The Dalai Lama needs a screwdriver…

Read biographies of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama and you will be told of his many lecture tours and of his inspirational speaking. I have spent some time seeking out his pronouncements and, although I have discovered some excellent aphorisms, actual speeches on line in English are relatively rare. In Tokyo on 6 November, 2012, he addressed an audience of Japanese scientists to open a two-day dialogue on “Buddhist Inner Science and External Science”. He was speaking in English, and begins at 3:20.

For a man whose life is dedicated to matters of the spirit, HH is famously fascinated by mechanical matters. It is said that when he was a boy he repaired a movie projector without the aid of a manual. To this day he repairs watches for a hobby, and has been quoted as declaring that had he not been a monk he would have liked to have been an engineer. I mention this because if I were advising him I would tap into that interest.

He needs to understand and follow a relatively simple range of speaking principles that are – as it were – mechanical.

My admittedly sketchy impression of his life is one of being publicly fawned upon while privately retreating into contemplation, meditation and deep thought. In that latter environment ideas and concepts fly on strong wings unhampered by the need for articulation; but then taking them and trying to deliver them to an audience by merely voicing a stream of consciousness is not enough. Nowhere near enough.

The trouble is that no one among the fawning courtiers appears to have told him.

Dare I say that this speech is excruciatingly boring? We can’t blame it on a slight language barrier; others cope with that better. It’s partly those huge pauses which are not dramatic flavour-enhancers but more a case of “what shall I say next?” or “how am I going to put this next bit?”. Mostly I think it’s the flitting around disjointed themes with all the agility of a butterfly on crutches.

There’s no discernible narrative, or if there is I lost it on one of the numerous times I dropped off; and without that thread the audience’s attention is as manipulable as a herd of cats.

For me this is a speaking disaster, made particularly frustrating because all the best ingredients are there. He has masses to say that deserves to be said: he scorns paper: he has the inner calm that nearly everyone else craves. Oh for three hours with him! In that time I could transform his speaking beyond recognition, without compromising any of that lovely, jolly, avuncular character.

I need to go and lie down in a darkened room!

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