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Low-key Celebrations amid Pandemic Caution as the Dalai Lama Turns 85

His Holiness the Dalai Lama marked his 85th birthday on Monday amid low-key celebrations and observations around the world. In a short online video message from his residence in Dharamsala, northern India, the Tibetan spiritual leader suggested that those who wish to celebrate his birthday could do so by reciting the mantra of Avalokiteshvara 1,000 times.

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan community, and Buddhists around the globe participated in virtual celebrations which mark the “Year of Gratitude”—12 months of worldwide commemorative events that have been planned to mark the auspicious occasion of His Holiness’ birthday.*

In his video address, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate reminded followers that elaborate celebrations with large numbers of participants  are not possible because of pandemic restrictions, noting: “And it is not necessary either. However, if you want to celebrate my birthday, I’d like to ask you to recite the Mani mantra (Om Mani Padme Hung), at least a thousand times. The reason for my asking this is that we Tibetans have a unique connection with Avalokiteshvara.”

After we came into exile in India, and after I settled here in Dharamsala, the statue of Chenrezig Wati Sangpo was brought to me here from western Tibet. When the monks of the Dzongkar Chode Monastery were moving from Dharamsala to southern India I did dough-ball divination on whether the statue should go with them or remain here with me. The result indicated that Wati Sangpo preferred to stay here with me—so I serve as his caretaker. 

There is something special about this Wati Sangpo such that I sometimes feel he smiles at me. Since the altruistic awakening mind of bodhichitta is my principal practice, Wati Sangpo is like my refuge, protector, and guardian. Therefore, as I often say, Avalokiteshvara is my boss and I am his messenger

So if you wish to celebrate my birthday, if you want to get together to celebrate, which may not be so bad, you needn’t be extravagant about it. However, on this day, remember Avalokiteshvara and recall that he is the one on whom I, Gyalwa Rinpoche, rely, and in whom I seek refuge. 

In terms of pure vision, Avalokiteshvara is someone who I have been connected with over successive lifetimes. Therefore, on my birthday, either visualize me, Gyalwa Rinpoche, as inseparable from Avalokiteshvara, or visualize Avalokiteshvara as the principal deity and me as a monk sitting in front of him. If you then recite his mantra (Om Mani Padme Hung) a thousand times, it will be beneficial. 

With that practice you will create some roots of virtue that you can dedicate for me—Avalokiteshvara`s messenger—to live for 108 or 110 years or so. May everyone be happy and well. Tashi Delek. Thank you all.

A select few monks assembled in Tsuglakhang, the Dalai Lama’s temple in Dharamsala, where a special ceremony was conducted for the long life of His Holiness. The usual public gathering of large numbers of followers and well-wishers was absent. 

Tseten Wangchuk, the chief representative officer of the Tibetan settlement in Leh, joint capital of the union territory of Ladakh, observed that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Dalai Lama had originally been scheduled to visit Ladakh on his birthday this year, as he had done in 2017 and 2018.

Senior figures from the various schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the native Tibetan Bon tradition passed on heartfelt greetings and expressions of deep gratitude to the Dalai Lama for his services to peace, humanity, and the Buddhadharma. Among them were His Eminence the 42nd Sakya Trinzin, the 105th Gaden Jetsun Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche, Nyingma Monlam committee head Kyabje Rigo Tulku Rinpoche, the 34th Kyabje Menri Trinzin Lungtok Dawa Dharagyal Rinpoche, and Jonang Gyaltsab Rinpoche Khen Trul Dorje Lobpon Ngawang Choekyi Nangpa. 

“Today we celebrate the 85th birthday of His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama, Jetsun Jampel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshi Tenzin Gyatso, The Kashag (Cabinet) of the Central Tibetan Administration said in a statement. “The Kashag and the Tibetan people, those inside Tibet and those in exile, pay our heartfelt greetings to His Holiness, the most revered leader of Tibet, the world’s leading spokesman for peace, the epitome of Buddha’s wisdom and unconditional compassion.” (Central Tibetan Administration)

On a global level, more than 100 spiritual teachers, political leaders, diplomats, and other prominent figures shared birthday wishes and expressions of support for the Dalai Lama via video.

A day earlier, on Sunday, His Holiness delivered a virtual teaching on bodhicitta from the text “Eight Verses for Training the Mind” via video link to Taiwan, which was reported to have been attended by about 1,000 people.

“Tomorrow is my birthday and I have suggested that if you want to make me a gift, what you could do is to recite at least one thousand ‘manis’, or six syllable mantras, without allowing your mind to drift,” the Dalai Lama said. “The way to transform our impure body, speech and mind is to employ the awakening mind of bodhicitta represented in the mantra . . . if each of you recites the mantra 1,000 times, the benefit will multiply. . . .

“As the political scenario changes it may be that I’ll be able to visit you in Taiwan again. I hope so. Whatever happens I’ll remain with you in spirit. Please keep well—thank you.” (Central Tibetan Administration)


The Dalai Lama was born Lhamo Thondup on 6 July 1935, in Taktser village in the traditional Amdo region of northeastern Tibet, in the modern-day Chinese province of Qinghai. At the age of two, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso. He was officially declared to be the 14th Dalai Lama by the Central Government of Tibet in 1939, and was ordained with the monastic name Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso. In 1959, at the age of 23, the Dalai Lama took his final examination at the Jokhang Temple, passing with honors, and was awarded the degree, the highest geshe degree of Lharampa. He fled Tibet in the same year, crossing into India on 30 March 1959, where he has continued to live in exile.

Year-long Celebrations Planned to Mark the Birthday of the Dalai Lama (Buddhistdoor Global)

See more

85th Birthday Message (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Celebrate my birthday by reciting mantra of Avalokiteshvara at least 1000 times: His Holiness the Dalai Lama tells Tibetans (Central Tibetan Administration)
Birthday wishes for His Holiness the Dalai Lama from around the world (Central Tibetan Administration)
Statement of the Kashag on the 85th Birthday of His Holiness the Great 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet (Central Tibetan Administration)
The Dalai Lama at 85 (Central Tibetan Administration)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama gives short teaching as part of his 85th Birthday celebrations organised in Taiwan (Central Tibetan Administration)

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