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Let's Talk About the Dalai Lama

This post is part of our ongoing series featuring the works of Professor LeBoeuf 's students in her Introduction to Religions of Asia course at Whittier College!

Today I did my presentation on the Dalai Lama. I chose the Dalai Lama because it was a term that I heard before but was never quite familiar with what it meant or was. Being that Tibet is considered as such a sacred land to its people, it’s supported by the fact that Tibet is a place where its people see Buddhism to be such and vital angle to not only their religion, but also the quintessence to their identity.

The Dalai Lama is their most important figure as a religious and spiritual leader. This on behalf of the way that he received his position. To start, the Dalai Lama was a title that was given to the third reincarnation Sonam Gyatso. He was given this name by powerful Mongolian chief Altan Khan after converting him and his people to Tibetan Buddhism in 1578. It is told that they are the successor in a line of tulkus, who are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara, a Bodhisattva of Compassion. The term Bodhisattva, refers to a person who can reach nirvana but doesn't out of compassion to help suffering people. The name comes from the Mongolian term meaning "ocean" or "big" and translated as 'Gyatso' in Tibetan.

Being that the Dalai Lama technically isn't chosen, but found; the process to which they are found is fascinating. To start, when a Dalai Lama approaches death he doesn't just pass away. He practices a conscious death called phowa. This process is far out of the ordinary and includes the transference of the consciousness into a Buddha form as he reincarnates by choice and not force.

After death, it is the higher eligible monks of Gelugpa’s duty to search for the new reborn Dalai Lama. The processes in doing so can take many years. To begin, the monks may have a dream, or if the former Dalai Lama was cremated they head towards the direction of the smoke to start they journey. They also meditate at the central Tibet Holy lake, Lhamo La Tso to where they wait for indications on where to go to find the rebirth. Once the Dalai Lama is found he must go through a series of test to prove legitimacy. The first would be the artifact test, to where items were placed in front of the boy to where some items were held in the previous Dalai lama’s possession and if he were to choose correctly it was showed as a sign of the reincarnated being. Next 3 former Dalai Lama servants were asked to affirm his identity as well as other officials who would reaffirm the claim. Once it is confirmed that it was indeed the Dalai Lama, he and his family are taken to the Drepung Monastery in Lhasa. There he could start his studies being appointed the next Dalai Lama.

History marks that were 13 previous Dalai Lama’s excluding the current 14 Tenzin Gyatso, but I really want to touch base on a few that really revolutionized the whole Lineage. The first one was appointed 500 years ago in born 1391, Pema Dorje. The fifth, Lobsang Gyatso (1617-1682) “The Great Fifth” the first to become a political and spiritual leader. He was credited with unifying all of Tibet after a Mongolian military intervention to where he ended all the civil wars. His death was kept hidden until 1696 and this was done so that the Potala Palace could be finished and to prevent Tibet's neighbors taking advantage of no government in the succession of the Dalai Lamas. The seventh, Kelzang Gyatso who was born in

1708 and died 1757. He reestablishes the Dalai lama. Makes Lhasa the capital of Tibet as well as the seat of the Dalai lama.

The thirteenth, Thubten Gyatso, born 1876 was an international diplomat. He was recognized as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Pushes back against the British expedition into Tibet prophecies about the Chinese invasion.

Lastly, I’d like to point out Tenzin Gyatso he was born July 6, 1935 and was given temporal and religious control at the age of 16 years old. To this day he has been in exile after the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1949. He is quoted by saying “he will not reincarnate in a body that would reside in a country that is not free, and that no legitimacy should be given to a person chosen for political purposes, particularly by officials from the People’s Republic of China.” With he resigned from his temporal duties in 2011.

I chose to do Buddhism because I’m a Christian and I felt like both the religions had similar aspects. Both religions were founded by Spiritual beings, who sought out the path to salvation. Of course, they are given different circumstances to in which they were incarnated in but, they instructed distinctive ways and stressed distinctive ways to deal with deep sense of being. I hope to gain more knowledge in the religion just because of the fascinating discoveries that were made and because of how strong the passion from the people is for the religion.

About Victor Nwaba

Victor was born and raised in Los Angeles California. Growing up he was always taught the importance of proper education and morals. His parents are both Nigerian and they raised his siblings and he with a strong set of values, the same values imprinted in them by their grandparents. These values were responsibility, commitment, and belief in yourself. He majors in Business and minor in Economics. And to leave off, one interesting fact about him is that he's the only person in my family of 6 that snores at night.

Works Cited

  • Why the Dalai Lama Says Reincarnation Might Not Be for Him.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 20 Dec. 2014

  • “Dalai Lama: Our Future Is Very Much in Our Hands.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Dec. 2017


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