The 1st Dalai Lama

By Christian Schmidt

1391_____Gedün Drub, posthumously known as the 1st Dalai Lama, is born in the province of Tsang. His special calling is revealed on the very next night, when thieves enter the family hut and his mother hides the baby in a cave. She returns the next day to find jackals and vultures assembled before the cave, kept at bay by a large raven. Prophets determine that the raven is an avatar of the Buddha of Compassion. The boy remains with his parents until the age of seven, tending the sheep and goats, before entering the Narthang Monastery and taking on the name “Consummator of Spirituality”. It soon becomes clear just how intelligent and talented he is. Some 60 teachers make of him one of the most highly educated people of his time. Entirely devoted to love and compassion, Gedün Drub possesses superior analytical ability and is a brilliant rhetorician. Mahathma Gedün Drub (“Great Soul” Gedün Drub) initiates a decisive power shift in Tibet: the ensuing centuries see secular rulers increasingly waning in influence, the monks proving their betters in both knowledge and ability.

1475_____ Gedün Drub dies at the age of 84. Nature falls completely still for 13 days following his death. Even the trees hang down their leaves. His ashes are mixed with clay and used to create a statue of Buddha.

Gedün Gyatso, the 2nd Dalai Lama, is born in the year of his predecessor’s death. His birth is attended by marvellous portents: upon his conception his mother sees golden scrolls coming together to form a crown before melting within her. The newborn baby glows brightly, like a rock crystal. Scarcely emerged from the womb, he is already folding his hands in prayer, turning his face toward Tashilhünpo Monastery, and murmuring the words of the Tara mantra. As soon as he can speak he tells his father that he has been reincarnated.

When the abbot of the monastery hears of this, he invites the parents to bring him their child. Upon arrival the boy greets the monks, whom he has never seen before, by name. The monastery is also his first school: here he submits to the traditional haircutting ceremony, becomes a novice and receives a new name. For the first time a Dalai Lama is given the name “Gyatso”, or “ocean”. At the age of 16, Gedün Gyatso can learn a hundred lines of text in the time it takes another to drink a cup of tea.