This is in the news cycle and people are asking me about it and I don’t know what to say. I obviously don’t think this was appropriate behavior, but is there some sort of strange cultural context here I don’t know about? What is the deal with this video?
Some decades ago at a basketball game in the midwest somewhere a man lifted up his baby kiss them on the scrotum and gave him a hug and put him back down at his part of wishing well on his team. People condemned him in the newspapers and he was fired from his job and his children were all taken away from his family. It did no good to have people come over from the history department or whatever in the local University explain how this was a typical way of wishing for good luck going back way before the Middle Ages to Ancient of Days in the middle European and Mediterranean countries. Is actually our country that is wrong in its assumptions because all of our assumptions on this are based in sexual taboos. We cannot imagine a penis or a vagina having anything to do with your ordinary day today life if it wasn’t to satisfy your ego and lust in sex.
Traditional countries just aren’t like that. You can’t raise your eyebrows and say no there is no excuse and No REASON for doing something like that. That is just the sensitive skin of Imperial conquerors. There is probably some Buddhist thing about this like swallowing the words of wisdom from the mouth of a wisdom teacher but that won’t matter. People will just say there just is no excuse or explanation for something like that. We cannot imagine innocence and sex organs in the same sentence.
Far from “probably”, there is definitely a monastic code that the Buddha ensured was understood and held in very high regard by the Sangha. Now I’m no vinaya expert, but I’m pretty sure an offer of physical contact with the mouth of another is a violation of that code.
I saw the headlines, then I saw the video, and I was like, ooh cringe. But it looked to me like he was being playful, obviously inappropriately, but I don’t see anything more than that.
Not to excuse it or anything, but it’s worth remembering that someone like HHDL spends a ridiculous amount of his life in front of cameras and the public, doing all sorts of long and often tedious ceremonies and the like. After a while, you get bored and want to liven things up, maybe do something silly or whatever. Online culture too often reduces people to their worst moments. Pretty sure that if that much of our lives was captured on film there would be some cringe moments too.
I stand corrected, but can’t imagine many scenarios where it makes sense to say something like this. I take nothing away from all the good he has done, and the pressure he has been under for most of his life, but his apology says it all: he probably should have not said it.
Definitely inappropriate and cringe-worthy for sure.
However I’m reminded of the the teaching of the Buddha with regards to a dropping a teaspoon of salt in a vast lake (not sure of the wording or the sutta reference, perhaps someone else can post that).
I’m sure the amount of good deeds that HHDL has done far outweighs the (small?) number of controversial things he’s said and done in the past surely?
Anyway, what does any monastic’s conduct for that matter have to do with the Buddha or what he taught? Just my 2 cents worth
Thank you Bhante, good points. This brings to mind the event a number of years ago when the Dalai Lama made the comment that if his next rebirth were female, she would have to be attractive. I and many who know him and who know more about the Tibetan culture understood this to be an expression of his typical self-deprecating humour…in other words he was suggesting that he was not that attractive. And from a Tibetan religious cultural point of view, for the Dharma to be skillful it needs to be attractive in various ways and one of these ways is it’s visual appearance. Perhaps not too different, in spirit, from the teachings related to the "32 signs of a Great Man”.
I’m not so sure this can be explained easily. We can hope that there is an explanation. Like maybe he was being silly or maybe his age is showing. But we don’t know, do we?
He asked a child to suck his tongue. That’s messed up. Whether there is an explanation or not, this is a bad situation. A lot is left up to interpretation and it all seems very uncertain.
If your friends are struggling with this, perhaps they could benefit from Ajahn Brahmali’s sutta classes? He often stresses that we should take the Buddha as our teacher because we never know 100% that we can trust living teachers.
I think you misunderstand the situation, I doubt that any of the monks here have ever defended other monks who abused their power, just because they were also part of the sangha. In fact, the venerables here have loudly opposed anti-bhikkhuni laws in the past, even if it meant they would be publicly defamed at some parts of the world afterwards. I don’t think anyone here has ever supported whatever the hell is going on in the Eastern-Asia in the name of Buddhism for example. In fact, not even Ajahn Chah has ever supported that.
I think the fact that you are so angry about such events only shows your dedication towards Buddhism, so it would be a shame if you’ve left.
This is perhaps the first time I’ve seen HHDL exhibit some kind of sexualized behavior, and for the life of me, I cannot think of an explanation for asking a child to “suck my tongue” without it being a sexual or otherwise inappropriate gesture. At age 87, it may be we see more peculiar comments or behaviors from this aging man. But we can say that he’s not been known for any previous egregious sexualized behavior before. Maybe the wheels are coming off of his mental acuity a bit, and his comments or behaviors may need to be controlled.
It’s also worthy to mention that, once again, we see the distance, or chasm, between the example that the historical Buddha set and that of the behaviors of monastics from other traditions. Tibetan Buddhism is an amazing tradition, but there’s a decently long list of scallywags and abusers among the leadership in that tradition. Looking at the Thai Forest tradition, there’s nothing but mostly impeccable moral behavior from the list of historical and present LP leaders in that tradition. It’s unfortunate that when the world thinks of Buddhism, they often mention HHDL as the leader or head of Buddhism across the globe. Better that the world more generally knew (at the tip of their tongue, pardon the pun) of the names of LP Chah, LP Pasanno, Ajahn Brahm and others from these lineages.
I was actually a little surprised that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation also went for the cultural minimisation take. I didn’t think this was appropriate either or respectful to people, including Buddhists, who may be survivors of clergy abuse. I think cognitive dissonance and “Buddhist exceptionalism” is to blame.
I would really prefer discourses that prioritise child safety rather than ameriolating the cognitive discomfort of adults.
No matter whether dementia was a factor, what is shown in the video wasn’t just cringey, it’s something that was fundamentally unsafe and dangerous for the child involved.
I am sorry that the media so far at least has not been willing to face this directly.
OP: re friends- I would tell my friends that Buddhism does not support tongue sucking & that all religions and communities need to put kids’ right to be safe first when we talk about child safety.
If I ever saw someone behaving in this way to a child in my own circles I would investigate, report the behaviour, ask the child’s carers how often there is contact with the child, among other things like finding out if there are other children the person has contact with - no matter who the person is.