The Dalai Lama says he considers it most important to preserve the Buddhist culture that has helped the Tibetan people live together even in exile.

The 80-year-old spiritual leader made the comments Saturday at his first public meeting after returning last week from the U.S., where he had a thorough medical checkup.

Many Tibetans fear that their culture may not endure for long and may weaken after the Dalai Lama is gone.

Dozens of school children in traditional Tibetan costumes welcomed the Dalai Lama, and he looked cheerful as he responded to his followers' greetings.