“It might be a slip of tongue.”
“He’s not fluent in English.”
“He directed the joke towards himself.”
“He’s a human being too; humans make mistakes.”
These were some of the reactions online, after His Holiness – the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet – repeated the same joke for the fourth time. Last week, when an interviewer asked him about the possibility of a future female Dalai Lama, he responded that for human beings “the appeal is also very important” and that “If female Dalai Lama comes, then that female must be very attractive… otherwise the people will not see that face (of a female Dalai Lama unless she is attractive.)”
The first time this happened was when Vogue’s Paris editor in 1992 interviewed His Holiness, then on the Larry King Show in 2014, and twice with the BBC – first in 2015 and then during his conversation with Rajini Vaidyanathan last week.
The story could be analyzed from various different perspectives.
The most important one is the view presented by His Holiness’s Office in its clarification of these remarks which caused outrage on social media. It says, “He is deeply sorry that people have been hurt by what he said and offers his sincere apologies.” According to the press release, His Holiness made the comments in the context of reincarnation, as him and his followers are staunch believers in the concept of rebirth.
If seen through this prism, he simply tried to be humorous and directed these comments towards himself. This means, if he – the Dalai Lama – is re-born after passing away, he would like to be an “attractive” women (if there is a possibility of a female head of the Tibetan Buddha Dharma, as people would then like to “see that face”.)
It is quite clear from the interview that His Holiness cannot speak English fluently and, therefore, was lacking the proper vocabulary to translate his thoughts correctly into words. But what if his comments were a true reflection of how he actually feels deep inside? His repetition of the same comment time and again has pushed me to speculate on whether it has something to do with his actual point of view – in general – about women.
His Holiness has always preached the message of humanity. He never missed an opportunity to spread the message of love, equality, compassion, respect, discipline and justice. And for these reason – like millions of people across the world – I’m also one of his biggest admirers. But his recent comments were in contrast to his teachings. Preaching the message of equality, love, compassion and, most importantly “of the importance of inner beauty,” but not willing to accept – what His Holiness calls “less attractive woman” as his successor – was truly shocking for many.
To me, those comments were fundamentally sexist. But, like any other human being with a big heart, he offered his sincere apologies immediately after witnessing the public’s outrage. A realisation of one’s mistake followed by a heartfelt apology is what I was expecting from His Holiness. It must appreciated.
Men and women must be treated equally in all aspects of life. Women are neither intellectually nor spiritually weaker than men and, therefore, they are not required – in any way – to possess special or additional characteristics to hold the same offices men do. No discrimination should be made on the basis of gender, ‘attractiveness’, caste, culture, religion or sexual orientation.
In the same interview, last week, the Dalai Lama said that Europeans ought better to keep Europe for European people, and after getting an education and acquiring skills, the refugees must return to their homelands and make contributions for their development. Jokingly, he further articulated that because Europe is climatically cold, migrants from Africa, Afghanistan and the Middle East are better for their own homelands.
For the last 60 years, His Holiness has been living as a refugee in India. The people of India accepted him with open arms, and him and his followers have been living here since. He also set up the Government of Tibet in Exile in Dharamshala shortly after taking refuge. With a burst of laughter, he said that migration could eventually turn Europe into “a Muslim country” or “an African country.”
But, following His Holiness’s logic, one might conclude that the whole of Himachal Pradesh would turn into a “Tibetan Buddhist Himachal Pradesh” lest the Dalai Lama doesn’t follow his own advice.
Ali Salman Andani is an economic and political analyst-columnist at The Economic Times (Times of India), Asia Times, India Today, and Modern Diplomacy. He tweets @an_alisalman and can be found on Instagram @an_alisalman.
Featured image credit: Reuters