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Army parade outside historic home of Dalai Lamas - Potala Palace in Lhasa
Army parade outside historic home of Dalai Lamas - Potala Palace in Lhasa

The belief in reincarnation and the role of lamas - spiritual teachers - are fundamental aspects of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is the most senior figure in Tibetan Buddhism and is considered to be the reincarnation of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion.

For generations, Dalai Lamas have also been the rulers of Tibet but the current Dalai Lama, the 14th, has given up any political role and is now a purely religious figure. After a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, the current Dalai Lama fled into exile in India followed by tens of thousands of Tibetans.

Because of the Dalai Lama’s central place in Tibetan culture and national identity, the Chinese government sees him as an enemy of the state and is trying to break the bonds between him and the Tibetan people. In most areas of Tibet it is illegal to sell or possess images of the Dalai Lama.