CREDOS : The Dalai Lama — III

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is only the second ever to have travelled as far from his country as India and China, and he is the first to venture further into the outside world. Indeed, his own charisma and accomplishments — largely in response to Tibet’s full takeover by China — have had more to do with his stance among spiritual leaders today than does his position as Dalai Lama in Tibet.

The rise of the Dalai Lamas as an institution within Tibetan Buddhism has taken an tortuous course across six centuries. And only in the last 300 years have the Dalai Lamas held the position of spiritual and temporal sovereign of Tibet. Beyond fulfilling their political duties, the Dalai Lamas have included great poets, scholars, and experts who have brought ever higher honour to the title.

Since the 17th century, when the term came into use, each Dalai Lama has been regarded as the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig, in Tibetan) and is considered the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama. Tibetans believe that the timeless Buddha’s emanation in this world alleviates the suffering and confusion of all beings and takes the form of the incarnations of the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa Lama, and other tulkus (incarnated lamas). This practice of recognising reincarnated saints and sages is unique to Tibetan Buddhism. The first Dalai Lama was a learned and renowned monk named Gendun Drub (1391-1474). —