20 Facts About the 14th Dalai Lama

The Life of His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama
••• The 14th Dalai Lama. Samir Hussein / Getty Images

These facts about the Dalai Lama will give you a better picture of the man behind the title. Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, could possibly be the last of the line.

The Dalai Lama can be seen while at his home in exile in McLeod Ganj, India. Thousands attend his speakings to hear his message of nonviolence.

  1. The 14th Dalai Lama was born on July 6, 1935, as Lhamo Dondrub. His name was changed to Tenzin Gyatso, which is short for Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso. His full name means: “Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom.”
  1. The current Dalai Lama is the longest living and longest reigning of all his predecessors. He was born on the dirt floor of his impoverished family’s horse stables.
  2. The 14th Dalai Lama’s family actually spoke a dialect and did not speak the Tibetan language.
  3. The Dalai Lama was already four years old when he was escorted in a caravan to Lhasa. He was considered “old” to be discovered as a Dalai Lama.
  4. At the young age of 15, the Dalai Lama was given full power over Tibet after the Chinese invasion of Tibet.
  5. The CIA played an active role in helping the Dalai Lama to flee Tibet and go into exile in India in 1959.
  6. In 1989 the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2007 he received the Congressional Gold Medal -- the highest civilian honor given by the U.S. Congress.
  7. The Dalai Lama wants to return to Tibet, but has said he will only do so if no preconditions exist. The Chinese government’s rebuttal was that the Dalai Lama must return as a Chinese citizen.
  1. The 14th Dalai Lama declared that the next Dalai Lama won’t be born under Chinese control. There is the possibility of the next Dalai Lama being recognized in a Western country. He has also hinted on numerous occasions that he may be the last Dalai Lama.
  2. The Chinese government plans to elect the next Dalai Lama through means of a committee. The plan, as part of Order No. 5 by the State Administration of Religious Affairs, is to require a permit for reincarnation!
  1. When fleeing Lhasa to go into exile in India, the Dalai Lama was disguised as a soldier and given a gun as a prop. In a video interview later, he laughed remembering just how heavy the rifle was he had to carry as a teenager. In the 1997 Martin Scorsese film Kundun, an epic about the life of the 14th Dalai Lama, the decision was made to deviate from history and not have the Dalai Lama carry a rifle.
  2. Despite compassion for all living things, the Dalai Lama grew up eating meat as most Tibetan monks do. He didn’t switch to a vegetarian diet until living in exile in India where vegetarianism is easier. Because of health problems, he switched back to eating meat on occasion but suggests that people follow a more vegetarian diet when possible.
  3. In 1995, the Dalai Lama selected Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th Panchen Lama -- the highest ranking lama beneath the Dalai Lama. His choice for Panchen Lama went missing at the age of six (presumably abducted by the Chinese government) and Gyaincain Norbu was chosen to be the new Panchen Lama. Many Buddhists around the world do not recognize the government’s choice for Panchen Lama.
  4. The Dalai Lama tours the world, meeting with governments and giving teachings at universities; students are often allowed to put forward questions for him to answer. While traveling, the Dalai Lama does teachings in English. While at his residence of Tsuglakhang in North India, teachings are given in the Tibetan language. His talks are always free to attend in India.
  1. The Dalai Lama has been very interested in science since childhood. He has said that had he not been raised a monk, he probably would have chosen to be an engineer. A visit to the astrophysics department at Cambridge University was part of his very first trip to the West.
  2. In 2009, while speaking in Memphis, Tennessee, the Dalai Lama said that he considered himself a feminist and fights for the rights of women.
  3. In a May 2013 Harris Poll, the Dalai Lama outranked President Obama in popularity by 13 percent.
  4. The most recent film in which the Dalai Lama has appeared is the 2014 documentary Monk With a Camera.
  5. As featured in the film Seven Years in Tibet, the Dalai Lama did meet Austrian climber Heinrich Harrer at age 11; Harrer became one of his early tutors and introduced many Western concepts and scientific ideas. The two remained friends for life.
  1. Unlike his predecessors, the 14th Dalai Lama can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.