Dalai Lamas – Ecumenical figure of the Geluk tradition
Dalai Lama is a title given by the Tibetan people to the foremost spiritual leader of the Gelug or “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, the newest and most dominant of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The 14th and current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso, who lives as a refugee in India. The Dalai Lama is also considered to be the successor in a line of tulkus who are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion.
Table of Contents
- 1 - Symbol of unification of Tibet
- 2 - The governance of the Dalai Lamas
- 3 - Dalai Lamas & heads of Geluk tradition
- 3.1 - Dalai Lama
- 3.2 - 5th Dalai Lama
- 3.3 - 14th Dalai Lama
- 3.4 - 7th Dalai Lama
- 3.5 - Lion Throne
- 3.6 - 13th Dalai Lama
- 3.7 - Ganden Phodrang
- 3.8 - 8th Dalai Lama
- 3.9 - 11th Dalai Lama
- 3.10 - 10th Dalai Lama
- 3.11 - 6th Dalai Lama
- 3.12 - 3rd Dalai Lama
- 3.13 - 12th Dalai Lama
- 3.14 - Yeshe Gyatso
- 3.15 - 4th Dalai Lama
- 3.16 - 9th Dalai Lama
- 3.17 - 2nd Dalai Lama
- 3.18 - 1st Dalai Lama
- 3.19 - Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln
- 3.20 - Lhalu family
- 3.21 - Succession of the 14th Dalai Lama
- 3.22 - The Discourse of Lama
Symbol of unification of Tibet
Since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama in the 17th century, his personage has always been a symbol of unification of the state of Tibet, where he has represented Buddhist values and traditions.
The Dalai Lama was an important figure of the Geluk tradition, which was politically and numerically dominant in Central Tibet, but his religious authority went beyond sectarian boundaries.
While he had no formal or institutional role in any of the religious traditions, which were headed by their own high lamas, he was a unifying symbol of the Tibetan state, representing Buddhist values and traditions above any specific school.
The governance of the Dalai Lamas
The traditional function of the Dalai Lama as an ecumenical figure, holding together disparate religious and regional groups, has been taken up by the fourteenth Dalai Lama.
He has worked to overcome sectarian and other divisions in the exiled community and has become a symbol of Tibetan nationhood for Tibetans both in Tibet and in exile.
From 1642 until 1705 and from 1750 to the 1950s, the Dalai Lamas or their regents headed the Tibetan government (or Ganden Phodrang) in Lhasa which governed all or most of the Tibetan Plateau with varying degrees of autonomy.
This Tibetan government enjoyed 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).
In 1913, several Tibetan representatives including Agvan Dorzhiev signed a treaty between Tibet and Mongolia, proclaiming mutual recognition and their independence from China, however the legitimacy of the treaty and declared independence of Tibet was rejected by both the Republic of China and the current People’s Republic of China.
The Dalai Lamas headed the Tibetan government afterwards despite that, until 1951.
Dalai Lamas & heads of Geluk tradition
This is a list of all the Dalai Lamas together with some important people related to the Geluk tradition.
Dalai Lama is a title given to spiritual leaders of the Tibetan people.
They are part of the Gelug or “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama title was created by Altan Khan, the Prince of Shunyi, granted by Ming Dynasty, in 1578. The Dalai Lama is considered to be the successor in a line of tulkus who are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara, a Bodhisattva of Compassion.
The name is a combination of the Mongolic word Dalai meaning “ocean” or “big” and the Tibetan word (bla-ma) meaning “master, guru”.
5th Dalai Lama
Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso was the Fifth Dalai Lama, and the first Dalai Lama to wield effective temporal and spiritual power over all Tibet. He is often referred to simply as the Great Fifth, being a key religious and temporal leader of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibet. Gyatso is credited with unifying all Tibet after a Mongol military intervention which ended a protracted era of civil wars. As an independent head of state, he established diplomatic relations with China and other regional countries and also met early European explorers. Gyatso also wrote 24 volumes’ worth of scholarly and religious works on a wide range of subjects.
14th Dalai Lama
The 14th Dalai Lama known as Tenzin Gyatso or Gyalwa Rinpoche to the Tibetan people, is the current Dalai Lama.
He is the highest spiritual leader and former head of state of Tibet.
Born on 6 July 1935, or in the Tibetan calendar, in the Wood-Pig Year, 5th month, 5th day.
He is considered a living Bodhisattva; specifically, an emanation of Avalokiteśvara in Sanskrit and Chenrezig in Tibetan.
He is also the leader and an ordained monk of the Gelug school, the newest school of Tibetan Buddhism, formally headed by the Ganden Tripa.
The central government of Tibet, the Ganden Phodrang, invested the Dalai Lama with temporal duties until his exile in 1959.
On 29 April 1959, the Dalai Lama established the independent Tibetan government in exile in the north Indian hill station of Mussoorie, which then moved in May 1960 to Dharamshala, where he resides.
He retired as political head in 2011 to make way for a democratic government, the Central Tibetan Administration.
7th Dalai Lama
Kelzang Gyatso, also spelled Kalzang Gyatso, Kelsang Gyatso and Kezang Gyatso, was the 7th Dalai Lama of Tibet, recognized as the true incarnation of the 6th Dalai Lama, and enthroned after a pretender was deposed.
The Seventh Dalai Lama was a great scholar, a prolific writer and poet.
His collected works run seven volumes and contain numerous commentaries, liturgical works as well as many religious poems.
The Lion Throne is the English term used to identify the throne of the Dalai Lama of Tibet. It specifically refers to the throne historically used by Dalai Lamas at Potala Palace in Lhasa.
13th Dalai Lama
Ngawang Lobsang Thupten Gyatso Jigdral Chokley Namgyal, abbreviated to Thubten Gyatso was the 13th Dalai Lama of Tibet, enthroned during a turbulent era and the collapse of the Qing Empire.
Referred to as “the Great Thirteenth”, he is also known for redeclaring Tibet’s national independence, and for his reform and modernization initiatives.
In 1878 he was recognized as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.
He was escorted to Lhasa and given his pre-novice vows by the Panchen Lama, Tenpai Wangchuk, and named “Ngawang Lobsang Thupten Gyatso Jigdral Chokley Namgyal”.
In 1879 he was enthroned at the Potala Palace, but did not assume political power until 1895, after he had reached his maturity.
Thubten Gyatso was an intellectual reformer and skillful politician.
He was responsible for countering the British expedition to Tibet, restoring discipline in monastic life, and increasing the number of lay officials to avoid excessive power being placed in the hands of the monks.
The Ganden Phodrang or Ganden Podrang was the Tibetan government that was established by the 5th Dalai Lama with the help of the Güshi Khan of the Khoshut in 1642. Lhasa became the capital of Tibet in the beginning of this period, with all temporal power being conferred to the 5th Dalai Lama by Güshi Khan in Shigatse. After the expulsion of the Dzungars, Tibet was under administrative rule of the Qing dynasty between 1720 and 1912, but the Ganden Phodrang government lasted until the 1950s, when Tibet was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China. Kashag became the governing council of the Ganden Phodrang regime during the early Qing rule.
8th Dalai Lama
Jamphel Gyatso (1758–1804) was the 8th Dalai Lama of Tibet.
Born in 1758 at Lhari Gang (Tob-rgyal Lha-ri Gang) in the Upper Ü-Tsang region of southwestern Tibet his father, Sonam Dhargye and mother, Phuntsok Wangmo, were originally from Kham.
They were distant descendants of Dhrala Tsegyal, who was one of the major heroes of the Gesar epic.
11th Dalai Lama
Khedrup Gyatso (1 November 1838 – 31 January 1856) was the 11th Dalai Lama of Tibet.
He was recognised as the Eleventh Dalai Lama in 1840, having come from the same village as Kelzang Gyatso, the seventh Dalai Lama, had in 1708.
In 1841, Palden Tenpai Nyima, 7th Panchen Lama, gave him the pre-novice ordination, cut his hair and gave him the name Khedrup Gyatso.
In 1842, he was enthroned in the Potala Palace and, in 1849, at the age of eleven, he took the novice vows of monkhood from Palden Tenpai Nyima, 7th Panchen Lama.
He wrote a book of stanzas, Story of the Monkeys and Birds. It is an allegory of the war at the end of the 18th century between the Tibetans and the Gurkhas (‘birds’ and ‘monkeys’ respectively).
During the life of Khedrup Gyatso, wars over Ladakh weakened the lamas’ power over the Tibetan Plateau and the First and Second Opium Wars as well as the Taiping Rebellion simultaneously weakened Qing Empire’s influence on Tibet.
In the last years of his reign the Nepalese invaded Tibet, but were defeated in the Nepalese-Tibetan War (1855–1856).
He died suddenly in the Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet, on 31 January 1856.
10th Dalai Lama
Ngawang Lobzang Jampel Tsultrim Gyatso or Tsultrim Gyatso (29 March 1816 – 30 September 1837) was the 10th Dalai Lama of Tibet, and born in Chamdo.
He was fully ordained in the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, studied the sutras and tantras, had several students, and rebuilt the Potala Palace.
Tsultrim Gyatso was born to a modest family known as Drongto Norbutsang in Chamdo, eastern Tibet.
His father was Lobzang Nyendrak and his mother was Namgyel Butri.
The ninth Dalai Lama Lungtok Gyatso had died in 1815, and five years would pass before his incarnation was found.
Tsultrim Gyatso was chosen from a field of six potential incarnates of the ninth Dalai Lama Lungtok Gyatso.
Preferred as the best by the oracle and government officials in 1820, he travelled to Lhasa in 1821 after which the regent Demo Ngawang Lobzang Tubten Jigme Gyatso died.
The enthronement of the 10th Dalai Lama Tsultrim Gyatso at the Potala Palace occurred in 1822, on the eighth day of the eighth month of the water-horse year.
In 1825 in his 10th year, the Dalai Lama had many tutors and was enrolled at Drepung Monastery and studied both sutra and tantra.
He likely studied at Ganden Monastery and Sera Monastery as well. He studied Tibetan Buddhist texts extensively during the rest of his life.
In 1830, the Dalai Lama was put in charge of the Tibetan state, and a report called the “Iron-Tiger Report” on agriculture and tax policies was prepared. In 1831 the Dalai Lama reconstructed the Potala Palace.
In 1834 the Dalai Lama gave teachings to the Fifth Kalkha and to the Mongolian King of Torgo, and sent senior monks to Mongolia to establish a Kalacakra center there.
The Dalai Lama set about to overhaul the economic structure of Tibet but, unfortunately, did not live long enough to see his plans come to fruition.
After becoming ill in 1834 during an epidemic breakout in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama received his full Gelong ordination from the Panchen Lama in his nineteenth year.
He remained in poor health for three years and died in 1837.
6th Dalai Lama
Tsangyang Gyatso was the 6th Dalai Lama. He was an unconventional Dalai Lama that preferred the lifestyle of a crazy wisdom yogi to that of an ordained monk.
His regent was killed before he was kidnapped by Lha-bzang Khan of the Khoshut Khanate and disappeared.
It was later said that Tsangyang Gyatso visited China and meditated for six years in a Chinese Buddhist monastery called (Ri wo tse nga ) Later, Mongolians took him to Mongolia, where he died at the age of 65 at one of the biggest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia. There is a stupa to him there.
The death of the 5th Dalai Lama remained concealed for many years. The 6th Dalai Lama was born in what the Tibetans referred to as “Monyul”[a] at Urgelling Monastery, in modern day Tawang district, Arunachal Pradesh, India.
He was located at the age of either 13 or 14. As a youth, he showed high levels of intelligence with unconventional views.
Later living as a lay practitioner and a yogi, he grew his hair long, dressed as a regular Tibetan, and was said to also drink alcohol and accept the company of women.
During a power struggle between Tibet, Mongols and Qing China in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama’s regent was killed. Afterwards, the Dalai Lama was kidnapped by Mongols forces then disappeared in Amdo, and assumed was murdered, on their way to Beijing in 1706.
The 6th Dalai Lama is also well known for his poems and songs that continue to be popular not only in modern-day Tibet but also among Tibet speaking communities in Nepal, India and all across China.
3rd Dalai Lama
Sonam Gyatso was the first to be named Dalai Lama, although the title was retrospectively given to his two predecessors.
He was born near Lhasa in 1543 and was recognised as the reincarnation of Gendun Gyatso and subsequently enthroned at Drepung Monastery by Panchen Sonam Dragpa, who became his tutor.
Panchen Sonam Dragpa was the 15th Ganden Tripa and his texts still serve as the core curriculum for many Gelugpa monasteries.
The third Dalai Lama studied at Drepung Monastery and became its abbot. His reputation spread quickly and the monks at Sera Monastery also recognised him as their abbot.
According to Sumpa Khenpo, the great Gelug scholar, he also studied some Nyingmapa tantric doctrines.
When one of Tibet’s kings, who had been supported by the Kagyupa, died in 1564, Sonam Gyatso presided over his funeral. His political power, and that of the Gelugpas, became dominant in Tibet by the 1570s.
12th Dalai Lama
Trinley Gyatso (also spelled Trinle Gyatso and Thinle Gyatso; 26 January 1857 – 25 April 1875) was the 12th Dalai Lama of Tibet.
His short life coincided with a time of major political unrest and wars among Tibet’s neighbours.
Tibet particularly suffered from the weakening of the Qing Dynasty which had previously provided it with some support against the British Empire, which was aiming to influence Tibet as an expansion from its colonisation of India.
He was recognised as a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama in 1858 and enthroned in 1860. During his period of training as a child, Tibet banned Europeans from entering the country because of wars Britain was fighting against Sikkim and Bhutan, both of whom were controlled to a considerable degree by the lamas in Lhasa.
These wars were seen as efforts to colonise Tibet something seen as unacceptable by the lamas. Also, with missionaries threatening to enter Tibet via the Mekong and Salween Rivers, Tibetans tried to emphasize the Qing Dynasty’s authority over Tibet in the 1860s.
Yeshe Gyatso (1686-1725) was a pretender for the position of the 6th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Declared by Lha-bzang Khan of the Khoshut Khanate on June 28, 1707, he was the only unofficial Dalai Lama. While praised for his personal moral qualities, he was not recognized by the bulk of the Tibetans and Mongols and is not counted in the official list of the Dalai Lamas.
4th Dalai Lama
Yonten Gyatso or Yon-tan-rgya-mtsho (1589–1617), was a jinong and the 4th Dalai Lama, born in Mongolia on the 30th day of the 12th month of the Earth-Ox year of the Tibetan calendar. . As the son of the Khan of the Chokur tribe, Tsultrim Choeje, and great-grandson of Altan Khan of the Tümed Mongols and his second wife PhaKhen Nula, Yonten Gyatso was a Mongolian, making him the only non-Tibetan to be recognized as Dalai Lama other than the 6th Dalai Lama, who was a Monpa—but Monpas can be seen either as a Tibetan subgroup or a closely related people.
9th Dalai Lama
The 9th Dalai Lama was the 9th Dalai Lama of Tibet.
He was the only Dalai Lama to die in childhood and was first of a string of four Dalai Lamas to die before reaching 22 years of age.
2nd Dalai Lama
Gedun Gyatso, also Gendun Gyatso Palzangpo, was considered posthumously to be the second Dalai Lama.
Gedun Gyatso was born near Shigatse at Tanak as Sangye Phel, in the Tsang region of Central Tibet.
His father, Kunga Gyaltsen (1432–1481) was a ngakpa (married tantric practitioner) of the Nyingma lineage, a famous Nyingma tantric master.
His mother was Machik Kunga Pemo, they were a farming family.
Legend has it that soon after he learned to speak, he told his parents his name was Pema Dorje, the birth name of Gendun Drup (1391–1474) and that his father was Lobsang Drakpa, which was Tsongkapa’s ordination name.
When he was four, he reportedly told his parents he wished to live in the Tashilhunpo monastery (next to Shigatse and founded in 1447 by Gendun Drup) to be with his monks.
He was proclaimed the reincarnation of Gendun Drup as a young boy – according to some sources at the age of four years, and to others at eight.
1st Dalai Lama
Gedun Drupa was considered posthumously to be the 1st Dalai Lama.
Gedun Drupa was born in a cow-shed in Gyurmey Rupa near Sakya in the Tsang region of central Tibet, the son of Gonpo Dorjee and Jomo Namkha Kyi, nomadic tribespeople.
He was raised as a shepherd until the age of seven. His birth name (according to the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, his personal name) was Péma Dorjee.
Later he was placed in Narthang Monastery. In 1405, he took his śrāmaṇera (novitiate) vows from the abbot of Narthang, Khenchen Drupa Sherap.
When he was 20 years old, in about 1411 received the name Gedun Drupa upon taking the vows of a bhikṣu (monk) from the abbot of Narthang Monastery. Also at this age he became a student of the scholar and reformer Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), who some say was his uncle.
Around this time he also became the first abbot of Ganden Monastery, founded by Tsongkhapa himself in 1409. By the middle of his life, Gedun Drupa had become one of the most esteemed scholar-saints in the country.
Gedun Drupa founded the major monastery of Tashi Lhunpo at Shigatse, which later became the seat of the Panchen Lamas.
Gedun Drupa had no political power. It was in the hands of viceroys such as the Sakyas, the prince of Tsang, and the Mongolian Khagan. The political role of the Dalai Lamas only began with the reign of the 5th Dalai Lama.
He remained the abbot of Tashi Lhunpo Monastery until he died while meditating in 1474 at the age of 84 (83 by Western reckoning).
The Samding Dorje Phagmo (1422–1455), the highest female incarnation in Tibet, was a contemporary of Gedun Drupa.
Her teacher, the Bodongpa Panchen Chogley Namgyal was also one of his teachers; he received many teachings and empowerments from him.
Ignatius Timothy Trebitsch-Lincoln was a Hungarian-born adventurer and convicted con artist. Of Jewish descent, he spent parts of his life as a Protestant missionary, Anglican priest, British Member of Parliament for Darlington, German right-wing politician and spy, Nazi collaborator and Buddhist abbot in China.
The Lhalu family is a Tibetan noble family who are known in Tibet for producing the 8th Dalai Lama.
Succession of the 14th Dalai Lama
The 14th Dalai Lama has suggested different possibilities to identify the next (15th) Dalai Lama, but he has not publicly specified how the reincarnation would occur. The selection process may prove controversial, as the officially atheist Chinese government has expressed unusual interest in choosing the next Dalai Lama and claims it has the right to do so, something contested by Tibetan Buddhist religious authorities.
The Discourse of Lama
The Discourse of Lama《喇嘛说》is an article written by the Qianlong Emperor in the 57th year of the Qianlong era of the Qing dynasty (1792) to elaborate on the policy of using lot-drawing process with Golden Urn to pick reincarnated lamas including the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. The article was engraved on the stone tablet in the Lama Temple in Beijing. The height of the stone tablet is 598 cm.