Dalai Lama bio

Dalai Lama biography

By Peter Foster, Telegraph

One of six children, the Dalai Lama was born into a family of nomad famers who were making a “precarious living” off the land, according to his autobiography Freedom in Exile.

His life was changed forever when, at the age of three, Lhamo Thondup was identified by a search party of Buddhist officials as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, the latest in a line that stretches back to 1391.

He was separated from his parents and transferred to a monastery to study, later recalling the pain of separation from his mother but his good fortune that his elder brother was already studying in the same place.

In 1940 Lhamo Thondup was officially installed as spiritual leader of Tibet and, after shaving his hair, was inducted as a novice monk, assuming the new name, Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso.

In November 1950, still only aged 15, the Dalai Lama was enthroned as Tibet’s temporal leader in a ceremony in Lhasa and spent most of the next decade trying to avoid a full-scale military takeover of Tibet by Chinese forces.

However in March 1959, as Tibet broke out into open revolt against Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama fled to India disguised as a “common soldier” where he set up Tibet’s government in exile in the Indian hill station of Dharamsala.

In exile, the Dalai Lama proved masterful at keeping the plight of the Tibetan people in the wider public consciousness, persuading the UN General Assembly to adopt resolutions in 1959, 1961 and 1965 calling for the protection of the Tibetan people.

China has always accused the Dalai Lama of seeking independence for Tibet and trying to orchestrate rebellion from afar.

The Dalai Lama denies, saying he wants only autonomy for Tibet within China, proposing a five-point plan to create Tibet as a “zone of peace” that would protect Tibet’s culture and environment from the impact of its aggressive development by the Chinese state.

His commitment to the creed of non-violence, saw Norway’s Nobel Committee liken him to Mahatma Gandhi when it awarded him it’s Peace Prize in 1989, to the fury of the Chinese government.

Now aged 76, the Dalai Lama continues to be a thorn in the side of Beijing, using his immense profile to keep the Tibetan cause alive, continuing to meet world leaders, including the Pope and US presidents, despite protests from the Chinese government.

As he grows older, there are concerns that the new generation of young Tibetan exiles, angered by Chinese government actions in Tibet, including the suppression of fresh anti-Chinese riots in March 2008, might use other tactics, including violence.

However speaking weeks before the 50th anniversary of his flight in exile, the Dalai Lama said violence would never be justified.

“It is difficult to achieve a meaningful outcome by sacrificing lives,” he said, “The path of non-violence is our irrevocable commitment and it is important that there be no departure at all from this path.”