Dalai Lama fails to understand Dalai Lama joke, but is a good sport about it

An Australian newsreader found himself interviewing the Dalai Lama, so, naturally, he told him the joke about the Dalai Lama who asks the pizzeria to make him one with everything. The Dalai Lama really, really didn't get it. In a funny way.

The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop... (via Neatorama)


  1. … so the Lama hands the guy $30 and stands there, staring at the cashier. “You said it was $27.50. Where’s my change?”

    “Ahhh,” said the cashier. “True change only comes from within.”

  2. Does he say “etiologically possible”? That… makes sense, and might indicate that the joke is ‘gotten’ as well as it cross-culturally could be. Would love to see a follow-up from the Dalai Lama on that one, it’d be good to clarify what he said.

    1. I think he did say etiologically possible. The thing is the verbal pun may not have come across in translation but I don’t think that it would matter to some one who considers it important to be compassionate to the logical extremes of that position.

      That is, the joke doesn’t sound so different from sayings which are meant to make one reflect on complexity or simplicity surrounding those kinds of ideas.

      To be made “one with everything” would depend on how one means “one” and how one means “everyting” for instance.

      Anyway, it’s a joke only because we rely on a sort of simplistic interpretation of those words to get the “right” meaning… for not thinking about it at least.

      And yeah, I’m thinking the lady at the end sadly seemed to “get it” even less than the DL who at least had language on his side!


  3. I’m well ventured in the vedas and buddhism.. but I don’t get the joke at all? someone please explain..

    1. It may be your scholarship getting the better of you- the joke is based on Americans lumping all strains of buddhist thought together, with a good helping of misconceptions.
      Literal meaning: “Make me one pizza with all the toppings you have.”
      Subtext: “Cause me to achieve oneness with the universe.”
      It fits somewhat better with Zen buddhism, though.

    2. Can you make me one (pizza) with everything?

      Can you make me (myself)one (the same) with everything (the universe)?

  4. That was epic. Whether it was Fail or Win, I’m not sure yet. Maybe, in true zen fashion, both.

    1. Perhaps, but the Dalai Lama isn’t a Zen Buddhist, either. I think Unmutual is more on track.

    2. Totally. Guy makes a joke about Zen, and in turn, gets the chance to experience it for himself, with the Dalai Lama as his mirror.

  5. “He didn’t know what a pizza was . . .”

    TDL knows what pizza is. He may be a little unfamiliar with western misconceptions regarding Tibetan Buddhism or his english might not be strong enough to get these types of plays on words.

  6. The woman at the end who thought ‘one with the lot’ was a better translation obviously didn’t get the joke either.

  7. I’m a native english speaker and I didn’t even get it right away. I’d think that to get it across the language barrier you’d have to give a paragraph or two of explanation.

  8. The Dalai Llama then paid cash for his pizza and, holding his hand out expectantly, asked “Hey. Where is my change”. The waitress said “Change comes from within”.

  9. But when the Australian newsreader dies, on his deathbed, he will receive total consciousness. So he’s got that goin’ for ‘im, which is nice.

  10. Since it started as a ‘Zen’ Buddhism joke – having heard it myself nearly a decade ago – the original reference was to ‘A monk…’. Clearly, as in the telephone message game, the joke has transmuted. Being ‘one with everything’ is not a Tibetan Buddhist idea. It comes from Zen Buddhism – quite a different branch. So aside from the obvious punning and language specific nature of the joke, it’s no surprise the Dalai Lama didn’t get it.

  11. So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga… gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

  12. Yeah, but I bet he roared with laughter at immanis pecoris custos immanior ipse.

  13. You get the rare opportunity to speak with the Dalai Lama – and you tell him a joke? What an asshole.

    1. You get the opportunity to speak with the Dalai Lama, telling a joke is probably the best possible idea.

      So the Dalai Lama walks up to the hot dog vendor, and says “Make me one with everything.” The vendor points at the hot dog shop across the street, but otherwise seems to ignore the Lamaiest Lama. His Holiness says “Please excuse me, I don’t understand. Make me one with everything.” Again, the vendor merely points.

      Tenzin Gyatso bows and presses his palms, and begs the vendor, “Please, I am not understanding the significance of the gesture you make. Please explain it to this humble being.”

      The vendor has a moment of pity, and says “Inquire within.”.

    2. +1.

      I got the joke as soon as I read the post, but I immediately thought about the Zen/Tibetan Buddhism disconnect. This video made me, as an Australian, deploy a facepalm. Stefanovic is constantly putting his foot in it and I am ashamed that this of all things went viral. Why not This video of guys bodyboarding down a dam slipway? Despite their apparent low IQ, at least they actually achieve what they set out to do.

      PS: I think his response is “theoretically possible” – the first “t” just sounds odd due to his accent. He says “tea-oretically” because the “th” sound (like that in thing) is hard to master for english students with an asian-language native tongue. I think he eventually gets it on some level, but at first he’s thinking “what’s being one with everything got to do with a pizza?”. To him it seemed totally non-sequitur.

    3. Imagine how boring it must be to have everybody “respect” you so much they never treat you as human.

      Even if you are supposed to be somewhat divine.

      The reporter, f(l)ailing human he was, tried to connect on a very human level, the best he could do, attempting to bridge the divide with laughter, the great unknowning. He jumped on the precipice without a net. He tried, and failed. But tried, tried, tried to be human.

      What would YOU have done? Discuss the stock market? Ask him his opinion on Michelle Bachmann? Ask him for the fifty bazillionth time how he “felt” about China in Tibet?

      Christ, what an asshole.

    4. He obviously should have said “DEEP DISH”
      that’s the answer in all the serious debates.

      (Ref Cain, GOP “debate”)

      The problem was the idiom “one with everything” has multiple meanings in
      english, but won’t translate easily.

    5. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the only thing he asked him.

      It does remind me of a british TV presenter years ago who got an interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. First question: ‘So Desmond, have you ever worn a tutu?’

    6. i agree. The guys is absolutely clueless and culturally unaware. His an embarrassment to Australia!

  14. I think it has less to do with his knowledge of our conceptions of Buddhism and more to do with his unfamiliarity with pizza/fast-food ordering lingo.

    “with everything” meaning “with all o the toppings you have available” isn’t necessarily transparent in translation.

  15. Of course he didn’t get it. In the joke the guy asks for a hot dog with everything. Not a pizza.

  16. To be fair, every truly great comedian tells a joke by leaning into your lap, almost grabbing your knee, staring into your eyes with painful sincerity and speaking in a tone of voice normally reserved for cats who have missed the litter box. If that delivery doesn’t sell the joke, your audience is missing a funny bone.

  17. That joke was published in a Neil Gaiman comic in the early 1990’s, one of the two “Death” miniseries from DC/Vertigo.

    And yeah, this news guy butchered it. The actual joke is:
    “Did you hear about the Zen monk ordering a hot dog? He said ‘Make me one with everything.'”

    I wouldn’t have realized the cultural difference between “zen monk” and “Tibetan Buddhist,” but it seems a bit stupid or at least disrespectful to tell a Dalai Lama joke to the Dalai Lama! Got any pope jokes in case you get sent to the Vatican? What a tosser.

    1. That joke was published in a Neil Gaiman comic in the early 1990’s, one of the two “Death” miniseries from DC/Vertigo.

      I think it dates back in SF published form back to Spider Robertson’s Callahan Series.

    2. True, but can you imagine the pope appearing on breakfast television? The Dalai Lama has a sense of humour and gets out once in a while. The pope… not so much.

    3. Yeah… that in itself is kind of shitty. But honestly the reason I said that above is that given my almost autistic propensity to take people literally I wouldn’t have gotten the joke :/

      I would have taken it as one in the sense of “a person with everything” because I’m kind of slow with things like that some times.

    4. I agree. I don’t watch that news channel because frankly it’s not really ‘news’ they report and the rest of what they advertise isn’t worth wasting my time on.

      On the other hand, and in defence of an idiot, telling the joke and saying ‘hot dog’ would not work in Australia. Hot dogs are not ‘made’ in the sense they appear to be in the US. Pizzas are the currency for such jokes here.


  18. The degree of vapid inanity fostered in these morning telly fuckwits is simply astounding. I never was one to watch much telly in the morning, but I swear it wasn’t like this ten or fifteen years ago.

    I’m fairly certain producers here in Oz saw the awful personality-driven ‘news’ presentation in the States and thought, ‘beauty, the mugs will lap this shit up’… then I turn on the telly one day, and Bam! Wall-to-wall fuckwits.

    Never mind the unicorn chaser; since we actually have some of the best telly in the world in Oz, I’ll post an antidote. Hopefully folks OS can use these without employing a proxy…

    ABC iview
    SBS Video Player (apologies for the vile ads that contravene their charter, but that’s another story)

  19. What a dope. Would have been much better to have asked the Dalai Lama if he vacuums his drapes, so he could reply, “No. I have given up my attachments.”

    1. Totally, I’m glad I’m not the only one here who knows DL is a huuuge fan of prop comics (Carrot Top has NEVER paid for a drink in Tibet).

  20. The newsreader had a chance to speak with the voice of leadership to a major public figure. Instead he squanders the opportunity and acts foolish and insensitive. Obviously his producer approved the broadcast of this so he/she gets a demerit too. The co-anchor acted like a ignorant fool too. Not journalism by any standard.

  21. Explanation: “Make me one with everything” has a double meaning.

    To a pizza vendor, it means “a pizza with a large number of toppings.”

    The newscaster thought that the same phrase means, to Buddhists, “make me enlightened.”

    Therefore the joke would be that the Dalai Lama would be asking a pizza vendor BOTH for a deluxe pie, AND wisdom.

    However, that phrase is not typically used by Tibetan Buddhists. It is probably much more recognizable to American students of Japanese Zen. (I first saw the joke — referring to a zen monk and a hot dog vendor — on a Usenet newsgroup about zen, which was mostly Americans.)

    The wisdom itself is actually pretty obvious to anyone who’s looked through a powerful microscope — in our day-to-day thinking, we think that we are independent beings, moving through the world, but separate from it, able to do pretty much whatever we want. But to a Buddhist, it’s clear that not only are we connected to millions of other beings in the world, but also that the boundary between “us” and “the world” is pretty blurry.

    “Connected”: Consider how many different people were involved in the food you eat — farmers, truckers, grocery store employees — the people that manufactured the farming implements, fertilizers, and seeds; the people that built the trucks, manufactured the tires, fuels, built the roads; the people that purchased the food and arranged for it to be sent to the stores, etc. As you work back even just a few steps, you end up with millions of people cooperating to get you that sandwich. (This is one reason that the Dalai Lama is always talking about compassion.)

    “Blurry”: Not only is the boundary between you and the world rather more like a fractal than an ovoid stick figure, but also every second, you expel CO2 and inhale O2. Every day, you expel water, and drink water. Every few weeks, your skin changes. Every seven years (or so), all the atoms and cells in your body are replaced. More importantly, every moment, the thoughts in your brain change. So where is this “you”? (And yes, the answer is, “Right there where it always is, but not really in the way that you normally think of yourself.”)

  22. It could have been worse, I suppose. The newsreader could have tried greeting him with: “Hello, Dalai”.

  23. A fart joke would have gone over much better, I think. No reliance on English- language wordplay, and if the jokes the DL himself was telling in the Michael Palin Himalayas documentary (and stuff like the Uncle Tompa stories) is any indication, Tibetan humor seems to be earthy as hell.

    Also, as many have pointed out, it’s supposed to be a Zen monk and a hot dog vendor.

  24. There are many reasons to like the DL. Here’s the tiny human one that like, and I think it points to him having a pretty damn good sense of humour (not least about how us westerners relate to him and his) ; cousin of mine was making a documentary,and waiting to film him in his house in Dharamsala, and as she looks round the living room, there’s only one book on display. And it ain’t the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’. It is of course ‘Tintin in Tibet’. Dalai Lama, totally for the win.

    1. …cousin of mine was making a documentary,and waiting to film him in his house in Dharamsala, and as she looks round the living room, there’s only one book on display. And it ain’t the ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’. It is of course ‘Tintin in Tibet’. Dalai Lama, totally for the win.

      : D

  25. Hey… I just liked the fact that they both had a good laugh. Cultures and spiritual ideas will ALWAYS collide. Better to cut through that with laughter than with hurt feelings or conflict.

    I’ve watched it three times and continue to chuckle. Hooray for the DL.

  26. The Dalai Lama speaks perfectly decent English, so I bet what really happened is he decided to fuck with this trivial dude and play dumb.

    1. Maybe, but do you really think the Dalai Lama would play such a head game against such an obvious intellectual inferior? Why would he? I like to think he was just trying to figure out the joke – and sharing a moment with a fellow human being.

  27. Ey gods! I’m sorry Australians. If it makes you feel any better, we Americans have to put up with this kind of “representation” from our media every day. Feel for ya.

  28. The tv host is Karl Stefanovic on the Today show, an early breakfast infomercial aired here in Australia on one of our really bad FTA commercial staions. He is employed as a himbo, but is still supposed to be a bit intelligent, but always comes across as a dick. He appeared on the breakfast show after our TV awards night, The Logies, in a rather drunk state and became a bit of a legend. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh3wJ9UQhr8

    1. Yeah, he’s a national embarrassment down here. If he was interviewing Stephen Hawking he’d ask him to do burnouts on his wheelchair.

      One of the reasons I a)don’t get up early enough to watch that shit, and b)don’t watch much of the television, anyway.

      Not that I think you have to be all serious reverence, but he’s just an idiot.

  29. He should have been like, ‘hey, it’s not as if the Chinese government would have the temerity to pressure foreign leaders over who they can or can’t have an audience with… LOL’

  30. So, the Dalai Lama walks into this bar and the bartender says, hey, I have a drink named after you, and the Dalai Lama says, you have a drink named Steve?


    What’s the Dalai Lama’s favorite musical? Hello Dalai.


    The Dalai Lama was sitting on the porch of a retirement home with an old lady and he says, I bet you can’t tell how old I am, and the lady says, sure I can, unzip your fly, and the Dalai Lama says, sure, and the lady reaches in, feels around, squints and thinks hard, then announces, seventy six, and the Dalai Lama says, wow, that’s amazing, how did you do that and the old lady says, you told me yesterday.

    Any of those would have worked better.

  31. Actually, now that I’ve got that image in my head, I would say that would make it much funnier.

  32. He knows pop culture. It was the context/translation that missed IMO.

    For instance, HHDL is a huge Star Trek fan. I met a writer once who had interviewed him and said they ended up talking about Star Trek for an hour. He said it was surreal. HH showed him a picture of his monks standing in the transporter room at Universal Studios.

    But he never misses an opportunity for spreading the dharma. When the man I met asked him about the culture of ST being more advanced and utopian, using the prime directive as an example, the Dalai Lama replied: “On that show… still many very interesting weapons. Not so different than we are now, I think.” Followed by a very warm smile, I was told.

  33. Good to see the Oz contingent in this thread have already made it clear anyone in this country with at least half a brain who’s even heard of Stefanovic regards him as a bit of a tool.

    But speaking of the pitfalls of another language’s nuances, which I would have done on the relevant Language Log post if they hadn’t turned off comments for some reason, my favourite black T-shirt is one Amnesty International Australia used to sell which featured, next to a nice silhouette of the relevant insect, this quote from the Dalai Lama: “If you think you are too small to make a difference – try sleeping with a mosquito.”

  34. I’m Australian, but had never seen this guy until this happened. Makes me doubly glad I avoid commercial tv. *cringe*

  35. I am a Buddhist by birth and I have never hear or know about the term “one with everything” in Buddhism. It must be coming from some specific Buddhist philosophy or made up by some self proclaimed monk of Hollywood.

    So if I hear this dumb joke for the first time, I would also say “sure it is possible”. Dalai Lama added it is theoretically possible, meaning he could go to a pizza shop and ask for one with all the toppings (everything) but he would not do it for real.

    If Dalai Lama was told another joke that an Aussie dumb ass told a monk a dumb joke and the Aussie started laughing himself, Dalai Lama would have laughed.

  36. I’ve told the original joke to Japanese and they’ve gotten it straight away, so I guess that “one with everything” is something familiar in Zen, but isn’t that obvious to a Tibetan Buddhist.
    The Dalai Lama does have a good sense of humor, but this joke just didn’t work the way it was told.

  37. I think HHDL thought that since you are already one with everything there was no point in answering the question! Because if you have a questioner and an answerer then you are back to duality and not indeed “one with everything!” :)

  38. I could imagine a Chinese Buddhist reporter who didn’t understand much about the different sects of Christianity and who spent time listening to Garrison Keillor’s jokes about Lutherans opening with “So the Pope and his wife are out shopping…”

  39. While we are on the subject of jokes about religious leaders and junk food, I just stumbled on the following:

    A guy visiting the monastery sees a man in a brown habit frying chips. Trying to be funny, he says: “You must be the head fryer”, to which the man replied: “No, I’m the chipmonk.”

  40. …The only way this could be better would be for the DL to get irritated with the doofus and go Moe Howard on his ass. Open Palm him on the forehead with a “Why I Oughta…” Whoowoowoowoowoowoowoo. Try Again – MORON!”

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