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Dalai Lamas: from the 14th century

From the 8th century various Buddhist monasteries in Tibet acquire strongly defined identities and become in effect separate sects within Tibetan Buddhism. Their abbots are men of power and importance.

In the 14th century the abbot of one such monastery declares that his reincarnated future self must be found and made abbot in his turn. The abbot dies in 1338. A child, born in 1340, is judged to be his reincarnation and is brought up to be head of the sect. These first two spiritual leaders, in a sequence still continuing, are later given the retrospective title of Dalai Lama. They are believed to have been incarnations of a Bodhisattva.

The third reincarnated abbot is the first to be called Dalai Lama in his lifetime. He is given the title by an admiring khan of one of the Mongol tribes. Dalai, relating to a Mongol word meaning 'ocean', is chosen to suggest the breadth and depth of the Lama's wisdom. Lama is the Tibetan word for 'superior', applied to a priest or a monk.

Perhaps not surpisingly, in view of this close link with the powerful Mongols, the fourth Dalai Lama is discovered in the person of a young Mongol prince. During his subsequent reincarnation, from 1617 to 1682 as the fifth Dalai Lama, there comes into being the form of government which until recent times has remained characteristic of Tibet.

Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.