Hsiaolin, Taiwan, 31 August 2009 (AFP) - The Dalai Lama on Monday visited a village in southern Taiwan devastated by Typhoon Morakot, to offer prayers for the dead and comfort for the survivors.
Less than a month after a mudslide buried at least 424 people in Hsiaolin, the Tibetan spiritual leader sat down on the ground, now baked hard by the scorching sun, to join other monks in chanting for the souls of the dead.
'One thing we can do is pray for them,' the Dalai Lama told journalists and worshippers, after 15 minutes of prayers facing the village.
The Dalai Lama ended the simple ceremony by throwing yellow chrysanthemum petals for the hundreds of lives lost in the worst storm to hit Taiwan. As he prepared to leave, Wang Ming-liang, a young man who lost 14 relatives in the mudslide, knelt in front of Dalai Lama and received his blessing.
'I feel comforted and peaceful,' he said afterwards.
Some Taiwan residents have accused the Dalai Lama - reviled by China as a 'splittist' seeking independence for his Himalayan homeland - of using his five-day trip for political purposes.
'We didn't see any Tibetan monks carrying out relief work after the typhoon, so we don't think he is sincere,' said a member of Taiwan's aboriginal community, who had protested in the city of Kaohsiung against the visit. 'We have different religions, so I don't know how he can comfort us,' he said, identifying himself only as a Christian.
When asked by reporters accompanying him to Hsiaolin what he thought of the protests, the Dalai Lama chuckled. 'No problem. I like it. This is democracy, people's expression,' he said.
Most residents of Hsiaolin welcomed Monday's ceremony for helping them come to terms with the blunt shock of the typhoon's devastation. Among them was Huang Chih-lai, who happened to be away from home when the mudslide struck, killing both his parents.
'It's great the Dalai Lama has come so far to bless them,' he said. 'I don't think it's for political purposes.' Some had come from further afield to see the Dalai Lama, who has a large following on Taiwan, where Buddhism has been one of the main religions for centuries.
'The Dalai Lama is my idol,' said Shen Hsin-shan, a woman who had arrived in her car from Tainan, a city more than an hour's drive away. 'I'm really moved he's come this far to pray for the victims.'