The Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama issued a public apology after video began circulating online showing the 87-year-old Buddhist leader kissing a young boy on the lips and asking him to "suck my tongue". The reported incident happened in February in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives, during an event organized by the M3M Foundation, a charity linked to an Indian real estate group.
Once the video hit social media, it spread quickly, with some commenters describing it as "scandalous", "disgusting" and "abusive". (NPR) Sangyal Kunchok, a reporter for Radio Free Asia-Tibet, defended the Dalai Lama, showing a photo of him puckering his lips in the same way as he greeted famous South African religious leader Desmond Tutu.
In the recent video, the Dalai Lama can be seen with the boy, who had asked to kiss the Dalai Lama. Once the boy was on stage with him, the Dalai Lama pointed to his cheek and said, “First here. After the boy kissed him and kissed him on the cheek, the Dalai Lama then pointed his lips and said, “So, I think, well, here too,” pointing his lips. The Dalai Lama stretched his lips and cupped the boy's chin in his hand, pulling it until their lips met, as the audience cheered and the Dalai Lama and the boy laughed.
The Dalai Lama then picked up the boy's chin and bent down to touch the foreheads, which lasted a few seconds. Then, as the boy stared ahead, the Dalai Lama stepped back and said, “And suck my tongue,” sticking out his tongue and slowly leaning forward. The boy tilted his head forward again until their foreheads met, and as the boy started sticking out his tongue, the Dalai Lama quickly stepped back and tapped the boy on the shoulder, laughing.
The Dalai Lama then took the boy's hand in his and said, "Thank you, thank you," bringing the boy's hand to his cheek for several seconds. Eventually the Dalai Lama said, "We are the same, human brothers and sisters," and embraced the boy again in a long embrace.
The Dalai Lama then said, “Now you should look (towards) those good human beings who create peace, happiness. (You) shouldn't follow these human beings who (are) always killing other people, you shouldn't look (towards) these people. The Dalai Lama embraced the child in another embrace, this time reaching out and tickling him under one armpit. As the boy walked away, the two laughed again.
Many videos circulating on social media only show part of the interaction. One showing the entire interaction lasts just over two minutes.
After social media reactions to the video took off on April 9, the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama released a brief statement:
A video clip has circulated that shows a recent encounter in which 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 to his many friends around the world, for any harm his words may have caused.
His Holiness often teases the people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and in front of the cameras. He regrets the incident.
(His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama)
In response to claims that this behavior reflected Tibetan cultural tradition, New Delhi-based child rights group Haq: Center for Child Rights released a statement saying, “This video is definitely not about any cultural expression, and even if so, such expressions are not acceptable. (FRG)