His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama apologized on Monday after a video circulated on social media of the spiritual leader kissing a boy on the lips and telling him, “Suck my tongue.” The interaction took place in late February at the Dalai Lama’s temple in Dharamsala, India, with about 100 young student graduates of the Indian M3M Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the real estate company M3M Group, in attendance.
In the video, a young boy approaches the microphone and asks if can hug the Dalai Lama. The 87-year-old points to his cheek, saying “First here,” after which the child kisses his cheek and hugs him. The Dalai Lama then points to his lips and says, “I think here also” and pulls the boy’s chin and kisses him on the mouth. He then tells the boy “And suck my tongue,” sticking his tongue out, forehead to forehead with the boy. The Dalai Lama then laughs and pulls the boy in for another hug.
As the video went viral, many condemned the spiritual leader’s actions, calling it “inappropriate,” “pedophilic,” and “disgusting.” Others have decried the criticism, arguing that the Dalai Lama’s actions have been misinterpreted. Sticking one’s tongue out is a traditional greeting in Tibet, according to NPR.
In response to the backlash, the Dalai Lama’s office issued an apology to the boy and his family, “as well as his many friends across the world, for the hurt his words may have caused.” The statement did not mention the kiss or extended tongue, only that the boy asked the Dalai Lama for a hug. It continues, “His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras. He regrets the incident.”
The spiritual leader has drawn criticism for public remarks in recent years, including in 2015, when he joked in an interview with BBC that any future female Dalai Lama should be “very attractive.” When pressed about the comments in a later 2019 interview with BBC, the Dalai Lama reaffirmed his belief that a female Dalai Lama “should be more attractive.” His office later issued an apology for the remarks.