The Dalai Lama has issued an apology after a video went viral showing him kissing a young boy on the mouth and asking him to “suck my tongue” during an event in northern India earlier this year. In a statement released on Monday, the Dalai Lama expressed regret for any harm caused to the child and his family, as well as to his supporters worldwide. The statement also explained that the Dalai Lama often teases people in an innocent and playful manner, even in public and in front of cameras.
The incident took place during an event in February in the city of Dharamshala, where the Dalai Lama has lived in exile since 1959. In the video, the boy can be seen approaching the spiritual leader and asking if he can hug him. The Dalai Lama then invites the boy on stage and proceeds to kiss him on the mouth, before asking him to “suck my tongue”. The identity of the child is unknown, but the event was organised by the philanthropic arm of Indian real estate company M3M Group.
Following the incident, a prominent child rights group based in Delhi condemned “all forms of child abuse”, while some of the Dalai Lama’s supporters argued that the incident had been misinterpreted through a Western lens. The act of sticking out one’s tongue is considered a sign of respect or agreement in traditional Tibetan culture, according to the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Dalai Lama is the world’s best-known living Buddhist figure and is revered by millions as the reincarnation of his 13 predecessors. He has been based in India since fleeing an unsuccessful Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation in 1959, and later established a government-in-exile in Dharamshala. This is not the first time the Dalai Lama has courted controversy in recent years, having previously apologised for remarks about the appearance of a potential female successor and for suggesting that Europe should be kept for Europeans.