The Dalai Lamas - supreme heads of Tibetan Buddhism and also the secular rulers of Tibet before the Chinese invasion - as well as some other important leaders of the religion (such as the Panchen Lamas), are all considered to be reincarnations of preceding lamas, and ultimately of the Buddha.
When a high lama dies, monks begin to search for his successor, a young boy born shortly after the death. When discovered the boy is taken to the former lama's monastery and raised there by the monks, who train him to the high office for which he was born, although he does not lose contact with his birth family.
The present Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th incarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Buddha of Compassion. He was born Lhamo Dhondrub in 1935, one of 16 children, discovered when he was two years old, and made spiritual and secular ruler of Tibet in 1950. Since 1959, following the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his government have been in exile in India; he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
In some ways these boy monks are like the oblates of Christianity and Judaism, dedicated to the service of God.
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