His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, is the longest-reigning (and longest-living) Dalai Lama and he may be the last. Revered as a ‘living God’, he has devoted his entire life to the pursuit of humanitarian and environmental causes, global peace, and promoting values such as forgiveness, self-discipline, tolerance, compassion, and contentment.
A snapshot of his life
His Holiness began his monastic education at the age of six. In 1950, he was called upon to assume full political power after China’s invasion of Tibet in 1949. He fled Tibet after a failed uprising against the Chinese rule in 1959. Since then, he has been living in Dharamsala, northern India and was, until 2011, the Leader of the Tibetan Political Administration in Exile.
In 1963, he introduced a new democratic constitution called “the Charter of Tibetans in Exile”, with reforms to democratise the administration. The charter enshrines freedom of speech, belief, assembly, and movement. It also provides detailed guidelines on the functioning of the Tibetan government with respect to those living in exile. At a global level, he worked tirelessly to raise the issue of Tibet to the United Nations. His appeals to the United Nations, on the question of Tibet, led to the General Assembly adopting three resolutions for Tibet.
In 1987, His Holiness proposed the Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet as the first step towards a peaceful solution to the worsening situation in Tibet. He envisaged that Tibet would become a sanctuary; a zone of peace at the heart of Asia, where all sentient beings can exist in harmony and the delicate environment can be preserved. China has so far failed to respond positively to the various peace proposals put forward by His Holiness.
In his address to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 15 June 1988, His Holiness proposed talks between the Chinese and Tibetans leading to a self-governing democratic political entity for all three provinces of Tibet. This entity, called the ‘Middle Way approach’, 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 defence. As the political leader of Tibetans in Exile and in Tibet, His Holiness issued guidelines, in 1992, for the constitution of a future, free Tibet. Since then, he has been pushing for genuine autonomy for Tibetans in the so-called ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’. In 2011, His Holiness announced that he was stepping down from the political leadership and stressed that it was time for a new political leader. Before doing so, he amended the Charter of Tibetans ensuring appropriate division of powers among the elected leaders of the Tibetan Parliament.
An inspiring leader with a global standing
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a man of peace. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems. His Holiness has travelled to more than 62 countries spanning 6 continents. He has met Presidents, Prime Ministers, and rulers of major nations and held dialogues with famous scientists and the heads of many different religions.
Since 1959, His Holiness has received over 84 awards, honorary doctorates, prizes, etc., in recognition of his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion. He has also authored more than 72 books.
Tibetans across the globe celebrate his birthday with prayers, picnics and performances celebrating Tibetan culture, although celebrations in Tibet are banned. On his 85th birthday, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, a series of virtual celebrations and musical events were organised by the Central Tibetan Administration in India. These were under the banner of ‘Year of Gratitude’ – a year long tribute to the Dalai Lama and to share, promote and celebrate the teachings and lifework of the Dalai Lama, who is one of the most beloved spiritual leaders of our generation and whose powerful words have inspired many.
As we celebrate the birthday of the 14th Dalai Lama once again amidst the coronavirus pandemic, we are paying tribute to him through some of his teachings and quotes which inspires us to be better human beings:
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions”
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” “There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength’. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful this experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”
“All suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their own happiness or satisfaction.”
“We need to learn to want what we have, not to have what we want, in order to get stable and steady happiness.”
“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
“This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple. Your philosophy is simple kindness.”
“When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways–either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”
“Man sacrifices his health to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
“The planet does not need more successful people. The planet needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”
“World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion. “I am a simple Buddhist monk” – His Holiness describes himself.
Let us wish him a very happy birthday! Long live His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama!
Article by Kalsang
Kalsang works with the NHS as a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and also volunteers with Free Tibet. Her parents and four siblings escaped Tibet in 1959.
This piece originally appeared in the newsletter of Tibet Support Group York and has been reproduced here with their and Kalsang’s kind permission.