Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, apologized on Monday after a viral video of him inviting a young boy to “suck my tongue” caused surprise and anger across the world. The Dalai Lama’s office insisted the incident was “innocent and playful.”
The incident depicted in the video occurred during a public event in February at a temple in Dharamsala, India, where the Dalai Lama lives in exile. The video evidently dates to February 28, when a group of about 120 students who completed a training program sponsored by the M3M Foundation was visiting the temple.
The 87-year-old Tibetan leader, whose given name is Tenzin Gyatso, was approached by a young boy who asked if he could give him a hug.
The Dalai Lama obliged the request, then asked the boy to kiss first his cheek, then his lips. The Dalai Lama then stuck out his tongue and asked the boy to “suck” on it. The boy responded by sticking out his own tongue.
Popular Buddhist spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, called out for kissing a child on the lips and asking the said child to s*ck his tongue. pic.twitter.com/jZvvRehIKK
— Y! Online (@YNaija) April 10, 2023
The audience at the temple in Dharamshala found the encounter amusing, but the video generated a great deal of criticism after it went viral, including social media users who found it a “shocking” or “disgusting” example of “pedophilia.” Some characterized the incident in the video as sexual assault on a minor.
Australia’s News.com noted on Monday that criticism was especially strong in India and on “Spanish-language social media.” Colombian journalist Vicky Davila, for example, called the video “scandalous” and castigated the audience members because they “applaud and laugh instead of condemning this aberration.”
Dalai Lama supporters said he has a special bond with children, and noted that in Tibetan tradition, sticking your tongue out is considered “a sign of respect or agreement.” The 1997 Brad Pitt film Seven Years in Tibet includes a scene depicting this practice.
The Dalai Lama’s official website posted a statement on Monday that offered apologies 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,” the statement said.