Translating directly to the term ‘Ocean of Wisdom’, the name Dalai Lama is used to describe the head monk of Tibetan Buddhism. Traditionally, this position entailed the responsibility of governing Tibet, but in more recent years this has been taken over by the Chinese government. Before this occurrence, the official residence of each of the Dalai Lama’s was the Potala Palace located in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
According to traditional belief, each new Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a past Lama who decided to be born again to continue carrying out his important duties, rather than moving on to a new life. An individual who possesses to conscious ability to be reborn is referred to as tulka. In this article, we will be discussing the ideas behind the Dalai Lama in more detail, exploring the selection process and looking into the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso.
The selection process of any new Dalai Lama is complex and long-lasting. Traditionally, after the death of a Dalai Lama, it is the responsibly of the High Lamas of the Tibetan government to seek out the new one. As the new Dalai Lama is believed to be a reincarnation of a past Lama, it is not unusual for the process of finding him to take months, or even years each time.
Typically, the High Lamas begin their search seeking a boy who was born around the same time as the past Dalai Lama passed away. While this narrows down the process marginally, it can still take an extortionate amount of time and manpower to find the new ruler. The finding of the current Dalai Lama took just over four years.
There is a variety of different ways in which the High Lamas may get a clue where the next Lama will be located; below, we explore a couple of them.
In a Dream: It has been known for one of the High Lamas to dream about a certain location where the reincarnation will be found.
Through Smoke: If the previous Dalai Lama was created, the High Lamas may carefully watch the direction the smoke travels in, using this as a guide to locate the boy.
Holy Lake: A holy lake known as Lhamo Lhatso, is a central location in Tibet that High Lamas gather round to wait for a sign. Often believed to present themselves in a vision, signs from the lake can aid the High Lamas with their search. Tension Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama was located after a vision from this very lake.
Once the child has been located, the High Lamas present an array of artefacts to the boy, which they have brought with them on their travels. Amongst the selection of artefacts is a few items that belonged to the previous Dalai Lama. If the child picks out any of these items from the selection, it is seen as a sign that the boy is a reincarnation, and is destined to be the next Dalai Lama.
While this is the current procedure, it has been stated by the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, that this is not set in stone. The selection can be carried out in any way that the High Lamas see fit; the process does not have to stick to the same traditional methods time and again if the Lamas believe that another way would work better.
Born in 1935, Tenzin Gyatso is the fourteenth and current Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism. Originating from Lhamo Dhondrub, Gyatso was recognised as the reincarnation in his hometown of Takster in northeastern Tibet at a young age.
After searching for the next Dalai Lama for many years, the High Lamas reported that there was a series of incidents which suggested that Gyatso was the correct boy. One of the aforementioned incidents consists of the embalmed face of the thirteenth Dalai Lama mysteriously turning in his grave, leaving his face pointing in a North East direction. After visiting Lake Lhamo Lhatso, one of the High Lamas experienced a vision instructing him that the village of Amdo was the location they should search. In the vision, it was indicated that a certain house should be searched, identified by odd guttering flowing over the outside walls. After weeks of searching, the small village of Amdo was found to fit the description relayed from the vision and before long Tenzin Gyatso was identified.
Only three years old at the time, Gyatso was visited by the High Lamas in his home and observed quietly for a while; a couple of days later, the High Lamas returned, bringing with them the selection of items ready to perform their final test. Gyatso was presented with an array of different items, including a rosary and a bell belonging to the previous Dalai Lama. As soon as Gyatso set eyes on the items, he immediately picked out the few that belonged to the deceased, identifying them by shouting “It’s mine!”
A couple of years later, at just over five years old, the child began his training at the local monastery. The future Dalai Lama was expected to have only the best, receiving his teaching from the highest monks in the world at the time. At the age of fifteen, Gyatso took to the throne but continued to study and develop his skills until the age of twenty-five.
Although the traditional Buddhist position of Dalai Lama has been around for many years, it has been suggested by Tenzin Gyatso that he doesn’t believe he will be reincarnated. Since the responsibility of governing Tibet has been taken over by the Chinese government, it is thought by many that there may no longer be the need for a Dalai Lama. But for now, the position reminds intact in it’s authentic, traditional manner. Whether you’re thinking of flicking through traditional Sanskrit texts for more information on the Dalai Lama, or you’re interested in getting out your yoga clothes and practising some of the traditional techniques, there is an incredible amount of culture to be discovered in the famous Buddhist texts.