Sample from the Spring 2006 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
The Natural Great Perfection
An Interview with Lama Surya Das
Lama Surya Das has spent thirty five years studying Zen, Vipassana, Yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism with the great masters of Asia. His adaptation for westerners of the great Buddhist precepts and practices has made him a greatly loved and admired spiritual teacher. He shares, through his spiritual insights and humor, a prescription for going easefully yet deeply into the liberating practice of awareness.
Integral Yoga Magazine: You got involved in the “spiritual movement” of the ’60s and ’70s, at the same time as Ram Das and others. Tell us about that.
Lama Surya Das: I traveled to India and learned Kundalini Yoga from Swami Muktananda, Bhakti Yoga from Anandamayi Ma. Ram Das, Krishna Das I, and others stayed with Neem Karoli Baba at his ashram. He gave me my name Surya Das. I went to Rishikesh in the ’70s to Swami Sivananda’s ashram. There a disciple of Swami Satchidananda taught me Integral Yoga and he was my main Yoga teacher. Then, I went to Kalu Rinpoche and stayed in the Buddhist monastery. There were only a few lamas who taught westerners and spoke English. I spent three years at the monastery in the 1980s and received training as a Lama.
IYM: Why do you think westerners have become so interested in Yoga and Buddhism?
SD: Americans are interested in something different than what we got in Judaism and Christianity. TM became so popular because the emphasis was on practice–not on dogma, theory, monasticism. We want to import the dharma, not necessarily the “isms” and we don’t have to throw out the “isms” either. Yoga and meditation seem to be the active ingredients that people are interested in and they have become part of the American society. It’s the dharma and the liberating wisdom and what can heal us that is here to stay.
I am a Lama and am a bodhisattva but that doesn’t mean I’m not Jewish on my parents side or Hindu from my Yoga practice side. I like St. Francis as much as the next guy. We are a melting pot society. We’re not stuck with caste, a mate our parents chose for us as in some of the eastern cultures. That can make us fickle to do what many seekers do in “shopping for spiritual paths.” But, with freedom comes responsibility. We have to do a little shopping to get the what is right for us. Shopping can lead deeper to buying and using. If people sign on with the first enlightened Guru who comes to town, that might not fit them. Shopping and checking it out is good. Find what works for you. The faster we rush into a path the faster we fall out.
IYM: How does one choose a path or teacher?
SD: During a Buddhist teachers’ retreat, the Dalai Lama instructed us to check out Gurus for 12 years before signing on. But, what he meant by signing on was signing your life away–making a lifetime commitment to that path. Most people will take in a weekend and sign on. What happens is you go to a weekend program, you like the Guru, but the Guru goes away and what are you left with? You’re left with a group of co-neurotics to fight with! Americans are in a hurry. The good news about that is that things move faster so we have access to everything. The bad news is things move fast, and we can end up getting into things superficially–not going very deep. If you can microwave why learn to cook? After a while you find there is a lot more to nourishment…