Who is the Dalai Lama? Life and past controversies of Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Buddhist leader
The 87-year-old was criticised after footage appeared of him kissing a young boy and telling him to ‘suck my tongue’
The Dalai Lama is one of the most famous religious and spiritual leaders in the world, but he has never been shy of controversy throughout his reign.
The 87-year-old has found himself embroiled in scandal once again after footage emerged of an incident in February. He was seen kissing a young boy during a public event at his temple in Dharamshala in northern India and then asking if he wanted to suck his tongue.
The Dalai Lama has since apologised to the child and his family “for the hurt his words may have caused”. His office added: "His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras.”
Having been appointed as the spiritual leader of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhist at a young age, the Dalai Lama has grown up in the public eye. In recent years, he has been embroiled in several controversies.
But what is his life story - and what controversies has he been involved in? Here’s everything you need to know.
Who is the Dalai Lama?
Tenzin Gyatso was born to a farming family in Taktser in northeastern Tibet. He was selected as the tulku - the reincarnation of the previous Buddist leader - in 1937 at the age of just two.
Following an enthronement ceremony, Gyatso has reigned as the 14th Dalai Lama since February 1940. He officially took over political duties at the age of 15, after the occupation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China.
However, after the annexation of Tibet by China and during the 1959 Tibetan uprising, he escaped to India. The Dalai Lama still lives in exile in India to this day, while serving as spiritual leader of Tibet.
Gyatso has been celebrated for his work in advocating for the environment, nonviolence and other major issues. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his work, and since 1970 has continued to call for China to agree on the ‘Middle Way Approach’ to the Tibet situation, which would see both China and Tibet benefit mutually from the agreement.
What controversies has the Dalai Lama been involved in?
Despite being celebrated for his work, the Dalai Lama has been involved in many controversies over the years. The most recent incident saw the leader ask a child to “suck his tongue” after kissing the young boy during a public interaction, for which he has since apologised.
The Dalai Lama has also made controversial comments around the possibility of a female Dalai Lama in the future. In 2010, he told a reporter that when he was first asked about the possibility of a female Dalai Lama, he responded by saying "If a female Dalai Lama comes, she should be more attractive.”
When asked about the comments in 2019, the Buddhist leader attempted to shrug the controversy off. He laughed about the remarks and said that while inner beauty is real beauty, appearance is very important.
The office of the Dalai Lama was forced to put out a statement on the situation following a backlash, emphasising that the comments were a misunderstood joke.
The statement read: "He is deeply sorry that people have been hurt by what he said and offers his sincere apologies. [The Dalai Lama] has a keen sense of the contradictions between the materialistic, globalised world he encounters on his travels and the complex, more esoteric ideas about reincarnation that are at the heart of Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
"However, it sometimes happens that off the cuff remarks, which might be amusing in one cultural context, lose their humour in translation when brought into another. He regrets any offence that may have been given."
He has also waded into the world of politics during his reign. While speaking at a conference in Malmo in Sweden in 2018, he suggested that European countries should return refugees to their country of origin, stating that “Europe belongs to the Europeans”.
The Dalai Lama, a refugee himself, said during his address: “Receive them, help them, educate them ... but ultimately they should develop their own country. I think Europe belongs to the Europeans.” However he added that Europe was “morally responsible” for “a refugee really facing danger against their life”.
This echoed his comments in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung two years before. He told the outlet that there were “too many refugees” in Europe, adding: “Europe, for example Germany, cannot become an Arab country.”