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Who is the Dalai Lama?


who is the dalai lama

His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Photo by Christopher Prentiss Michel

Question: Who is the Dalai Lama?


The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan people. He is officially referred to as 'His Holiness.'

The current and 14th Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.

Born in 1935 as Lhamo Dondrub, Tenzin Gyatso was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at the age of two, and then was formally given the title in 1950 at the age of 15.

On November 17, 1950, the 14th Dalai Lama was made Tibetan Head of State immediately following the invasion of the Chinese.

At the insistence of his people, the 14th Dalai Lama reluctantly fled to North India on March 10, 1959, to escape death during the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the occupation of the Chinese.

The 14th Dalai Lama has outlived all of his predecessors, and has even hinted that he may be the last of the Dalai Lamas.

What Does the Dalai Lama Do?

Today, the Dalai Lama leads the Tibetan government in exile from McLeod Ganj, located near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, India, and resides in the Tsuglagkhang Complex. He has written many books and regularly travels the world to give talks on Tibetan Buddhism and urging his message of nonviolence.

Foreign visitors to McLeod Ganj who are lucky enough to catch the Dalai Lama at home can hear His Holiness speak at the Tsuglagkhang Complex.

How is the Dalai Lama Selected?

Tibetan monks visit a holy lake in Central Tibet known as Lhamo Latso and watch the reflection of the lake for clues. Careful attention is given to which direction the smoke blows after the previous Dalai Lama is cremated, then monks are dispatched across the land to begin the search.

When a young candidate is finally found, a number of objects are placed in front of the boy. Some belonged to the former Dalai Lama and some are careful replications or fakes. If the boy correctly chooses the objects that were important to the previous Dalai Lama, and other tests are passed, he is taken to Lhasa to begin spiritual training.

Previous Dalai Lamas

  • Gendun Drup: 1391 - 1474
  • Gendun Gyatso: 1475 - 1542
  • Sonam Gyatso: 1543 - 1588
  • Yonten Gyatso: 1589 - 1616
  • Ngawang Lobsand Gyatso: 1617 - 1682
  • Tsangyang Gyatso: 1683 - 1706
  • Kalsang Gyatso: 1708 - 1757
  • Jamphel Gyatso: 1758 - 1804
  • Lungtog Gyatso: 1805 - 1815
  • Tsulrim Gyatso: 1816 - 1837
  • Khedrup Gyatso: 1838 - 1855
  • Trinley Gyatso: 1856 - 1875
  • Thubten Gyatso: 1876 - 1933
  • Tenzin Gyatso: 1935 - present

In case you noticed the trend, the word gyatso means 'ocean' in the Tibetan language and refers to the Dalai Lama's ocean of wisdom.


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