Dalai Lama apologises for ‘misinterpreted’ comment, critics point to past controversies

The Dalai Lama video where the spiritual leader was seen asking a young boy to ‘suck his tongue’ is going viral on social media platforms has irked all sorts of controversies in the world. The global Tibetan community came in favor of the leader saying the video has been ‘misinterpreted’, and argued that the exchange can be party explained by the Tibetan culture.

On the other hand, the whole incident has angered a large section of people with women and child rights activists coming forward critising the leader’s behavior saying it is not acceptable in any way.  

Soon after the video created a storm of controversies, the apology came from Dalai Lama office addressing the child and his family ‘for the hurt his (Dalai Lama) words may have caused’.

On Monday, the Dalai Lama’s office issued an apology letter which said that the spiritual leader ‘regrets the incident’. The statement reads, “His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras. He wishes to apologise to the boy and his family, as well as his many friends across the world, for the hurt his words may have caused.”

The incident took place on February 28th in the hilly town of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh from where Dalai Lama runs his government in exile since 1959. The spiritual leader was interacting with students who had completed a skills training programme organised by the M3M Foundation.

Later in March, the foundation uploaded photos and video from the event and soon it caught eyes of people. People from the Tibetan community globally came in support of Dalai Lama arguing that the leader is being attacked and criticised over a Tibetan way of expression.

According to the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, sticking out the tongue is considered as a traditional greeting or sign of respect in Tibetan culture that goes back to the 9th century.

In the circulated video, Dalai Lama is seen kissing a young Indian boy on his lips after he came forward to pay his respects. The official statement claimed that the boy voluntarily stepped forward asking if he could hug the spiritual leader. The Dalai Lama touches his foreheads with the boy and then can be heard saying, in English, “can you suck my tongue” and sticking out his tongue as the boy leans forward briefly.

In that moment, the crowd presents at the meet and greet event burst out laughing and the spiritual leader hugged the child again and spoke about peace.

But interestingly, this is not the first time Dalai Lama’s office had to issue apology statement for his Holiness’s behavior or statement. In past, too, Dalai Lama has been criticised for displaying inconsistent behavior, causing discomfort or shame, and potentially exhibiting misogynistic attitudes.

In 2015, Dalai Lama was speaking with a British broadcaster, where he made a statement regarding his successor, or the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, said “can be a woman, but [she must] be very attractive”, or she would be of “not much use”.

This statement sparked controversy and the official apology came as “His Holiness genuinely meant no offence”. But once again in 2019, the spiritual leader was in trouble for saying “if she (possible woman reincarnation of the Dalai Lama) was not attractive “people, I think, prefer not see her… that face” when asked about his previous comments by a journalist.

The apologies for Dalai Lama remarks have always been on time soon after the leader in exile makes misappropriate statements in public domain. And, his office always defends him on the basis of “misinterpretation” of his remarks. But the question remains that for how many times we can attribute to “misinterpretation” or “misjudgment” whenever people who hold prominent positions in the world went on saying things which leaves the common people confused between criticising them or giving them benefit of doubt.

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