His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at his 70th birthday celebration in Dharamsala, India.

Thousands of Tibetans, pilgrims, politicians and press from all over the world gathered in the Himalayan town of Dharamsala, India, today to mark the Dalai Lama’s 70th birthday. The Dalai Lama addressed a more than 5,000-strong audience of Tibetans and other guests at the Tsuglakhang temple at a ceremony attended by senior Rinpoches from different Buddhist schools and traditions. The 17th Karmapa, Ugyen Trinley Dorje, who escaped from Tibet into exile in 1999 to fulfil his religious lineage, sat at the Dalai Lama’s side.

‘As the Dalai Lama, and a Tibetan, I have a special responsibility to represent the Tibetan cause; any Tibetans here have hope and trust in me,’ the Dalai Lama said in a brief statement at the ceremony. He also stressed the importance of the establishment of a democracy-in-exile, which he said is essential to building Tibet’s future.

During the ceremony, which opened with musicians from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala playing a Scottish ballad on bag-pipes and the Tibetan National Anthem, the Dalai Lama greeted authors of books on Tibet launched at the ceremony, and listened to tributes from senior exiled Tibetans. The Kalon Tripa, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, said he was positive about the current dialogue process between the Dalai Lama’s Envoys and Beijing. The Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy Lodi Gyari Rinpoche and his Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen arrived in Dharamsala yesterday after the latest round of talks at the Chinese Embassy in Bern, Switzerland.

At a press conference after the ceremony, the Dalai Lama said that with reference to the current situation with China, it is necessary to have ‘more patience, more determination.’ He said that while his primary commitment is to human values, he is also committed to the Tibet issue, as a Tibetan. ‘We continue to follow the Middle Way – we are not speaking about separation from China.’ The Dalai Lama also stressed the importance of education for the Tibetan exile community.

A Tibetan former political prisoner, Ngawang (his full name has been withheld), who was imprisoned in the mid-1990s for pro-independence protests, and who arrived in Dharamsala this week after escaping from Tibet, said after the ceremony: ‘In Tibet it is illegal to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday, so we have to do so in secret. It is so important to me to be here today, to pay tribute to our leader openly and without fear.’