Dalai Lama

Tibetan spiritual leader courts sexism row by saying that an ugly woman couldn’t do the job

The Dalai Lama urged Japanese MPs on Tuesday to visit Tibet to find out the reasons for a spate of self-immolations, after Beijing accused him of instigating the deadly protests against Chinese rule.

The Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama  Photo: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

TO his millions of fans in the West, he is the living, breathing embodiment of humanity and compassion.

But if stepping into the Dalai Lama‘s shoes was not a tough enough act already, he has now laid down an extra qualification for whoever should succeed him.

Tibet’s spiritual leader has declared that if it is a woman, she must not just be loving and affectionate – she should also be easy on the eye.

In remarks that have astonished his followers round the world, the 80-year-old Buddhist has said that while he would be happy for a female to take over his role, a plain or ugly candidate would not be suitable.

“That female must be attractive, otherwise it is not much use,” he told a startled BBC interviewer.

The Dalai Lama, a self-declared feminist, made his remarks while on a nine-day visit to London, where he is promoting the concepts of compassionate and considerate behaviour.

Despite his comments jarring somewhat with his liberal image, the BBC chose not to highlight them in subsequent news coverage, but they were quickly picked up by feminist websites.

“You’d think that as someone who’s all about learning and enlightenment he’d have figured a few things out,” read one posting on the feminist blog Jezebel.com.

Another added: “I had hoped for so much more from him – in the end, yet another patriarch”.

The Dalai Lama made the comments during an interview with the BBC television journalist Clive Myrie, in which he was asked whether it was possible that a woman could succeed to his position.

He confirmed enthusiastically that it was, mentioning that in a previous interview some years before, he had told a French female reporter that a woman Dalai Lama would have “biologically more potential to show affection and compassion”.

He then leaned forward to Mr Myrie with a smile and added: “Then I told that reporter: ‘If it is a female, the face should be very attractive’.”

Clearly surprised, Mr Myrie retorted: “You are joking, I am assuming. Or you’re not joking?”

The Dalai Lama then made it clear he was not. “It’s true,” he replied.

Somewhat taken aback, Mr Myrie then moved the conversation on to other subjects, asking the Dalai Lama about his “role as a religious rock star”.

The seven-minute long interview was broadcast on the BBC three days ago, but in an accompanying BBC website article that summarised the Dalai Lama’s remarks, his remarks on women were not included.

Instead, the summary referred to his comments urging European countries not to turn away refugees fleeing the Middle East, with a headline: “Do not reject refugees because they are Muslim”.

A BBC spokeswoman declined to comment on why the corporation had not given more prominence to his remarks, saying only: “If we thought it was a big news line, we would have done so.” The interview remained on the BBC website and was there for all to see, she added.

However, it is routine practice within media organisations to highlight individual remarks made by public figures if they are considered newsworthy or talking points. One BBC insider told the Telegraph: “It was probably more cock-up than conspiracy.”

Two years ago, in an interview with the Telegraph, the Dalai Lama said that he would be “pleased” if his successor were a woman.

The Dalai Lama, whose real name is Tenzin Gyatso, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and is feted by activists and celebrities in the West for his advocacy of independence for Tibet and other causes.

According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, when he is aged around 90, he will make a decision in conjunction with other Buddhist leaders as to whether a successor – a “reincarnation” – should take on the role of being the 15th Dalai Lama.

The current Dalai Lama has previously presented himself as a keen advocate of womens’ rights, telling an interviewer in 2013: “I call myself a feminist”.

He has, however, also made it clear that he does not like backlashes of the sort that his latest remarks may now have courted. “Some feminists have too much emotion,” he once said. “That I don’t like.”