Sunday, June 18, 2023

My Thoughts on the Dalai Lama

About a month ago I read something about the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, on Twitter about his inappropriate behavior toward a child in India. According to various news sources, the spiritual leader had hugged a young boy and kissed him and he stuck out his tongue, telling the boy to suck it. Of course, the internet exploded with that news, with many canceling him and calling him a pedophile. 

It was very heartbreaking for me to read about this and to see the reactions of people online. I read as much about it as I could and I tried to learn more about what happened before passing judgment. After all, this was a man whose work I am a fan of. His book The Path to Tranquility is one of my favorites. 

I searched for the video and when I saw it, the Dalai Lama did kiss the boy and stuck his tongue out. It was clear in the video that he had asked the boy to suck his tongue, which I was surprised about. To be fair, even if the boy tried to follow what he said, he did not let the boy do it. 

According to other news articles, the boy had asked for a hug, and when he did the Dalai Lama reached out and gave him a kiss on the lips at the same time. 

In this age of connectivity, it is very easy for us to judge other people in terms of what information is available to us. There is so much tendency to take things out of context or for things to be made a big deal of when it is not the case. I tried my best not to think negatively of the Dalai Lama right away but it was hard for me not to do so with everything that has been released by the media.

Some Tibetans have come to the Dalai Lama’s defense, saying that people have misunderstood him. They defended the fact that he is very innocent and playful and that he sometimes says things wrong when he speaks in English. The term about sucking his tongue, according to them was probably a mistranslation of a common phrase that can also be translated as “eat my tongue,” which is often said as a joke in their culture. 

Many Tibetans have accused Western media of being narrow-minded about the issue and taking things from a Western perspective before understanding the cultural nuances that have led to what was immediately judged as inappropriate. 

As someone who did not grow up with an understanding of Tibetan culture and was brought up in a conservative household, I was a little disturbed by the video. The boy asked for a hug, and he gave him a kiss on the lips. Yes, the family of the boy and the boy himself said they considered it a blessing, but to me, it felt weird to be that affectionate to someone, especially a stranger (and a child), without their express permission. And as they said, the whole suck (or eat) my tongue thing is a Tibetan thing, and the boy was Indian. So naturally when the Dalai Lama joked to suck his tongue and he stuck it out, the boy tried to do so, not knowing it was a joke.

To be fair, the Dalai Lama’s facial expression did seem playful and innocent, and I do not think that if he had any inappropriate intentions with the boy that he would do it in front of the boy’s family and with all those other people and cameras around him. It is plausible that he did not mean any harm with his actions. 

I’m still processing what I think and feel about the issue. I have a lot of respect for the Dalai Lama because of that book of his that I love, but I also can’t help but think that something about the whole thing still felt wrong to me. I’m not saying he is wrong, just that it felt wrong to me. But I wouldn’t go attacking him on social media as a lot of people have done. I still give him the benefit of the doubt about whether or not this was a cultural thing. I can’t judge something that I do not have complete knowledge about.

The whole issue feels sad to me. I can’t seem to reconcile what people say about him because of what happened with the person he seems to be based on what he has written. I hope that one day I can come to terms with what I really feel about all this. I’ve just been too big of a fan in the past and I can’t wrap my head around it. 


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