The Dalai Lama is a monk of the Gelug or “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Je Tsongkhapa. The 14th and current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.
The Dalai Lama is considered to be the successor in a line of tulkus who are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, called Chenrezig in Tibetan. The name is a combination of the Mongolic word dalai meaning “ocean” (coming from Mongolian title Dalaiyin qan or Dalaiin khan, translated as ‘Gyatso’ in Tibetan) and the Tibetan word བླ་མ་ (bla-ma) meaning “guru, teacher, mentor”. The Tibetan word “lama” corresponds to the better known Sanskrit word “guru”.
From 1642 until the 1950s (except for 1705 to 1750), the Dalai Lamas or their regents headed the Tibetan government (or Ganden Phodrang) in Lhasa which governed all or most of the Tibetan plateau with varying degrees of autonomy, up to complete sovereignty. This government also enjoyed the patronage and protection of firstly Mongol kings of the Khoshut and Dzungar Khanates (1642–1720) and then of the emperors of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty (1720–1912).
Despite his humble beginnings, being born on a straw mat in a cowshed to a farmer’s family in a remote part of Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama had become the joint most popular world leader by 2013, according to a poll conducted by Harris Interactive of New York, which sampled public opinion in the USA and six major European countries.
The 14th Dalai Lama was not formally enthroned until 17 November 1950, during the Battle of Chamdo with the People’s Republic of China. In 1951, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government were pressured into accepting the Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet by which it became formally incorporated into the People’s Republic of China. Fearing for his life in the wake of a revolt in Tibet in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama fled to India, from where he led a government in exile.
The 14th Dalai Lama said as early as 1969 that it was for the Tibetans to decide whether the institution of the Dalai Lama “should continue or not”. He has given reference to a possible vote occurring in the future for all Tibetan Buddhists to decide whether they wish to recognize his rebirth. In response to the possibility that the PRC might attempt to choose his successor, the Dalai Lama said he would not be reborn in a country controlled by the People’s Republic of China or any other country which is not free. According to Robert D. Kaplan, this could mean that “the next Dalai Lama might come from the Tibetan cultural belt that stretches across northern India, Nepal, and Bhutan, presumably making him even more pro-Indian and anti-Chinese”.
The 14th Dalai Lama supported the possibility that his next incarnation could be a woman. As an “engaged Buddhist” the Dalai Lama has an appeal straddling cultures and political systems making him one of the most recognized and respected moral voices today. “Despite the complex historical, religious and political factors surrounding the selection of incarnate masters in the exiled Tibetan tradition, the Dalai Lama is open to change,” author Michaela Haas writes. “Why not? What’s the big deal?”
Abstract from Wikimedia