Humble symbol of Tibetan freedom

by Rowan Callick, The Australian, June 9, 2007

Perth, Australia -- THE Dalai Lama was born Lhamo Dhondrub on July 6, 1935, in Taktser village in northeast Tibet, to a farming family.

At the age of two he was recognised as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama. Dalai lamas are viewed as manifestations of the Buddha, with the roles of teaching, serving and leading the Tibetan Buddhist community.

On February 22, 1940, at the age of four, he was enthroned in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

At 14 he assumed full political power, according to his official biography, becoming head of state and government.

The People's Liberation Army - which, under Mao Zedong, had installed Communist Party rule in China on October1, 1949 - soon moved in to take control of Tibet.

In 1954, the Dali Lama visited Beijing for talks with Mao and other Chinese leaders, including Premier Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.

On March 10, 1959, a demonstration in Lhasa triggered an uprising against Chinese rule. When it was put down by the PLA, the Dalai Lama fled with 80,000 followers to India, where he was granted political asylum in Dharamsala.

In 1967, he began to travel the world, spreading his Buddhist message and urging support in the Tibetan struggle for independence from China or, more recently, a high level of autonomy within China. He has visited 46 countries.

In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his "advocacy of peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people".

Leaders he has met include US President George W. Bush, former US president Bill Clinton, former US secretary of state Colin Powell, former US vice-president Al Gore, pope John Paul II, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Prince Charles, former French president Jacques Chirac and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner and incumbent East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta.

He visited the Czech Republic as a guest of then president Vaclav Havel.