NEW DELHI — The Dalai Lama, the Tibetans’ 87-year-old spiritual leader, apologized on Monday after footage showed him asking a young boy to “suck my tongue” at a public event.
“A video clip has been circulating that shows a recent meeting when a young boy asked his Holiness the Dalai Lama if he could give him a hug,” said a statement on the exiled leader’s Twitter account, which has 19 million followers.
“His Holiness 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.”
The statement said the Dalai Lama leader “often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras. He regrets the incident.”
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.
According to Tibetan folklore, a cruel 9th-century Tibetan king had a black tongue, so people stick out their tongues to show that they are not like him, the institute said on its website. There’s no mention of tongue-sucking on the site.
The video, which has 1 million views on Twitter, appears to show the Nobel peace laureate attempting to give the boy a peck on the lips in the presence of an audience. The crowd can be heard clapping and laughing, while a man captures the moment on a phone.
The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, is regarded by Beijing as a dangerous separatist.
He has worked for decades to draw global support for linguistic and cultural autonomy in his remote, mountainous homeland.
He now lives in a compound next to a temple ringed by green hills and snow-capped mountains in the northern Indian town of Dharamshala.