He is a global icon. He stands for an unidentified amalgam of peace and love that transcends belief and borders. In case you’ve been living under a rock, he’s also coming to speak on Wednesday. So, cutting through the myth, who is the Dalai Lama? What exactly is his job? How did he get said job? Answers to these questions and more after the jump.
Who is he? His Holiness, born Lhamo Dhondub, is 14th in a line of Dalai Lamas who traditionally held roles as both Buddhist spiritual leaders and political leaders of Tibet, now a part of China. He took the name Tenzin Gyatso upon selection as the Dalai Lama when he was 2 years old (more on this later).
How did he get such a great job? What was on his résumé (tips please!!!!)? In what will surely be a surprise to some Brown students, it turns out that no amount of networking can get you the position of Dalai Lama. When a Dalai Lama dies, the other High Lamas have to search throughout Tibet for his reincarnation. In the case of the current one, the search took four years, ending when he — at age 2, remember — was able to correctly identify all of the old Dalai Lama’s toys from a group of other relics. You can’t train for that.
What was he up to in his 20s? Oh, you know, just casually fleeing a manhunt by the largest army on earth. In 1950, when His Holiness was just 15, the Chinese government invaded Tibet. The Dalai Lama fled to India nine years later with some 80,000 of his countrymen. He then set up a government-in-exile and spent the next few decades organizing peaceful resistance against the Chinese while raising awareness of the plight of the Tibetans. He earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1989.
What exactly does he believe in? In addition to a general love of peace, the Dalai Lama does in fact hold some beliefs some Brown students might not share (which, by the way, is totally cool). In a 1993 interview with the New York Times, he maintained that abortion is “an act of killing,” but “should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance.” He has a rather nuanced view of homosexuality; he simultaneously notes Buddhist prohibition of it while calling for equal treatment of all, regardless of whom they love. The Dalai Lama also has said sex in general “is short-period satisfaction and, often, that leads to more complication,” which he says could even include suicide and murder. (He should really read Sextion.) In addition, the Dalai Lama calls himself a feminist and has advocated for aggressive, international action against climate change.
Who is going to replace him? This has been a point of contention for a few years now. The Chinese government insists they have the authority to appoint a successor. They probably won’t be leaving that up to reincarnation. At one point, the Dalai Lama hinted that he may be the last of his line. Otherwise, presumably, whoever can pick out his old toys will succeed him. His Holiness has hinted, however, that if Tibet remains under Chinese control, his reincarnation may come from another part of the world.
Can I friend him? Of course. The Dalai Lama objectively has one of the most exciting Facebook pages out there. He has almost 4.5 million likes and casually drops wisdom like “Recognizing our shared humanity and our biological nature as beings whose happiness is dependent on others, we learn to open our hearts, and in so doing we gain a sense of purpose and a sense of connection with those around us.” Follow him.
We can’t wait to see both His Holiness in person and the extent to which campus actually just shuts down while he’s there. Look out for some possible live-tweeting on our end.