The Dalai Lamas of Tibet are unique. A succession of fourteen have been guiding the spiritual life of the Tibetan people for nearly six centuries, and for three hundred years have held secular power as well. Revered as the human embodiment of Chenrezig, the Buddha of Compassion, they choose, out of their great desire to benefit others, to reincarnate life after life as the Dalai Lama.
Thubten Gyatso, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, was born to a peasant family in 1876. He was discovered, brought to Lhasa, and enthroned at the age of three. Educated as a monk, he took over full power when he was eighteen and ruled until his death thirty-seven years later. His rule would prove to be more stronger, more radical, and more complete than that of any Dalai Lama since the Great Fifth.
"His courage ad energy were inexhaustible. He recoiled from nothing," writes Charles Bell, who, as Political Officer in the Himalayas, first met the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in 1910. They developed a firm and affectionate friendship, politically and personally, that would last twenty-five years.
Portrait is packed full of history, stories, facts and figures, anecdotes, and conversation, and is a compelling read. Bell describes all aspects of Tibetan life, religion, and politics—the very heart of which is the Dalai Lama. He paints a vivid and masterly picture of this powerful yet humble man, who worked tirelessly and unceasingly for the good of Tibet; who struggled continually against both political and military onslaughts from China and fought for support from the outside world; who made radical changes at every level of life in his medieval nation, uniting and strengthening it as never before.