World’s most celebrated monk turns 75 Tuesday

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS
Sunday, July 4, 2010

DHARAMSALA - ‘His Holiness’, ‘Guruji’ and the ‘Dalai Lama’ are the more famous terms by which he is known. But as Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, turns 75 years old Tuesday, the landmark birthday will just be another day in the life of this ’simple Buddhist monk’ as he describes himself.

Born July 6, 1935, to a farming family in a small hamlet in Taktser in Amdo province in northeastern Tibet, the two-year-old child, earlier named Lhamo Dhondup, was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, in 1937.

This birthday will put the present Dalai Lama in the exclusive league among all Dalai Lamas - of having lived for over 75 years.

Only the first Dalai Lama, Gedun Drupa (1391-1474), lived beyond the age of 75 years. He died at the age of 84 years.

The second Dalai Lama, Gedun Gyatso (1475-1542), and the fifth Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617-82), lived till the ages of 67 and 65 respectively.

The ninth Dalai Lama, Lungtok Gyatso, had the shortest life span among all Dalai Lamas. He lived only till the age of nine years.

The present Dalai Lama, incidentally, has lived over five decades of his life in exile in India.

Rubbing shoulders with the most powerful in the world, the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize winner continues to charm common people to world leaders with his simplicity, religious knowledge and child-like wit.

Tibetan Member of exiled Parliament (MP) Karma Yeshi told IANS: “The 75th birthday of His Holiness is a big event. Celebrations by various organizations will continue through the year. His holiness himself keeps it as a low-profile event.”

“Long-life prayers, functions in Dharamsala and other Tibetan settlements in India and other countries, photo-exhibitions and other events will be held this year for His Holiness,” a spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile said.

The Dalai Lamas, according to the official website of the present Dalai Lama, are manifestations of ‘Avalokiteshvara’ or ‘Chenrezig’, the ‘Bodhisattva’ of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet. ‘Bodhisattvas’ are enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth in order to serve humanity.

In 1950, the Dalai Lama was called upon to assume full political power after China’s invasion of Tibet in 1949. In 1954, he went to Beijing for peace talks with Mao Zedong and other Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai.

He was forced to flee the Potala Palace in Tibet’s capital Lhasa in 1959 and reached India via Nepal after the Chinese troops took control of Lhasa and other areas in Tibet.

Since then he has been living in Dharamsala, in Himachal Pradesh. The hill town has become the seat of the Tibetan political administration in exile.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is now both - the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibet.

Even though he has expressed his willingness to go back to Tibet and resolve the complicated Tibetan issue by agreeing to an autonomous Tibetan set-up under Chinese control, Beijing has shown no inclination to oblige him.

Chinese leaders have, in fact, called him a ’splittist’-one who wants Tibet to secede from China.

In 1989, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for Tibet. He was awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal in October 2007, even in face of protests by China.

The Dalai Lama, despite his age, continues to travel throughout the world, meeting presidents, prime ministers and rulers of various countries and giving his teachings on Buddhism.

His followers and admirers include Hollywood celebrities like ‘Pretty Woman’ star Richard Gere and several others. He has travelled to nearly 65 countries, spanning across six continents.

Even though he lives in exile in India, with political asylum granted to him, he holds the honorary citizenship of several countries and leading cities like Paris, Venice and Rome.

Scores of books, encompassing his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion, have been written about him and his philosophy all over the world.

He himself has authored over 70 books.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at

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