Dalai Lama as a Boy, 2016
acrylic on canvas
20 x 16 in
The 14th Dalai Lama replaced the 13th Dalai Lama when he was two years old. Following signs and visions, a search team investigating the births of unusual children found him living with his farming and horse trading family in a small house at the end of a twisting path in a Tibetan village on the border with China.
When they showed him the Dalai Lama’s rosary, the child toddled over and asked for it. The Panchen Lama said, “If you know who I am, you can have it.” The little boy said, “Sera Lama, Sera Lama,” in a Lhasa accent, a language the family didn’t speak. He then correctly identified, from pairs or objects, all of the things owned by the previous Dalai Lama, saying, “It’s mine! It’s mine!” And that’s when they knew they didn’t have to look any further. They knew then they had found the 14th Dalai Lama.
He had been described as “a fearless child,” and his expression in Joan’s painting shows a little boy not sure of what was happening to him, but whatever it was, he was ready for it.
The 14th Dalai Lama assumed full temporal duties at the age of 15, just after China incorporated Tibet. In 1959, the Tibetans rebelled, China struck back and the Dalai Lama, fearing for his life, fled to Dharamshala, India, and set up “Little Lhasa,” a government in exile.