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Secret Lives of the Dalai Lama: The Untold Story of the Holy Men Who Shaped Tibet, from Pre-history to the Present Day Paperback – February 16, 2010

4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“I commend this book to anyone wishing to deepen their knowledge of Tibetan history and culture.”
– His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

“Secret Lives of the Dalai Lama provides the modern reader a most insightful description of Tibetan history and culture. Engaging, accessible, and scrupulously fair in its treatment of the subject, perhaps its greatest merit is that it offers a new and rich way to appreciate the life and work of the present Dalai Lama.”     
– Thupten Jinpa, PhD, Tibetan scholar and the principal translator to the Dalai Lama

About the Author

ALEXANDER NORMAN has known His Holiness the Dalai Lama since 1988 and has previously worked closely with him on his bestselling books Freedom in Exile and Ethics for the New Millennium. He is currently a member of Blackfriars Hall at the University of Oxford.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385530706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385530705
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,410,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By wogan TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 27, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is a history of the Holy Men, the Dalai Lama and the country of Tibet. It seems to be thoroughly researched and is very exacting in it's detail as Alexander Norman progresses through the ages.
The present Dalai Lama lent his support to the writing of this manuscript; although he says in his forward that he does not agree with everything.
Sometimes the history is deeper than a casual reader can comfortably understand, for example in the frequent use of tantric and words such as antinomianism. There is a glossary to help, but a chronological listing of the Holy Men would have been very helpful; however there are many enlightening footnotes to help in understanding. The traditions of Tibet and its' many deities are covered from the early 600's to the present.
This reading is not for someone who wants an easy reading of Tibet and the Dalai Lamas. What the book shows is not the serene, peaceful vision that many have of Tibet, but a country that has had its' share of violence both within and from others. It would make a good textbook on the subject, but does little to go into the heart and soul of the country and its' religion.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a good read. The history of Tibet and the Dali Lamas. It takes almost a third of the book to get started with the Lamas but it is well worth the wait as the pre-history is well done and required for the story. It was helpful to learn that Tibet and China have been going at it for a very long time. Not strictly about Buddhism but the context Tibetan Buddhism grew up in. Can also recommend "The Open Road" by Pico Iyer.
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Format: Paperback
Despite the title, this is a serious history of the institution of the Dalai Lama, Buddhism in Tibet, and Tibet and its neighbors: three topics inextricably connected.

Beginning with the pre-history of Tibetan myth (that is, myth to non-Tibetans), Norman spends the first half of the book explaining the concept of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and his personal interest in Tibet and history of reincarnating in human form throughout Tibet's history. By the second half of the book we reach the 16th century, when Chenrezig's rebirth was formally given the name of Dalai Lama and applied for the first time to the man who became known as the 3rd Dalai Lama. (The two immediately preceding incarnations were retroactively proclaimed as the 1st and 2nd.) Each Dalai Lama is then given a chapter or more depending on his significance, along with detail on his family and background, as well as on the actions of the various Buddhist hierarchs and sects in selecting him as the incarnation, training him, and running the country during his minority. Norman examines the rise and fall of each Dalai Lama's control of the religious and secular institutions of his day and the resulting fortunes of Tibet in relation to its neighbors, especially Mongolia and China. The final chapters bring us up-to-date with the current Dalai Lama and Tibet's ongoing struggle to maintain a presence distinct from that of China.

Footnotes, a 22-page bibliography, and a detailed index are included. The author is a long-time acquaintance of the current Dalai Lama, with whom he has co-authored several books and who wrote the forward to this one.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The book starts with the controversy of Dorje Shugden, the author tried very hard to connect the whole history of Tibet, from the reincarnation of Chenrezig to the modern world, to give people a better understanding of the disagreement over this political, secular and religious dispute.

The word Shugden was mentioned 27 times, but even to the end of this book, no serious discussion of his religious or political impact on the Tibetan society.

It may be an okay book as a traveller's history of Tibet, but as a whole, it is a failed attempt by the author to do what he claimed he wanted to do. It's simply lost track.

I am not quite sure why His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV would write the foreword for this book, but he did mention that "(His Holiness) did not necessarily agree with every opinion the author has expressed".
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Format: Paperback
If you are looking for a readable, engaging political history of Tibet, you should have no reservations about purchasing this book. If you want to read about the history of Buddhism in Tibet and its various sects and lineages, you might want to look elsewhere. This book does at times touch on Buddhism's history and development in Tibet, but it's not the focus. As a political history, however, this book is very enjoyable and informative. Though hardly comprehensive, it does a great job hitting the high points and focuses on how the fourteen Dalai Lamas have participated in, and steered, the history of Tibet. Another focus is the interaction between the Tibetans and both the Mongols and the Manchus, both politically and religiously. The book also contains several introductory chapters documenting the transmission of Buddhism from India and China into Tibet.

Norman does not subscribe to the "Shangri-La" perspective of Tibet. His presentation depicts a Tibet that was inhabited and presided over by human beings and that has had its share of political and religious strife, including coups, religious persecution, and assassinations. If you find this bothersome, you might wish to avoid this book. That said, Norman is not anti-Tibet, and he is certainly respectful and appreciative of its religious history and genuinely pious historical figures. He just doesn't sugarcoat the negative aspects, especially the Gelug treatment of other sects and in-house dissidents. With respect to the China/Tibet debate, Norman is decidedly on the side of Tibet in terms of the historical links between the two cultures. He strongly implies that China's version of past events (i.e. Tibet has always been a protectorate of the various Chinese empires) is tantamount to revisionist history.
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