“The Paradox of Our Age”
He characteristically authored the poem “The Paradox of Our Age:”
“We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgment;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines but less healthiness.
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble in crossing the street to meet our new neighbor.
We built more computers to hold more copies than ever,
but have less real communication;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;
Tall men but short characters;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window but nothing in the room.”
The 14th Dalai Lama’s Contribution to His Nation
India has become the home of thousands of Tibetan people since their exodus out of Tibet in 1959. They lived as refugees in Dharamsala, where they established a remote government and successfully preserved their identity as a nation. That is the greatest legacy of the man to whom they all owe their new life; the Chinese went on a rampage in Tibet, however, when the Dalai Lama refused to give up their sovereignty.
In the war that followed, nearly one-million Tibetans perished. Nothing was left of their historical monasteries; they had nowhere to go. They could either surrender and live under Chinese rule, or flee Tibet and pitch their tents where they could live freely.
With a spiritual and political leader determined to keep their culture and faith intact, the people of Tibet chose to brave a life in exile in exchange for their culture’s preservation. Their leader remained a sufficient source of hope and encouragement.
Aside from living in harmony with the Indians, the Tibetans also continued to flourish despite their living conditions. They made people of other nations appreciate the freedoms and privileges they have as citizens of free countries. If not for the leader who has always been consistent in his call for peace and respect, the Tibetans could easily have lost hope.
Some Facts about the 14th Dalai Lama
Before being discovered as the 14th Dalai Lama, he was named “Lhamo Dondrub.” His parents were from peasant families in northeastern Tibet. He was fifth among the seven children who survived in their family; nine of his siblings died either at birth or due to infant illness.
Lhamo was born on 6 July 1935 in Taktser, Amdo (also known as Qinghai). Aside from farming, his parents also traded horses. Before the 13th Dalai Lama (Thubten Gyatso) passed away in 1933, he told his people that he had to die because Tibet was about to go to war. According to him, in order to serve them better, he had to leave this life and be born again to lead Tibet as a young Dalai Lama. Since his death in 1933, the search for the 14th Dalai Lama had begun.
The Dalai Lama tradition goes back to the 14th century. According to historical accounts, Tsongkhapa founded “Gelug,” or Tibetan Buddhism, in 1357. The Dalai Lama is a high “lama,” or “teacher” in English. Altan Khan, a Mongol ruler, bestowed the title of Dalai Lama upon Sonam Gyatso in 1578. It was not until the 5th Dalai Lama (Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso) acquired the title when the position began to include political duties. Since the 5th Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader has assumed political leadership in addition to being a spiritual figure.
Moreover, the Dalai Lama is regarded as a deity in the sense that they are believed to be reincarnations of Chenrezig, or “Avalokiteshvara” in India. In Buddhism, it is believed that every living thing has a spirit. One of its core teachings is reincarnation: unless a person reaches the highest form of enlightenment by living a good life, he/she will continue to be reincarnated until they do.
They have a certain concept of heaven which they call “Nirvana.” One who attains enlightenment is bound to cease being reincarnated and may enter this state of Nirvana, or “profound peace of mind.” A person can delay his journey to Nirvana to serve others, and thereby be considered a “Bodhisattva.”
Chenrezig is said to be “the Bodhisattva of compassion and the patron deity of Tibet,” and is revered because of his selfless cause. In order to serve the Tibetan people, it was believed that he chose to be a Bodhisattva and is being reincarnated in the person of the current Dalai Lama. For this reason, the Dalai Lama is considered an enlightened being and is addressed using the following: “Gyalwa Rinpoche, Kundun , Yishin Norbu” – or, in English, “Precious Victor, Presence, and Wish-Fulfilling Gem.” Hence, the Dalai Lama title is vested only in someone who proves him/herself as the reincarnation of Chenrezig.
It was said that Thubten was not immediately reincarnated following his death, and it took two years before he re-entered humanity. In order to locate the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhists employed the help of the Nechung Oracle, which they consider to be the “State Oracle of Tibet.” Following the death of the first Dalai Lama, Gendun Gyatso (believed to be his reincarnation) created a systematic way to determine the authenticity of the Dalai Lama reincarnation.
Aside from using the Nechung Oracle, the Regents and other monks would gather around the Lhamo La-tso Lake in Central Tibet to receive explicit instructions or see vivid visions through meditation about where Chenrezig’s reincarnation could possibly be.
In the case of the 4th Dalai Lama, for instance, Regent Reting Rinpoche saw in a vision the exact image of the home of the Dondrubs. When they began searching, they found the home where Lhamo resided with his parents and siblings in the exact way Regent Rinpoche described it.
In 1937, they set out to look for the 14th Dalai Lama. They found the precocious Lhamo Dondrub, who immediately sat on the lap of one of the monks. The boy began playing with the rosary around the monk’s neck and, without any warning, said in the Tibetan language [which they did not speak in Amdo] “That’s mine. Give it to me.” But it was not the only reason that the monks and Regents were convinced of Lhamo’s spiritual identity.
Upon seeing the monks, he called each by his first name. Astounded, the monks spread some relics containing items that used to belong to the 13th Dalai Lama, mixed with relics which belonged to somebody else. They wanted to know if Lhamo would be able to identify the correct items.
He had not only picked the items that belonged to Thubten, but also began playing the toy drum the way the 13th Dalai Lama did. Then he picked a walking stick which Thubten used out of a group of walking sticks. It turned out that his first choice was originally owned by the Dalai Lama and was eventually given to one of his monk friends.
Convinced that Lhamo was indeed the 14th Dalai Lama, they embarked on a three-month journey to Lhasa. From then on, the center of Tibet became home to Lhamo and his family.
On 22 February 1940, Lhamo was officially proclaimed the 14th Dalai Lama. He became an official monk and was then given a new name: Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, or simply “Tenzin Gyatso.” They shaved his head, and he soon started learning Buddhist precepts.
Tenzin was a smart and curious boy, but studying was not his favorite thing to do. Instead of studying, Tenzin devoted more time to play. Logic, Tibetan art and culture, Sanskrit, medicine, and Buddhist philosophy comprised his major subjects, while his minor subjects included poetry, music and drama, astrology, motre and phrasing, and synonyms. Buddhist philosophy, on the other hand, was divided into five categories: the perfection of wisdom, the philosophy of the “middle way,” the canon of monastic discipline, metaphysics, and logic and epistemology.
Tenzin’s diet was also restricted. He was not allowed to eat eggs or meat, so he often snuck off to their nearby home to eat the forbidden foods. He was always kept indoors; he was given a pair of binoculars to explore the outside world of Tibet without leaving his official residence. From his tower, Tenzin found great joy in looking at his country’s beloved verdant mountains. In the occasional moments when he was allowed to go out, Tenzin mingled with his fellow Tibetans and celebrated festivities.
Meeting Heinrich Harrer
He was 11 years old when he met Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountaineer, and he hired Harrer and made him his tutor. He taught Tenzin everything about the world outside Tibet and introduced him to cultural diversity and modern life in general. Tenzin did not consider Heinrich his teacher, but his friend.
One of his favorite destinations was his summer residence. As he reached puberty, Tenzin’s curiosity began to grow. He started exploring his summer home, which led to his discovery of Thubten’s most prized possessions. Among them was a film projector; it was no longer in good shape when Tenzin found it, but he did his best to repair it and find out how it works. To his delight, the projector showed him a new world.
Getting to Know Gandhi through Books and Movies
Coincidentally, Thubten owned a biopic of Gandhi, and it became Tenzin’s favorite film to watch. His admiration for Gandhi was also fuelled by the books he had been reading. The Dalai Lama happened to leave the only three cars in Tibet to his predecessor; like any typical teenager, Tenzin was fascinated with them. He spent most of his afternoon break driving, and even recalls crashing the cars several times when he was first learning how to drive.
A Young Dalai Lama
Little did he know that he was about to mature sooner than he or anyone else expected. In 1949, communist countries deployed armies to liberate Tibet, which the Chinese opposed. In October 1950, an 11-day war ensued, claiming thousands of Tibetan civilian lives. It was shocking for the 15-year-old Dalai Lama prodigy, who was trained and brought up to believe that the way to happiness is compassion. As war is the absence of compassion, Tenzin faced the harsh reality of human nature.
Tenzin was made a Dalai Lama when he was 15 years old to give the Tibetan people a sense of hope in their darkest hour. Tibet then sent a delegation to China in which the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet was discussed.
Four years later, Tenzin, along with their Panchen Lama, attended the National People's Congress and discussed China's constitution. He was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, and held the position for 10 years.
As a young leader, the Dalai Lama was taken by Mao’s personality. They discussed China’s modernization plan for the development of Tibet; the Dalai Lama saw nothing wrong with it, and was even excited about the prospect of giving new livelihood opportunities to his people. What changed his mind, however, was how Mao disregarded religion. Mao called it a “poison.” It bothered the Dalai Lama, and caused him to withdraw the commitment with China.
His first overseas trip was in 1956 when he was invited to India for the celebration of Buddha’s birthday. The Dalai Lama took the opportunity to ask the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, a favor. He wanted to know if they were willing to grant them political asylum in case war broke out in Tibet. He was apprehended by Prime Minister Nehru, who discouraged him from carrying out his risky plan.
Instead, Nehru tried to encourage the young Dalai Lama to consider collaborating with China. His brothers advised that the Dalai Lama not return to Tibet, as it might endanger his life, but he refused to heed their request. Against their will, the Dalai Lama returned home and managed to keep peace in Tibet by negotiating with China.
After three years, he took his final examination at the Jokhang Temple in spite of the political unrest in Tibet. The Dalai Lama passed his exams with flying colors and was awarded the Lharampa degree, which is tantamount to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.
Tibetans rejoiced over their Dalai Lama’s success. But their true joy was fleeting. On the night of their celebration, the Chinese Government invited the Dalai Lama to take part in a theatrical event at their camp. The Tibetans were not foolish to take the bait; on March 10th, 1959, the cheers of 30,000 Tibetans awoke the sleeping Dalai Lama, and they pledged their support for the Tibetan government.
A week later, they consulted the Nechung Oracle, and it told them to “go now.” They did not waste time, and the Dalai Lama found support from the Special Activities Division of America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However, the rebellion was not successful. He fled to India, where they sought asylum with the help of Prime Minister Nehru.
Leading an Exodus
They reached India on April 18th, 1959. They were given the land of Dharamsala in the state of Himachal Pradesh, in the northern part of India. Together with 120,000 Tibetans, the Central Tibetan Administration was established: the first-ever “government in exile.”
The Dalai Lama was 24 years old, and he had all of Tibet upon his shoulders. He began by re-establishing the schools and providing sources of income for his people, and also did what he could to help preserve their culture.
In the 1960s, the Dalai Lama began making their plight known to other countries. He did not incite war, but instead made other nations aware of their own zealous fight for their rights without using violence. In 1987, the Dalai Lama bargained with China once more: with his “Five Point Peace Plan,” he was ready to give up their call for total liberation from China, as long as they would be given religious and administrative autonomy.
He discussed his plan publicly during the United States Congressional Human Rights Caucus in Washington on September 21st. According to him, the plan encompasses:
1. Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace;
2. Abandonment of China’s population transfer policy, which threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people;
3. Respect for the Tibetan people’s fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms;
4. 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;
5. Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples. (SOURCE: DalaiLama.com)
Winning the Nobel Peace Prize and Other Accomplishments
His call for peace, however, did not elicit favorable results. The Chinese government responded violently, killing 250 protesters in 1989. The Dalai Lama denounced China, and in that same year, he received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the “Le Prix de la Memoire” and the “Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Award” for using peaceful means to fight for Tibet’s freedom.
His charm and wisdom endeared him to universities, and he is a recipient of numerous Honorary Degrees from prestigious institutions around the world. The Dalai Lama also holds honorary citizenship in Canada, Italy, Ukraine, Budapest, Huy, Memphis, Paris, Rome and Wroclaw.
He has received the Keys to New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Udine City, and several organizations and award-giving bodies have also paid homage to his incessant liberation efforts and work to uphold human rights.
In 2011, the Dalai Lama resigned as the head of the Central Tibetan Administration, relinquishing the authority of running the parliament to democratically-elected leaders. As of now, Tibetans remain to be refugees in India. When they will get back their land is, for now, uncertain. But as long as the Dalai Lama is there to comfort his people, the Tibetans do not mind living the way they do.
The Dalai Lama has seen human beings at their worst, but compassion keeps him from becoming bitter. He remains a beacon of light not only to his people, but to the many others who are struggling to find anything good in this fallen world.
Organizations and Campaigns Supported
- Five Point Peace Plan
- Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts
- Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies
- Library of Tibetan Works and Archives
- Board of World Religious Leaders
- Third Meeting of the Board of World Religious Leaders
- World Religions-Dialogue and Symphony
- Common Ground Project
- World Conference on Human Rights
- Wildlife conservation
- Save the Children
- 1939: Officially became the 14th Dalai Lama
- 1950: Assumed full political power
- 1954 - 1964: Elected as a deputy chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
- 1959: Established the Government of Tibet in Exile in Dharamshala
- 1959: Took the exam and was awarded the Geshe Lharampa degree
- 1959: Established the “Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts” and received the “Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership”
- 1963: Promulgated a constitution
- 1970: Opened the “Library of Tibetan Works and Archives”
- 1979: Received the Key to Los Angeles and the Key to San Francisco
- 1987: Proposed the “Five Point Peace Plan”
- 1988: Elaborated his Five Point Peace Plan in Strasbourg
- 1989: Received the Nobel Peace Prize and the “Le Prix de la Memoire”
- 1989: Received the “Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Award”
- 1991: Received acknowledgement for “Advancing Human Liberty”
- 1991: Received the “Peace and Unity Award” and the “Earth Prize”
- 1992: Issued guidelines for the eventual Constitution of Tibet
- 1993: Spoke at the World Conference on Human Rights
- 1994: Received the “Four Freedoms Award” from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, the “Wallenberg Medal” from the University of Michigan, the “Berkeley Medal” from the University of California, Berkeley, and the “World Security Annual Peace Award” from Lawyers Alliance for New York
- 1998: His book “The Art of Happiness” became a bestseller
- 1999: Received the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization’s “Life Achievement Award”
- 2003: Received the “Jaime Brunet Prize for Human Rights” and the “International League for Human Rights Award”
- 2004: Received Honorary Fellowship from the Liverpool John Moores University
- 2005: Received the “Christmas Humphreys Award” from the Buddhist Society in the United Kingdom and the Key to New York City
- 2006: Received the United States Congressional Gold Medal, and given Honorary Citizenship by the Governor General of Canada and in Ukraine
- 2007: Named “Presidential Distinguished Professor” at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia
- 2007: Participated in the “Third Meeting of the Board of World Religious Leaders” and received the Congressional Gold Medal
- 2008: Lectured at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and at Colgate University
- 2008: Gave a public lecture and conducted a series of teachings at Lehigh University
- 2008: Received the “Inaugural Hofstra University Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize”
- 2009: Received the “Prize for Love and Forgiveness”
- 2009: Inaugurated “World Religions-Dialogue and Symphony”
- 2009: Received the “German Media Prize Berlin,” the “Lantos Human Rights Prize” and the “Ján Langoš Human Rights Award”
- 2009: Given honorary citizenship in Rome, Paris and Memphis, Tennessee
- 2009: Received the “International Freedom Award”
- 2010: Received the “Democracy Service Medal,” the “International Freedom Conductor Award,” the “Nirmala Deshpande Memorial Award for Peace and Global Harmony,” the “President’s Medal” from Hunter college, the “Menschen in Europa Award” and the “Harry T. Wilkes Leadership Award”
- 2010: Helped launch the “Common Ground Project” and given honorary citizenship in Budapest
- 2011: Received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Caring Institute, the “Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace,” the “Dayanand Modi Award for Art, Culture, and Education”
- 2012: Received the “Templeton Prize,” the “Gold Medal of Klagenfurt” and the Carinthia State Gold Medal
- 2012: Given the Udine City Key and received Honorary Citizenship in the City of Huy
- First Nobel Laureate to be recognized for environmental concern
- Authored more than 72 books
- Received over 84 awards, prizes and honorary doctorates
- 1993: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the University of St Andrews
- 2001: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Lusíada University of Porto, Portugal
- 2003: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the University of San Francisco
- 2004: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of British Columbia
- 2004: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Toronto
- 2005: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Tartu, Estonia
- 2005: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the Nova Southeastern University
- 2005: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the Rutgers University
- 2006: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the State University of New York at Buffalo
- 2007: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Southern Cross University
- 2007: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Chemistry and Pharmacy by the University of Münster
- 2008: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the University of Washington
- 2008: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy by the London Metropolitan University
- 2008: Awarded an Honorary Degree by the Lehigh University
- 2008: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Jagiellonian University
- 2009: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the University of Calgary
- 2009: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the University of Marburg
- 2010: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the Miami University
- 2010: Awarded the Baccalaureate Honoris Causa by the Broward College
- 2010: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Northern Iowa
- 2011: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Minnesota
- 2011: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Oriental Studies by the University of Tartu
- 2011: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Arkansas
- 2011: Awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the Southern Methodist University
- 2011: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the University of Minnesota
- 2011: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Southern Methodist University
- 2011: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Indira Gandhi National Open University
- 2012: Awarded an Honorary Degree by the Loyola University, Chicago
- 2012: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Hunter College, New York City
- 2012: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Western Connecticut State University, Danbury
- 2013: Awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree by the Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsala