We are Tibetan leaders and activists writing to address the media storm surrounding His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Language, culture, and context define how people view any given situation. For Tibetans who see the video clip of the Dalai Lama’s interaction with a child at a public event in February, it is clear he is displaying his affection, warmth, and humor. It is through a lifetime of familiarity with the Dalai Lama that we understand his words and actions.
For some people who don’t know the Tibetan context, and especially because so many children suffer serious abuse at the hands of powerful people and religious institutions, the belief and assumption is that the act was malign and the child was harmed. We can say with absolute certainty that this is not what happened.
It is instructive to hear what the child and his family have said about their time with the Dalai Lama. The mother (seen sitting onstage next to the Dalai Lama) and the child both gave media interviews immediately after the event [footage available here]. While we know this won’t satisfy everyone with concerns, we hope their own words will help add some context and clarity to the question of how they feel about what happened.
What has been most painful for Tibetans and our allies is witnessing the rush to condemn the Dalai Lama. Any attempt to understand Tibetan culture, the full context of the exchange, and this nearly 90-year-old icon of global peace has been shockingly absent from most media coverage and online discourse.
The Dalai Lama has lived nearly all of his life in the public eye. He has engaged directly with countless thousands of people across the globe, and his life is remarkably unmarred by scandal or controversy—much to the chagrin of China’s leadership. On the contrary, he has done what few leaders of his stature do. He has welcomed and embraced change. He has willingly given up political power. He has campaigned for religious harmony. He has forgiven and seeks compromise with the same Chinese leaders destroying Tibet.
As movement leaders and activists, we are not surprised to see a massive operation by Chinese government operatives and trolls working to drive and amplify this story, maximizing views and outrage in order to distort reality. Their aim is to destroy the reputation of the Dalai Lama and the movement for Tibetan freedom.
There is no secret Dalai Lama. He is who we know him to be—an 87-year-old Buddhist monk who has devoted his life to teaching, practicing, and meditating on wisdom and compassion for the world. We are immensely proud of his legacy of selfless service to humanity, and we stand by him at this distressing time.
Tibetans in Tibet need us to stay focused on exposing the reality of China’s genocidal, colonial occupation of our country. Tibet is one of the least free places on earth. China has forced and coerced one million Tibetan children into colonial boarding schools, millions of nomads off of their grasslands, and has terrorized countless people for having the Dalai Lama’s photo and praying for his long life.
We will keep focused on fighting for Tibet’s freedom, and we will never give up.
Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Long live Tibet.
Chemi Lhamo, Community Leader & Activist, Toronto, Canada
Pema Doma, Executive Director, Students for a Free Tibet, New York, USA
Lhadon Tethong, Director, Tibet Action Institute, Boston, USA
Jigme Ugen, Executive Vice President, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA
Tenzin Tsundue, Poet, Writer, & Activist, Dharamsala, India
Bhuchung D. Sonam, Poet/Writer, Dharamshala, India
Dr. Lobsang Yangtso, Asia Program & Environment Coordinator, International Tibet Network, Dharamsala, India
Dorjee Tseten, Member of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, Dharamsala, India
Lobsang Gyatso Sither, Member of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile, Bylakuppe, India
Lobsang Tseten, Program Associate, Students for a Free Tibet, New York, USA
Pema Yoko, Digital Media Specialist, London, UK
Rinzin Thonden Alling, Tibetan-American Youth Leader, New York, USA
Sherap Therchin, Executive Director, Canada Tibet Committee, Toronto, Canada
Tashi Lamsang, Activist & Former General Secretary, Tibetan Youth Congress, New York, USA
Tenzin Choedon, Manager of Educational Initiatives, Tibet Action Institute, Toronto, Canada
Tenzin Chokey, Activist, Dharamsala, India
Tenzin Dorjee, Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University, New York, USA
Tenzin Kunga, Advocacy Officer, Free Tibet, London, UK
Tenzin Kunsel Rinchen Dorjee, President, Students for a Free Tibet Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands
Tenzin Lekdhen, Campaign Director, Students for a Free Tibet India, Dharamshala, India
Tenzin Lobsang Wangkhang, Chartered Professional Accountant, Belleville, Canada
Tenzin Myinlek, Grassroots Director, Students for a Free Tibet, New York, USA
Tenzin Rabga Tashi, Digital Communications Officer, Free Tibet, London, UK
Tenzin Yangzom, Campaign Manager, Students for a Free Tibet, New York, USA
Topjor Tsultrim, Communications Director, Students for a Free Tibet, New York, USA
Tsering Passang, Founder and Chairman, Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities, London, UK
Ugyan Choedup, Ph.D. Candidate, Pennsylvania State University, State College, USA
Youdon Tenzin Tsamoshang, Board Member, Students for a Free Tibet Canada, Toronto, Canada
Tenzin Choegyal, Award Winning Australian Musician, Brisbane, Australia
Tenzyn Zöchbauer, Executive Director, Tibet Initiative Deutschland e.V., Germany
Thinle Shitsetsang, Campaigns Director, Tibetan Youth Association in Europe, Zurich, Switzerland
Tsering Gompa, Campaigns Director, Tibetan Youth Association in Europe, Zurich, Switzerland
Karma Gahler, Digital Communications, Tibetan Youth Association in Europe, Zurich, Switzerland
Dalha Kharsar, President, Tibetan Youth Association in Europe, Zurich, Switzerland