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The Dalai Lama apologizes for asking a young boy to suck his tongue

The Dalai Lama, pictured here at a prayer ceremony in McLeod Ganj last week, has come under fire for visibly kissing a young boy on the lips in a video that's been viewed millions of times.
AFP via Getty Images
The Dalai Lama, pictured here at a prayer ceremony in McLeod Ganj last week, has come under fire for visibly kissing a young boy on the lips in a video that's been viewed millions of times.

The Dalai Lama has apologized for kissing a young boy on the lips and asking him to "suck my tongue" after a video of the incident sparked outrage on social media.

The 87-year-old Buddhist priest "regrets the incident" and 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," according to a statement published by his office on Monday.

"His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras," the statement adds.

Video shows the Dalai Lama asking the boy to "suck my tongue"

A video of the incident shared widely on social media shows a young boy approaching the Dalai Lama during an event, asking him for a hug.

The leader calls him on stage and motions to his cheek, saying "first here," according to a live translation from the event. The boy obliges, and the Dalai Lama offers a hug, then continues holding onto the boy.

The leader then motions to his lips, saying "I think here also." He cups the boy's chin and kisses him on the mouth as the audience laughs and applauds.

The Dalai Lama pauses, then adds, "and suck my tongue." The boy slowly moves his head closer to the Dalai Lama's but appears only to touch his forehead before withdrawing.

The incident happened at an event in February at the Tsuglagkhang Temple complex, where the Dalai Lama resides. In attendance were more than 120 students who completed a skills training course hosted by the M3M Foundation — a charity arm of a prominent Indian real estate group.

The foundation posted photos from the event in early March, including some with the boy from the video. M3M did not respond to NPR's request for more information about the boy's identity.

The video has been shared millions of times on social media

The video spread quickly on social media, where commenters have called it "scandalous," "disgusting" and "abusive." At least one tweet containing the video shows it's been viewed more than 4.1 million times.

In the U.S., the video has been shared by right-wing influencers who have tried to use it to claim without evidence that pedophilia has run rampant.

In Tibet, sticking out one's tongue is known asa traditional greeting, stemming from a 9th-century myth about an unpopular king with a black tongue.

When the king died, Tibetans began revealing their tongues to show they hadn't become his incarnate. Tongue-sucking does not appear to be part of the tradition.

The Dalai Lama has long sat at the center of controversy

As the principal leader of the "Yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is among the best-known spiritual leaders in the world. Followers of the spiritual sect believe the current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, to be the reincarnation of his 13 predecessors.

The octogenarian has sparked a few controversies in recent years.

In 2018, he said the rising level of African refugee migrants should return to their own continents, declaring that"Europe belongs to the Europeans." And the following year, he apologized after telling the BBC in an interview that, should he have a female successor, she "should be more attractive."

The Dalai Lama has resided in the green, northern, hillside Indian city of Dharamshala since 1959, after an unsuccessful Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation. Beijing still regards Tibetan Buddhists with suspicion and hostility.

The Dalai Lama has spent a lifetime advocating for Tibetan autonomy and has taken steps to ensure that mission doesn't die with him. Though he has dreams of living to 113, he plans to consult with his advisers around age 90 for instructions about finding his successor.

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Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.