In a world whose populations are increasingly aware of the gruesome struggles of their fellow beings, and common life is buffeted by power lusty beings of all hues, faith is shaky. To be a spiritual leader in such a world, and to be the torchbearer who is expected to guide a vast section of humanity out of their spiritual oblivion, is a major challenge.
Dalai Lamas, the spiritual heads of Buddhists, are believed to be the reincarnations of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet. Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th Dalai Lama, and his life gives one an insight of not just the religion of Buddhism and its teachings, but also the personality of a humble man who is also among the world’s most influential political leaders.
Every Dalai Lama was awarded with the awesome responsibility of keeping faith and harmony intact, and leading an exemplary, impeccable life. Almost ethereal in quality, the lives of the Dalai Lamas were often devoid of a juvenile phase, with the awareness of their past lives (a Dalai Lama is conscious of his previous births’ events) and the worship of followers weighing them down with a magnificent task. Added to these, for Tenzin Gyatso, is the magnanimous task of saving the existence of Tibetans as people from the vice-like grip of China.
Born on 6 July 1935 into a poor family residing in a small village named Thaktser in Amdo, young Lhamo Thondup (as he was named by his parents) enjoyed the first six years of his life, among the fields of barley, buckwheat and potatoes that were tended to by his parents. Four brothers and two sisters translated to a carefree infant period for the as yet unrecognized Dalai Lama. He is reported to have admitted that he was often on the receiving end of his father’s blows as he was quite mischievous. The Dalai Lama’s life as Lhamo Thondup was largely uneventful, with his insistence on being seated at the head of the dinner table being later recounted as a sign of his sub-conscious awareness of his legacy.
Thondup’s birth itself was auspicious for his family, as his father recovered from a fatal illness soon after his birth. As a 3-year-old, Thondup went about trying to master the art of controlling his body to walk and run, and his tongue strove to speak, “signs” of the arrival of the Dalai Lama were reported in other regions of Tibet. It has been recorded that the embalmed face of the 13th Dalai Lama, who had passed away in 1933, that faced south had turned in the northeast direction. In another incident, a Regent reported that he was the letter Ah, Ka and Ma float into view when he was sitting by the sacred lake Lhamo Lhatso, followed by an image of a monastery with turquoise and gold roof. Bringing up the rear was a glimpse of a little hut with strange guttering.
With these occurrences as their guides, a search party set out to locate their spiritual head. They learnt that the monastery from the vision was the Kumbum monastery. It did not take them long to locate Thondup’s house, and they knew that their efforts were not in vain when the young boy recognized the leader of the team and cried “Sera lama, sera lama,” even though he was disguised as a servant. The delegation left Thondup’s house only to return a few days later with an assortment of objects, some of which belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama and others did not. When these objects were spread out in front of the 5-year-old, he correctly recognized all the objects that had belonged to his precedent.
Renamed Tenzin Gyatso, thereon began His Holiness’ rigorous journey of education – comprising Tibetan art and culture, logic, Sanskrit, medicine and Buddhist philosophy. At the tender age of 15, Gyatso was enthroned the temporal head of Tibet, with vast armies of China pressing Tibet’s border, seeking to annex the state. With the education he was given being better than that received by politicos in certain developing nations, the Dalai Lama was aptly equipped to try and save the 6 million people of Tibet from the brutalities of war. He sent out delegates to USA, Great Britain and Nepal seeking their intervention, but was met with disappointment. He also had delegates trying to open dialogue with the Chinese, but was met with failure here also.
Later, when the Chinese sent out loud hints that they may harm the Dalai Lama, millions of Tibetans gathered around his house and helped him escape to India, and it is from India that he continues to wage a war against the Chinese and stands as a pillar of moral support for Tibetans. His political activities are an ocean that is best left for another day.
The tale of the Dalai Lama may initially come across as a tale that belongs to the middle ages with divine signs pointing towards a leader who is a manifestation of a celestial being. A hitherto ordinary boy is royalty (figurative speaking, as the Dalai Lama is an extremely humble person with no materialistic possessions to speak of) with 2 palaces for seasonal residence. However, this is no reason for the Dalai Lama’s life to be written off.
To excel even when subjected to extreme pressure is a quality that every leader must have, and the Dalai Lama’s life is the best source of inspiration, as the pressure exerted on him is quite obvious and can’t be discounted by anyone. Not only is he the spiritual guide of more than 6 million people, but he is also faced with the phenomenal task of keeping alive the tradition and legacy of Tibet, its people and their culture. Facing exile has not dampened the Dalai Lama’s spirits – he continues to communicate with the United Nations to try and help Tibet. On the spiritual front, he addresses numerous conventions that discuss knowledge, human life and other similar issues.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Dalai Lama Best Quotes
"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."
"Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them."
"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions."
"Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life."
"Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace."
"If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them."
"Calm mind brings inner strength and self-confidence, so that's very important for good health."
"In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher."
"Sleep is the best meditation."
"It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come."
"A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity."
"When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect toward others."
"We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection."
"When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways - either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength. Thanks to the teachings of Buddha, I have been able to take this second way."
"The Chinese government wants me to say that for many centuries Tibet has been part of China. Even if I make that statement, many people would just laugh. And my statement will not change past history. History is history."
"Home is where you feel at home and are treated well."
"More compassionate mind, more sense of concern for other's well-being, is source of happiness."
"The best way to resolve any problem in the human world is for all sides to sit down and talk."
"Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive."
"In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision."
"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."
"The purpose of our lives is to be happy."
"We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves."
"My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness."
"Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend - or a meaningful day."
Tal Gur is an impact-driven entrepreneur, author, and investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has led him to found Elevate Society and other impact-driven ventures.