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Exile Tibetan government officials watch a message from their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on a screen during a ceremony to mark the 86th birthday of the Tibetan leader in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebrations were muted and behind closed doors. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

 

The Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama celebrated turning 86 on Tuesday, thanking his supporters and expressing his appreciation for India, where he has lived since he fled his homeland in 1959.

“I want to express my deep appreciation of all my friends who have really shown me love, respect and trust,” the Dalai Lama said in a video message.

He reiterated his mission to serving humanity and urged supporters to be compassionate.

“Since I became a refugee and now settled in India, I have taken full advantage of India’s freedom and religious harmony,” he said.

President of the Central Tibetan Administration Penpa Tsering, offers a ceremonial scarf in front of a portrait of his spiritual leader the Dalai Lama during a ceremony to mark the 86th birthday of the Tibetan leader in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebrations were muted and behind closed doors. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

Exile Tibetan Buddhist monks distribute sweets and packets of juice to the public to celebrate the 86th birthday of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, outside the gate of their monastery in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, July 6, 2021.  (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

 

He added that he had great respect for India’s secular values such as “honesty, karuna (compassion), and ahimsa (non-violence).”

The Dalai Lama made the hillside town of Dharmsala his headquarters after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. China doesn’t recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile and accuses the Dalai Lama of seeking to separate Tibet from China.

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

President of the Central Tibetan Administration Penpa Tsering, cuts a cake during a ceremony to mark the 86th birthday of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebrations were muted and behind closed doors. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)President of the Central Tibetan Administration Penpa Tsering, center front, stands up with other government officials for the Tibetan national anthem during a ceremony to mark the 86th birthday of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

A video of the Tibetan flag is projected on a screen as the President of the Central Tibetan Administration Penpa Tsering, second left, stands up with other government officials for the Tibetan national anthem during a ceremony to mark the 86th birthday of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, July 6, 2021.  (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)An exile Tibetan monk removes a portrait of his spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as he celebrates the 86th birthday of the Tibetan leader in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The Dalai Lama made the hillside town of Dharmsala his headquarters after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.(AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

On Tuesday, a small celebration attended by mostly government officials was held at the Central Tibetan Administration. On a projected screen, the Dalai Lama’s video message was played and followed by a cultural performance by the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts.

Usually, the spiritual leader’s birthday is a fairly elaborate affair in the town, open to members of the public who would flock to the Tsuglakhang Temple where performances were held. Sometimes, the leader would also make an appearance.

This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebrations were muted and behind closed doors. But a banner marking his birthday hung in the town square and Tibetan monks distributed sweets and juice to passers-by outside the closed temple.

“Many people really show they love me. And many people actually love my smile,” the Dalai Lama said with a smile at the start of the video. “In spite of my old age, my face is quite handsome,” he said with a laugh.President of the Central Tibetan Administration Penpa Tsering, front corner, prostrates in front of a portrait of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama during a ceremony to mark the 86th birthday of his leader in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)President of the Central Tibetan Administration Penpa Tsering, waits for his turn to offer a ceremonial scarf in front of a portrait of his spiritual leader the Dalai Lama during a ceremony to mark the 86th birthday of the Tibetan leader in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

An exile Tibetan monk carries a portrait of his spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as he celebrates the 86th birthday of the Tibetan leader in Dharmsala, India, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The Dalai Lama made the hillside town of Dharmsala his headquarters after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

 

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