The Dalai Lama on Tuesday apologised for saying if his successor was female she would have to be attractive. The Tibetan spiritual leader’s office released a statement of apology, saying that he was “deeply sorry that people have been hurt by what he said”. The Dalai Lama had made the comments during an interview to BBC on June 27.

“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,” the statement said. “This is something everyone who has the chance to meet with him recognizes and appreciates.”

The statement said the Dalai Lama opposed the objectification of women and has championed equal rights and respect for women. “Under his leadership, Tibetan nuns in exile have earned Geshe-ma degrees, indicating a high level of scholarship previously reserved only for male monks,” the statement from the spiritual leader’s office stated. “His Holiness has frequently suggested that if we had more women leaders, the world would be a more peaceful place.”

The statement of apology added that sometimes “off the cuff remarks” that may amuse in one cultural context, “lose their humour in translation when brought into another”. His office also claimed that the original comments were made in 1992 in conversation with the Paris editor of Vogue magazine who had 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. 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 statement said.

Following the interview with BBC, the Dalai Lama’s comments on his female successor raked up a controversy on social media. During the interview, when he was asked about the possibility of a woman successor, the Dalai Lama said, laughing: “If a female Dalai Lama comes, she should be more attractive.”