The Dalai Lama and the institution of the Reincarnated Lama in Tibetan Buddhism. A talk by Georges Dreyfus


October 1982. Visit to France by the Dalai Lama (L), with his translator, Geshe Lharampa/Prof.


Many have wondered who the Dalai Lama really is. Is he a simple Buddhist monk, as he himself claims, or a king? Or, is he both? And if so, how can it be that a Buddhist monk, who has renounced the world, can also be a king?  Those are the questions that I will address by looking at the historical and religious background of the institution of the reincarnated lama in general and the Dalai Lama in particular. I will explain how this institution, unique in the Buddhist world, has developed due to the particularities of the historical situation of the Tibetan plateau after the fall of the Empire. I will also explore some of the religious underpinnings of this institution, which is based on a complex ritual system. But I will not limit myself to the past and, based on my own personal experience as translator of the present Dalai Lama, I will talk about the personal qualities that have made this singular figure such a presence in the new global world of mass communication. I will also show that in doing so, the Dalai Lama has continued the strategy that had served so well many of his predecessors.

Prof. Georges Dreyfus is a Swiss/US academic. He spent fifteen years as a Buddhist monk, before receiving in 1985 the title of Geshe (Geshe Lharampa), the highest degree conferred by Tibetan monastic universities. During these years, he was also a translator for the Dalai Lama, with whom he is personally acquainted. He then entered the University of Virginia, where he received his PhD in the History of Religions program. He is currently the Jackson Professor of Religion at the Department of Religion at Williams College in Massachusetts, USA. He has published several books, including The Sound of Two Hands Clapping: the Education of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk, a unique insider's account of day-to-day life inside a Tibetan monastery, and numerous articles on aspects of Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan culture.

※summary and review of The Sound of Two Hands Clapping is available here:

Date: Thursday, 3rd August 2017
Time: 7.30 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

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