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On YouTube, there's that famous joke the Dalai Lama didn't understand — and neither did I. It even made headlines in my part of the world, and on some of the sites I frequent, yet nobody ever bothered to explain it. I am at a loss. I suppose pretty much every non-native speaker will have trouble getting it.

The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and says "can you make me one with everything?"

Is this some sort of pun? Double-entendre? A top-voted comment on YouTube says, "The joke is based on ambiguities of an expression, not the ideal joke to crack with a foreigner." Well, duh. Thanks for nothing. I looked up every single word of it in several dictionaries, including can, shop, one, make, with, walk, and each of these has a multitude of meanings, and I have no idea how they work together to create something funny.

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    After he received the pizza, he waited. "Where's my change?" "Ah, change comes from within." – TRiG Feb 2 '13 at 6:01
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    If you felt bad about not understanding this joke at first, don't worry: The Dalai Lama didn't get it the first time, either. – asfallows May 23 '14 at 21:02
  • In German, it almost can be made to work. "Kannst du mir eins mit allem machen?" (ok, a bit clumsy, the feminine word "pizza" should be exchanged for some neuter word to make "eins" fit better) vs "Kannst du mich eins mit allem machen?". It is failing because of "mir" ≠ "mich" (dative case vs. accusative case), which in English is both "me". – azimut May 7 at 13:58
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    @azimut: thank you. I am not sure I understand. So in German, it actually cannot be made to work, and for not one but two separate reasons? Meanwhile in English none of those reasons exist and it's working just fine? In that case, why do we need to look at German at all? I already looked at Russian. It's not working there, either. So I'm not sure how it will help to look at even more languages where it's not working. – ЯegDwight May 7 at 14:29
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    @ЯegDwight: In German, it cannot be made to work, right. But we are very close, closer than in many other languages I guess. This surprised me, and therefore I dared to mention it here. The only real show-stopper is "mir" vs "mich" (dative vs. accusative), which both collapse to "me" in English. – azimut May 7 at 14:35
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This is indeed a pun.

To make someone something can mean "to create something for someone", as in, I made her a sandwich. But it can also mean "to change someone into some thing or state", as in, I made her angry; Zeus made her (into) a cow.

To be one with something is a spiritual expression meaning...something spiritual. When people say they are one with the universe, they mean they experience some sort of supernatural bond with the entire universe. Don't ask me how it works. Here everything is equivalent to the universe. This is known as nondualism. The Dalai Lama is known for his spirituality.

But one can also stand for one pizza, as in can you make me one [pizza] with [all available toppings]: everything means "every topping/ingredient you have that you can put on a pizza".

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    “Don't ask me how it works.” If I may offer a partial answer instead: “to be one with something” isn’t exclusively spiritual, though it’s most common in that context, and isn’t an unanalysable idiom. “He is one with X” means, like “he and X are one”, that he and X are in some sense (usually metaphorical) a single entity. Compare phrases like “two hearts that beat as one”. Grammatically, it’s roughly analogous to a more prosaic construction like “How many will you be for dinner tonight?” “Well, there are us three, so then with my husband, we’re four.” – PLL Jan 24 '16 at 13:36
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    Haha, nice to see you again, and about such a subject. Indeed, to be one with someone clearly describes a close psychological bond. (But even that is somewhat vague and strongly metaphorical, and it probably originates in a notion of souls and inexplicable conexions.) Now, if you're one with the universe, you experience a strong metaphorical bond with e.g. galaxies too far away to have any notion of, and with Napoleon's bones, and even with yourself. I still don't know how that's supposed to work... – Cerberus Jan 24 '16 at 16:19
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    ... Your more prosaïc construction is indeed no different from being one with a person, but it cannot explain the distant galaxies. – Cerberus Jan 24 '16 at 16:19
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    As a non native speaker who missed the joke too, I had to read your second paragraph several times before being able to grasp it. Telling "to be one with something is a spiritual expression meaning... something spiritual" doesn't help much. It would have been much clearer if "can you make me" had been stated not to mean the expression usually expected in a restaurant "can you prepare that dish for me" but more something like "can you turn myself into". – jlliagre Dec 30 '16 at 10:04
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    @bdsl Thanks but you focus on explaining the expression "to be one with something" which is easily understandable and almost word by word translatable in many language while the real issue with this sentence is due the polysemy of the expression "to make me". (French me faire vs faire de moi, Spanish hacerme vs hacer de mí/convertirme en.) – jlliagre Dec 31 '16 at 16:38
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+100

Explanation

So, if you look at the statement again, the Dalai Lama asks them to "make him one with everything". So this is indeed a pun.
Read one way, it seems as if he is asking the pizza shop to give him spiritual enlightenment.
While, in reality, he may be asking for a pizza with every topping.

Not a good joke.

Although to me that joke is hilarious, it is not a good joke in the universal sense. Most jokes require a certain background, a certain experience.
But this one requires too many.

For this one, (i) you must have encountered the Buddhist idea of merging or unifying with the universe, expressed using the idiom become one with (which in other contexts is not common); and (ii) you must have encountered pizza in the American style, with loads of different topping choices, ordered using a preposition phrase headed by with (as in "with pepperoni and mushroom"); and (iii) you must have been in a pizzeria that has as one of the choices on its menu the indecisive glutton's non-choice consisting of a megacombo of all available toppings (by no means all pizza restaurants give you that option), so that "everything" is a possible topping choice.

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    I think it's a very good joke, just one that requires some background information. It's not unlike the line, "A priest, a rabbi, and a nun all walk into a bar, and the bartender says, ‘What is this – some kind of joke?’" which requires the listener knows there are several jokes that begin with "A priest, a rabbi, and a nun [or some similar trio] walk into a bar..." – J.R. Jan 24 '13 at 11:09
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    Not a good joke? Who cares? The point of the question was to understand how the joke worked. The listener will decide if it's good. In any case, the context plays a huge part as well; telling this joke to the Dali Lama himself adds to the humor. – Jeff Allen Feb 7 '13 at 8:37
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    Well, I agree, but the thing is, that the Dalai Lama himself and many other viewers did not understand it. – Siddhartha Feb 9 '13 at 8:24
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    I heard it as a burger bar, where making it with 'everything' is a slightly saner thing to do, since it only applies to the optional garnishes - cheese, bacon, onions, pickles etc, which may be combined to a palatable whole. (and does not imply a veggie burger and fried chicken should be added as well) – Alex Brown Nov 18 '15 at 22:36
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    I disagree that (i) and (iii) are essential. Even if you knew nothing about Buddhist theology, you might still recognize "Make me one with everything." as a statement that is generally in the spirit of Buddhism. And even if you had never visited a pizzeria with an 'everything' pizza on the menu (I'm not sure I have), it isn't a huge leap to understand what the other meaning is. Probably more difficult for non-native speakers, though. – John Gowers Jan 25 '16 at 17:34
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It can be read as: can you make me one pizza with every topping on it.

Or: can you give me a spiritual connection with everything within the universe.

Being "one" with something means that you are connected to it in a spiritual sense.

Can you make me "one" with "everything".

The dalai lama is an extremely spiritual public figure, who has made a life journey towards enlightenment and becoming "one" with the universe.( as in the joke)

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An addition to the previous answers:

The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and says "can you make me one with everything?"

Actually, this is only half of the joke. The rest of it comes with the seller's reply when the Dalai Lama, seeing his fifty dollar banknote been pocketed by the seller, asks him for change:

"Change comes from within."

Here, the wordplay is based on the different meanings of the word "change":

a) the money that is returned to someone who has paid for something that costs less than the amount that they gave;

b) the result of something becoming different (in the context of Buddhism — positively different).

In this regard, the seller's reply matches the adage known to every follower of Buddhist religion:

"A genuine change must first come from within the individual, only then can he or she attempt to make a significant contribution to humanity" (the link).

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Yes it's a pun on make me one with everything.

The Dalai Lama has spent his whole life in the pursuit of oneness with himself and the universe, yet here he is asking a humble pizza restaurant to do it for him: can you make me one with everything?

He is of course referring to a pizza with all the toppings, rather than any spiritual oneness.

protected by Tyler James Young Mar 25 '14 at 19:43

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