Man of Peace

Photo Credit Anthony Ricci /

Photo Credit Anthony Ricci /

The 14th Dalai Lama visits Birmingham.

Written by Lindsey Lowe

“Every day, think as you wake up, ‘Today I am fortunate to be alive. I have a precious human life; I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others. I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.’”

–Dalai Lama XIV


At the end of this month, Birmingham will welcome the Dalai Lama to the city, where he will give a number of talks. Many of us in the Western world have heard of the Dalai Lama, but perhaps you, like me, are somewhat unclear of his actual role. The present Dalai Lama—His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet—is, like his name implies, the 14th successor of the title. The line of Dalai Lamas are believed to be reincarnations of Avalokiteshvera or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are believed to be enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvanas and chosen to take rebirth in order to serve humanity. The first Dalai Lama, Gedun Drupa, was born in 1391 and became a disciple of the Great Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa School of Buddhism, in 1416. The Dalai Lamas were considered spiritual teachers until 1642, when the fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, took political control over Tibet.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet was born on July 6, 1935, in Tatser, Amdo, in northeastern Tibet. The Dalai Lama’s parents were farmers who grew barley, potatoes, and buckwheat. When the 13th Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso, died in 1933, a search party was drawn up to find his successor. The party was drawn to His Holiness’s home through a number of different ways. The first was when the head of Gyatso’s embalmed body was found to be turned from facing south to northeast, which pointed the search to northeastern Tibet. Second, the Regent, a head lama, had a vision that led the search party to the region of Ambo (the northeastern province) and to a small house with a strange guttering, which belonged to His Holiness’s parents.

Once there, the search party spent time observing Llamo Thondup, which was His Holiness’s name; he was the youngest child in the house, only 2 years old at the time. The leader, Kewtsang Rinpoche, had disguised himself, but the child called out, “Sera lama, sera lama,” which led the party to believe that he recognized Rinpoche, whose monastery was called Sera. The search party left but returned a few days later, bringing with them a number of items that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama, as well as several that didn’t. Each time, the young Thondup identified which ones had belonged to his predecessor, saying, “It’s mine, it’s mine.” Thus, the search party concluded that it had found the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama. On his website, the Dalai Lama writes, “I am often asked whether I truly believe this. The answer is not simple to give. But as a 56-year-old, when I consider my experience during this present life, and given my Buddhist beliefs, I have no difficulty accepting that I am spiritually connected both to the thirteen previous Dalai Lamas, to Chenrezig, and to the Buddha himself.”

After the discovery, the Dalai Lama was taken from his parents to Kumbum monastery to begin his education. Though the Dalai Lama has called this time an unhappy period of his life, he did find solace in the fact that his eldest brother was already at the monastery, and in his teacher, who was a kind, old monk. Some time later, he was reunited with his parents and they embarked on a three-month journey to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. Once they arrived, a ceremony was held where the spiritual leadership of the Tibetan people was transferred to His Holiness.

In 1950, Tibet came under Chinese attack, and the 15-year-old Dalai Lama was responsible for the six million Tibetan people under his leadership. He appointed and conferred with two new prime ministers and decided to implore Britain and the United States to help, as well as China to back down. Both Britain and the U.S. denied him. “I remember feeling great sorrow when I realized what this really meant: Tibet must expect to face the entire might of Communist China alone,” he says on his website. In 1951, Tibetan representatives were forced into compliance at gunpoint.

For the next nine years, the Dalai Lama attempted to hold off a full Chinese invasion of Tibet. In March of 1959, it became apparent that the Chinese government intended to kill him, and he quietly slipped out of Tibet dressed as a common soldier. He reached the Indian border a couple of weeks later and eventually took up residence in Dharamsala, where he still lives. He has continued to lead Tibet from India and never gave up hope for peace between Tibet and China and freedom for Tibet.

However, conditions in Tibet continued to worsen. In 1963, he drafted a democratic constitution for Tibet, and in 1987, the Dalai Lama proposed a five-point peace plan. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 1992, he initiated a number of democratic advances, including direct elections of ministers by the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies (previously, ministers were appointed by His Holiness). In 2011, he requested that his temporal power be dissolved, ending the 368-year tradition that the Dalai Lama be the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. Tibet is currently still under Chinese rule.

The Dalai Lama will be in Birmingham Oct. 25—26 with three appearances over that time. On Oct. 25, he will participate in a talk at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on neuroplasticity and healing; the next morning, he will engage in a dialogue titled Beyond Belief at the Alabama Theater, and that evening, he will give a public talk on secular ethics of our time at Regions Field. Tickets to these events can be found at

“With our shared legacy of human rights, Birmingham continues to establish herself as the cradle of human rights for the United States. The peaceful protest model first established here has been used around the world to enact real and significant change. The Dalai Lama has mentioned Dr. King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ as a significant inspiration of his,” Mayor William Bell said in a prepared statement released to

Sources for this article include and

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