Dalai Lama Buddhism

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama (Tibetan ཏཱ་ལའི་བླ་མ་, Wylie: ta la'i bla ma; often translated as "ocean-like teacher") is the title of the highest trülku within the hierarchy of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.

It was first conferred as an honorary title by the Mongol prince Altan Khan to his spiritual teacher Sönam Gyatsho in 1578. The formal title is His Holiness, and the direct form of address is Your Holiness.

The current 14th Dalai Lama is the Buddhist monk Tenzin Gyatso.



The Dalai Lama is understood in Tibetan Buddhism as a bodhisattva, an enlightened being who reincarnated out of compassion, that is: consciously re-entered - for example - human existence.

Although enlightened beings can leave the cycle of rebirth, bodhisattvas vow to take their rebirth voluntarily in order to alleviate the suffering of other sentient beings (bodhisattva vow).

Dalai Lamas are considered emanations of Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས; spyan ras gzigs; Chenresig), the bodhisattva of compassion who appears on earth as a human being (see also: Nirmāṇakāya).

The Dalai Lama, contrary to popular misunderstanding, is not the spiritual head of the Gelug school; that position is held by the Ganden Thripa.


According to Tibetan tradition, a Dalai Lama is considered a trülku (Tibetan: སྤྲུལ་སྐུ; sprul sku, high-ranking "reborn one," specifically as the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara).

It is assumed by the believers that after the death of a Dalai Lama his rebirth can be found. For this purpose, the leadership of the order often authorizes several search commissions consisting of high-ranking monks.

The fourteenth Dalai Lama was found and recognized by one of three commissions after a vision of the regent Jampel Yeshe Gyeltshen at Lhamo Lhatso and other omens.

After the decision is made for one of the candidates, the child is officially declared the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. It traditionally receives a monastic education in Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan culture, language, writing, calligraphy and general knowledge.

The Penchen Lama, who had been in a teacher-disciple relationship with the Dalai Lama of the Gelug school since the time of Lobsang Chökyi Gyeltshen, also played a role in this training.


Mongolian origin

The honorary title of Dalai Lama (Mongolian Dalai.PNG, Dalai, for Tibetan རྒྱ་མཚོ Gyatso, both "ocean") was first bestowed on Sönam Gyatsho in 1578, when he went to the court of the Prince of the Tümed Mongols Altan Khan on a missionary journey for a few months.

He returned the favor and in turn conferred an honorary title on the Mongol prince. In this way, he placed the realm of Altan Khan under his spiritual protection and in return secured his support in the struggle of his order for supremacy against the rival Lamaistic schools.

Since both of Sönam Gyatsho's predecessors were subsequently recognized as Dalai Lama, he counts himself as the third Dalai Lama after the Buddhist abbot Gendün Drub (1391-1475) and Gendün Gyatsho (1475-1542).

Exercise of state authority

When the Western Mongol prince Gushri Khan, who saw himself as the patron of the Dalai Lama (then Ngawang Lobsang Gyatsho, the 5th Dalai Lama), conquered central Tibet in a war that lasted several years and captured the last king of Tsang, Tenkyong Wangpo (1606-1642), on February 7, 1642, after taking the city of Shigatse, he first proclaimed himself ruler of Tibet.

On May 3, 1642, in a solemn ceremony, he declared the Dalai Lama to be the supreme authority of all Tibet, "from Dajianlu (see also Kardze) in the east to Ladakh in the west."

The political authority of the Ganden Phodrang government (Tib.: དགའ་ལྡན་ཕོ་བྲང; dga' ldan pho brang) was to be exercised by a "Desi" (Tib. : སྡེ་སྲིད; sde srid; regent) who was vested with the powers of a prime minister.

Consequences of the first vacancy

When the 5th Dalai Lama died on April 2, 1682, a difficult situation arose for the government of Tibet. It had to go in search of his reincarnation, a newborn child, had to give this child a first-class education and training, and had to wait for him to come of age until his rule over the country as the 6th Dalai Lama could begin.

For that long, a whole generation, Tibet and its government had to do without a head of state. It was reasonable to assume that neighboring peoples, as well as forces within, would use this period of a certain power vacuum to their advantage and to Tibet's disadvantage.

In order to prevent this, the 5th Dalai Lama instructed the Desi Sanggye Gyatsho (1653-1705) on his deathbed to keep his death secret until the work on the Potala Palace was completed. This was apparently done with the approval and support of all important court officials and clergy.

To keep up appearances, a public appearance or audience for Mongol dignitaries had to be staged from time to time. Depending on the occasion, his ceremonial robe was sometimes placed on the throne in the audience hall or a suitable monk had to double the sovereign.

The training of the 6th Dalai Lama also suffered from the need for secrecy. Only secret keepers were allowed to know who he was. It was not until 1696, a year after the completion of the Potala Palace, that the Desi announced that the Dalai Lama had already died in 1682 and presented a 13-year-old boy as his reincarnation.

Both the allied Mongols and the Chinese emperor (Kangxi), who appreciated the Dalai Lama and his teachings but experienced Tibetan politics in recent years as hostile to China, felt betrayed. Trust in the institution of the Dalai Lama was severely shaken.

The attempt to keep the death of a Dalai Lama secret was no longer made after these experiences. However, it became normal in the following two centuries, as a glance at the list below shows, that in Tibet the affairs of state were conducted by regents while the respective Dalai Lama was still a minor. Many of them died at a young age.

Turmoil surrounding the 6th Dalai Lama

The turmoil that first led to the deposition of the 6th Dalai Lama, Tshangyang Gyatsho, and then to Tibet coming permanently under Chinese influence is worthy of note.

Since the death of the 5th Dalai Lama, which was kept secret, and even after the enthronement of Tshangyang Gyatsho, the Desi pursued Tibetan power politics by playing various Mongol tribes off against each other and against China.

Unfortunately for him, in 1696, the Mongol Jungar tribe on which he relied was decisively defeated by the Chinese emperor's troops. Subsequently, the Chinese in turn played off other Mongol tribes against the Desi. In view of the deceptions just revealed in connection with the death of the 5th Dalai Lama, this was not difficult.

The 6th Dalai Lama did not live up to the religious expectations placed in him. He maintained a very permissive lifestyle.

When the Desi tried to murder Tshangyang Gyatsho's friend who accompanied him in his debauchery, this led to a break with the regent and ultimately to his being released from all vows by the 5th Penchen Lama Lobsang Yeshe in the Trashilhünpo monastery in 1702 and restored to lay status.

The dignity of the Dalai Lama remained with him. Even if the clergy was dissatisfied with him, he only became more popular with the common people with every further escapade.

Tensions with the religiously aligned Mongols, who considered the conditions at his court unworthy, grew dramatically after the Dalai Lama's laicization. They led to the resignation of Desi and eventually, as he continued to pull strings in the background, to his beheading and the occupation of Tibet by Mongol tribes allied with the emperor in 1705.

The Dalai Lama was untouchable by both the emperor and the Mongols, and yet he was in their way. They had it spread that he was not the real reincarnation and had unjustly usurped the position of the Dalai Lama. In order to overthrow him, however, they did not use the lever of his frivolous way of life, but accused him of heresy.

He was endangering the teachings of the ruling Gelug school. In June 1706, the Khan had him removed from the Potala Palace and formally declared him deposed. With a special envoy from the emperor, he was taken on his way to the imperial court in Beijing. He died on the way on November 14, 1706.

Since 1706, the Mongol Labsang Khan officially acted as regent in Lhasa and declared that since the Dalai Lama had not been real, the real one had yet to be found.

The following year, he presented a monk born in 1686, who was enthroned as the 7th Dalai Lama by the 5th Penchen Lama under the name Yeshe Gyatsho. However, doubts soon arose about his authenticity.

Nevertheless, this Dalai Lama was officially recognized by the emperor in 1710. He ordered all Tibetans to obey Labsang Khan and the Dalai Lama. In return, the Khan committed himself to annual tribute.

A new conflict broke out when it became known that an incarnation of Tshangyang Gyatsho was found in eastern Tibet, in the area of Lithang (Kham).

After recognition by the monks of Lithang as the 7th Dalai Lama, the acclaim the child received continued to grow, so that in 1714 he was taken to safety in Dêgê Monastery to the east from the grasp of the Khan, who continued to rely on Yeshe Gyatsho.

The emperor became concerned with the confused situation. He finally decided that the boy was taken to the great Kumbum Monastery in August 1716.

In 1717, the Jungar ruler seized the opportunity to oust Labsang Khan and the Mongol tribes allied with the emperor from Tibet. He entered Tibet with a strong army, pretended to Labsang Khan that he was coming as an ally in the war against Bhutan, but spread to the Tibetans during the march that he was only fighting for the installation of the rightful, the 7th Dalai Lama.

Thus he attracted many Tibetans to his side. But the troop sent by the Jungars to Kumbum Monastery to get the 7th Dalai Lama was devastatingly defeated. Nevertheless, Lhasa was conquered before the end of the year, with Labsang Khan falling in battle.

The Dalai Lama Yeshe Gyatsho, whom he had sponsored, was deposed and later deported to China. Since followers of Labsang Khan still ruled in parts of Tibet, the unity of the country had disintegrated.

Disappointment spread that, contrary to promises, the 7th Dalai Lama had not been freed from Kumbum, and the Jungars could only hold on to Lhasa by force.

Subordination to Imperial China

The emperor sent a strong army to Tibet. This army escorted the 12-year-old 7th Dalai Lama Kelsang Gyatsho to Lhasa on October 16, 1720.

On April 24, 1721, an emissary of the emperor delivered the official recognition of the Dalai Lama and had the great state seal presented on this occasion, which read in three languages in Manchu, Mongolian and Tibetan: "Seal of the Sixth" "Dalai Lama, Leader of Living Beings, Propagator of the Teaching".

As a governing authority, they abolished the office of the Desi and established a Council of Ministers (Tib.: བཀའ་ཤག;bka' shag; Kashag). The chairman and his deputy were appointed by the emperor. Now Tibet was under the direct suzerainty of the empire. Although the imperial army soon left, a garrison of 3000 men remained in Lhasa.

When in 1727 the chairman of the Council of Ministers was assassinated by the ministers (Tib.: བཀའ་བློན; bka' blon; Kalön) and his deputy escaped them, new unrest broke out. Again, the emperor (Yongzheng) sent an army and restored peace and order.

In a show trial, the emperor had the conspirators, who included the Dalai Lama's father, sentenced. The Dalai Lama was exiled with his father for seven years to Garthar near their home in Lithang. To prevent new unrest, the emperor strengthened the position of chairman of the Council of Ministers (prime minister), to which the previous deputy was appointed.

However, he was assisted by two Ambans, Chinese residents who reported directly to the emperor. At the Emperor's behest, the 7th Dalai Lama was brought to Lhasa by a Chinese escort at the expiration of his banishment and was able to re-enter the Potala Palace on September 3, 1735. His powers remained limited to the spiritual realm.

The prime minister died on March 12, 1747, and was succeeded in that office by his son, who soon began to conspire against Peking, made secret contacts with the Jungars, and was subsequently stabbed to death by the Ambans on November 11, 1750, who were in turn murdered by the angry mob.

In the unrest that broke out thereafter, the Dalai Lama took the position of the Ambans and declared that they had acted justly. He appointed a new premier and imprisoned the leader of the riots. He then reported the events to the emperor.

On February 7, 1751, the emperor restored to the Dalai Lama not only spiritual but also political rule over Tibet. The four-member Kashag was placed under him as the governing body.

The position of the imperial ambans was further strengthened. They could intervene directly in Tibetan politics, since important decisions depended on their approval.

Immediately after the death of the 7th Dalai Lama on March 22, 1757, the Kashag and other high dignitaries decided to appoint a Gyeltshab (Tib.: རྒྱལ་ཚབ; rgyal tshab) as regent to exercise temporal rule until the 8th Dalai Lama was found and came of age.

The regent thus appointed was confirmed by the emperor. When the 8th Dalai Lama Jampel Gyatsho came of age, the Gyeltshab abdicated and handed over the temporal power to him with the imperial seals on July 21, 1781.

However, in 1788, the Dalai Lama showed so little skill in the successful invasion of the Gurkhas, who had gained dominion in Nepal, that the emperor withdrew his governmental powers and again appointed a regent. The emperor rectified the military situation with a campaign.

Golden urn and low life expectancy

The imperial palace suspected that the finding ritual of the great incarnations, especially the Dalai Lama and the Penchen Lama, was in danger of abuse. Thus, the emperor ordered that the Tibetan state oracle of Nechung Monastery be consulted about all boys under consideration.

Under the supervision of an imperial amban, the oracle was to select three boys. The regent was to make the selection from these three names in the presence of the amban by drawing lots from a golden urn.

Furthermore, those who had the right to announce the location of a reincarnation were forbidden to refer to children from the next of kin of the deceased, a Mongolian khan, high-ranking princes, nobles, or military commanders-in-chief.

Subsequently, there were repeated attempts to circumvent these unloved imperial rules, especially the lottery, but the imperial court did not desist and reprimanded all violations.

With cunning or luck, however, a Dalai Lama was always chosen by lot who would also have been identified by the ancient ritual. Due to the fact that the 9th to 12th Dalai Lama died, partly under never clarified circumstances, in still young age, there was enough opportunity to apply the Golden Urn.

Even though some of them were given the government shortly before their deaths, it can be said that Tibet was led only by regents for more than a hundred years from 1788.

Waning of imperial power in Tibet

It was not until the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatsho, from September 26, 1895, to December 17, 1933, that he was once again able to exercise temporal power in Tibet.

Before he took office, the great lamas and the Kashag overthrew the regent, whose loyalty to the emperor had been the mainstay of imperial power in Tibet in the end.

Since the campaign against the Nepalese Gurkhas in 1792, the emperor had been unable to protect Tibet vigorously against outside threats.

The Middle Kingdom went from one state of weakness to another; after the 1st Opium War against the British (1839-1842) came the Taiping Rebellion and a British-French military expedition (1851-1864) and then the Japanese-Chinese War (1894-1895).

Many things happened in Tibet during this period: Riots broke out that were ended with concessions by Beijing, namely a sharp reduction of the imperial garrison (1806), the Sikh conquered the Buddhist principality of Ladakh and invaded Tibet (1834-1842), an invasion by Nepalese Gurkhas could not be repelled (1854-1856), in eastern Tibet unrest triggered a flight to central Tibet (1863), there was a border conflict with British Indian Gurkhat forces (1888-1890).

Increase of Russian influence

In this situation, the powerful in Tibet, like those in other peripheral provinces of the empire, asked themselves the question of a better protective power. The British Empire from the Indian subcontinent and the then Russian Tsarist Empire from the north were particularly interested in Central Asia.

The Russian multi-ethnic state was also home to numerous followers of Vajrayana Buddhism. For them it was not unusual to make a pilgrimage to Lhasa as their religious center in order to be ordained as a monk there after appropriate preparation.

For Tsar Alexander III, in turn, it was of interest to gain influence over the Dalai Lama as the religious leader of many of his subjects. As it happened, a Buryat Mongol monk from the Transbaikal region named Ngawang Dorje (Agvan Dorzhiev) made a pilgrimage to Lhasa in 1888 to study at Drepung Monastery.

He advanced to become one of the assistant tutors of the young 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatsho and unofficially served as secretary for foreign affairs from 1897. In 1900 - the imperial court in Beijing was busy with the Boxer Rebellion - Thubten Gyatsho sent him to Russia to deliver a letter to the Tsar. Tsar Nicholas II received Ngawang Dorje in Yalta.

Effect of British countermeasures

Lord George Curzon, the British Viceroy of India, tried to contain Russian influence on Tibet by diplomatic means. In 1900, he sent a letter to the 13th Dalai Lama, which the latter refused to accept on the grounds that he was not allowed to pass over the Ambans.

He also returned a second letter in 1901 unopened on the same grounds. Finally, in June 1901, a Tibetan legation led by Dorzheyev arrived in St. Petersburg with letters and gifts from the Dalai Lama. Unity emerged regarding the goal of annexing Tibet to the Russian Empire.

In 1902, after his diplomatic failures, Lord Curzon threatened to occupy the Chumbi Valley on the border with Sikkim, which was important for trade. In June 1903, Tibetan-British negotiations began in the Tibetan border

village of Khampadzong, but were soon broken off by the Tibetan side. The British side wanted to force the continuation of the negotiations from November 1903 with a Tibetan campaign under Francis Younghusband and advanced in stages against Lhasa.

Since Russia was militarily bound by the Russo-Japanese War from February 1904, it was unable to fulfill its planned role as the new protector of Tibet. When the military expedition reached Tsangpo on July 29, 1904, the Dalai Lama recognized the seriousness of the situation, but Younghusband now refused to negotiate.

As a result, Thubten Gyatsho left Lhasa the next morning and fled to Outer Mongolia with a large entourage.

After the occupation of Lhasa on August 3, 1904, negotiations began between the British and the Amban and the regent appointed by the Dalai Lama before the flight. In the treaty of September 7, 1904, it was first clarified that Tibet would continue to be under the suzerainty of the empire and would not be allowed to establish independent relations with foreign states.

Only British trade interests were taken into account. The British withdrew before the end of September. The integration of Tibet into the British Empire had failed. In addition, the Empress Dowager Cixi (Tzu-Hsi) instructed the Amban not to sign the negotiated treaty.

Still in the presence of the British, on September 13, 1904, the Amban had to announce an imperial decree on the deposition of Thubten Gyatsho and the temporary abolition of the dignity of the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetans, however, ignored this deposition, and the Chinese authorities also received the Dalai Lama with full honors in Urga in November 1904. To see him, large crowds of pilgrims also flocked from the Russian Empire during his stay in Mongolia. In the spring of 1905, he again sent an envoy to Saint Petersburg to visit the court of the tsar.

Although Chinese authorities urged him to return to Tibet, he was in no hurry. He remained in the north until 1908 because the Russian Empire's heavy defeat by Japan and the turmoil of the subsequent Russian Revolution worried him.

Renewed Chinese claim to power in Tibet

The weakening of Russia gave renewed impetus to Imperial China's policy in Tibet. The Treaty of Lhasa was confirmed as late as April 1906 by the Chinese government, which paid for war reparations to the British Empire in place of the Tibetans.

The Chinese government thus unmistakably stated its unchanged claim to sovereignty over Tibet. Great Britain and Russia reached an agreement on their spheres of interest in Central Asia in the Treaty of Saint Petersburg on August 31, 1907, ending the confrontation.

They agreed that Tibet would be part of the British sphere of influence, while Mongolia and Turkestan would be part of the Russian sphere of influence.

The Empress Dowager Cixi now saw the time had come to invite the Dalai Lama to Beijing. Against the urgent advice of Great Britain and Russia, the 13th Dalai Lama, in view of the changed balance of power, decided to accept this invitation, albeit without any haste.

He spent a whole five months at Wutai Shan for prayer and meditation, but also received diplomats from all over the world. After repeated requests from Beijing, he finally traveled on and was received in Beijing at the end of September 1908 with protocol honors, but not like the head of a sovereign state.

During the imperial audience, he was supposed to perform the customary gesture of kowtowing as a vassal of the Chinese Empire. Since he refused to do so, a compromise had to be found before the audience.

It was agreed that he should only kneel down to greet the audience and that he should only touch the ground lightly with his right hand. Now nothing stood in the way of the audience on October 14.

On November 3, 1908, Empress Dowager Cixi issued an edict providing for the award of a new title to the Dalai Lama, to replace the title given to the 5th Dalai Lama Ngawang Lobsang Gyatsho, and to establish the Dalai Lama's obedient submission to the Emperor: "Sincerely Obedient Buddha of the West, Helpful by Re-embodiment, Excellent, Existing from Itself."

The title was to be accompanied by an annual grant from the Sichuan Treasury, and was to oblige the Dalai Lama to give due effect in Tibet to the laws of the empire. There was no way for him to evade the bestowal of the title, and so he contented himself with protesting the prohibition in the edict against being allowed to address the emperor directly, bypassing the Ambane.

The plans for the ceremonial act of state to confer the title had to be changed by the death of Emperor Guangxu on November 14, 1908, and that of the Empress Dowager the day after. Without a decision on his protest, the Dalai Lama was requested to return to Tibet.

On the way, he said, he would be given the new title at the Kumbum Monastery. Before his departure, representatives of the imperial government expressed to him their intention to turn Tibet into a Chinese province, to send more officials and soldiers there, and to establish elementary schools with compulsory instruction in Chinese.

On March 4, 1909, the conferral of the imperial title on the Dalai Lama took place at Kumbum Monastery. After that, he was obviously in no hurry to continue his journey. It was not until the autumn of 1909 that he set off for Lhasa. He arrived there in December 1909.

Soon after the Dalai Lama's flight in 1904, disturbing news came from Tibet about Chinese actions. In 1905, an Amban's attempt to interfere with monastic autonomy in eastern Tibet and to expel from Bathang Monastery most of the monks had led to bloody riots.

In 1906, General Zhao Erfeng marched troops against more monasteries, looted them, slaughtered some of the monks, and became the most hated man in Tibet. In 1907, he militarily occupied southern Kham and requisitioned most of the grain supplies from the local population without compensation. In 1908, he reinforced his troops and prepared to invade central Tibet.

A protest by the Tibetan government against the military action failed because the Amban refused to forward the protest to the imperial government. Instead, troops were reinforced and advanced on Lhasa. The invasion of the city on February 12, 1910, resembled an enemy assault. Police units and government buildings were shelled.

The Dalai Lama left the capital in flight only two months after his return for Sikkim, where he arrived on February 21, 1910. On February 25, 1910, the Chinese government declared him deposed. He sent a request for help to the British government and met with the Viceroy of India Lord Minto in Calcutta in March 1910. Diplomatic interventions by the British and Russian governments in favor of a withdrawal of Chinese troops were fruitless.

However, after the outbreak of the Chinese Revolution in October 1911, the soldiers were very quickly withdrawn. By the spring of 1912, there was only a small Chinese garrison left in Lhasa. On June 12, 1912, the Dalai Lama returned from India and made a ceremonial entry into Lhasa.

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