For the uninitiated, on Wednesday, 23 September, the online media sphere erupted with clamour about the highest-ranking Tibetan Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, saying that his successor, should she be female, "she must be very, very attractive, otherwise not much use"
He said this during an interview with the BBC journalist Clive Myrie
The BBC posted an edited part of the interview on YouTube, in which, among other things, Clive Myrie asked the 80-year-old spiritual leader if there will be a 15th incarnation of the Dalai Lama after him and if his successor could be a woman.
"Yes!" he replied. "The female biologically [has] more potential to show affection... and compassion," the Dalai Lama said adding that a reporter in Paris had asked him the same question awhile back, and he had responded similarly.
"Today in a more troubled world, I think females should take more important roles, and then I told that reporter if a female Dalai Lama comes, then her face should be very attractive, otherwise not much use."
After some awkward laughter from Clive and a follow-up question of "you're joking, I'm assuming?" the Dalai Lama, who has often been characterised as a "religious rockstar," says "No, it's true." Skip to around the 4:50 mark to watch the part:
The Dalai Lama, for his remarks about the kind of "credentials" he feels are important in a female Dalai Lama, has come under heavy criticism to the point of being called a "sexist" (back in 2011, he proclaimed himself a feminist "who fights for women's rights")
No denying that such comments are definitely disturbing and a setback for people fighting against such stereotyping of women in society, especially when they come from someone who travels the world preaching equality and the importance of 'inner beauty'
As a politician and world leader, the Dalai Lama should be held accountable.
However, it's equally disturbing to see him being lambasted for simply (and somewhat jokingly) stating what is but obvious and a deeply unsettling reality of our times.
According to a previous interview he gave, the Dalai Lama has said that he might come back as a "mischievous blond woman" and that her face "must be very attractive or nobody pay much attention."
It's slightly different in wording, but a lot more clear in meaning.
He believes that if someone is unattractive, they will not get the attention they need in order to be an effective leader.
In his defence, one could argue that the Dalai Lama isn't the sexist one but rather the rest of the world is (and we are). He knows this, and to use it to his advantage, he would like to come back in a form as attractive as possible so that people who only believe that what is beautiful is good, will follow him.
In retrospect, his comment is a mere joke criticising the existing state of inequality that women face rather than a sexist remark
This, however, doesn't deny the fact that while the Dalai Lama is known for his tolerance and wisdom, he has made similarly unsettling comments in the past. There has been dubious stand from his side on women's representation and homosexuality.
For example, he has previously remarked (and been criticised for) his view that a woman Dalai Lama would be useful because of the female sex's trademark compassion. He has also said that same-sex relationships (as well as oral sex and masturbation) are "misconduct" in Buddhism, but can be "enjoyable and harmless," for society.
He holds a position of immense power (however symbolic), and responsibility, which puts him in a place where such remarks on the opposite gender, however lighthearted, can be highly demeaning.
So, considering the possibility that he was joking, he can't just go around making such remarks when in all probability what he says is going to be taken seriously.
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