His Holiness the Dalai Lama turns 80 today. Indian celebrity chef Vikas Khanna recalls the time he spent asking 80 questions to the iconic monk that have been featured in a rich tribute, Timeless Legacy: His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Q. You mention that you were in a difficult phase of your life when you met His Holiness. What change did the meeting mean to you?
A. It was one of the toughest times of my professional life. I had no success in two ventures and then I had an opportunity to work with chef Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares. We re-did Purnima, an Indian eatery, on the show and this became a cover story all over America in 2006. Then, within a few months of its glorious existence, it was closed down due to lease issues. I was at the lowest point in my life when I had to close the place that was close to my heart. As I was locking the door for the last time, my friend Tashi from Voices of Tibet called me to check if I would like to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama as he was visiting New York. My first reaction was “No”. Then I said “Yes,” and agreed to stop by for the lecture. We arrived at at Beacon Theatre and waited in line for His Holiness. He stepped in, with his humble presence and out of a crowd of thousands of New Yorkers, touched my forehead. I was a totally broken man at that time. His touch healed me and made me feel that I mattered.
Joking with members of a traditional Carinthian brass band which performed on his arrival in Klagenfurt, Austria. Pic courtesy/Tenzin Choejor, Bloomsbury India
Q. What made you take up this project?
A. For many following years, I stayed in close touch to HH the Dalai Lama’s presence. His touch of preserving culture through food and his vision of documenting cuisines inspired my book Return to the Rivers by Lake Isle Press, NY. The book got me nominated for the James Beard and IACP Awards. I was proud and very thankful. Later in life too, I had worked with him for my documentary series, Holy Kitchens, where he has narrated a part of the film (set for a 2016 release). When it was time to bring all this work of grace to the world, I thought of Timeless Legacy with Bloomsbury. It was timely, on his auspicious 80th birthday. I was humbled to sit with him for hours to ask questions, as I laughed and cried at the same time.
His Holiness with his birthday cake. pics courtesy/Tenzin Choejor
Q. Often, while one looks at a subject of work up close, new dimensions appear. While working on this book did you experience anything about the Dalai Lama and his teachings? Did you re-look at what you had already experienced?
A. Yes, too much. I had never thought of him as a common man; he is extraordinary. His teachings are immortal. It’s hard to tell your heart that you spent three hours with HH the Dalai Lama, The Peace Icon. I realised during our conversations that how emotional he got during some questions on motherhood, on time, and on bullying. He is so simple in his smiles and in his thoughts; this gets reflected in the 80 questions.
With Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, New Delhi
Q. He is an enigma. What was your experience when you met him finally? Is there a side to him that is unknown to those who haven’t met him?
A. Yes, there is a side of him that is totally unknown. It was a tough choice of questions. Some kids wanted me to ask questions like these: “Do you chew bubblegum?” or wanted to know, “Do you ride a bicycle?” or “Do you wear American jeans?” Even when he admitted that he did not know who Madonna is, he was so endearing with his answer. At no point did he say that it was a stupid question. A philosopher of his status answered every question with peace and intensity. It was unknown to me that he truly is the simplest man. His simplicity is his power and supremacy.
His Holiness greeting a young girl as he departs from John Oliver School in Vancouver, Canada
Q. Is he a foodie? Is he fond of cooking? If yes, could you tell us more about your interaction with him on this subject? What does he like to eat?
A. There was a question: “Would you like to cook with Vikas?” to which he answered, “I am a very bad cook; if you want me in your kitchen, it will be a problem. But I would love to learn more.”
His Holiness posing soon after the search party discovered him in 1939 in Kumbum, Amdo, Tibet.
His food habits are so real. He loves mangoes, hates spicy food, loves noodles, loves Indian vegetarian food and believes that it is the best cuisine in the world. He has also promised to cook with me at my restaurant Junoon, in New York, soon.
Sometimes we got very emotional during the conversation and I simply loved every moment of it.
Q. The book also talks about the importance he gives to food. Could you elaborate on it this thought?
A. He talks about sharing of food in a very spiritual context. The food prayers, the essence of being human and sharing food are some of our most important instincts.
Timeless Legacy His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Vikas Khanna, Bloomsbury India, Rs 999, releases today.
It’s reflective to see the simple monk behind so many voices.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Messages on Buddhism
The Purpose of Life
One great question underlies our experience, whether we think bout it consciously or not: What is the purpose of life? I have considered this question and would like to share my thoughts in the hope that they may be of direct, practical benefit to those who read them. I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. I don't know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth, face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.
A moment for reflection during a visit to St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria.
How to Achieve Happiness
For a start, it is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us. Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it. The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote our most serious efforts to bringing about mental peace. From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.
His Holiness with students who welcomed him to Somaiya School in Mumbai, India.
The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life.
As long as we live in this world we are bound to encounter problems. If, at such times, we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face difficulties. If, on the other hand, we remember that it is not just ourselves but every one who has to undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and capacity to overcome troubles. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind!
Thus, we can strive gradually to become more compassionate, that is, we can develop both genuine sympathy for others' suffering and the will to help remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength will increase.
Our Need for Love
Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others.
Inter-dependence, of course, is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life, but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness. The most subtle level of material phenomena is also governed by interdependence. All phenomena from the planet we inhabit to the oceans, clouds, forests and flowers that surround us, arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. Without their proper interaction, they dissolve and decay.
It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore, we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.
Excerpted with permission from Bloomsbury India