The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader for hundreds of millions of devotees to the Buddhist faith around the world, is speaking out about the president of the United States, calling his “America first” set of policies troubling and expressing sadness over the treatment of immigrants entering the country.
Leaders of various nations around the world have sought counsel with the Dalai Lama over the decades. The two predecessors to President Donald Trump — former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush — both met with the spiritual leader. Obama even did so after he left office in 2017.
But in an interview he gave with the BBC, the Dalai Lama said that the current president has not yet reached out to him to speak.
It’s not that the Tibetan leader has much positive to say about Trump. During that same interview, the Dalai Lama was critical of the president on issues like climate change and immigration.
Trump’s time in office is marked by a “lack of moral principle,” the Dalai Lama said. He also expressed doubts about one of Trump’s favorite campaign motifs.
“When he became president he expressed America first. That is wrong,” he said.
And on immigration — particularly on how the U.S. has treated young migrants — the Dalai Lama said pictures of “some of those young children” made him “sad.”
Criticism of Trump from the spiritual leader is a strong reversal of how the Dalai Lama thought of him in 2016, when Trump was running for president. Although he gave a humorous impression of the now-president at that time, during the campaign the Dalai Lama said that he had “no worries” about the possibility that Trump could win.
There could be a very simple reason for why Trump has not sought out the Dalai Lama since becoming president: doing so could disrupt his attempts at negotiating a contentious trade deal with China, who views the Dalai Lama as a threat.
Although Beijing has attempted to introduce and allow Buddhism in its borders, some see their moves as more of a co-opting of the faith, and China has not indicated it would recognize the Dalai Lama if he returned to Tibet, per reporting from Time magazine. His return could, in fact, result in imprisonment, some suspect.
Trump is not the only leader who has snubbed the Dalai Lama in recent years. Since 2016, the spiritual leader has not met with any other foreign leader as well.