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About the Author
His Holiness The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual leader of Tibet and head of their government-in-exile. Since 1959, His Holiness has received over eighty-four awards and honorary doctorates, including the Nobel Peace Prize and the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his message of peace, nonviolence, interreligious understanding, and compassion.
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Holder of the White Lotus
I fled Tibet on 31 March 1959. Since then I have lived in exile in India. During the period 1949-50, the People's Republic of China sent an army to invade my country. For almost a decade I remained as political as well as spiritual leader of my people and tried to re-establish peaceful relations between our two nations. But the task proved impossible. I came to the unhappy conclusion that I could serve my people better from outside.
When I look back to the time when Tibet was still a free country, I realise that those were the best years of my life. Today I am definitely happy, but inevitably the existence I now lead is very different from the one I was brought up to. And although there is clearly no use indulging in feelings of nostalgia, still I cannot help feeling sad whenever I think of the past. It reminds me of the terrible suffering of my people. The old Tibet was not perfect. Yet, it is true to say that our way of life was something quite remarkable. Certainly there was much that was worth preserving that is now lost for ever.
I have said that the words Dalai Lama mean different things to different people, that for me they refer only to the office I hold. Actually, Dalai is a Mongolian word meaning 'ocean' and Lama is a Tibetan term corresponding to the Indian word guru, which denotes a teacher. Together, the words Dalai and Lama are sometimes loosely translated as 'Ocean of Wisdom'. But this is due to a misunderstanding I feel. Originally, Dalai was a partial translation of Sonam Gyatso, the Third Dalai Lama's name: Gyatso means ocean in Tibetan. Afurther, unfortunate misunderstanding is due to the Chinese rendering of the word lama as huo-fou, which has the connotation of a 'living Buddha'. This is wrong. Tibetan Buddhism recognises no such thing. It only accepts that certain beings, of whom the Dalai Lama is one, can choose the manner of their rebirth. Such people are called tulkus (incarnations). Of course, whilst I lived in Tibet, being Dalai Lama meant a great deal. It meant that I lived a life far removed from the toil and discomfort of the vast majority of my people. Everywhere I went, I was accompanied by a retinue of servants. I was surrounded by government ministers and advisors clad in sumptuous silk robes, men drawn from the most exalted and aristocratic families in the land. My daily companions were brilliant scholars and highly realised religious adepts. And every time I left the Potala, the magnificent, 1,000-chambered winter palace of the Dalai Lamas, I was escorted by a procession of hundreds of people.
At the head of the column came a Ngagpa, a man carrying a symbolic 'wheel of life'. He was followed by a party of tatara, horsemen dressed in colourful, traditional costumes and carrying flags. Behind them were porters carrying my songbirds in cages and my personal belongings all wrapped up in yellow silk. Next came a section of monks from Namgyal, the Dalai Lama's own monastery. Each carried a banner decorated with sacred texts. Behind them followed musicians mounted on horseback. Then followed two groups of monk officials, first a subordinate section who acted as bearers, then monks of the Tsedrung order who were members of the Government. Behind these came a posse of horses from the Dalai Lama's own stables, all nicely turned out, caparisoned and led by their grooms.
There followed another troop of horses which carried the seals of state. I myself came next, carried in a yellow palanquin, which was pulled by twenty men, all officers in the army and dressed in green cloaks with red hats. Unlike the most senior officials, who wore their hair up, these had a single, long pigtail running down their backs. The palanquin itself, which was yellow in colour (to denote monasticism), was supported by a further eight men wearing long coats of yellow silk. Alongside it rode the four members of the Kashag, the Dalai Lama's inner Cabinet, attended by the Kusun Depon, head of the Dalai Lama's bodyguard, and the Mak-chi, Commander-in-Chief of Tibet's tiny army. Both of these marched carrying their swords sternly at the salute. They wore a uniform comprised of blue trousers and yellow tunic covered with gold braid. On their heads they wore a tasselled topi. Surrounding this, the main party, there was an escort of sing gha, the monastic police. These terrifying-looking men were all at least six feet tall and wore heavy padding, which lent them an even more impressive appearance. In their hands they carried long whips, which they did not hesitate to use.
Behind my palanquin came my two Tutors, Senior and Junior (the former being the Regent of Tibet before I attained my majority). Then came my parents and other members of my family. They were followed by a large party of lay officials, both nobles and commoners, marshalled according to rank.
Invariably almost the entire population of Lhasa, the capital, came to try to catch a glimpse of me whenever I went out. There was an awed silence and often there were tears as people lowered their heads or prostrated themselves on the ground when I passed.
It was a life very different from the one I had known as a small boy. I was born on 6 July 1935 and named Lhamo Thondup. This means, literally, 'Wish-Fulfilling Goddess'. Tibetan names of people, places and things are often picturesque in translation. For example, Tsang-po, the name of one of Tibet's most important rivers--and source of India's mighty Brahmaputra--means 'The Purifier'. The name of our village was Taktser: Roaring Tiger. It was a small and poor settlement which stood on a hill overlooking a broad valley. Its pastures had not been settled...