Monday, January 26, 2015

India Adventure II: San Francisco restaurant The Little Chihuahua's Fried Plantain & Black Bean Burrito - made vegan with locally available ingredients in Bangalore

I worked at eight music festivals and one three-day Phish event for tech startup and HeadCount partner iCitizen last summer. I was helping HeadCount register music fans to vote in time for the November 2014 US elections, while also promoting iCitizen's free app that helps people stay engaged between election cycles.

Me in the iCitizen/HeadCount booth at Electric Forest Music Festival in Rothbury, MI June 2014.

This was just my right wrist, summer 2014. Wristbands here from HeadCount's 10 year anniversary party at the Brooklyn Bowl, Newport Folk Festival, Phish - Randall's Island NYC, High Sierra Music Festival, Electric Forest Music Festival, and Outside Lands Music Festival. Plus some blessing strings given to me by Buddhist teachers Bhante Wimala and H.E. Ling Rinpoche. 
Working at all of these festivals means I ate a lot of festival food.

The highlights (in order of consumption) were 99 Potatoes' vegan burger and sweet potato fries combo meal at Electric Forest Music Festival in Rothbury, Michigan, The Little Chihuahua's vegan fried plantain & black bean burrito at Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco, and The Juice Laundry's raw, organic, cold-pressed juices at Lockn' Festival in Arrington, Virginia.

I haven't been able to find a really close recipe for the stand out vegan fried plantain & black bean burrito. That didn't stop me from attempting to recreate it for a dinner party in Bangalore last Wednesday, though.

This is what I started with:
- The Little Chihuahua menu: "Fried Plantain & Black Bean Burrito with cheese, roasted red bell peppers, rice, sour cream, smoky chile salsa, pico de gallo and fresh cilantro & onion."

- Fan photos of The Little Chihuahua restaurant location's non-vegan Fried Plantain & Black Bean burritos, found online:

The Little Chihuahua Fried Plantain & Black Bean burrito, fan photo.

The Little Chihuahua's Fried Plantain & Black Bean Burrito, second fan photo.

- Two online recipes:

From this, I generated a shopping list: flour, plantains, red peppers, red onion, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes, corn ear, lime, black beans, avocado, cabbage, lettuce, green chiles and carrots. Carrots weren't in the original burrito and weren't on either Vegetarian Times' or Mojo Central's ingredients lists, but what is a burrito without crunchy carrots?


I walked around the corner from my friend Sowmya's house, where I am staying to the best local fruit and vegetable stand, and the nearest grocery store to pick up these ingredients. 

At my first stop, using some pantomime I was able to pick up the plantains (were they ripe? I don't know, I never buy plantains), green peppers (seems red peppers are unavailable in Bangalore), red onions, garlic, carrots, cilantro (I pantomimed that I wanted to see all of the seller's leafy greens, and from that smelled them all until I found cilantro, which is not called cilantro in India), tomatoes, lime, cabbage, and green chiles. I looked around but did not see avocados, so I easily gave up on that one. Same for the lettuce. Some pantomime and laughter failed to produce corn on the cob, so I let that one go for the moment, knowing from experience that it is available in Bangalore.

I didn't buy the burrito ingredients from this particular local seller, but I often go here, too. He also did not have corn on the cob - I stopped to look.
I next went into the local grocery store, which belongs to the Reliance chain to pick up the remaining ingredients. I found a corn on the cob wrapped in plastic wrap that wasn't as fresh as I would have liked, but it was the only place I checked within a several block range that had corn on the cob for sale. Unfortunately the shop did not have black beans. I selected the next best alternative - a bag of organic, dried rajma (chithra) beans ... which I just now learned are pinto beans. The flour aisle was a little overwhelming. I could pick from bags of "whole wheat atta", maida, and a few other things that I thought might be forms of flour. Having heard Indian friends speak poorly of maida, I crossed my fingers and grabbed a bag of atta from the Reliance shelf.

Reliance Grocery Store.
I went back to Sowmya's kitchen, and then assembled the ingredients on her kitchen counter. We're ready to begin.

The ingredients, including filtered water, used to rinse off the vegetables.
Step 1: I cooked the pre-soaked beans in the pressure cooker with filtered water for at least 30 minutes.

Step 2: Since Sowmya does not have a stove (but does have a toaster oven, which I opted not to use for this recipe), I sliced the peeled plantains into bite sized pieces. I then followed the Vegetarian Times' instructions for how to cook plantains on a gas stove top: "Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add red onion and garlic, and sauté until browned. Stir in plantains, and cook 5 minutes." I had read elsewhere to be careful not to cook them too long, or they will become crispy. I removed the mixture from saucepan after closer to ten minutes, and transferred the mixture to a dish, covered by a clean dish towel, to keep them warm. I admit I slightly overcooked the plantains.

Step 3: I then attempted to roast the green pepper on the gas stove top, since I recall how much that flavor "made" the burritos I had at Outside Lands. I roasted them in the same saucepan I had used for the plantains, garlic, and red onions. I roasted them on the stove top, with a limited amount of olive oil in the sauce pan. It wasn't a total failure but was not roasted red peppers. (Side note: just like in Kenya, peppers are called "capsicum" in India.)

Step 4: I removed the roasted green peppers from the sauce pan, and chopped them into bite sized pieces. I then emptied the covered dish of cooked plantain mixture into the sauce pan, added the chopped roasted green peppers, and then some olive oil, and cooked the mixture together on the stove, frequently stirring for maybe another 5 minutes. I then removed the mixture from the stove, and covered it with a towel to keep it warm while I prepared the other parts of the burrito mixture.

Roasted green peppers partly chopped, and roasted plantain mixture.
Step 5: I washed and chopped the cabbage into small chunks, and then put it into a bowl. I squirted some fresh lime juice on top, and added a little bit of salt I ground from small rock crystals into powder using Sowmya's hand grinder.

Step 6: I rinsed several handfuls of cilantro stalks in filtered water over the sink, and then gently wrapped it in a clean dish towel to dry it a little. I then chopped it up into small pieces, and put it in a bowl. I then rinsed, dried, and diced the tomatoes, and added those tomatoes to the bowl. I then rinsed, dried, and diced up a whole red onion, and added that to the bowl. I then sprinkled it with the juice from about half of a small lime, and stirred it all together to make the "salsa".

Prepared cabbage and the pre-mixed salsa.
The post-mixed cabbage, salsa, and plantains mixture.
Step 7: I rinsed, dried, and diced the carrots and green chiles. I then peeled the corn on the cob, and rinsed and dried it. I then used a knife to slice off the kernels, working down the cob as if I were peeling a carrot. I then split the fresh corn kernels apart from each other, and mixed the corn kernels into the sauce pan with the diced carrots and diced green chiles. I then added the cooked pinto beans to the saucepan. I added some olive oil, and then cooked this mixture together on the stove for just a few - maybe five - minutes, to warm it up. I then added some chili powder, mixed it all together well, and then transferred it to a dish for serving, covering it with a dish towel to keep it warm.

Corn on the cob, carrots, green chiles, pinto beans and chili powder burrito filling.
Step 8: I then handmade the tortillas from scratch, using a limited-ingredient recipe I found online. First, I combined four cups of atta flour with three cups of filtered water, and then added a teaspoon of hand ground salt and six tablespoons of olive oil all together into a wide mouthed bowl. I then used my freshly washed and dried hands to mix the ingredients together in the bowl, using my hands, until the ingredients began to stick together. This only took a minute or two. I then transferred the mixture to the cutting board, and further kneaded the mixture until it took the shape of a dough ball. I then let the large ball of dough sit in the bowl for ten minutes while I cleaned up from the other dishes I had prepared. I then put the large ball of dough on the cutting board, and pulled off a small section of dough. I rolled the small section into a ball, and placed the small ball into a bowl. I repeated this process until I had converted the large dough ball into a bowlful of golf ball sized dough balls.

Dough to dough balls.

Step 9: Having seen this process performed by roadside entrepreneurs many times in Kenya's informal settlements (they make chapatis, not tortillas, but same same), I was comfortable moving forward with the next step. I rolled three small balls into one larger ball, having realized in hindsight that the balls I initially made were too small if I wanted to make large tortillas. I then rolled this large ball of dough out flat on the cutting board, using a wooden rolling bin that Sowmya fortunately has in her kitchen. I made the flat dough as thin as possible, but left it thick enough so that I could peel the flat circle of dough off of the cutting board in one piece, without tearing holes in the flat circle of dough. I then dropped the flat circle of dough onto a warm skillet, which had been oiled with a little bit of olive oil. I then fried the first side of the tortilla for maybe a minute, before flipping it and frying the second side. I repeated this process to make a handful of tortillas, with plenty of dough balls left over for future meals. (I had ambitiously doubled the tortilla recipe I found online, thinking guests would be hungry because this meal was taking longer than I had anticipated (3.5 hours of shopping, prep and cook time), pushing our dinner time back to 8pm.)

From 3 small dough balls to stove to serving plate.
Step 10: I put the plantain mixture into the saucepan, added some olive oil, and quickly reheated it. I then put it on a serving plate, and added it to the remaining dishes, now ready for serving.


The cabbage mixture, salsa, plantains mixture, beans mixture, and tortillas ready to be served.
I then explained to the guests about my inspiration for the meal, the hodgepodge recipe I used, and the enjoyable process of shopping for the necessary ingredients to make the recipe.

From left to right: Maddie, Sowmya, Dee, Ri Anne.
 It was a fun night. I enjoyed sharing a common American meal of burritos with friends in Bangalore. It was also fun to share my Indian, stove top prepared adaptation of The Little Chihuahua's Fried Plantain & Black Bean burrito that I enjoyed so much at Outside Lands last summer.

A burrito I made with a small tortilla made from one of the original, small golf ball sized balls of dough.
A burrito Dee made with a large tortilla, made from three of the small balls of dough combined into one larger ball of dough.
I might make some changes to this recipe, next time I prepare it in India, although the changes would make the burrito less healthy. I would simplify the recipe to bring out the key flavor - the plantains - which got a little overshadowed, and were admittedly overcooked, in the meal I made last week.

To this end I might not make the cabbage mixture, and might not add carrots or green pepper to the beans. Instead, I might prepare some rice, and then cook the rice with the beans on the stove top so the flavors of the rice and beans meld together.

I might also buy and prepare mostly plantains, as compared with the other burrito filling ingredients. I would cut them the long way, into thick strips, and would roast them in the toaster oven so that they became sort of carmelized, removing them from the oven just as they became gooey.

If I couldn't find red peppers, then I might try stewing fresh tomatoes, instead of the green peppers, and making that its own dish, to be added to each burrito by the spoonful.

If available, then I also might try adding a little bit of vegan mayo or sour cream to the finished burrito. The burrito I had at Outside Lands seemed to have a little bit of sauce in it.

However, all in all I give myself credit for attempting to recreate The Little Chihuahua's Outside Lands vegan special Fried Plantain & Black Bean burrito without a recipe or a really good memory of what was in the delicious burritos I ate at the festival last summer. Plus, the most important part was present at the dinner party last Wednesday - good friends and laughter.

Friday, January 16, 2015

India Adventure II: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's Jangchup Lamrim teachings in Mundgod, south India

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama teaching from his throne last month at Ganden Jangtse Monastery in south India. Photo by Bill Kane.
One of the most amazing things I did during my last trip to India was attend a ten day teaching with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, held at Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, south India in December 2013 – January 2014.

Although not my first time seeing His Holiness (that was at Lehigh University in 2008), that Bylakuppe teaching was the first time I had studied the Lamrim and visited a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Studying with His Holiness and 30,000+ thousand monks, nuns, and other students who had traveled to south India from around the world for the teachings, and taking my vows to become a Buddhist was amazing. I resolved to return to India for the next part of His Holiness’ teaching on the Lamrim, to be held at Ganden Jangtse Monastery, located within the Doeguling Tibetan Settlement in the town of Mundgod, south India in December 2014.

My journey to Ganden Jangtse Monastery in Mundgod began at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal on December 20, when another American student who took the November course at Kopan and I flew from Kathmandu to Bangalore, via Delhi.

Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal to Ganden Jangtse Monastery in Mundgod, India

My friend Dee, who I met through His Holiness’ teachings at Sera Monastery, arranged to have Laura and I picked up at the Bangalore airport and brought to her house in Bangalore. Laura, Dee, and I then slept for about 2 hours before heading to the Bangalore train station to begin our long journey to Ganden Jangtse Monastery.

Ganden Jangtse Monastery is located within the Doeguling Tibetan Settlement in the town of Mundgod, in the south Indian state of Karnataka. The 4,000 acre Tibetan refugee settlement was granted to the Tibetan refugees by the Indian government in 1966, after His Holiness fled Tibet for India in 1959. Initially home to 4,302 refugees, Doeguling is now home to 13,400 Tibetans, as well as two of the great monasteries of Tibet that have been rebuilt in India – Ganden Jangtse and Drepung Monasteries. In order to visit Doeguling and other protected areas in India, foreigners need to apply for and receive a Protected Area Permit (PAP). This was my third PAP, and the third protected area I would get to visit in India. The other two were Tibetan refugee communities in the towns of Bir and Bylakuppe.

In order to reach Doeguling Laura, Dee, two nuns and I first took a seven hour train ride from Bangalore to the city of Hubli, Doeguling’s nearest transportation hub. I had a great time chatting with the mother and daughter who were sitting next to me on the train. The elder woman was born in India but had lived in Nigeria for 17 years with her husband, who worked on Nigeria’s infrastructure. She gave birth to her eldest daughter, who was sitting with us, in Nigeria and taught her daughter and local children at the schools she set up and ran whenever she and her husband were relocated within Nigeria.

Chatting with neighbors on the train. Photo by Dee.

Other travelers on our car seemed to be going to His Holiness' teachings.

Laura, Dee, the nuns and I then traveled by taxi for two hours from Hubli to Doeguling, passing through the beautiful, warm, rural countryside. It was a lovely ride.

Laura helping to load our luggage onto our taxi at the Hubli train station.

It was a crowded and warm but fun ride from Hubli to Doeguling Tibetan Settlement in Mundgod.

The first thing we did when we reached Doeguling was stop at His Eminence the 7th Yongzin Ling Rinpoche’s house, located between Ganden Jangtse and Drepung Monsateries to make a delivery. We got to see and receive blessings from H.E. Ling Rinpoche. (Dee and I also received blessings from him last year. The red blessing string he gave me last year is still tied around my right wrist.)
Dee and I at H.E. Ling Rinpoche's house, after seeing him.

The inner courtyard of H.E. Ling Rinpoche's house.

Dee, Laura, the two nuns and I then dispersed to our respective accommodations within Doeguling to get ready for His Holiness’ arrival at Ganden Jangtse Monastery. Dee, who coordinated and supported 33 students’ attendance at the teachings as a volunteer through Bangalore’s FPMTBuddhism study center, CKSL booked us at the Central School for Tibetans – Mundgod campus boys’ dormitory.

The school is administered by the Central Tibetan Schools administration, an autonomous organization under the Government of India. The Central Tibetan Schools administration was established in 1961 to construct and support a network of schools in India, for Tibetan students living in India. The network’s 71 schools are currently serving approximately 10,000 Tibetan students. The campus we stayed at – Mundgod – is one of those 71 schools.
Mural indicating the locations of the Central Tibetan Schools in India. The schools are labeled in red paint. They are in areas that have high concentrations of Tibetans. 

Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod, boys' hostel.

It was a perfect place to stay and we were lucky to get it, given how little housing was available during His Holiness’ teachings. Many people stayed in Hubli’s hostels, and trekked back and forth between the locations each day. The Central School for Tibetans – Mundgod is located in a peaceful, quiet, rural area, and was just about a 40 minute walk from the Ganden Jangtse Monastery’s main gompa (temple) where His Holiness taught us each day.
Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod, staff room.

Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod, campus hallway. I loved all of the inspirational quotes printed on boards, hanging around campus. This quote, which reminds me of Buddhism, was my favorite.

Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod classroom.

Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod, girls' dormitory.

Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod, girls' dormitory first floor hallway. The sign hanging on the door made me smile - this could be a girl's door anywhere in the world.

The view from just outside of our door in the boys dormitory at Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod.

My bed in our room at Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod.

I enjoyed shared a large dorm room with Dee and Radhika. Dee teaches drama at an international school in Bangalore and volunteers at the FPMT center in Bangalore. Radhika teaches yoga in Delhi and also studies with Geshe Dorji Damdul at Tibet House Delhi. We discovered that we had both taken, but did not meet at a Buddhism course taught by Geshe Dorji Damdul last year.

Radhika, Dee, one of the resident puppies and I outside of the boys' dormitory.

His Holiness arrived at Ganden Jangtse Monastery the day after our arrival, on December 22. Dee and I joined the crowds forming along the roadside, white khata offering scarves in hand, to welcome our teacher.
Walking to the roadside to greet His Holiness.

Ganden Jangtse Monastery's gompa where His Holiness taught us, viewed from the field just outside of the monastery grounds. We passed by, and I saw it for the first time, on our way to greet His Holiness on the roadside.

Devotees from around the world lined the roadside, waiting for His Holiness.

His Holiness' caravan came towards us, this way, passing underneath the arch and then turning to their right and into the Ganden Jangtse Monastery grounds.

This photo of me, standing just inside of the entrance to Ganden Jangtse Monastery with the teaching hall in the center, far background was taken at a later date, when we passed by the entrance on our way back to Bangalore.

Twenty minutes after our arrival on the roadside, we heard the sound of the horns announcing the arrival of His Holiness’ caravan of SUVs and cars. I did not see him – the misfortune of being “petite” and standing behind several rows of taller people – but Dee, who was standing to my right, caught a glimpse of His Holiness through his car window.

Dee and I then explored Ganden Jangtse Monastery in search of the Jangchup Registration center. We found the Registration center, situated in a courtyard just outside of one of Ganden Jangtse’s many buildings. The registration team sat behind folding tables underneath the nearby building’s awnings, patiently serving each of the waiting students.
Foreigners and Indians registration table.

There were three separate registration lines. The one to the far left was for “Himalayan Devotees”. The center line was for “Tibetan Monks, Nuns and Lay People”. The line to the right was for “Foreigners and Indians”.  All non-Himalayan Devotees and non-Tibetans needed to wait in the “Foreigners and Indians” line.

I later learned from a young Tibetan that “Himalayan Devotees” are people who live in north India but are so close to the Tibetan border that they speak Tibetan. I also learned that the Himalayan devotees could be distinguished from the Tibetans in part by their style of dress. While the Tibetans were wearing the now-familiar-to-me chubas, the Himalayan devotees were not wearing chubas, but other styles of distinct regional clothing. However while I could tell who was not Tibetan, I could not tell what country students were from, aside from the many Bhutanese men present who were wearing Ghos - beautiful small-checked, knee length tops that look like kimonos. It was fun seeing so many different regions and traditions represented at the teachings.
Young Tibetan girl in traditional dress.

When it was my turn to register, I handed the volunteer at the “Foreigners and Indians” registration table photocopies of my passport, Indian visa, Protected Area Permit (PAP), and two passport photos. The volunteer then added my information – including one of my passport photos - to his record book, before issuing me an official, green “foreigner” registration badge.

My registration badge. Don't leave your room without this and a copy of your PAP.

Later that afternoon, students were allowed into the Ganden Jangtse Monastery temple/gompa so that we could claim spots on the floor. Our spots, self-marked with packaging tape and pieces of cardboard or paper bearing our names, would be where we would sit for the next six days of His Holiness’ teachings.
Ganden Jangtse Monastery gompa where the teachings were held. Photo by Bill Kane.

Steps leading up to the gompa's main entrance.

Examples of reserved seats signs on the teaching hall floor.

More than 25,000 people, including 2,000 foreigners from 43 countries in attendance at the teachings needed to find and mark a spot for themselves either inside of the gompa, outside on the gompa patio, or down below the gompa on the large patio, underneath some large tents that had been set up for the teachings.

View of inside the teaching hall, taken from the doorway. His Holiness' throne is at the far end of the room.
View of the activities in the room, taken from the back of the teaching hall/gompa.
Students were of the following nationalities: Italian, American, Canadian, Russian, Singaporean, Australian, Bhutanese, Brazilian, Swedish, Swiss, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Korean, British, Spanish, French, South African, Chinese, Ukrainian, German, Bulgarian, Dutch, Israeli, Slovakian, Portugese, Czech, Austrian, Polish, Croatian, Mongolian, Belgian, Mexican, Irish, Hong Kong, Indonesian, Kyrcyz, Costa Rican, Japanese, Danish, Peruvian, Sri Lankan, Kiwi, Chilean, Thai, Greek, Bangladeshi, South Korean, Colombian, Nepalese, Lithuaniann, Slovene, African, Lebanese, Slovenian, and Finnish, and no doubt many more ... these were just the nationalities I took note of.

The English language section was inside of the teaching hall, as opposed to some of the other languages, which had assigned sections blocked off for them outside of the teaching hall. The English language section was shaped like a long, narrow column that ran down a central part of the room.

After finding a spot in the back of the teaching hall where the roped off section for English speakers bled into the areas roped off for Mongolian and Russian speakers, I made my way to the front of the gompa and the throne from which His Holiness would be teaching.

The VIP section, on the stage to the left of His Holiness' throne.

His Holiness' throne, encased in a temporary cover.

View of the room from the area in front of His Holiness' throne.

The very front section of the teaching hall had been reserved for the Indian students. Once up there, I helped Dee organize the Indian section, where most of the 33 people we were staying with at the Central School for Tibetans – Mundgod, and the Bangalore center’s teachers would be sitting for the duration of the teachings.

Dee hard at work in the Indian section.
Dee had already marked off a spot on the floor for me, next to her, in the third row from the very front of the teaching hall, within view of His Holiness’ throne. It was so kind of Dee. We decided I would sit there in the Indian section on the first day, before all of the Indian students had arrived, and would return to my seat in the back of the gompa for the remainder of the teachings.

My seat in the third row from the front of the room, in the Indian section.

Even without His Holiness present, the energy in the room, and especially within such a short distance to His Holiness’ throne, felt amazing.

The view of the gompa courtyard, taken from just outside of the gompa main door. Those are the tents where people would be sitting during the teachings. The gompa interior was just not big enough to hold everyone. People were even sitting underneath the gompa during the teachings, in a space that resembled a parking garage.

Dee and I spent the remainder of the day running errands and exploring the Ganden Jengtse Monastery grounds. The growing crowds, as more students arrived for the teachings, and the energy of anticipation in the air was wonderful. I had such a nice day.

One of the Ganden Jangtse Monastery gompas.

The walk from the teaching hall to the Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod campus.

The walk from the teaching hall to the Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod campus.

Along the walk from the teaching hall to the Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod campus.

The walk from the teaching hall to the Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod campus.

Jangchup Lamrim flag near the home of H.E. Ling Rinpoche.

Jangchup Lamrim flags near the entrance to Ganden Jangtse Monastery's big gompa.

Dee and I returned to the gompa the following morning, December 23 for the start of His Holiness’ teachings. The other 25,000 other students and I waited for the sound of the horns that would announce his arrival. That morning, and for the remaining five mornings he would enter the gompa from the door at the back of the gompa, walk up the wide center aisle, greeting students on their knees to his left and right, before reaching his throne and the VIPs (including Richard Gere) sitting at the front, on either side of his throne. Attendants would then help him walk up the few steps to his seat on the throne.

I could not see what happened next on the following days, but on that first day His Holiness, still standing, balanced himself on the cushion on his throne, held his hands folded together at his chest, and slowly spun his body from right to left, smiling and greeting everyone in the room, with hands folded. It was maybe my favorite part of the entire teaching – knowing that he was intentionally welcoming and blessing each of us, in turn.

His Holiness on his throne. Photo by Bill Kane.
Then began the teachings.

I will now do my best to explain what we are doing during these teachings, for my own benefit just as much as for anyone who may be reading this post.

These teachings on the Lamrim by His Holiness actually started in December 2012, with what became the first in a series of annual teachings on the Eight Great Lamrim Treatises plus ten additional Jangchup Lamrim Treatises, or Treatises of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, that make up the Jangchup Lamrim. We are receiving these teachings from the 18 texts thanks to His Eminence the 7th Yongzin Ling Rinpoche, who is the reincarnation of His Holiness’ main teacher and spiritual advisor. H.E. Ling Rinpoche requested His Holiness give us teachings on these 18 texts.

The free annual events, organized by H.E. Ling Rinpoche and the Janchup Lamrim Committee will continue until His Holiness has finished teaching on the 18 texts.

This year, from the list of 18 texts requested by H.E. Ling Rinpoche, His Holiness taught from Zhamar Pandita’s Treatise on the Stages of thePath to Enlightenment by The Fourth Amdo Zhamar, andLiberation in the Palm of One’s Hand. His Holiness has not yet finished teaching on the 18 texts, so there will be a fifth event in December 2015. Subscribe to the Jangchup Lamrim newsletter to receive news about the 2015 event as details become available.

His Holiness teaching from his throne at Ganden Jangtse Monastery. Photo by Bill Kane.

His Holiness is teaching us about the Lamrim - the stages of the path to enlightenment, or how to proceed from a state of suffering to a state of peace and happiness so that we are then able to liberate all beings from suffering. The Lamrim is a summary of the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha, plus the Indian commentaries on Buddha’s teachings, first laid out by Atisha (982 – 1054) in Atisha’s text, Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. This text became the foundation for the study of the Lamrim.

Lama Tsongkhapa (1357 – 1419) is the founder of His Holiness’ school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Gelug School, which is the school of Tibetan Buddhism that I follow. Lama Tsongkhapa composed a commentary on Atisha’s text, called The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment, also known as Lamrim Chenmo. Thereafter the drafting of this commentary by Lama Tsongkhapa, the Lamrim became an important component in the Buddhism teachings propagated by the Gelug School.

The two ten day Introduction to Buddhism courses I took last year at Tushita in Mcleod Ganj and at the Root Institute in Bodhgaya were condensed overviews of the Lamrim. The month long November course I took at Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal last month was a more detailed overview of the Lamrim. 

All three of these Buddhism teaching centers – Kopan, Tushtia, and the Root – are administered by the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). (“Mahayana” is another word for Tibetan Buddhism.) FPMT is a nonprofit headed by one of my teachers, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, a senior teacher from the Gelug School. These courses helped me better understand His Holiness’ teachings taught at Ganden Jangtse Monastery this past December, as compared with the previous year’s teachings at Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe.

In addition to the content, His Holiness constantly reminded us to dedicate ourselves and be consistent with our practice. He also gave advice on how to practice.

Inside Ganden Jangtse Monastery's gompa during the teachings, looking towards the main door. Photo by Bill Kane.

Outside of the gompa on the patio during the teachings. Photo by Bill Kane.

Outside of the gompa, beyond the patio, on the plaza in front of the gompa. Photo by Bill Kane.

Underneath the large tent on the monastery grounds, on the plaza in front of the gompa during the teachings. Photo by Bill Kane.

His Holiness said worshipping the dharma (Buddha’s teachings) without first checking the teachings to see if they are damaged is not what you should do – that doing that is like a dog eating food. He said that a monk buying a brick of tea will first check the tea brick before buying it, to see if it is damaged, even though the consequences are just a few cups of bad tea. Don’t practice the dharma without first examining it. It is so much more important to your future lives than the tea brick you check.

He also said if you light a lamp in a dark room then you can see. Same, too for if you study Buddha’s teachings. Thieves can steal, but not what you studied and your good heart. You can even take the teachings with you when you die.

He advised students to be like deer when listening to the teachings – listen closely. A student should treat their Buddhism teacher like a doctor the student reveres. Don’t break the doctor’s oral instructions on how to take the prescribed medicine. It is not enough to fill a prescription for a medicine, or read the instructions on the bottle. You must take the medicine your teacher gives you to overcome your afflictive emotions and delusions.

He also advised students to start practicing the teachings immediately, even when you have just begun to study Buddhism. Make a prayer to leave as complete an imprint as possible on the self in this life. Make a resolution that whatever time you have left in this life, you will engage in meditations on the entire length of the path to enlightenment. Since the moment of being in our mother’s womb, we have been galloping towards death. When born as a hungry ghost our first interest is food and drink. We are not open to the dharma. In the hell realm our pain is so great that we cannot practice. As animals we cannot understand or recite Om Mani Padme Hung. We cannot know when we will die. Many factors are contributing to your death, but few to your life. Your body is extremely fragile – even those factors contributing to your life also contribute to your death. We must practice now. Many healthy people die before ill people die. So many rich people die before these beggars wandering around in hunger. We cannot take anyone or anything with us, when we die but we take our negative karma with us. Meditate on death and you will feel more inspired to practice, and move through the steps to enlightenment.

On the last day of the teachings, December 28 His Holiness reminded us that it is possible to attain enlightenment. The Buddha knows sentient beings can be liberated because they have the same minds as the Buddha. He said he would leave off the teachings with the topic of the importance of having compassion for all sentient beings, and refraining from nonvirtuous acts. He said he was doing this for the benefit of the people who were gathered at the teaching from around the world, especially the west. His Holiness said he felt like reading, and then gave us the Bodhisattva Vows.

His Holiness said anger and hatred need the backup of the self-cherishing mind, but if you meditate on bodhichitta (a mind motivated by compassion for all living beings that spontaneously seeks enlightenment) then your mind will automatically regain its strength. He said “If you are always concerned about health then keep your mind healthy.” He also said “What more is there to do, but to practice bodhichitta?” Practicing bodhicitta gives us conviction, courage, wisdom. If we are practicing bodhichitta then we will not have a sense of tiredness or lack hope. With this inspiration, he advised us to take the Bodhisattva pledge. He said “from the moment I hope my eyes in the morning, I immediately think of bodhichitta.” Same at night, and that it really helps him. His Holiness said the wish to help others is like a mental gem. “It is the best nectar to cure all human diseases.” He left off the teachings by advising us to think “May all my generosity become a cause for me to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings.”

In addition to the teachings, His Holiness shared some other thoughts on the six days that he spoke to us. On two occasions he spoke about nuns. On the afternoon of the first day of teachings, he said that nuns can become geshes. He said people ask him about that. On the morning of the fifth day, December 27 His Holiness said since we count bhikshunis in how we calculate the definition of “sangha” then we should offer full ordination to women. He said to date it’s not been clear, but we should have full bhikshuni ordination.

On the first day, His Holiness addressed and clarified something that has been in the news lately. He said that since the 1960’s he has been saying that if the Tibetan people want to continue the office of the Dalai Lama then they will. The Chinese seem more concerned with the 15th Dalai Lama than with the 14th Dalai Lama, who is still alive. Maybe the Chinese, who don’t believe in reincarnation, should find the rebirths of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, before concerning themselves with the rebirth of the Dalai Lama. His Holiness said anyway, this 14th Dalai Lama is much loved – maybe better not to mess things up by having a 15th Dalai Lama who messes that up.

The next morning, His Holiness addressed loopholes that exist in the monastic schools that he feels are enabling monks to become distracted from their studies. He directed the abbots of the schools who were present at the teaching to immediately gather together to hold a meeting and take action on this. His Holiness said “we can discuss bad things about ourselves” in these meetings. Other people can talk about our good sides. I thought that sounded like good advice for meetings in general.

His Holiness also addressed the Tibetan and Himalayan devotee families in the audience, saying it was great that they were at the teachings, and encouraging them to send their children to the monasteries. In addition he said the monasteries should work harder to provide lay people with Lamrim teachings, including opportunities to participate in debate.   

On the last morning of the teachings, December 28 His Holiness again provided the monasteries with instructions regarding the lay communities. He said that the monasteries have abroad sponsors, and have the means to educate the local lay people and look into hygiene. His Holiness said the monasteries should form committees to look after neglected local residents in Mundgod and Bylakuppe. He said each student should have the opportunity to go to college and university, and that the monasteries can do something about this. He also encouraged the Tibetan university in Sarnath to work with the monasteries to encourage more people to study Buddhism.

I greatly appreciated that His Holiness spoke about environmental problems and human conflict while teaching about suffering. On the morning of the fifth day he said (as translated from Tibetan into English):

“Sometimes animals and others are actually killed by spirits and so forth. And then natural disasters also kill animals and so forth. Today, we actually experience global warming. So over a hundred years and a period of time things have changed, and therefore there is global warming. And today when we have very big storms and rains and then, the glaciers – the rate of the melting of the glaciers has also been increasing, and then the water level rises. And it is said that many of the great cities are going to be underwater, and so there are natural disasters like this. And today we have 7 billion people on this earth and towards the end of this century it is said that we will have 10 billion. And so there are lots of problems and troubles. And even while we have lots of problems like this, still people engage in wars and fightings and conflicts. We don’t think about next life, just in this life if we could be more friendly, harmonious, and helping each other it would be possible for us to create more peaceful world. If we as humans could live a more peaceful and happier life, then it would also be helpful to the animal realm as well.”

His Holiness’ jokes and laughter were also well appreciated, if not as fully or timely enjoyed by the non-Tibetan speaking students in the audience. On the afternoon of the second day of teachings, he loudly coughed into his mic. He then laughed and said he coughed into his mic to wake us up.

Like last year, His Holiness spoke entirely in Tibetan, except when wishing students a Merry Christmas on December 25. His teachings were simultaneously translated into a variety of languages by translators. I used my walkman to listen to the English translation on 92.0. Yes, I said my walkman. If you have a digital portable radio that works then why buy another one?

Stock photo of my Sony Walkman.

I tried to keep my walkman at a minimal volume – just loud enough to hear the English translation, and kept only one ear bud in at a time. This way I could enjoy hearing directly from His Holiness, even if I did not understand his Tibetan. On at least two occasions His Holiness spoke to us about the benefit of learning Tibetan. I concur with him, and made a note of it in my notebook with bold strokes and a heavy hand one afternoon, in all capital letters.

My notebook: LEARN TIBETAN.

We were given some texts in Tibetan as we entered the teaching grounds on the morning of the fourth day. I took them, intending to be able to read them in time. That day we got to watch a beautiful ceremony, celebrating the 55th Anniversary of His Holiness’ first teaching in India. The celebration concluded with a long life offering ceremony made by a group of Tibetans on behalf of the Tibetans inside of Tibet. A line of Tibetans walked from outside of the gompa, down the main aisle to His Holiness’ throne, each holding a beautiful offering for His Holiness. Each Tibetan was received by His Holiness and received a blessing. It was beautiful. The Tibetan who made the formal presentation at the podium said to His Holiness “Please be our protector and refuge. Then I would like to make this request you live long, from the depths of our hearts.” In honor of the anniversary His Holiness released a new book that day, December 26. He said the book is available in rough English. There was another long life offering, similarly presented, but by Tibetans representing a different region of Tibet on the last day of the teachings, December 28.

On the fifth day of the teachings, my teacher Lama Zopa Rinpoche presented the mandala to His Holiness during the morning preliminary practice, before the teaching started. I could see Lama Zopa approaching His Holiness’ throne but did not see the ceremony. Photographer Bill Kane captured some beautiful photos of the event.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche and His Holiness. Photo by Bill Kane.

In addition to seeing Lama Zopa Rinpoche enter and exit the teachings on a few occasions, I also got to see Lama Zopa at the place where he was staying, down the road from the gompa where His Holiness was teaching. The monks who had traveled from Kopan Monastery in Kathamandu to Ganden Jangtse Monastery for the teachings were also staying there. It was great to see the Kopan monks again, in India.

The driveway leading from the place where Lama Zopa was staying back to the main road.

The place where Lama Zopa Rinpoche was staying during the teachings.

Dee and I visited Lama Zopa with some of Lama Zopa’s students from Bangalore, who stayed with us at the Central Tibetan Schools – Mundgod boys' dormitory. We all gathered around Lama Zopa who sat in a chair tucked into a breezeway off of a corridor, nearby to his rooms. We formed a line, and each person was able to approach him to offer a khata and receive a blessing, given by the same instrument he used to give blessings at Kopan Monastery last December. We also received blessed strings. It was a special meeting.

Dee and I went back to Lama Zopa’s residence one other afternoon on an errand, and happened upon the Singapore center’s visit to Lama Zopa. The Sinapore students had composed a name mantra for Lama Zopa. The students were singing it to Lama Zopa as they made their offerings to him. Dee and I got to join in the chorus and watch how much Lama Zopa enjoyed their song.

On another occasion Dee and I got to sit outside of the gompa in the building where Lama Zopa was staying while he performed a puja. (We could have gone inside but it was overly crowded inside the gompa.) I appreciate the time I am able to spend observing and learning from Lama Zopa. Everything he does and says is a teaching.

Since His Holiness typically began teaching by 8:30pm, and finished by 4pm, there was always time left in the afternoon to explore the area and enjoy talking with people that you rarely get to see. One afternoon Dee and I met up with three of the women from the Singapore group in the tea shop. It was fun getting to know the women, hearing about the Singapore center, and how they were enjoying their time at the teaching. It was kind of Dee’s teachers to also make time to talk with their students from CKSL outside of the teachings. I had fun having dinner at a local Tibetan restaurant named Friends Corner with Venerable Legtsok, who taught the Introduction to Buddhism course I took at Tushita last year, and is one of Dee’s teachers at CKSL in Bangalore.

Dee, Venerable Legtsok, and I at Friends Corner. Venerable Legtsok is gesturing to the portrait of His Holiness, ensuring the photographer gets the portrait in our photo.

It was also fun to run into familiar faces from the November course at Kopan Monastery in Nepal, the people my mom and I sat with during the previous year’s teaching at Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe, or faces I just recognized from my previous trip to India. It was kind of the people who had met my mom in Bylakuppe, to ask after her as soon as they saw me in the gompa.

I sat with one of Lama Zopa’s students, an American named Harry who I first met on the porch outside of Lama Zopa’s house at Sera Monastery, and saw again at Kopan last November when Lama Zopa was teaching there, as part of the November course. I got to meet and sit with his wife Mary, as well as their American friend Jane, and a western nun. It made sitting in the back of the gompa during all but the first day of His Holiness’ teachings fun. Also, even though our views of His Holiness were mostly blocked by a column, we could see His Holiness’ right hand and part of his arm when he turned a page of the text he was referencing in front of him. There were also two large TV screens set up on either side of the main stage. I could see the TV screen to my left if I leaned a certain way.

Mary, Harry, and I in our seats towards the back of the gompa. Photo by Bill Kane.

View of the inside of the gompa, to the right just inside of the main door. I am in the far right edge of this photo, wearing a turquoise blue long sleeve shirt with my hair pulled back into a low ponytail at my neck, held with an orange colored hair tie. Photo by Bill Kane.

Laura found a spot in the gompa about 15 rows in front of me.
The video camera operators present inside of the teaching hall often panned the audience. Since I was not watching the TVs I cannot say if I or anyone I know appears in the archived video footage of the teachings, but it is possible. You can watch all of the footage from 2012 to present here.

We were served lunch prepared and served by the Ganden Jangtse monks inside of the teaching grounds, each day. The pots the monks use to prepare the food are approximately the size of some people’s hot tubs. Other monks then deliver the food from the kitchen to the devotees in their seats by carrying large silver buckets and ladles around the teaching grounds, and spooning food into the dishes the devotees brought with them to the teaching. It is so organized.

The food served is all vegetarian. His Holiness has said that Buddhists should be vegetarian, unless instructed to eat meat by your doctor to address health problems, or if you live in a part of the world where the cold climate makes it impossible to grow vegetables.

Dee, the other students from CKSL, and I ate our breakfast and dinner in the Central School for Tibetans – Mundgod boys' dormitory dining hall each day. The school had the boys’ cooks prepare meals for us, in keeping with the menu Dee had created in advance of the teachings. The young family also attended His Holiness’ teachings each day. The food they made for us was delicious, and they were so kind to us.

Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod boys' dormitory cooks.

Some of the Bangalore CKSL center members staying at the Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod, after dinner in the boys' dormitory.

The Central School for Tibetans – Mundgod was mostly empty while we were staying there for the teachings, but we always had the company of the dogs that live on campus. Three adult dogs and three puppies formed a family group that lived in the area around the basketball court, just outside of the boys' dormitory. The puppies were so skinny. I took to feeding them whenever I could. When I first met them, one of the white puppies didn’t want to get too close, but once they identified me as a friend who often had food, they would come towards me wagging their tails and leaping up each time they saw me. They were such sweet dogs.

Two of the three puppies that live outside of the boys' dormitory.

In exploring the rest of the large, overgrown campus grounds, I came upon a surprising number of other thin dogs. One dog was pregnant, and a dog that looked like her sister, who had obviously had her own litter at one time. It is so sad to see so many dogs like this, but at the same time I kept telling these dogs that they are lucky to be living in this beautiful rural location with children, and not on a city’s streets.

Dee and I would always pass dogs on our walks between the Central School for Tibetans – Mundgod campus and the teaching hall. Some looked better than others. There were two dogs that lived within a short distance of the teaching hall with patches of missing hair caused by skin conditions. Both dogs’ bodies constantly shake, as if they have had too much caffeine. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that, before so I am still unsure of the cause.

One of the two dogs, a female who we later learned is called Geshu, also always seems to be surrounded by tiny flying insects. She is affectionately cared for by a group of monks living nearby the teaching hall. The monks said she has been in this condition for perhaps a year.

In addition to finding the group of monks who treat Geshu with such tenderness, my efforts to help her introduced me to a young Tibetan woman who spent several days of the teachings standing next to a folding table set up on the main road to the teaching hall, where she and other young Tibetans were engaging people in conversations about freedom for Tibet. She expressed concern for Geshu, and followed up with me when she next saw me to see how the dog was doing. Some of the young men doing outreach at that corner were also happy to assist Dee and I with our search for Geshu. It was so kind.

Beginning with the dogs in Mundgod, I have begun to follow Lama Zopa’s advice on how to help suffering animals. Please send your thoughts to the dogs.

His Holiness wrapped up his teachings on December 28, one day earlier than anticipated. He then moved to the nearby Drepung Monastery to give a high level initiation. I did not attend the initiation. That afternoon Alona, Devraj, Jeffery, Ravi and I went to visit Attiveri Bird Sanctuary, located in rural Mundgod, about a 40 minute drive from the Central Tibetan School – Mundgod campus.

Ravi drove us in his car. We traveled along Mundgod’s unpaved back roads, passing between rural villages and agriculture fields to reach the sanctuary. 

The road just outside of a Central School for Tibetans - Mundgod campus gate.

We didn’t know much about the sanctuary, but once we arrived we learned that it was visited by many birds - up to 79 species of birds from 22 countries each year.

Attiveri Bird Sanctuary main entrance.

We spent most of our time on a walkway that extends out into a reservoir, watching the birds nesting in trees that are half submerged in the reservoir’s waters.

Walkway out onto the reservoir.

Watching the carp swimming below the walkway.

Ravi loves bird watching. He learned from the sanctuary staff that sunset was the best time to be out on the reservoir. We stood and watched as approximately 15 Malabar Pied Hornbills flew across a gorgeous sunset sky, eventually landing on a tree half submerged by water to our right. Ravi exclaimed that it was the first time he had ever seen this species of bird. It made the whole trip worthwhile, to see how much he enjoyed seeing those birds. It also made me appreciate being able to see the Malabar Pied Hornbills, a species native to East India and Sri Lanka.

In addition to the Malabar Pied Hornbill, Ravi identified several other species for us – the Indian Spot-billed Duck, the Black-headed Ibis, and the Eurasian Spoonbill. We were very fortunate that he had brought an excellent pair of binoculars with him and shared them with us so that we could all enjoy seeing the birds.

Alona, Jeffery, Devraj, Ravi.

It was nearly dark by the time we departed the sanctuary for the Central School for Tibetans – Mundgod campus. We became slightly more delayed when we came across an accident on a narrow dirt road involving a farm vehicle. We were able to re-route ourselves thanks to Ravi’s GPS on his cell phone, and he and Devraj’s ability to communicate with the residents of the villages we drove through. There were no street signs, and few street lights in this part of Mundgod. I was delighted to be able to drive through these rural communities at night, getting glimpses into the beautiful, small, brightly colored single story homes we passed along our route.

The next day, our last in India, we missed the opportunity to stand on the roadside and wave goodbye as His Holiness departed Mundgod. But that was OK – Dee and I had seen him on Christmas morning. Dee and I had gone out to the road early on Christmas morning, hoping to see him drive by us on his way to a short event in Hubli. We were on the side of the main, two lane road that leads from near the Central Tibetan School – Mundgod campus to Ganden Jangtse Monastery when we saw his caravan of vehicles coming towards us. There were two young monks about ten feet further down the road, but other than the four of us, there was not another person or vehicle in sight. I was looking down at my khata, preparing to see him. I thought he would be in a later car, but he passed us earlier than I had anticipated. So I missed this, but Dee watched as His Holiness drove by us, looked at us, smiled, and waved right at us. Yep, that happened on Christmas morning. I then looked over at the two monks nearby, to share the moment. They were smiling hugely, and gestured at us, indicating that they, too had seen His Holiness wave at us. The four of us stood there for another moment, each person lost in their own joy. I remember looking around at the quiet, dusty road and green fields on the opposite side, in wonder at how I came to be standing here, sharing a moment with His Holiness. As I reflect on this now, several weeks later, I am still in wonder.

After missing His Holiness' departure from town on the morning of December 30, Dee, Ravi and I just happened to be near H.E. Ling Rinpoche’s house, doing some last minute shopping when H.E. Ling Rinpoche was just returning home. Ravi and I watched as H.E. Ling Rinpoche was driven up to his house, and stepped out to go inside. His two dogs - a mother and a son - came over to greet us.

H.E. Ling Rinpoche's dogs.

Later that afternoon Ravi kindly squeezed Jeffery, Dee and I (plus our luggage) into his car, along with Jamyang, a Tibetan whose friend is involved with CKSL in Bangalore, for the eight hour drive back to Bangalore. The drive out of Mundgod was also beautiful. The landscape is lush and tropical, with coconut trees commonly growing along the roadside. 

Passing through a village on the way out of Mundgod.

A little further out from Mundgod, on the road back to Bangalore.

Beautiful rural Indian state of Karnataka.

Mundgod and the area outside of Mundgod were beautiful.

Even though we were all tired, we still managed to have a good time. It was the perfect way to end the six day teaching with His Holiness.



Me, Jamyang, Dee, Jeffery.


I am now back in Bangalore, visiting friends Sowmya and Maddie who run the nonprofit Prafull Oorja, and spending more time with Lama Zopa who has been at CKSL in Bangalore. I will write a post about my stay in Bangalore before I leave for Bombay/Mumbai on a thus-far unspecified date. Thanks for reading through to the end of this particularly long post:)