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Discovering the Dalai Lama


Photo by Ueli Minder

Article by Angela Earle


Who Is the Dalai Lama?


“Dalai Lama means different things to different people. To some it means that I am a living Buddha, the earthly manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion. To others it means that I am a ‘god-king.’… .To me ‘Dalai Lama’ is a title that signifies the office I hold. I myself am just a human being, and incidentally a Tibetan, who chooses to be a Buddhist monk.”

-HH the Dalai Lama, Freedom in Exile


HH the 14th Dalai Lama is one of the most recognized people in the world today. Huge audiences attend his speeches and lectures, and Buddhist students from the world over hold him in the highest regard. Pictures of him usually show a smiling face, hands gently reaching towards children, towards seekers. He represents so much to so many different people: the incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion to Tibetan Buddhists, the voice of hope to a world hungry for true spiritual leadership not bogged down in doctrine, guilt, or rules, and the embodiment of spiritual and compassionate ideals.

To really understand who this man is, one must first have an understanding of the world and life he was born into. Born Lhamo Thondup in the village of Takster in northeastern Tibet in 1935, he was recognized by a search party as the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama – the highest lama of Tibetan Buddhism (see sidebar for Buddhist terms) at the age of two. He was brought to Lhasa to study and eventually to lead what was then the separate nation of Tibet. He was still a teenager when he formally became the leader of his country and shortly thereafter fled to India in exile after the Chinese occupation of Tibet became life threatening. From the outset he was dedicated to returning to Tibet and achieving resolution with the Chinese government – while maintaining the standards of his faith, never wavering from his belief in the power of peace and love, and his practice of the way of the Bodhittsatva: the way of the Buddha. In his role as both political and spiritual leader of his people, he must embody both the principles of his faith, and marry these constantly with the realties and situations he is faced with.


In the Footsteps of Compassion

Beyond the difficulty of establishing a new life in a new land, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans who fled into exile were all confronted with the task of learning how to operate on a new world stage. Tibet had kept itself isolated from the outside world for a long time, and though the spiritual system that they had practiced for over a thousand years was revolutionary to the West, most Tibetans and the Dalai Lama were unfamiliar with anything outside of their culture. His struggles both internally and externally in making this decision to go to India, as well as this idea of learning about the outside world, are recounted in both of his autobiographies (My Land and My People, and Freedom in Exile, and also portrayed in the movie Seven Years in Tibet). When he and other Tibetan refugees left Tibet and entered India, they also were faced with a way of life, and a world, that was as unfamiliar with them as they with it. The Dalai Lama embraced this new position, and used it as an opportunity to spread his vision of peace and compassion. He has made his life in Dharamsala, India ever since, where there exists a thriving Tibetan exile community.

In 1989, as the drama of Tiananmen Square was reaching it’s apex, the Dalai Lama suspended peace talks with the Chinese – talks that were looking very promising – feeling that he could not in good conscience continue to work for peace for his own people while ignoring what the Chinese were doing to their own people. It was a decision that he says brought him much sadness, but never regret. He still believes, today, with all his heart that the only way to true resolution is the path of peace and compassion.

In all of the literature written by and about HH, there are many very interesting commonalities – one being that while he has become a prominent figure on the world stage, he seems to be able to maintain his standing as “a simple monk.” He makes it quite clear that he realizes the power of his position, and that while he honors that and works for its best use, he never confuses himself with it. In the following excerpt, the well-known teacher, the Venerable Thubten Chodron, relates these qualities from her personal experience:

I was with him at a science conference when news came that he won the Nobel Peace prize in 1989. Of course, we were all ecstatic, but His Holiness was not affected by all the excitement and attention. He didn’t change any of his appointments or usual activities in order to accommodate the media that wanted to interview him. When people gave him standing ovations, he bowed to the audience and then said, “The real award goes to the quality of compassion.”

Compassion has been the keynote of his life. He’s written books about it, spoken at length on the subject, and walked a million steps to try to bring its power to the world. He doesn’t just believe in the power of compassion – he knows it to be true. He is our witness to our own ability to affect our environment, our attitudes, our life and our world. And what will this compassion lead to? To happiness. A central tenant of Buddhist philosophy is that what is going on in our minds is the (cause) stimulus for what happens in our lives (the effects). While there are many different Buddhist lineages and schools of thought, this idea runs central to the idea of the Four Noble Truths – the path to enlightenment and nirvana – to the absence of suffering. That path must come from inside us all. While many New Thought or New Age ideas talk about such a viewpoint, it is not actually new at all. Buddhism goes back over 2500 years.

The Vision


“Even the honest attempt to search for our own contribution to a problem allows a certain shift of focus that helps to break through the narrow patterns of thinking that lead to the destructive feeling of unfairness that is the source of so much discontent in ourselves and in the world.”

-HH the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness



Event visionary Kiril Sokoloff believes that the world is at a critical point spiritually. After one of the bloodiest centuries in human history, he believes we are ready to swing, like a pendulum, the other way. It is to this march towards compassion and spirituality that he is pointing his energies, in coordination with the Dalai Lama, to bring about an event that will offer to the community, to the nation, and to the world, an energetic infusion that can tip the scales and usher in a new era of peace.

On an individual level, this tipping of the scales has a lot to do with a shift in consciousness, of perception. Kiril talks a lot about the idea of negative and destructive emotions being at the core of our problems. This idea runs throughout the philosophy of Buddhism – that if there is something negative or painful going on in our lives it is due to our own thoughts and actions. If we can uncover the source, we can transform our lives. Rather than being a tool to beat ourselves up, it is actually the key that sets us free. If people’s perceptions, thoughts, and actions changed – our reality, our world would change. Will change. This is in fact the basis of The Four Noble Truths, which were the first teachings of the Buddha in India and offer a way to eliminate suffering from our lives. The Four Noble Truths are: the truth of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the cessation of suffering.

His Holiness will be giving his “Healing Address” on the 11th of September at the Wood River High School football stadium. He will be speaking in English and following this event with a press meeting. Over the next couple of days he will meet with children and some of the nation’s top businesspeople and their spouses, many of whom, like us, may have never had any exposure to these types of ideas.

After speaking to so many people who have been involved with bringing the Dalai Lama to the Wood River Valley, it simply becomes clearer and clearer that the motivation is truly one of pure love and pure compassion, with the intent to offer ones services to the world for the betterment of all.


What This Event Can Mean to Us

“My call for a spiritual revolution is thus not a call for a religious revolution. Nor is it a reference to a way of life that is somehow otherworldly, still less to something magical or mysterious. Rather, it is a call for a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self. It is a call to turn toward the wider community of beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct with recognizes others’ interests alongside our own.”

-HH the Dalai Lama, Ethics for the New Millennium

This event is so special on many levels. On the one hand, it’s an opportunity to witness a living legend of our time speak on a very important day to our nation. The eyes of the world (through the camera lenses of CNN) will be upon our community, and we will gain mass exposure like we never have had before. It is an opportunity to experience a profound global event – to be a part of something big.

On another level, it is an opportunity to open our hearts to the idea behind the event – that vision of pouring the pure energy of love and compassion over the earth – on whatever level we are ready to receive, and to give, this gift. The Dalai Lama will not be preaching, he will not be trying to “convert” us to Buddhism. Buddhism, and the Dalai Lama, are not about that. On the contrary, it is his opportunity in exile to spread these ancient and radical ideas all over the world, to the West, to people who are craving something new, whose institutions may have outgrown their usefulness, whose growing mental and spiritual separation and materialism swallow up hearts and minds with hunger.

It costs us nothing to open our hearts, it costs us nothing to show up. We have everything to gain.

Many thanks to the many individuals and practitioners who helped inform and shape this article.


One thing I know for sure. I feel good around the Dalai Lama.
I know people feel good around him. Perhaps we intuit that he walks the talk. We sense an uncommonly pure center inside him. Like a mirror reflecting light, it allows us to see and get in touch with our own humanity.

-Victor Chan, The Wisdom of Forgiveness




Learning More

Recommended Books:

On the Dalai Lama:

Ethics for the New Millennium, HH the Dalai Lama
The Art of Happiness, HH the Dalai Lama
My Land and My People, HH the Dalai Lama
The Wisdom of Forgiveness, HH the Dalai Lama and Victor Chan
Lighting the Way, HH the Dalai Lama

On the History of Buddhism and Tibet:

Ultimate Journey: Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk Who Crossed Asia in Search of Enlightenment,
by Richard Bernstein

Re-Enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West, by Jeffery Paine

Stages of Meditation, HH the Dalai Lama

Before He Was Buddha: The Life of Siddhartha, by Hammalawa Saddhatissa

Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, by Santideva

Recommended Movies:

Discovering Buddhism: Awakening the Limitless Potential of Your Mind, Achieving All Peace and Happiness,

At your local video store:

Little Buddha
Seven Years in Tibet
The Razor’s Edge