14th Dalai Lama

Secret Lives of the Dalai Lama

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 March, 2010, 12:00am

Secret Lives of the Dalai Lama
by Alexander Norman
Doubleday, HK$120

Alexander Norman senses a 'tension' between the popular image of the Dalai Lama and the man he came to know during 250-plus hours of interviews with the Tibetan spiritual leader. He also saw the importance of studying the tradition of the Dalai Lamas to place the holy man in context. Having written the present leader's autobiography and his Ethics for the New Millennium, Norman has produced a more ambitious book, which looks at the origin and institution of the Dalai Lamas. From the first, born in 1391, to the 14th, who is held to be a reincarnation of his predecessors, he moulds narratives that underscore the continuation of custom but point to individual differences: one started wars, another loved women. Politics mixed with prophecies, leading often to anything but peace, as in the case of the eighth Dalai Lama, who had many members of the Gelug hierarchy wishing time had been called on the institution. The book requires an interest in the subject and concentration. Readers should persevere with the final chapter, which explains why Dalai Lamas may play an increasingly important spiritual leadership role in future.