Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the spiritual and political leader of an ancient people without a country, and is the binding and driving force behind Tibetan nonviolent resistance and cultural rebuilding. He was born July 6, 1935, making him 69 years old. He has lived all but 15 of these 69 years in exile from his country, continually being a main reason for their survival. The Dalai Lama is now considering his successor, and plans to do so through democratic means instead of the traditional process of divination. He has also been guiding his country toward a westernized organization of government in recent years, more and more towards a greater separation of church and state. How will Tibet, a country defined by its religious fervor, survive in exile with a separation of religion and politics? The Dalai Lama and Tibet have stood together against one of the largest countries in the world for half a century. Even though Tibet has yet to regain its sovereignty, it has managed to survive and even thrive while in exile, and is slowly making small steps back toward once again ruling the Land of Snows. Tibet’s success so far is due to its unique blend of religion and politics. Their success is evident in the equality of their people, their peaceful nature, and the continued success of their resistance to China for the last 54 years.
A Secular Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is the living incarnation of the Bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara. The institution of the Dalai Lama was created by a Mongol chief, Altan Khan, in the year 1578. Altan Khan already ruled a great section of the Mongolian empire and parts of northern China when he first came in contact with Tibet. In this first meeting, Altan met the lama of the Gelukpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, bSod-nams rGya-mtsho, and impressed by his insight, conferred upon him the title of Dalai Lama. “Dalai in Mongolian means ocean, implying that his wisdom is as deep as an ocean.” Altan Khan received the title of Dharmaraja in return, giving legitimacy to Mongolia’s influence over Tibet. “Mongolian laws were revised in the light of Buddhist teachings and the Mongolian nobility and the Buddhist ecclesiastical hierarchy were put on an equivalent footing.” This act was a step toward unifying religion and politics in Tibet.
BSod-nams rGya-mtsho was actually the third incarnate of his lineage. It was common practice to maintain spiritual lineages like this in Tibet. For this reason, BSod-nams rGya-mtsho is considered the third Dalai Lama. Altan Khan, to maintain control over Tibet, made sure he had power over the selection of the successor. He subsequently named his grandson to be the fourth Dalai Lama. It wasn’t until the fifth Dalai Lama that we begin to see the institution as it is today.
The Gelukpa sect, also known as the ‘Yellow Hats’, were not the only sect of Buddhism in Tibet at this time. The other main faction was the Karma-pa sect, or the...