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Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama [1][2] is a monk of the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism,[3] the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism[4] founded by Je Tsongkhapa. The 14th and current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.

The Dalai Lama is considered to be the successor in a line of tulkus who are believed[1] to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara,[2] the Bodhisattva of Compassion.[5] The name is a combination of the Mongolic word dalai meaning "ocean" and the Tibetan word བླ་མ་ (bla-ma) meaning "guru, teacher, mentor". The Tibetan word "lama" corresponds to the better known Sanskrit word "guru".[6]

From 1642 until the 1950s (except for 1705 to 1750), the Dalai Lamas or their regents headed the Tibetan government or Ganden Phodrang which governed all or most of the Tibetan plateau from Lhasa with varying degrees of autonomy. This government was generally subject to the patronage and protection of firstly Mongol kings of the Khoshut and Dzungar Khanates (1642-1720) and then of the emperors of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty (1720-1912).[7]


  • History 1
    • Emergence of Dalai Lamas 1.1
    • Identification with Avalokiteshvara 1.2
    • Origins in myth and legend 1.3
    • 4th Dalai Lama 1.4
    • 5th Dalai Lama 1.5
      • Re-unification of Tibet 1.5.1
      • Visit to Beijing 1.5.2
      • Relations with the Qing dynasty 1.5.3
    • 6th Dalai Lama 1.6
    • 7th Dalai Lama 1.7
      • Dzungar invasion 1.7.1
      • Enthronement in Lhasa 1.7.2
      • Exile to Kham 1.7.3
      • Return to Lhasa 1.7.4
      • Restoration as Tibet's political leader 1.7.5
    • 8th Dalai Lama 1.8
    • Ninth to Twelfth Dalai Lamas 1.9
      • 9th Dalai Lama 1.9.1
      • 10th Dalai Lama 1.9.2
      • 11th Dalai Lama 1.9.3
      • 12th Dalai Lama 1.9.4
    • 13th Dalai Lama 1.10
    • 14th Dalai Lama 1.11
  • Residences 2
  • Searching for the reincarnation 3
    • List of Dalai Lamas 3.1
  • Future of the position 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
    • Citations 7.1
    • Sources 7.2
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


In 1252, Qubilai, future Khagan of the Mongols and ruler of Yuan China, granted an audience to Drogön Chögyal Phagpa and Karma Pakshi, 2nd Karmapa Lama (1203-1283). Karma Pakshi, however, sought the patronage of Möngke Khan, the current ruler and Qubilai's political rival, and taught the court the Cakrasaṃvara Tantra. (Buswell & Lopez 2014:422)

Before his death in 1283, Karma Pakshi wrote a will to protect the established interests of his lineage, the Karma Kagyu, by advising his disciples to locate a boy to inherit the black hat. His instruction was based on the premise that the Dharma is eternal and that the Buddha would send emanations to complete the missions he had initiated. Karma Pakshi's disciples acted in accordance with the will and located the reincarnated boy of their master.

The formalisation of the succession of its incarnate teacher-tulku system by the Karma Kagyu in the early 13th century led to other schools of Tibetan Buddhism adopting the same practice by formalising their own tulku systems.[8][1]

Emergence of Dalai Lamas

Thus in 1546, some 336 years after the 2nd Karmapa was formally recognised, Sonam Gyatso was similarly recognised by the Gelug as the incarnation of their late teacher Gendun Gyatso, who had been, in turn, informally recognised in 1487 as the incarnation of his predecessor Gendun Drup, who had been the main disciple of Gelugpa founder Je Tsongkhapa.[9] After Sonam Gyatso, each Dalai Lama has been formally recognised and ceremonially enthroned as per the middle columns of the List of Dalai Lamas below. An individual detailed biography of each Dalai Lama is linked to the names given in this list. The Tulku recognition system, once formalised and made into an official institution also involves the legal inheritance by each successor of the predecessor’s monastic home, other former possessions, staff and so forth.[10]

In 1578, after this Sonam Gyatso had been invited to Mongolia and had converted Altan Khan, King of the Tümed Mongols, to Buddhism along with his tribe (the first Mongol tribe to be so converted), the King conferred the title ‘Dalai’ on him, ‘Dalai’ being the Mongolian translation of his Tibetan name ‘Gyatso’, which means ‘sea’ or ‘ocean’.[11] Within 50 years nearly all Mongolians had become Buddhist, including tens of thousands of monks, almost all followers of the Gelug school and loyal to the Dalai Lama.[12]

This title was accorded retroactively to Gendun Drup and Gendun Gyatso, as they were considered to be Sonam Gyatso's previous incarnations, so they became known respectively as the First and Second Dalai Lamas, although neither of them had ever been formally recognised or enthroned.[13] Thus, when Sonam Gyatso was named as the Third Dalai Lama in 1578 the Dalai Lama Tulku system became officially established in validation of an already existing but informal mode of succession.[13]

Identification with Avalokiteshvara

The belief in Tibet and other Central Asian Buddhist countries that the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara, has a special relationship with the people of Tibet and intervenes in their fate by incarnating as benevolent rulers and teachers such as the Dalai Lamas had already taken root in Tibet in the 11th and 12th centuries, according to textual evidence such as The Book of Kadam,[14] the main text of the Kadampa sect to which Gendun Drub first belonged. In fact, this text is said to have ‘laid the foundation’ for the Tibetans' later identification of the Dalai Lamas as incarnations of Avalokiteshvara;[15] it traces the legend of the bodhisattva’s incarnations as early Tibetan kings and emperors such as Songsten Gampo and later as Dromtönpa (1004-1064).[16] This lineage has been extrapolated by Tibetans up to the Dalai Lamas.[17]

Origins in myth and legend

Thus, according to such sources, an informal line of succession of the present Dalai Lamas as incarnations of Avalokiteshvara stretches back much further than Gendun Drub. The Book of Kadam,[18] the compilation of Kadampa teachings largely composed around discussions between the Indian sage Atisa (980-1054) and his Tibetan host and chief disciple Dromtönpa[19][20] and ‘Tales of the Previous Incarnations of Arya Avalokiteshvara’,[21] nominate as many as sixty persons prior to Gendun Drub who are enumerated as earlier incarnations of Avalokiteshvara and predecessors in the same lineage leading up to him. In brief, these include a mythology of thirty-six Indian personalities plus ten early Tibetan kings and emperors, all said to be previous incarnations of Dromtönpa, and fourteen further Nepalese and Tibetan yogis and sages in between him and the first Dalai Lama.[22] In fact, according to the "Birth to Exile" article on the 14th Dalai Lama's website, he is "the seventy-fourth in a lineage that can be traced back to a Brahmin boy who lived in the time of Buddha Shakyamuni."[23]

4th Dalai Lama

The Fourth Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso (1589-1617) was a Mongolian, the great-grandson of Altan Khan who was a descendant of Kublai Khan and King of the Tümed Mongols who had already been converted to Buddhism by the Third Dalai Lama, Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588).[24] This strong connection caused the Mongols to zealously support the Gelugpa sect in Tibet, strengthening their status and position but also arousing intensified opposition from the Gelugpa's rivals, particularly the Tsang Karma Kagyu in Shigatse and their Mongolian patrons and the Bönpo in Kham and their allies.[24] Being the newest school, unlike the older schools the Gelugpa lacked an established network of Tibetan clan patronage and were thus more reliant on foreign patrons.[25] At the age of 10 with a large Mongol escort he travelled to Lhasa where he was enthroned. He studied at Drepung and became its abbot but being a non-Tibetan he met with opposition from some Tibetans, especially the Karma Kagyu who felt their position was threatened by these emerging events; there were several attempts to remove him from power.[26] Yonten Gyatso died at the age of 27 under suspicious circumstances and his chief attendant Sonam Rapten went on to discover the 5th Dalai Lama and then to be his regent, the Desi.[27]

5th Dalai Lama

Map showing the extent of the Khoshut Khanate, 1642-1717, after Unification of Tibet under Güshi Khan

The death of the Fourth Dalai Lama in 1617 led to open conflict breaking out between various parties.[25] Firstly, the Tsangpa dynasty, rulers of Central Tibet from Shigatse, supporters of the Karmapa school and rivals to the Gelugpa, forbade the search for his incarnation.[28] However, in 1618 Sonam Chophel Rabten, the former attendant of the 4th Dalai Lama who had become the Ganden Phodrang treasurer, secretly identified the child,[29] who had been born to the noble Zahor family at Tagtse castle, south of Lhasa. Then, the Panchen Lama, in Shigatse, negotiated the lifting of the ban, enabling the boy to be recognised as Lobsang Gyatso, 5th Dalai Lama.[28]

Also in 1618, the Tsangpa King, Karma Puntsok Namgyal, whose Mongol patron was Choghtu Khong Tayiji of the Khalkha, attacked the Gelugpa in Lhasa to avenge an earlier snub and established two military bases there to control the monasteries and the city. This caused Sonam Chopel Rabten who became the 5th Dalai Lama's changdzo or manager,[30] to seek more active Mongol patronage and military assistance for the Gelugpa while the Fifth was still a boy.[25] So, in 1620, Mongol troops allied to the Gelugpa who had camped outside Lhasa suddenly attacked and destroyed the two Tsangpa camps and drove them out of Lhasa, enabling the Dalai Lama to be brought out of hiding and publicly enthroned there in 1622.[29]

In fact, throughout the 5th's minority, it was the influential and forceful Sonam Chopel who inspired the Dzungar Mongols to defend the Gelugpa by attacking their enemies. These enemies included other Mongol tribes who supported the Tsangpas, the Tsangpa themselves and their Bönpo allies in Kham who had also opposed and persecuted Gelugpas. Ultimately, this strategy led to the destruction of the Tsangpa dynasty, the defeat of the Karmapas and their other allies and the Bönpos, by the Mongols, paving the way for Gelugpa political and religious hegemony in Central Tibet.[28] In recognition of his ability and achievements, in 1642 the 5th Dalai Lama appointed Sonam Chopel Rabten as his "Desi" or "Viceroy".[31]

During the 1630s Tibet was deeply entangled in rivalry, evolving power struggles and conflicts, not only between the Tibetan religious sects but also between the rising Manchus and the various rival Mongol and Oirat factions, who were also vying for supremacy amongst themselves and on behalf of the religious sects they patronised.[25] For example, Ligdan Khan of the Chahars, a Mongol subgroup who supported the Tsang Karmapas, after retreating from advancing Manchu armies headed for Kokonor intending destroy the Gelug. He died on the way, in 1634[32] but his vassal Choghtu Khong Tayiji, continued to advance against the Gelugpas, even having his own son Arslan killed after Arslan changed sides, submitted to the Dalai Lama and become a Gelugpa monk.[33] By the mid-1630s, thanks again to the efforts of Sonam Chopel,[28] the Fifth Dalai Lama had found a powerful new patron in Güshi Khan of the Khoshut Mongols, a subgroup of the Dzungars, who had recently migrated to the Kokonor area from Dzungaria.[25] He attacked Choghtu Khong Tayiji at Kokonor in 1637 and defeated and killed him, thus eliminating the Tsangpa and the Karmapa's main Mongol patron and protector.[25]

Next, Donyo Dorje, the Bönpo king of Beri in Kham was found writing to the Tsangpa king in Shigatse to propose a co-ordinated 'pincer attack' on the Lhasa Gelugpa monasteries from east and west, seeking to utterly destroy them once and for all.[34] The intercepted letter was sent to Güshi Khan who used it as a pretext to invade central Tibet in 1639 to attack them both, the Bönpo and the Tsangpa. By 1641 he had defeated Donyo Dorje and his allies in Kham and then he marched on Shigatse where after laying siege to their strongholds he defeated Karma Tenkyong, broke the power of the Tsang Karma Kagyu in 1642 and ended the Tsangpa dynasty.[35]

Records show that Güshi Khan's attacks on the Bönpo and the Tsangpa were made on his own initiative while being publicly and robustly opposed by the Dalai Lama, who, as a matter of conscience, out of compassion and his vision of tolerance for other religious schools, refused to give permission for more warfare in his name.[36][31] However, the actions were supported by his Desi Sonam Chopel Rabten, who deviously went behind his master's back to encourage Güshi Khan, to facilitate his plans and to ensure the attacks took place;[28] for this defiance of his master's wishes, Desi Sonam Chopel Rabten was severely rebuked by the 5th Dalai Lama.[36]

Re-unification of Tibet

Having thus defeated all the Gelugpa's rivals and resolved all regional and sectarian conflicts Güshi Khan became the undisputed patron of a unified Tibet and acted as a "Protector of the Gelug",[37] establishing the Khoshut Khanate which covered almost the entire Tibetan plateau, an area corresponding roughly to 'Greater Tibet' including Kham and Amdo, as claimed by exiled groups (see maps). At an enthronement ceremony in Shigatse he conferred full temporal authority on the Fifth Dalai Lama over Central Tibet and Kham, unified for the first time since the collapse of the Tibetan Empire exactly eight centuries earlier.[25][38] Güshi Khan then retired to Kokonor with his armies[25] and ruled Amdo himself directly. This created the precedent for the later separation of Amdo from Central Tibet.[38]

In this way, Güshi Khan established the Fifth Dalai Lama as the highest spiritual and political authority in Tibet. 'The Great Fifth' became the temporal ruler of Tibet in 1642 and from then on the rule of the Dalai Lama lineage over some, all or most of Tibet lasted with few breaks for the next 317 years, until 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India.[39] In 1645, the Great Fifth began the construction of the Potala Palace in Lhasa.[40]

Güshi Khan died in 1655 and was succeeded by his descendants Dayan, Tenzin Dalai Khan and Tenzin Wangchuk Khan. However, Güshi Khan's other eight sons had settled in Amdo but fought amongst themselves over territory so the Fifth Dalai Lama sent governors to rule them in 1656 and 1659, thereby bringing Amdo and thus the whole of Greater Tibet under his personal rule and Gelugpa control. The Mongols in Amdo became absorbed and Tibetanised.[41]

Visit to Beijing

In 1636 the kowtow to the emperor, who rose from his throne and advanced 30 feet to meet him, the significance of the visit was that of nominal political submission by the Dalai Lama since Inner Asian heads of state did not travel to meet each other but sent envoys. For Tibetan Buddhist historians however it was interpreted as the start of an era of independent rule of the Dalai Lamas, and of Qing patronage alongside that of the Mongols.[42]

Relations with the Qing dynasty

The 17th century struggles for domination between the Manchu-led Qing dynasty and the various Mongol groups spilled over to involve Tibet because of the Fifth Dalai Lama's strong influence over the Mongols as a result of their general adoption of Tibetan Buddhism and their consequent deep loyalty to the Dalai Lama as their guru. Until 1674 the Fifth Dalai Lama had mediated in Dzungar Mongol affairs whenever they required him to do so, and the Kangxi Emperor, who had succeeded the Shunzhi Emperor in 1661, would accept and confirm his decisions automatically. For the Kangxi Emperor however, the alliance between the Dzungar Mongols and the Tibetans was unsettling because he feared it had the potential to unite all the other Mongol tribes together against the Qing Empire, including those tribes who had already submitted. Therefore, in 1674, the Kangxi Emperor, annoyed by the Fifth's less than full cooperation in quelling a rebellion against the Qing in Yunnan, ceased deferring to him as regards Mongol affairs and started dealing with them directly.[43]

In the same year, 1674, the Dalai Lama, then at the height of his powers and conducting a foreign policy independent of the Qing, caused Mongol troops to occupy the border post of Dartsedo between Kham and Sichuan, further annoying the Kangxi Emperor who (according to Smith) already considered Tibet as part of the Qing Empire. It also increased Qing suspicion about Tibetan relations with the Mongol groups and led him to seek strategic opportunities to oppose and undermine Mongol influence in Tibet and eventually, within 50 years, to defeat the Mongols militarily and to establish the Qing as sole 'patrons and protectors' of Tibet in their place.[43]

The Fifth Dalai Lama's death in 1682 was kept secret for fifteen years by his regent Desi Sangye Gyatso. He pretended the Dalai Lama was in retreat and ruled on his behalf, secretly selecting the 6th Dalai Lama and presenting him as someone else. This was apparently done so that construction of the Potala Palace could be finished, and to prevent Tibet's neighbours, the Mongols and the Qing, from taking advantage of an interregnum in the succession of the Dalai Lamas. Only in 1697 did he announce the Fifth's death, annoying both the Mongols and the Qing by this deception.(Laird 2006, pp. 181–182)

The time of the Fifth Dalai Lama, who reigned from 1642 to 1682 and founded the government known as the Ganden Phodrang, was a period of rich cultural development.

6th Dalai Lama

The Sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706) was born near Tawang, now in India, and discovered in 1685 but not enthroned until 1697 when the death of the Fifth was announced. After 16 years of study as a novice monk, in 1702 in his 20th year he rejected full ordination and gave up his monk's robes and monastic life, preferring the lifestyle of a layman.[44][45]

In 1703 Güshi Khan's ruling grandson Tenzin Wangchuk Khan was murdered by his brother Lhazang Khan who usurped the Khoshut's Tibetan throne, but unlike his four predecessors he started interfering directly in Tibetan affairs in Lhasa; he opposed the Fifth Dalai Lama's regent, Desi Sangye Gyatso for his deceptions and in the same year, with the support of the Kangxi Emperor, he forced him out of office. Then in 1705, he used the Sixth's escapades as an excuse to seize full control of Tibet. Most Tibetans, though, still supported their Dalai Lama despite his behaviour and deeply resented Lhazang Khan's intereference. When Lhazang was requested by the Tibetans to leave Lhasa politics to them and to retire to Kokonor like his predecessors, he quit the city, but only to gather his armies in order to return, capture Lhasa militarily and assume full political control of Tibet.[46] The regent was then murdered by Lhazang or his wife, and, in 1706 with the compliance of the Kangxi Emperor the Sixth Dalai Lama was deposed and arrested by Lhazang who considered him to be an imposter set up by the regent. Lhazang Khan, now acting as the only outright foreign ruler that Tibet had ever had, then sent him to Beijing under escort to appear before the emperor but he died mysteriously on the way near Lake Qinghai, ostensibly from illness.[47][48]

Having discredited and deposed the Sixth Dalai Lama, whom he considered an imposter, and having removed the regent, Lhazang Khan pressed the Lhasa Gelugpa lamas to endorse a new Dalai Lama in Tsangyang Gyatso's place as the true incarnation of the Fifth. They eventually nominated one Pekar Dzinpa, a monk but also rumoured to be Lhazang's son,[49] and Lhazang had him installed as the 'real' Sixth Dalai Lama, endorsed by the Panchen Lama and named Yeshe Gyatso in 1707.[50] This choice was in no way accepted by the Tibetan people, however, nor by Lhazang's princely Mongol rivals in Kokonor who resented his usurpation of the Khoshut Tibetan throne as well as his meddling in Tibetan affairs. The Kangxi Emperor concurred with them, after sending investigators, initially declining to recognise Yeshe Gyatso. He did recognise him in 1710, however, after sending a Qing official party to assist Lhazang in 'restoring order'; these were the first Chinese representatives of any sort to officiate in Tibet.[48] At the same time, while this puppet 'Dalai Lama' had no political power, the Kangxi Emperor secured from Lhazang Khan in return for this support the promise of regular payments of tribute; this was the first time tribute had been paid to the Manchu by the Mongols in Tibet and the first overt acknowledgement of Qing supremacy over Mongol rule in Tibet.[51]

7th Dalai Lama

In 1708, in accordance with an indication given by the Sixth Dalai Lama when quitting Lhasa a child called Kelzang Gyatso had been born at Lithang in eastern Tibet who was soon found by local Tibetans to be his incarnation. After going into hiding out of fear of Lhazang Khan, he was installed in Lithang monastery. Along with some of the Kokonor Mongol princes, rivals of Lhazang, in defiance of the situation in Lhasa the Tibetans of Kham duly recognised him as the Seventh Dalai Lama in 1712, retaining his birth-name of Kelzang Gyatso. For security reasons he was moved to Derge monastery and eventually, in 1716, now also backed and sponsored by the Kangxi Emperor he was taken to Amdo at the age of 8 to be installed in Kumbum Monastery with great pomp and ceremony.[52]

According to Smith, the Kangxi Emperor now arranged to protect the child and keep him at Kumbum monastery in Amdo in reserve just in case his ally Lhasang Khan and his 'real' Sixth Dalai Lama, were overthrown.[53] According to Mullin however, the emperor's support came from genuine spiritual recognition and respect rather than being politically motivated.[54]

Dzungar invasion

In any case, the Kangxi Emperor took full advantage of having Kelzang Gyatso under Qing control at Kumbum after other Mongols from the Dzungar tribes led by Tsewang Rabtan who was related to his supposed ally Lhazang Khan, deceived and betrayed the latter by invading Tibet and capturing Lhasa in 1717.[55][56]

These Dzungars, who were Buddhist, had supported the Fifth Dalai Lama and his regent. They were secretly petitioned by the Lhasa Gelugpa lamas to invade with their help in order to rid them of their foreign ruler Lhazang Khan and to replace the unpopular Sixth Dalai Lama pretender with the young Kelzang Gyatso. This plot suited the devious Dzungar leaders' ambitions and they were only too happy to oblige.[57][58] Early in 1717, after conspiring to undermine Lhazang Khan through treachery they entered Tibet from the northwest with a large army, sending a smaller force to Kumbum to collect Kelzang Gyatso and escort him to Lhasa. By the end of the year, with Tibetan connivance they had captured Lhasa, killed Lhazang and all his family and deposed Yeshe Gyatso. Their force sent to fetch Kelzang Gyatso however was intercepted and destroyed by Qing armies alerted by Lhazang. In Lhasa, the unruly Dzungar not only failed to produce the boy but also went on the rampage, looting and destroying the holy places, abusing the populace, killing hundreds of Nyingma monks, causing chaos and bloodshed and turning their Tibetan allies against them. The Tibetans were soon appealing to the Kangxi Emperor to rid them of the Dzungars.[59][60]

When the Dzungars had first attacked, the weakened Lhazang sent word to the Qing for support and they quickly despatched two armies to assist, the first Chinese armies ever to enter Tibet, but they arrived too late. In 1718 they were halted not far from Lhasa to be defeated and then ruthlessly annihilated by the triumphant Dzungars in the Battle of the Salween River.[61][62]

Enthronement in Lhasa

This humiliation only determined the Kangxi Emperor to expel the Dzungars from Tibet once and for all and he set about assembling and dispatching a much larger force to march on Lhasa, bringing the emperor's trump card the young Kelzang Gyatso with it. On the imperial army's stately passage from Kumbum to Lhasa with the boy being welcomed adoringly at every stage, Khoshut Mongols and Tibetans were happy (and well paid) to join and swell its ranks.[63] By the autumn of 1720 the marauding Dzungar Mongols had been vanquished from Tibet and the Qing imperial forces had entered Lhasa triumphantly with the 12-year old, acting as patrons of the Dalai Lama, liberators of Tibet, allies of the Tibetan anti-Dzungar forces led by Kangchenas and Polhanas, and allies of the Khoshut Mongol princes. The delighted Tibetans enthroned him as the Seventh Dalai Lama at the Potala Palace.[64][65]

A new Tibetan government was established consisting of a Kashag or cabinet of Tibetan ministers headed by Kangchenas. Kelzang Gyatso, too young to participate in politics, studied Buddhism. He played a symbolic role in government, and, being profoundly revered by the Mongols, he exercised much influence with the Qing who now had now taken over Tibet's patronage and protection from them.[66]

Exile to Kham

Having vanquished the Dzungars, the Qing army withdrew leaving the Seventh Dalai Lama as a political figurehead and only a Khalkha Mongol as the Qing amban or representative and a garrison in Lhasa.[67][68] After the Kangxi Emperor died in 1722 and was succeeded by his son, the Yongzheng Emperor, these were also withdrawn, leaving the Tibetans to rule autonomously and showing the Qing were interested in an alliance, not conquest.[67][68] In 1723, however, after brutally quelling a major rebellion by zealous Tibetan patriots and disgruntled Khoshut Mongols from Amdo who attacked Xining, the Qing intervened again, splitting Tibet by putting Amdo and Kham under their own more direct control.[69] Continuing Qing interference in Central Tibetan politics and religion incited an anti-Qing faction to quarrel with the Qing-sympathising Tibetan nobles in power in Lhasa, led by Kanchenas who was supported by Polhanas. This led eventually to the murder of Kanchenas in 1727 and a civil war that was resolved in 1728 with the canny Polhanas, who had sent for Qing assistance, the victor. When the Qing forces did arrive they punished the losers and exiled the Seventh Dalai Lama to Kham, under the pretence of sending him to Beijing, because his father had assisted the defeated, anti-Qing faction. He studied and taught Buddhism there for the next seven years.[70]

Return to Lhasa

In 1735 he was allowed back to Lhasa to study and teach, but still under strict control, being mistrusted by the Qing, while Polhanas ruled Central Tibet under nominal Qing supervision. Meanwhile, the Qing had promoted the Fifth Panchen Lama to be a rival leader and reinstated the ambans and the Lhasa garrison. Polhanas died in 1747 and was succeeded by his son Gyurme Namgyal, the last dynastic ruler of Tibet, who was far less cooperative with the Qing. On the contrary, he built a Tibetan army and started conspiring with the Dzungars to rid Tibet of Qing influence.[71] In 1750, when the ambans realised this, they invited him and personally assassinated him and then, despite the Dalai Lama's attempts to calm the angered populace a vengeful Tibetan mob assassinated the ambans in turn, along with most of their escort.[72]

Restoration as Tibet's political leader

The Qing sent yet another force 'to restore order' but when it arrived the situation had already been stabilised under the leadership of the Seventh Dalai Lama who was now seen to have demonstrated loyalty to the Qing. Just as Güshi Khan had done with the Fifth Dalai Lama, they therefore helped reconstitute the government with the Dalai Lama presiding over a Kashag of four Tibetans, reinvesting him with temporal power in addition to his already established spiritual leadership. This arrangement, with a Kashag under the Dalai Lama or his regent, outlasted the Qing dynasty which collapsed in 1912.[73] The ambans and their garrison were also reinstated to observe and to some extent supervise affairs, however, although their influence generally waned with the power of their empire which gradually declined after 1792 along with its influence over Tibet, a decline aided by a succession of corrupt or incompetent ambans.[74] Moreover, there was soon no reason for the Qing to fear the Dzungar; by the time the Seventh Dalai Lama died in 1757 at the age of 49, the entire Dzungar people had been practically exterminated through years of genocidal campaigns by Qing armies, and deadly smallpox epidemics, with the survivors being forcibly transported into China. Their emptied lands were then awarded to other peoples.[75]

According to Mullin, despite living through such violent times Kelzang Gyatso was perhaps 'the most spiritually learned and accomplished of any Dalai Lama', his written works comprising several hundred titles including 'some of Tibet's finest spiritual literary achievements'.[76] In addition, despite his apparent lack of zeal in politics Kelzang Gyatso is credited with establishing in 1751 the reformed government of Tibet headed by the Dalai Lama, which continued over 200 years until the 1950s, and then in exile.[77] Construction of the Norbulingka, the 'Summer Palace' of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa was also started during Kelzang Gyatso's reign.[78][79]

8th Dalai Lama

The Eighth Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso was born in Tsang in 1758 and died aged 46 having taken little part in Tibetan politics, mostly leaving temporal matters to his Regents and the ambans.[80] Although he lived almost as long as the Seventh he was overshadowed by many contemporary lamas in terms of both religious and political accomplishment. According to Mullin, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has pointed to certain indications that Jamphel Gyatso might not have been the incarnation of the Seventh Dalai Lama but of Jamyang Chojey, a disciple of Tsongkhapa and founder of Drepung monastery who was also reputed to be an incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. In any case, he mainly lived a quiet and unassuming life as a devoted and studious monk, uninvolved in the kind of dramas that had surrounded his predecessors.[81]

Nevertheless, Jamphel Gyatso was also said to possess all the signs of being the true incarnation of the Seventh. This was also confirmed by many portents clear to the Tibetans and so, in 1762, at the age of 5, he was duly enthroned as the Eighth Dalai Lama at the Potala Palace.[82] At the age of 23 he was persuaded to assume the throne as ruler of Tibet with a Regent to assist him and after three years of this, when the Regent went to Beijing as ambassador in 1784, he continued to rule solo for a further four years. Feeling unsuited to worldly affairs, however, and unhappy in this role, he then retired from public office to concentrate on religious activities for his remaining 16 years until his death in 1804.[83] He is also credited with the construction of the Norbulingka 'Summer Palace' started by his predecessor in Lhasa and with ordaining some ten thousand monks in his efforts to foster monasticism.[84]

Ninth to Twelfth Dalai Lamas

Hugh Richardson's summary of the period covering the four short-lived, 19th century Dalai Lamas:

After him [the Eighth Dalai Lama, Jamphel Gyatso], the 9th and 10th Dalai Lamas died before attaining their majority: one of them is credibly stated to have been murdered and strong suspicion attaches to the other. The 11th and 12th were each enthroned but died soon after being invested with power. For 113 years, therefore, supreme authority in Tibet was in the hands of a Lama Regent, except for about two years when a lay noble held office and for short periods of nominal rule by the 11th and 12th Dalai Lamas.[2]
It has sometimes been suggested that this state of affairs was brought about by the Ambans—the Imperial Residents in Tibet—because it would be easier to control the Tibet through a Regent than when a Dalai Lama, with his absolute power, was at the head of the government. That is not true. The regular ebb and flow of events followed its set course. The Imperial Residents in Tibet, after the first flush of zeal in 1750, grew less and less interested and efficient. Tibet was, to them, exile from the urbanity and culture of Peking; and so far from dominating the Regents, the Ambans allowed themselves to be dominated. It was the ambition and greed for power of Tibetans that led to five successive Dalai Lamas being subjected to continuous tutelage. (Richardson 1984, pp. 59–60)

Thubten Jigme Norbu, the elder brother of the 14th Dalai Lama, described these unfortunate events as follows, although there are few, if any, indications that any of the four were said to be 'Chinese-appointed imposters':

It is perhaps more than a coincidence that between the seventh and the thirteenth holders of that office, only one reached his majority. The eighth, Gyampal Gyatso, died when he was in his thirties, Lungtog Gyatso when he was eleven, Tsultrim Gyatso at eighteen, Khadrup Gyatso when he was eighteen also, and Krinla Gyatso at about the same age. The circumstances are such that it is very likely that some, if not all, were poisoned, either by loyal Tibetans for being Chinese-appointed impostors, or by the Chinese for not being properly manageable. Many Tibetans think that this was done at the time when the young [Dalai Lama] made his ritual visit to the Lake Lhamtso. ... Each of the four [Dalai Lamas] to die young expired shortly after his visit to the lake. Many said it was because they were not the true reincarnations, but imposters imposed by the Chinese. Others tell stories of how the cooks of the retinue, which in those days included many Chinese, were bribed to put poison in the [Dalai Lama's] food. The 13th [Dalai Lama] did not did not visit Lhamtso until he was 25 years old. He was adequately prepared by spiritual exercise and he also had faithful cooks. The Chinese were disappointed when he did not die like his predecessors, and he was to live long enough to give them much more cause for regret.(Norbu & Turnbull 1968)[3]

According to Mullin, on the other hand, it is improbable that the Manchus would have murdered any of these four for being 'unmanageable' since it would have been in their best interests to have strong Dalai Lamas ruling in Lhasa, he argues, agreeing with Richardson that it was rather "the ambition and greed for power of Tibetans" that might have caused the Lamas' early deaths.[4] Further, if Tibetan nobles murdered any of them, which is quite possible, it would more likely to have been in order to protect or enhance their personal family interests rather than out of suspicion that the Dalai Lamas were seen as Chinese-appointed imposters as suggested by Norbu. They could have also easily died from illnesses, possibly contracted from diseases to which they had no immunity, carried to Lhasa by the multitudes of pilgrims visiting him from nearby countries for personal blessings. Finally, from the Buddhist point of view, Mullin says, "Simply stated, these four Dalai Lamas died young because the world did not have enough good karma to deserve their presence".[85]

Tibetan historian K. Dhondup, however, in his history "The Water-Bird and Other Years", based on the Tibetan minister Surkhang Sawang Chenmo's historical manuscripts,[86] disagrees with Mullin's opinion that having strong Dalai Lamas in power in Tibet would have been in China's best interests. He notes that many historians are compelled to suspect Manchu foul play in these serial early deaths because the Ambans had such latitude to interfere; the Manchu, he says, "to perpetuate their domination over Tibetan affairs, did not desire a Dalai Lama who will ascend the throne and become a strong and capable ruler over his own country and people". The life and deeds of the 13th Dalai Lama [in successfully upholding de facto Tibetan independence from China from 1912 to 1950] serve as the living proof of this argument, he points out.[87] This account also corresponds with TJ Norbu's observations above.

9th Dalai Lama

Born in Kham in 1805/6 amidst the usual miraculous signs the Ninth Dalai Lama, Lungtok Gyatso was discovered by the 7th Panchen Lama's search team at the age of two and enthroned in the Potala in 1808 at an impressive ceremony attended by representatives from China, Mongolia, Nepal and Bhutan.[88][89] His second Regent Demo Tulku was the biographer of the 8th and 9th Dalai Lamas and though the 9th died at the age of 9 his biography is as lengthy as those of many of the early Dalai Lamas.[90] In 1793 under Manchu pressure Tibet had closed its borders to foreigners,[91][92] but in 1815 a British scientist, Thomas Manning became the first Englishman to visit Lhasa. Considered to be 'the first Chinese scholar in Europe'[93] he stayed five months and gave enthusiastic accounts in his journal of his regular meetings with the Ninth Dalai Lama whom he found fascinating: “beautiful, elegant, refined, intelligent, and entirely self-possessed, even at the age of six.”[94] Three years later in March 1815 the young Lungtok Gyatso caught a severe cold and, leaving the Potala Palace to preside over the New Year Monlam Prayer Festival he contracted pneumonia from which he soon died.[95][96]

10th Dalai Lama

Like the Seventh Dalai Lama, the Tenth, Tsultrim Gyatso, was born in Lithang, Kham, where the Third Dalai Lama had built a monastery. It was 1816 and Regent Demo Tulku and the Seventh Panchen Lama followed indications from Nechung, the 'state oracle' which led them to discover him at the age of two. He passed all the tests and was brought to Lhasa but official recognition was delayed until 1822 when he was enthroned and ordained by the Seventh Panchen Lama. There are conflicting reports about whether the Chinese 'golden urn' was utilised by drawing lots to choose him.[97] In any case after 15 years of intensive studies and failing health he died, in 1837, at the age of 20 or 21.[98][99] He identified with ordinary people rather than the court officials and often sat on his verandah in the sunshine with the office clerks. Intending to empower the common people he planned to institute political and economic reforms to share the nation's wealth more equitably. Over this period his health had deteriorated, the implication being that he may have suffered from slow poisoning by Tibetan aristocrats whose interests these reforms were threatening.[100] He was also dissatisfied with his Regent and the Kashag and scolded them for not alleviating the condition of the common people, who had suffered much in small ongoing regional civil wars waged in Kokonor between Mongols, local Tibetans and the government over territory, and in Kham to extract unpaid taxes from rebellious Tibetan communities.[97][101]

11th Dalai Lama

Born in Gathar, Kham in 1838 and soon discovered by the official search committee with the help of Nechung Oracle, the Eleventh Dalai Lama was brought to Lhasa in 1841 and recognised, enthroned and named Khedrup Gyatso by the Panchen Lama in 1842, who also ordained him in 1846. After that he was immersed in religious studies under the Panchen Lama, amongst other great masters. Meanwhile, there were court intrigues and ongoing power struggles taking place between the various Lhasa factions, the Regent, the Kashag, the powerful nobles and the abbots and monks of the three great monasteries. The Tsemonling Regent[102] became mistrusted and was forcibly deposed, there were machinations, plots, beatings and kidnappings of ministers and so forth, resulting at last in the Panchen Lama being appointed as interim Regent to keep the peace. Eventually the Third Reting Rinpoche was made Regent and in 1855 Khedrup Gyatso, appearing to be an extremely promising prospect, was requested to take the reins of power at the age of 17. He was enthroned as ruler of Tibet in 1855 but died after just 11 months, no reason for his sudden and premature death being given in these accounts, Shakabpa and Mullin's histories both being based on untranslated Tibetan chronicles. The respected Reting Rinpoche was recalled once again to act as Regent and requested to lead the search for the next incarnation, the twelfth.[103][104]

12th Dalai Lama

In 1856 a child was born in south central Tibet amidst all the usual extraordinary signs. He came to the notice of the search team, was investigated, passed the traditional tests and was recognised as the Twelfth Dalai Lama in 1858. The use of the Chinese Golden Urn at the insistence of the Regent, who was later accused of being a Chinese lackey, confirmed this choice to the satisfaction of all. Renamed Trinley Gyatso and enthroned in 1860 the boy underwent 13 years of intensive tutelage and training before stepping up to rule Tibet at the age of 17.[105]

His minority seems a time of even deeper Lhasan political intrigue and power struggles than his predecessor's. By 1862 this led to a coup by Wangchuk Shetra, a minister whom the Regent had banished for conspiring against him. Shetra contrived to return, deposed the Regent, who fled to China, and seized power, appointing himself 'Desi' or Prime Minister.[105] He then ruled with "absolute power" for three years,[106] quelling a major rebellion in northern Kham in 1863 and re-establishing Tibetan control over significant Qing-held territory there.[107] Shetra died in 1864 and the Kashag re-assumed power. The retired 76th Ganden Tripa, Khyenrab Wangchuk, was appointed as 'Regent' but his role was limited to supervising and mentoring Trinley Gyatso.[105][106]

In 1868 Shetra's coup organiser, a semi-literate Ganden monk named Palden Dondrup, seized power by another coup and ruled as a cruel despot for three years, putting opponents to death by having them 'sewn into fresh animal skins and thrown in the river'.[106] In 1871, at the request of officials outraged after Dondrup had done just that with one minister and imprisoned several others, he in turn was ousted and committed suicide after a counter-coup coordinated by the supposedly powerless 'Regent' Khyenrab Wangchuk.[106] As a result of this action this venerable old Regent, who died the next year, is fondly remembered by Tibetans as saviour of the Dalai Lama and the nation. The Kashag and the Tsongdu or National Assembly were re-instated, and, presided over by a Dalai Lama or his Regent, ruled without further interruption until 1959.[105]

According to Smith, however, during Trinley Gyatso's minority, the Regent was deposed in 1862 for abuse of authority and closeness with China, by an alliance of monks and officials called Gandre Drungche (Ganden and Drepung Monks Assembly); this body then ruled Tibet for ten years until dissolved, when a National Assembly of monks and officials called the Tsongdu was created and took over. Smith makes no mention of Shetra or Dondrup acting as usurpers and despots in this period.[107]

In any case, Trinley Gyatso died within three years of assuming power. In 1873, at the age of 20 "he suddenly became ill and passed away".[105] On the cause of his early death, accounts diverge. Mullin relates an interesting theory, based on cited Tibetan sources: out of concern for the monastic tradition, Trinley Gyatso chose to die and reincarnate as the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, rather than taking the option of marrying a woman called Rigma Tsomo from Kokonor and leaving an heir to "oversee Tibet's future".[108] Shakabpa on the other hand, without citing sources, notes that Trinley Gyatso was influenced and manipulated by two close acquaintances who were subsequently accused of having a hand in his fatal illness and imprisoned, tortured and exiled as a result.[109]

13th Dalai Lama

Throne awaiting Dalai Lama's return. Summer residence of 14th Dalai Lama, Nechung, Tibet.

The 13th Dalai Lama assumed ruling power from the monasteries, which previously had great influence on the Regent, in 1895. Due to his two periods of exile in 1904–1909 to escape the British invasion of 1904, and from 1910–1912 to escape a Chinese invasion, he became well aware of the complexities of international politics and was the first Dalai Lama to become aware of the importance of foreign relations. After his return from exile in India and Sikkim during January 1913, he assumed control of foreign relations and dealt directly with the Maharaja, with the British Political officer in Sikkim and with the king of Nepal - rather than letting the Kashag or parliament do it. (Sheel 1989, pp. 24, 29)

The Thirteenth issued a Declaration of Independence for his kingdom in Ü-Tsang from China during the summer of 1912 and standardised a Tibetan flag, though no other sovereign state recognized Tibetan independence. (Sheel 1989, p. 20) He expelled the ambans and all Chinese civilians in the country and instituted many measures to modernise Tibet. These included provisions to curb excessive demands on peasants for provisions by the monasteries and tax evasion by the nobles, setting up an independent police force, the abolition of the death penalty, extension of secular education, and the provision of electricity throughout the city of Lhasa in the 1920s. (Norbu & Turnbull 1968, pp. 317–318) He died in 1933.

14th Dalai Lama

Despite his humble beginnings, being born on a straw mat in a cowshed to a farmer's family in a remote part of Tibet,[110] the 14th Dalai Lama had become the joint most popular world leader by 2013, according to a poll conducted by Harris Interactive of New York, which sampled public opinion in the USA and six major European countries.[111]

The 14th Dalai Lama was not formally enthroned until 17 November 1950, during the Battle of Chamdo with the People's Republic of China. In 1951, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government were forced to accept the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet by which it became formally incorporated into the People's Republic of China. Fearing for his life in the wake of a revolt in Tibet in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India, from where he led a government in exile.[112][113]

With the aim of launching guerrilla operations against the Chinese, the Central Intelligence Agency funded the Dalai Lama's administration with US$1.7 million a year in the 1960s.[114] In 2001 the 14th Dalai Lama ceded his absolute power over the government to an elected parliament of selected Tibetan exiles. His original goal was full independence for Tibet, but by the late 1980s he was seeking high-level autonomy instead.[115] He continued to seek greater autonomy from China, but Dolma Gyari, deputy speaker of the parliament-in-exile, stated: "If the middle path fails in the short term, we will be forced to opt for complete independence or self-determination as per the UN charter".[116]


The First to the Fifth Dalai Lamas were mainly based at Drepung Monastery outside Lhasa. In 1645, after the unification of Tibet, the Fifth moved to the ruins of a royal fortress or residence on top of Marpori ('Red Mountain') in Lhasa and decided to build a palace on the same site. This ruined palace, called Tritse Marpo, was originally built around 636 AD by the founder of the Tibetan Empire, Songsten Gampo for his Nepalese wife.[117] Amongst the ruins there was just a small temple left where Tsongkhapa had given a teaching when he arrived in Lhasa in the 1380s. The Fifth Dalai Lama began construction of the Potala Palace on this site in 1645,[118] carefully incorporating what was left of his predecessor's palace into its structure.[119] From then on and until today, unless on tour or in exile the Dalai Lamas have always spent their winters at the Potala Palace and their summers at the Norbulingka palace and park. Both palaces are in Lhasa and approximately 3 km apart.

Following the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising, the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in India. The then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, allowed in the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government officials. The Dalai Lama has since lived in exile in Dharamshala, in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, where the Central Tibetan Administration is also established. Tibetan refugees have constructed and opened many schools and Buddhist temples in Dharamshala.[120]

Searching for the reincarnation

The search for the 14th Dalai Lama took the High Lamas to Taktser in Amdo
Palden Lhamo, the female guardian spirit of the sacred lake, Lhamo La-tso, who promised Gendun Drup the 1st Dalai Lama in one of his visions that "she would protect the reincarnation lineage of the Dalai Lamas"

By the Himalayan tradition, phowa is the discipline that transfers the mindstream to the intended body. Upon the death of the Dalai Lama and consultation with the Nechung Oracle, a search for the Lama's yangsi, or reincarnation, is conducted. Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of the High Lamas of the Gelugpa tradition and the Tibetan government to find his reincarnation. The process can take around two or three years to identify the Dalai Lama, and for the 14th, Tenzin Gyatso, it was four years before he was found. Historically, the search for the Dalai Lama has usually been limited to Tibet, though the third tulku was born in Mongolia. Tenzin Gyatso, however, has stated that he will not be reborn in the People's Republic of China, though he has also suggested he may not be reborn at all, suggesting the function of the Dalai Lama may be outdated.[121] The government of the People's Republic of China has stated its intention to be the ultimate authority on the selection of the next Dalai Lama.[122]

The High Lamas used several ways in which they can increase the chances of finding the reincarnation. High Lamas often visit Lhamo La-tso, a lake in central Tibet, and watch for a sign from the lake itself. This may be either a vision or some indication of the direction in which to search, and this was how Tenzin Gyatso was found. It is said that Palden Lhamo, the female guardian spirit of the sacred lake Lhamo La-tso promised Gendun Drup, the 1st Dalai Lama, in one of his visions "that she would protect the reincarnation lineage of the Dalai Lamas." Ever since the time of Gendun Gyatso, the 2nd Dalai Lama, who formalised the system, the Regents and other monks have gone to the lake to seek guidance on choosing the next reincarnation through visions while meditating there.[123]

The particular form of Palden Lhamo at Lhamo La-tso is Gyelmo Maksorma, "The Victorious One who Turns Back Enemies". The lake is sometimes referred to as "Pelden Lhamo Kalideva", which indicates that Palden Lhamo is an emanation of the goddess Kali, the shakti of the Hindu God Shiva.[124]

Lhamo Latso ... [is] a brilliant azure jewel set in a ring of grey mountains. The elevation and the surrounding peaks combine to give it a highly changeable climate, and the continuous passage of cloud and wind creates a constantly moving pattern on the surface of the waters. On that surface visions appear to those who seek them in the right frame of mind.[125]

It was here that in 1935, the Regent Reting Rinpoche received a clear vision of three Tibetan letters and of a monastery with a jade-green and gold roof, and a house with turquoise roof tiles, which led to the discovery of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.[126][127][128]

High Lamas may also have a vision by a dream or if the Dalai Lama was cremated, they will often monitor the direction of the smoke as an indication of the direction of the rebirth.[121]

Once the High Lamas have found the home and the boy they believe to be the reincarnation, the boy undergoes a battery of tests to affirm the rebirth. They present a number of artifacts, only some of which belonged to the previous Dalai Lama, and if the boy chooses the items which belonged to the previous Dalai Lama, this is seen as a sign, in conjunction with all of the other indications, that the boy is the reincarnation.[129]

If there is only one boy found, the High Lamas will invite Living Buddhas of the three great monasteries, together with secular clergy and monk officials, to confirm their findings and then report to the Central Government through the Minister of Tibet. Later, a group consisting of the three major servants of Dalai Lama, eminent officials, and troops will collect the boy and his family and travel to Lhasa, where the boy would be taken, usually to Drepung Monastery, to study the Buddhist sutra in preparation for assuming the role of spiritual leader of Tibet.[121]

If there are several possible reincarnations, however, regents, eminent officials, monks at the Jokhang in Lhasa, and the Minister to Tibet have historically decided on the individual by putting the boys' names inside an urn and drawing one lot in public if it was too difficult to judge the reincarnation initially.[130]

List of Dalai Lamas

There have been 14 recognised incarnations of the Dalai Lama:
Name Picture Lifespan Recognised Enthronement Tibetan/Wylie Tibetan pinyin/Chinese Alternative spellings
1 Gendun Drup 1391–1474 N/A[131] དགེ་འདུན་འགྲུབ་
dge 'dun 'grub
Gêdün Chub
Gedun Drub
Gedün Drup
2 Gendun Gyatso 1475–1542 N/A[131] དགེ་འདུན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
dge 'dun rgya mtsho
Gêdün Gyaco
Gedün Gyatso
Gendün Gyatso
3 Sonam Gyatso 1543–1588 1546 1578 བསོད་ནམས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
bsod nams rgya mtsho
Soinam Gyaco
Sönam Gyatso
4 Yonten Gyatso 1589–1617 1601 1603 ཡོན་ཏན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
yon tan rgya mtsho
Yoindain Gyaco
Yontan Gyatso, Yönden Gyatso
5 Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso 1617–1682 1618 1622 བློ་བཟང་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
blo bzang rgya mtsho
Lobsang Gyaco
Lobzang Gyatso
Lopsang Gyatso
6 Tsangyang Gyatso 1683–1706 1688 1697 ཚངས་དབྱངས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
tshang dbyangs rgya mtsho
Cangyang Gyaco
Tsañyang Gyatso
7 Kelzang Gyatso 1707–1757 1712 1720 བསྐལ་བཟང་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
bskal bzang rgya mtsho
Gaisang Gyaco
Kelsang Gyatso
Kalsang Gyatso
8 Jamphel Gyatso 1758–1804 1760 1762 བྱམས་སྤེལ་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
byams spel rgya mtsho
Qambê Gyaco
Jampel Gyatso
Jampal Gyatso
9 Lungtok Gyatso 1805–1815 1807 1808 ལུང་རྟོགས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
lung rtogs rgya mtsho
Lungdog Gyaco
Lungtog Gyatso
10 Tsultrim Gyatso 1816–1837 1822 1822 ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
tshul khrim rgya mtsho
Cüchim Gyaco
Tshültrim Gyatso
11 Khendrup Gyatso 1838–1856 1841 1842 མཁས་གྲུབ་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
mkhas grub rgya mtsho
Kaichub Gyaco
Kedrub Gyatso
12 Trinley Gyatso 1857–1875 1858 1860 འཕྲིན་ལས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
'phrin las rgya mtsho
Chinlai Gyaco
Trinle Gyatso
13 Thubten Gyatso 1876–1933 1878 1879 ཐུབ་བསྟན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
thub bstan rgya mtsho
Tubdain Gyaco
Thubtan Gyatso
Thupten Gyatso
14 Tenzin Gyatso born 1935 1939[132] 1940[132]
(currently in exile)
bstan 'dzin rgya mtsho
Dainzin Gyaco
Tenzin Gyatso

There has also been one non-recognised Dalai Lama, Ngawang Yeshe Gyatso, declared 28 June 1707, when he was 25 years old, by Lha-bzang Khan as the "true" 6th Dalai Lama – however, he was never accepted as such by the majority of the population.[62][133][134]

Future of the position

The main teaching room of the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, India
14th Dalai Lama
In the mid-1970s, Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, told a Polish newspaper that he thought he would be the last Dalai Lama. In a later interview published in the English language press he stated, "The Dalai Lama office was an institution created to benefit others. It is possible that it will soon have outlived its usefulness."[135] These statements caused a furor amongst Tibetans in India. Many could not believe that such an option could even be considered. It was further felt that it was not the Dalai Lama's decision to reincarnate. Rather, they felt that since the Dalai Lama is a national institution it was up to the people of Tibet to decide whether the Dalai Lama should reincarnate.[136]

The government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) has claimed the power to approve the naming of "high" reincarnations in Tibet, based on a precedent set by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty. The Qianlong Emperor instituted a system of selecting the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama by a lottery that used a golden urn with names wrapped in clumps of barley. This method was used a few times for both positions during the 19th century, but eventually fell into disuse. In 1995, the Dalai Lama chose to proceed with the selection of the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama without the use of the Golden Urn, while the Chinese government insisted that it must be used. This has led to two rival Panchen Lamas: Gyaincain Norbu as chosen by the Chinese government's process, and Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as chosen by the Dalai Lama.

During September 2007 the Chinese government said all high monks must be approved by the government, which would include the selection of the 15th Dalai Lama after the death of Tenzin Gyatso. Since by tradition, the Panchen Lama must approve the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, that is another possible method of control.

In response to this scenario, Tashi Wangdi, the representative of the 14th Dalai Lama, replied that the Chinese government's selection would be meaningless. "You can't impose an Imam, an Archbishop, saints, any can't politically impose these things on people," said Wangdi. "It has to be a decision of the followers of that tradition. The Chinese can use their political power: force. Again, it's meaningless. Like their Panchen Lama. And they can't keep their Panchen Lama in Tibet. They tried to bring him to his monastery many times but people would not see him. How can you have a religious leader like that?"[137]

The 14th Dalai Lama said as early as 1969 that it was for the Tibetans to decide whether the institution of the Dalai Lama "should continue or not".[138] He has given reference to a possible vote occurring in the future for all Tibetan Buddhists to decide whether they wish to recognize his rebirth.[139] In response to the possibility that the PRC might attempt to choose his successor, the Dalai Lama said he would not be reborn in a country controlled by the People's Republic of China or any other country which is not free.[121][140] According to Robert D. Kaplan, this could mean that "the next Dalai Lama might come from the Tibetan cultural belt that stretches across northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan, presumably making him even more pro-Indian and anti-Chinese".[141]

The 14th Dalai Lama supported the possibility that his next incarnation could be a woman.[142] As an "engaged Buddhist" the Dalai Lama has an appeal straddling cultures and political systems making him one of the most recognized and respected moral voices today.[143] "Despite the complex historical, religious and political factors surrounding the selection of incarnate masters in the exiled Tibetan tradition, the Dalai Lama is open to change," author Michaela Haas writes.[144] "Why not? What's the big deal?"[145]

See also


  1. ^ The point of the foregoing paragraphs outlining the history of the Karmapa is apparently intended to illustrate the role that the establishment of the Karmapa tulku system might have played in the subsequent establishment of the Dalai Lama tulku tradition.
  2. ^ According to Mullin, Smith and Shakabpa however, the 12th Dalai Lama's Regent, Reting Rinpoche, was deposed in 1862 in a coup by Gyalpo Shetra and Tibet was ruled by despots or assemblies of abbots and ministers for the next eleven years, that is until 1873 when the 12th Dalai Lama assumed power.
  3. ^ According to their biographies, the Eighth, Jamphel Gyatso lived to 46 years old, the Ninth, Lungtok Gyatso to 9 years, the Tenth, Tsultrim Gyatso to 21, the Eleventh, Khedrup Gyatso to 17 and the Twelfth, Trinley Gyatso to 18.
  4. ^ Considering what occurred in Lhasa after the Chinese ambans murdered Gyurme Namgyal in 1750, however, the Manchus would have been particularly reluctant to murder a Dalai Lama.



  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^ Schaik, Sam van. Tibet: A History. Yale University Press 2011, page 129, "Gelug: the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism".
  5. ^
  6. ^ "lama" from Encyclopædia Britannica
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Laird, Thomas (2006). The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama, p. 239. Grove Press, N.Y. ISBN 978-0-8021-1827-1
  10. ^
  11. ^ McKay 2003, p. 18
  12. ^ Laird, Thomas (2006). The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama, p. 144. Grove Press, N.Y. ISBN 978-0-8021-1827-1
  13. ^ a b McKay 2003, p. 19
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Mullin 2001, p.39
  22. ^ Stein (1972), p. 138-139|quote=the Dalai Lama is ... a link in the chain that starts in history and leads back through legend to a deity in mythical times. The First Dalai Lama, Gedün-trup (1391-1474), was already the 51st incarnation; the teacher Dromtön, Atiśa's disciple (eleventh century), the 45th; whilst with the 26th, one Gesar king of India, and the 27th, a hare, we are in pure legend
  23. ^
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h
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  • Mullin, Glenn H. (2001). The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation. Clear Light Publishers. Santa Fe, NM. ISBN 1-57416-092-3.
  • Van Schaik, Sam (2011), Tibet. A History. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
  • Shakabpa, Tsepon W.D. (1967), Tibet: A Political History. New York: Yale University Press, and (1984), Singapore: Potala Publications. ISBN 0961147415.

Further reading

  • Dalai Lama. (1991) Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama. San Francisco, CA.
  • Goodman, Michael H. (1986). The Last Dalai Lama. Shambhala Publications. Boston, MA.
  • Harrer, Heinrich (1951) Seven Years in Tibet: My Life Before, During and After

External links

  • Official website
  • Dalai Lama at DMOZ
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