The 8 most frequently asked questions about the Dalai Lama, answered.
Updated: May 11
1. Who is the Dalai Lama of Tibet?
"Dalai Lama" is the title of the highest-ranking lama of the Gelug school, as well as the head of monks and nuns of Tibetan Buddhism.
Dalai Lama translates from the Tibetan as "Ocean of Wisdom."
Dalai Lama traditionally has been responsible for the governing of Tibet, until the Chinese Communist Party took control in 1959.
The current Dalai Lama lives in exile in Dharamshala, India.
The institution of the Dalai Lama is a relatively recent one. There have been only 14 Dalai Lamas in the history of Buddhism.
2. Where was the Dalai Lama born?
The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso was born on 6 July 1935 and recognized as the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama at the age of 2.
He was born to a farming family, in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo (Qinghai in Chinese), northeastern Tibet.
The Dalai Lama was one of seven siblings to survive childhood and one of the three reincarnated Rinpoches in the same family (see reincarnation).
3. Is Dalai Lama vegan?
Dalai Lama himself said that he is vegetarian when he is staying at his place of residence in Dharamshala. Sometimes he eats meat once a week for health reasons. He also eats meat while traveling.
One of the main Buddhism vows is to refrain from taking life, killing any living creature. This means to refrain from intentional killing, unpremeditated killing, killing in self-defense, accidental killing, or even thoughts of killing.
Because of tough conditions of living, the high altitude, high-temperature difference, lack of oxygen, severe cold Tibetan monks need to eat yak meat to survive.
The good news is that in recent years, with the improvement of transportation in Tibet, it's become more and more convenient to be vegetarian.
The Dalai Lama appealed to all Tibetans to stop wearing traditional clothing decorated with wildlife skins during the Kalachakra ceremony held in January 2006 in Amravati, southern India. His Holiness asked them to inculcate love and respect towards all living beings and to conserve wildlife.
4. Is Dalai Lama Buddha?
The Dalai Lamas are believed by Tibetan Buddhists to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet.
Bodhisattvas are realized beings, inspired by the wish to attain complete enlightenment, who have vowed to be reborn in the world to help all living beings.
Buddhists all over the world consider the Dalai Lama a living Buddha that is guiding all sentient beings towards enlightenment through compassion.
5. Will there be the Dalai Lama 15th?
Interestingly the current Dalai Lama has also expressed doubts over whether he will be reborn at all, suggesting the function of the Dalai Lama may be over. However, until Tibet is reunited with its spiritual leader, it seems likely that there will continue to be a Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama alone does not have the authority to make such a change to whether there will be the next Dalai Lama or not in Tibetan Buddhism.
In 2015, the Tibet regional governor Padma Choling (白玛赤林) said:
Whether the Dalai Lama] wants to cease reincarnation or not ... this decision is not up to him. When he became the 14th Dalai Lama, it was not his decision. He was chosen following a strict system dictated by religious rules and historical tradition and also with the approval of the central government. Can he decide when to stop reincarnating? That is impossible.
The question is still open. Either way, the decision of the next Dalai Lama is highly controversial and can bring negative attention to Chinese as well as Tibetan society.
6. What is the Dalai Lama's full name?
The name was given to him by birth is Lhamo Dhondup. His spiritual name Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso, known as Tenzin Gyatso.
Tibetan people call him Gyalwa Rinpoche which means The Triumphant One, and also an epithet of a Buddha – one who has triumphed over the emotional and cognitive obscurations.
Buddhists around the world refer to him as His Holiness.
7. Where is the Dalai Lama now?
Dalai Lama lives in Dharamshala, northern India which is often referred to as "Little Lhasa".
8. How old is the Dalai Lama today?
Dalai Lama was born on 6 July 1935.
2020 - 85
2021 - 86
2022 - 87
2023 - 88
2024 - 89
2025 - 90
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