Is the Father of Tibet a pedophile? The story can be dismissed as a tempest in a pot of Himalayan black tea but is being maliciously exploited by the CCP and its fellow travellers.

1. On February 28, 2023, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual Father of Tibetans, received around 120 students who had completed a skills training program organized by the M3M Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Indian real estate company M3M Group. His Holiness received the students at the courtyard of the Tsuglagkhangcomplex, where what is often referred to as the “Dalai Lama’s Temple” lies, in Mcleod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamshala city, in the Kangra district, or the “winter capital” of the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. The Dalai Lama resides there since 1959, when he and some companions were compelled to leave Lhasa, the capital of historic Tibet, for India. This happened because of the military occupation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a Communist country since October 1, 1949, which systematically and harshly persecutes religious groups and ethnic minorities, and violates human rights. In Mcleod Ganj also the Central Tibetan Administration resides, or the government-in-exile of Tibet chaired by the Sikyong (similar to a Prime Minister), along with several thousand Tibetan settlers and refugees.

2. After more than forty days from the event, a short news published on April 8, 2023, and updated the next day, by “The Times of India,” the third-largest Indian newspaper by domestic circulation, printed in English, focused on an episode of that meeting though a frame from a video. The Dalai Lama kissed “a young boy on the lips at a Buddhist event,” asking him to “suck my tongue.” “The Times of India” introduced the unspeakable word: “For some, this is akin to pedophilia.” The issue went viral on social media, footage appeared all over the world, accusations and indictments filled the international press.

3. Watched in full, that episode appears to be more complex and different from the edited footage that circulated. From the crowd gathered at Tsuglagkhang, a young Indian boy, younger than the students from the M3M program, asked via microphone the Dalai Lama whether he could hug him. At first, His Holiness didn’t understand the request. Then he joyfully agreed. But did the Dalai Lama really understand? He in fact invited the boy to kiss him on a cheek. The boy did it and the hugged him, smiling. The Dalai Lama, holding the boy’s hand, asked him to be kissed on the lips. The boy shily and smiling did, and all the audience laughed. Their foreheads met. Then His Holiness invited the boy to “suck” his tongue. Again, everybody laughed. Finally, the Dalai Lama kept the boy’s hand on his cheek and hugged him for a few second, giving him a short teaching. And then he tickled him. They evidently joked and laughed, but the encounter had serious moments too.

4. The event was part of a longer meeting. The incident in itself was a marginal moment of the whole event. It happened openly, it was filmed by cameras, and it was broadcasted by microphones in front of an audience of more than 120, which included the mother of boy. No one in the audience rose in disdain or abandoned the meeting. For forty days, no one talked about the incident. The interaction between His Holiness and the boy was longer than the few incriminated images and footage. Watched in its fullness, it reveals nothing scandalous or obscene. There were smiles and applauses by both the audience and the mother of the boy.

5. The boy and her mother were interviewed on that very same April 28, 2023, by “Voice of Tibet,” a media network based in Dharamsala. The woman appeared in many videos, longer or shorter. All agreed that she is the mother of the boy. In the Voice of Tibet interview, she presented herself as Dr. Payal Kanodia, Trustee of M3M Foundation. She was the person who led the delegation of students to meet His Holiness. Given the circumstances, it looks like she also took her child to an important event, which was organized for elder students. In fact, strangely, no one wondered why a younger boy attended a meeting for students of a different age. The name of the boy has not been mentioned so far. In the Voice of Tibet interview, both the boy and his mother sincerely thanked the Dalai Lama for the highly meaningful meeting. The word most used by both mother and son was “blessing.” Nobody hinted at anything improper. This interview was, however, ignored by international media.

6. The worldwide anti-Dalai-Lama campaign that started on April 8, 2023, prompted His Holiness to offer an apology to the child and his family on April 10, 2023. There had been in fact no need to do it before. As mentioned earlier, the incident had happened forty days earlier and for forty days no one accused the Dalai Lama of anything. The boy didn’t. His mother didn’t. Neither the boy nor his mother ever asked for His Holiness’ apology, which nevertheless they received. For forty days, nobody mentioned the incident. His Holiness presented his apology when he realized that his behaviour could be misrepresented, misunderstood, or worse by hostile sources and on social media.

7. In an official note on April 10, 2023, the Grupo de Apoio ao Tibete-Portugal wrote: “We should remember that there is a perverse relationship between the Chinese government and some Indian media (and beyond). Three years ago, Indian journalist Rajeev Sharma was arrested by the Indian authorities for stealing state secrets and smuggling classified information to the Chinese regime. The Chinese media rejoice at any opportunity to vilify, even further than usual,” the Dalai Lama “and are already spreading insulting memes with his image. We regret the decontextualization and utilization that is being made, which is also the result of an ignorance about Tibetan culture. Showing the tongue is common in the context of Tibetan culture, and it can represent as much a sign of respect as a greeting or even an apology.”

8. On April 11, 2023, the Twitter account of “Nepal Correspondence,” a platform of investigative journalism based in Nepal, pointed at the fact that, soon after the customized footage turned the episode into an incident, Chinese trolls launched a campaign, accusing the Dalai lama of pedophilia.

In an April 13, 2023, article featured in the American online journal “International Business Times,” that publishes five national editions in four languages, a Tibetan exile, Lobsang Yeshi, denounced the viral campaign against the Father of Tibetans as a CCP’s conspiracy, highlighting the febrile activity of Chinese fake social media accounts and trolls. He underlined that “within weeks of the public event […], also participated by sizable media contingent, a maliciously edited and tampered video on His Holiness’s interaction with the Indian boy was circulated across China and Tibet by the Chinese cyber army, the netizens and the CCP stooges. According to Tibetans inside Tibet and China, this video was circulated widely in Chinese social media, fanned extensively by CCP Government agencies. For over a month, Chinese-sponsored cyber goons toiled rigorously inside Tibet and China to tarnish the image of Dalai Lama by indicting him for ‘sexual misconduct.’”

The fact that the campaign went on for forty days only within the boundaries of the PRC helps explaining two things: the silence of mainstream international media between the event and the news launched by “The Times of India” (which explains why no apologies were needed during these forty days) and the fact that, at that point, all seemed ready to explode (which tells us why the news published by “The Times of India” was short, and the readers got the impression that the video was already sufficiently known to “some” or “many.”) On April 12, 2023, the Associazione Italia-Tibet lamented manipulations as well, summing it up with the title of one of the best-known comedies by English playwright William Shakespeare (1564–1616), “Much Ado About Nothing.”

9. In Tibetan culture, it is common for heterosexual people of the same sex to kiss each other on the lips or do similar gestures. The Dalai Lama has been photographed doing it several times with several people. Some in the West may consider it strange. Some Westerners do not even like receiving greetings through a kiss on their cheek by non-relatives. At the same time, other Westerners use to greet non-relatives with even two kisses on a cheek. In Central and Eastern Europe, people greet each other also with three kisses on a cheek (exporting this use to other regions where they may happen to live) and other signs of affection. Soviet Russia launched a modern tradition of men greeting each other through kisses on the lips as a sign of special socialist comradeship, and this is sometimes still practiced in today’s post-Communist Russia by heterosexual men and women.

More profoundly, Christianity started the tradition of kisses on the lips between heterosexual people of the same sex to symbolize peace and fraternity. This practice is recommended in the New Testament five times: see Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26, and 1 Peter 5:14. It is called the “holy kiss” to distinguish it from a sexual kiss. The distinction importantly attests that a kiss on the lips may be acceptable within a religious tradition and does not have a sexual meaning. By extension, when it involves minors it has nothing to do with pedophilia. Starting from this Christian bases, British career diplomat Andy Scott published an entire book of investigation on kiss as a salute in his 2019 “One Kiss or Two: In Search of the Perfect Greeting.”

10. In Tibetan culture, it is traditional to greet someone by outing one’s tongue. It has been noted by the BBC, among others. Nine years ago, in April 2014, the BBC published a curious and interesting piece of news, presenting it as a guide to unusual greetings from around the world. No. 1 in the list is Tibet, where sticking out one’s tongue is a way of greeting. “It has been a tradition since the 9th century,” the BBS explained, “the time of an unpopular king called Lang Darma, who was known for his black tongue. People in Tibet, thought that the king had been reborn, so to prove they weren’t the king, they would show their tongues.” Darma Udumtsen, nicknamed Langdarma, probably reigned from 838 to 841 CE. He was an assassin and a persecutor of Buddhists. He was said to be the incarnation of Gośīrṣa, the bull-head guardian of hell, hence is nickname, literally, “Darma, the bull.” He was said to have had “a black tongue.” Tibetans stick out their tongues to demonstrate theirs are not black and they are not evil-doers. As the BBC concludes, this “traditional greeting is now a form of respect.” So, in Tibetan cultural terms, when the Dalai Lama sticked his tongue to the boy on February 28, 2023, he was paying him respect, exorcising evil spirits. This custom is portrayed also in the Hollywood 1997 movie “Seven Years in Tibet,” by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud. Based on Austrian mountaineer and SS sergeant Heinrich Harrer (1912–2006)’s memoir published in 1952 under the same title, it is interpreted by famous American actor Brad Pitt. Trekking the Roof of the World before the CCP’s invasion, Pitt-Harrer encounters a group of Tibetans who all stick their tongues at him as a way of greeting and a sign of respect.

11. Everyone knows, and repeated it for decades before the February 28, 2023, episode-turned-incident, that His Holiness likes to make jokes and tease people. As the former Sikyong, Lobsang Sangay, pointed out speaking at the University of Colorado on Boulder, on April 11, 2023, the Dalai Lama is a playful person that would pull the beard of some guests or politically incorrectly point at the big head of some others. On February 28, 2023, he was joking in the same way with the young boy.

Mr. Penpa Tsering, the present Sikyong, held the same line during a meeting at the Foreign Correspondents Club in New Delhi, India, on April 13, 2023.

12. Reportedly, the Dalai Lama asked the young boy to suck his tongue. On YouTube, a Tibetan commentator give many useful details and explanations, offering the world the chance to see the whole video of the episode-turned-incident for free. He connected the fact to what non-affluent Tibetan grandparents do when their grandchildren request candy or coins. They listen to them and kind of trick them, imparting a lesson in life. “Kiss me on my cheek, they say, meet my forehead, let our noses touch, and now that you have had all from me, there remains only my tongue to eat.” As the commentator points out, the Dalai Lama isn’t fluent in English. If I may add this, I experienced that myself when visiting him in Mcleod Ganj on December 16, 2022. When the boy requested a hug on February 28, 2023, he did not immediately understand. He asked him to repeat, and then needed assistance by interpreters to fully grasp the request. He may have expressed himself incorrectly in English. The substance of his gesture remains evident, though. There is nothing pedophile in it.

13. If not pedophile, nonetheless, some in our Western world, which is both hyper-sexualized and dominated by extreme interpretations of political correctness, where values are confused and even lost, found the act both disgusting and inappropriate. But in a Tibetan cultural context it was not so. While some Westerners cannot understand and accept some Tibetan cultural practices, Tibet cannot understand some of the Western reprimands. This offers important materials for a conclusion.

The two opposite errors of cultural relativism and neo-colonialism are to be fought together. Objective standards do exist in moral behavior. If it were not so, no one could call criminal actions like those of Iran’s Gasht-e-Ershad, or “Guidance Patrols,” which the media call “morality police.” The unit was established in Summer 2005 as an heir to the 1980s Islamic Revolution Committees, which performed the same function of enforcing the regime’s perception of shari’a, or Islamic law, including the proper way of wearing hijab for women, resulting in brutal violence and even killings. Those acts are objectively wrong, and all must condemn them. There is no way to define Gasht-e-Ershad’s acts as aspects of a particular religious culture that others may disapprove but should respect, and ultimately accept. Their acts are simply immoral and unacceptable. At the same time, no one can deny the right of Muslim women to wear hijab (or that, say, of Indian women and Catholic nuns to use head-covering robes) only because in other cultures and ideologies it is considered awkward. Liberty comes first, and it always goes hand in hand with truth. Thus, all should be free to act according to their cultural and religious customs, which others may find strange, unless they violate positive or natural law. And everyone should acknowledge that harassment, torture, violence and killings are always immoral and have no excuse.

People should then be free to dislike aspects of Tibetan culture, and Tibetans should be free to act according to it until and unless both critics and performers violate positive or natural law. If this ordered and truthful liberty is granted, we can avoid the twin errors of cultural relativism, or the idea that there are no objective and universal moral standards, and neo-colonialism, which implies that the suppression of local cultures is in itself a form of progress to be promoted and implemented. In the meantime, the right of every human being not to be falsely accused of ignominious crimes should also be guaranteed, Moral standards must be respected by all, but not all behaviors that look strange to those living in a different culture are violations of universal ethical laws. The best missionaries of different religions have often been the earliest cultural anthropologists (one may just remember the name of Matteo Ricci, 1552–1610, the great Jesuit Catholic missionary to China), and knew this fact quite well.

When all this is clarified, what remains is the orchestrated attempt to ruin the image of a giant spiritual leader who never compromised with the brutality of the CCP, and the ignorance of too many media that uncritically repeated the Chinese regime’s propaganda.