Karma Aftab Pureval, the Tibetan-American mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, met with Tibet’s Dalai Lama on Monday at the exiled spiritual leader’s residence in Dharamsala, India.
Pureval, 40, is the first person of Tibetan heritage to be elected to a prominent political office in the United States, and was part of an American delegation led by Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, that included the mayors of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Oakland and San Leandro, California.
Also joining the group was Lonnie Ali, a philanthropist and the widow of American boxing champion Muhammad Ali.
Speaking to RFA on Monday, Pureval called it a special privilege for himself as a member of the worldwide Tibetan diaspora to come to Dharamsala, seat of the Tibetan government in exile the Central Tibetan Administration, to meet with the exiled spiritual leader.
“I had never met him before, and this was an extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Pureval said.
Pureval said that he asked what he could do, as part of the Tibetan community in the United States, to advocate for the cause of Tibet.
“And his answer was very simple—to focus not only on the Tibetan cause but to focus on the cause of humanity, to think about all sentient beings and to pray for them, which was very touching,” Pureval said.
“We feel your pain. We understand your struggle. You are not alone and you are not forgotten.” Pureval added in remarks addressing Tibetans inside Tibet. “The preservation of our culture, history and religion is a responsibility that those outside of Tibet feel very personally and very strongly.”
Formerly an independent Himalayan nation, Tibet was invaded and incorporated into China by force more than 70 years ago. Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the region, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity.
Also speaking to RFA, delegation leader Fischer said that he and other delegation members had come to learn from the Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland into exile in India in 1959 after a failed national revolt against Chinese rule.
“He has inspired us for many years as mayors to teach in our cities about secular ethics, compassion, kindness and love,” Fischer said. Fischer said that he first met the Dalai Lama in 2013 when the Tibetan spiritual leader visited Louisville.
“Since then I have kept in touch with him, and as I finish my term of 12 years as mayor, I wanted to make one final trip so that I could bring other mayors to meet His Holiness and keep the relationship going between America’s mayors and the Dalai Lama,” Fischer said.
Following Monday’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, Karma Aftab Pureval also met with Tibetan exile political leader Sikyong Penpa Tsering and with Khenpo Sonam Tenphel, speaker of Tibet’s exile parliament, and with Dolma Tsering Teykhang, parliament’s deputy speaker.
Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Richard Finney, Malcolm Foster.