Tibet Scholars Issue Joint Statement



Statement of Dalai Lama Incident
21 April 2023

We, the undersigned academic scholars of Tibetan Studies, express our dismay over recent media coverage of an exchange between Tenzin Gyatso, exiled fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, and a young boy in India at a public event. This included an edited video of the exchange that was created to give the impression of sexual misconduct on the part of the Dalai Lama, cynically misusing the momentum of the #metoo movement for its own ends. But on the basis of watching a fuller video of the event, along with the representation of what happened by the boy himself as well as his mother, we are not seeing here an incident of sexual misconduct.

We urge news reporters to consider context carefully before projecting a highly charged interpretation onto something about which they have little knowledge. It is well known that the current Dalai Lama is physically playful with many of the people he meets, of all statuses and ages and genders, including when he embraced and tickled Bishop Desmond Tutu under the chin with humor and in friendship. We would also add that we have heard from a wide range of Tibetan specialists, colleagues, and friends that it is far from unusual for old folks in Tibetan societies to interact with children in many commonly-recognized joking ways, including as the Dalai Lama did. These are not incidents of sexual abuse.

Indeed there have been recent, and very troubling and painful, cases of Tibetan lamas committing sexual abuse, as has also occurred in other world religions repeatedly and for decades. We adamantly support the important work for justice and healing for children and other people who are the survivors of such abuse. But the current incident with the Dalai Lama is not an instance of sexual abuse, and it is harmful to everyone to claim that it is. Among many other things, to do so diminishes the voices of survivors who have courageously shared their stories and shined a light on systemic abuse, both in religious and many other contexts.

The Dalai Lama has been a dedicated leader for his people and his nation over many decades of hardship and struggle. He has been an inspiring teacher of Buddhist compassion and an advocate for world peace, recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize. It is possible for anyone to act inappropriately or out of character. But in this instance, knowing the context of the particular incident, the personality of the Dalai Lama, his commitment to his monastic vows, and the many aspects of Tibetan culture at work in the event, we view that as highly unlikely. Instead we understand the manipulated video and its dissemination to be an ill-intentioned attack on the authority of the Dalai Lama in his old age. Indeed, it is an attack on the global Tibetan and Himalayan community as a whole, and on the international standing of Tibetan Buddhism.

We stand with the Tibetan community both inside and outside China today, who have been demonstrating with dignity and restraint, but still in anger and deep sadness, about what they see as a deliberate and strategic effort to tarnish the institution of the Dalai Lama. With them, we urge global news networks to be cautious before making snap judgements, bowing to prejudice and buying into salacious stories, and to make the careful investigation of the sources of their information on such sensitive matters their highest priority.

Geoffrey Barstow
Associate Professor, School of History, Philosophy, and Religion, Oregon State University

Daniel Berounsky
Associate Professor, Institute of Asian Studies, Charles University (Univerzita Karlova)

Benjamin Bogin
Associate Professor of Asian Studies, Skidmore College

Katia Buffetrille
École pratique des hautes études, Paris

Jose I. Cabezon
Dalai Lama Professor of Tibetan Buddhism and Cultural Studies, University of California Santa Barbara

Cathy Cantwell
Associate Faculty Member, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Oxford

Hildegard Diemberger
Research Director, Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit, University of Cambridge

Jacob Dalton
Khyentse Foundation Distinguished University Professor in Tibetan Buddhism, University of California Berkeley

James Duncan Gentry
Assistant Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Stanford University

David Germano
Professor of Tibetan Buddhist Studies, University of Virginia

Janet Gyatso
Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies and Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs, The Divinity School, Harvard University

Catherine Hartmann
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, University of Wyoming

Hanna Havnevik
Faculty of Humanities, University of Oslo

Lama Jabb
Lecturer in Tibetan, Oxford University

Sarah Jacoby
Associate Professor, Northwestern University

Matthew Kapstein
Directeur d’études, émérite, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes

Samten Karmay
Director of Research emeritus, Centre national de la recherche scientifique

Donald Lopez
Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies, Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan

Robert Mayer
University of Oxford

Carole McGranahan
Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado

Anna Morcom
Mohindar Brar Sambhi Chair of Indian Music, Herb Alpert School of Music

Giacomella Orofino
Professor of Tibetan Studies and President of the Centre for Buddhist Studies, Department of Asian, African and Mediterranean Studies, University of Naples

Françoise Pommaret
Director of Research Emeritus, Centre de recherche sur les civilisations de l’Asie orientale

Andrew Quintman
Associate Professor, Religion Department, Wesleyan University

Charles Ramble
Research Professor (Directeur d’études) in Tibetan History and Philology, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris Sciences et Lettres University

Françoise Robin
Professor of Tibetan Language and Literature, Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales

Ulrike Roesler
Professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Studies, The Oriental Institute, Oxford University

Peter Schwieger
Principal Investigator, Institute of Oriental and Asian Studies, Bonn University

Heather Stoddard
Professor Emerita, Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales; Wolfson College & Oriental Institute, University of Oxford

Dominic D. Z. Sur
Associate Professor in Religious Studies, Department of History, Utah State University

Andrew Taylor
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies, The College of Saint Scholastica

Tsering Topgyal
Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham

Gray Tuttle
Leila Hadley Luce Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies, Columbia University

Nicole Willock
Associate Professor of Asian Religions, Old Dominion University

Emily Yeh
Professor, Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder

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