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Buddhist Leaders and Communities Around the World Protest Misrepresentations of the Dalai Lama

In the wake of a knee-jerk wave of social media outrage triggered when video footage filmed in Dharamsala in February showing the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama hugging and kissing a young Indian student began circulating online, Buddhist leaders and Tibetan communities around the world have raised their voices to protest against what they describe as the misrepresentation of an innocent interaction.

The incident, which is reported to have taken place during a public event at the Dalai Lama’s temple in Dharamsala on 28 February, in the presence of 120 students, family members, and officials, went viral on social media earlier this month. As the video gained traction across media channels, the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama issued a brief statement on 10 April to apologize for any offense caused and to clarify the innocent intent of the interaction.*

In a separate video interview following the Dalai Lama’s public event in February, the Indian student and his mother both expressed happiness over their audience with the Dalai Lama and receiving his blessings. The student who had asked to hug the the 87-year-old spiritual leader observed: “It was amazing meeting His Holiness. I think it’s a really great experience meeting somebody with such high positive energy. It’s a really nice feeling meeting him, and you get a lot of that positive energy.”

In a public response to the recent social media backlash, Penpa Tsering, the sikyong or head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), which represents the Tibetan community-in-exile, came out to publicly defend the Dalai Lama, noting that the incident recorded at the public event had merely demonstrated His Holiness’s innocent and affectionate nature.

Tsering said in his 13 April message that the Dalai Lama had been “unfairly labelled with all kinds of names that really hurt the sentiment of all his followers,” and that the 87-year-old’s “innocent grandfatherly affectionate demeanor” had been misinterpreted.

The CTA also issued a written statement, which shared in part:

His Holiness is the epitome of compassion. It is an all too well-known fact that whether you are a youngster, an adult, an elderly person, or whatever your national origin may be, He never belittles whatever questions you put to Him or whatever requests you make to Him. Rather, He makes utmost efforts to satisfy everyone to the best of his ability. On occasions, on an understanding of having developed a fellow feeling, His Holiness interacts in a clearly playful manner with others, such as by pulling their beards or touching His cheek or nose with theirs. And so, His Holiness has adopted numerous different ways to informally interact with people in a wholehearted manner. 

(Central Tibetan Administration)

Full statement from the Central Tibetan Administration

Voices of support poured in from across the Buddhist world. The prominent American Buddhist author, educator, and founder of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies, B. Alan Wallace, who was ordained as a monk by the Dalai Lama in the 1970s, shared the following public statement on social media:

Dear sangha and friends,

We could not remain silent in the face of the outrageous slander being propagated against His Holiness the Dalai Lama, someone who could not have a more impeccable moral code, ethics, and values. His kindness, care, and love for all of humanity is unsurpassed.

We would like to share some videos that bring to light what actually took place, the cultural context for what happened, as well as the likely reason for this being taken out of context and spread virally in a most despicable manner, especially when journalists are complicit, and don’t take the time to report on the facts but prefer to jump on the bandwagon to generate publicity. Lies often generate more viewers than the truth in this time.

It is no coincidence that when this event took place on February 28th, not a word was said about it, there was no outrage, only a joyful young boy who had the courage to ask His Holiness if he could give him a hug. In fact, His Holiness needed his translators to explain to him what the boy was asking. 

A month later, after His Holiness announced that an eight-year-old boy had been identified as the reincarnation of the 10th Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa Rinpoche, the spiritual head of the Gelug lineage in Mongolia, the lies and twisted stories began to emerge. Those who are familiar with the policies of the Chinese government, and their desire to control the narrative around Tibetan Buddhism, expected a strong reaction since the CCP will only recognize Buddhist leaders who they approve of, as is the case with the Panchen Lama who has been in custody since 1995, when he had been first recognized at the age of six. China then designated another Panchen Lama with no evidence that this was the actual reincarnation.

These are the facts and the chronology of what has taken place.

Please take the time to watch the videos below to come to your own conclusions, rather than the clickbait stories being circulated in the media and the internet. For those of us who have witnessed His Holiness the Dalai Lama over many years and decades, and have benefited from his wisdom and compassion there is only one perspective, this young boy had the opportunity of a lifetime that most people would rejoice to have.

From all of us at Santa Barbara Institute, this is the only view that is accurate and true.

(B. Alan Wallace Facebook)

Meanwhile, the respected American Buddhist academic, author, and founder of Tibet House US in New York City, Prof. Robert A. F. Thurman, also issued a public statement, which was shared on video, in which he described the interaction between the Dalai Lama and the Indian student as “a traditional Tibetan expression of affection—not sexual affection; grandparent to child affection”:

As the media frenzy gathered steam, Tibetan communities in India and around the world took to the streets to protest what they describe as a misrepresentation of circumstances and manipulated video footage. Not least of which was the protest conducted in Dharamsala, which is home to the Dalai Lama’s official residence and temple.

In the high-altitude region of Ladakh in India’s far north, where a significant portion of the population are Tibetan Buddhists, thousands of people took to the streets of the joint capital cities of Leh and Kargil in solidarity with His Holiness. The protesters, led by the Ladakh Buddhist Association, condemned the “recent conspiracies” to defame the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and demanded apology from media platforms for their role in defaming the spiritual leader. 

Open letter from Venerable Bhikkhu Sanghasena, founder of the Mahabodhi International Meditation Centre in Leh, Ladakh

Leh and Kargil both observed shutdowns on Monday in protest against the controversial video of the Dalai Lama, describing the Dalai lama’s interaction with the Indian student as one of compassionate love and profound kindness toward a devotee. 

In the US, Tibetan communities in several states held their own public demonstrations of loyalty. The Tibetan Association of Northern California led a march that culminated with a peace rally in San Francisco.

From Tibetan Association of Northern California Facebook
From Tibetan Association of Northern California Facebook

Meanwhile, in London, British Tibetans appealed to the BBC’s news service to “provide genuine coverage” of the Dalai Lama. Community leaders gathered outside the BBC headquarters, where they read out a joint letter over the British broadcaster’s coverage of the news, as well as a recent statement issued by Tibetan leaders and activists from around the world. The joint letter stated in part: 

“As a world-class public-funded media broadcasting house, we were deeply dismayed that the BBC would give so much heed to a few seconds of ill-intentioned ‘doctored’ viral footage. . . . 

“We are writing to draw your kind attention that the Tibetan Community has been deeply hurt by the BBC’s recent coverage vis-a-vis His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his genuine compassionate greeting and interaction with an Indian student.

We would have expected that in being a respected world class media house, the BBC would have proactively engaged in ensuring a credible, clear-sighted, and serious investigative journalistic piece, rather than running the story in the same manner of a sensationalist wildfire, as the rest of the tabloid media did. . . .

“As followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, we firmly believe in our spiritual leader and nobody can create the division they desired and hoped for. The truth will come out in due course. We condemn the perpetrators for their malicious act against our spiritual guru.” (ANI)

* Dalai Lama Apologizes for Inappropriate Conduct with Young Boy (BDG)

See more

Statement (His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet)
It was amazing meeting His Holiness: The boy who asked a hug from The Dalai Lama (YouTube)
Tibetan Parliament Issues Statement in Response to Misinterpreted Video of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (Central Tibetan Administration)
Dalai Lama ‘unfairly labelled’ over tongue video – Tibet govt-in-exile (Reuters)
Dalai Lama ‘unfairly labelled’ over tongue video: Tibet leader (Al Jazeera)
Dalai Lama defended over tongue-sucking remark (BBC News)
Tibetans urge BBC to “provide genuine coverage” on the Dalai Lama, hold protest outside Chinese embassy (ANI)
Dalai Lama row: Thousands in Ladakh come out in support with the spiritual leader, condemn ‘conspiracies’ to defame him (The Times of India)
Leh, Kargil Hold Massive Protests Against Bid To ‘Defame’ Dalai Lama (NDTV)
Bid to ‘defame’ Dalai Lama: Protests, shutdown in Leh, Kargil (rediff NEWS)
HH Dalai Lama Archetype of Radical Innocence with Robert Thurman (Robert A. F. Thurman Facebook)

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1 year ago

I disagree. I find it ironic that there is an article on this website that explains how misconduct occurs and the denial that students go into. How Sexual Misconduct Shatters Spiritual Communities: Lessons for BuddhistsThe boy asked for a hug. He got way more than that. I’d recommend that instead of normalising indecent assault against a child by an adult to consider the wheel of consent by Betty Martin. I think you will see the DL was in the shadow of “taking”.