The Dalai Lama asked a child to suck his tongue. His apology didn't help.
A statement from the Dalai Lama described his actions as "innocent and playful," but the video clip is troubling to watch
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You know things are bad when the office of the Dalai Lama issues a public apology after video clips show him telling a little boy to suck his tongue.
Back in February, the Dalai Lama hosted over 120 students who had completed a leadership training sponsored by the India-based M3M Foundation. The event in his home city of Dharamshala didn’t get much attention until a video clip of the Tibetan Buddhist leader and a child began going viral.
In it, the boy asks the Dalai Lama for a hug. It’s adorable, really. After an interpreter relays the question to the 87-year-old spiritual leader, the boy is invited onstage.
The Dalai Lama first tells the boy to kiss his cheek before hugging him for an extended period of time. He then points to his lips and asks the boy to kiss him, pulling him in closer to do so. Afterwards, he sticks out his tongue (a traditional greeting in Tibet) and asks the boy to suck it.
Sucking someone’s tongue is most definitely not a traditional greeting in Tibet. Or anywhere else, really. While the boy gets close enough that their foreheads touch, nothing beyond that appears to happen.
The Dalai Lama then urges the boy to align with those who create “peace and happiness” and avoid those who are violent, before their interaction ends with a final hug.
All of this occurred in front of a crowd, with the audience laughing and cheering the entire time. (The full video of the incident can be seen here.)
On Monday, the Dalai Lama’s office released a brief statement acknowledging the video and apologizing for his actions:
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.
His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras. He regrets the incident.
It’s a bizarre statement for multiple reasons. It doesn’t even mention the kiss or the tongue-sucking. (No one’s upset about the hug.) It apologizes for “his words,” even though the complaints involve what the Dalai Lama did far more than what he said. It dismisses his actions as playful teasing without any clear understanding of why people are disturbed by what he did.
Even beyond that, it’s troubling how many adults watched this happen in real time—standing mere feet away from the Dalai Lama—and did absolutely nothing to stop it. That suggests they all considered this to be playful teasing as well. No one could reasonably expect the child to say no to such a powerful person, but this could have been prevented if just one adult had the decency to step in and pull the child away or tell the Dalai Lama to shut the hell up.
It makes you wonder if this is something he’s done before. Was this just the first time he got caught on camera?
Why were the adults in that room so damn comfortable watching this inappropriate behavior take place right in front of their eyes?
Even if, as some defenders have suggested, the Dalai Lama was not doing anything sexual and that greeting a loved one with a peck on the lips is a cultural norm, the fact that some traditions may not translate well to a wider audience was lost on everyone in his orbit. That should be a concern when we’re talking about someone who’s on the global stage!
Whether or not people see this as sexual isn’t the point. If this were a politician or random dude on the street—or the Pope—the outrage would be both predictable and justified. How many stories have we heard about religious leaders who did absolutely inappropriate things in the name of faith? Those grand jury reports involving Catholic priests are full of examples of clergy members using their power to get children to perform acts that would never be okay in any other context. They’re often a prelude to more egregious abuses.
An CNN noted, the Dalai Lama has mired himself in controversy before, but it’s usually a different kind of slip of the tongue:
He apologized after a 2019 interview with the BBC, during which he said if a female Dalai Lama should succeed him, she “should be more attractive.”
The previous year, he suggested Europe should be kept for Europeans, when speaking about the rising level of African refugees entering the continent.
“The whole Europe (will) eventually become Muslim country? Impossible. Or African country? Also impossible,” he said, adding that it’s better to “keep Europe for Europeans.”
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe the Dalai Lama was trying to get aroused by a child. I don’t believe he thought this was sexual. I’m far more bothered by the fact that his inner circle thinks an act that can easily be construed as sexual ought to be treated as innocent teasing, and that no one seemed to care about the child’s visible discomfort in that situation.
And to think all of this happened because an innocent kid asked the Dalai Lama for a hug.
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