New York, NY, USA, 11 October 2007 (By Verena Dobnik, AP) - A Manhattan convention hall turned into a sea of Buddhist faithful on Thursday as followers gathered to listen to the Dalai Lama speak for two intense hours.
He delivered his entire speech without notes, pausing to take a sip of tea only at the end as tears of joy flowed through the crowd.
'The Tibetan cause is a cause of justice, and that's something that cannot fade away,' the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader said at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. 'That is the nature of truth - that it cannot die with time and with the change of generations.'
The Dalai Lama spoke as the White House announced that President Bush will attend a ceremony in Congress on Wednesday to award the 72-year-old Nobel Prize winner the Congressional Gold Medal, whose recipients have included Mother Teresa, former South African President Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II.
China announced that it 'resolutely opposes' the U.S. award to a man Beijing reviles as a separatist.
The Dalai Lama told the New York audience, his voice rising emphatically: 'The Chinese call us separatists, but I tell them they are the separatists.'
He spoke in native Tibetan, and his remarks were translated by a reporter in attendance who covers the Tibetan community.
Weeping as she sat in a wheelchair after her fourth audience with the Dalai Lama, 89-year-old Ang Phurba said: 'I feel so satisfied, I feel so blessed. Now, I have no fear when I die. I will be reborn with him as the leader.'
Thousands of people - including Buddhists from Tibet, India, Nepal and Mongolia - filled the exhibition space to see the Dalai Lama.
They laughed when he told them he felt as if he had arrived at a Tibetan settlement in India, which has for decades served as a home to Tibetans fleeing Chinese control.
Unlike the audiences that greeted him a day earlier in Ithaca, N.Y. - a mostly-American mix of admirers - he spoke to his own people in their language. And he was somewhat different, said Robert Thurman, an influential American Buddhist writer and academic in the audience.
'He's more at home, he's relaxed, he cracks jokes,' Thurman said.
The afternoon started with the Dalai Lama conducting an informal poll of who was there, eliciting a stream of chuckles.
He asked if there were any Mongolians, cupping his hand over his eyes to peer into the audience. There were. He asked if anybody was over 70. Dozens and dozens. 'Between 50 and 70? ... Between 30 and 50? ... Below 30?'
Clearly, youth dominated. So the Dalai Lama proceeded to teach them the details of their history - especially about the hardships he and other Tibetans had suffered.
At 24, he said he left for exile in India, where he and other monks struggled to survive. There, he trained several generations of Buddhist monks now scattered around the world; he recognized some of his students among the rapt faces listening to him, pointing to them.