Dalai Lama apologizes after video shows him asking boy to ‘suck my tongue’

Video sparks criticism, but sticking out one’s tongue is a greeting or a sign of respect in Tibetan culture.
By Matt Reed for RFA
Dalai Lama apologizes after video shows him asking boy to ‘suck my tongue’ Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama touches foreheads with the young boy during an event in Dharamshala, India, Feb. 28, 2023.
Credit: Screenshot from Reuters video

The Dalai Lama apologized on Monday for kissing a young boy on the lips and asking him to “suck my tongue” at a student event in northern India.

The Feb. 28 incident has sparked online criticism. The leader of Tibetan Buddhism posted a statement on his Twitter account, saying he “wishes to apologize 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 said the Dalai Lama “often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras.”

“He regrets the incident,” it said.

In Tibetan culture sticking out one’s tongue is sometimes used as a traditional greeting, and can be seen as a sign of respect or agreement. 

A story in Tibetan folklore tells of a 9th-century Tibetan king who was known for his cruelty and his black tongue. The practice of sticking out their tongue is used by Tibetans to show they aren’t the reincarnation of the wicked king.

A video clip shows the boy at first asking the 87-year-old for a hug. 

The Dalai Lama then points to his cheek and says “first here.” The boy kisses the cheek and gives him a hug. Then the Dalai Lama motions to his lips and says “here also,” and kisses the boy briefly on the lips.

He then sticks out his tongue and says “and suck my tongue.” With laughter in the background, the video shows the boy sticking his tongue out before withdrawing it, and the Dalai Lama did the same.

Namgyal Choedup, a representative in the Office of Tibet in Washington, said the video clip was “blown out of context and some news networks have sensationalized the incident. 

"However, His Holiness has apologized if his words have offended anybody.”

According to a reliable source, the parents of the boy seen in the video told officials in the Dalai Lama’s office that their faith and respect for him remains intact.

Youth event

The Twitter account for the M3M foundation, the philanthropic arm of an Indian real estate company, said on Twitter that the Dalai Lama blessed more than 120 students who had just completed a skills training course.

The event took place at the Main Tibetan Temple near the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala – the city at the edge of the Himalayas that serves as the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. The Dalai Lama fled his homeland into exile in 1959 after a failed national revolt against Chinese rule.

The foundation included a photo of the Dalai Lama with his arm around the smiling boy. 

Still, the Delhi-based child rights group, Haq: Center for Child Rights, told CNN in a statement that it condemns “all form of child abuse.”

“Some news refers to Tibetan culture about showing tongue.” the statement said. “But this video is certainly not about any cultural expression and even if it is, such cultural expressions are not acceptable.”

Kalden Lodoe of RFA’s Tibetan service contributed to this report. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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