DALAI LAMA speaks on Trump and ‘Amer­ica first’


The Dalai Lama, the spir­i­tual head of the Ti­betan na­tion, is known world­wide for his ad­vo­cacy of non­vi­o­lence, peaceful co­ex­is­tence, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and hu­man rights. But the 82-yearold Bud­dhist monk is wor­ried about the rise of na­tion­al­ism and self­ish­ness around the world and in the United States.

In wide rang­ing re­marks to a unique con­fer­ence of Ti­bet sup­port­ers here in north­ern In­dia, the Dalai Lama said he was con­cerned about Pres­i­dent Trump’s “Amer­ica first” pol­icy, Amer­ica’s stance on global warm­ing and the use of mil­i­tary tools to solve in­ter­na­tional prob­lems. He also praised the United States and ex­pressed hope that the Amer­i­can peo­ple will con­tinue to do the right things, in­clud­ing with re­spect to Ti­bet.

“Your an­ces­tors really con­sid­ered the im­por­tance of lib­erty, free­dom, democ­racy, these things,” the Dalai Lama said in re­sponse to my ques­tion about his cur­rent view of the United States. “The present pres­i­dent, in the very be­gin­ning he men­tioned ‘Amer­ica first.’ That sounded in my ear not very nice.”

The Dalai Lama is con­cerned that the United States, de­spite be­ing “the leader of the free world,” was be­com­ing more “self­ish, na­tion­al­ist”, he said. But the Amer­i­can Congress and peo­ple have long sup­ported the cause of Ti­bet and hu­man rights, and he thinks that will con­tinue, he added.

The Dalai Lama also lamented that Trump doesn’t pay more at­ten­tion to the is­sue of global warm­ing, which, he said, knows no bor­ders and no re­li­gion.

“The present pres­i­dent is not pay­ing much at­ten­tion to ecol­ogy. So on that, I feel some reser­va­tion,” the Dalai Lama said. “But any­way, the Amer­i­can peo­ple elected him, so I must re­spect [that].”

The event, called the Five Fifty Fo­rum, was hosted by the Ti­betan gov­ern­ment-in-ex­ile, which is based in this north­ern Indian moun­tain town. The Dalai Lama has been liv­ing in In­dia since he fled Ti­bet in 1959 and has not been al­lowed to re­turn.

The fo­rum was held un­der Chatham House rules, which for­bid quot­ing par­tic­i­pants. But the lead­er­ship of the Ti­betan gov­ern­ment-in-ex­ile gave me per­mis­sion to pub­lish the Dalai Lama’s re­marks.

The Ti­betan leader, who is be­lieved by fol­low­ers to be in his 14th rein­car­na­tion, crit­i­cised the use of mil­i­tary force around the world and called on na­tions to solve prob­lems through diplo­macy and ne­go­ti­a­tion rather than vi­o­lence. He said the use of mil­i­tary power, even by the United States, never achieves its goal.

“Every prob­lem on this planet, in­clud­ing our prob­lem, must be solved with re­spect and mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able [so­lu­tions],” he said.

The Dalai Lama’s com­men­tary on world events was not limited to the United States. He said that the Bri­tain had erred in vot­ing to leave the Euro­pean Union, and he at­trib­uted that de­ci­sion to na­tion­al­ism as well.

The Euro­pean Union should be­come the model for every re­gion and then, when the world’s coun­tries are all work­ing to­gether, they can de­mil­i­tarise, the Dalai Lama ex­plained. “That’s my vi­sion. That’s my hope.”

The Dalai Lama said he wants to en­gage with China to find a mu­tu­ally ac­cept­able so­lu­tion for Ti­bet. He added that the Ti­betan peo­ple must also be ready to talk to China if there’s an open­ing. That doesn’t seem likely, con­sid­er­ing that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment cut off dia­logue with the Ti­betans in 2010 and has pur­sued a bru­tal re­pres­sion cam­paign in the re­gion ever since.

Nev­er­the­less, “for the last sev­eral cen­turies, pray­ing to Bud­dha more or less failed”, the Dalai Lama joked. “So I think we need to take a more prac­ti­cal ap­proach.”

He is ar­gu­ing against cur­rent trends for a world based on com­mon in­ter­est, global in­te­gra­tion, de­fence of hu­man rights and shared re­spon­si­bil­ity for the en­vi­ron­ment. For most of his long life, the United States has agreed with him and led that ef­fort. Will that con­tinue? Even the Dalai Lama doesn’t know.


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