Dalai Lama says he was just joking about having an 'attractive' female successor

The Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama. Photo credit: Getty

The Dalai Lama has apologised for saying any female successor would need to be physically "attractive", calling it a joke lost in translation.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader told the BBC last week people would "prefer not to see her [face]" if she was ugly.

"Real beauty is inner beauty, that's true," he told the reporter, "but we're human beings. I think the appearance is also important."

In a lengthy statement, the 83-year-old's office said he was "deeply sorry that people have been hurt by what he said and offers his sincere apologies".

"His Holiness, a monk now in his mid-eighties, has a keen sense of the contradictions between the materialistic, globalised world he encounters on his travels and the complex, more esoteric ideas about reincarnation that are at the heart of Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

"However, it sometimes happens that off the cuff remarks, which might be amusing in one cultural context, lose their humour in translation when brought into another. He regrets any offence that may have been given."

There has never been a female Dalai Lama, who are chosen to lead when they are just a young child.

The statement said the Dalai Lama has long supported women's rights and gender equality. But his office admitted it's not the first time he's made the joke - using it in 1992 when asked to guest edit an edition of Vogue.

The Dalai Lama also sought to clarify comments he made recently on migration which saw him called a "bigot". In September he said while Europe had an obligation to help refugees and migrants, ultimately they should return to their own country.

The statement released by his office said what he meant was that it is natural to want to go home - a feeling he and the Tibetan people know all too well. 

"First of all we must see peace and development restored in the countries refugees have fled, but in the long run it is natural to want to live in the land where you were born."

The Dalai Lama turns 84 on Saturday.