Throughout history, there have been many influential religious leaders who make their mark in the world with the decisions and issues they choose to back. Known as the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th and current individual to hold the position and has gained quite a reputation with Westerners. With a high level of charisma and remarkable public speaking skills, Gyatso made history as the first Dalai Lama to pay a visit to the West with the intent to spread Buddhism and to promote the Free Tibet campaign.
The life of Tenzin Gyatso begins with his birth into a family of sixteen children , he being the fifth. His family was a predominately farming unit that was situated in the Tibetan province of Amdo. It was at the tender age of two that he was proclaimed the “tulku,” (which means rebirth) of the 13th Dalai Lama. On November 17th, 1950, he was enthroned as the Head of State for Tibet when he was only 15 years old. The title was rather substantial for a young man of his age, since it stood as the most important political ruler of the region. All of this took place, just as Tibet faced occupation by the troops associated with the People’s Republic of China. He is also revered as one of the most influential spiritual leaders regarding Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1959, the collapse of the Tibetan resistance movement took place and Tenzin Gyatso was forced to flee India (only after assuming his position to govern for a short period of time). The political atmosphere was becoming quite volatile, as supporters of the Dalai Lama began to suspect that China had made plans to murder Gyatso. After fleeing, Gyatso would become active in the establishment of the Central Tibetan Administration. This would be known as the exiled government of Tibet. Gyatso’s main goals were to seek the preservation of Tibetan culture and to encourage the education of thousands of refugees that accompanied his rule.
Gyatso and Foreign Relations
Since 1967, the Dalai Lama has become a deeply influential figure in bridging the gap in regards to foreign relations. He was the one who initiated a series of tours that spanned 46 nations, where he was quite vocal in the matters of religion. He met with many religious leaders from around the world, including Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1983, as well as Pope John Paul II in 1980, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990, and 2003. He was part of an intense interfaith dialogue between Jewish teaches that took place in Dharamsala in 1990. Additional religious meetings he has taken part in have included dialogue that has taken place between official representing the Eastern Orthodox Church, Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.
Gyatso’s name will forever remain in the history books because of his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. In Part 2 of “Who is Tenzin Gyatso,” you will learn about some of the many awards and honors he has received for his work pertaining to religion and politics.
The article will also deal with some of his thoughts surrounding social and other topics.