Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has apologized after a viral video on social media showed him asking a boy to “suck my tongue”. “A video clip has been circulating that shows a recent meeting when a young boy asked His Holiness the Dalai Lama if he could give him a hug. His Holiness wishes to apologize to the boy and his family, as well as his many friends across the world, for the hurt his words may have caused,” the spiritual leader’s office said in a statement.
What is the controversy?
The incident took place during an interaction on February 28 at an event in McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamshala. According to The Guardian, around 100 school students were present at the event, which was organized at a temple.
One of the students presents there asked the Dalai Lama on the microphone if he can hug him. The 87-year-old asked the boy to come up to the platform where he was seated.
The monk then planted a kiss on the boy’s lips as he leaned in to pay his respects. He then stuck his tongue out, while placing his forehead against the boy’s, and asked the child to suck it. The boy moved away while the Dalai Lama laughed and pulled the boy in for another hug, said the outlet.
The video was recorded by one of the attendees and amassed more than 1 million views. Twitter users slammed the footage, calling it “disgusting” and “absolutely sick”.
“Utterly shocked to see this display by the #DalaiLama. In the past too, he’s had to apologize for his sexist comments. But saying – Now suck my tongue to a small boy is disgusting,” tweeted one user.
“What did I just see? What that child must be feeling? Disgusting,” said another.
Tibetan culture and tongue greetings
According to a 2014 BBC article, sticking out your tongue can be considered rude, but in Tibet, it’s a way of greeting. It has been a tradition followed by the Tibetan people since the ninth century when the region was ruled by Lang Drama, who was known for their black tongue, said the outlet.
After the death of the king, the locals started showing their tongues when asked to confirm that they are not like him (or his reincarnation).
The Institute of East Asian Studies, UC Berkeley, also mentions this in its 2014 piece. The institute said on its website that sticking out one’s tongue is a sign of respect or agreement and was often used as a greeting in traditional Tibetan culture.
Other controversies involving the Dalai Lama
In 2019, the Dalai Lama apologized for saying that if his successor were to be a woman, she would have to be “attractive”. The comments, which were criticized around the world, were made in an interview with the BBC.
In the same year, he also triggered a controversy after saying “Europe belongs to the Europeans” on the issue of immigrants. The spiritual leader made the remarks at a conference in Malmo, Sweden, and said refugees should return to their native countries.
In 2018, he said that Mahatma Gandhi wanted to give the prime ministership to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, but Jawaharlal Nehru refused as he was “self-centered”. He added that India and Pakistan would have remained united had Mahatma Gandhi’s come true. The Tibetan spiritual leader later apologized for his remark.
The Dalai Lama remains the universally recognized face of the movement for Tibetan autonomy. He fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, regarded by Beijing as a separatist.
Last month, the Dalai Lama named an eight-year-old US-born Mongolian boy as the 10th Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche, the third highest rank in Tibetan Buddhism.