DHARMSALA, India (AP) — The Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama celebrated turning 86 on Tuesday, thanking his supporters and expressing his appreciation for India, where he has lived since he fled his homeland in 1959.
“I want to express my deep appreciation of all my friends who have really shown me love, respect and trust,” the Dalai Lama said in a video message.
He reiterated his mission to serving humanity and urged supporters to be compassionate.
“Since I became a refugee and now settled in India, I have taken full advantage of India’s freedom and religious harmony,” he said.
He added that he had great respect for India’s secular values such as “honesty, karuna (compassion), and ahimsa (non-violence).”
The Dalai Lama made the hillside town of Dharmsala his headquarters after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. China doesn’t recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile and accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to separate Tibet from China.
The Dalai Lama denies being a separatist and says he merely advocates for substantial autonomy and protection of Tibet’s native Buddhist culture.
On Tuesday, a small celebration attended by mostly government officials was held at the Central Tibetan Administration. On a projected screen, the Dalai Lama’s video message was played and followed by a cultural performance by the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts.
Usually, the spiritual leader’s birthday is a fairly elaborate affair in the town, open to members of the public who would flock to the Tsuglakhang Temple where performances were held. Sometimes, the leader would also make an appearance.
This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebrations were muted and behind closed doors. But a banner marking his birthday hung in the town square and Tibetan monks distributed sweets and juice to passers-by outside the closed temple.
“Many people really show they love me. And many people actually love my smile,” the Dalai Lama said with a smile at the start of the video. “In spite of my old age, my face is quite handsome,” he said with a laugh.