Meet My Lama. He’s from Long Island.

Being a contrarian. I didn’t think I’d ever have a guru. But with less than five months to go to my 70th birthday, I found a spiritual home with Lama Surya Das and the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Emaho! (Ain’t it great!)

In the book Radical Compassion, lineage holder Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche describes a guru or teacher as a “spiritual friend”:

…a person with whom you can have a relationship as a friend rather than as an authority figure, boss, or CEO of your organization. You can discuss your practice and share your experiences on the path with your friend, and he or she can give you practical advice, guidance, and support for your journey. We need to understand this, because frankly we’re missing this element today in many of our Tibetan Buddhist organizations. Especially in the West, we need to go back to the original root meaning of “spiritual friend” and bring about that quality.

I respect Lama Surya’s intellect, compassion and accomplishments, but I also feel as though he is my spiritual friend, even though we have not spent much time together and his time is very limited. I love him like a spiritual brother.

Lama SuryaNow, Lama Surya is not everyone’s cup of herbal tea. In fact, I suspect that he doesn’t drink much herbal tea. Despite decades in ashrams, monasteries, temples and other holy places in Asia and France, he still sounds as though he never left the Jewish neighborhood of Long Island (what you might call the Brooklyn suburbs) where he grew up.

Although I usually avoid stereotypes, I realize that Lama Surya has those “New York Jewish” characteristics of speech that set some people’s teeth on edge. As someone who grew up in a Jewish family in a Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia, followed by 20 years in New York, I share many of them.

Lama Surya talks fast (an ability I lost as my brain cells aged). We don’t wait the polite second or two after someone else speaks before jumping in. In fact, we sometimes interrupt. We can be blunt and direct. And we have a merciless sense of humor, although again Lama Surya’s brain cells seem to have aged better than mine.

I’ve been planning to do an interview with Lama Surya to post here to help my readers decide if they’d like to read his books and attend his retreats. A good book to start with is Awakening the Buddha Within, and you might want to join me at the summer retreat in New York State July 16-23. In the meantime, I found the video I’ve inserted below with the best interview I’ve seen bringing out the qualities I love in Lama Surya.

The host is Rick Archer, who does “Buddha at the Gas Pump” interviews focusing on the ordinary in enlightenment. When you can spare an hour and 20 minutes, check it out and consider joining me for a cup of herbal or non-herbal tea, served with compassion and awakening and a good dose of Lama Surya, in July.

— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)

Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine


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