Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s Testament

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Thirteenth Dalai Lama

Thirteenth Dalai Lama in 1932

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Will and Prophecy[1]

by the Thirteenth Dalai Lama

Ever since I was recognized and installed as a reincarnation of the Excellent Master (the XIIth Dalai Lama), in accordance with the predictions of great lamas and guardian deities and without it being necessary to select by drawing lots from the golden vase, I had studied under holy tutors such as Tatsak Hutuktu, the regent,[2] and Phurchok Rinpoche[3] and others, in the traditional way. I learned by heart the texts on congregational services, received the primary and secondary ordinations, practised public disputation on the five branches of Buddhist doctrine, received a series of transmissions on sutra exposition and major and minor Tantric initiations, -instructions as a matter of daily routine, without interruption, in accordance with my mental capacity. Even though my experience in such affairs is scanty, ever since the responsibility of temporal and spiritual power fell to me, as tradition required, at the united appeal of the sacred and secular communities of Tibet and also the statement of the Great Celestial Emperor of China, I have been devoting myself to serving the cause of Buddha's teachings, to consolidating firmly our political sovereignty, and to promoting the welfare and happiness of my subjects to the best of my ability, with goodwill and justice, despite the heavy burden of mental concern that persisted day in and day out.

In the Wood-dragon year (1904),[4] when the British army invaded (Tibet), I considered the long-term consequences for our political authority of coming to terms with them about my personal welfare. I went to Peking, via northern Tibet and Mongolia, to apprise the Emperor and the queen mother[5] of our position, and they received me graciously and showed me great honour and hospitality. Before long, both passed away, one after the other. Emperor Hsüan-tung[6] was installed. After apprising the new Emperor and his father of our situation, I returned to Tibet with affection.

Meanwhile, the Chinese military invasion under Chao Erh-feng[7] reached Lhasa (1909), owing to crafty slander by the resident Amban (to the Emperor). Amid the great danger of the taking by force of political power, all of us, the ruler and the ministers, who were invested with that power departed for India, unmindful of all the hardships; arriving there safely, we protested to the Chinese government through the British. Then, as the result of the unfailing power of truth, being the fruit of action with regard to the performance of religious services and duties for the preservation of Tibet's temporal and spiritual system, the Chinese army and commanders in Tibet became like a reservoir deprived of water and were gradually expelled from the country.

I returned to the land under my protection, where from 1914 to 1932 a new and glorious peace and happiness has been heralded; all, high and low, have enjoyed this in freedom, with rejoicing and satisfaction. This is just an indication, briefly outlined to avoid a massive writing; many of the details are in records and the minds of everyone belonging to the sacred and secular communities. Moreover, there is reason why everyone should feel grateful and be content. As for myself, it is a matter of the satisfaction of my heart's desire, if our political institution has been benefited by my endeavour. I do not boast about it or have the slightest expectation of receiving recognition.

In the present state of my life, appropriate with my age, I feel the absolute urge of endeavouring towards the dependable and noble practice, devoting myself solely to virtuous application during the remainder of my life, in view of the long track of life after this. Even then, having dared not to forsake the complete trust for the common welfare, placed in me by guardian deities that associate themselves with me like the shadow of one's own body, by the revered lamas, and by my subjects, high and low, who have spiritual and emotional relationship with me, I still continue to exercise my responsibility to the best of my knowledge and ability.

I am approaching the fifty-eighth year of my age. Everyone knows that I will not be able to carry the burden of temporal and spiritual functions beyond a few years. Now that our neighbouring states, India and China, are strong powers, we must establish firm diplomatic ties with them. We must station efficient and well-equipped armies at even minor areas bordering on hostile forces. Such an army must be well-trained in the skill of warfare, as a definite deterrent to the adversary.

Moreover, nowadays communism is spreading more and more. There already was a ban on searching for a reincarnation of the Grand Lama of Urga (Outer Mongolia);[8] the monastic endowments were confiscated, the monks and lamas recruited into the army. Such a system, established at Ulan Bator, completely destroyed the Buddhist religion, according to reports already heard. It will definitely invade this land of joint spiritual and temporal systems in the future, either from without or within. If we cannot defend our land at that time, all our holy teachers, including the Dalai Lama and the Paṇchen Lama, will be eliminated without even their names being traceable; properties of Incarnate Lamas and the monasteries, along with their endowment funds, will be completely destroyed; our political system, which originated from the three great kings,[9] reduced to a mere name; our officials, deprived of their paternal properties and their wealth, and forced to be slaves of the enemy; and my people, subjected to tortures and intimidation day and night. This time will certainly come.

And so right now, as our common cause of Buddhist religion and political life remains intact, we enjoy peace and happiness, and the admiration of others.

Henceforth, the means of preserving our religion and political life, to be employed with every available skill without leaving any ground for blame and regret, depend upon the service of our officials, both ecclesiastical and secular. For the peace and welfare of the country as a whole, the communities of monks and laity and all my subjects must work in full cooperation and united efforts, making no mistakes in their considerations. This is their duty. If they do not deviate from the principles of acceptance and abandonment, as the chief state-guardian has proclaimed, there is nothing to be feared, if they endeavour to serve in accordance with the express wishes of the master (the Dalai Lama). This is certainly an affirmation of the principle of harmony. On my part, I will protect and treat affectionately those who serve honestly in harmony with my consideration for the common cause of Buddhist religion and political life; they will be guided through successful achievement, while guilty ones will experience failure and retribution.

Further, if you do not accept the responsibility of serving the state, as at present preferring to indulge in your selfish interest and partiality, it is obvious that the long-term purpose will not be achieved. In future, nothing will help to solve it, even if you regret.

I foresee that the means of happiness in Tibet will last as long as I live. In the long run, each of you will suffer all such miseries as I have earlier stated. I have no more frank advice than this, which originates from my inner perception and experience, and rational consideration.

External remedies of religious service are being conducted continually. Essentially, all must conduct the inner remedies of arousing a sense of urgency, and if you work efficiently by regretting past failures and reforming yourselves in the future, I shall try as long as possible to promote the Buddhist religion and the political system, to treat all our officials affectionately, and to relieve my subjects with peace and happiness as at the moment, while endeavouring to extend this happy era to a hundred years.

There is nothing more important than the common welfare. This much is the advice to the common request from you; and so it is of the utmost importance for you to observe the principles of right and wrong without deviation, with persistent inward examination throughout all four modes of life,[10] day and night.

| Translated roughly from the Tibetan text by Lobsang P. Lhalungpa (1973). First published (with additional footnotes and bibliography) on Lotsawa House with permission, 2024.


Tibetan Editions

Tā laʼi bla ma 13 thub bstan rgya mtsho. "lugs gnyis kyi blang dor bslab byaʼi rtsa tshig gi rim pa phyogs bkod lhaʼi rnga dbyangs (ji)." In gsung ʼbum thub bstan rgya mtsho. New Delhi: International Academy of Indian Culture, 1981–1982. Vol. 4: 338–342

Secondary Sources

Bell, Charles. Portrait of a Dalai Lama. London: Wisdom Publications, 1987. (First published 1946).

Kozik, Anna. “Testament polityczny Dalajlamy XIII i jego znaczenie.” Przegląd Orientalistyczny, no. 1–2, Polskie Towarzystwo Orientalistyczne, 2015, pp. 75–88.

Tsering Shakya."The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso." In Brauen, Martin, ed. The Dalai Lamas: A Visual History. London: Serindia, 2005, pp. 137–161.

Tsering Shakya. "The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Tubten Gyatso," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 01, 2024,

Version: 1.2-20240306

  1. The original Tibetan text is untitled; this title has been added by the translator.  ↩

  2. Ngwang Palden Chökyi Gyaltsen (ngag dbang dpal ldan chos kyi rgyal mtshan, 1850–1886). See Sonam Dorje, "The Tenth Tatsak Jedrung, Ngawang Pelden Chokyi Gyeltsen," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 01, 2024,  ↩

  3. Purchok Lobzang Jampa Gyatso (phur bu lcog blo bzang byams pa rgya mtsho, 1825–1901). See Samten Chhosphel, "The Third Purchok, Jampa Gyatso," Treasury of Lives, accessed March 01, 2024,  ↩

  4. The original version of the translation had 1903 in place of 1904, but we have emended this here, because the Wood Dragon corresponded to 1904–5.  ↩

  5. The Guangxu Emperor (1871–1908) and his aunt, Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908).  ↩

  6. Puyi 溥仪 (1906–1967), the final emperor of China, was known as the Xuantong Emperor.  ↩

  7. Zhao Erfeng 趙爾豐 (1845–1911).  ↩

  8. A reference to the Jebtsundampa. The Mongolian regime prohibited the recognition of any further Jebtsundampa incarnations in 1929.  ↩

  9. i.e., Songtsen Gampo, Tri Songdetsen and Tri Ralpachen.  ↩

  10. i.e., walking, standing, sitting and sleeping.  ↩

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