The Dalai Lama apologized Monday morning after a video of him kissing a child on the lips and asking him to suck his tongue went viral on social media.
The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader expressed his apologies to the boy and his family, “as well as his many friends across the world, for the hurt his words may have caused,” according to a statement by his office.
“His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras. He regrets the incident,” it added. The statement did not reference the kiss.
The video was taken in the Indian town of Dharamsala in February, at the temple where the Dalai Lama lives. In it, you can see the young boy asking for a hug. The Dalai Lama points to his cheek, saying “first here” after which the Dalai Lama points to his own lips and asks for another kiss. The 87-year-old priest then says “and suck my tongue” in the clip, putting his forehead closer to the young boy’s.
The clip was immediately criticized and viewed by millions of people online who were shocked by the Dalai Lama’s actions, calling it “sick” and “pedophilic.”
“This is NOT playful banter & so inappropriate to use ‘affectionately plants kiss’ alongside ‘suck my tongue’. Hugs are fine[,] not this,” tweeted Dr. Shola Mos Shogbamimu, a British women’s rights activist . “Don’t normalize molestation of kids – don’t care how revered the Dalai Lama is I’m not OK with a child sucking a grown man/woman/anyone’s tongue.”
Sticking out your tongue is seen as a “sign of respect or agreement” and is a traditional Tibetan greeting, according to NPR.
Dalai Lamas are believed to be “manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet,” according to the current Dalai Lama’s online biography. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent action against China’s occupation of Tibet. Tibetan Buddhists believe him to be a figure of peace that is a reincarnation of the 13 previous Dalai Lamas, all with a mission to help humanity.
The Dalai Lama also has complicated ties to the self-help cult NXIVM, which has a history of sexual abuse. Leader Keith Raniere was sentenced to prison after an investigation found that multiple women, including one teenage girl, was coerced into having sex with Raniere. The girls also had Raniere’s initials branded on their pelvises.
In a nine-part documentary series on NXIVM, it was revealed that the Dalai Lama was invited to speak on compassionate ethics at a conference that was attended by NXIVM members in 2009, a decade before Raniere was convicted. The Dalai Lama received criticism prior to his scheduled appearance, causing him to cancel his visit, though he later attended the conference.
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