“I WAS TOLD that one of the greatest fears people have is speaking in public. I have to speak a lot in public, in temples and at conferences, at marriages and funerals, on talkback radio, and even on live television. It’s part of my job.
I remember one occasion when, five minutes before I was to give a public talk, fear overwhelmed me. I hadn’t prepared anything; I had no idea what I was going to say. About three hundred people were sitting in the hall expecting to be inspired. They had given up their evening to hear me talk. I began thinking to myself: “What if I can’t think of anything to say? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I make a fool of myself?”
All fear begins with the thought What if and continues with something disastrous. I was predicting the future and with negativity. I was being stupid. I knew I was being stupid; I knew all the theory, but it wasn’t working. Fear kept rolling in. I was in trouble.
That evening I developed a trick, what we call in monk-speak “a skillful means,” which overcame my fear then, and which overcame my fear then, and which has worked ever since. I decided that it didn’t matter if my audience enjoyed ”
“the talk or not, as long as I enjoyed my talk. I decided to have fun.
Now, whenever I give a talk, I have fun. I enjoy myself. I tell funny stories, often at my own expense, and laugh at them with the audience.
One time on live radio in Singapore I told Ajahn Chah’s prediction about the currency of the future (Singaporeans are interested in things economic).
Ajahn Chah predicted once that the world would run out of paper for banknotes and metal for coins, so the people would have to find something else for everyday transactions. He predicted that they would use little pellets of chicken shit for money. People would go around with their pockets full of chicken shit. Banks would be full of the stuff and robbers would try to steal it. Rich people would be so proud of how much chicken shit they owned and poor people would dream of winning a big pile of chicken shit in the lottery. Governments would focus excessively on the “chicken shit situation” in their country, and would relegate environmental and social issues to be considered later, only after there was enough chicken shit for the national defense
“What is the essential difference between banknotes, coins, and chicken shit? None.
I enjoyed telling that story. It made a poignant statement about our current culture. And it was fun. The Singaporean listeners loved it.
I figured out once that if you decide to have fun when you give a public talk, then you relax. It is psychologically impossible to have fear and fun at the same time. When I am relaxed, ideas flow freely into my mind during my talk, then leave through my mouth with the smoothness of eloquence. Moreover, the audience doesn’t get bored when it is fun.
A Tibetan monk once explained the importance of making the audience laugh during a talk: “Once they open their mouths,” he said, “then you can throw in the pill of wisdom!”
I never prepare my talks. I prepare my heart and mind instead. Monks in Thailand are trained never to prepare a talk but to be prepared to talk without notice at any time.
It was Magha Puja, the second-most important Buddhist festival of the year in northeast Thailand. I was at Ajahn Chah’s monastery, Wat Nong Pah Pong, with some two hundred monks and many thousands of laypeople—Ajahn Chah was very famous. It was my fifth year as a monk.
After the evening service, it was time for the main talk. Ajahn Chah would usually give the talk at such a major occasion, but not always. Sometimes he would look down the line of monks and, if his eyes stopped at yours, then you were in trouble. He would ask you to give the sermon. Even though I was such a young monk compared to many others ahead of me, one could never be sure of anything around Ajahn Chah.
Ajahn Chah looked down the line of monks. His eyes reached me and went past. I silently sighed with relief. Then his eyes came back up the line again. Guess where they stopped!
“Brahm,” Ajahn Chah ordered, “give the sermon.”
There was no way out. I had to give an unprepared talk, in Thai, for an hour, in front of my teacher, fellow monks, and thousands of laypeople. It didn’t matter whether it was a good sermon or not. It mattered only that I did it.
Ajahn Chah never told you whether it was a good talk or not. That wasn’t the point. Once he asked a very skilled Western monk to give a sermon to the laypeople who had assembled at his monastery for the weekly observance. At the end of an hour, the monk began
“At the end of an hour, the monk began to wrap up his sermon in Thai. Ajahn Chah interrupted him and told him to continue for another hour. That was tough. Still, he did it. As he prepared to finish up after struggling for the second hour in Thai, Ajahn Chah ordered another hour of the sermon. It was impossible. Westerners only know so much Thai. You end up repeating yourself over and over. The audience gets bored. But there wasn’t any choice. At the end of the third hour, most people had left anyway, and the ones remaining were talking among themselves. Even the mosquitoes and the wall-lizards had gone to sleep. At the end of the third hour, Ajahn Chah ordered yet another hour! The Western monk obeyed. He said that after such an experience (and the talk did end after the fourth hour), when you have plumbed the very depths of audience response, you no longer fear speaking in public.
That was how we were trained by the great Ajahn Chah.”
Excerpt From: Brahm, Ajahn. “Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?”.
This story is part of a curation initiative “One Wisdom Story”, you can receive the stories on WhatsApp by clicking the link below. You can also get the stories via email by subscribing in the form below.
Subscribe to Stories via email