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Lessons from the Heart
Lama Surya Das

Lama Surya Das, the most highly trained American Lama or Tibetan High Priest, makes his home outside Boston. For nearly thirty years, he followed the great spiritual masters, studying and training in Buddhist monasteries in India, Nepal and France. Now an advisor to the Dalai Lama, and a revered high priest of Tibetan Buddhism, he has written the book, Awakening the Buddha Within, which advocates a Westernized form of Buddhism. Surya Das believes that we are all Buddhas by nature. In his book he explains, "The problem is that most of us are sleeping Buddhas. To reach enlightenment, our only task is to awaken to who and what we really are -- and in doing so become fully awake and conscious in the most profound sense of the word." Through meditation and other techniques, Surya Das believes we can achieve nirvana in a matter of years, not lifetimes, a core teaching considered radical by some Buddhists. "Nirvana is now," he told the Boston Globe, "and you can find it in your own backyards."

Body & Soul series creator Gail Harris, spoke with Lama Surya Das, after his Tibetan Yoga workshop in Cambridge, MA. Following are some excerpts from their conversation.

Gail Harris: You weren't always a Lama…You grew up as Jeffrey Miller, on Long Island.

Surya Das: Yes, I'm still Jeffrey Miller. I was a three-letter jock in high school, and went to college in New York and when I graduated, I went to India, and I sort of never came back.

GH: What did you find there?

SD: What I was looking for… peace of mind. God. A way of life that I could love. I found myself, let's say, spiritually speaking.

GH: Is that the only way to do it?

SD: Absolutely the only way for me.

GH: How about for everyone else? Because I think one of the things that people grapple with, is that many people would like to be kinder and gentler and have great relationships and all of that, but they think that what's required is that they have to go to India and study for 25 years as you have, and that's not necessarily the case.

SD: No that's not the message…. I think the dharma spiritual message today is that -- it's here. You don't have to make a long journey. It's an inner journey and of course travel broadens the mind and pilgrimage will nourish the soul. But it's something we need to do in our life, wherever we are, beginning with today. Beginning with our relations with each other and with the natural world and the environment and with that which is beyond any of us, but in each of us. And that's right here and now. We don't have to go to Asia or the Middle East or to any holy land in order to find it.

GH: How does the average stressed-out person, who's already saying, "Okay, that's nice but I'm doing well to get myself to work in the morning… How am I going to find time to do that?"

SD: We could do it during the day, five, ten fifteen minutes during a lunch hour or break or while we're commuting, instead of killing time with junk reading on the bus or the train or whatever. We could be reading things that are nourishing. We could be meditating, praying, studying, writing in our journal. Working on ourselves.

So as we say in Tibet, many quickies rather than a few longies. Have moments of mindfulness throughout the day. My own partner prays while she swims every morning. So wherever the spirit finds you, that's the place to do it. We don't necessarily have to spend an hour or half hour every morning doing formal religious practice to find time for it throughout the day.

The problem is we're usually elsewhere. We're distracted. We're wandering around in the past or in future fantasies. What we seek by any name is right here. It's right under our noses, but we usually overlook it. It's so close we don't notice it… and all of these things point again and again, back to reality, to truth, to love, and to the sacred if you like, within each moment, within each being. Not to be overlooked. Never to be hoped for later or elsewhere. But right now, here and now, as always.

GH: If there were one tenet of Buddhism that you would like people who might not otherwise encounter it, to know, to keep or remember, what would it be?

SD: To be happy and lighten up, as well as enlightening up. We could talk about mindfulness, we could talk about love. We can talk about compassion, but I say that all of this is built into being happy, relaxing a little. Not taking ourselves so seriously.

GH: In other words, "Be happy now."

SD: Be happy now. Why wait?

Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

Program Description
Time of the Soul
Lama Surya Das
Help Yourself
Tell Me More

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