The Dalai Lama is the highest religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism and, until the People's Republic of China instituted direct control in 1959, was Tibet's most powerful political leader. Dalai Lama is a Mongolian title meaning "Ocean of Wisdom", The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, whose name is Chenrezig in Tibetan and Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth to serve humanity.
The current incarnation of the Dalai is Tenzin Gyatso.
Upon the passing of the Dalai Lama, his monks institute a search for the Lama's reincarnation, who is usually a small child. Familiarity with the possesions of the previous Dalai Lama is considered the main sign of the reincarnation. The search for the reincarnation typically requires a few years which results in a gap in the list of the Dalai Lamas. The reincarnation is then brought to a monastery to be trained by the other Lamas. The process is not always peaceful; at times rival groups of lamas each "discover" a child and claim it is the true reincarnation. This has historically turned into political struggle to decide who is the real Dalai Lama, in a manner analogous with the Pope and the Antipope stories in the Christian world.
The government of the People's Republic of China has asserted the power to approve the naming of high lamas in Tibet and has exercised this power in the naming of the Panchen Lama, who is empowered to recognize the new Dalai Lama. Most observers believe that with the passage of the current Dalai Lama, the PRC will attempt to force a selection of a successor and that this risks creating a schism and leadership vacuum in the Tibetan independence movement.
The Dalai Lama is the most powerful figure in the Geluk or Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, and has received the highest teachings and empowerments of all the main schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He also presents core teachings from all of these main schools.
See also: History of Tibet
List of Dalai Lamas
External links and references