When asked who he is the Dalai Lama will tell you he is “just a human being...who chooses to be a Buddhist monk.” But for the Tibetan people he is the 14th re-incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Boddhisatva of Compassion.
The exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet (until he gave up temporal power in 2011), he is sometimes referred to as a god-king, or a living Buddha.
Whatever his title, Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, is clearly his people’s heart and soul. One young Tibetan refugee tells of falling down an icy Himalayan slope during his 1995 escape from Tibet.
Hearing his terrified companion’s cries of “Dalai Lama...Dalai Lama” echoing behind him, he says that “My friend thought I was dying, so he was praying for me” by calling His Holiness’ name.
Before Mao Tse Tung’s Communist China occupied Tibet in 1959, the young Dalai Lama governed an independent nation the size of Western Europe.
Only 24 years old, the troubled monk fled, in disguise, into India days before the Chinese bombed his summer palace in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.
Then Indian Prime Minister Nehru granted tracts of land for the homeless leader and the 80,000 Tibetans who had followed him into exile. Grateful for the shelter from Mao’s brutally repressive troops, the Tibetans continued, however, to suffer in India.
Thousands fell ill and died from malaria and dysentery, their bodies unable to cope with the extreme change in climate between Tibet’s cold, dry high-altitudes and India’s low-lying heat and humidity.
Under His Holiness’ guidance, the Tibetan community gradually began to thrive in India, becoming one of the world’s few “successful” refugee communities, despite the steady flow of new Tibetan escapees from Chinese-occupied Tibet, which swells their numbers and strains the fragile infrastructure of the community in exile.
We celebrate His Holiness’ birth date with long life prayers, picnics and cultural performances, on July 6th every year.