Dalai Lama (AP-Yonhap News)
WASHINGTON (AFP) ― Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Wednesday celebrated his 76th birthday in Washington on a visit in which he will offer spiritual teachings to thousands and meet top U.S. lawmakers.
Tibetan and local well-wishers cheered on the Dalai Lama as he arrived Tuesday at his Washington hotel, the latest international stop for the Nobel Prize-winning monk who shows no sign of slowing down his travel at his age.
China opposes any international meetings with the Dalai Lama and the White House has declined comment on whether President Barack Obama will meet the Tibetan spiritual leader during his nearly two weeks in the U.S. capital.
A congressional aide, who asked not to be identified, said House Speaker John Boehner will meet the Dalai Lama at his office Thursday and House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will attend. Under the Constitution, Boehner is the third highest-ranking U.S. official.
Pelosi is a longtime critic of China on human rights grounds and has met frequently in the past with the Dalai Lama.
Maria Otero, the undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs who acts as the special coordinator for Tibet issues, met the Dalai Lama upon his arrival at the airport, a State Department official said.
Organizers expect up to 10,000 people to flock to an arena in downtown Washington as the Dalai Lama leads a 10-day Buddhist ritual known as the Kalachakra, in which practitioners meditate and pray for world peace.
This Kalachakra marks the first in more than five years. It was last held in India, where the Dalai Lama has lived in exile since 1959.
Obama received the Dalai Lama last year, but only away from cameras in the White House’s private residence. China nonetheless protested, as did a number of US lawmakers who denounced what they considered disrespect toward the religious leader.