#InContext: Dalai Lama

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibet and has spent his lifetime advocating for the freedom of Tibet.

His Holiness was born on July 6, 1935, to a farming family in the village of Taktser in northeastern Tibet. At birth, he was named Lhamo Dhondup, but at the age of 2, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. His enthronement ceremony as the Dalai Lama was on February 22, 1940, and at 15, he assumed full political power after China invaded Tibet in 1950.

The Dalai Lamas are monks of the Gelug school, the newest school of Tibetan Buddhism. They are also believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet.  Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth to serve humanity.

In 1954, he traveled to Beijing, China, for peace talks with Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Chou Enlai and other Chinese leaders.  However, during 1959 Tibetan uprising by Chinese troops, His Holiness was forced to escape into exile. He fled to Dharamsala in northern India, where he continues to live and where he established the seat of the exiled Central Tibetan Administration. During this same year, His Holiness he made his first appeal to the United Nations General Assembly to consider the question of Tibet. The General Assembly would adopt three resolutions on Tibet in 1959, 1961, and 1965.

In 1963, His Holiness presented a draft democratic constitution for Tibet named “The Charter of Tibetans in Exile.”  The charter featured freedom of speech, belief, assembly and movement and provided detailed guidelines on the functioning of the Tibetan government with respect to those living in exile.

In September 1987, His Holiness proposed the Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet as a first step towards a peaceful solution to the worsening situation in Tibet.  His vision was for Tibet to become a sanctuary and zone of peace, where all can live in harmony and where the environment can be preserved.

In June 1988, he addressed members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg and proposed talks between the Chinese and Tibetans, which could lead to a self-governing democratic political entity for all three provinces (U-Tsang, Amdo and Kham) of Tibet.  This entity would be in association with the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Government would continue to remain responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy and defense.

In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet and his consistent advocacy of policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He was also the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems. 

But his work did not stop here. In May 1990, as a result of His Holiness’s reforms, the Tibetan administration in exile was fully democratized. The Tibetan Cabinet (Kashag), which until then had been appointed by His Holiness, was dissolved along with the 10th Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies (the Tibetan parliament in exile). In the same year, exiled Tibetans living in India and more than 33 other countries elected 46 members to an expanded 11th Tibetan Assembly on a one-person one-vote basis. That Assembly then elected the members of a new cabinet.

In 1992, His Holiness issued guidelines for the constitution of a future, free Tibet, one he hoped would be federal and democratic.  He announced that when Tibet became free the immediate task would be to set up an interim government whose first responsibility would be to elect a constitutional assembly to frame and adopt Tibet’s democratic constitution. 

In September 2001, in a further step towards democratization the Tibetan electorate directly elected the Kalon Tripa, the Chairman of the Cabinet. The Kalon Tripa appointed his own cabinet who then had to be approved by the Tibetan Assembly. This was the first time in Tibet’s history that the people had elected their political leaders. Since 2011, when His Holiness devolved his political authority to the elected leadership, he has described himself as retired.

Having lived the majority of his life in exile and during the rise of communism in China and eastern Europe, His Holiness is familiar with the desires for freedom and dignity. In Chapter 7, “Democratization of Tibet’s Policy” of “The Spirit of Tibet, Universal Heritage: Selected Speeches and Writings of HH the Dalai Lama XIV,” His Holiness writes:

“Actions and events depend heavily on motivation. A real sense of appreciation of humanity, compassion and love are the key points. If we develop a good heart, then whether the field is science, agriculture or politics, since the motivation is so very important, the result will be more beneficial. With proper motivation these activities can help humanity; without it they go the other way. This is why the compassionate thought is so very important for humankind. Although it is difficult to bring about the inner change that gives rise to it, it is absolutely worthwhile to try. Although communism espoused many noble ideas, it failed utterly because it relied on force to promote its beliefs. Brute force, no matter how strongly applied, can never subdue the basic human desire for freedom. The hundreds of thousands of people who marched in the cities of Eastern Europe proved this. They simply expressed the human need for freedom and democracy. Their demands had nothing to do with any new ideology; they were simply expressing their heartfelt desire for freedom. It is not enough, as communist systems have assumed, merely to provide people with food, shelter, and clothing. Our deeper nature requires that we breath the precious air of liberty.”

As we work to fight human trafficking, let us be compelled by compassion for those victimized knowing that we all desire freedom, liberty and dignity.

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Kelli Ross

Kelli Ross

Kelli’s background is in journalism, public relations and peacebuilding. Prior to joining the Institute, she was the Communications Officer / Special Assistant to the Executive Director at Lwala Community Alliance in Nashville, Tennessee. She has worked for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations in Washington, D.C., directly supporting the Bureau’s Assistant Secretary; as director of communications for microfinance organization Five Talents in Vienna, Virginia; and as business reporter at The Jackson (TN) Sun. She has worked and studied in Kenya, South Sudan, Liberia, India, Peru, and Israel. Kelli holds a BA in communication arts from Union University and an MS in conflict analysis and resolution from George Mason University. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.