In the Spotlight

News & Features
A Biography of the 14th Dalai Lama
Part of MPR's special report, Ocean of Wisdom: The Dalai Lama's Visit
By Melanie Sommer
Minnesota Public Radio
May 7, 2001

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was born on July 6, 1935, in a small town called Taktser in the province of Amdo. At the tender age of three, he was identified as the future Dalai Lama. He has overseen a time of tremendous political tumult between Tibet and China.

Sources: The Dalai Lama'sofficial Web site; Free Tibet Web site.

The Dalai Lama was born on July 6, 1935, named Lhamo Thondup, to a poor family in Taktser in the province of Amdo. Taktser was a small and poor settlement which stood on a hill overlooking a broad valley.

When Lhamo Thondup was barely three years old, a search party that had been sent out by the Tibetan government to find the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama arrived at the family's house. It had been led there by a number of signs. The search party did not reveal its purpose, but asked to stay the night. The leader of the party, Kewtsang Rinpoche, then pretended to be a servant and spent much of the evening observing and playing with the youngest child in the house.

The child recognized him and called out, 'Sera lama, Sera lama.' Sera was Kewtsang Rinpoche's monastery. They returned a few days later as a formal search party, and brought with them a number of things that had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama, together with several similar items that did not. In every case, the infant correctly identified those belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama saying, 'It's mine.' This convinced the search party that they had found the new incarnation. It was not long before the boy from Taktser was acknowledged to be the new Dalai Lama.

"Because we all share this small planet earth, we have to learn to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature. That is not just a dream, but a necessity. "

- The Dalai Lama, in his Nobel Peace Prize Lecture -
December 11, 1989
The young boy then began many years of learning, first at a local monastery, and later in Llasa, the capital of Tibet. During the winter of 1940, Lhamo Thondup was taken to the Potala Palace, where he was officially installed as spiritual leader of Tibet. Soon after, the newly-recognized Dalai Lama was taken to Jokhang temple where he was inducted as a novice monk, and began his formal education.

In 1949 the newly-established communist China invaded Tibet. A year later, the Dalai Lama was requested by the Regent, the Cabinet and the National Assembly to assume full political authority though he was only 15 - three years short of traditional majority.

For the next nine years, The Dalai Lama strove to achieve peaceful co-existence with the Chinese invaders. However, this proved impossible as the Chinese aggression continued, creating more disillusionment among Tibetans. Tibetans aired their resentment to Chinese occupation by staging armed, popular uprisings, which spread to the entire nation and finally erupted in Lhasa on March 10, 1959.

The Chinese responded violently to these uprisings. When the situation worsened for Tibet, The Dalai Lama was requested to flee the country to carry on the Tibetan struggle from outside the country. Escaping by night and in disguise, he left Lhasa on March 17, 1959, crossing safely into India on March 31, 1959. He was given asylum and established the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India. Nearly 80,000 Tibetan refugees followed the Dalai Lama into exile and are now resettled primarily in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Switzerland, the United States and Canada.

Seeking both to save his people and the Tibetan culture, the Dalai Lama began a peaceful struggle to preserve Tibet's identity and regain the country's independence. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

The Nobel Committee emphasized that "the Dalai Lama, in his struggle for the liberation of Tibet, consistently has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people."