Previous Dalai Lamas were not always peaceful monks
WASHINGTON (RNS) The Dalai Lama is spending 10 days here leading an
elaborate Buddhist ritual designed to encourage compassion -- exactly
the kind of peacenik advocacy we have come to expect from the
76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner.
But while most of Tibet's 13 previous Dalai Lamas displayed similar
moral scruples, a few weren't quite so peaceable, or even very monklike
Catholics may reluctantly recall instances of popes behaving badly.
But Tibetans don't draw bright moral lines between "good" and "bad"
Dalai Lamas, explained Robert Barnett, an expert on the history of Tibet
at Columbia University in New York.
"They are not judgmental about these differences," he said. "All are
considered necessary and valuable." And all are considered
reincarnations of Chenrezig, a kind of Buddhist saint dedicated to
saving others from delusion and suffering.
Just as the Buddha may be depicted as red with anger in one painting
and serene in another, Tibetans expect their lamas -- or Buddhist monks
-- to exhibit a variety of behaviors.
Following are a few of the more colorful Dalai Lamas:
-- The Third Dalai Lama (1543-1588) was the first to bear the title
while alive. (The first two Dalai Lamas were anointed posthumously.)
In 1578, Sonam Gyatso struck a deal with the Mongolian ruler Altan
Khan: Altan Khan was dubbed "king of religion" and Sonam Gyatso deemed
"Dalai Lama," which means "ocean of wisdom." The alliance was political
as well as religious, with both men seeking powerful friends at a time
of violent tumult.
-- The Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) was the first to assume
religious and political supremacy in Tibet. Before Lobsang Gyatso seized
power in 1642, Tibet was ruled by competing tribes and religious sects.
With the help of Mongolian warlords, the Fifth Dalai Lama waged war
on rival monasteries, forcing them to convert to his Buddhist sect.
Though some Tibetans argue otherwise, most historians agree that "it is
valid to say that the Fifth Dalai Lama became ruler of Tibet through
violence," Barnett said.
Like the present Dalai Lama, "The Great Fifth," as he is often
known, relinquished political power to devote his later years to
-- The Sixth Dalai Lama (1682-1706) might be called the Hugh Hefner
of Dalai Lamas.
Fond of silk robes, beer and women, Tsangyang Gyatso refused to take
monastic vows, choosing instead to pen poems and search for lovers in
the towns that surrounded his monastery. Folklore held that huts in
which that search proved successful were painted yellow; many remain so
Still, the Sixth Dalai Lama is beloved among Tibetans, who see deep
dharma messages about the transience of earthly existence in the
playboy's poetry. Like the Bible's Song of Solomon, the poems'
celebrations of sex are often applied to religious pursuits, such as the
attainment of enlightenment.
-- The current Dalai Lama's most recent predecessor, the Thirteenth
Dalai Lama (1876-1933), is often credited with bringing Tibet into the
Later dubbed "The Great Thirteenth," Thupten Gyatso introduced
currency, developed a legal system, established Tibet's first post
office, built public schools, founded a police force and bolstered the
military -- all while trying to fend off a British invasion and assert
Tibet's independence from China.
Like his successor, Thupten Gyatso also built bridges to the West
and downplayed tensions between the various Buddhist sects.
Before he died at age 58, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama predicted dark
days ahead for Tibet, accurately foretelling China's invasion, and a
dimming of Buddhism's influence over daily life in the Himalayan
(Additional sources: The Dalai Lama's official website:
www.dalailama.com, and "Secret Lives of the Dalai Lama," by Alexander