The Dalai Lama is a monk of the Gelug or “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, the newest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism founded by Je Tsongkhapa. The 14th and current Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso.
The Dalai Lama is considered to be the successor in a line of tulkus who are believed to be incarnations of Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, called Chenrezig in Tibetan. The name is a combination of the Mongolic word dalai meaning “ocean” (being the translation of the Tibetan name, ‘Gyatso’) and the Tibetan word བླ་མ་ (bla-ma) meaning “guru, teacher, mentor”. The Tibetan word “lama” corresponds to the better known Sanskrit word “guru“.
From 1642 until the 1950s (except for 1705 to 1750), the Dalai Lamas or their regents headed the Tibetan government or Ganden Phodrang which governed all or most of the Tibetan plateau from Lhasa with varying degrees of autonomy, up to complete sovereignty. This government also enjoyed the patronage and protection of firstly Mongol kings of theKhoshut and Dzungar Khanates (1642–1720) and then of the emperors of the Manchu-led Qing dynasty (1720–1912).