About the Dalai Lama and his role

The Dalai Lama is the chief monk of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as the Gelug. The Dalai Lama lineage is considered to be a series of reincarnations of Avalokitesvara, and of these, there have been fourteen recognized so far. The first Dalai Lama came to be recognized as Gendun Drup, based on the advice and last testament of the Buddhist teacher Karma Pakhi, in 1391. From this point forward, several methods were used by the High Lamas to ascertain the identity of the following Dalai Lamas. One of these is the observation of the smoke that rises from the cremation ceremony of the deceased Dalai Lama for indications of the direction of the reincarnation’s location. According to legend, owing to the vision the first Dalai Lama had of the female guardian spirit called Palden Lhamo at Lake Lhamo la-tso, in central Tibet, the second Dalai Lama, named Gendun Gyatso formalised the tradition of the High Lamas seeking guidance from the lake when searching for the next Dalai Lama. It was also here that in 1935 Regent Reting Rinpoche had the vision that led to the discovery of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th and current Dalai Lama. In the event of there being only one candidate for the role, the High Lamas subject the boy, soon after discovery, to a series of tests to reaffirm their choice. One of these tests is presenting the boy with a number of items, some belonging to the previous Dalai Lama, and some of utterly random origin. If the majority of the items chosen by the boy are those owned by the previous Dalai Lama, it is considered to be an indication of the boy in fact having been correctly identified. In the event of there being multiple candidates for the role of the Dalai Lama, in the past, the prominent High Lamas and Regents of Lhasa in unison with the Minister of Tibet have short listed the candidate by collecting all the candidate names in an urn and drawing at random. Upon selection, the boy identified as the reincarnation has traditionally been taken to the Drepun Monastery in Lhasa to prepare him further for his role in the mortal world. Ever since the 5th Dalai Lama, the tradition residence of all the reincarnations has been the Potala and Norbulingka palaces, alternating seasonally. However, the 14th Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India in 1959 owing to the Tibetan uprising in the People’s Republic of China, settling in Dharamsala, which has been his primary centre of operation since.

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