Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has expressed the hope that he will be able to return to his homeland, from where he fled into exile more than half a century ago.
Speaking to thousands of well-wishers near the U.S. Capitol building in Washington on Saturday, the Dalai Lama said he was optimistic about the political situation in Tibet even as Chinese authorities continue to clamp down on protests against Beijing’s rule in the Himalayan territory.
At the end of his talk on world peace and inner peace, the Dalai Lama answered a question from the audience about whether he hoped to return to Tibet after his 52 years of living in exile in India.
"Oh yes, things are always changing," he said in an instant reply.
"Certainly, I think the voice of freedom, democracy, rule of law, more and more voice[s are] now coming,” he said, and noted that the political environment in China is changing.
"So things will certainly change," he said. "Not only [in the] Chinese case, but the whole world, things are changing."
The Dalai Lama, who celebrated his 76th birthday last week, spoke while in the U.S. capital for the Kalachakra, a ten-day event of religious teachings attended by thousands of Tibetans and Buddhists from around the world.
After a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese occupation, the Dalai Lama, then a young man in his mid-20s, fled to India and settled in the northern part of the country in Dharamsala, now home to the Tibetan government-in-exile.
The Dalai Lama retired as political leader of the exile government in March – part of a process to transfer political power to an elected leader.
His political successor, Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard scholar, also predicted the Dalai Lama could return to Tibet.
"He will live very long. I believe we will see he will return to Tibet in his lifetime," Sangay, the newly elected prime minister of the exile government, told the Associated Press in a recent interview.
China’s top Tibetan official Padma Choling said in May that “the door is open” for the Dalai Lama to return, but only if he gave up Tibetan independence and activities China considers “separatist.”
The Dalai Lama denies seeking independence for Tibet, saying he only wants greater autonomy.
Many experts say China is waiting for his death, when they believe the Tibetan cause will suffer without his leadership and international popularity.
Joining the Dalai Lama in Washington was the 26-year-old Karmapa Lama, who some hope could emerge as an intermediary between China and the exile Tibetan government.
The Karmapa Lama made a perilous journey from Tibet to Dharamsala in 1999, after voicing fear that China would force him to turn against the revered elder monk.
While in Washington, the Dalai Lama met with U.S. lawmakers last week, despite a warning from Chinese officials on Thursday.
Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.