The Dalai Lama is the highest ranking monk of the Gelug or school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Gelug school is the newest among the different sectors of thought within Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is the equivalent to the Pope for Catholics. The current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso and he is the 14th Dalai Lama in history.
The first Dalai Lama was Pema Dorje, back in the year 1391, born in Shabtod, Tsang to a humble family. His parents were nomad herders living in tents who raised sheep and goats. Following the death of his father, a 7 year old Pema Dorje was adopted by his uncle, a monk who lived in monastery close to the city of Shigatse, in Tibet. This marked Pema Dorje’s start as a Buddhist monk.
According to tradition and religious beliefs, the Dalai Lama is thought to be a direct successor of a long line or dystany of tulkus. Tulkus are the guardians of a set of teachings that are applied to Tibetan Buddhism. The word dalai itself means “ocean” in the Mongolic language. The word lama is related to the Tibetan word blama, which means teacher or mentor. In Sanskrit, the word “lama” means “guru”.
The political as well religious history of Dalai Lamas between the years 1642 and the decade of the 1950s is vast and rich. In fact, the Dalai Lamas were monarchs of sorts in that period of time, and were in charge of the Tibetan government. In spite of this, some of the provinces in the Tibet kept their autonomy and sovereignty. The government of the Dalai Lama was protected by Mongol kings and emperors of various dynasties roughly between the years 1640 and 1910. After that, the Tibet started suffering many persecutions and violations on the part of the Chinese government, which still continue to this day.