This colorful exploration by A&E’s Biography Series of the life of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet, was an inspirational experience that should be seen by everyone. Nothing was left out in its attempt to present to the world this magnificent human being who has had such an impact on the world.
The 14th Dalai Lama was born with the name of Lhamo Thondup, the 5th of 7 children of farmers in Tibet. As a child, he used to say “I am going to Lhasa,” which is the holy center of Buddhism.
When he was four years old, it was recognized that he was the reincarnation of each of the previous thirteen religious leaders of Tibet. Authorities noted that he spoke in a central Tibetan dialect which his people did not speak. He picked out items belonging to the 13th Dalai Lama, putting aside those that did not.
He was taken from his parents’ home to live in a palace in Lhasa to receive a Buddhist education. He was allowed out only for the festivals and had to memorize huge texts to be given at the festivals. Fortunately, the palace had a treasure trove of western technology - cameras, movie projectors, and automobiles. His Holiness became an expert in photography.
When he was 15 years old, the 5th largest earthquake in history hit Tibet. For eleven day, Tibet was overrun by the Chinese. One year later, Chinese military troops occupied Tibet. From his studies, His Holiness came to believe that social equality could be achieved through Communism and Marxism. He visited Mao Tse-tung in China in 1954 and was told that Mao wanted to modernize Tibet. After Mao said to him “Religion is poison,” he realized that the Chinese were lying to him. He returned to Tibet in fear for his people. The Chinese were attacking monasteries and destroying Tibetan culture.
Nehru and Ghandi
His Holiness asked Nehru if he could be given asylum in India. Ghandi was his hero. Nehru answered that India could not come to the defense of Tibet over China. So he returned to Lhasa. At that time, Lhasa had a huge celebration for the Dalai Lama as he had easily passed his exams for the Doctor of Divinity Degree.
He was invited to China to see a theatrical performance, but his people realized that it was a plot to kill the religious leader. They surrounded him to protect him from his enemies. When his own palace was attacked by mortar shells, he left in disguise as a mere foot soldier, which saved his life.
Nehru finally took him in in 1959, and he traveled with his people more than 800 miles to cross the border into India, where he was in exile without a nation. Many Tibetans were slaughtered, and there followed 20 years of massive suffering for the Tibetan people. All agreements with China were repudiated. Tibet, a society devoted to creating enlightened human beings, was a lost kingdom, only existing in exile.
While in exile, he launched his own government. Because he was an admirer of Thomas Jefferson, he write a new democratic constitution. He even wrote in a call for his own impeachment, if necessary. His voice of moral authority is responsible for Tibetan democracy. Against Nehru’s wishes, he did not refrain from making political statements. His Holiness liked the freedom that came to him while in exile. He gained in wisdom, both spiritual and worldly.
In 1962, China attacked the Indian border, starting the Sino-Indian War. The Chinese victory broke Nehru’s spirit. He died a short time later. It was at this time that China underwent a cultural revolution, during which they destroyed much of Tibet’s art and culture.
During the 60’s and 70’s, he visited many countries, including Thailand and Japan, bringing his message of peace. In 1979, he made his first trip to the United States. He visited as a religious leader, but his purpose was political. He met universal appeal in the U.S., generating international concern for Tibet.
Map of Tibet
In June 1989 in China, the Tiananmen Square protests occurred. The Dalai Lama condemned the Chinese atrocities and gave his full support to Tibetan students. That year, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his life-long efforts.
Actor Richard Gere, a Tibetan activist, related that this holy man undergoes 4-5 hours a day of rigorous meditation, wherever he is. He is on the go always. He never stops. He give teachings and lectures. He serves others as part of his spiritual life. He looks forward someday to relinquish his public duties to give all of his time to his religious practices. His Holiness is one of the world’s most admired men as the spiritual and political leader of a nation that exists only in exile. He projects extraordinary dignity while adhering to his principles and values.
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