The Dalai Lama is a high lama in the Gelug or “Yellow Hat” branch of Tibetan Buddhism. The name is a combination of the Sino-Mongolian word dalai meaning “Ocean” and the Tibetan word bla-ma (with a silent “b”) meaning “guru, teacher”.
In religious terms, the Dalai Lama is believed by his devotees to be the rebirth of a long line of tulkus who are considered to be manifestations of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteśvara. Traditionally, the Dalai Lama is thought of as the latest reincarnation of a series of spiritual leaders who have chosen to be reborn in order to enlighten others. The Dalai Lama is often thought to be the leader of the Gelug School, but this position belongs officially to the Ganden Tripa, which is a temporary position appointed by the Dalai Lama who, in practice, exerts much influence. The line of Dalai Lamas began as a lineage of spiritual teachers; the 5th Dalai Lama assumed political authority over Tibet.
For certain periods between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lamas sometimes directed the Tibetan government, which administered portions of Tibet from Lhasa. The 14th Dalai Lama remained the head of state for the Central Tibetan Administration (“Tibetan government in exile”) until his retirement on March 14, 2011. He has indicated that the institution of the Dalai Lama may be abolished in the future, and also that the next Dalai Lama may be found outside Tibet and may be female. The Chinese government was very quick to reject this and claimed that only it has the authority to select the next Dalai Lama.
In September 1987 His Holiness proposed the Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet as the first step towards a peaceful solution to the worsening situation in Tibet. He envisaged that Tibet would become a sanctuary; a zone of peace at the heart of Asia, where all sentient beings can exist in harmony and the delicate environment can be preserved. China has so far failed to respond positively to the various peace proposals put forward by His Holiness
The Five Point Peace Plan
In his address to members of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. on 21 September 1987, His Holiness proposed the following peace plan, which contains five basic components:
- Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace.
- Abandonment of China’s population transfer policy that threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people.
- Respect for the Tibetan people’s fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms.
- Restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment and the abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste.
- Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.
In his address to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 15 June 1988, His Holiness made another detailed proposal elaborating on the last point of the Five Point Peace Plan. He proposed talks between the Chinese and Tibetans leading to a self-governing democratic political entity for all three provinces of Tibet. This entity would be in association with the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Government would continue to remain responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy and defence.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a man of peace. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.
His Holiness has travelled to more than 62 countries spanning 6 continents. He has met with presidents, prime ministers and crowned rulers of major nations. He has held dialogues with the heads of different religions and many well-known scientists.
Since 1959 His Holiness has received over 84 awards, honorary doctorates, prizes, etc., in recognition of his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion. His Holiness has also authored more than 72 books.
His Holiness describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk.