His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born on July 6, 1935 to a peasant family in the small village of Taktser in northeastern Tibet. He was born on the dirty floor of his impoverished family’s horse stables. Although he was one of 16 children, only seven of his brothers and sisters lived to see adulthood.
In his autobiography, His Holiness describes his childhood vividly. “One thing that I remember enjoying particularly as a very young boy was going into the chicken coop to collect the eggs with my mother and then staying behind. I liked to sit in the hens’ nest and make clucking noises. Another favourite occupation of mine as an infant was to pack things in a bag as if I was about to go on a long journey. I’m going to Lhasa, I’m going to Lhasa, I would say. This, coupled with my insistence that I be allowed always to sit at the head of the table, was later said to be an indication that I must have known that I was destined for greater things.” (DalaiLama.Com)
The Buddhists believe that the Dalai Lama is continually reincarnated to fulfil his role of teaching enlightenment to the world, and at the age of two he was recognized as the reincarnation of His predecessor, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. And although he was just two, he was seen to have started ‘late’. He was already four years old in 1939 when he was escorted in a caravan to the palace of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa, Tibet.
The memory of being taken away from his family at only four, has remained with the Dalai Lama. He described that separation and the year that followed as “a somewhat unhappy period of my life”. Fortunately his family would move to Lhasa after a while and he did grow up with his parents and siblings.
Yet the young Dalai Lama’s life was lived mostly in isolation. Tibet was closed off to the world – very few people visited Lhasa. The young boy’s days were filled with study, prayer and little play. It is little known that he remains one of the world’s foremost scholars of Vajrayana Buddhism.
At eleven he made an unusual friend. In 1946, a thirty something Austrian mountaineer called Heinrich Harrer made a death-defying trek from the Indian border into Tibet. One of a handful of foreigners in Lhasa, Harrer became a friend and a tutor of the young Dalai Lama, introducing him to the world outside. Harrer coached him in English and mathematics, fixed a broken projector to show a film of Henry V, and transcribed BBC news bulletins for the Tibetan government. (The Guardian) His account of those years, Seven Years in Tibet, was later turned into a successful film starring Brad Pitt.
In 1950, China invaded Tibet – the Dalai Lama was only 15. The young teenager – who was both the spiritual and political leader of Tibet – was thrust into complex negotiations about the future of his people. Nine years later, he made a daring escape to India, having been advised that the Chinese government was planning to assassinate him. It was a dangerous journey. The young man was dressed as a soldier with a rifle, and had to walk many miles on foot across difficult terrain. In a video interview, he laughingly remembered how heavy the rifle he had to carry was.
The Dalai Lama eventually arrived in Dharamshala and established an alternative government there. In Dharamshala, the young man grew into one of the world’s most extraordinary spiritual figures. He is a hero to millions and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. His charismatic personality have won many to his cause of freedom for his nation. His inspiring teachings about world peace, human rights, the environment, responsibility, compassion, tolerance and better understanding between all peoples and religions of the world have made him a symbol of spirituality and hope for peace in our time.
In 2013, the Dalai Lama outranked President Obama in popularity by 13% (Harris Poll), and unlike his predecessors, he can be followed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
Read read his teachings on Religion in the Modern World on the Juggernaut app now!