When the Dalai Lama speaks at several events in New Orleans on May 16-18, many in the area will know the name, but not necessarily who the man is.

A simple description is that the Dalai Lama is the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet. He is also the former head of state for Tibet.

He describes himself as “a simple Buddhist monk.”


He was born in July 1935 in a small village of about 20 families. He was named Lhamo Thondup, which means wish-fulfilling goddess.

When he was 2 or 3 years old, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. Dalai Lamas are seen as manifestations of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. (Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who postpone nirvana to be reborn in a life of service to humans. )

A group seeking the reincarnation had several signs that led to Lhamo Thondup’s home. To disguise their mission, the leader pretended to be a servant. But the child called him by the name of their monastery. The group pulled out several objects. Some belonged to the recently deceased Dalai Lama.

When shown the items, the boy picked the ones that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama by saying “It’s mine.”

In 1939, he was recognized officially as the 14th Dalai Lama and enthroned in 1940 at age 5. His religious name is Tenzin Gyatso. This is also when he began his education as a monk.

In 1950, at age 15, he was named the political leader of Tibet. China was attacking.

Over the next nine years, he tried to avoid military takeover. He tried to enlist help from Britain and the United States. He tried talks with China. But by the time he took his final exams, it was clear he was in danger from the Chinese and he needed to escape Tibet.

In 1959, after a three-week journey disguised as a soldier, he reached India, where he has lived ever since.

Despite being in exile, the Dalai Lama worked to set up a democratic government for the Tibetan people. This led to his resignation as political leader in 2011.


The Dalai Lama’s message can be summarized as “We are all human beings and should be good to one another.”

DalaiLama.com says, “He frequently states that his life is guided by three major commitments: the promotion of basic human values or secular ethics in the interest of human happiness; the fostering of inter-religious harmony; and the welfare of the Tibetan people, focusing on the survival of their identity, culture and religion.”

In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sources: Religion News Service; http://www.dalailama.com/

Contact Leila Pitchford-English at lenglish@theadvocate.com or P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821.