Bios of Dalai Lamas
The modern picture that the Tibetan Buddhists give of their Dalai Lama is one of a jolly, compassionate and peaceful religious man, revered as holy by millions.
It was not always thus.
In 1546 a child named Sonam Gyatso was declared a “soul boy” or the reincarnation of a former leading monk. This child was trained in the monastery at Drepung. He was ordained as a full monk at age 22 in 1562.
Sonam Gyatso went on to preach in Inner Mongolia and converted those nomads to the Yellow Hats, a sect of Buddhism.
He had the backing of the Altan Khan and was bestowed the title of Dalai Lama from the Altan Khan.
The title was the first bestowed by a ruler, and he was known as the third Dalai Lama.
The first two were nominated posthumously.
Since there was much influence between the Yellow Hats and the Mongolian leaders, when those leaders sent troops into Tibet, and monetarily supported three large monasteries there, the Chinese government became concerned.
While this Dalai Lama was out of the country the other sect of Buddhism designated White Sect or the White Hats, started attacking one another. Just a matter of politics.
In 1589 Yonten Gyatso was born and identified by the Mongols as being the soul boy of the 3rd Dalai Lama. How they determined this was not explained, but I have my theories.
Since Yonten was the great grandson of Alten Khan, he had the support of the third Dalai Lamas’ private treasurer, and his tutor.
This was the only Dalai Lama that was not of Tibetan origin, being born in Mongolia.
He had the support of the three great monasteries in Tibet, who all were full of Yellow Hats. No surprise there.
The delegates did have a long discussion before they voted for approval, so it was not just a rubber stamp process.
In 1616 Yonten Gyatso died in a monastery, age 28, having lived in Tibet for only 14 years.
During this time the White faction became hostile to the Yellow faction, and the Emperor in Beijing bestowed high status on two more factions the Red and the Black.
So now we have four different colored hats fighting for the top spot.
In 1617 the fifth Dalai Lama was born, named Lozang Gyatso.
In 1637 he was initiated into the full monkhood by the Panchen Lama of the Drepung monastery, one of the three great ones.
The White hats continued to war against the Yellow Hats so in 1641 the Dalai Lama asked for military help from the Mongolian Khan. The Kahn led his army into Tibet and put an end to the White Hats in that region, and turned over all political power to the Yellow Hats. The Yellow Hats then proceeded to confiscate all property of their enemies and divided up the swag between the three large Yellow Hat monasteries.
This is the standard procedure of warfare in any continent.
By 1733 statistics showed that the Dalai Lama alone had the profit of 302,560 monks working at 327 monasteries.
Over all 640,000 serfs were working for all monasteries owned by the religious heads.
The fifth Dalai Lama was the one who moved his regime to Lhasa, and had the Potala Palace constructed.
To cement up the power of the Dalai Lama he was hosted by the Emperor in Beijing and gifted with gold, silver, a large quantity of jewels, jade articles and horses. During his visit the Dalai Lama stayed in a yellow palace built expressly for his comfort.
After the Dalai returned to Tibet he had built thirteen new monasteries with the gold and silver presented to him by the Emperor Qing.
In 1682 the fifth Dalai Lama died in the Potala Palace at the age of 66.
His subordinates kept his death secret for 15 years in order to inspire the workers to complete the work on the palace.
Conspiracy entered into the politics of spirituality. The head man in the palace, Sangye, wanted to hold on to power for a while longer, so always claimed that the Dalai Lama was deep into meditation and not to be disturbed.
In the meantime the next Dalai Lama had already been “found” and when he was 15 Tsangyang Gyatso was enthroned in 1697 at the Potala Palace.
This one was known as the Playboy Lama, as he had no head for figures, declined to pay attention to any matters of governing, or meditation. He just liked the good life of wine, women, and song.
For these supposed transgressions the underlings demanded that he go to Beijing under escort to answer for his crimes. So sad, on the way he died, with conflicting accounts of what really happened.
In the meantime back at the palace a new Dalai Lama number 6 was installed but people did not accept him. Yeshe Gyatso lasted 11 years and was considered a sham by the Tibetan people.
In 1719 the Emperor Shengzu created the 7th Dalai Lama naming a young Living Buddha Kelzang Gyatso who was living in the Kumdum monastery . He was escorted to Lhasa by a military force of at least 20,000 men.
By 1727 the Emperor had to intervene again, as there was armed conflict between various factions in Tibet and the nepotism and corruption had risen to new heights under the youthful Dalai.
Over 15,000 men made up this expeditionary force. When they came to Lhasa the rebels had already been defeated and leaders were dealt with in a uniquely Chinese fashion.
The main leader was put to death by slicing ( I leave that to the reader’s imagination) the subordinates were beheaded along with their wives and children.
This brought the violent episodes to an end, but the Chinese maintained thousands of “peace keepers” in the area long afterward. By 1734 the local militia had been trained up well enough to block the mountain passes to deter the “barbarians” from the west, so that the Chinese contingent could be withdrawn and savings incurred. The price of hay must have been too high for any more government intervention.
In 1751 rules were drawn up by Beijing bureaucrats for the “Administration of Tibet”. It was a 13 point program for the streamlining of governing the whole country of Tibet, and did away with many wrongs but was in effect a “regime change”. Over staffing, private use of public funds, nepotism, homeland security, and illegal immigrants were some of the items dealt with.
Sounds very familiar.
A direct quote from The Biographies of the Dalai Lamas is as follows concerning the 7th Dalai Lama.
“Kelzan Gyatso never carried himself in a haughty matter although he held such an awe inspiring title as imperial preceptor. He was an accomplished theologian, but was always ready to learn from others. Even after he had achieved sublimity in spiritual cultivation, he remained respectful to religious discipline in whatever he did. Rich as he was, with the wealth of all Tibet in his possession, he allowed himself only one change of clothes each year.”
He died at the Potala at age fifty.
The Emperor appointed a regent to act in the Dalai’s place before a new soul boy was discovered. That was the inception of regency in Tibet.
At the age of five, Jampal Gyatso was recognized as the new soul boy by the Emperor’s envoy Drangkya Hututku .
In 1781 by order of the Emperor young Jampal was ordained the 8th Dalai Lama, and took office with the help of a new regent Tsemonling.
In 1788 a new fracas arose between the Gurka region (modern day Nepal) and Tibet over taxes. Through many betrayals and fights over money and inheritances, the Chinese government once more was drawn into an invasion of Tibet to prop up the rulers. All told, the Emperor sent a total of 17,000 troops at the cost of one fourth of government revenue. That means the taxes went up for the Chinese once again to support a foreign war.
In 1807 Lungtok Gyatso was recognized as the new soul boy. His coronation took place in 1808.This 9th Dalai Lama did not last long, and died during the British intervention of the area. By 1815 the search was on for a new soul boy to replace the Dalai Lama and continue the tradition.
The 10th Dalai Lama was found in the Kham region and led to the enrichment of his parents. Tsutrim Gyatso became the Head Lama at twenty two after long years of study in the monastery, but died suddenly in the Palace before he even began to rule.
During this time not much happened inside or nearby Tibet, except that neighbor regions started distancing themselves from the Beijing regime. The result was that the Qing emperor did not send help when asked against local Gurhka incursions, and the British had another chance to intervene.
The British at this time was actively engaged in the Great Game, so well covered in the literature of Rudyard Kipling. They had spies all over the place and were vying for control of Northern India and Pakistan with Great Mother Russia.
Without this outside interest, Tibet would have remained in a primitive and medieval state for many more years.
To be continued.