Dalai Lama (incarnation lineage)

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Dalai Lama
Standard Tibetan: ཏཱ་ལའི་བླ་མ་
Wylie transliteration: tā la'i bla ma
Tibetan pronunciation: [táːlɛː láma]
Dalailama1 20121014 4639.jpg
14th Dalai Lama

since 22 February 1940
Formation 1391
First holder Gendun Drup, 1st Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama is a title given to members of a prominent incarnation lineage with a particularly close connection with Je Tsong Kahpa and 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 was the leader of the Central Tibetan Administration (the government for the Tibetans in exile) from 1960 until 2011, at which time he retired from his leadership role.

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] (coming from Mongolian title Dalaiyin qan or Dalaiin khan,[4] translated as 'Gyatso' in Tibetan). And "Lama" is the Tibetan for for a "guru" or "teacher" from the Tibetan word བླ་མ་ (bla-ma) meaning "master, guru".[5]

The Dalai Lama is also considered to be the successor in a line of tulkus who are believed[6] to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara,[7] a Bodhisattva of Compassion.[8][9][7][6]

The Dalai Lama figure is important for many reasons. Since the time of the 5th Dalai Lama in the 17th century, his personage has always been a symbol of unification of the state of Tibet, where he has represented Buddhist values and traditions.[10] The Dalai Lama was an important figure of the Geluk tradition, which was politically and numerically dominant in Central Tibet, but his religious authority went beyond sectarian boundaries. While he had no formal or institutional role in any of the religious traditions, which were headed by their own high lamas, he was a unifying symbol of the Tibetan state, representing Buddhist values and traditions above any specific school.[11] The traditional function of the Dalai Lama as an ecumenical figure, holding together disparate religious and regional groups, has been taken up by the present fourteenth Dalai Lama. He has worked to overcome sectarian and other divisions in the exiled community and has become a symbol of Tibetan nationhood for Tibetans both in Tibet and in exile.[12]

From 1642 until 1705, and from 1750 to the 1950s, the Dalai Lamas or their regents headed the Tibetan government (or Ganden Phodrang) in Lhasa which governed all or most of the Tibetan Plateau with varying degrees of autonomy[13] under the Qing Dynasty of China, up to complete sovereignty.[14] This Tibetan government also enjoyed the patronage and protection of firstly Mongol kings of the Khoshut and Dzungar Khanates (1642–1720) and then of the emperors of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty (1720–1912).[13] Tibet's sovereignty was later rejected, however, by both the Republic of China and the current People's Republic of China.[15]

Brief history

Connection with Avalokitesvara

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it is believed that Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, has a special relationship with the people of Tibet and as such the bodhisattva has incarnated as benevolent rulers and teachers during the course of Tibetan history. The Dalai Lama incarnation lineage holders are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteshvara.

The Book of Kadam, an important text within the Gelug tradition, is said to have laid the foundation for the Tibetans' later identification of the Dalai Lamas as incarnations of Avalokiteśvara.[16]

Establishment of the lineage

The title and special role of "Dalai Lama" began when the 3rd Dalai Lama Sonam Gyaltso served as the spiritual teacher for the Mongol ruler Altan Khan. Altan Khan, who is credited with converting the Tumed Mongols to Buddhism, bestowed the title of "Dalai Lama" on Sonam Gyatso. The title was assigned retroactively to Sonam Gyaltso's two previous incarnations, who are now counted as the first and second Dalai Lamas.[17]

The 5th Dalai Lama was the first to combine spiritual and temporal duties. With the support of the Mongol ruler Gushi Khan, the 5th Dalai Lama became the temporal leader of the Tibetan state in 1642. This role was held by all succeeding Dalai Lama's until 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama was forced into exile.[18]

List of Dalai Lamas

There have been 14 recognised incarnations of the Dalai Lama:

Name Picture Life-span Recog-nition Enthrone-ment Tibetan/ Wylie Tib. pinyin/ Chinese Alternative spellings
1 Gendun Drup File:1stDalaiLama.jpg 1391–1474 N/A[19] དགེ་འདུན་འགྲུབ་
dge 'dun 'grub
Gêdün Chub
Gedun Drub
Gedün Drup
2 Gendun Gyatso 1475–1542 1483 1487 དགེ་འདུན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
dge 'dun rgya mtsho
Gêdün Gyaco
Gedün Gyatso
Gendün Gyatso
3 Sonam Gyatso File:3rdDalaiLama2.jpg 1543–1588 1546 1578 བསོད་ནམས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
bsod nams rgya mtsho
Soinam Gyaco
Sönam Gyatso
4 Yonten Gyatso 4DalaiLama.jpg 1589–1617 1601 1603 ཡོན་ཏན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
yon tan rgya mtsho
Yoindain Gyaco
Yontan Gyatso, Yönden Gyatso
5 Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso NgawangLozangGyatso.jpg 1617–1682 1618 1622 བློ་བཟང་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
blo bzang rgya mtsho
Lobsang Gyaco
Lobzang Gyatso
Lopsang Gyatso
6 Tsangyang Gyatso 6DalaiLama.jpg 1683–1706 1688 1697 ཚངས་དབྱངས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
tshang dbyangs rgya mtsho
Cangyang Gyaco
Tsañyang Gyatso
7 Kelzang Gyatso 7DalaiLama.jpg 1707–1757 1712 1720 བསྐལ་བཟང་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
bskal bzang rgya mtsho
Gaisang Gyaco
Kelsang Gyatso
Kalsang Gyatso
8 Jamphel Gyatso File:8thDalaiLama.jpg 1758–1804 1760 1762 བྱམས་སྤེལ་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
byams spel rgya mtsho
Qambê Gyaco
Jampel Gyatso
Jampal Gyatso
9 Lungtok Gyatso File:9thDalaiLama.jpg 1805–1815 1807 1808 ལུང་རྟོགས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
lung rtogs rgya mtsho
Lungdog Gyaco
Lungtog Gyatso
10 Tsultrim Gyatso File:10thDalaiLama.jpg 1816–1837 1822 1822 ཚུལ་ཁྲིམས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
tshul khrim rgya mtsho
Cüchim Gyaco
Tshültrim Gyatso
11 Khendrup Gyatso 1838–1856 1841 1842 མཁས་གྲུབ་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
mkhas grub rgya mtsho
Kaichub Gyaco
Kedrub Gyatso
12 Trinley Gyatso File:12thDalai Lama.jpg 1857–1875 1858 1860 འཕྲིན་ལས་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
'phrin las rgya mtsho
Chinlai Gyaco
Trinle Gyatso
13 Thubten Gyatso 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso.jpg 1876–1933 1878 1879 ཐུབ་བསྟན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
thub bstan rgya mtsho
Tubdain Gyaco
Thubtan Gyatso
Thupten Gyatso
14 Tenzin Gyatso Dalai Lama at WhiteHouse (cropped).jpg born 1935 1939[20] 1940 བསྟན་འཛིན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
bstan 'dzin rgya mtsho
Dainzin Gyaco
Tenzin Gyatso

There has also been one non-recognised Dalai Lama, Ngawang Yeshe Gyatso, declared 28 June 1707, when he was 25 years old, by Lha-bzang Khan as the "true" 6th Dalai Lama – however, he was never accepted as such by the majority of the population.[21][22][23]


The 1st Dalai Lama was based at Tashi Lhunpo Monastery, which he founded, the Second to the Fifth Dalai Lamas were mainly based at Drepung Monastery outside Lhasa. In 1645, after the unification of Tibet, the Fifth moved to the ruins of a royal fortress or residence on top of Marpori ('Red Mountain') in Lhasa and decided to build a palace on the same site. This ruined palace, called Tritse Marpo, was originally built around 636 AD by the founder of the Tibetan Empire, Songtsen Gampo for his Nepalese wife.[24] Amongst the ruins there was just a small temple left where Tsongkhapa had given a teaching when he arrived in Lhasa in the 1380s.

The Fifth Dalai Lama began construction of the Potala Palace on this site in 1645,[25] carefully incorporating what was left of his predecessor's palace into its structure.[26] From then on and until today, unless on tour or in exile the Dalai Lamas have always spent their winters at the Potala Palace and their summers at the Norbulingka palace and park. Both palaces are in Lhasa and approximately 3 km apart.

Following the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising, the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in India. The then Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, allowed in the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government officials to reside in India.

The Dalai Lama has since lived in exile in McLeod Ganj, in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, where the Central Tibetan Administration is also established. His Holiness's residence on the Temple Road in McLeod Ganj is called the Dalai Lama Temple and is visited by people from across the globe. Tibetan refugees have constructed and opened many schools and Buddhist temples in Dharamshala.[27]

Future of the position

The main teaching room of the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, India
14th Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama said as early as 1969 that it was for the Tibetans to decide whether the institution of the Dalai Lama "should continue or not".[28] He has given reference to a possible vote occurring in the future for all Tibetan Buddhists to decide whether they wish to recognize his rebirth.[29] In response to the possibility that the PRC might attempt to choose his successor, the Dalai Lama said he would not be reborn in a country controlled by the People's Republic of China or any other country which is not free.[30][31] According to Robert D. Kaplan, this could mean that "the next Dalai Lama might come from the Tibetan cultural belt that stretches across northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan, presumably making him even more pro-Indian and anti-Chinese".[32]

The 14th Dalai Lama supported the possibility that his next incarnation could be a woman.[33] As an "engaged Buddhist" the Dalai Lama has an appeal straddling cultures and political systems making him one of the most recognized and respected moral voices today.[34] "Despite the complex historical, religious and political factors surrounding the selection of incarnate masters in the exiled Tibetan tradition, the Dalai Lama is open to change," author Michaela Haas writes.[35] "Why not? What's the big deal?"[36]

See also




  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. Schwieger 2014, p. 33.
  5. 陈庆英 (2005). 达赖喇嘛转世及历史定制英. 五洲传播出版社. pp. 16–. ISBN 978-7-5085-0745-3. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "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 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "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 
  8. 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 
  9. Laird 2006, p. 12.
  10. Woodhead, Linda (2016). Religions in the Modern World. 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN: Routledge. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-415-85881-6. 
  11. Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations (Kindle Locations 2519–2522). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition. 
  12. Cantwell and Kawanami. Religions in the Modern World. Routledge. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-415-85880-9. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Smith 1997, pp. 107–149.
  14. Bell 1946, p. 273.
  15. Emilian Kavalski (1 April 2016). The Ashgate Research Companion to Chinese Foreign Policy. Routledge. pp. 445–. ISBN 978-1-317-04389-8. 
  16. Thubten Jinpa. "Introduction". The Book of Kadam. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 978-0-86171-441-4. Perhaps the most important legacy of the book, at least for the Tibetan people as a whole, is that it laid the foundation for the later identification of Avalokiteśvara with the lineage of the Dalai Lama 
  17. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Dalai Lama
  18. Princeton Dict icon 166px.png Buswell & Lopez 2014, s.v. Dalai Lama
  19. The title "Dalai Lama" was conferred posthumously to the 1st and 2nd Dalai Lamas.
  20. "Chronology of Events". His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Retrieved 18 April 2015. 
  21. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Stein 1972, p. 85
  22. Chapman, F. Spencer. (1940). Lhasa: The Holy City, p. 127. Readers Union Ltd. London.
  23. Mullin 2001, p. 276
  24. Shakabpa 1984, pp. 112-113.
  25. Laird 2006, p. 177.
  26. Mullin 2001, p. 201.
  27. "Dispatches from the Tibetan Front: Dharamshala, India," Litia Perta, The Brooklyn Rail, April 4, 2008
  28. "Dalai's reincarnation will not be found under Chinese control". Government of Tibet in Exile. Archived from the original on July 12, 2009. 
  29. Dalai Lama may forgo death before reincarnation, Jeremy Page, The Australian, November 29, 2007.
  30. "The Dalai Lama". BBC. 2006-09-21. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  31. "Dalai's reincarnation will not be found under Chinese control". Government of Tibet in Exile ex Indian Express July 6, 1999. Archived from the original on July 12, 2009. 
  32. Kaplan Robert, Foreign Affairs, "The Geography of Chinese Power"
  33. Haas, Michaela (Mar 18, 2013). "Why is there no female Dalai Lama?". Retrieved 7 February 2017. 
  34. Puri, Bharati (2006) "Engaged Buddhism – The Dalai Lama's Worldview" New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006
  35. Haas, Michaela (2013). "Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West." Shambhala Publications. ISBN 1559394072
  36. Bindley, Katherine (2013-04-24). "Dalai Lama Says He Would Support A Woman Successor". The Huffington Post. 


  • Bell, Sir Charles (1946). Portrait of the Dalai Lama Wm. Collins, London. 1st edition. (1987) Wisdom Publications, London. ISBN 086171055X
  • Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. Jr., eds. (2014). Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-15786-3. 
  • Alexandra David-Neel (1965). Magic & Mystery In Tibet. Corgi Books.London. ISBN 0-552-08745-9.
  • Dhondup, K (1984). The Water-Horse and Other Years. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. 
  • Dhondup, K (1986). The Water-Bird and Other Years. New Delhi: Rangwang Publishers. 
  • Dowman, Keith (1988). The power-places of Central Tibet : the pilgrim's guide. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7102-1370-0. 
  • Kapstein, Matthew (2006). The Tibetans. Malden, MA, USA. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 9780631225744.
  • Karmay, Samten G. (Translator) (2014). The Illusive Play: The Autobiography of the Fifth Dalai Lama [aka 'Dukula']. Serindia Publications. Chicago. ISBN 978-1-932476-67-5. 
  • Laird, Thomas (2006). The Story of Tibet : Conversations with the Dalai Lama (1st ed.). New York: Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-1827-1. 
  • McKay, A. (2003). History of Tibet. RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 978-0-7007-1508-4. 
  • Mullin, Glenn H. (1982). Selected Works of the Dalai Lama VII: Songs of Spiritual Change (2nd ed., 1985). Snow Lion Publications, Inc. New York. ISBN 0-937938-30-0.
  • Mullin, Glenn H. (1983). Selected Works of the Dalai Lama III: Essence of Refined Gold (2nd ed., 1985). Snow Lion Publications, Inc. New York. ISBN 0-937938-29-7.
  • Mullin, Glenn H. (2001). The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation. Clear Light Publishers. Santa Fe, NM. ISBN 1-57416-092-3.
  • Norbu, Thubten Jigme; Turnbull, Colin M. (1968). Tibet. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-20559-5. 
  • Richardson, Hugh E. (1984). Tibet and its history (2nd ed., rev. and updated. ed.). Boston: Shambhala. ISBN 978-0-87773-376-8. 
  • Van Schaik, Sam (2011), Tibet. A History. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.
  • Schulemann, Günther (1958). Die Geschichte der Dalai Lamas. Leipzig: Veb Otto Harrassowitz. ISBN 978-3-530-50001-1. 
  • Stein, R. A. (1972). Tibetan civilization ([English ed.]. ed.). Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press. ISBN 0-8047-0901-7. 
  • Shakabpa, Tsepon W.D. (1967), Tibet: A Political History. New York: Yale University Press, and (1984), Singapore: Potala Publications. ISBN 0961147415.
  • Shakabpa, Tsepon W.D. (2010). One Hundred Thousand Moons. An Advanced Political History of Tibet (2 vols). Leiden (Netherlands), Boston (USA): Brill's Tibetan Studies Library. ISBN 9789004177321. 
  • Sheel, R N Rahul (1989). "The Institution of the Dalai Lama". The Tibet Journal. 15 (3). 
  • Smith, Warren W. (1997). Tibetan Nation; A History of Tibetan Nationalism and Sino-Tibetan Relations. New Delhi: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-8133-3155-2. 
  • Snellgrove, David; Richardson, Hugh (1986). A Cultural History of Tibet. Boston & London: Shambala Publications Inc. ISBN 0-87773-354-6. 
  • Stein, R. A. (1972). Tibetan civilization ([English ed.]. ed.). Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press. ISBN 0-8047-0901-7. 
  • Diki Tsering (2001). Dalai Lama, my son : a mother's story. London: Virgin. ISBN 0-7535-0571-1. 
  • Veraegen, Ardy (2002). The Dalai Lamas : the Institution and its history. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld. ISBN 978-8124602027. 
  • Ya, Hanzhang (1991). The biographies of the Dalai Lamas (1st ed.). Beijing: Foreign Language Press. ISBN 978-7119012674. 
  • Schwieger, Peter (2014), The Dalai Lama and the Emperor of China: a political history of the Tibetan institution of reincarnation, New York: Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-53860-2, OCLC 905914446 
  • Kawanami, C. C. (2016). Buddhism . In C. P. Linda Woodhead, Religions in the Modern World (p. 94). New York: Routledge.

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.
  • Harrer, Heinrich (1951) Seven Years in Tibet: My Life Before, During and After
  • Karmay, Samten G. (Translator) (1988). Secret visions of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Serindia Publications, London. ISBN 0 906026 20 2.
  • Silver, Murray (2005). When Elvis Meets the Dalai Lama (1st ed.). Savannah, GA: Bonaventture. ISBN 978-0-9724224-4-4. 

External links

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