Unlike leaders of the other countries, he does not achieve his position by succession, election, appointment, or force. Considered to be the fourteenth successive manifestation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara, he was chosen according to a series of signs, divinations, and tests that unquestionably verified him to be the reincarnation of his predecessor.
The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso, passed away in 1933, leaving a number of clues to his future place of rebirth. Some years after his passing, those responsible for finding his new incarnation began their search: they examined the clues; they consulted the oracles; several visions (of the three Tibetan letter, AH, KA, and MA, of a monastery, and of a house) appeared to them in the sacred lake of Palden Lhamo, “Lhamoi Latso”. In 1937, they sent out search parties to look for a child born in a house with a jade and gold roofed monastery nearby.
The search party, headed by Keutsang Rinpoche of Sera Monastery, following the advice of the ninth Pachen Lama, found just such a house in the village of Takster in the northeastern region of Amdo. Asked about its inhabitants, the villagers there replied that the couple living there had many special dreams prior to the birth of one of their sons a few years before, and that rainbows had been seen over the house upon his birth.
Disguising himself as a servant and wearing a rosary that had belonged to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Keutsang Rinpoche and two other members of this preliminary delegation arrived unannounced at the door. When the couple’s two-year-old son, Lhamo Dhondrup, saw Keutsang Rinpoche in the kitchen wearing the rosary, the boy immediately demanded that it be given to him. Keutsang Rinpoche replied that he could have it if the child were able to identify him. To this, Lhamo Dhondrup correctly replied that Keatsang Rinpoche was a Sera lama; the boy was able to name the other two members of the delegation. The next day, as he watched the visitors prepare to leave, Lhamo Dhondrup tearfully begged to accompany them.
Soon afterward, the entire search party administered further tests. In one test, they presented the young boy with the objects that had belonged to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama together with similar objects that had not belonged to him. The child was then asked to choose his own belongings from his previous life. Each time, he chose correctly. Following these tests, oracles and various high lamas were consulted; they too verified that this child was the actual reincarnation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. His official investiture as the Fourteenth Dalai Lama took place on 22 February 1940. Upon receiving ordination as a novice monk, Lhamo Dhondrup was newly named Tenzin Gyatso.
From the ages of six to twenty-five, under the tutelage of the best teachers, the young Dalai Lama was educated in Buddhist philosophy as well as such other subjects as mathematics, astronomy, medicine, poetry, history, and composition.
At the age of twenty-five, he completed his advanced Geshe Degree (the equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy) with high honors. Before the completion of his studies, however, his peaceful and studious life was interrupted when, in 1950, the Chinese invaded eastern Tibet. Consequently, the young Dalai Lama was invested as temporal leader of Tibet on 17 November 1950 at the age of fifteen, three years earlier than usual.
During nine years, from 1950 to 1959, the Dalai Lama worked hard in his attempts to negotiate a peaceful agreement with China, even personally meeting with Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai, and Deng Xiao-ping in Beijing in 1954. Again in 1956, he met with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Chinese Premier Chou En-lai in India to discuss the ever-deteriorating conditions in Tibet that had been caused by the implementation of reforms that included the levying of new taxes, the confiscation of land, brutal public punishment for supposed “crimes against the people”, and the abuse of monks and nuns and of upper-and-middle-class property-owners.
The situation in Tibet steadily worsened until it culminated in an uprising of the Tibetan people. On 10 March 1959, fearing for the safety of the Dalai Lama, a huge crowd of Tibetans encircled his residence, the Norbulingka, on the outskirts of Lhasa. One week later, under the threat of bombardment and armed retaliation by the Chinese armies, the Dalai Lama, disguised as a layman, secretly departed for India, hoping to enlist the support and help of the United Nations and sympathetic governments for the Tibetan people.
Granted refuge in India, the Tibetan refugees who followed His Holiness from Tibet established the Tibetan government-in-exile in the Himalayan hill station of Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, as well as numerous communities in other parts of north and south India. From the seat of the Tibetan government in exile, His Holiness petitioned the United Nations concerning the worsening situation in Tibet. These petitions resulted in three UN resolutions of 1959, 1961, and 1965 that called for the cessation of practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms including their right to self-determination.
To the present day, His Holiness continues to work untiringly for the freedom of the Tibetan people, promoting non-violence as the means to their success. His selfless efforts have not gone unnoticed by the world community — in 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In addition, His Holiness travels extensively spreading his message of universal responsibility and a good heart — the means to achieve both personal happiness and world peace, touching the hearts and minds of Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike all over the world.
As a further expression of his personal commitment to work for world peace and the preservation of the environment, His Holiness has conferred and continues to confer the Kalachakra initiation in many places around the world.