Tawang, India (AFP) Nov 9, 2009
The Dalai Lama held a mass audience with tens of thousands of devotees Monday on a "non-political" visit to a region near India's border with Tibet that has drawn strong protests from China.
More than 30,000 people, many of whom arrived days in advance, packed into an open-air polo ground near the remote Tawang monastery in the northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh to hear the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
"Compassion and peace are the two words that should be remembered by all," the Dalai Lama said at the opening of three days of religious teaching.
He told local ethnic Tibetans that they were responsible for "spreading and promoting Tibetan Buddhism for future generations to come".
China, which claims Arunachal as its own territory, has condemned the week-long visit and accused the Dalai Lama of seeking to stir up tensions between New Delhi and Beijing.
On his arrival at Tawang on Sunday, the Dalai Lama dismissed China's complaints and rejected charges that he actively promotes anti-China unrest in his homeland.
"My visit to Tawang is non-political," the 74-year-old Nobel laureate told reporters, describing Beijing's accusations that he was campaigning for Tibet to split from China as "totally baseless".
His comments were splashed on the front pages of the Indian press and Arunachal state officials on Monday informally requested journalists to refrain from asking him questions for the remainder of the visit.
The Indian government had already barred foreign journalists from covering the Dalai Lama's tour, which has generated widespread excitement among the region's population.
"He is our God, he is the living Buddha. A glimpse of the Dalai Lama is like getting spiritual power inside you," said Sherba Lama, a monk who walked from a village close to the border with China to attend Monday's prayer meeting.
Tawang -- 400 years old and the second largest Tibetan monastery in India -- holds vivid memories for the Dalai Lama.
When he fled Tibet in fear of his life following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, he first took refuge in Tawang after crossing the border.
"There are a lot of emotions involved," he said on Sunday, referring to the journey that led to his 50 years of exile in India. "When I escaped from China in 1959, I was mentally and physically very weak."
It was not the Dalai Lama's first return visit to Tawang but the timing has caused Beijing to protest in robust fashion.
Indo-Chinese tensions over their disputed Himalayan border -- the trigger for a brief but bloody war in 1962 -- have risen in recent months, with reports of troop movements and minor incursions on both sides.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toured the state last month during an election campaign, prompting warnings from Beijing about harming bilateral ties.
The presence in the disputed region of the Dalai Lama, whom China regards as a renegade Tibetan separatist, is seen as a double insult.
China had accused the Dalai Lama and his exiled "clique" of helping to organise anti-China protests that erupted in the Tibetan capital Lhasa in March last year and spread across the Tibetan plateau.
Before he began his religious teaching on Monday, the Dalai Lama opened a multi-speciality hospital in Tawang to which he had contributed two million rupees (40,000 dollars).
"The hospital will go a long way to meeting the health care needs of the local people," he said.
Thousands of Buddhists turned out Sunday to welcome the Dalai Lama on his arrival at Tawang monastery, perched in the Himalayan foothills at 3,500 metres (11,400 feet).
The ecstatic welcome he has received here is likely to deepen China's suspicions over the true motive behind the visit.
The Dalai Lama has had several recent health scares, fuelling speculation over his reincarnation and successor.
China is almost sure to make its own selection. The Dalai Lama, however, has stated that his reincarnation may be found outside Chinese Tibet, and Arunachal, with its rich Tibetan culture, is an obvious contender.
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