His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama: No one is sucking anyone’s tongue

A now-infamous video circulating on the Internet shows the Dalai Lama at an unspecified, undated public event hugging an Indian boy, before kissing him on the lips and inviting him to suck his tongue. The widespread visceral revulsion at what His Holiness did is appropriate and not a social media overreaction.

According to ABC News, “In Tibet, sticking out your tongue has been a traditional greeting since the 9th century and is seen as a form of respect.” On 10 April, the Dalai Lama’s office made a short and terse statement, claiming that he “teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras.”

Yet the Dalai Lama is not talking about the boy’s tongue, but his own. The tongue is an extremely intimate and sensitive organ in all cultures. Buddhism often urges us to see things as they are, without embellishment or projection. I do not believe for one minute than in any culture, such an intimate and private organ as the tongue is just there to be sucked or licked as commonly as shaking hands or hugging.

The visceral, gut revulsion felt by so many at a grown man inviting intimate oral contact with a young boy is not the result of cancel culture, Chinese psy-ops brainwashing, or anti-Tibetan racism. It is the natural human moral instinct to sense that in any society, physical contact with the tongue is something for sexual, adult, mutually consenting encounters, and cannot be equated to culturally variable greetings like forehead touching or kisses on the cheeks.

Enquires should immediately be made by the Dalai Lama’s office, as well as his students and supporters, about the optics involved with showing an 87-year-old man, especially a Buddhist leader that is familiar with Western norms and contemporary sensibilities, make such an eyebrow-raising invitation to a boy. 

It is unimaginable that the Dalai Lama, who prides himself (and whose supporters uphold him) as a model of a teacher comfortable, familiar, and at ease with modern life, would not know that interacting with a human tongue is overwhelmingly reserved for adult contexts far removed from the safe space that children should expect to enjoy.

Of course, His Holiness is old, and miscommunication on part of an elderly man is to be expected. Had his office more rapidly confirmed that this was a matter of old age, the situation would have won more compassion. The responsibility of clarity should therefore fall on those around him and assisting him, fast. 

In the eyes of any mature adult with common sense, to “tease” an underage boy about an intimate body part is the furthest from an innocent gesture. At best, this fiasco was the result of a clumsy handling of a meet-and-greet with a child and a careless solicitation of oral contact (which an underage kid cannot consent to). 

The broader context of sexual abuse within Vajrayana institutions does not bode well for this incident’s ramifications. Accusations made toward Vajrayana leaders that have overstepped boundaries have often been countered with the insistence that the accusers’ or purported victims’ perceptions are faulty, or that incidents were anecdotal without hard evidence, and therefore baseless. Neither argument can be applicable here.

What is needed immediately is clarity.

Ignorance abounds in regard to consent, personal boundaries, and the nature of abuse, intended or unintended. Fortunately, ignorance can be remedied, and the sincerely repentant can reform. To remain wilfully ignorant is to remain complicit in something deeply immoral, offensive, and repugnant.

See more

Statement (His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet)
Dalai Lama apologises after video circulates online of Tibetan spiritual leader kissing a young boy and asking him to ‘suck my tongue’ (ABC News)
Dalai Lama apologises for asking boy to suck his tongue (SCMP)

Support Our Dharma Work