Dalai Lama wins $1.7 million Templeton spiritual prize

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama delivers a speech during a conference at the Coliseo Theater, next to translator Gerardo Abboud, in Buenos Aires September 13, 2011. REUTERS/Martin Acosta

(Reuters) - Tibet’s Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama has won the 2012 Templeton Prize worth $1.7 million for his work affirming the spiritual dimension of life, the U.S.-based John Templeton Foundation said on Thursday.

The spiritual leader “vigorously focused on the connections between the investigative traditions of science and Buddhism as a way to better understand and advance what both disciplines might offer the world”, the foundation said in a statement.

The announcement came as Tibetan protests against Chinese rule intensify. Thirty Tibetans, mostly Buddhist monks and nuns, have set themselves on fire in the past year, according to Tibetan rights groups. At least 20 have died.

A Tibetan man died on Wednesday after setting himself on fire in New Delhi, activists said, hours before Chinese President Hu Jintao was due to arrive in India for an emerging market nations summit.

The Dalai Lama has angered the Chinese government by refusing to condemn the protests and accusing Beijing of overseeing a “cultural genocide” against Tibetans.

China has ruled Tibet since 1950 when Communist troops occupied the country. The Dalai Lama escaped to live in exile in India after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

The Dalai Lama, 76, who his followers believe is the reincarnation of an ancient Buddhist leader, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Responding to the award, he said in video for the foundation that it was “another sign of recognition about my little service to humanity, mainly nonviolence and unity around different religious traditions”.

The prize will be awarded at St Paul’s Cathedral in London on May 14.

Reporting by Tom Heneghan; Editing by Louise Ireland