(CNN) The head of the Tibetan government-in-exile has defended the Dalai Lama over a video in which the spiritual leader kisses a child on the lips and then asks him to “suck my tongue.”
The Dalai Lama’s actions were “innocent” and had been misinterpreted, Penpa Tsering told reporters at an event in the Indian capital New Delhi on Thursday, adding that the controversy over the video had “hurt” the leader’s followers.
“His holiness has always lived in sanctity, (following the life of) a Buddhist monk, including celibacy. His years of spiritual practice have gone beyond sensorial pleasures,” Tsering said. “His holiness is now being labeled all kinds of names.”
In a statement Monday, the Dalai Lama — a Nobel peace laureate — apologized after a video of his exchange with the boy went viral on social media and prompted a wave of international criticism, including accusations of child abuse.
Tsering claimed that internal investigations suggested “pro-Chinese sources” were behind the spread of the video on social media, but gave no evidence for the claim.
“The political angle of this incident cannot be ignored,” he said.
The current Dalai Lama, 87-year-old Tenzin Gyatso, is the world’s best-known living Buddhist figure.
The principal spiritual leader of the “Yellow Hat” school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is revered by millions as the reincarnation of his 13 predecessors.
He has been based in India since 1959, following an unsuccessful Tibetan uprising against Chinese occupation. He later established a government-in-exile in Dharamshala, leading thousands of Tibetans who followed him there.
Some of the Dalai Lama’s supporters claim his actions in the video, which was filmed in the northern Indian hillside city of Dharamshala in February, have been misinterpreted under a Western lens.
“Expression of emotions and manners today has been melted together and become vividly westernized,” Namdol Lhagyari, a Tibetan activist in exile, wrote on Twitter Monday. “Bringing in narrative of other cultures, customs and social influence on gender and sexuality to interpret Tibetan way of expression is heinous.”
February’s incident isn’t the first time the octogenarian has sparked controversy in recent years.
He apologized after a 2019 interview with the BBC, during which he said if a female Dalai Lama should succeed him, she “should be more attractive.”
The previous year, he suggested Europe should be kept for Europeans, when speaking about the rising level of African refugees entering the continent.