From ‘Suck My Tongue’ To Female Successor, Here Are Times The Dalai Lama Stoked Controversies

From a possible female succeeding him as the Dalai Lama to issues of refugees in Europe, the Dalai Lama has courted multiple controversies in past, which Tibetans say are often a result of words getting lost in translation and being misinterpreted as English is his second language.

The 14th Dalai Lama

Over the decades, the 14th Dalai Lama has crafted many inspirational quotes and received wide appreciation, respect, and visibility —more than any of his predecessors— for his views on non-violence and the Tibet issue. But in the recent past, the 87-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is known to speak candidly, has turned many heads and raised eyebrows by making some startling remarks.

The Dalai Lama recently courted controversy after, in a purported video, he was seen asking a boy to kiss him and “suck my tongue”. The spiritual leader apologised for his gesture after receiving criticism from all across the globe. 

The incident drew an enormous outrage, from celebrities to welfare groups and others criticising him for his “unacceptable” behaviour. However, many Tibetans said that their language and culture was misinterpreted and that Dalai Lama’s action was not what it sounded like. 

According to a VICE report, the correct phrase in Tibetan for this joke is “Che le sa”, roughly translating to “eat my tongue.” But his broken English made it sound more serious than it was. English is Dalai Lama’s second language that he chooses to speak in at public events. 

The latest incident happened at McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala, where the Dalai Lama has been residing since 1959 after escaping into exile following the suppression of Tibetan national uprising by the Chinese troops. It is also the seat of the Government in Exile — Central Tibetan Administration (CTA). 

The office of the Dalai Lama issued a statement that the Tibetan spiritual leader “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,” adding he “regrets” the incident. 

Here are a few other times the Dalai Lama raged a controversy:

‘Very, very attractive female successor’

During an interview with the BBC in 2019, the Dalai Lama was asked about the possibility of having a female successor. He jokingly said if it happens, she should be “very, very attractive”, as otherwise, she would be of “not much use”. 

The Dalai Lama’s office in Dharamsala had apologised for the remark, saying the Tibetan spiritual leader has always opposed the objectification of women. 

“His Holiness genuinely meant no offence. He is deeply sorry that people have been hurt by what he said and offers his sincere apologies,” said the Office.

The statement said the Dalai Lama has always supported the rights of women and has celebrated the growing international consensus on gender equality. 

“Under his leadership, Tibetan nuns in exile have earned Geshe-ma degrees, indicating a high level of scholarship previously reserved only for male monks,” it said.

‘Prefer not see her…that face’

In June 2019, a journalist asked the leader about his previous comments on the possibility of a woman reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. The monk, revered by millions of Buddhists around the world, instead of taking back the remark, persisted with his view that if she was not attractive, “people, I think, prefer not see her…that face”.

‘Keep Europe for Europeans’

In the same interview, the Dalai Lama gave his controversial views on the refugee crisis in Europe, which his office said “may have been misinterpreted”. 

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader had said that Europe should let only a limited number of refugees to stay and aim at returning them to their own land. 

“Whole Europe eventually become Muslim country? Impossible. Or African country. Also impossible...Keep Europe for Europeans,” he had said. 

He made the same comment during a conference in Malmo, Sweden. The comment was considered insensitive by several sections of society.

Jawaharlal Nehru was ‘self-centered’

In August 2018, the Dalai Lama said that Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, had a “self-centred attitude” even though Mahatma Gandhi was in favour of Muhammad Ali Jinnah taking the top post at that time.

The Tibetan leader had also claimed India's Partition would not have happened if Gandhi's wish had materialised. He apologised later for causing controversy over his remarks. 

“I apologise if I have said something wrong,” the Dalai Lama had said. “I felt pity when I heard that Mahatma Gandhi was opposed to Partition... There are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan, but past is past.”