The Dalai Lama is a lineage of religious officials of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. “Lama” is a general term referring to Tibetan Buddhist teachers. In religious terms, the Dalai Lama is believed by his devotees to be the rebirth of a long line of tulkus who descend from the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara. Traditionally, His Holiness is thought of as the latest reincarnation of a series of spiritual leaders who have chosen to be reborn in order to enlighten others. The Dalai Lama is often thought to be the director of the Gelug School, but this position belongs officially to the Ganden Tripa, which is a temporary position appointed by the Dalai Lama who, in practice, exerts much influence.
Between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lamas were the directors of the Tibetan Government, administering a large portion of the area from the capital Lhasa, although the extent of that lineage’s historical authority, legitimacy and claim to territory has been recently contested for political reasons. Since 1959, the Dalai Lama has been president of the Tibetan government-in-exile, or Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
The current Dalai Lama is sometimes called “His Holiness” (HH) by Westerners (by analogy with the Pope), although this does not translate to a Tibetan title.
“Dalai” means “Ocean” in Mongolian, and is a translation of the Tibetan name “Gyatso,” while “Lama” is the Tibetan equivalent of the Sanskrit word “guru.” Putting the terms together, the full title is “Ocean Teacher” meaning a teacher who is spiritually as great as the ocean. The name is often mistranslated as “Ocean of Wisdom.”
“The Institution of the Dalai Lama” by R. N. Rahul Sheel in The Tibet Journal, Vol. XIV No. 3. Autumn 1989, pp. 19-32 says on pp. 31-32, n. 1: “The word Dalai is Mongolian for “ocean”, used mainly by the Chinese, the Mongols, and foreigners. Rgya mtsho, the corresponding Tibetan word, always has formed the last part of the religious name of the Dalai Lama since Dalai Lama II [sic – should read Dalai Lama III]. The expression Lama (Bla ma) means the “superior one”. Western usage has taken it to mean the “priest” of the Buddhism of Tibet. The term Dalai Lama, therefore, means “Ocean of Wisdom.”
Before the 20th century, European sources often referred to the Dalai Lama as the “Grand Lama”. For example, in 1795 Benjamin Franklin Bache mocked George Washington by terming him the “Grand Lama of this Country”. Some in the West believed the Dalai Lama to be worshipped by the Tibetans as the godhead.
February 18th 2010THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 18, 2010
Statement from the Press Secretary on the President’ s Meeting with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama
“The President met this morning at the White House with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama. The President stated his strong support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and theprotection of human rights for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China. The President commended the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way Approach”, his commitment to nonviolence and his pursuit of dialogue with the Chinese government. The President stressed that he has consistently encouraged both sides to engage in direct dialogue to resolve differences and was pleased to hear about the recent resumption of talks.
The President and the Dalai Lama agreed on the importance of a positive and cooperative relationship between the United States and China.”
American Spectator – By George H. Wittman on 2.19.10
On July 3, 1942, only seven months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a personal letter to the then seven-year-old Dalai Lama that was to be carried to Tibet’s spiritual leader in Lhasa by the OSS officers, Major Ilya Tolstoy, grandson of the famous novelist, and Captain Brooke Dolan, Harvard-educated experienced South Asia and China hand. It took these two intrepid adventurers until December to overcome the political, diplomatic, and physical obstacles between Washington and the very distant Tibet.
Friendship between the United States and the spiritual leadership of Tibet was the intent, and the two emissaries successfully returned to Washington bearing personal gifts — as chosen by the Dalai Lama’s advisors — to the American president. In operational terms, approval of construction of an overland route from India to China had been the objective since closure of the famed Burma Road. The contact with the Dalai Lama was cleared by the British Foreign Secretary’s office, but it was clearly a source of annoyance for the Chinese, who even in the days before the Communist takeover held a proprietary attitude toward Tibet.
By 1958, eight years after the Chinese Communist takeover of Tibet, supporters of the Dalai Lama had become convinced that Mao planned to have the Tibetan spiritual leader either assassinated or kidnapped to spend the rest of his life in Chinese isolation. By the end of that year the chief of CIA’s Far East operations division, Desmond Fitzgerald, convinced his superior, CIA Director Allen Dulles, that an urgent operation had to be mounted to extract the now 23-year-old Dalai Lama from his monastery in Lhasa…]
‘Stop interfering in our domestic affairs’: Chinese fury at Obama’s private meeting with the Dalai Lama
DailyMail – By Mail Foreign Service 19th February 2010
China has accused President Barack Obama of damaging relations by meeting the Dalai Lama.
Mr Obama held a low-key meeting in the White House on Thursday with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, who is regarded by China as a separatist, in the face of wider tensions over U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan, China’s currency policies, trade disputes and Internet censorship.
Beijing said: ‘The U.S. act amounted to serious interference in Chinese domestic affairs, and has seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and seriously damaged China-U.S. relations.’
The meeting was seen as another test of rocky ties between Beijing and Washington, which have been strained in recent weeks by issues ranging from Taiwan arms sales to allegations of spying.
However, the language of the protest issued by the Foreign Ministry was relatively constrained, a reflection of the White House’s low-key treatment of the meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader and Beijing’s own desire to maintain healthy China-U.S. relations.
The meeting was in the White House’s Map Room, a lower-profile venue than the Oval Office.
In his statement, Ma expressed ‘strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition’ to the meeting.
‘The Chinese side demands that the U.S. side seriously consider China’s stance, immediately adopt measures to wipe out the baneful impact and stop conniving and supporting anti-China separatist forces that seek Tibet independence,’ said the statement, posted on the ministry’s official website.
There was no welcome fanfare yesterday and Mr Obama made no public comments, only issuing a brief statement through his spokesman. The White House banned reporters and TV cameras, distributing a single photo of the two leaders.
Meetings between the Dalai Lama and U.S. presidents became standard fare under former President George H.W. Bush nearly 20 years ago. But the choreography is always delicate and closely watched because of China’s sensitivities.
The meeting came at a time when U.S.-Chinese relations are particularly raw, with China suspending military-to-military exchanges and warning of further retaliation over the Obama administration’s approval of a multi-billion-dollar arms sale to Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that Beijing claims as its own.
Disputes over trade, exchange rates, and human rights have also ratcheted up tensions, although Beijing has recently signaled it wants to avoid a major crisis.
In one of the clearest such indications, Beijing allowed five American warships to dock for a port call in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong on Wednesday. China has in past cancelled such visits to indicate its displeasure with U.S. actions.
Jin Canrong, of the School of International Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University, said China might respond to the visit by calling off some bilateral contacts and retracting cooperation with Washington on international issues.
However, Jin said he saw the Tibet issue declining in significance against the overall need for Beijing and Washington to work together on a range of economic and political issues.
Among other exchanges, Chinese President Hu Jintao is expected to visit the U.S. this year, and the sides are due soon to hold another round of their high-level Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
‘I tend to see the importance of this bilateral tie will keep rising and the necessity for further cooperation will be increased,’ Jin said.
Further limiting its impact, the visit came during China’s national Lunar New Year holiday, when government offices are closed and media coverage reduced. Neither the White House or the Dalai Lama, who is giving a series of lectures in the U.S., said whether the meeting’s timing was deliberate.
After the White House meeting, the Dalai Lama chided Beijing for taking a ‘childish’ and ‘limited’ approach to Tibet’s quest for greater autonomy and said Mr Obama had been ‘very much supportive’ of his views on human rights and the concerns of the Tibetan people.
His envoy, Lodi Gyari, said Tibetans feeling marginalized by China would get encouragement from the session.
The 75-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner denies China’s accusations of separatism, saying he wants only for Tibetans to have a greater say over their affairs while remaining under Chinese rule.
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 and has since led a self-declared government-in-exile in India.
China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries and sent communist forces to occupy the Himalayan region in 1950. Many Tibetans say they were functionally independent for most of their history and accuse China of undermining Tibet’s unique Buddhist culture and flooding the region with Chinese migrants.
Sporadic contacts between the Dalai Lama’s envoys and Chinese officials were renewed last month after a break of more than a year. No breakthroughs were announced and China has made no firm indications of offering concessions to the Tibetan side.