Is the Dalai Lama Rich? Details on the Tibetan Leader

What is the Dalai Lama's net worth? The Tibetan leader from the Buddhist spiritual tradition shocked millions after footage of inappropriate behavior.

Kathryn Underwood - Author

Apr. 10 2023, Published 12:10 p.m. ET

The 14th Dalai Lama
Source: Getty Images

The Dalai Lama has long been a symbol across the globe of the peaceful Buddhist religion, but recent video footage appeared to show him in an abusive position over a young child, CNN reported. In the wake of the incident, the Dalai Lama's office apologized for his actions. Who is the Dalai Lama, and what is the Dalai Lama's net worth after decades in exile?

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The Dalai Lama, whose given name is Tenzin Gyatso, is considered by many Buddhists to be the 14th incarnation of the spiritual leader of the "Yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism. He has been in exile since 1959, but has somehow maintained a large sphere of influence in his spiritual tradition.

The Dalai Lama and actor Richard Gere
Source: Getty Images
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Tenzin Gyatso (formerly Lahmo Dhondop), or the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama, Buddhist spiritual leader

Net worth: $1 (not millions)

The top spiritual leader of the "Yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is revered by many around the world, especially those who practice some form of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama isn't a name, but rather the title given to the person believed to be the reincarnation of the previous 13 leaders in the same position. Tenzin Gyatso is the name of the current and 14th Dalai Lama. He has spent most of his life in exile in India, where he has established a community of fellow Buddhists.

Birthdate: July 6, 1935

Birthplace: Tibet

Residence: Dharamshala, India

What is the Dalai Lama's net worth?

As an exiled spiritual leader in India, the Dalai Lama doesn't receive a traditional salary. The Dalai Lama's net worth is somewhat confusing. Most sources say that he has a net worth of just $1, perhaps because as a monk he shouldn't hold earthly possessions. One source contradicts that, claiming he is worth $150 million thanks to books published and awards with monetary prizes.

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What was the Dalai Lama's early life like?

In keeping with Buddhist tradition, the Dalai Lama is believed to be the reincarnation of Avalokiteśvara, or the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Most sources believe that Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, was one of 16 children born to a Tibetan farming family. Every Dalai Lama is a tulku, and after one Dalai Lama dies, it can be years before the next is identified.

According to The Economist, when he was two years old (in 1937), signs directed monks to the 14th Dalai Lama. Signs like a star-shaped fungus growing on the 13th Dalai Lama's shrine pointing northeast led them to Lhamo Dhondup, who was the correct age and filled other requirements to become the next Dalai Lama, made official in 1950.

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Source: Getty Images

Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi with the Dalai Lama in 2016.

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Why does the Dalai Lama live in India and not Tibet?

A revolt in Tibet in 1959, which wasn't successful in defeating Chinese occupying forces, led the 14th Dalai Lama to retreat to India in exile. He established a government-in-exile in Dharamshala, where thousands of Tibetans followed their leader.

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What does the Dalai Lama do for a living?

At age 87, the Dalai Lama has led a fascinating life as the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. He has traveled all over the world offering spiritual guidance, founded multiple organizations, and written numerous books on spirituality.

Source: Dalai Lama Facebook

The Dalai Lama at home in India.

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These are just some of the books written by His Holiness:

  • The Little Book of Encouragement (2021, edited by
  • Our Only Home: A Climate Appeal to the World (2020)
  • Happiness (2018)
  • The Wisdom of Compassion (2013, with Victor Chan)
  • Beyond Religion: Ethics for the Whole World (2012)
  • Toward a True Kinship of Faiths (2010)

Some of the awards received by the Dalai Lama include:

  • Liberty Medal, 2015
  • Honorary Doctorates (Macalester College, University of Maryland, Southern Methodist University, and many others)
  • Honorary Citizenship, numerous countries
  • Inaugural Hofstra University Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize, 2008
  • U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, 2006
  • International League for Human Rights Award, 2003
  • Four Freedoms Award, 1994
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Source: Dalai Lama Facebook

The Dalai Lama teaching in 2019.

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Why is the Dalai Lama the subject of controversy?

Recently, the Dalai Lama was reportedly seen on video asking a young boy to suck his tongue at an event. The February footage showed the Dalai Lama first allowing a hug and a kiss on the cheek from the boy, then kissing the boy on the mouth, finally asking the boy "suck my tongue."

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Delhi-based child rights group, Haq: Center for Child Rights, told CNN that it condemns “all form of child abuse.” It also contradicted claims that his behavior was in keeping with Tibetan tradition. “Some news refers to Tibetan culture about showing tongue, but this video is certainly not about any cultural expression and even if it is, such cultural expressions are not acceptable.”

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A statement from the Dalai Lama's office offered an apology "for the hurt his words may have caused," but then appeared to trivialize the event, claiming, “His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras.” Whether the apology will be accepted by the public remains to be seen.

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