Who is the Dalai Lama? 8 facts to celebrate his 80th birthday
This spiritual and social icon — His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama — travels worldwide to spread messages of peace and compassion.
1. Named Dalai Lama at age 2.
Born on July 6, 1935, as Lhamo Dhondup, he lived with a barley-, buckwheat- and potato-farming family in Tibet. Leaders identified him as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at age 2 and named him Tenzin Gyatso.
2. Entered the monastery at 6.
At age 6, he started studying the Buddhist philosophy as well as curriculum for his divine role. He learned 10 subjects, including Tibetan art and culture, medicine, monastic discipline canon, logic and metaphysics. He passed exams with honors at age 23, according to dalailama.com.
3. Fled Tibet after a Chinese invasion.
A Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949 brought the then-15 year old to assume full power over Tibetan leadership in 1950. He attempted peace talks with Chinese leaders but was forced to escape into exile from the country in 1959. The night he left his country for India, he disguised himself as a common soldier to move through crowds unnoticed.
4. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
He holds more than 150 notable awards around the world. These recognize his teachings on nonviolence and universal compassion. In 1989, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to help liberate Tibet.
5. Eats meat and loves cheese.
The Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian, he said in his autobiography Freedom in Exile, even though his chefs at his Dharamsala, India, home cook only vegetarian dishes. But, according to Buddhist tradition, if a non-Buddhist slaughters and butchers the animal, then he can eat the meat. He shared his favorite foods during a 2011 appearance on Australia's MasterChef competition: cheese, bread, tofu, desserts and coriander.
6. Helped bring democracy to Tibet.
His holiness retired in 2011 and signed a law allowing the Central Tibetan Administration to elect a democratic leader. This ended a 368-year tradition in which the Dalai Lamas held both spiritual and nonspiritual positions for Tibet. He still cannot return to his country, though.
7. Dabbles in engineering.
If he could choose another career, he would have studied engineering.
"I dismantled and reassembled my toys," he said in a 2014 speech at the University of British Columbia. "I worked with a Chinese monk to repair and maintain a movie projector that had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. This is how I learned the principles of electricity."
8. And he laughs — a lot.