The Dalai Lama has won the first Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize given out by Hofstra University in New York.
The $50,000 prize honours men and women striving for interfaith dialogue. The Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Prize for peace, has spoken across America on several occasions in recent years and could visit the Hofstra campus in the near future.
The Buddhist leader, in recent weeks, has been saddened and worried by the violent unrest in Tibet, resulting in the deaths of both Chinese and Tibetan people.
The biannual prize will be presented to the Dalai Lama in India on November 18 by a delegation including Hofstra officials, the family of Ishar Singh Bindra that established the prize at Hofstra, and former Prime Minister I K Gujral who is a member of the Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize Honorary Committee.
There were 75 individuals and groups nominated for the first prize, representing interfaith efforts in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, as well as throughout the United States and Canada, the university said.
"There are few missions as important for a university as the advancement of understanding among all peoples," Hofstra president Stuart Rabinowitz, who announced the prize, said, adding, "Awarding this prize allows us to recognise those who bring together people of all faiths, which now, more than ever, is important for the peace and prosperity of our world".
He also said the university wants to establish the nation's 'most significant' department of religion. The Guru Nanak award is part of efforts to boost the prestige of the department, which was set up in 2005, he said.
New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a graduate of Hofstra and a member of the award's selection committee, said despite China's recent harsh treatment of protesters and Buddhist monks in Tibet, the Dalai Lama has remained committed to non-violence.
"I think that shows, obviously, our choice was the right one because his voice is still the strong voice for peace and for understanding and for dialogue," Newsday quoted him as saying.
Tashi Wangdi, the Dalai Lama's US representative, said the award has recognised the Dalai Lama's promotion of interfaith dialogue and understanding for many years.
At the announcement of the award, Hofstra students, professors and guests heard Wangdi say over the speakerphone, "The Dalai Lama strongly believes it is very important to have very good close relations between all religions, all faiths in the world. His Holiness thinks this is very important for promotion of human understanding and peace in the world".
T J Bindra, son of Ishar Bindra, said, "There could be no more deserving candidate than his Holiness, and to me, what stands out most is that Guru Nanak stood for brotherhood, peace and wonderful relations between communities, and I think his Holiness personifies that the best".
He added, "Efforts like this, small as they may be, help in promoting interfaith harmony and peace".
The prize, announced in 2006, was established through an endowment from the Bindra family to be given by Hofstra University to individuals or organisations that have worked to create religious dialogue that is indispensable to reducing religious conflict.
The Bindra family has also established a Sikh chair - the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies - named for the family matriarch.