The Dalai Lama, clad in sandals and burgundy robes, spoke to reporters on the White House driveway after the meeting, saying he had expressed to Obama his admiration for the United States as a "champion of democracy, freedom, human values".
The meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama is likely to affect ties with Beijing, which have already been affected by disputes over US arms sale to Taiwan and Chinese internet censorship.
The Dalai Lama's visit could also complicate Obama's efforts to secure China's help on key issues such as imposing tougher sanctions on Iran, resolving the North Korean nuclear standoff and forging a new global accord on climate change.
But Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, dismissed concerns over Sino-US relations.
"Chinese officials have known about this and their reaction is their reaction," he said on the eve of the meeting, insisting that the two nations have a "mature relationship" capable of withstanding disagreements.
Although admired by millions around the world as a man of peace, the Dalai Lama is accused by Beijing of being a dangerous separatist who foments unrest in Tibet.
Obama had delayed meeting the Dalai Lama until after first seeing Chinese leaders during his Asia trip last year.
Ahead of the talks, Tibetans living near the Dalai Lama's birthplace in northwest China welcomed the White House meeting with a show of fireworks.