he met Pope Benedict XVI privately. He has met the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie, and other leaders of the Anglican Church in London, Gordon B. Hinckley, who at the time was the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as senior Eastern Orthodox Church, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, and Sikh officials. The Dalai Lama is also a member of the Board of World Religious Leaders as part of The Elijah Interfaith Institute and participated in the Third Meeting of the Board of World Religious Leaders in Amritsar, India, on 26 November 2007 to discuss the topic of Love and Forgiveness.

In 2009, the Dalai Lama inaugurated an interfaith "World Religions-Dialogue and Symphony" conference at Gujarat's Mahuva religions, according to Morari Bapu.

In 2010, the Dalai Lama, joined by a panel of scholars, launched the Common Ground Project, in Bloomington, Indiana (USA), which was planned by himself and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan during several years of personal conversations. The project is based on the book Common Ground between Islam and Buddhism.

In 2019, the Dalai Lama fully sponsored the first-ever 'Celebrating Diversity in the Muslim World' conference in New Delhi on behalf of the Muslims of Ladakh.

Interest in science, and Mind and Life Institute

Dalai Lama's Baby Austin car
Remains of Dalai Lama's Baby Austin car. Lhasa, 1993
Remains of Dalai Lama's Dodge car. Lhasa, 1993
Remains of Dalai Lama's Dodge car. Lhasa, 1993

The Dalai Lama's lifelong interest in science and technology dates from his childhood in Lhasa, Tibet, when he was fascinated by mechanical objects like clocks, watches, telescopes, film projectors, clockwork soldiers and motor cars, and loved to repair, disassemble and reassemble them. Once, observing the Moon through a telescope as a child, he realised it was a crater-pocked lump of rock and not a heavenly body emitting its own light as Tibetan cosmologists had taught him. He has also said that had he not been brought up as a monk he would probably have been an engineer. On his first trip to the west in 1973 he asked to visit Cambridge University's astrophysics department in the UK and he sought out renowned scientists such as Sir Karl Popper, David Bohm and Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, who taught him the basics of science.

The Dalai Lama sees important common ground between science and Buddhism in having the same approach to challenge dogma on the basis of empirical evidence that comes from observation and analysis of phenomena.

His growing wish to develop meaningful scientific dialogue to explore the Buddhism and science interface led to invitations for him to attend relevant conferences on his visits to the west, including the Alpbach Symposia on Consciousness in 1983 where he met and had discussions with the late Chilean neuroscientist Francisco J. Varela. Also in 1983, the American social entrepreneur and innovator R. Adam Engle, who had become aware of the Dalai Lama's deep interest in science, was already considering the idea of facilitating for him a serious dialogue with a selection of appropriate scientists. In 1984 Engle formally offered to the Dalai Lama's office to organise a week-long, formal dialogue for him with a suitable team of scientists, provided that the Dalai Lama would wish to fully participate in such a dialogue. Within 48 hours the Dalai Lama confirmed to Engle that he was "truly interested in participating in something substantial about science" so Engle proceeded with launching the project. Francisco Varela, having heard about Engle's proposal, then called him to tell him of his earlier discussions with the Dalai Lama and to offer his scientific collaboration to the project. Engle accepted, and Varela assisted him to assemble his team of six specialist scientists for the first 'Mind and Life' dialogue on the cognitive sciences, which was eventually held with the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala in 1987. This five-day event was so successful that at the end the Dalai Lama told Engle he would very much like to repeat it again in the future. Engle then started work on arranging a second dialogue, this time with neuroscientists in California, and the discussions from the first event were edited and published as Mind and Life's first book, "Gentle Bridges: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Sciences of Mind".

As Mind and Life Institute's remit expanded, Engle formalised the organisation as a non-profit foundation after the third dialogue, held in 1990, which initiated the undertaking of neurobiological research programmes in the United States under scientific conditions. Over the following decades, as of 2014 at least 28 dialogues between the Dalai Lama and panels of various world-renowned scientists have followed, held in various countries and covering diverse themes, from the nature of consciousness to cosmology and from quantum mechanics to the neuroplasticity of the brain. Sponsors and partners in these dialogues have included the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, the Mayo Clinic, and Zurich University.

Apart from time spent teaching Buddhism and fulfilling responsibilities to his Tibetan followers, the Dalai Lama has probably spent, and continues to spend, more of his time and resources investigating the interface between Buddhism and science through the ongoing series of Mind and Life dialogues and its spin-offs than on any other single activity. As the institute's Cofounder and the Honorary chairman he has personally presided over and participated in all its dialogues, which continue to expand worldwide.

These activities have given rise to dozens of DVD sets of the dialogues and books he has authored on them such as Ethics for the New Millennium and The Universe in a Single Atom, as well as scientific papers and university research programmes. On the Tibetan and Buddhist side, science subjects have been added to the curriculum for Tibetan monastic educational institutions and scholarship. On the Western side, university and research programmes initiated by these dialogues and funded with millions of dollars in grants from the Dalai Lama Trust include the Emory-Tibet Partnership, Stanford School of Medicine's Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARES) and the Centre for Investigating Healthy Minds, amongst others.

In 2019, Emory University's Center for Contemplative Sciences and Compassion-Based Ethics, in partnership with The Dalai Lama Trust and the Vana Foundation of India, launched an international SEE Learning (Social, Emotional and Ethical Learning) program in New Delhi, India, a school curriculum for all classes from kindergarten to Std XII that builds on psychologist Daniel Goleman's work on emotional intelligence in the early 1990s. SEE learning focuses on developing critical thinking, ethical reasoning and compassion and stresses on commonalities rather than on the differences.

In particular, the Mind and Life Education Humanities & Social Sciences initiatives have been instrumental in developing the emerging field of Contemplative Science, by researching, for example, the effects of contemplative practice on the human brain, behaviour and biology.

In his 2005 book The Universe in a Single Atom and elsewhere, and to mark his commitment to scientific truth and its ultimate ascendancy over religious belief, unusually for a major religious leader the Dalai Lama advises his Buddhist followers: "If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims." He has also cited examples of archaic Buddhist ideas he has abandoned himself on this basis.

These activities have even had an impact in the Chinese capital. In 2013 an 'academic dialogue' with a Chinese scientist, a Tibetan 'living Buddha' and a professor of Religion took place in Beijing. Entitled "High-end dialogue: ancient Buddhism and modern science" it addressed the same considerations that interest the Dalai Lama, described as 'discussing about the similarities between Buddhism and modern science'.

Personal meditation practice

The Dalai Lama uses various meditation techniques, including analytic meditation and emptiness meditation.

Social stances

Tibetan independence

Despite initially advocating for Tibetan independence from 1961 to 1974, the Dalai Lama no longer supports it. Instead he advocates for more meaningful autonomy for Tibetans within the People's Republic of China. This approach is known as the "Middle Way". In a speech at Kolkata in 2017, the Dalai Lama stated that Tibetans wanted to stay with China and they did not desire independence. He said that he believed that China after opening up, had changed 40 to 50 per cent of what it was earlier, and that Tibetans wanted to get more development from China. In October 2020, the Dalai Lama stated that he did not support Tibetan independence and hoped to visit China as a Nobel Prize winner. He said "I prefer the concept of a 'republic' in the People's Republic of China. In the concept of republic, ethnic minorities are like Tibetans, The Mongols, Manchus, and Xinjiang Uyghurs, we can live in harmony".

Death penalty

The Dalai Lama has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the death penalty, saying that it contradicts the Buddhist philosophy of non-violence and that it expresses anger, not compassion. During a 2005 visit to Japan, a country which has the death penalty, the Dalai Lama called for the abolition of the death penalty and said in his address, "Criminals, people who commit crimes, usually society rejects these people. They are also part of society. Give them some form of punishment to say they were wrong, but show them they are part of society and can change. Show them compassion." The Dalai Lama has also praised U.S. states that have abolished the death penalty.

Democracy, nonviolence, religious harmony, and Tibet's relationship with India

Vienna 2012-05-26 - Europe for Tibet Solidarity Rally 194 HH sequence s
The Dalai Lama in Vienna, Austria, in 2012

The Dalai Lama says that he is active in spreading India's message of nonviolence and religious harmony throughout the world. "I am the messenger of India's ancient thoughts the world over." He has said that democracy has deep roots in India. He says he considers India the master and Tibet its disciple, as great scholars went from India to Tibet to teach Buddhism. He has noted that millions of people lost their lives in violence and the economies of many countries were ruined due to conflicts in the 20th century. "Let the 21st century be a century of tolerance and dialogue."

The Dalai Lama has also critiqued proselytisation and certain types of conversion, believing the practices to be contrary to the fundamental ideas of religious harmony and spiritual practice. He has stated that "It's very important that our religious traditions live in harmony with one another and I don't think proselytizing contributes to this. Just as fighting and killing in the name of religion are very sad, it's not appropriate to use religion as a ground or a means for defeating others." In particular, he has critiqued Christian approaches to conversion in Asia, stating that he has "come across situations where serving the people is a cover for proselytization." The Dalai Lama has labelled such practices counter to the "message of Christ" and has emphasised that such individuals "practice conversion like a kind of war against peoples and cultures." In a statement with Hindu religious leaders, he expressed that he opposes "conversions by any religious tradition using various methods of enticement."

In 1993, the Dalai Lama attended the World Conference on Human Rights and made a speech titled "Human Rights and Universal Responsibility".

In 2001, in response to a question from a Seattle schoolgirl, the Dalai Lama said that it is permissible to shoot someone in self-defense (if the person was "trying to kill you") and he emphasised that the shot should not be fatal.

In 2013, the Dalai Lama criticised Buddhist monks' attacks on Muslims in Myanmar and rejected violence by Buddhists, saying: "Buddha always teaches us about forgiveness, tolerance, compassion. If from one corner of your mind, some emotion makes you want to hit, or want to kill, then please remember Buddha's faith. ... All problems must be solved through dialogue, through talk. The use of violence is outdated, and never solves problems." In May 2013, he said "Really, killing people in the name of religion is unthinkable, very sad." In May 2015, the Dalai Lama called on Myanmar's Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to do more to help the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and said that he had urged Suu Kyi to address the Rohingyas' plight in two previous private meetings and had been rebuffed.

In 2017, after Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo died of organ failure while in Chinese government custody, the Dalai Lama said he was "deeply saddened" and that he believed that Liu's "unceasing efforts in the cause of freedom will bear fruit before long."

The Dalai Lama has consistently praised India. In December 2018, he said Muslim countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Syria should learn about religion from India for peace in the world. When asked in 2019 about attacks on the minority community in India including a recent one against a Muslim family in Gurgaon, he said: "There are always a few mischievous people, but that does not mean it a symbol of that nation". He reiterated in December 2021 that India was a role model for religious harmony in the world.

Diet and animal welfare

The Dalai Lama advocates compassion for animals and frequently urges people to try vegetarianism or at least reduce their consumption of meat. In Tibet, where historically meat was the most common food, most monks historically have been omnivores, including the Dalai Lamas. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama was raised in a meat-eating family but converted to vegetarianism after arriving in India, where vegetables are much more easily available and vegetarianism is widespread. He spent many years as a vegetarian, but after contracting hepatitis in India and suffering from weakness, his doctors told him to return to eating meat which he now does twice a week. This attracted public attention when, during a visit to the White House, he was offered a vegetarian menu but declined by replying, as he is known to do on occasion when dining in the company of non-vegetarians, "I'm a Tibetan monk, not a vegetarian". His own home kitchen, however, is completely vegetarian.

In 2009, the English singer Paul McCartney wrote a letter to the Dalai Lama inquiring why he was not a vegetarian. As McCartney later told The Guardian, "He wrote back very kindly, saying, 'my doctors tell me that I must eat meat'. And I wrote back again, saying, you know, I don't think that's right. [...] I think now he's vegetarian most of the time. I think he's now being told, the more he meets doctors from the west, that he can get his protein somewhere else. [...] It just doesn't seem right – the Dalai Lama, on the one hand, saying, 'Hey guys, don't harm sentient beings... Oh, and by the way, I'm having a steak.'"

Economics and political stance

The Dalai Lama has referred to himself as a Marxist and has articulated criticisms of capitalism.

He reports hearing of communism when he was very young, but only in the context of the destruction of the Mongolian People's Republic. It was only when he went on his trip to Beijing that he learned about Marxist theory from his interpreter Baba Phuntsog Wangyal of the Tibetan Communist Party. At that time, he reports, "I was so attracted to Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist Party member," citing his favourite concepts of self-sufficiency and equal distribution of wealth. He does not believe that China implemented "true Marxist policy," and thinks the historical communist states such as the Soviet Union "were far more concerned with their narrow national interests than with the Workers' International". Moreover, he believes one flaw of historically "Marxist regimes" is that they place too much emphasis on destroying the ruling class, and not enough on compassion. He finds Marxism superior to capitalism, believing the latter is only concerned with "how to make profits," whereas the former has "moral ethics". On the relations between India and Pakistan, the Dalai Lama in October 2019 said: "There is a difference between Indian and Pakistani Prime Minister's speech at the UN. Indian prime prime minister talks about peace and you know what his Pakistan counterpart said. Getting China's political support is Pakistan's compulsion. But Pakistan also needs India. Pakistani leaders should calm down and think beyond emotions and should follow a realistic approach".


The Dalai Lama is outspoken in his concerns about environmental problems, frequently giving public talks on themes related to the environment. He has pointed out that many rivers in Asia originate in Tibet, and that the melting of Himalayan glaciers could affect the countries in which the rivers flow. He acknowledged official Chinese laws against deforestation in Tibet, but lamented they can be ignored due to possible corruption. He was quoted as saying "ecology should be part of our daily life"; personally, he takes showers instead of baths, and turns lights off when he leaves a room.

Around 2005, he started campaigning for wildlife conservation, including by issuing a religious ruling against wearing tiger and leopard skins as garments. The Dalai Lama supports the anti-whaling position in the whaling controversy, but has criticised the activities of groups such as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (which carries out acts of what it calls aggressive nonviolence against property). Before the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, he urged national leaders to put aside domestic concerns and take collective action against climate change.

Women's rights

In 2007, he said that the next Dalai Lama could possibly be a woman: "If a woman reveals herself as more useful the lama could very well be reincarnated in this form."

In 2009, on gender equality and sexism, the Dalai Lama proclaimed at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee: "I call myself a feminist. Isn't that what you call someone who fights for women's rights?" He also said that by nature, women are more compassionate "based on their biology and ability to nurture and birth children". He called on women to "lead and create a more compassionate world," citing the good works of nurses and mothers.

At a 2014 appearance at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, the Dalai Lama said, "Since women have been shown to be more sensitive to others' suffering, their leadership may be more effective."

In 2015, he said in a BBC interview that if a female succeeded him, "that female must be attractive, otherwise it is not much use," and when asked if he was joking, replied, "No. True!" He followed with a joke about his success being due to his own appearance. His office later released a statement of apology citing the interaction as a translation error.


In 2013, at the Culture of Compassion event in Derry, Northern Ireland, the Dalai Lama said that "Warm-heartedness is a key factor for healthy individuals, healthy families and healthy communities."


In September 2018, speaking at a conference in Malmö, Sweden, home to a large immigrant population, the Dalai Lama said "I think Europe belongs to the Europeans," but also that Europe was "morally responsible" for helping "a refugee really facing danger against their life". He stated that Europe has a responsibility to refugees to "receive them, help them, educate them," but that they should aim to return to their places of origin and that "they ultimately should rebuild their own country".

Speaking to German reporters in 2016, the Dalai Lama said there are "too many" refugees in Europe, adding that "Europe, for example Germany, cannot become an Arab country." He also said that "Germany is Germany".

Retirement and succession plans

In May 2011, the Dalai Lama retired from the Central Tibetan Administration.

In October 2011, the Dalai Lama repeated his statement in an interview with Canadian CTV News. He added that Chinese laws banning the selection of successors based on reincarnation will not impact his decisions. "Naturally my next life is entirely up to me. No one else. And also this is not a political matter", he said in the interview. The Dalai Lama also added that he has not decided on whether he would reincarnate or be the last Dalai Lama.

In an interview with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag published on 7 September 2014 the Dalai Lama stated "the institution of the Dalai Lama has served its purpose", and that "We had a Dalai Lama for almost five centuries. The 14th Dalai Lama now is very popular. Let us then finish with a popular Dalai Lama."

Gyatso has also expressed fear that the Chinese government would manipulate any reincarnation selection in order to choose a successor that would go along with their political goals. In response the Chinese government implied that it would select another Dalai Lama regardless of his decision.

CIA Tibetan program

In October 1998, the Dalai Lama's administration acknowledged that it received $1.7 million a year in the 1960s from the U.S. government through a Central Intelligence Agency program. When asked by CIA officer John Kenneth Knaus in 1995 to comment on the CIA Tibetan program, the Dalai Lama replied that though it helped the morale of those resisting the Chinese, "thousands of lives were lost in the resistance" and further, that "the U.S. Government had involved itself in his country's affairs not to help Tibet but only as a Cold War tactic to challenge the Chinese." As part of the program the Dalai Lama received 180,000 dollars a year from 1959 till 1974 for his own personal use.

His administration's reception of CIA funding has become one of the grounds for some state-run Chinese newspapers to discredit him along with the Tibetan independence movement.

In his autobiography Freedom in Exile, the Dalai Lama criticised the CIA again for supporting the Tibetan independence movement "not because they (the CIA) cared about Tibetan independence, but as part of their worldwide efforts to destabilize all communist governments".

In 1999, the Dalai Lama said that the CIA Tibetan program had been harmful for Tibet because it was primarily aimed at serving American interests, and "once the American policy toward China changed, they stopped their help."


Studio albums

Title Album details Peak chart positions
Inner World
  • Released: 6 July 2020
  • Label: Khandro
  • Format: LP, digital download, streaming
88 18 8


Title Year Album
"Compassion" 2020 Inner World

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Tenzin Gyatso para niños

  • Golden Urn
  • The Discourse of Lama
  • Awards and honours presented to the 14th Dalai Lama
  • List of organisations of Tibetans in exile
  • Chinese intelligence activity abroad#Modes of operation
  • Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education
  • Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  • History of Tibet (1950–present)
    • Human rights in Tibet
    • Annexation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China
    • Protests and uprisings in Tibet since 1950
    • Sinicization of Tibet
    • Chinese occupation of Tibet
    • Period of de facto Tibetan independence
  • List of overseas visits by Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama outside India
  • List of peace activists
  • List of Nobel laureates
  • List of refugees
  • Templeton Prize lauretes
  • List of rulers of Tibet
  • Religious persecution
    • Freedom of religion in China
  • Tibet Fund
  • Tibet House
  • Tibet Religious Foundation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  • Tibetan art
  • Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy
  • Tibetan culture
  • Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts
  • Mind & Life Institute
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