Members of Congress are afforded many special opportunities. The opportunity to join the President of the United States and Congressional leaders to award His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal is an unsurpassed honour.
I thank the co-sponsors of the legislation for making today possible. With this Gold Medal, we affirm the special relationship between the United States and the Dalai Lama.
It is a relationship that began with a gold watch. As a boy, the Dalai Lama enjoyed science and mechanics. Knowing this, President Franklin Roosevelt gave the very young Dalai Lama a watch showing the phases of the moon and the days of the week.
The Dalai Lama described the gold watch as magnificent and even took it with him when he fled Tibet in 1959. His Holiness still uses the watch today and his teaching about the connection between science and religion is an inspiring part of his message.
American presidents and the American people have been inspired by His Holiness, who describes himself as a simple monk, no more, no less.
To Tibetan Buddhists, he is the earthly manifestation of the living Buddha. To the international community, he is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. To millions of believers and admirers, he is a source of wisdom and compassion. To young people, His Holiness is a positive example of how to make the world a better place.
I will always be grateful to Chairman Tom Lantos for affording many Members of Congress our first meeting with His Holiness in 1987. It was then that His Holiness described a Middle Way Approach that seeks real autonomy for Tibetans within the framework of the People's Republic of China. This was a historic moment because His Holiness was relinquishing his goal of independence in favour of a compromise solution.
The Dalai Lama has expressed a willingness to visit China to engage directly with high level officials. It is my sincere hope that Beijing will take advantage of this opportunity and extend an invitation to His Holiness for substantive discussions. It is easy for us to gather here today to honour the Dalai Lama, especially when we consider how difficult it is for Tibetans to do so.
To meet with the Dalai Lama, Tibetans flee the repression in their own country, under the threat of torture and imprisonment for even having a picture of His Holiness. They walk for weeks, without adequate food or clothing, across the freezing Himalayan mountain passes. It is the most perilous escape route on earth. After their audience, they make the trip once again, returning to Tibet to rejoin their families.
When the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, the Nobel Committee affirmed its unstinting support for his work for peace, and for the unarmed masses on the march in many lands for liberty, peace and human dignity. And in doing so, the Nobel Committee honoured the Tibetans who march across the Himalayas, and the many others who cannot.
Today, with this Congressional Gold Medal, we honour the Tibetan people again and His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his many enduring and outstanding contributions to peace, non-violence, human rights and religious understanding.
Your Holiness: you bring lustre to this award, and a challenge to the conscience of the world.