Much like the Buddhist philosophy he expounds, the Dalai Lama is many
different things to different people. To many Americans, he may only be known as the
Asian guy who is friends with Richard Gere. To most Tibetans, however, he is an
incarnation of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara—enlightened beings who have
delayed their own spiritual union with the supreme spirit in order to return
and serve humanity. To the Chinese government, he is the demon rebel, standing between Communist China and the takeover of neighboring Tibet.
actuality, he is one of the greatest champions of mankind's precious
right to live one's life according to one's own values and customs.
Tenzin Gyatso was born in 1935. He was taken from his parents to an ancient
Buddhist monastery in Tibet where he was groomed for the role of
Dalai Lama, the political and spiritual leader of Tibet. In 1950, the Chinese
government invaded Tibet. Only 15 years old, the Dalai Lama and his aides tried to
cooperate with the Communist invaders, but brutal acts of repression forced
him to flee to Dharamsala, India, in 1959. He has lived in exile ever since.
For close to four decades, the Dalai Lama has traveled the world seeking
from the international political community to end the destruction of
Tibet's culture by the occupying forces of China. This destruction, which
has been likened to the Jewish Holocaust of W.W. II, has resulted in
razing of more than 6,000 temples and the deaths of at least one million Tibetans.
The Dalai Lama's activism has enlisted the support of groups as diverse
Amnesty International and Hollywood celebrities such as Harrison Ford. In
1989, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Prize for his commitment in furthering the
causes of nonviolence and human rights.
After more than 50 years of hostile occupation by the Chinese, many
aspects of Tibetan culture have been irretrievably lost. However, the work of
the Dalai Lama has created a climate of hope in the high mountain
country. Limited numbers of Tibetan pilgrims are allowed to visit the
Dalai Lama in neighboring India and as long as the monks stay out of the
political arena, Buddhist monasteries are largely left in peace. Still, as
long as Tibet is denied independence, there will a great deal yet to
accomplish before the Dalai Lama realizes a dream he once penned:
. . . of total freedom for all Tibet,
Which has been awaited for a long time,
to be spontaneously fulfilled;
Please grant soon the good fortune to enjoy
The happy celebration of spiritual with temporal rule.