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This Day in History: The Dalai Lama Escapes China, 1959

Dalai Lama Research Topic

Dalai Lama Research Topic via ProQuest eLibrary

Fifty-six years ago, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, fled his homeland during an uprising against Chinese control of the country. Traveling mostly at night, he and his party made an arduous 15-day journey across the Himalayas and on March 31, 1959 entered India, where he was granted asylum.

Born in 1935, Tenzin Gyatso was identified at a very young age to be the reincarnation of his predecessor, was trained in the teachings of Buddhism, and at age 15 was formally recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama in 1950. Not only had he become a holy leader but also the political leader of a people under threat from a Chinese government that was intent upon pressing its authority. While an agreement with the Chinese allowing for joint administrative control over the country had been reached in 1954, the bloody conflict of the Tibetan uprising caused him to fear for his safety and, aided by the CIA, he made his trek to India. There, he set up the Tibetan Government in Exile, which has pushed for the rights of his countrymen ever since, though it does not promote Tibetan independence. The Dalai Lama has traveled the world to promote peace, human rights and interfaith dialogue, and in 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The situation with China remains a difficult one, and in recent years the Dalai Lama, who retired as head of the government in 2011, has talked about the future of Tibet following his eventual death. His suggestion that he might not be reincarnated has led to even further friction with the Chinese government, which has said it might select the next leader itself. Whatever the outcome, the 14th Dalai Lama will go down in history as one of the most well-known and influential spiritual leaders of modern times.