Sucking tongue

The incident of Dalai Lama (DL) asking a boy to suck his tongue had exploded in the mass media and many people had much to say about it. People from other religions are commenting with glee that this demonstrated that only God is holy. But Buddhism is never a religion that believes in God in the first place, So let us explore this incident from a Buddhist perspective.

The comments left by people on social media are mostly hateful and unforgiving. Some hinted that this request indicates the perverse character of DL. For example;

“If he can ask for such a thing in public, god knows what he will ask for in private!”

“I hope he doesn’t ask people to suck other parts in private.”

“He must be Gay!”

“I am sure there are more serious offences that are not disclosed yet!”

“Yucks! That is so unhygienic”

From the above examples, it seems that many people are alluding that DL must be engaging in sexual misconduct of the worst kind. Not saying that DL’s request is appropriate; But why are we thinking in that direction? In Buddhism, this is a classic example of delusive thinking. In other words, we allow our minds to wander and fantasize without discipline. Consequently, we are putting blame on a person even though there is no evidence that our assumptions are true.

Does that mean we are supposed to ignore signs of potential misconduct by people?

Well, no. If we find something suspicious, it is natural for us to be on alert. However, that does not give us the right to engage in verbal violence or stone someone who might be completely innocent of what we imagine.

But even if DL is innocent of misconduct, he should be more mindful of his actions and words as a spiritual leader. Otherwise, it may become a precedent for other monks and other Holiness to make a similar request in jest?

I think this observation is reasonable and that is why the apologies from DL should be accepted. If we look at Buddha’s life stories and ask, “did Buddha do something that was socially unacceptable?” The answer is actually yes. Buddha admitted His biological son, Rahula into monkshood without the consent of Rahula’s guardians (Princess Yashodara and King Suddhodana) In that incident, King Suddhodana request Buddha to set a rule forbidding the admittance of a minor into the monastic order without the consent of their guardians. Buddha agreed and that has become a Buddhist observance ever since.

Why do I bring this story into this article?

Well, if you step back and think without taking sides, Buddha wasn’t really at fault. After all, Rahula was his biological son and Rahula had indicated that he missed his father dearly and would like to stay by his side. But even though, Rahula had indicated thus, Buddha still respected the request of King Suddhodana. I think that demonstrates Buddha being sensitive to certain social expectations. Coming back to DL’s incident, he did apologise.

On the other hand, some people brush off this incident as nothing more than a prank of a mischievous old man.

Well, the issue is, DL is not just any other old man. His status requires him to be a good example to all. Again, it would be wise to ask ourselves, would the Buddha do something similar? Would an Arhant do something similar? I am referring to jesting. (not even about the request that was make, but the underlying intention or motive)

From the Pali Canon, we know that would be impossible. Because jest can only arise out of an unenlightened mind. Actually, the Buddha rarely smile and when he did, the Buddhist Canon actually made a big deal out of it.

I am unenlightened and definitely have no ability to read DL’s mind or determine if he is enlightened. But hey, guess what? The Mahayana doctrine is all about the Bodhisattva Ideal. This means, men and women following this school of thought, had deliberately avoided Theravada’s goal of enlightenment so that they can remain in this world to continue their dharma work, life after life. Isn’t that noble? When viewed from this perspective, not attaining enlightenment becomes a virtue because we (the unenlightened ones) wish that our teachers will be reborn life after life to continue their guidance. Romantic, isn’t it? In other words, the Bodhisattvas are not fully enlightened yet, so do not judge them according to the standards of Buddha or Arhats.

If that is the case, why do people pray and respect the Bodhisattva so much? DL is supposed to be the incarnate of Avalokiteshvara.

I think this is because many people continue to perceive the Buddha and Bodhisattva as divinities who will save us from calamities. In that manner, we look upon them as god-like beings. From this perspective, any man or woman claiming to be the incarnation of Buddha and Mahasattva (advanced Bodhisattva) must surely be faultless? While such claims are absent in Theravada and Mahayana system, it is prevalent in the Tibetan Vajrayana system.

Why is that so? I can only guess that it was a necessary marketing strategy in ancient Tibet to compete with Shamans who claim to be possessed by the various Gods and Goddesses? Is this still relevant in our modern world? Maybe?

Is that the only benefit coming out of such elaborate claims?

I think this depends on the individual associating with “living” Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. We desperately want to believe that rebirth is true. And when we meet Buddhist teachers claiming to remember their past lives, we feel validated and inspired.

We desperately want to believe that our imaginary god-like Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are real. Therefore, when we meet man and woman claiming to be incarnate of that god-like Buddha or Bodhisattva, we feel safe and inspired. If you look at the ceremonial reception for “living Buddha or “Bodhisattva”, it is unmistakably similar to folk practices of inviting a deity to arrive.

If we take a step back and look at this objectively, we will realize that it all started with our craving for a Divine or God-like being in our life, especially if they are in flesh. We are simply addicted to the idea of a God-like being (Buddha or Bodhisattva) protecting us. We are addicted to RELIGION. When there is a demand, there will be a supply?

In this context, there are also many Buddhists who recoil at the sight of such practices and prefer the Theravada approach. However, that doesn’t mean Theravada is superior.

The Tibetan Vajrayana has successfully tailored Buddhism according to the social demand of their societies and spread the message of Buddha accordingly. And by the way, those living Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are responsible for helping us mature spiritually and help us remove our addiction to a God-like being. Otherwise, they are creating tons of bad karma.

Come to think of it, did DL just complete his task of breaking that delusion?

I hope you are not confused at this point of the article. What I am trying to say is

  1. Buddhism does not encourage us to look at Buddha or Bodhisattva like a Divine Being who owns us and we are their subject or property or flock of lambs.
  2. However, some people are addicted to religion and cannot accept Buddha’s message of being independent of religion.
  3. The Mahayana system caters to the demand of this group of people
  4. However, a good Mahayana teacher will not abuse his/her congregation by misusing his/her religious position.

According to the above understanding, there is plenty of space for us to exercise our sensibility and judgment.

Does DL’s request have any religious significance?

The answer is actually YES! In ancient times, many people would be jealous of that boy. (Again, I am not trying to justify DL’s action but simply exploring the various context) But before I continue, please remember that Buddha did not teach us to worship him as a divinity. Buddha taught mankind to stop our addiction to religion.

So the following is in the context of a religious background.

In Ancient India, there was a belief that a god/goddess can bestow divine grace/boon by placing their divine tongue on a mortal’s. This may involve the Divine Being using his/her tongue to write a sacred syllabus on our tongue. After which, we (the mortal) would obtain the divine tongue. Henceforth, whatever we pronounce will become a reality. That sounds fantastic, isn’t it?

Why do I bring up this religious context?

Well, a religious person would feel extremely blessed by DL’s request. Who are we to condemn another person’s religious beliefs and say that they are foolish or superstitious or paving the path for future sexual abuse? From the above context, there is nothing sexual at all. The whole episode may be taken as something innocent and playful from the devotee’s point of view. Just because we do not believe in the divine, doesn’t mean that others should follow our way of thinking. Just because we perceive that request to be sexual doesn’t mean we are right. We can be mistaken too.

So what is your conclusion?

Personally, I prefer Buddhism to be in accordance with Buddha’s standards. I think it is best for monks, nuns, and Buddhist teachers to avoid any physical contact with anybody (regardless of gender or sexual orientation) unless it is necessary for saving a life (like doing CPR or saving someone from drowning) or helping someone in distress.

If an innocent child initiate the hug? Well, don’t linger more than necessary.

Sucking body parts? Kissing? Erm, I think that is inappropriate.

What about DL’s incident? I cannot comment further because it could be religious in nature and it is too haughty of me to say another person’s belief is foolish.

This paragraph is inserted 3 days later to hear what the Tibetan has to say about this incident. Check out the following post for more information

May all be well and happy.

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1 reply »

  1. Pedophilia and Homosexuality are two completely different things. So the comment of “he must be gay!” Is nonsense. And hateful. It shows the disdain they have for minority groups. And also their own hateful nature. I will say I don’t really see eye to eye with the Dali Lama politically. Or philosophically. That comment he made about Africans in Europe is morally reprehensible. I also see him as the last bastion of a tired and corrupt Tibetan regime. But that is totally different from this hate mongering


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