The exiled Dalai Lama, the Tibetan god-king known to his people as "the wish-fulfilling gem," told a news conference today that he is in contact with the Chinese government from which he fled in 1959. On the first morning of the first visit to the United States by a Dalai Lama, the 44-year-old spiritual leader refused to elaborate on his contacts with Peking, but spoke with hope of a trend toward liberalization in Tibet following the adoption of more moderate policies by China's present leadership.

The Dalai Lama showed abundant good humor and a nimbleness in side-stepping questions during his sometimes curious press conference.

He said his trip is "non-political," but grinned broadly when he explained that he will "sometimes be compelled to say something" if reporters ask him political questions during his 49-day U.S. visit.

"Basically, we are fighting for our own happiness, our own rights," the Dalai Lama said.

"Happiness is a word he used often. "The ultimate aim is human happiness," he told reporters, after one asked him "to teach us all a simple truth of Buddhism."

"Always try to be less selfish and have compassion for others," the Dalai Lama-- whose title means "ocean of wisdom" in Mongolian-- replied.

He began his remarks in Tibetan, but broke into English and showed he speaks the language well despite his protestation that he speaks it poorly.

The Dalai Lama is a slight man with the closely cropped hair of a Buddhist monk, eyeglasses and a charming and frequent smile. His burgundy and gold robes would strike a sympathetic chord in any Redskin fan.

The god-king said he has wanted since the early 1970s to travel and learn the ways of different peoples and culture. He said he looks forward to meeting many Americans, including young ones.

"I always feel I am part of the younger generation. Now, I've reached almost 45, do you think I'm a member of the older generation or the younger generation?" he asked. The reporters didn't answer.

The reporters quickly picked up the style for addressing a Dalai Lama-- it's "Your Holiness"-- and they asked several times whether he thinks the industrialized world has anything to learn from Tibet.

The 14th Dalai Lama, who at age 2 in accord with Tibetan custom was recongized by Lamas as the incarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama and taken from his peasant parents to rule Tibet, said his homeland can contribute knowledge about "the deeper nature" of human beings.

The U.S. tour of the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since China cracked down on Tibet 20 years ago and sought to eliminate many aspects of traditional Tibetan life, includes a stop in Washington next week.