13th Dalai Lama

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Thubten Gyatso
13th Dalai Lama
Reign 31 July 1879 – 17 December 1933
Predecessor Trinley Gyatso
Successor Tenzin Gyatso
Tibetan ཐུབ་བསྟན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་
Wylie thub bstan rgya mtsho
Pronunciation [tʰuptɛ̃ catsʰɔ]
Tubdain Gyaco
THDL Thubten Gyatso
Chinese 土登嘉措
Pinyin Tudeng Jiācuò
Born (1876-02-12)12 February 1876
Thakpo Langdun, Ü-Tsang, Tibet
Died 17 December 1933(1933-12-17) (aged 57)
Lhasa, Tibet

Thubten Gyatso (Tibetan: ཐུབ་བསྟན་རྒྱ་མཚོ་Wylie: Thub Bstan Rgya Mtsho; 12 February 1876 – 17 December 1933) was the 13th Dalai Lama of Tibet.[1]

In 1878 he was recognized as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. He was escorted to Lhasa and given his pre-novice vows by the Panchen Lama, Tenpai Wangchuk, and named "Ngawang Lobsang Thupten Gyatso Jigdral Chokley Namgyal". In 1879 he was enthroned at the Potala Palace, but did not assume political power until 1895,[2] after he had reached his maturity.

Thubten Gyatso was an intelligent reformer who proved himself a skillful politician when Tibet became a pawn in The Great Game between the Russian Empire and the British Empire. He was responsible for countering the British expedition to Tibet, restoring discipline in monastic life, and increasing the number of lay officials to avoid excessive power being placed in the hands of the monks.


The 13th Dalai Lama was born in the village of Thakpo Langdun, one day by car, south-east from Lhasa,[3] and near Sam-ye Monastery, Tak-po province, in June, 1876[4] to parents Kunga Rinchen and Lobsang Dolma, a peasant couple.[5] Laird gives his birthdate as 27 May 1876,[3] and Mullin gives it as 'dawn on the 5th month of the Fire Mouse Year (1876).'[6]

Contact with Agvan Dorzhiev[edit]

Retreat of the 13th Dalai Lama, Nechung, Tibet

Agvan Dorzhiev, (1854–1938), a Khori-Buryat Mongol, and a Russian subject, was born in the village of Khara-Shibir, not far from Ulan Ude, to the east of Lake Baikal.[7] He left home in 1873 at 19 to study at the Gelugpa monastery, Drepung, near Lhasa, the largest monastery in Tibet. Having successfully completed the traditional course of religious studies, he began the academic Buddhist degree of Geshey Lharampa (the highest level of 'Doctorate of Buddhist Philosophy').[8] He continued his studies to become Tsanid-Hambo, or "Master of Buddhist Philosophy".[9] He became a tutor and "debating partner" of the teenage Dalai Lama, who became very friendly with him and later used him as an envoy to Russia and other countries.[10]

C.G.E. Mannerheim met Thubten Gyatso in Utaishan during the course of his expedition from Turkestan to Peking. Mannerheim wrote his diary and notes in Swedish to conceal the fact that his ethnographic and scientific party was also an elaborate intelligence gathering mission for the Russian army. The 13th Dalai Lama gave a blessing of white silk for the Russian Tsar and in return received Mannerheim's precious seven-shot officer's pistol with a full explanation of its use, as a gift.[11]

"Obviously," the 14th Dalai Lama said, "The 13th Dalai Lama had a keen desire to establish relations with Russia, and I also think he was a little skeptical toward England at first. Then there was Dorjiev. To the English he was a spy, but in reality he was a good scholar and a sincere Buddhist monk who had great devotion to the 13th Dalai Lama."[12]

Military expeditions in Tibet[edit]

The 13th Dalai Lama in 1910 in Darjeeling, India

After the British expedition to Tibet by Sir Francis Younghusband in early 1904, Dorzhiev convinced the Dalai Lama to flee to Urga in Mongolia, almost 2,400 km (1,500 mi) to the northeast of Lhasa, a journey which took four months. The Dalai Lama spent over a year in Urga and the Wang Khuree Monastery (to the west from the capital) giving teachings to the Mongolians. In Urga, the Dalai Lama met several times the 8th Bogd Gegeen Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, spiritual leader of Outer Mongolia. The content of these meetings is unknown. According to report from A.D. Khitrovo, the Russian Border Commissioner in Kyakhta Town, the Dalai Lama and the influential Mongol Khutuktus, high lamas and princes "irrevocably decided to secede from China as an independent federal state, carrying out this operation under the patronage and support from Russia, taking care to avoid the bloodshed".[13] The Dalai Lama insisted that if Russia would not help, he would even ask Britain, his former foe, for assistance.

After the Dalai Lama fled, the Qing dynasty immediately proclaimed him deposed and again asserted sovereignty over Tibet, making claims over Nepal and Bhutan as well.[14] The Treaty of Lhasa was signed at the Potala between Great Britain and Tibet in the presence of the Amban and Nepalese and Bhutanese representatives on 7 September 1904.[15] The provisions of the 1904 treaty were confirmed in a 1906 treaty[16] signed between Great Britain and China. The British, for a fee from the Qing court, also agreed "not to annex Tibetan territory or to interfere in the administration of Tibet", while China engaged "not to permit any other foreign state to interfere with the territory or internal administration of Tibet".[16][17]

In October 1906, John Weston Brooke was the first Englishman to gain an audience with the Dalai Lama, and subsequently he was granted permission to lead two expeditions into Tibet.[18] Also in 1906, Sir Charles Alfred Bell, was invited to visit Thubten Chökyi Nyima, the 9th Panchen Lama at Tashilhunpo, where they had friendly discussions on the political situation.[19]

The Dalai Lama later stayed at the great Kumbum Monastery near Xining and then travelled east to the most sacred of four Buddhist mountain in China, Wutai Shan located 300 km from Beijing. From here, the Dalai Lama received a parade of envoys: William Woodville Rockhill, the American Minister in Peking; Gustaf Mannerheim, a Russian army colonel (who later became the president of independent Finland); a German doctor from the Peking Legation; an English explorer named Christopher Irving; R.F. Johnson, a British diplomat from the Colonial Service; and Henri D’Ollone, the French army major and viscount.[20] The Dalai Lama was mounting a campaign to strengthen his international ties and free his kingdom from Chinese rule. Worried about his safety, Mannerheim even gave Tibet's spiritual pontiff a Browning revolver and showed him how to reload the weapon.[21]

In September 1908, the Dalai Lama was granted an audience with the Guangxu Emperor and Empress Dowager Cixi. The emperor tried to stress Tibet's subservient role, although the Dalai Lama refused to kowtow to him.[22] He stayed in Beijing until the end of 1908.[14]

When he returned to Tibet in December 1908, he began reorganising the government, but the Qing sent a military expedition of its own to Tibet in 1910 and he had to flee to India.[23][24]

In 1911 the Qing dynasty was overthrown in the Xinhai Revolution and by the end of 1912 the last Qing troops had been escorted out of Tibet.

Assumption of political power[edit]

In 1895, Thubten Gyatso assumed ruling power from the monasteries which had previously wielded great influence through the Regent. Due to his two periods of exile in 1904–1909, to escape the British invasion of 1904, and from 1910–1913 to escape a Chinese invasion, he became well aware of the complexities of international politics and was the first Dalai Lama to become aware of the importance of foreign relations. The Dalai Lama, "accompanied by six ministers and a small escort" which included his close aide, diplomat and military figure Tsarong Dzasa, fled via Jelep La[25] to Sikkim and Darjeeling, where they stayed almost two years. During this period he was invited to Calcutta by the Viceroy, Lord Minto, which helped restore relations with the British.[26]

Thubten Gyatso returned to Lhasa in January 1913 with Tsarong Dzasa from Darjeeling, where he had been living in exile. The new Chinese government apologised for the actions of the previous Qing dynasty and offered to restore the Dalai Lama to his former position. He replied that he was not interested in Chinese ranks and was assuming spiritual and political leadership of Tibet.[27]

After his return from exile in India in 1913, Thubten Gyatso assumed control of foreign relations and dealt directly with the Maharaja and the British Political officer in Sikkim and the king of Nepal rather than letting the Kashag or parliament do it.[28]

Thubten Gyatso declared independence from China in early 1913 (13 February), after returning from India following three years of exile. He then standardized the Tibetan flag in its present form.[29] At the end of 1912 the first postage stamps of Tibet and the first bank notes were issued.

Thubten Gyatso built a new medical college (Mentsikang) in 1913 on the site of the post-revolutionary traditional hospital near the Jokhang.[30]

Legislation was introduced to counter corruption among officials, a national taxation system was established and enforced, and a police force was created. The penal system was revised and made uniform throughout the country. "Capital punishment was completely abolished and corporal punishment was reduced. Living conditions in jails were also improved, and officials were designated to see that these conditions and rules were maintained."[31][32]

A secular education system was introduced in addition to the religious education system. Thubten Gyatso sent four promising students to England to study, and welcomed foreigners, including Japanese, British and Americans.[31]

As a result of his travels and contacts with foreign powers and their representatives (e.g., Pyotr Kozlov, Charles Alfred Bell and Gustaf Mannerheim), the Dalai Lama showed an interest in world affairs and introduced electricity, the telephone and the first motor cars[citation needed] to Tibet. Nonetheless, at the end of his life in 1933, he saw that Tibet was about to enter a dark age.

In 1932, the Muslim Qinghai and Han-Chinese Sichuan armies of the National Revolutionary Army led by Chinese Muslim General Ma Bufang and Han General Liu Wenhui defeated the Tibetan army in the Sino-Tibetan War when the 13th Dalai Lama tried to seize territory in Qinghai and Xikang. Ma Bufang overran the Tibetan armies and recaptured several counties in Xikang province. Shiqu, Dengke, and other counties were seized from the Tibetans.[33][34][35] The Tibetans were pushed back to the other side of the Jinsha river.[36][37] Ma and Liu warned Tibetan officials not to dare cross the Jinsha river again.[38] Ma Bufang defeated the Tibetans at Dan Chokorgon. Several Tibetan generals surrendered, and were demoted by the Dalai Lama.[39] By August, the Tibetans lost so much land to Liu Wenhui and Ma Bufang's forces that the Dalai Lama telegraphed the British government of India for assistance. British pressure led to Nanjing declaring a ceasefire.[40] Separate truces were signed by Ma and Liu with the Tibetans in 1933, ending the fighting.[41][42][43]

Prophesies and death[edit]

The 13th Dalai Lama predicted before dying:

"Very soon in this land (with a harmonious blend of religion and politics) deceptive acts may occur from without and within. At that time, if we do not dare to protect our territory, our spiritual personalities including the Victorious Father and Son (Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama) may be exterminated without trace, the property and authority of our Lakangs (residences of reincarnated lamas) and monks may be taken away. Moreover, our political system, developed by the Three Great Dharma Kings (Tri Songtsen Gampo, Tri Songdetsen and Tri Ralpachen) will vanish without anything remaining. The property of all people, high and low, will be seized and the people forced to become slaves. All living beings will have to endure endless days of suffering and will be stricken with fear. Such a time will come."[44]


  • Some text used with permission from www.simhas.org. The author of this text has requested that there appear a direct link to the website from which the information is taken.


  1. ^ Sheel, R. N. Rahul. "The Institution of the Dalai Lama". The Tibet Journal, Dharamsala, India. Vol. XIV No. 3. Autumn 1989, p. 28. ISSN 0970-5368
  2. ^ "His Holiness the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso". Namgyal Monastery. Archived from the original on 21 October 2009. Retrieved 10 October 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Laird 2007, p.211
  4. ^ Bell (1946); p. 40-42
  5. ^ http://www.dalailama.com/biography/the-dalai-lamas#13
  6. ^ Mullin 1988, p.23
  7. ^ Red Star Travel Guide.
  8. ^ Chö-Yang: The Voice of Tibetan Religion and Culture. Year of Tibet Edition, p. 80. 1991. Gangchen Kyishong, Dharamsala, H.P., India.
  9. ^ Ostrovskaya-Junior, Elena A. Buddhism in Saint Petersburg.
  10. ^ French, Patrick. Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer, p. 186. (1994). Reprint: Flamingo, London. ISBN 978-0-00-637601-9.
  11. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Baron Carl Gustav (Emil) Mannerheim". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. 
  12. ^ Laird, Thomas (2006). The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama, p. 221. Grove Press, N.Y. ISBN 978-0-8021-1827-1.
  13. ^ Kuzmin, S.L. Hidden Tibet: History of Independence and Occupation. St. Pteresburg: Narthang, 2010, online version at http://savetibet.ru/2010/03/10/manjuria_2.html
  14. ^ a b Chapman, F. Spencer (1940). Lhasa: The Holy City, p. 137. Readers Union, London. OCLC 10266665
  15. ^ Richardson, Hugh E.: Tibet & its History, Shambala, Boulder and London, 1984, p.268-270. The full English version of the convention is reproduced by Richardson.
  16. ^ a b "Convention Between Great Britain and China Respecting Tibet (1906)". Archived from the original on 10 August 2009. Retrieved 8 August 2009. 
  17. ^ Bell, Charles (1924) Tibet: Past and Present. Oxford: Clarendon Press; p. 288.
  18. ^ Fergusson, W.N.; Brooke, John W. (1911). Adventure, Sport and Travel on the Tibetan Steppes, preface. Scribner, New York, OCLC 6977261
  19. ^ Chapman (1940), p. 141.
  20. ^ Tamm, Eric Enno. "The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China." Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010, pp. 364. See http://horsethatleaps.com
  21. ^ Tamm, Eric Enno. "The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China." Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010, p. 368. See http://horsethatleaps.com
  22. ^ Tamm, Eric Enno. "The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China." Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010, pp. 367. See http://horsethatleaps.com
  23. ^ Chapman (1940), p. 133.
  24. ^ French, Patrick. Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer, p. 258. (1994). Reprint: Flamingo, London. ISBN 978-0-00-637601-9.
  25. ^ The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thupten Gyatso, dalailama.com
  26. ^ Chapman (1940).
  27. ^ Mayhew, Bradley and Michael Kohn. (2005). Tibet, p. 32. Lonely Planet Publications. ISBN 1-74059-523-8.
  28. ^ Sheel, R. N. Rahul. "The Institution of the Dalai Lama". The Tibet Journal, Vol. XIV No. 3. Autumn 1989, pp. 24 and 29.
  29. ^ Sheel, p. 20.
  30. ^ Dowman, Keith. (1988). The Power-Places of Central Tibet: The Pilgrim's Guide, p. 49. Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., London. ISBN 0-7102-1370-0.
  31. ^ a b Norbu, Thubten Jigme and Turnbull, Colin M. (1968). Tibet: An account of the history, the religion and the people of Tibet. Reprint: Touchstone Books. New York. ISBN 0-671-20559-5, pp. 317–318.
  32. ^ Laird (2006), p. 244.
  33. ^ Jiawei Wang, Nimajianzan (1997). The historical status of China's Tibet. 五洲传播出版社. p. 150. ISBN 7-80113-304-8. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  34. ^ Hanzhang Ya, Ya Hanzhang (1991). The biographies of the Dalai Lamas. Foreign Languages Press. p. 442. ISBN 0-8351-2266-2. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  35. ^ B. R. Deepak (2005). India & China, 1904–2004: a century of peace and conflict. Manak Publications. p. 82. ISBN 81-7827-112-5. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  36. ^ International Association for Tibetan Studies. Seminar, Lawrence Epstein (2002). Khams pa histories: visions of people, place and authority : PIATS 2000, Tibetan studies, proceedings of the 9th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, Leiden 2000. BRILL. p. 66. ISBN 90-04-12423-3. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  37. ^ Gray Tuttle (2005). Tibetan Buddhists in the making of modern China. Columbia University Press. p. 172. ISBN 0-231-13446-0. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  38. ^ Xiaoyuan Liu (2004). Frontier passages: ethnopolitics and the rise of Chinese communism, 1921–1945. Stanford University Press. p. 89. ISBN 0-8047-4960-4. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  39. ^ K. Dhondup (1986). The water-bird and other years: a history of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and after. Rangwang Publishers. p. 60. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  40. ^ Richardson, Hugh E. (1984). Tibet and its History. 2nd Edition, pp. 134–136. Shambhala Publications, Boston. ISBN 0-87773-376-7 (pbk).
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  42. ^ Michael Gervers, Wayne Schlepp, Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies (1998). Historical themes and current change in Central and Inner Asia: papers presented at the Central and Inner Asian Seminar, University of Toronto, April 25–26, 1997, Volume 1997. Joint Centre for Asia Pacific Studies. p. 195. ISBN 1-895296-34-X. Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  43. ^ Wars and Conflicts Between Tibet and China
  44. ^ Rinpoche, Arjia (2010). Surviving the Dragon: A Tibetan Lama's Account of 40 Years under Chinese Rule. Rodale. p. vii. ISBN 9781605291628. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bell, Charles (1946) Portrait of a Dalai Lama: the Life and Times of the Great Thirteenth by Charles Alfred Bell, Sir Charles Bell, Publisher: Wisdom Publications (MA), January 1987, ISBN 978-0-86171-055-3 (first published as Portrait of the Dalai Lama: London: Collins, 1946).
  • Bell, Charles (1924) Tibet: Past and Present. Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • Bell, Charles (1931) The Religion of Tibet. Oxford: Clarendon Press
  • Gelek, Surkhang Wangchen. 1982. "Tibet: The Critical Years (Part 1) The Thirteenth Dalai Lama". The Tibet Journal. Vol. VII, No. 4. Winter 1982, pp. 11–19.
  • Goldstein, Melvyn C. A History of Modern Tibet, 1913–1951: the demise of the Lamaist state (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989) ISBN 978-0-520-07590-0
  • Laird, Thomas (2007). The Story of Tibet : Conversations with the Dalai Lama (paperback ed.). London: Atlantic. ISBN 978-1-84354-145-5. 
  • Mullin, Glenn H (1988). The Thirteenth Dalai Lama: Path of the Bodhisattva Warrior (paperback ed.). Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion. ISBN 0-937938-55-6. 
  • Mullin, Glenn H. (2001). The Fourteen Dalai Lamas: A Sacred Legacy of Reincarnation, pp. 376–451. Clear Light Publishers. Santa Fe, New Mexico. ISBN 1-57416-092-3.
  • Richardson, Hugh E.(1984): Tibet & its History. Boulder and London: Shambala. ISBN 0-87773-292-2.
  • Samten, Jampa. (2010). "Notes on the Thirteenth Dalai Lama's Confidential Letter to the Tsar of Russia." In: The Tibet Journal, Special issue. Autumn 2009 vol XXXIV n. 3-Summer 2010 vol XXXV n. 2. "The Earth Ox Papers", edited by Roberto Vitali, pp. 357–370.
  • Smith, Warren (1997):Tibetan Nation. New Delhi: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-8133-3155-2
  • Tamm, Eric Enno. "The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China." Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010, Chapter 17 & 18. ISBN 978-1-55365-269-4. See http://horsethatleaps.com
  • Tsering Shakya (1999): The Dragon in the Land of Snows. A History of Modern Tibet since 1947. London:Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6533-1
  • The Wonderful Rosary of Jewels. An official biography compiled for the Tibetan Government, completed in February 1940

External links[edit]

Buddhist titles
Preceded by
Trinley Gyatso
Dalai Lama
Recognized in 1878
Succeeded by
Tenzin Gyatso