Dalai Lama

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The 14th Dalai Lama in Sissu, Lahaul, India in 2010.

Dalai Lama is a title given to members of a prominent incarnation lineage within the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.[1] The successive Dalai Lama incarnations were the temporal leaders of the Tibetan state from 1642, during the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, until 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet to escape the Chinese Communist occupation.[2]

The current Dalai Lama, The 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, also led the Central Tibetan Administration (the government for the Tibetans in exile) from 1960 until 2011, at which time he retired from his temporal leadership role. He continues in his role as a spiritual leader for the Tibetan people.

The title of "Dalai Lama" is taken from the name given by Altan Khan, the leader of the Tumed Mongols, to the 3rd Dalai Lama. "Dalai" is the Mongolian word for "ocean" or "big"[3][4] And "Lama" (T. bla-ma) is the Tibetan for a "guru" or "teacher".

The Dalai Lama is also considered to be the successor in a line of tulkus who are believed[5] to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara,[6] a Bodhisattva of Compassion.[7][8][6][5]

The current Dalai Lama is recognized as a spiritual teacher throughout the world.[9]

List of Dalai Lamas

There have been 14 recognized incarnations of the Dalai Lama in Tibet.

Title Portrait Name
Period in office
1st Dalai Lama
1st Dalai Lama.jpg
Gedun Drupa
2nd Dalai Lama   Gedun Gyatso
3rd Dalai Lama
Sonam Gyatso.jpg
Sonam Gyatso
4th Dalai Lama
Yonten Gyatso
5th Dalai Lama
Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso
6th Dalai Lama
Tsangyang Gyatso
7th Dalai Lama   Kelzang Gyatso
8th Dalai Lama   Jamphel Gyatso
9th Dalai Lama   Lungtok Gyatso
10th Dalai Lama   Tsultrim Gyatso
11th Dalai Lama   Khedrup Gyatso
1842 - 1856
12th Dalai Lama
Twelfth Dalai Lama, Trinle Gyatso.jpg
Trinley Gyatso
1860 - 1875
13th Dalai Lama
13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso.jpg
Thubten Gyatso
1879 - 1933
14th Dalai Lama
Dalai Lama at WhiteHouse (cropped).jpg
Tenzin Gyatso
(born 1935)
1950 - present


  1. Schaik, Sam van. Tibet: A History. Yale University Press 2011, page 129, "Gelug: the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism"
  2. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Dalai Lama
  3. Laird 2006, p. 143.
  4. Deriving from the Mongolian title Dalaiyin qan or Dalaiin khan; see Schwieger (2014), p.33
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Dalai lama". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2014-03-12. (formerly) the ruler and chief monk of Tibet, believed to be a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara and sought for among newborn children after the death of the preceding Dalai Lama 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Definition of Dalai Lama in English". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 2 May 2015. The spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism and, until the establishment of Chinese communist rule, the spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet. Each Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, reappearing in a child when the incumbent Dalai Lama dies 
  7. Peter Popham (29 January 2015). "Relentless: The Dalai Lama's Heart of Steel". Newsweek magazine. His mystical legitimacy – of huge importance to the faithful – stems from the belief that the Dalai Lamas are manifestations of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion 
  8. Laird 2006, p. 12.
  9. Puri, Bharati (2006) "Engaged Buddhism – The Dalai Lama's Worldview" New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006


  • Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2014). Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15786-3. 
  • Laird, Thomas (2006). The Story of Tibet : Conversations with the Dalai Lama (1st ed.). New York: Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-1827-1. 
  • Van Schaik, Sam (2011), Tibet. A History. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Further reading

  • Dalai Lama. (1991) Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama. San Francisco, CA.
  • Goodman, Michael H. (1986). The Last Dalai Lama. Shambhala Publications. Boston, MA.
  • Karmay, Samten G. (Translator) (1988). Secret visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Serindia Publications, London. ISBN 0 906026 20 2.

External links