Two premises presumed for my question:

  1. The 14th Dalai Lama is an especially sincere spirit
  2. Reincarnation, beyond the scientific eg recycling of atoms / culture / dna, is an incorrect idea.

Is the 14h Dalai Lama's charisma created by being raised as a spiritual leader? Are all Tibetans especially sweet souls? Is it both or neither, but rather great luck?

I am trying to tease out nature & nurture, and squeeze out the supernatural!

  • 2
    I think there's no good way to answer this question. Usually a good answer is based on references, or on personal experience. I don't see how "personal experience" might be relevant. Perhaps it would be better to ask for references, which describe how he was selected and educated?
    – ChrisW
    Jan 7, 2018 at 16:28
  • You become one :)
    – user4878
    Jan 8, 2018 at 13:17
  • Funny enough, you mention HHDL as a spirit and go on to say reincarnation is otherwise a false idea. So what is your spirit made of?
    – user13135
    Aug 21, 2018 at 17:31
  • In his line of work the Dalai Lama needs wisdom and knowledge. Culture and upbringing will have an impact but greatness as a 'spiritual' leader requires greatness as a practitioner and a high degree of realisation. Otherwise they will soon be exposed as frauds and will lack the skills to succeed. Having said this, there is no doubt that the routine of study and practice to which the Dalai Lama was subject in his youth is directly relevant to his skills and abilities as an adult, as would have been the character of a society in which at the time 40% of young men become monks.
    – user14119
    Sep 21, 2018 at 9:37

2 Answers 2


Notwithstanding your (questionable) second premise ... :)

I'll say that not all Tibetans are such sweet souls and you'd be hard pressed to find many that are anywhere near as incomparable as HHDL... but the answer is simple: practice of the Dharma.

His Holiness is a Bodhisattva who has been wholeheartedly practicing according to the Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra for many, many, many years if not many, many, many lifetimes. What you are seeing is the result of such continued and amazing practice. Consider his Holiness's favorite quote which he repeats constantly during his teachings:

With a wish to free all beings I shall always go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha until I reach full enlightenment.

Enthused by wisdom and compassion, today in the Buddha’s presence I generate the Mind for Full Awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings.

As long as space endures, as long as sentient being remain, until then, may I too remain and dispel the miseries of the world.

If one faithfully practices and generates this Mind of Enlightenment the results will follow. You are just observing the results.


The Buddha's world-view was greatly influenced by Hinduism, the dominant world view in his region during his lifetime. The original Buddhist concepts of karma and rebirth are basically a facsimile of these concepts in Hinduism and were taken quite literally during and after the Buddha's lifetime.

The Mahayana view on rebirth is not necessarily taken so literally. In several Mahayana schools, it is suggested that humans go through incarnations in these realms of hell every waking day when feeling angry, hungry, etc. In Nichiren, this is called "Three thousand realms in a single moment of life".

Also, in Mahayana Buddhism, "death" does not necessarily refer to physical death. Reaching even a single moment of enlightenment is referred to as "the Great Death".

The Tibetan schools of Buddhism - though mostly Mahayana - are, due to their geographic location, more influenced by the originally Hinduist cosmology than other schools of Buddhism, as well as remnants of the local Animism cults (that's why Tibetan Buddhism is the only one to have oracles supposedly channeling the spirit world).

In private conversations with Tibetan monks I've noticed on several occasions that the public-held belief of reincarnation doesn't necessarily translate to personal view. An important factor on why it's maintained so adamantly in (public/popular) Tibetan Buddhism is no doubt the question of succession of the Dalai Lama by a Chinese puppet-lama.

  • 1
    There is a lot to like in your answer - in a lot of your answers! - and I have no doubt of your sincerity nor your truthfulness re: conversations with Tibetan monks. But as a contrary point I'll say that having conversed with lots of monks, nuns and students in HHDL's lineage - some very senior - that the doctrine of rebirth is taken quite seriously and that nearly everyone I know in that lineage does not doubt for an instant the phenomena of rebirth. In particular, HHDL has taught the doctrine of rebirth quite sincerely. I have no doubt he believes it. Not based on faith, but based on reason.
    – user13375
    Aug 21, 2018 at 14:13
  • I can only convey what I've heard in several conversations but I assure you this is a true account. Incidentally, the Dalai Lama has also said: “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims”. That to me is a reason-based argument not founded in doctrine. I mean no disrespect but I consider myself foremost a scientist and then a student of Buddhism. Tashi Delek.
    – Codosaur
    Aug 21, 2018 at 14:35
  • Yes, like I said I have no doubt your sincerity or truthfulness, just that your accounts are anecdotal and my own anecdotal accounts differ ;) Also, you are correct about HHDL's respect for science and reason. Like I said, his belief in rebirth is based in reason and not in faith. IOW, he thinks rebirth is a fact that can be known through reasoned logic alone.
    – user13375
    Aug 21, 2018 at 14:39
  • I'm with Yeshe Tenley here. I find it odd to talk about the Buddha's world-view as being influenced by this and that tradition. It would have nothing to do with tradition. It is about what we know and what we don't.
    – user14119
    Sep 22, 2018 at 12:23
  • @PeterJ I think of it as the doctrine being influenced by the audience. If "rebirth" is the dominant contemporary world-view then the Buddha is (imo) likely to say something on that subject; like Jesus was likely to say things about God and the scriptures; or like someone in contemporary society (HHDL for example) might be quoted as having said things about science.
    – ChrisW
    Sep 22, 2018 at 12:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .