When Lhamo Thondup was born on July 6, 1935, in the Tibetan province of Amdo, his family had no idea how important their fifth child was to become. It was not until nearly three years later that his true destiny, as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, was revealed.
The toddler was already set apart by his prominent ears and "tiger striped" markings on his legs special signs sought by a commission dispatched by the Tibetan government to find the new Lama. He also picked out, from a jumble of ordinary objects, a pair of spectacles, a pen and an eating bowl which belonged to his predecessor, who had died two years earlier.
Convinced he was the child they had been searching for, in 1939 the commission moved Lhamo to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. He immediately confirmed their decision by spontaneously locating where the previous Dalai Lama had kept his false teeth. The following year, Lhamo was installed as the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama's early life
His head was shaved and he donned the traditional maroon robes of a Buddhist monk, beginning his education in earnest. He was 15 years old, and had just assumed full political power when, in October 1950, the People's Liberation Army of China invaded Tibet. In 1959, the Tibetan people attempted an unsuccessful uprising against the Chinese forces, and after an oracle advised he flee the country, the Dalai Lama crossed the border into India with his family and 100,000 followers.
He and his government remain in exile in the Indian border town of Dharamsala today. Opposed to violence, the Dalai Lama has made numerous efforts to negotiate with the Chinese in the 50 years since they invaded his country. "I've made every concession. No response," he has said. "The Chinese have increased their ruthlessness. So every gesture from our side has failed. If they think they can be a bully and make the Dalai Lama bow down, I want them to know that's a mistake."
The Dalai Lama now
In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his determination to find a peaceful solution to the situation. In the past 20 years, Buddhism and its ideals have become increasingly popular in the West, and the Dalai Lama has become something of celebrity in his own right as film stars, musicians and high-profile public figures have lent their support to the Tibetan cause.
He enjoys a close relationship with Unfaithful star Richard Gere and has granted audiences to such diverse figures as Sarah Ferguson and Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch. While continuing the struggle for the liberation of his homeland, the Dalai Lama's approach to life remains unchanged: "We are born in compassion and must live and die in compassion," he says. If only the rest of the world felt the same.