His Holiness the Dalai Lama was born on 6 July 1935 to a Tibetan farming family in the small village of Taktser, located in the province of Amdo. He was named Lhamo Thondup, which literally means ‘Wish-Fulfilling Goddess’. Taktser (Roaring Tiger) was a small village that stood on a hill overlooking a broad valley. Its pastures had not been settled or farmed for long, only grazed by nomads. The reason for this was the unpredictability of the weather in that area. His Holiness writes in his autobiography, “During my early childhood, my family was one of twenty or so making a precarious living from the land there”.
His Holiness’s parents were small farmers who mostly grew barley, buckwheat and potatoes.
His father was a man of medium height with a very quick temper. “I remember pulling at his moustache once and being hit hard for my trouble”, recalls His Holiness. “Yet he was a kind man too and he never bore grudges”. His Holiness recalls his mother as undoubtedly one of the kindest people he has ever known. She gave birth to sixteen children, of whom seven survived.
His Holiness had two sisters and four brothers. Tsering Dolma, the eldest child, was eighteen years older than His Holiness. At the time of His Holiness’s birth she helped his mother run the house and acted as the midwife. “When she delivered me, she noticed that one of my eyes was not properly open. Without hesitation she put her thumb on the reluctant lid and forced it wide fortunately without any ill effect”, narrates His Holiness. He had three elder brothers: Thubten Jigme Norbu – the eldest, who was recognized as the reincarnation of a high lama, Taktser Rinpoche – Gyalo Thondup and Lobsang Samden. The youngest brother, Tenzin Choegyal was also recognized as the reincarnation of another high lama, Ngari Rinpoche.
“Of course, no one had any idea that I might be anything other than an ordinary baby. It was almost unthinkable that more than one tulku (reincarnate lama) could be born into the same family and certainly my parents had no idea that I would be proclaimed Dalai Lama”, His Holiness writes. Although His Holiness’s father’s remarkable recovery from critical illness at the time of His Holiness’s birth was auspicious, it was not taken to be of great significance. “I myself likewise had no particular intimation of what lay ahead. My earliest memories were very ordinary.” His Holiness recollects, among his earliest memories, observing a group of children fighting and running to join the weaker side.
“One thing that I remember enjoying particularly as a very young boy was going into the chicken coop to collect the eggs with my mother and then staying behind. I liked to sit in the hens’ nest and make clucking noises. Another favourite occupation of mine as an infant was to pack things in a bag as if I was about to go on a long journey. I’m going to Lhasa, I’m going to Lhasa, I would say. This, coupled with my insistence that I be allowed always to sit at the head of the table, was later said to be an indication that I must have known that I was destined for greater things”.
Discovery as Dalai Lama
When Lhamo Thondup was two years old, a search party that had been sent out by the Tibetan government to find the new incarnation of the Dalai Lama arrived at Kumbum monastery. It had been led there by a number of signs. One of these concerned the embalmed body of his predecessor, Thupten Gyatso, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who had died aged fifty-seven in 1933. During the mummification process, the head was discovered to have turned from facing south to the northeast. Shortly after that the Regent, himself a senior lama, had a vision. Looking into the waters of the sacred lake, Lhamo Lhatso, in southern Tibet, he clearly saw the Tibetan letters Ah, Ka and Ma float into view. These were followed by the image of a three-storied monastery with a turquoise and gold roof and a path running from it to a hill. Finally, he saw a small house with strangely shaped guttering. He was sure that the letter Ah referred to Amdo, the northeastern province, so it was there that the search party was sent.