|For Tibetans, Tenzin Gyatso is the fourteenth reincarnation of his predecessor [GALLO/GETTY]|
The Dalai Lama is the most senior religious authority in Tibetan Buddhism and the political leader of the Tibetan people.
His lifelong dedication to nonviolence and tolerance - "through violence, you may solve one problem, but you sow the seeds for another" -
has made him a respected international figure.
In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
But his position as leader-in-exile of Tibet, an autonomous region in China, has meant C
hinese officials regard him as a separatist.
Zhang Qingli, the Chinese party leader in Tibet, denounced the Dalai Lama as "a person who basely splits his motherland and doesn't even know autonomy for Tibet".
Born in 1935 to a peasant family in northeast Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso was recognised as the fourteenth reincarnation of his predecessor, the Buddha of Compassion, and taken to Lhasa to be educated.
In 1950, when he was 15-years-old, the Dalai Lama was called upon to assume full powers as head of state of Tibet.
But at the same time, the People's Liberation Army of China. For the next nine years, the young ruler attempted to negotiate with Mao Zedong and Chou En-lai, the Chinese leaders.
But in 1959, China brutally ended a Tibetan civilian uprising against Chinese rule and the Dalai Lama fled across across the Himalayas to India, where the authorities allowed him to set up a government-in-exile in Dharmasala.
About 100,000 Tibetans have since followed him.
Working for a 'free' Tibet
In the early years of his exile, the Dalai Lama appealed to the UN over Tibet, resulting in three resolutions adopted by the General Assembly in 1959, 1961 and 1965.
In 1963, The Dalai Lama promulgated a draft constitution for Tibet which assures a democratic form of government.
The exiled Tibetan leader arrives in India
following Chinese repression [AP]
At the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1987 he proposed a five-point peace plan as a first step towards resolving the future status of Tibet, which among other things calls for an end to the movement of ethnic Chinese into Tibet.
In Strasbourg, France, on June 15, 1988, he elaborated on the five-point plan, proposing the creation of a self-governing democratic Tibet, "in association with the People's Republic of China".
But he emphasised that "whatever the outcome of the negotiations with the Chinese may be, the Tibetan people themselves must be the ultimate deciding authority".
Over the last two decades, the Dalai Lama has set up educational, cultural and religious institutions to preserve the Tibetan identity and heritage.
Relations with the West
Unlike his predecessors, the Dalai Lama has made contact with the Western world, visiting countries throughout the Americas, Southeast Asia and Australia as well as Western and Eastern Europe.
A number of western universities and institutions have conferred peace awards and honorary doctorate degrees upon the him.
But while his cause has proved popular in the West, buoyed by celebrity endorsements from Hollywood actors, in recent years, with China's economic rise, political support has fallen away.
Al Jazeera and agencies