For decades, Tenzin Gyatso, 76, the 14th Dalai Lama - a lineage believed by followers to be the reincarnation of an ancient Buddhist leader who epitomized compassion - has 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.
Specifically, he encourages serious scientific investigative reviews of the power of compassion and its broad potential to address the world's fundamental problems - a theme at the core of his teachings and a cornerstone of his immense popularity.
Within that search, the "big questions" he raises - such as "Can compassion be trained or taught?" - reflect the deep interest of the founder of the Templeton Prize, the late Sir John Templeton, in seeking to bring scientific methods to the study of spiritual claims and thus foster the spiritual progress that the Prize has recognized for the past 40 years.
The announcement was made this morning online at www.templetonprize.org, via email to journalists, and on Twitter via @TempletonPrize by the Templeton Prize office of the John Templeton Foundation in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
The Prize will be presented to the Dalai Lama at a ceremony at St. Paul's Cathedral in London on the afternoon of Monday, May 14. A news conference with the 2012 Prize Laureate will precede
the ceremony. Both events will be webcast live at www.templetonprize.org and to global media on a pool basis. Photography from the events will also be pooled.
Valued at £1.1 million (about $1.7 million or €1.3 million), the prize is the world's largest annual monetary award given to an individual and honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension.
The announcement praised the Dalai Lama for his life's work in building bridges of trust in accord with the yearnings of countless millions of people around the globe who have been drawn by the charismatic icon's appeal to compassion and understanding for all.
"With an increasing reliance on technological advances to solve the world's problems, humanity also seeks the reassurance that only a spiritual quest can answer," said Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation and son of the late Prize founder. "The Dalai Lama offers a universal voice of compassion underpinned by a love and respect for spiritually relevant scientific research that centers on every single human being."
He also noted that the Dalai Lama's remarkable record of intellectual, moral and spiritual innovations is clearly recognized by the nine Prize judges, who represent a wide range of disciplines, cultures and religious traditions. The Prize judges evaluate - independently of each other - typically 15 to 20 nominated candidates each year and then individually submit separate ballots - from which a tally then determines the selection of each year's Laureate.
The Dalai Lama responded to the prize in the humble style that has become his signature. "When I heard today your decision to give me this quite famous award, I really felt this is another sign of recognition about my little service to humanity, mainly nonviolence and unity around different religious traditions," he said in a video available at www.templetonprize.org.
In other brief videos on the Prize website, the Dalai Lama elaborates on key issues including his call for humanity to embrace compassion as a path to peace, both personally and on a global scale. "You can develop genuine sense of concern of well-being of others, including your enemy," he states in one video. "That kind of compassion - unbiased, unlimited - needs training, awareness."
The Right Reverend Michael Colclough, Canon Pastor at St. Paul's Cathedral, welcomed this event: "A non-violent voice of peace and reason in a calamitous world, the Dalai Lama represents core values cherished by many different faiths. The award of the Templeton Prize to the Dalai Lama under the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral will be a reminder that working towards peace and harmony is a practical and spiritual challenge to all faith communities."
The Dalai Lama is no stranger to honors and accolades, with scores to his name. In 1989, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his advocacy of nonviolence as the path to liberation for Tibet. He becomes the second Templeton Prize Laureate to have also received the Nobel Peace Prize; Mother Teresa received the first Templeton Prize in 1973, six years before her Nobel.
In concert with his efforts to achieve peace for Tibet, the Dalai Lama's extensive travels have promoted cross-cultural understanding with other religions and with disciplines as varied as astrophysics, quantum mechanics, neurobiology, and behavioral science.
He often notes that the rigorous commitment of Buddhists to meditative investment and reflection similarly follows the strict rules of investigation, proof and evidence required of science.
Among his most successful efforts is the Mind & Life Institute, co-founded in 1987 to create collaborative research between science and Buddhism. The Institute hosts conferences on subjects such as contemplative science, destructive and healing emotions, and consciousness and death. While initially beginning as quiet academic affairs, they have evolved into enormously popular public events.
In 2005, after a series of dialogues at Stanford University among the Dalai Lama, scientists in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and medicine, and contemplative scholars, the university became the home of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. The interdisciplinary discourse recognized that engagement between cognitive sciences and Buddhist contemplative traditions could contribute to understanding of the human mind and emotion. The center now supports and conducts rigorous scientific studies of compassion and altruistic behavior.
Many of these conferences have led to popular best sellers written or co-written by the Dalai Lama, including "The Art of Happiness" (1998), "The Universe in a Single Atom" (2005), and "The Dalai Lama at MIT" (2006). All told, he has authored or co-authored more than 70 books.