To celebrate his 85th birthday, the Dalai Lama is proving that he still has some tricks up his robe sleeves: yes, His Holiness is releasing his debut album, ‘Inner World’. But the revered Tibetan spiritual leader is no stranger to music. After all, he previously celebrated his 80th at Glastonbury, having the crowd sing to him before Patti Smith debuted a special poem she’d written in his honour. He’s also, it should be noted, a fan of the Beastie Boys.
The Dalai Lama isn’t short on musical admirers, either — well, ones that don’t mind forfeiting the chance to ever play in China — such as Lady Gaga, whom he reportedly spoke about yoga with when they met in 2016. He hasn’t cashed in on his high-profile contacts for the record, however: ‘Inner World’ isn’t a Lady Gaga-authored collection of poppers’o’clock chameleonic pop bangers. Rather, over 11 tracks of ambient, soothing music, Da-La recites the mantras of the seven Buddhas and discusses topics like children, compassion and humanity.
The endeavour was the brainchild of married New Zealand musicians Junelle and Abraham Kurin, with Junelle first pitching the idea to the Dalai Lama’s office years ago, only to be turned down. Persevering, she suggested it again during a 2015 trip to India and this time he agreed, later explaining his view that “music could reach more people with the message that the real source of happiness is warm-heartedness and a concern for others.”
Imagine the pressure, though! Some artists simply aspire to release a great first album here, but the Dalai Lama has got to release the best one in all six realms of existence (Yes, that punchline died — but I’m hoping it gets reincarnated as a better joke six paragraphs down).
Will he now go on to receive a BRIT Award for Breakthrough Act that he can use as a doorstop in the room that contains his Nobel Peace Prize? Start a Blur vs. Oasis-style rivalry with The Vatican? (Pope Francis released his own prog-rock influenced album of prayers in 2009 — though sadly not through the label Virgin). Dig out the tea-lights and get sitting in the lotus position, because here’s NME‘s track-by-track rundown of ‘Inner World’.
‘One Of My Favourite Prayers’
Setting the MO for the album, this is minimal and soothing — the kind of calming background Lady Gaga might do her downward dog to — where the Dalai Lama quotes a verse by Shantideva, an eighth-century Indian scholar: “For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain, until then may I too abide to dispel the misery of the world.” He also explains that he sometimes recites this passage 100 times in a single day.
On a record with more mantras than you can shake an incense stick at, this is as new-age and relaxing as taking a gong bath in the Glasto Healing Field.
The certified banger! Another ethereal instrumental over which the Dalai Lama chants the Sanstrit mantra ‘Om mani padme hum’, one of the most famous Buddhist prayers.
Floating over clouds of warm, haunting harmony and zither, the Dalai Lama chants a sacred mantra for – you’re already ahead of me – courage.
‘Ama La ft. Anoushka Shankar’
Featuring a guest performance by Bengali sitar player Anoushka Shankar, here the Dalai Lama observes: “The teacher of compassion, in every human being’s life, is often our mother. We are born from our mother. Our common experience, our life, starts with tremendous affection and care. So, mother is, I think, the person who introduces to us the value of love, value of compassion.”
Over another tranquil chakra-auditing sound-bed, His Holiness chants the mantra ‘Tayata Om Bekanze Bekanze Maha Bekanze Radza Samudgate Soha’, which is believed to help heal sickness and solve problems.
Co-written by Sleaford Mods, this is an angry, impassioned and expletive-ridden societal snapshot that rails against austerity, Instagram influences and the cancellation of Noel’s House Party in the ‘90s…..only joking! It’s a mantra for those who want to improve life-skills (“Om a ra pa ca na dhih“) that’s played over a haze of beanbag-cuddling music to put you in a meditative and transcendent state.
We’re lumping track eight and nine in together because they’re self-explanatory mantras: the former backed by a plaintive piano, the latter a jazzier arrangement.
Starting off with the sound of a baby’s gurgling laugh, this is very much the Dalai Lama’s low-key ‘The Greatest Love Of All’. “Children,” he intones. “They are the generation of the future, so vast, no force can change… So the younger generation, children, they have the opportunity and also the responsibility to create [a] happier world, happier future.”
The grand finale. As a warm aural bath washes over you, the Dalai Lama says: “Now today, we are in the 21st century. A lot of violence, a lot of killing. All this, you see, due to a lack of human compassion, human affections, a lack of sense of oneness of human brothers, sisters” — sentiments which seem especially timely at the moment. It bodes well for him avoiding the “difficult second album” curse, too.
Seriously though, proceeds from the album are going to charity and, in these tumultuous times, it’s exactly the un-cynical balm we all need right now. Fancy playing at next year’s NME Awards, your Holiness?
The Dalai Lama’s ‘Inner World’ is set for release on Monday (July 6).