The Dalai Lama was born on 6 July 1935 to a Tibetan farming family in the small village of Taktser, located in the province of Amdo. He was named Lhamo Thondup, which literally means ‘Wish-Fulfilling Goddess’. Taktser (Roaring Tiger) was a small village that stood on a hill overlooking a broad valley.
The current Dalai Lama is the fourteenth person to hold that title in straight succession. This means the role is passed from one person to another with no break in order. The people of Tibet believe that when one Dalai Lama dies he is reincarnated (reborn) in a young child. In other words, they believe that the soul of the current Dalai Lama is the same soul that was in the first Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lamas have been the head of the order of Gelugpa Buddhism, which means “Yellow Hat,” since the fourteenth century. The Dalai Lama took on the additional role of political leader in the seventeenth century. All Dalai Lamas since that time have had that dual responsibility.
The thirteenth Dalai Lama died in December of 1933. When he died, the Buddhist monks prayed for guidance to find the new Dalai Lama. They felt signs and oracles (divine answers or prophecies) would lead them to him. They finally received a vision that the new Dalai Lama would be found in the northeast part of Tibet. He would be living in a house that had strange gutters and that was near a monastery (a place where monks live and pray).
Many monks went out on the journey. After much searching, a group of them came to the village of Taktser, which has a monastery nearby. There they found Lhamo at his house, which had strangely shaped gutters. They spoke to him and to his parents and performed a test. The monks had brought several items with them from their home monastery. Some of the items had belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama and others were imitations or just common objects. Lhamo correctly identified the objects that had belonged to the thirteenth Dalai Lama. The monks knew they had found the reincarnation of their leader. Lhamo was two years old at the time.
Mainland China had become a communist nation in 1949 after World War II (1939–45; a war in which the Allies, including France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States, defeated the Axis forces of Germany, Italy, and Japan). Mao Zedong (1893–1976) led communist China. Eighty thousand members of the Chinese army invaded Tibet in early 1950. The Chinese said the people of Tibet invited the army to save them from the rule of a cruel government. The Chinese also claimed that Tibet was originally a part of China.
Neither of these statements were true. The Dalai Lama visited with the Chinese to ask them to leave Tibet. They would not. He visited neighboring countries to try to get help to push the invaders out. The other countries, however, were afraid of what might happen to them if they opposed a nation as powerful as China, and they offered little support. After years of trying to negotiate with the Chinese and seeing his people suffer under Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama finally fled to India in April 1959. He has been away from his native Tibet since then.
Realizing the importance of modern education for the children of Tibetan refugees, His Holiness impressed upon Nehru the need to create a Special Section for Tibetan Education within the Indian Ministry of Education. The Indian Government agreed to bear all the expenses for setting up the schools for the Tibetan children.
The Dalai Lama remains an active and revered humanitarian (someone who believes in human welfare and social reform) throughout the world, even though an intestinal illness he suffered in January 2002 caused him to cut back on his schedule. He has spent much of his time traveling, speaking against communism, and working for peace. He has a devoted following that includes individuals from all over the world and from all walks of life. His struggles for peace and freedom have made him one of the most recognized and well-regarded political and spiritual leaders in the world.