The Dalai Lama assured Minnesota Tibetans on Saturday that he is in good health and will continue to play a prominent role as their nation-in-exile's spiritual leader as he prepares to relinquish his political duties.

The Buddhist holy leader also weighed in on an array of topics, including the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden and China's relationship with the United States, while stressing the importance of keeping religion and government apart.

"I'm always telling people the religious institution and the political institution must be separate," he said in an exchange with journalists in Minneapolis. "While I'm telling other people that way, I myself combine them. That's hypocrisy."

The Dalai Lama's Twin Cities appearances are part of his second official visit in the past decade to Minnesota, which has a Tibetan-American community of nearly 3,000, the second-largest concentration of Tibetans in the country.

When asked about Bin Laden's killing, the Dalai Lama said that it was understandable given his terrorist role but that he is a strong believer in nonviolence. "Dialogue is the only way."

"Violence is wrong," he said, adding that violent actions motivated by good intentions often lead to "unexpected consequences."

The Dalai Lama's return to Minnesota comes at a pivotal time as he prepares to turn over his political power to a newly elected prime minister while remaining the Tibetan Buddhist religious leader. The changeover has been viewed as a way to prepare the Tibetan people for his passing.

Following his 30-minute exchange with reporters, the Dalai Lama met with about 2,000 Tibetans from Minnesota and other Midwestern states at the University of St. Thomas fieldhouse.

Thupten Sonam Gyaltso, a monk, said he has seen the Dalai Lama many times before. "It makes you a better person every time you see him," Gyaltso said through an interpreter.

When the Dalai Lama arrived, many pressed their hands together and bowed their heads. Others kneeled and placed their foreheads on the turf.

Speaking in Tibetan, he sought to reassure the Minnesotans that the change in political leadership for the Tibetan nation-in-exile is nothing to fear. He told them that for the past 10 years, he has not made political decisions; the prime minister has been doing that.

He also said that during a recent visit to the Mayo Clinic, his doctors said his health was excellent, even better than last year. "I'll still be around, and I'm in very good health," he said, according to a translator.

The crowd applauded.

Ties, tensions with China

The 14th Dalai Lama was recognized at age 2, continuing a line of leaders spanning six centuries. He has lived in exile in India since 1959, following the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent campaign to end Chinese rule in his homeland.

A frequent critic of China who takes up the cause of Tibet in his speeches worldwide, the Dalai Lama said Saturday that because China is doing well economically, it's understandable that the United States would maintain diplomatic relations with its leaders. But if China is to fully engage with other countries, it must avoid censorship and become "an open society and more transparent," he said

On Saturday afternoon, the Dalai Lama participated in a private panel with Chinese Minnesotans. Among the 175 to 200 students and others meeting with him was Zhen Wang, a Chinese native who has lived in the United State for nine years. She first moved to Arizona for graduate school and in 2004 came to the University of Minnesota to work on a doctorate in political science.

"When I was in China, [the Dalai Lama] was depicted by the government as a separatist who wanted Tibetan independence," she said. When she arrived in the United States, she, too, held that view.

But soon she began to read more about him in U.S. media, which portrays him in a positive light, and began to suspect that "democracy is lacking in China."

She said that she agrees with an assertion he made Saturday that China should ease up on censorship and allow more sources of information.

On Sunday, the Dalai Lama will lead a Tibetan cultural and spiritual ceremony at Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota, followed later by a public address titled "Peace Through Inner Peace." • 612-673-4352 • 612-673-4488