Jul 062018

Today is the birthday (1935) of the 14th Dalai Lama of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. His name at birth was Lhamo Thondup, but the more usual name used now is Tenzin Gyatso, a shortened from Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso. He was born into a farming and horse trading family in the small hamlet of Taktser, or Chija Tagtser, (Hongya (红崖村) in Chinese) at the edges of the traditional Tibetan region of Amdo. His family was of Monguor extraction. The Monguor are a small ethnic minority related to Mongols. He was one of seven siblings to survive childhood. His eldest brother, Thupten Jigme Norbu, had been recognized at the age of eight as the reincarnation of the high Lama Taktser Rinpoche. His sister, Jetsun Pema, spent most of her adult life on the Tibetan Children’s Villages project. The Dalai Lama has said that his first language was “a broken Xining language which was a dialect of the Chinese language,” a form of Central Plains Mandarin, and his family did not speak the Tibetan language.

Following reported signs and visions, three search teams were sent out to the north-east, the east, and the south-east to locate the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama when Lhamo Thondup was about two years old. Amongst other omens, the head of the embalmed body of the 13th Dalai Lama, at first facing south-east, had turned to face the north-east, indicating, it was interpreted, the direction in which his successor would be found. The Regent, Reting Rinpoche, shortly afterwards had a vision at the sacred lake of Lhamo La-tso which he thought indicated that Amdo was the region to search. This vision was also interpreted to refer to a large monastery with a gilded roof and turquoise tiles, and a twisting path from it to a hill to the east, opposite which stood a small house with distinctive eaves. The team, led by Kewtsang Rinpoche, went first to meet the Panchen Lama (second highest leader), who had been stuck in Jyekundo, in northern Kham. The Panchen Lama had been investigating births of unusual children in the area ever since the death of the 13th Dalai Lama. He gave Kewtsang the names of three boys whom he had discovered and identified as candidates. Within a year the Panchen Lama had died. Two of his three candidates were crossed off the list but the third, a “fearless” child, the most promising, was from Taktser village, which, as in the vision, was on a hill, at the end of a trail leading to Taktser from the great Kumbum Monastery with its gilded, turquoise roof. There they found a house, as interpreted from the vision—the house where Lhamo Thondup lived.

At the time, the village of Taktser, accor