The Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual leader, celebrates 88th birthday

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Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama smiles as he presides over a function marking his 88th birthday at the Tsuglakhang temple in Dharamshala, India, Thursday, July 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

DHARMSALA – The Dalai Lama celebrated his 88th birthday on Thursday, as hundreds of his supporters and exiled Tibetans thronged his hillside Indian headquarters in Dharamsala.

Artists played traditional welcome tunes as the Tibetan spiritual leader arrived in his open mobile van to preside over the celebrations in the courtyard of the Tsuglakhang Temple, which was festooned with Tibetan and Buddhist flags and portraits.

“We are celebrating my 88th birthday but look at me, I look barely 50,” the Dalai Lama said, smiling.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered warm birthday wishes and expressed admiration for the Dalai Lama's commitment to peace and nonviolence, in a statement from his office.

The Dalai Lama has made the hillside town of Dharmsala his headquarters since fleeing from Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. India considers Tibet to be part of China, though it hosts Tibetan exiles.

The Dalai Lama denies being a separatist and says he only advocates substantial autonomy and protection of Tibet’s native Buddhist culture.

In April, the Dalai Lama faced widespread criticism after a video circulated online showed him kissing a young boy on the lips and saying “suck my tongue.” The footage triggered a backlash online with social media users condemning his behavior as inappropriate.

The Dalai Lama later apologized in a statement posted on his official website. It said he regretted the incident and wished to “apologize to the boy and his family, as well as his many friends across the world, for the hurt his words may have caused.”