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copyright © 1995, Alex Grey

The Illustrated Life Story


A fully illustrated biography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, including his religious and political role in the recent, turbulent history of Tibet -- in "graphic-novel" form -- told in terms of visionary art, narrative power, spiritual depth and universal appeal.


Set against an exotic backdrop of drama and intrigue amid the high peaks of the Himalayas, The Dalai Lama of Tibet chronicles the life of Tenzin Gyatso, Tibet's Fourteenth Dalai Lama, living in exile since his country's occupation and annexation in the 1950s by the People's Republic of China.

The Dalai Lama, now living in India, is both the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. To the Tibetan people, he is their most cherished possession, the Kundun ("the Presence") -- that is, the living presence of the reincarnated Buddha himself; while, at the same time, he is still their King, and the repository of all their hopes for the liberation of their land from Chinese occupation. Within the Tibetan Buddhist religion and its many schools, he is by far the most highly respected scholarly authority and master of the teachings; and he is revered for his strength of character, spiritual integrity and kindness of heart by millions of people throughout the world, regardless of religious affiliation.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his unswervingly peaceful and nonviolent resistance to military oppression and genocide in Tibet, the Dalai Lama has become, at the very least, an imposing world figure comparable to his contemporary mentor Mahatma Gandhi -- and, like Mother Teresa, he has set the highest of standards for a life of selflessness, dedication and compassion. In the political realm, the Dalai Lama has devoted himself to liberating the Tibetan people from a system of centuries-old inequities by establishing a new system of government founded on the principles of egalitarian democracy. He has also participated significantly in movements supporting universal respect for human rights and human cultures, the preservation of the environment, the promotion of nuclear disarmament and the demilitarization of the world.

All attempts to restore independence to Tibet having failed, in spite of three resolutions against Chinese occupation passed by the United Nations and worldwide condemnation of China's widespread human-rights violations against Tibetans, the Dalai Lama set out in the 1970s to educate the world to the inestimable value of Tibetan culture and its imminent extinction. For over 35 years he has traveled the world to participate in countless meetings and conferences with the political, cultural, religious and business leaders of over 40 countries, always speaking of his belief in the essential oneness of humanity and the need for each individual to develop a sense of compassion and universal responsibility. At the same time, he has extended himself to the point of controversial compromise in offering to China a Five-Point Peace Plan, through which Tibet would become "a self-governing democratic political entity in association with the People's Republic of China" -- but so far to no avail.

To promote the awareness and appreciation of Tibet's endangered religion, culture and art, the Dalai Lama has authorized and participated in the organization of numerous museum exhibitions of rare Tibetan art treasures. This has included the creation on-site, by teams of monks from his Namgyal monastery, of laboriously executed and exquisite "sand mandalas," such as the Kalachakra (or Wheel of Time) Mandala -- all powerful emblems of both the spiritual and the ephemeral. As the "Vajra master" or leader of that "Tantric" school of Tibetan Buddhism to which all fourteen Dalai Lamas for the last six centuries have belonged, he has seen fit to conduct elaborate and formerly secret ceremonies, such as the Kalachakra Initiation, for the spiritual benefit of aspiring Buddhists and the edification of the general public in many cities throughout the world.

Lending itself far more than the lives of most real-life heroes to an extensive illustrated narrative, the Dalai Lama's life has been one of stalwart devotion to kindness and compassion in the midst of unceasing conflict and turbulent change on a grand and global scale. The Dalai Lama's position is unique in the world in that he is both the religious and political leader of a large country and an entirely unique culture, as well as the world's foremost practitioner of Buddhism. As such, he provides an inspiring alternative to the perpetual conflict between church and state that has challenged and strained the social framework of all other nationalities. His determined devotion to nonviolence in response to the ongoing suppression and persecution of his people and unrelenting attacks on his authority and institutions has transformed him into a prime exemplar of the triumph of spirituality over political adversity in the service of world peace.


Eighty 8-1/2 x 11 full-color illustrated pages, an integral fusion of text and art, in four parts of roughly equal length.

Part 1: The background of modern Tibet; its history, recent and modern; its basic Buddhist beliefs; how the succession of Dalai Lamas evolved; how the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was driven from Tibet by invading Chinese, only to return and expel them from Tibet; how the Thirteenth Dalai Lama died, leaving dire warnings for the future; the extensive search for the next Dalai Lama, and how the Thirteenth's new incarnation was discovered by caretaker lamas in the person of a two-year-old boy living on a farm in remote northeastern Amdo; how his discovery was confirmed but kept secret from the Chinese as his transfer to Lhasa was painstakingly negotiated with the local Chinese warlord; and how, after many difficulties and much intrigue, resulting in the demise of the warlord, he was brought to Lhasa in a processional caravan, at the age of four and accompanied by his family, to be hailed and worshipped by its adoring population as the new living Buddha, and finally coronated on the Lion Throne.

Part 2: The childhood and early adolescence of the Dalai Lama--his education by Tibet's highest lamas, begun at the age of six; his relations with his brother and his family under the unique circumstances of his position; his lonely boyhood life in the Potala Palace, his discovery of its secret treasures and its centuries-old traditions; his growing intellectual interests and aptitudes, his love of science and his mechanical dexterity; the sudden and unexpected arrival in Lhasa of two Austrian escapees from a British prison camp in India; a flashback account of their adventures and hardships in crossing the mountains and deserts of western Tibet; how they were taken in hospitably by the people of Lhasa; how one of them, Heinrich Harrer, newly befriended by the Holy Mother and the Dalai Lama's older brother, became tutor to the young Dalai Lama; his education of the adolescent ruler in the recent disasters of modern history and the current world conflicts; and how the Dalai Lama and his government finally realized the vulnerability of their isolation in learning of the growing threat of invasion by Communist China.

Part 3: Sudden catastrophic earthquakes and floods in Tibet, portending imminent disaster; the final stages of the Dalai Lama's education and, at the age of 15, his ascendancy to full spiritual and political power; the invasion of Tibet by the People's Liberation Army, and the full-scale destruction of its people, its monasteries, its art and scriptures, and its entire cultural heritage; the Dalai Lama's journey to Beijing and his conversations and negotiations with Premier Chou En-lai and Chairman Mao Tse-tung; the conflict the Dalai Lama was forced to confront between the political realities of genocide and his adherence to the traditional religious principles of Buddhism as well as the principles of nonviolence as exemplified by his Indian contemporary Mahatma Gandhi; the violent resistance against the Chinese army by indigenous Khampa horsemen and warriors, and the emotional strains endured by the Dalai Lama in sympathizing with their grievances while trying to dissuade them from violence and thus protect his people from further bloodshed; the conferral on the Dalai Lama, in 1959, of the highest possible degree in the scholarly religious tradition of Tibetan Buddhism; the blatant attempt by the Chinese, soon afterward, to abduct and assassinate the Dalai Lama; the ensuing national uprising against the Chinese invaders, and their deadly and devastating attack on the people of Lhasa; and the last-minute escape of the Dalai Lama from Tibet and over the Himalayas into exile.

Part 4: The Dalai Lama's arrival in India amidst joyous celebrations and the crush of jounalists and news media teams from around the world; the train ride across northern India through throngs of cheering and prostrating well-wishers; his establishment of the Tibetan government-in-exile in the Himalayan foothills; negotiations with Indian Prime Minister Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi to care for the Tibetan immigrants arriving in India; the disclosure through conversations with Nehru that neither he nor any other political leader in the world was willing to confront China on Tibet's behalf; ongoing but futile negotiations with China, along with further revolts and suppressions in Tibet; the hardships and privations of the exiles, as they struggled to adjust to a new climate and a new world; the rebuilding of Namgyal monastery in Dharamsala and the establishment of many other monasteries throughout India, bringing the return of Buddhism to the land of its birth; the visit by the Dalai Lama to Bodhgaya and the Bodhi tree of the Buddha's enlightenment; the establishment and growth of many agricultural and agro-industrial Tibetan communities in exile under his leadership; the establishment of orphanages for exiled Tibetan children; and the hope for an eventual return to a newly independent Tibet.

Epilogue (Optional; as yet unscripted): The efforts of the Dalai Lama in the last 30 years to bring the plight of the Tibetan people and their culture to the attention of the world: his many international lecture tours, and his public initiatory ceremonies; his meetings with such spiritual figures as Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa, and Pope John Paul II; and with political leaders such as President Jimmy Carter and President Vaclav Havel; the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and his acceptance speech; the conferring of the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award and the Raoul Wallenberg Congressional Human Rights Award, with his acceptance speech in the rotunda of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.; simultaneous uprisings by the people of Tibet and their continuing brutal suppression; members of the Dalai Lama's family sent as investigative emissaries to Tibet, and the outpouring of love and grief they received from the people of Lhasa; the efforts of the Dalai Lama to reason with the Chinese and achieve some degree of political compromise with his Five-Point Peace Plan, designating Tibet as an environmental preserve and a "Zone of Peace"; the rebuff of all his efforts and ensuing crackdowns on the Chinese people themselves with the Tianenmen Square massacre; political protests at the U.N. against its policy of excluding the Dalai Lama; protest marches on the Chinese Embassy in New York City, and throughout the world; and the Dalai Lama's personal, up-to-date reactions to the enduring stalemate.

Production Environment

This book, as conceived, should go far beyond the territory delimited by any other graphic novel yet published. It will draw substantially on the inherently visionary and artistically expressive Tibetan Buddhist tradition that stretches back for over ten centuries. Its primary artist, Alex Grey, is a knowledgeable practitioner of Vajrayana Buddhism, whose work has already been influenced by and draws heavily on the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

As proposed, The Dalai Lama of Tibet will be produced digitally, using traditionally rendered graphic art in ink and oil, as well as electronically generated and enhanced imagery -- using, as its primary software programs, Adobe Illustrator and PhotoShop. If pre-packaged, it can be delivered as fully proofed and trapped four-color separations. This process would assure the graphic consistency and integrity of the book, at the same time allowing for strikingly innovative imagery at no greater cost than conventionally produced graphic novels.


Successfully produced and marketed biographies of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul were published by Marvel Comics in the early 1980s, while the current market for adult graphic-novel treatments of "serious subject matter" (such as Art Spiegelman's best-selling MAUS, based on the Nazi concentration camps; Introducing Kafka by David Zane Mairowitz and Robert Crumb; a recently released graphic-novel version of the life of Martin Luther King Jr.; and, most notably, Eva Van Dam's full-color graphic novel The Magic Life of Milarepa, Tibet's Great Yogi) makes the eventual publication of some form of illustrated biography of the Dalai Lama an inevitability. We who know the subject well -- with support from such advisers to the project as Prof. Robert A.F. Thurman of the Center for Buddhist Studies at Columbia University; Mr. Rinchen Dharlo, Representative of the His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Americas; the Venerable Lobsang Samten of the Tibetan Buddhist Center in Philadelphia; and the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India -- would be the first to publish with the best.

In light of the high visibility of the Dalai Lama in the global media, and especially considering the plans for imminent release of a Hollywood film version of this subject (directed by Martin Scorsese and now in production) within the next two years, the public awareness and acceptance of heretofore exotic subject matter (tying in with the current cultural search for the sacred) is already being generated. Every bookstore in the country which deals in Buddhist, "New Age" or spiritual literature would be a likely sales outlet. The book would also be an item with high sales potential for regular trade bookstores, and since the Dalai Lama is a figure of global renown, that potential would exist for international sales as well.

The digital production nature of this book and the availability of scholarly and cultural input from the Tibetan Buddhist community make the project a natural candidate for expansion into interactive media on CD-ROM, including audiovisual replication of rare and little known treasures. Since the historical accuracy and visual authenticity of the material would be verified by the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it would retain an inherent educational and spiritual value. A CD-ROM version could be produced by the same production crew responsible for the book.

Additionally, a site on the World Wide Web could be produced in support of the book and the CD. To enhance the experience of both, it could present updated information on the Dalai Lama and Tibet, featuring downloadable audio and video clips. It could also include an order form for both book and CD, as well as a mailing list of purchasers, and provide a discussion forum for both readers of the book and users of the CD, where an ongoing dialog could be conducted among all those interested in the subject of Tibetan culture and Tibetan independence.


William Meyers, writer and editor, formerly working in magazine journalism, subsequently an editor at Facts On File Publications in New York, now working as desktop publisher in the production department of Columbia University Press.

Alex Grey, artist and illustrator, anatomical artist for the New York Times and teacher of anatomical art at New York University, whose work has been the subject of numerous international exhibitions and published retrospectively in the book Sacred Mirrors -- The Visionary Art of Alex Grey.

Dennis Janke, artist and illustrator for DC Comics Corporation.

Marjorie Strauss, fine artist, designer and computer-graphics colorist for DC Comics.

Marc Greene, illustrator and digital artist, studio manager for LMPM (a New York advertising agency) and faculty member of the New School for Social Research.


Professor Robert A.F. Thurman, Ph.D., Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies, Columbia University; President of Tibet House America, the American Institute for Buddhist Studies, and the Institute for Asian Democracy; author of numerous books on Tibetan Buddhism, including The Central Philosophy of Tibet, The Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti, a new translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead; Inside Tibetan Buddhism; Essential Tibetan Buddhism; and the forthcoming The Politics of Enlightenment. Also production consultant to Kundun, the upcoming major motion-picture version of the life of the Dalai Lama.

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Copyright © 1997, William Meyers
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This page was last updated January 26, 1997

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