The Dalai Lama title is attributed to the head monk of Gelug or Gelug-pa, also known as the Yellow Hat, one of the four principal Tibetan Buddhist school.
Gelug is the only school from Vajrayana Buddhism that prescribes monastic ordination as a necessary qualification and basis in its teachers.
According to dalailama.com:
“The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are believed to be enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth in order to serve humanity.”
“Dalai” means “ocean” in Mongolian (the name “Gyatso” comes from the Tibetan word for ocean). “Lama” is the equivalent of the Sanskrit word “guru,” or spiritual teacher.
Put together, the title of Dalai Lama is literally “Ocean Teacher,” meaning a “teacher spiritually as deep as the ocean.”
His Holiness was born Lhamo Thondup on July 6, 1935, in Taktser, Amdo in the northeastern part of Tibet (now China).
At the very young age of two, the child at that time was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, after he was renamed as Tenzin Gyatso.
He was formally enthroned as the spiritual leader of Tibet on 17 November 1950, at age 15.
In 1959, he escaped to India, from where he led a government in exile.
In 2001, His Holiness ceded his absolute power over the government to an elected parliament of selected Tibetan exiles.
On 14 March 2011, His Holiness sent a letter to the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies (Tibetan Parliament in exile) requesting them to devolve him of his temporal (political) power.
According to The Charter of the Tibetans in Exile, His Holiness was technically still considered to be the head of state.
On 29 May 2011, His Holiness signed into law the formal transfer of his temporal power to the democratically elected leader.
This brought to an end the 368-year old tradition of the Dalai Lamas being both spiritual and temporal head of Tibet.
His Holiness is a man of peace. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression.
He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.
The Committee’s citation stated:
“The Committee wants to emphasize the fact that the Dalai Lama in his struggle for the liberation of Tibet consistently has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people.”