© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

David Nightingale: The Dalai Lamas

During this COVID-19 era there’s time, for some, to catch up on books. One of the unread books [ref.1] I took from my shelf recently is about the present Dalai Lama – which takes us to Tibet.

If one looks at a map of India, way up in the north lies its neighbor Nepal and just north of its border lies Tibet, and then of course China. The highest mountain in the world, Everest, lies on the boundary between Nepal and Tibet, and can be approached from either side.

To the UN, Tibet is not a nation, but an “autonomous region of China.” According to my big Readers Digest atlas, it is definitely a country. 

Tibet is where today’s Dalai Lama was born in 1935. He calls himself a ‘simple Buddhist monk’, and his birth name is Tenzin Gyatso. He is actually the 14th Dalai Lama – and the word Lama means monk or “wise man,” Dalai meaning (very roughly) ‘universal’. Others have translated Dalai Lama as “ocean of wisdom.”

Looking back at the ancient civilizations in these countries one reads that the first Dalai Lama lived from 1391-1474, the second from 1475-1542, the third from 1543-1588 – and they have been continuous up to the present time. The first two were not strictly Dalai Lamas, but the third one was the first specifically described as “ocean of wisdom” by the then Mongolian king. The Mongols were warlike, but this particular monk was left alone. Why the first two spiritual leaders were later called Dalai Lamas, when the phrase hadn’t originated yet, isn’t clear.

Back in 1642, the fifth Dalai Lama became not only Tibet’s spiritual leader but also the political leader, and he moved the administration of Tibet to Lhasa, which became and still is the new capital.

Buddhism began very long ago, in the 5th Century BC. It is apparently the fourth largest religion in the world, at 7%, with the Hindu religion at 15%, Islam at 23% and Christianity at about 32%. Siddhartha, the Buddha, grew up in India on the Ganges Plain, and spent his life seeking liberation from suffering. As we do today.

China has invaded Tibet more than once. In 1910 they invaded, but the 13th Dalai Lama managed to kick them out two years later. In 1950, they invaded again and changed Tibet’s name to “Tibet Autonomous Region of People’s Republic of China.” The present Dalai Lama was then only a 15-year-old, but 9 years later (1959) after religious uprisings against atheistic China he was forced to escape. He and his followers did not have to travel far, just down to northern India, where Nehru offered him a permanent ‘home in exile’ – in the beautiful region of Dharamshala.

Dharamshala is in the mountains that Indians in sweltering cities escape to in the summer. Notable people who have settled there include a 19th Century governor of Canada, and, for example today, Purva Rana, an Indian Beauty Pageant title holder (2013) – as well as the present Dalai Lama. It also now houses – thanks to Nehru – the Central Tibetan Administration plus thousands of exiles.

Some celebrities have been ostracized by the film industry for criticisms of China’s takeover of Tibet, knowing that their work will no longer play in China. Richard Gere is one, and his interview in Amsterdam with the Dalai Lama is interesting. [ref.2.] I would love to see a body like the UN rectify the situation and have the now 85-year-old Dalai Lama returned to a peaceful Tibet, but, as long as China has UN veto power, this won’t happen.


1.  “The Art of Happiness – a Handbook for Living”, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, MD; Riverhead Books (1998), Penguin Putnam Inc, 375 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014.

2.   info@savetibet.org ICT

David Nightinglale is an emeritus professor of physics at SUNY New Paltz where he taught for 31 years. His first novel, The Centauri Settlement, is produced by TheBookPatch.com .

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Related Content