The Dalai Lama has apologized after a video emerged showing the spiritual leader kissing a child on the lips and then asking him to “suck my tongue” at an event in northern India.
In a statement Monday, the office for the Dalai Lama said 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,” adding he “regrets” the incident.
“His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras,” the statement said.
His apology comes after a video of the exchange, which took place during an event in the hillside city of Dharamshala in February, went viral on social media with many users criticizing the Dalai Lama’s actions.
In the video, the young boy can be seen approaching the Nobel Peace Prize winner before asking, “Can I hug you?”
The 87-year-old spiritual leader then invites the boy on stage and points to his cheek and says, “first here,” prompting the boy to give him a hug and a kiss.
The Dalai Lama then points to his lips, and says: “then I think finally here also.” He then pulls the boy’s chin and kisses him on the mouth.
“And suck my tongue,” he says after a few seconds, poking his tongue out.
The identity of the boy is not known. He was at an event with the M3M Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Indian real estate company M3M Group, based in Dharamshala, where the Dalai Lama lives in permanent exile. CNN has reached out to the M3M Foundation for comment.
In response to the incident, prominent Delhi-based child rights group, Haq: Center for Child Rights, told CNN in a statement it condemns “all form of child abuse.” It added: “Some news refers to Tibetan culture about showing tongue, but this video is certainly not about any cultural expression and even if it is, such cultural expressions are not acceptable.”
Some of the Dalai Lama’s supporters have decried the criticism, however, arguing the leader’s actions have been misinterpreted under a Western lens.
“Expression of emotions and manners today has been melted together and become vividly westernized,” Namdol Lhagyari, a Tibetan activist in exile, wrote on Twitter. “Bringing in narrative of other cultures, customs and social influence on gender and sexuality to interpret Tibetan way of expression is heinous.”
Sticking out one’s tongue is a sign of respect or agreement and was often used as a greeting in traditional Tibetan culture, according to the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the world’s best-known living Buddhist figure.
The principal spiritual leader of the “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is revered by millions as the reincarnation of his 13 predecessors.
The spiritual leader has been based in India since 1959, following an unsuccessful Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation. He later established a government-in-exile in the northern Indian city of Dharamshala, leading thousands of Tibetans who followed him there.
February’s incident isn’t the first time the octogenarian has sparked controversy in recent years.
He apologized after a 2019 interview with the BBC, during which he said if a female Dalai Lama should succeed him, she “should be more attractive.”
The previous year, he suggested Europe should be kept for Europeans, when speaking about the rising level of African refugees entering the continent.
“The whole Europe (will) eventually become Muslim country? Impossible. Or African country? Also impossible,” he said, adding that it’s better to “keep Europe for Europeans.”