WASHINGTON — The Dalai Lama voiced optimism Saturday that China will reform and allow greater freedoms as he welcomed a young potential spiritual successor before thousands of well-wishers in Washington.
Addressing the packed West Lawn of the US Capitol near where presidents are inaugurated, the revered spiritual leader responded without hesitation when he was asked if he hoped to return to Tibet after 52 years in exile.
"Oh yes, things are always changing," the Dalai Lama said to an eruption of cheers from a crowd ranging from fellow Buddhist monks to young Americans lying on the grass on a hot summer morning.
"Certainly, I think the voice of freedom, democracy, rule of law, more and more voice(s are) now coming," the Dalai Lama said in English, noting that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao himself has called for political reforms in recent years.
"So things will certainly change," he said. "Not only (in the) Chinese case, but the whole world, things are changing."
Despite the Dalai Lama's optimism, human rights groups report intensifying crackdowns inside Tibet. Many scholars believe China is waiting for his death, believing his cause will wither without the internationally popular monk.
The Dalai Lama is in Washington leading a 10-day religious ritual known as a Kalachakra -- the trigger for a rare foreign trip by the 26-year-old Karmapa Lama, who some Tibetans hope could fill a void after the Dalai Lama dies.
The Dalai Lama, 76, offered the young monk a hearty smile and touched both his arms. The Karmapa Lama did not speak but took a front-row seat in the shade to listen respectfully to the Dalai Lama's lecture, which was moderated by actress Whoopi Goldberg.
The Karmapa Lama made a perilous journey in 1999 from Tibet to the Indian hill station of Dharamshala, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile, after voicing fear that China would force him to turn against the revered elder monk.
He arrived in Washington on Friday on his second visit to the United States. India rejected previous requests for travel by the Karmapa, who has been the occasional source of domestic controversy.
Indian police raided the Karmapa's monastery in Dharamshala in January after the discovery inside of $1 million in cash, including in Chinese yuan.
Some media in India, where suspicion of China runs deep, asked unidentified sources if the Karmapa was a Chinese stooge sent as an infiltrator. The Karmapa strongly denied the charge, saying in May that there "cannot be greater blasphemy than these false, very hurtful allegations."
Both China and exiled Tibetans recognize the Karmapa, leading to hopes he could serve as an intermediary. The Karmapa speaks Chinese and Beijing has been cautious in statements about him, in contrast to its strident denunciations of the Dalai Lama.
China has demanded that US officials not receive the Dalai Lama. He met with lawmakers led by House Speaker John Boehner along with a senior State Department official, but the White House has not said if President Barack Obama will see him.
The Dalai Lama did not speak about the Karmapa but, responding to a question from a 14-year-old, urged young people to be "warm-hearted" and to turn the page on the bloodshed of the 20th century.
"My century is gone. The people who brought the 20th century are now ready to say goodbye," the Dalai Lama said.
"Young people -- you are the people who really make the new shape of this century," he said. "You should have vision and determination and willpower."
The Dalai Lama has said that his successor will be chosen outside Tibet if he dies in exile, expecting China to try to hand-pick a boy whom it can groom into a puppet.
In 1995, China chose a boy as the Panchen Lama, the second-highest Tibetan spiritual figure after the Dalai Lama. The current Panchen Lama now frequently defends Beijing's policies as bringing prosperity to the Himalayan territory.
The Dalai Lama's choice for Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, disappeared in Tibet in 1995, leading human rights groups to call him the world's youngest political prisoner. He would now be 22 years old.