The Dalai Lama is seen in a popular film requesting a little boy to suck his tongue. According to members of the Tibetan diaspora across Canada, this request has been misconstrued and portrayed in Western nations as being more threatening than it actually is.
The exiled 87-year-old Tibetan leader’s residence is the Tsuglakhang temple in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, where the footage was shot during a public meeting in February.
When the youngster requested a hug, he was answering questions from the audience.
In the video, the Dalai Lama briefly converses with the youngster before giving him a hug and a kiss on the lips. The audience laughs when the boy is instructed to suck his tongue after sticking it out for a brief period of time.
As a result of the video, there was an internet response, with people criticizing the spiritual leader’s improper and frightening behavior. The Dalai Lama apologized for any hurt he may have caused the youngster and his family and said he frequently “teases people he meets” in the way seen in the video in a statement he released last Monday. This triggered the video to resurface.
However, Tibetan Canadians and Dalai Lama supporters in Canada claim that a predominantly Western audience that is unfamiliar with Tibetan cultural practices has taken the film out of context.
“The recent allegations against His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama are deeply concerning to us,” the Tibetan Women’s Association of Ontario said in an email to CTVNews.ca.
“We think that the absence of cultural and contextual references has led to a misinterpretation of the incident. We are aware that the encounter might seem improper to those who are not familiar with Tibetan ways of showing affection, humor, and teasing, but we truly feel that the engagement was driven by love and compassion with no malice intended.
The Tibetan Association of Alberta (TAA) explained in another email to CTVNews.ca that sticking one’s tongue out has a different connotation in Tibet than it does in North America and Europe, where the Dalai Lama was born in 1935 and lived until he was exiled to India by the Chinese Government in 1959.
“Sticking one’s tongue out is a form of greeting and respect in our tradition, just as touching the forehead and nose are also gestures of love and greetings, just as every culture has its own way of showing respect, greetings, and loving gestures,” the group said in a statement.
According to a 2014 study that appeared in the online journal Cross-currents: East Asian History and Culture Review from the University of California Berkley, the custom got its start in the ninth century, under the rule of an unpopular monarch named Lang Darma who was infamous for his black tongue.
Tibetans would display their tongues as a sign that they weren’t the king because they believed the king had to have been reborn after his death. The salutation has changed into a sign of deference.
Although tongue-sucking is not often part of the welcome, the TAA interprets the action as a joke or prank in line with the Tibetan leader’s “humorous and fun-poking manner.”
The TAA statement continues, “His Holiness the Dalai Lama has always been a jovial and playful person.” The toddler is given a playful kiss on the forehead by His Holiness, an 80-year-old man, who is also tempting him into touching his tongue.
The head of the Tibetan Cultural Society of Vancouver, Pema Rigzin, has had multiple encounters with the Dalai Lama. Additionally, he was born and reared in Tibet before transferring to India and then Canada. According to him, another action in the film that has come under fire—a kiss between an adult and a child—is more typical in Tibetan culture than it is in the West.
In a phone conversation with CTVNews.ca, Rigzin stated that grandparents kissing or even chewing food for the young is “very normal in the Tibetan culture.”
After having lived in both Tibet and Canada, Rigzin claimed to have observed some significant contrasts between the social dynamics of the two societies. Rigzin asserted that Canadians are typically more reserved and individualistic than Tibetans, whose families are big and close-knit and people are expressive and “socialistic,” respectively.
He claimed that these comparisons show some of the differences in socialization and potential gesture interpretation between Tibetans and Canadians.
Sometimes, he continued, “if it’s just something you do on a regular basis, you don’t think that’s something you’re doing wrong or that you shouldn’t do it.” It simply feels so normal, and then all of a sudden, someone says, “Hey, you shouldn’t do that.”
The unnamed boy, who spoke with Voice of Tibet after the event, called meeting the Dalai Lama “a really good experience overall.”
He remarked, “Meeting His Holiness was incredible. “Meeting him is really pleasant, and you pick up a lot of that positive energy.”