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The 14th Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibet. He is still widely regarded as one of the nation-in-exile's political leaders as well, despite having stepped down from an official role in 2011.

The Dalai Lama is the Bodhisattva of Compassion. In the Buddhist religion, a bodhisattva is an enlightened being who has chosen to postpone nirvana in order to serve humanity. Like almost all living things in Buddhist theology, bodhisattvas are reincarnated after their deaths.

A political and religious controversy surrounds the next Dalai Lama. In 1950, China invaded Tibet. The Dalai Lama, along with thousands of refugees, fled in 1959. Tibet remains a part of China today, although the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders have continually appealed to the United Nations, China, and other countries for the establishment of a more independent region.

China, officially atheist, has enacted laws requiring all reincarnations of senior lamas (spiritual leaders) be approved by the government. Chinese leaders insist the next Dalai Lama will be born in China (Tibet).

The current Dalai Lama, however, has said that his successor may be found outside Tibet: "If the present situation regarding Tibet remains the same, I will be born outside Tibet, away from the control of the Chinese authorities."

Recognizing the democratic, secular power of Tibet's government-in-exile, the Dalai Lama has even questioned the future of the position: "Personally, I feel the institution of the Dalai Lama has served its purpose."

  • "I always consider myself a simple Buddhist monk."
    14th Dalai Lama
  • "Tibet's independent forces and the Dalai group did not criticize [the suicides enacted to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet] . . . As we know, such splittist activities at the cost of human lives is violence and terrorism in disguise."
    Jiang Yu, spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry
  • "I am not seeking separation from China. I am committed to my middle-way approach, whereby Tibet remains with the People's Republic of China, enjoying a high degree of self-rule or autonomy."
    14th Dalai Lama
  • "We oppose the underhanded visits of the Dalai Lama [to the U.S.], which he uses to engage in activities to split the motherland."
    Hong Lei, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry
  • "If the Tibetan situation still remains unsolved, it is logical I will be born in exile, to continue my unfinished business."
    14th Dalai Lama
  • "The title of Dalai Lama is conferred by the [Chinese] central government, and is otherwise illegal."
    Hong Lei, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry
atheist
adjective, noun

person or organization that does not believe in any gods or spiritual beings.

bodhisattva
Noun

in the Buddhist religion, a person who has achieved the highest spiritual enlightenment, but who postpones nirvana in order to help others.

Buddhist
Noun

person who follows the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha).

compassionate
Adjective

having to do with sympathy and a desire to help others.

controversy
Noun

disagreement or debate.

Dalai Lama
Noun

leader of Tibet.

deity
Noun

very holy or spiritual being.

democratic
Adjective

having to do with a government led by its citizens, who vote for policies and/or representatives.

exile
Noun

forced ejection from a country, or a person who feels forced to leave.

government
Noun

system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

invade
Verb

to enter and attack.

nirvana
Noun

in the Buddhist religion, an end to personal reincarnations, achieved by the highest enlightenment and freedom from personal passion, hatred, and delusion.

Noun

person who flees their home, usually due to natural disaster or political upheaval.

reincarnate
Verb

to be born again in a new body.

religion
Noun

a system of spiritual or supernatural belief.

secular
Adjective

not having to do with religion or spirituality.

theology
Noun

study of religion, faith, and spirituality.

United Nations
Noun

international organization that works for peace, security and cooperation.