In 1984, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Private Office appointed Ngawang Dondup Narkyid to research and write the official biography of the 14th Dalai Lama in Tibetan. In 2000, at His Holiness’ request, responsibility for the biography was transferred from the Private Office to the Norbulingka Institute. The team was enlarged to include six full-time historians, writers and researchers under the guidance of Mr. Kalsang Yeshi – Director of Norbulingka, acting as editor-in-chief.
The official biography is based on numerous interviews with His Holiness as well as the notes and diaries of his successive secretaries, beginning with Kungo Tara. A total of ninety-four works were extensively researched to corroborate material and fill in historical background. To write history is to reach back into the past and try to recreate with words what once existed in reality. This is never an easy task, but becomes exponentially more difficult when the culture one is researching has been upset by conflict. The turmoil in Tibet over the last century has made recordkeeping difficult, and preserving these records even more so; when immediate danger threatens, little thought is given to recording history for the future generations. Many times, searching for evidence of that past is like looking for footprints in the sand, which have long ago been blown away.
There is a long tradition in Tibetan culture of recording the life of lamas. This tradition is so prevalent that a special writing style has developed solely for the purpose of composing these biographies. This style is elegant and sophisticated, but is unfortunately only understood by those who have studied the different forms of Tibetan literature in depth. These biographies usually focus on the religious life of lamas and give little importance to worldly events. However, the unique political history of Tibet during the last century and the large part that the His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has played in this history demands a unique way of writing his biography.
The scope of this biography is also much greater than is normal. Because so much has happened during the lifetime of the 14th Dalai Lama that has drastically changed the way of life for Tibetans, and because his own story is so interwoven with these changes, the scholars at Norbulingka intend this book to serve as not only a biography of the Dalai Lama, but also a comprehensive account of the modern history of Tibet.