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Dalai Lama wins Templeton Prize as more than 'simple Buddhist monk'

The Dalai Lama has won the Templeton Prize for exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension by spreading his message of compassion worldwide.

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Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama greets a Tibetan on his way to deliver spiritual teachings to a gathering in New Delhi March 23.

Manish Swarup/AP

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He calls himself a “simple Buddhist monk.”

But his biographers and religion experts say the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is way more than that. A monk, yes. But, also an exiled spiritual and temporal leader of 6 million Tibetan Buddhists, a philosopher-scientist, an author, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

And, on Thursday, the Dalai Lama received yet another honor: the 2012 Templeton Prize, which honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.

“I think he has become the best known Buddhist in the world,” says John Berthrong, former academic dean at Boston University’s School of Theology.

The award has been given to other high-profile religious leaders in the past, such as Mother Teresa and the Rev. Billy Graham. The Dalai Lama’s story is compelling for its own reasons.

He was chosen at age 2 to become the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people. By age 6, he was studying Buddhist theology. He was forced into exile at age 24 to try to avoid war in Lhasa, the capital. Since then, the Dalai Lama has traveled the world, meeting political leaders, learning about other religions, absorbing everything he couldn’t learn in the closed society of Tibet, such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  

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