The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are realized beings inspired by a wish to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings, who have vowed to be reborn in the world to help humanity.
Tenzin Gyatso began his monastic education at the age of six. The curriculum, derived from the Nalanda tradition, consisted of five major and five minor subjects. The major subjects included logic, fine arts, Sanskrit grammar, and medicine, but the greatest emphasis was given to Buddhist philosophy. At 23, he sat for his final examination in Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple, during the annual Great Prayer Festival (Monlam Chenmo) in 1959. He passed with honors and was awarded the Geshe Lharampa degree, equivalent to the highest doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.
The Dalai Lama is a man of peace. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.
The Dalai Lama has travelled to more than 67 countries spanning 6 continents. He has received over 150 awards, honorary doctorates, prizes, etc., in recognition of his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion. He has also authored or co-authored more than 110 books.
The Dalai Lama has held discussions with heads of different religions and participated in many events promoting inter-religious harmony and understanding.
Since the mid-1980s, he has engaged in a dialogue with modern scientists, mainly in the fields of psychology, neurobiology, quantum physics and cosmology. This has led to a historic collaboration between Buddhist monks and world-renowned scientists in trying to help individuals achieve peace of mind. It has also resulted in the addition of modern science to the traditional curriculum of Tibetan monastic institutions re-established in exile.
On 14 March 2011 the Dalai Lama wrote to the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies (Tibetan Parliament-in-exile) requesting it to relieve him of his temporal authority, since according to the Charter of the Tibetans in Exile, he was technically still the head of state. He announced that he was ending the custom by which the Dalai Lamas had wielded spiritual and political authority in Tibet. He intended, he made clear, to resume the status of the first four Dalai Lamas in concerning himself only with spiritual affairs. In so doing he formally put an end to the 368-year old tradition of the Dalai Lamas functioning as both the spiritual and temporal head of Tibet.