In a statement released by his office on Tuesday, the Tibetan Buddhist leader walked back comments he made to the BBC where he suggested people might be turned off by an unattractive female Dalai Lama.
“If a female Dalai Lama comes, she should be more attractive,” he said in the interview.
The Dalai Lama said those remarks “have caused disquiet” that he felt was important to address:
His Holiness genuinely meant no offense. He is deeply sorry that people have been hurt by what he said and offers his sincere apologies.
His Holiness consistently emphasizes the need for people to connect with each other on a deeper human level, rather than getting caught up in preconceptions based on superficial appearances. This is something everyone who has the chance to meet with him recognizes and appreciates.
The Dalai Lama said the discussion about a female successor first came up in 1992 during a conversation with the then Paris editor of Vogue magazine, who had invited him to guest-edit the next edition.
“She asked if a future Dalai Lama could be a woman. His Holiness replied, ‘Certainly, if that would be more helpful,’ adding, as a joke, that she should be attractive,” the statement said, adding that he ”was at least partially responding to the unfamiliar ambience of working with a team whose prime focus was the world of high fashion.”
The Dalai Lama said he understands that the “complex, more esoteric ideas about reincarnation that are at the heart of Tibetan Buddhist tradition” don’t always translate smoothly to what he called “the materialistic, globalized world he encounters on his travels.”
“However, it sometimes happens that off the cuff remarks, which might be amusing in one cultural context, lose their humor in translation when brought into another. He regrets any offense that may have been given,” the statement read.
The Dalai Lama then emphasized he has long opposed the objectification of women, supported women’s rights and “celebrated the growing international consensus in support of gender equality and respect for women.”
He has also frequently suggested that the world be a more peaceful place if there were more female leaders, according to the statement.
The Buddhist monk, who turns 84 on Saturday, also clarified comments he made about refugees in the BBC interview.
The Dalai Lama said it’s “OK” to let a “limited number” resettle in Europe, but then echoed a far-right talking point: “Keep Europe for Europeans.”
In Tuesday’s statement, he said those comments were “misinterpreted.”
His Holiness’s views about the current refugee and migration crisis may have been misinterpreted. He certainly appreciates that many of those who leave their countries may not wish or be able to return, and that Tibetans, who cherish the idea of returning home, would find their country irrevocably altered.
However, His Holiness also understands the uncertainties and difficulties of those in countries where refugees and migrants make their new homes.