The 3rd Dalai Lama

By Christian Schmid

1543_____Sönam Gyatso, the 3rd Dalai Lama, is born in the province of Ü. At his birth he shines like a jewel; countless rainbows appear in the sky, dropping a rain of blossoms. As a small child he adopts the posture of meditation and recounts episodes from the life of the 2nd Dalai Lama. When emissaries come from Drepung Monastery, the boy discourses with them about the thorniest issues in Buddhist teaching. Sönam enters the monastic life, takes his place on the lion throne and continues the peacemaking work of his predecessor: he is particularly successful in his reconciliation of the two major streams of Tibetan Buddhism, the Nyingmapa and the Gelugpa, and he is among the first to define politics as an element in Buddhist philosophy.

1576_____Sönam Gyatso is invited to Mongolia to help with the spread of Buddhism there too and he embarks on the 1500-kilometre voyage. Prince Altan Khan is impressed by his guest’s wisdom and bestows upon him the title “Talai”, a Mongolian word meaning “ocean” as well as “wisdom”. Sönam Gyatso accepts the title and immediately advocates its posthumous granting to his two predecessors, which occurs two years later. This constitutes the definitive foundation of the line of the Dalai Lama.

1588_____The 3rd Dalai Lama dies at the age of 45. With his talents as a mediator and a builder, Sönam Gyatso also enters Tibetan history as a decisive influence and lends the institution of the Dalai Lama further significance.