The Dalai Lama yesterday laughed off complaints from Chinese diplomats in Canada over his recently bestowed, honorary Canadian citizenship and plans to meet elected officials here.
"It seems whenever I travel somewhere, it always creates some inconvenience," he told a jammed news conference at city hall, after wrapping a white ceremonial greeting scarf around the shoulders of Mayor Sam Sullivan.
"So, I am very sorry. But hopefully, it is not my mistake."
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama then broke into a loud belly laugh.
The revered Tibetan spiritual leader noted other countries where China had raised a fuss over his visit "but afterwards, there was not much serious consequence."
He is scheduled to meet privately tomorrow with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's parliamentary secretary, Jason Kenney, who is travelling to Vancouver for the encounter.
He meets this morning with Premier Gordon Campbell.
The Dalai Lama was equally good humored about Parliament's unanimous vote in June to make him a citizen of Canada, only the third foreigner, after Nelson Mandela and Raoul Wallenberg, to receive such a distinction.
While terming the decision "a great honour," the Dalai Lama said he was far more interested in the rights and privileges of his new citizenship than the duties.
"Because my visit is so short, I want to realize all the rights and then say 'goodbye,' " he said, breaking into one of his trademark, high-pitched giggles.
Chinese diplomats have criticized the Dalai Lama's visit and proposed meeting with Mr. Kenney, charging that the Tibetan Buddhist leader is a dangerous "splittist" dedicated to separating Tibet from the People's Republic of China.
However, at his news conference, that stretched to three times the allotted 20 minutes, the Dalai Lama rejected Chinese assertions that he wants independence for Tibet, even as he mourned the "cultural genocide" that is going on in his homeland.
Tibetans want food, not spiritual matters, in their stomachs, so most support modernization and the economic growth that is taking place under China, he said.
"We might get better material benefits within China, so I am not seeking independence. . . . I am trying to seek a solution according to the Chinese constitution."
But the Dalai Lama said Tibet needs greater autonomy to preserve its language, culture, spirituality and delicate environment.
Increasingly, the Tibetan way of life is disappearing under Chinese rule, he said.
Already outnumbered by Chinese migrants in their centuries-old capital of Lhasa, more and more Tibetans speak Chinese in their daily lives, and the recent, controversial rail line between Beijing and Lhasa is exacerbating the situation, the Dalai Lama said.
"Intentionally or unintentionally, some kind of cultural genocide is taking place."
Vancouver is the lone Canadian stop on the Dalai Lama's latest trip to North America. He is here for three days of public dialogue on peace, compassion and kindness, and to draw attention to the planned, $60-million Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education to be located here, the only one of its kind in the world.
Despite an onerous, 40-hour journey from his headquarters in Dharamsala, India, the 71-year-old Dalai Lama was in high spirits, seemingly fully recovered from an undisclosed illness that caused him to cancel a summer tour of several European countries.
As he held forth on many of his familiar messages about the need to embrace kindheartedness, sound human values and tolerance, punctuated by grins and chortles, the normally raucous members of the news media were held spellbound, stretching to shake his hand at the end.
And the Dalai Lama, one of the most admired figures in the world, according to numerous polls, reciprocated by stressing the importance of a free press.
"Media people should have long noses like an elephant to smell out politicians, mayors, prime ministers and businessmen. We need to know the reality, the good and the bad, not just the appearance," he said.
More seriously, the Dalai Lama said it was an important time to come to Vancouver as conflicts continue to rage throughout the world.
"The time has come to educate people, to cease all quarrels in the name of religion, culture, countries, different political or economic systems.
"Fighting is useless. Suicide," he said.