A Tibetan Response to “Confronting the Dalai Lama”, January 2023

Lekey Leidecker
3 min readFeb 1


There seems to be a trend of people trying to “gotcha” His Holiness the Dalai Lama for their own political careers- see the “Dalai Lama is a sexist” fiasco of 2019, which was beautifully nuanced by my friend here: https://medium.com/@paldron/an-opportunity-to-reflect-the-dalai-lama-and-the-world-d9dddfb5b0a

Ronan Harrington’s most recent Instagram reel with the headline “Confronting the Dalai Lama” has the same energy. In the video, which takes place at the most recent Compassionate Leaders Summit and involves an audience with His Holiness, he pushes His Holiness to give an answer beyond recognizing humanity’s oneness, to speak to “political organizing,” with references to the Taliban, and Xi Jinping as demonstrations of the limits of an answer like His Holiness’s. He calls His Holiness’s words “overly simplistic and sentimental.”

This for me demonstrates the ways that, once again, people particularly from western countries, misunderstand or refuse to fully see both the Tibetan context and the depth of HH’s insight.

Occupied Tibet is one of the most tightly controlled places in the world. But to understand the grief and despair, and incredible resistance, that exist and take place in these circumstances, you would have to understand the self-immolation in the context of Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan culture. You would have to understand, as His Holiness does, the scope of incredible organizing that goes on at great risk and with no accolades or Instagram reels inside Tibet.

Advertising your course in the Instagram caption (with the hashtags #dalailamaquotes and #buddhism), tagging Roshi Joan Halifax, what are these moves really about? This isn’t even really about just a single person- but do people who present these challenges really care that Tibet is, to put it into Ronan’s words, “losing”? Do they get to define that? Or, in the rush to have an edgy take, a trending video, do they not care who they hurt in the process?

For Tibetan kids like me fifteen years ago, who never had any meaningful representations, let alone mentions, of Tibet in any of the media around me, hearing those words come out of the mouth of someone in a public forum would have been incredibly hurtful. We already so often feel invisible, like the world does not remember or care about us. Fortunately, I’ve heard so many foolish comments by now that my skin has grown thick to them. What hasn’t healed, however, is the pain of Tibet’s situation, and the many ways it continues to impact all of our lives.

A final issue in Ronan’s attempted confrontation or regarding anyone who wishes to push His Holiness to be ‘less spiritual’ is the failure to understand the origins of their own ideas. The concepts of healing from burnout and resilience, which Ronan advertises his speaking services for on his Instagram, all have roots in mindfulness and have been popularized by the mindfulness industry. One guess where those concepts originated, whose labor was used, and who has benefited.

In closing: while I must admit my own cultural and spiritual norms make it impossible for me to include His Holiness as someone who needs “critique,” the institutions and people that surround him certainly are not above it. I wonder if, actually, that is from where Ronan’s, and, to hear him tell it, the others in the room’s, discontent actually stems.

Tibetans have been doing that.

I’d call for Ronan to apologize, but frankly I don’t think it matters enough. Ronan is not the first person to think he knows better than His Holiness or to condescend to a Tibetan person in their own home, nor, sadly, will he be the last. What I’ll say is that many Tibetans have a bemused smile that has developed through years of being spoken down to by know-it-all white people, and when you’ve left, we’ll laugh.

This story was slightly edited on February 1, 2023 the day after its original publication.



Lekey Leidecker

Opinionated Tibetan American storyteller www.lekeyleidecker.com