Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, an exiled spiritual and temporal leader of six million Tibetan Buddhists, a philosopher-scientist, an author, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, received the honour Thursday, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
"I think he has become the best known Buddhist in the world," says John Berthrong, former academic dean at Boston University's School of Theology.
The award honours a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension. The Prize is a monetary award of about $1.7 million.
The award has been given to other high-profile religious leaders in the past, such as Mother Teresa and the Rev. Billy Graham.
He was chosen to become the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people at age two. He was forced into exile at age 24 to try to avoid a conflict in Lhasa in China.
Since then, he has travelled the world, meeting political leaders, learning about other religions, absorbing everything he couldn't learn in the closed society of Tibet, such as Einstein's Theory of Relativity, said the Templeton Foundation in its press release.
In its announcement of the award, which is worth about $1.7 million this year, the foundation noted how the Dalai Lama has 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".
Last year, the Dalai Lama retired as the temporal head of Tibet, ending 400 years of religious monarchy. "I deliberately, voluntarily, happily, proudly end that," he said on NBC's "Today" show last July 18.