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How Effective is The Dalai Lama’s Leadership as a Communicator?


The most significant insight one may deeply reflect on The Dalai Lama’s Biography lies in the paradoxes of his position. Although he persistently has brought the realities of Tibet to world attention, Tibet as it is, is being re-envisioned as a Chinese province at quite some time.  He might be born in one of the remotest, least developed part of the earth, yet he has managed to champion globalism and technology in his own unique way.  While reading his biography, it is important to remember that the Dalai Lama is, a Titan: state head, holds a doctorate in metaphysics, a prolific writer, may be considered as a hyperrealist, popular media figure, a God to the Tibetans and most noteworthy, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize — a man who may be considered as an epitome of  “simplicity that lies not before complexity but on the far side of it.”, (P. Iyer,2008)  He is considered as” a perfect example of cross-cultural interconnectedness offering real sustenance to be invisible, in the realm of what underlies acceleration and multinationals.”, (H. Morris, 2008).

A religious leader that he is, he warns us of being distracted by religion; a Tibetan state head who entertains the idea that an exile from Tibet can be an opportunity; an incarnation of a Tibetan God who embraces his humanity. The X1Vth Dalai Lama, referred to as His Holiness, also known as Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual figure and prominent leader of the Tibetans. His birthplace is a tiny villa called Taktser at the Northeastern part of Tibet. He was born to a very poor family, and at was acknowledged as the reincarnation of his predecessor the 13th Dalai Lama traditionally as young as Two years old.


At two years old a boy who was plucked from the obscurity of poverty, validated to be the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama, raised and molded into a Knight of enlightenment, started his education as early as six years old and finished the Geshe Lharampa Degree (Doctorate of Buddhist Philosophy) at 25. A year before that, he took the Drepung, Sera and Ganden the three monastic universities, debated 15 scholars about Middle Path in the evening by testing his monastic discipline and metaphysics knowledge. He passed the two required examinations with flying colors before a huge crowd and monk scholars.

At the early age of 16, His Holiness assumed political office as Head of State and Government when Tibet was in the middle of a crisis over threats by China. In 1954 went to see Mao Tse-Tung and other Chinese leaders, including Chou En-Lai and Deng Xiaoping. He also attended the 2500th Buddha Jayanti in where he had several meetings with Prime Minister Nehru and Premier Chou in order to address the conditions in Tibet.  Three years after, he was compelled to go on exile in India subsequently after the Tibet military occupation by the Chinese. At the age of 24, The Fourteenth Dalai Lama, after having been in India barely a year, in March 1959, when Chinese troops invaded to bring war to the capital of Lhasa was forced to decide to leave his native Tibet. He stayed in Dharamsala also known as “Little Lhasa”, since 1960.

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While in exile, His Holiness reached out to to the United Nations regarding the issues of Tibet, because of which he achieved three resolutions adopted by the General Assembly in 1959, 1961 and 1965. In 1963, His Holiness initiated the promulgation of  a draft constitution for Tibet which gave his people assurance of a form of government.  In the late two decades, His Holiness has caused the establishment of educational, cultural and religious institutions gaining significant contributions towards the preservation of the Tibetan heritage and identity. His teachings and initiatives, most especially the rare Kalachakra Initiation, which he has conducted more frequently than any one prior to his leadership. His Holiness continues to introduce fresh initiatives to address the Tibetan problems. At the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1987 he sponsored a Five-Point Peace Plan as an initial step to resolve future status of Tibet. This necessitates the designation of Tibet as a Zone of Peace, a termination to the massive transfer of ethnic Chinese into Tibet, restoration of basic human rights and democratic freedoms and the relinquishment of China’s manipulation of Tibet for nuclear weapons production and the accumulation of nuclear waste, as well as encouraging “earnest negotiations” on the future of Tibet and Chinese-Tibet relationships. On June 15, 1988, he further pushed his Five-Point Peace Plan and propeled the creation of a self-governing democratic Tibet, “in association with the People’s Republic of China.” He considered this as “the most realistic means by which to re-establish Tibet’s separate identity and restore the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people while accommodating China’s own interests.” stressing that “whatever the outcome of the negotiations with the Chinese may be, the Tibetan people themselves must be the ultimate deciding authority.”

Unique from his predecessors, His Holiness made connections with Westerners and visited the United States, Canada, Western Europe, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Mongolia, Greece, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Nepal, Costa Rica, Mexico, the Vatican, China and Australia. He connected with religious leaders from all these countries. He also met the late Pope Paul VI at the Vatican in 1973, and with His Holiness Pope John Paul II in between 1980-1986, and 1988. In 1981, His Holiness confer with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Robert Runcie, as well as the other leaders of the Anglican Church in London. While there, He also met with the Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders and delivered speeches at an interfaith service in his honor by the World Congress of Faiths focusing on the commonality of faiths and the need for unity among different religions. As a boy he was fascinated with scientific things, fixing a generator in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, using a handed down telescope and meeting his hunger and quench for answers to his scientific curiosities. Until now he keeps well labelled plastic model of the brain with detachable parts at home and enjoy meeting scientists who could provide him with insights of the world and mind. His scholarly reputation as a scholar and man of peace reputation has garnered him recognitions and honorary Doctorate Degrees in Buddhist philosophy and leadership service of freedom and peace. He consistently endorses better understanding and respect among different faiths of the world and made numerous appearances in interfaith services imparting the message of universal responsibility, love, and compassion and kindness.



According to Vetter, A. (n.d.), her most favorite learning from His Holiness, is the quote about communication which says – “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” The Fourteenth Dalai Lama had been taking the same path for several decades now, turning around corners to meet a world in which almost every culture could access each other, had traveled to the outside world even in the 1950s, and then right into the heart of the twenty-first-century. When the Dalai Lama faces the camera and speaks of “compassion,” what seems to make it impacting is that he’s not talking about some lordly self-sacrificial higher state of being designed to be scrawled onto a world-peace poster. He’s talking about the fundamental impulse that makes us human. If we lose that, then we’re lost. (P. Iyer,2008).  To most of the listeners whether in person or through video, his charismatic appeal is almost always felt by the audience with great influence and spiritual inspiration.

His Holiness advocates that Tibetan Buddhism is a combination of religion and a “science of the mind”.   His crystallized comprehension of the mind’s nature, and its contribution to the creation and alleviation of everyone’s suffering. Since he believed that this valuable wisdom should be for the world, two decades ago, The Dalai Lama challenged a select group of world-renowned Neuroscientists and Mind/Brain researchers to investigate the workings of the mind, and to prove scientifically that “Tibetan Buddhist technologies” for overcoming afflictive emotions are skills that can be learned by anyone. That results to The Dalai Lama the commission of Dr. Paul Ekman and his daughter Dr. Eve Ekman to come up with an “Atlas of Emotions” as a mode of understanding the effects of emotions when one has a tranquil mind. Such that, recognizing the patterns, triggers and responses to emotions is the primary step in efficiently dealing with them.

Just like any other leader, the Dalai Lama didn’t just wake up and became an effective and popular by virtue of succession or innate royalty.  He adopted specific core strategies that took care of his visibility initiatives.  Among others, is the establishment of PR companies like the Bennet Group who provides ongoing communications strategy for the Omidyar Group and its various subsidiaries in Hawaii. Most recently, Bennet Group provided media relations and overall communications support for the launch of the Pillars of Peace program, and the visit of his Holiness the Dalai Lama to Hawaii in April 2012. The same is true with his you tube videos and social media exposure.  There is also The Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education who’s on top of all communications, social media and marketing activities of the Center. The latter ensures brand consistency across all platforms and will oversee the organizations communications strategy. Aside from them there also exists The Club of Budapest.  It  is an international organization established in 1993 by Ervin László to mobilize the full cultural resources of humanity to meet future challenges. This club is authored by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Ervin Laszlon Services to render: PR, events and strategic partnerships. He submits to interviews, deliver speeches in universities, public fora and various media outlets by invitation.  These strategies gave him excellent media mileage and good relationship with the media.  He is not a very eloquent and humorous communicator but his charismatic appeal to universal compassion, kindness, and altruism works with his audience.


Being a very spiritual, inspirational speaker, and writer, he uses metaphors in shaping his message and ideas such as the following:

  1. The metaphor used to describe the nature of our attachments as “chocolate”. The question on how one can be happy even after the “chocolate” has run out was answered as by cutting the cords of attachment.
  2. He also frequently uses the lamp for the path to enlightenment.  The metaphor of the lamp is used because it dispels darkness, such that the teachings dispel the darkness of misunderstanding or promotes enlightenment by illuminating whatever objects lie in its sphere.
  3. Advocating distance from anger as it destroys the ability to investigate reality has been quite an effective metaphor he used in his teachings.
  4. Finding happiness in troubled times and the power of forgiveness were also popular titles in his books.
  5. He uses warm heartedness to describe compassion as it dispels any sense of suspicion and instills confidence allowing honesty and truthfulness in conducting one’s self.
  6. Many other metaphors such as “chairs of equal height” for equal treatment for everyone, “fugitive amongst his oppressed people” to describe his leaving Tibet when in exile, and the “climate” was still “oppressive” were also articulately used to describe the non-conducive atmosphere for whatever major decision/change he is supposed to make.
  1. He has 11,000 followers and curious onlookers at the University of Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena ( Joe Mosley, UO A of Strategic Communications May 10, 2013).
  2. In 1987 the Dalai Lama proposed the Five-Point Peace Plan for the restoration of peace and human rights in Tibet. The plan called for.
  3. His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking at Grossmuenster Church in Zurich Switzerland on

October 15, 2016.

  1. He stops talks whenever he thinks the situation is in his favor; and pledges to resume them when he thinks he is at a disadvantage. Even when he is seeking contacts with the central government, the Dalai Lama has never given up separatist activities both at home and abroad, the chairman said. (China Daily 03/15/2006)
  2.  “Met the Dalai Lama today in LA. Pitched him on using Twitter. He laughed,” read Williams’s now much-quoted tweet. The next day, a Monday, inaugural tweets materialized on the official Twitter page of the Office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai lama, @Dalai lama. By Tuesday, it had 69,000 followers.
  3. The social-media accounts of the Dalai Lama, also known as His Holiness (or HH for short) to his followers, are managed by a team in his office, headed by official photographer Tenzin Choejor, a tech-savvy 33-year-old. “I’m very much a Netizen,” Choejor said. “I’m always looking at people’s Facebook pages. Even though His Holiness has had a website since 2005, in this busy 21st century people don’t have time to go to your site all the time. We felt it was very important to deliver the content and messages of His Holiness to people via social networks.”

The 77-year-old Nobel laureate’s Facebook page allows more of his personal warmth to shine through, such as a special first-person message thanking well-wishers who’d observed his July 7 birthday. The Dalai Lama’s travels are meticulously documented by videographers, and their content seems increasingly well curated. His YouTube presence mixes longish speeches with short, bright snippets. In one, he chatted about his favorite sports—ping-pong and cricket—with visiting Indian cricketers.


The biography of the exiled Tibetan leader contains in depth of detail however it lacks in objectivity since a substantial and extensive portion of it was drawn extensively from the Dalai Lama’s own published accounts of his life and the situation in Tibet. Marcello’s not so short, purely chronological account outlining his birth, method of selection for the Dalai Lama’s position, education, and career, concluding with a brief chapter on his present life is insightful. The author evidently supports the Dalai Lama’s strong stand against the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Few of her accounts report individuals’ positions and feelings without attribution, though major quotations are footnoted. Chris Gibb’s The Dalai Lama (Raintree, 2003) is quite brief but includes coverage of other important Tibetan religious figures. Obviously, Marcello’s book is aimed at audiences with profiles such as report writers and library users. A substantial part of the biography detailed the Chinese takeover of Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s life in exile.

As a reader, it is quite easy to appreciate the range of Tenzin Gyatso’s emotional and intellectual appeal to various types of audiences as well as his perception of reality not as a media celebrity, nor as a Buddhist head, but just as an individual advocating altruism and compassion. When the author comments on historical and political narratives the tone becomes quite quaint and somewhat empty. This is sometimes reflected when there seems to occur an attempt to couch the Dalai Lama’s historical events or spiritual practices with a semblance of aura of mystical complexity. Although that might be because the reverence is deeply felt, but somewhat seems rhetorically not persuasive and lacks intellectual weight. Some critics highlighted claims of him being a Marxist in one of his speeches, but he would like to look at it in the context of equal distribution of wealth and universal responsibility.

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The 14th Dalai Lama uses all types of communication (e.g. verbal, non-verbal & visual) tools.  He maximizes media exposure and maintains visibility by establishing extensive networks and connection with public & private audiences.  His interviews and video clips effectively molded his branding as a spiritual leader and inspirational speaker with great influences on diverse audiences. His decision to relinquish the life of high authority and live in a normal way with his family is a demonstration of humility and servant leadership embracing simplicity.

Over-all, however, the biography is a fine insightful read about a not so simple subject, particularly for a sensitive audience.  Amidst negative criticisms, I still believe that his teachings are effective ingredients for improved global co-existence and better living for all humanity regardless of race and/or religion.



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