Get to know the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader and one of the most popular world leaders today.
Two-year-old Lhamo Thondup never imagined he would be anything other than an ordinary child, but after undergoing a series of tests, he was proclaimed the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. By age 15, he found himself the undisputed leader of six million people who were facing the threat of a full-scale war from the Chinese. After the defeat of the Tibetan national uprising in 1959, the Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet and went into exile in India. For nearly 50 years, he has aimed to establish Tibet as a self-governing, democratic state. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent efforts for the liberation of Tibet and his concern for global environmental problems. As the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama continues to spend his life working to benefit humanity and preserving Tibetan culture.
About the Author
Dana Meachen Rau has written more than 300 books for children, including picture books, early readers, nonfiction, and biographies.
Read an Excerpt
Who Is the Dalai Lama?
February 22, 1940, was a busy day at the Potala, a grand, thousand-room palace high in the mountains of Tibet. Early in the morning, guests started to fill the main assembly hall. They were waiting for their leader to arrive.
Once the hall was full, the crowd grew quiet. A little boy, dressed in golden robes, entered. Horn and trumpet blasts greeted him. He crossed the room on a white carpet that had been rolled out especially for him to a jeweled throne. It was called the Lion Throne because of the eight lions carved into the wooden base of the tall, cushioned chair. The throne was the seat of the Dalai Lama (say: DAHL-eye LAH-muh), a name given to the political and religious leader of the country of Tibet.
The young Dalai Lama needed some help climbing up the steps to his throne. He sat cross-legged on the seat and watched the ceremonies, dances, and readings. Many gifts were set out for the boy—a music box, the tusk of an elephant, expensive fabrics, parakeets, a tricycle, and even a brick of gold! Holy men, government officials, and the others in attendance, in a sign of respect, bowed so low before him that they were lying on the floor. “I found that funny,” he later said. The Dalai Lama is known for his sense of humor. But it was especially funny to him that the adults were acting this way. After all, he was only four years old!
As he grew, that young boy on the Lion Throne began to understand why that day was so special. As Tibet’s Fourteenth Dalai Lama, he would face joyful times and difficult times. He would grow in wisdom. And he would become caring and strong.
But on his enthronement day, he had no idea what lay ahead for himself and for the people of Tibet. Along with the many gifts the little boy received, he also held an adventurous future in his hands.
Chapter 1: Little Lhamo
Diki Tsering woke very early on July 6, 1935. She went out behind her mud-and-stone house in Taktser, Tibet, to the barn. There, among the animals, she gave birth to her son Lhamo (say: LAM-oh). He didn’t cry. His eyes were open wide. Lhamo’s mother, Diki, and father, Choekyong Tsering, already had four children—their daughter, Dolma, and three sons named Norbu, Gyalo, and Lobsang. There wasn’t much furniture in their six-room house. The children didn’t have their own beds. The family mostly gathered in the kitchen, especially during cold Tibetan winters, to keep warm by the fire. They practiced Tibetan Buddhism, a religion that was very important to them and to all Tibetans. So their house also had a prayer room, where the family left offerings of food and flowers at a small altar.
Taktser, a small village in the northeastern province of Amdo, was on a hill with a view of a wide valley. The land and the weather weren’t good for farming, but families, including Lhamo’s, still tried their best to grow crops.
His family grew barley, buckwheat, and potatoes. Before Lhamo was born, the village suffered from a long drought. No rain had fallen in years, and hail had destroyed the plants in the fields. Many villagers were starving.
Once Lhamo could walk, he followed his mother around the farm as she did her chores. He held the bowl as she milked the dzomos (say: ZHO-mohs)—animals that are a cross between yaks and cows. Little Lhamo was playful. When his mother carried him on her shoulders, he pulled at her ears to show her which way to go. When she sent him to gather eggs from the chickens, she discovered him clucking and sitting with the hens in their nests.
The Tsering family farm also had yaks, sheep, goats, and horses. Lhamo’s father especially loved the horses. But he was often angry and harsh with his children. Lhamo’s mother, on the other hand, was gentle and kind. Lhamo later said, “My first teacher of compassion was my mother.” Compassion means wanting to help someone who is suffering, hurt, or in trouble. Lhamo saw compassion in the way his mother treated him and the way she shared what she could with the needy people in their village.
One of Lhamo’s favorite games was to pack up his clothes and pretend to go on trips. He straddled the windowsill, pretending to ride a horse. His mother asked him where he was going. He said he was headed to Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet.
Lhamo didn’t know that more than a thousand miles away, in Lhasa, something important was happening. In December 1933, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had died. So Tibet had been without a leader for two years. Government officials and religious leaders had started the search to find the next Dalai Lama.