The Dalai Lama: An Extraordinary Life

The Dalai Lama: An Extraordinary Life

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The first authoritative biography of the Dalai Lama—a story by turns inspiring and shocking—from an acclaimed Tibetan scholar with exceptional access to his subject.

The Dalai Lama’s message of peace and compassion resonates with people of all faiths and none. Yet, for all his worldwide fame, he remains personally elusive. At last Alexander Norman—acclaimed Oxford-trained scholar of the history of Tibet—delivers the definitive, unique, unforgettable biography.

The Dalai Lama recounts an astonishing odyssey from isolated Tibetan village to worldwide standing as spiritual and political leader of one of the world’s most profound and complex cultural traditions. Norman reveals that, while the Dalai Lama has never been comfortable with his political position, he has been a canny player—at one time CIA-backed—who has maneuvered amidst pervasive violence, including placing himself at the center of a dangerous Buddhist schism. Yet even more surprising than the political, Norman convinces, is the Dalai Lama’s astonishing spiritual practice, rooted in magic, vision, and prophecy—details of which are illuminated in this book for the first time.

A revelatory life story of one of today’s most radical, charismatic, and beloved world leaders.

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  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780544416581

  • ISBN-10: 0544416589

  • Pages: 432

  • Price: $30.00

  • Publication Date: 02/25/2020

  • Carton Quantity: 12

Alexander Norman
Author

Alexander Norman

ALEXANDER NORMAN first met the Dalai Lama thirty years ago. Since then he has collaborated with the Tibetan Leader on several best-selling books, including the autobiography Freedom in Exile. He is the author of a critically acclaimed history of the Dalai Lamas, Holder of the White Lotus. In addition, he has served as a speech writer for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and on the Tibetan leader's Special Review Committee. He is president of the London-based charity Help Tibet.  
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  • reviews

    Editor's Choice, The New York Times Bestsellers List for 3.29 

     

    “Impressive in its clarity...this biography [is] the most detailed and accurate to date…the book, written in an engaging prose, ends with an insightful prediction of the legacy of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, and a cleareyed assessment of the challenges that the fifteenth will face.” 

    New York Times Book Review 

     

    “The subtitle of Mr. Norman's book, 'An Extraordinary Life,' is an understatement...Mr. Norman knows the Dalai Lama better than most, having helped him to write his autobiography. His new book is rich...with detail; his supple prose, often beautiful, is as adept at explaining Tibet’s theology as it is at describing its spiritual world...Mr. Norman’s book, while respectful, is not adoring: He doesn’t flinch from offering examples of his subject’s behavior that are awkward.” 

    Wall Street Journal 

     

    “[Norman’s] writing is understated, occasionally wry, and respectful…[while the] passages explaining meditation, debate, and monastic life in the Tibetan tradition are exquisite.” 

    American Interest 

     

    “This is the first authoritative biography of the Dalai Lama, and his life story reads like an adventure! Travel with him ... An amazing read!” 

    Buzzfeed 

     

    “Alexander Norman's book is a revelation, placing the Dalai Lama in a vividly-told historical context while giving the reader an intimate glimpse of the man himself.” 

    —Jim Kelly, Air Mail 

     

    “Brilliant: the writing is a compelling blend of formal and informal styles covering events terrifying and wonderful (and many bits in between). Deserves a wide readership”—Charles Taliaferro, Oscar and Gertrude Boe Distinguished Chair and Professor of Philosophy, St. Olaf College. Editor-in-Chief of Open Theology 

     

    “Alexander Norman is uniquely qualified among western observers to deliver a definitive account of one of the most remarkable lives of the past century. His thoughtful and insightful biography is unlikely to be surpassed any time soon.” 

    —Dr. Solomon George FitzHerbert, Departmental Lecturer in Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, University of Oxford 

     

    “A compelling portrait . . . definitive book, which is sure to attract anyone seeking more insight into this enduring leader.” 

    Library Journal 

     

    “A thorough catalogue of the Dalai Lama’s thinking and worldview . . . anyone interested in the Dalai Lama’s spiritual influence will enjoy this insider biography.” 

    Publishers Weekly 

     

    “[Norman] brings well-grounded authority to his portrayal of a figure revered throughout the world for his joyfulness, generosity, and compassion . . . a sturdy, comprehensive look at the Dalai Lama and his tumultuous world.” 

    Kirkus Reviews

  • excerpts
    It is tempting to begin our story with the first Saturday in July 1935, when, by the Gregorian calendar, the present Dalai Lama was born. And yet to do so would be to ignore the context of that birth. In a way, it would be more accurate to begin with the evening of the seventeenth of December 1933, and the circumstances surrounding it, when the Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama “withdrew his spirit to the Tushita paradise”—where dwell all those on the point of Enlightenment—as pious tradition expresses the matter. The death of the previous Dalai Lama is what precipitates the birth of the next—even if, as in this case, it happens that more than nine months elapse between the two events. 

      

    Yet there is also a case for beginning with the birth of the First Dalai Lama, since, after all, each incarnation is considered to share the same mental continuum. But besides necessitating a long digression into history, this would be problematic. It turns out that the First Dalai Lama was in fact the Third. What happened was that a lama by the name of Sonam Gyatso was summoned by Altan Khan (a descendant of Genghis) to Mongolia, where they met in 1578. Altan, the new strongman of Central Asia, was looking for a way to legitimize his rule, and Sonam Gyatso, as one of the most renowned lamas of the day, looked to be just the person to lend him respectability. Accordingly, Altan, in the idiom of that time, conferred on the Tibetan a number of high-flown titles, one of which pronounced him Dalai Lama. The word dalai is simply a Tibetanization of the Mongolian word for “ocean,” which in turn translates the second half of Sonam Gyatso’s name. Yet because Sonam Gyatso was in fact the third incarnation of a lineage connected with Drepung, Tibet’s largest monastery, it followed that he must, in fact, be the Third Dalai Lama. 

      

    There is an added complication, however. Besides being the third exemplar of the Drepung line, Sonam Gyatso is also considered to have been forty-second in an unbroken lineage going back to the time of the historical Buddha, who lived during the fifth century BCE. It is this lineage that associates the Dalai Lamas with Chenresig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, whom they are understood to manifest on earth. And yet this lineage is itself antedated by yet another that connects Chenresig with a young prince who lived 990 eons ago. How long is an eon? A disciple is said once to have asked the Buddha the same question. He replied with an analogy: Suppose there were a great mountain of rock, seven miles across and seven miles high, a solid mass without any cracks. At the end of every hundred years, a man might brush it with a fine Benares cloth. That great mountain would be worn away and come to an end sooner than ever an eon. It becomes apparent that, as soon as we start delving into the history of the Dalai Lama, we are faced with the most profound of questions. Indeed, it turns out that, so far as the present Dalai Lama is concerned, we have before us not merely the biography of one man but the story of a being who, from the perspective of his tradition, has been perfected and purified of all defilements through the performance of unnumbered good deeds over countless lifetimes and who manifests here on earth not for his own good but for that of all others. This is, moreover, a story in which the remote past is just the other day and matters supernatural are as real as the natural and as close as right next door. 

      

    To understand the Dalai Lama, therefore, we need to try to catch a glimpse of the world as Tibetan tradition sees it: not as one that began with a single moment of Creation, nor as one where everything might ultimately be expressed as a string of mathematical formulae—a world of atoms and electrons, protons and neutrons. We should not even think of it as a world explicable in terms of quanta and probability. The world as it is understood through the lens of Tibetan tradition did not begin with a big bang which sent the Earth spinning among galaxies and solar systems and ever-expanding space. The world according to Tibetan tradition has no beginning at all. Indeed, the world we see around us exists not on account of atomic or subatomic particles but on account of the accumulated karma of numberless sentient beings over eons of time.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780544416581

  • ISBN-10: 0544416589

  • Pages: 432

  • Price: $30.00

  • Publication Date: 02/25/2020

  • Carton Quantity: 12

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