Mongolians Flock to Dalai Lama

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia (AP) - Braving snow and unruly crowds, thousands of Mongolian Buddhists gathered Wednesday to hear the Dalai Lama preach as many complained about Chinese criticism of the visit by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

The Dalai Lama spoke for more than two hours at a convention center that was filled to its capacity of 5,000 people. Hundreds stood in the cold outside to listen over loudspeakers.

A later session was moved to the country's biggest monastery to accommodate the crowds.

Believers have thronged all the Dalai Lama's appearances since he arrived Monday on his first visit in seven years to Mongolia, which shares centuries-old religious and cultural ties with Tibet.

Mongolia's powerful neighbor China criticized the visit. Communist forces occupied Tibet in 1951, and the Dalai Lama fled into exile in India eight years later during a failed uprising.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of promoting Tibetan independence. Wang Fukang, an embassy official in Ulan Bator, said China was "fully against the Dalai Lama using religion as a cover for his political activities."

The Dalai Lama was supposed to visit Mongolia in September but canceled after Russia and South Korea refused him transit visas, possibly to avoid angering China. On this trip, he came through Japan.

Many Mongolians said they resented what they regarded as Chinese interference.

"It's extremely wrong that China gave him problems. He wanted to come to Mongolia, and that has nothing to do with China," said Batsukh, a Buddhist in the crowd outside the convention center. "He has so many believers here. That's why he had to come."

But Wang said "the Dalai Lama gets involved in politics no matter what country he is in. He talks about separation, so China is fully against this."

Tibetans and Mongolians follow the tantric school of Buddhism, which recognizes the Dalai Lama as a high spiritual authority.

During his sermon, he sat cross-legged on a gold-trimmed throne decorated with Buddhist motifs as he talked applying spirituality to daily life.

"You have to practice good actions in daily life to know the true meaning of Buddhism. Then you will come closer to the truth," he said.

About two dozen lamas — Tibetan Buddhist priests — sat on a dais below him. In the audience, monks and ordinary Mongolians listened intently, occasionally looking at two giant video screens.

Monks went around with silver kettles filled with blessed water, which believers dabbed on their foreheads and took small sips from cupped hands. Some monks were also given a specially consecrated sugar and flour confection.

The Dalai Lama joked about the boisterous crowds at his Mongolian public events.

"When I come to Mongolia, I get stronger because the Mongolian people push each other around so much," he said, making jabbing motions with his elbows and eliciting a roar of laughter from the audience.

Outside, police pushed hundreds of people back to checkpoints about 1,600 feet from the hall. The crowd, many of them bundled in fur and wool-lined traditional Mongolian gowns, huddled in doorways or stood in clusters beneath loudspeakers. Many were annoyed that they couldn't get closer.

"If I can see him, everything will be good. Because he is the top god, my wishes will come true," said Nuymaa, an 82-year-old woman sitting on a stool in the snow.