- This article describes the office of Dalai Lama. For the 14th holder of the office (born 1935), see Tenzin Gyatso. For the song, see Dalai Lama (song).
The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The current and 14th Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso. Between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lamas were the most powerful political leaders in Tibet, controlling a large portion of the country from their capital at Lhasa. The Dalai Lama is also the most respected and venerated Tibetan Buddhist religious leader; in English, his followers and many others use "His Holiness" (or HH) as a prefix in his title. The Dalai Lamas, however, never had authority over every region of Tibet nor over the other sects of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Panchen Lama is second in religious stature within the Gelug sect to the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is often thought to be the head of the Gelug, but this position officially belongs to the Ganden Tripa (Holder of the Throne of Ganden, the first monastery established by Lama Je Tsong Khapa, founder of the Gelug). The Dalai Lama has been ruler of Tibet and Head of State from when the Gelugpas began to control the country (the mid-17th century) until 1959, when the Dalai Lama fled to India, following the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. The Dalai Lama is still recognized as the head of the Tibetan government in exile, except by supporters of Chinese communism.
Dalai means "Ocean" in Mongolian, and "Lama" is Tibetan for "spiritual teacher". The title refers to the extent of the lama's presumed wisdom; it was first bestowed by the Mongolian ruler Altan Khan upon the 3rd Dalai Lama and is now applied to every "incarnation" in the lineage. The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, whose name is Chenrezig in Tibetan, though Tenzin Gyatso denies claims of his Buddhahood.
The Tibetans name the Dalai Lama Gyawa Rinpoche meaning great protector, or Yeshe Norbu meaning the joy fulfilling jewel.
Upon the death of the Dalai Lama, his monks institute a search for the Lama's reincarnation, or tulku, who is usually a small child. Familiarity with the possessions of the previous Dalai Lama is considered the main sign of the reincarnation. The search for the reincarnation typically requires a few years which results in a gap in the list of the Dalai Lamas. The reincarnation is then brought to a monastery to be trained by the other Lamas. The process is not always peaceful; at times rival groups of lamas each "discover" a child and claim it is the true reincarnation. This has historically turned into political struggle to decide who is the real Dalai Lama, in a manner analogous to the Pope and Antipope conflicts in the Christian world.
Despite its anti-religious stance, the communist dictatorship of the People's Republic of China has claimed the power to approve the naming of high reincarnations in Tibet and has exercised this power in the naming of the Panchen Lama, who is empowered to recognize the new Dalai Lama. Many observers believe that with the death of the current Dalai Lama, the PRC will direct the selection of a successor, thereby creating a schism and leadership vacuum in the Tibetan independence movement. The current Dalai Lama has repeatedly stated that he will never be reborn inside territory controlled by the People's Republic of China , and has occasionally suggested that he might choose to be the last Dalai Lama by not reincarnating at all.
As the most powerful figure in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama has received the highest teachings and empowerments of all the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He also presents core teachings from all of these main schools. Until the 14th Dalai Lama's exile in 1959, the Dalai Lamas resided in Lhasa in the Potala Palace during winter and in the Norbulingka residence during summer. Since 1959, the Dalai Lama has resided in Dharamsala in Northern India, and the Tibetan Government in Exile has its headquarters there.
List of Dalai Lamas
- Gedun Drub, 1391-1474
- Gendun Gyatso, 1475-1541
- Sonam Gyatso, 1543-1588
- Yonten Gyatso, 1589-1616
- Lozang Gyatso, 1617-1682
- Tsangyang Gyatso, 1683-1706
- Kelzang Gyatso , 1708-1757
- Jamphel Gyatso , 1758-1804
- Lungtok Gyatso , 1806-1815
- Tsultrim Gyatso, 1816-1837
- Khendrup Gyatso, 1838-1856
- Trinley Gyatso, 1856-1875
- Thubten Gyatso, 1876-1933
- Tenzin Gyatso, 1935 - present