MF 37 – Awakening from the Illusion of Separation with Lama Surya Das

Lama Surya Das is one of the foremost Western Buddhist meditation teachers and scholars, one of the main interpreters of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, and a leading spokesperson for the emerging American Buddhism. The Dalai Lama affectionately calls him “The Western Lama.”

Lama Surya Das Surya has spent over forty five years studying Zen, vipassana, yoga, and Tibetan Buddhism with the great masters of Asia, including the Dalai Lama’s own teachers, and has twice completed the traditional three year meditation cloistered retreat at his teacher’s Tibetan monastery. He is an authorized lama and lineage holder in the Nyingmapa School of Tibetan Buddhism, and a close personal disciple of the leading grand lamas of that tradition. He is the founder of the Dzogchen Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its branch centers around the country, including the retreat center Dzogchen Osel Ling outside Austin, Texas, where he conducts long training retreats and Advanced Dzogchen retreats. Over the years, Surya has brought many Tibetan lamas to this country to teach and start centers and retreats. As founder of the Western Buddhist Teachers Network with the Dalai Lama, he regularly helps organize its international Buddhist Teachers Conferences. He is also active in interfaith dialogue and charitable projects in the Third World. In recent years, Lama Surya has turned his efforts and focus towards youth and contemplative education initiatives, what he calls “True higher education and wisdom for life training.”

Lama Surya Das is a sought after speaker and lecturer, teaching and conducting meditation retreats and workshops around the world. He is a published author, translator, chant master (see Chants to Awaken the Buddhist Heart CD, with Stephen Halpern), and a regular blog contributor at The Huffington Post, as well as his own blog site where he shares his thoughts and answers questions from the public each week.

Surya Das has been featured in numerous publications and major media, including ABC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, New York Post, Long Island Newsday, Long Island Business Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, The Jewish Free Press, New Age Journal, Tricycle Magazine, Yoga Journal, The Oregonian, Science of Mind, and has been the subject of a seven minute magazine story on CNN. One segment of the ABC-TV sitcom Dharma & Greg was based on his life (“Leonard’s Return”). Surya has appeared on Politically Correct with Bill Maher, and twice on The Colbert Report (see links below).

Surya is the author of thirteen books, the latest: Make Me One With Everything: Buddhist Meditations to Awaken from the Illusion of Separation (May 2015) See the rest of the book titles and links in the Resources section at the bottom of this page.

Lama Surya Das resides in Concord, Massachusetts.

Interview Transcript

(This is a summary transcript, please listen to the episode to enjoy the full conversation)

Maybe you could start us off with a guided mini-meditation? (I usually do a short mini-meditation before all interviews)

Maybe we’ll just keep silent for the whole 45 minutes! (laughing)

Yes, let’s have a little instant meditation, very American. Friends, Meditate as fast as you can (laughing)!

  1. Breathe in first, and say “Ahhhhhh” 3 times, the seed-syllable of Dzogchen, Tibetan Meditation. And enjoy a moment of mindfulness and contemplative sweetness, of just being. Getting of the threat-mill of events, and momentum of our conditioning and drivenness, and just breathing, just sitting, just being.

Present attentive. Lucidly aware.

Mindful, rather than mindlessly sleepwalking through life.

Just sitting, natural body is Buddha’s body.

Let it be, relaxed and at ease.

2. Just breathing, natural breath is letting go, letting if flow.

Awaring…Awareness is a verb.

Aware of physical sensations in the body.

Mindfulness of breathing,

3. Aware of awareness itself. Aware of thoughts, memories, moods, not trying to suppress them.

Mindfulness of thoughts is meditation. Not trying not to think.

Incandescent presence. Choice-less awareness. Nowness awareness is the true Buddha within.

Letting everything come and go, letting be, as it is.

Aware open, friendly accepting.

And enjoy the joy of natural meditation.

This breath as if the only breath, this moment as if the only moment. Enjoy the joy of naturalness, of genuine meditation.


Tibetan chanting follows…

“May all beings be happy, peaceful, in harmony, fulfilled and serene.

Healed and whole again.

And may we all together fulfill the promise of this spiritual journey.

One family, one sangha community, One world.

All beings, love to one and all.

And I bow to the Buddha in your seat, don’t overlook her. “

I like that, as a substitute for God Bless America some times. 

Yes, that’s what I say, “God Bless Everyone”. Let’s be a blessing in the world, a light, rather than a blight on the landscape. The world needs it.

Thank you..

That was a little natural meditation. You can find these in my books, which are like work books full of practices you can do.

Like breathe, relax, center and smile. 4 steps to instant meditation. Not that complicated. There’s 2600 years of ethics, practices, wisdom, and meditations behind all that.

3 pillars of natural meditations behind it. Just sitting, just breathing, just being aware. These are great practices for today. Secular, non-sectarian, no beliefs or conversions needed.

How did you get on a a path of meditation?

I grew up in the 50’s and sixties, and went to college in New York at the university of New York, university of Buffalo. And his best high school friend, Allison Krause, was shot and killed in may of 1970, along with 3 other students, she was 19. It was a big tragedy. She was running away from the  part-time soldiers, the Ohio national guard. Who shot the students who were demonstrating the secret bombings of Cambodia and Vietnam by Nixon and Kissinger during the Vietnam war era.

That turned his head around about fighting for peace, and the radical anti-war movement. Lama Surya Das wanted to be for something positive. To make peace, become peace, be a peacemaker in the world. Rather than fighting for peace. Which became increasingly a contradiction in terms.

Like today we have suicide bombers, killing in the name of God. I don’t think that is exactly what God has in mind for us. Nothing new about this fanaticism, it’s been going for millennia and centuries. It’s part of our human society, we have to deal with it.

I went to India after graduation from college 1971, went to Zen retreats, meditation, encounter groups, legal and otherwise consciousness research. Hitchhiked across Europe, and middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, India, etc. Went to his first Vipassana course, insight meditation course.

That was in August 1971, with people like Sharon Salzberg, Daniel Coleman, and many of our current mindfulness teachers in America. Then met his first Tibetan teachers, Lamas. His first Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba, who gave him his name Surya Das.

Surya Das was there throughout the 70’s and 80’s.  Became a Buddhist monk, went to tibetan buddhist training for lamas. Did that twice in the 80’s, learned Tibetan. Was then invited to teach by some of the Vipassana teachers in America. Taught these teachers Dzogchen. His lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, starting in 1989.

By the 90’s started to write books and teach in Europe and America, started Dzogchen centers in America. That’s what he does, teaching, writing, and social activism. Spiritual service, or activism. Make a positive difference in the world. Be a Bodhisattva, an edifier, an awakener. A light in this world.

Now as he gets older, a spiritual elder. A role we sorely need today. Young folks don’t necessarily want authorities, religious leaders. Or trust political leaders. And yet..

We’re all thirsty for for this timeless wisdom, self knowledge, inner teacher, inner peace, outer harmony. How to heal the planet and climate issues. Not very esoteric. Everyone is interested in this today.

I did read in your book, you read a line as a teen, that “the whole universe is my body, all beings are my mind”.  At that time you may not have realized it very deeply, but you were attracted to it right?

Of course, when I was in college, I was a Woodstock. Everyone he knew went to Woodstock. He read books like Aldous Huxley’s Perennial philosophy, Tibetan book of the Dead, Carlos Castaneda’s Yaqui way of knowledge, about his teacher Don Juan.

So he read that, but had no idea, was a kid, a jock, not interested in religion. Had no idea, just studied philosophy in college. He was into psychology, political science, creative writing. So now even now when I look at those notebooks from that day that I wrote down. Maybe I remember some of that. It’s amazing how much was there, and how little I understood about it when I was a kid.

Hormone driven, anti-counter-cultural, Vietnam era. But then it all starts to come back as you open your third eye. When he came back from India, even in the bible, of course humanism, of course Judaism and Christianity, there’s was plenty in there. But growing up, we weren’t that interested in it. Nobody taught us really how to meditate or pray to bring that into our bodies or into our lives.

It was more like oh on Sunday, where you listen to an old person give a boring sermon while reading a book in your lap about a totally different subject.

Right, I was the same way..

That’s what we did. I’m Jewish on my parents side, I was Bar Mitzvah, went to Hebrew school.  There was nothing of interest for me. When he asked all his millions of questions, they would say, “Sheket! “, translated quiet little monkey! Shhh, Shh. OK, I’ll try..

When he landed in India, he went to the meditation course, 10 day mindfulness course, silent for 10 days with S.N. Goenka. Not many questions. Teacher gave one hour talk everyday. Which the insight school is carrying on these days in America. Tara Brach, Jon Kabat Zinn is an offshoot of that. Terrific mindfulness training.

When he was with his first lama grand old masters of Tibet Kalu Rinpoche, he was Dalai Lama’s teacher of the 6 Tibetan Tantric Yogas. He used to pepper him a lot with questions, he had a lot more work and teaching, refuge camps, building schools and infirmaries.

So when Surya Das asked him, is it OK if I ask you all these questions? He said, “Ask me all of your questions, then one day you too will know.”

That was very empowering. Quite different then my, “religious upbringing”. He also gave me practices, self inquiry, ways of thinking, basic Buddhist philosophy and psychology. How to meditate and look into his mind, his feelings. Ways of looking into relationships, ethics and moral precepts. How to develop virtues, like generosity and patience.  Not just believe in them.

Oh Jesus could love the enemy, well I don’t know how? But he taught us how!

To exchange self for others, called Tibetan Tonglen practices. Put yourself in the other’s shoes, equalizing yourself and others. And mindfulness and awareness practices.

I encourage people to question, seek, inquire. Find out for yourself, don’t just belief everything on blind faith. Of course most of us won’t, since many of us are Americans.

Do you think we have to journey into separateness, into a sense of self and other, so we can fully appreciate non-separateness?

Yes. That’s really the universal pageant. It’s a little hard to talk about, so let me talk in English.

God created the world because he/she was lonely. Likes a good story. That is one amusing way of looking at it.

The whole journey back to the Garden of Eden, or oneness or God or beyond separation. First you have to be separate to experience Union, otherwise you have no perspective. 

Like the poet, mystic Saint Kabir of India said, “The fish doesn’t know the sea that there in. ”

“I laugh when I hear that the fish in the water is thirsty.

You don’t grasp the fact that what is most alive of all is inside your own house;
and you walk from one holy city to the next with a confused look!

Kabir will tell you the truth: go wherever you like, to Calcutta or Tibet;
if you can’t find where your soul is hidden,
for you the world will never be real!”
― Kabir

The bubble has to burst to return to the sea, but it has never been apart.

So we’re conceived and we cut the umbilical cord and become separate, and grow up and individuate and become independent. These are healthy stages of development. But then we also have to have a healthy ego, not be an egotistical bastard.

And then, start to recognize interdependence and interconnection. And have autonomy within interdependence, not just be independent like a teenager wants.

Find autonomy and freedom within interdependence. Recognize that we’re not separate, that we’re all interconnected.

As we see in the global level today, with the global economy, environment, ozone layer, rising seas. We’re all connected, we can’t just worry about what’s going on in our village in our own country anymore. And not worry about the bigger issues.

And also individually, nobody can do it alone today. It’s not the age of isolationism of specialists anymore.

Belief me, I’ve tried as a Tibetan monk in monasteries for 8 or 9 years.

We need each other, to develop compassion, empathy, loving-kindness Not just wisdom from the far head up.

The whole journey is about coming home to oneness or ourselves. The subtitle of my book, make me one with everything, is “Buddhist meditations to awaken from the illusion of separation”.

So we have to experience separation in order to come back, just like with love. You can’t know love unless we feel a little separate. Then we can experience the oneness and the union of being one and together, as we come together and apart in a healthy relationship dance.

When you became a monk for those 8 years when you still thought that it was a separate journey, was there a point that you realized that you perspective was shifting from that sense of separate individual journey to we’re part of a larger whole. 

Well it was very gradual in the sense that growing up I was always on sports teams, stayed in one neighborhood, being with my buddies. That was great, and then also in college, and later, a little bit more inner, with hallucinogens, started to write poetry, creatively, songs, develop my inner. That was a little more of the separate. Self growth, self development. Although still with friends, women.

My teachers in India, Nepal, Tibet, even in Japan where Lama Das studied Zen and teaching English. Mostly monks or monastic style, they wanted us to become monks and nuns. Like the Kalu Rinpoche started the first 3 year western training in the west. But I never believed I’d be a monk my own life. I wanted to come back to my own culture. And place and time  and make a difference. Not be an ex-pat in foreign country. It’s different if you’re part of the scene there, like you as a Dutch person married here in America.

But in India it was more separate, like sahibs and memsabs. Like the British invaders. I wanted to go back to my own time and culture, and starting teaching counseling, writing, and organizing, social activism.

As a monk that is very hard to imagine continuing to do that. I didn’t intend to stay a monk forever. As a monk, it gets really complicated. Not being able to do many things. It’s not my vocation anyway. I’m more of a people person, Bhakti, as they say in India. A lover of life, people and of God. God in people, God in nature, God in animals.

So when the 3 year retreats were over after 8/9 years, I gave up my robes.

My message is if I can do it, you can do it, everyone can do it. I’m not different, I’m not the Dalai Lama, I don’t want anyone to idealize me. Just a Jewish jock from Long Island. Like a player coach, let’s do these practices together. It’s a wonderful joyous spiritual path. 

I love this journey of kindred spirits together. I love the beloved community, the Sangha, the Satsang. So gradually I got used to this idea. Starting to see, this is not the time, it’s never the time for selfishness. But self-growth, isolationism, and closing my eyes, and going inward, and being silent for years.

This is the era for integration, collaboration, of the 99% occupying the spirit. Not just the 1% percent waiting for the Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa to do it. 

This is very important, so that is why I wrote this book about co-meditation, inter-meditation, awakening together.

I could tell by the way you wrote it, you want to take the “me” out of Meditation. So you created the new word, inter-meditation. 

Yes from Me-ditation to We-ditation. Not just with people, but with nature, with animals, with the lake, trees, the sun, the sky, with the sound of the waves. And let them do it for you, wash over you and through you. Relax a little, be open, not just close our eyes, and try to get away from it all.

Be with it, not trying to get away from it. Be with it, be open, not against it. Be with it!

Loving kindness means friendliness and openness. And also be friendly and open to what comes up within us. To our own inner phenomena and noumena, the mental stuff, bodily feeling. Healthily integrating it all into our open heart and Big Mind.

It’s the Big Mindfulness. Re-Mindfulness, remembering through member what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Not just trying to getaway from it all or stop thinking.

To me the sense of integration, that you talk about, is we used to spend a lot of time developing or nurturing the little self, the ego, ignoring the big self. And now when the Big Self is in the foreground, and the little self is in service of the big self. At the same time we need to develop our own unique expression of the Big Self, which is non-repeatable, which has it’s own talents and skills that still need nurturing. Some might think they have to kill their ego, or toss it away. Because the world needs everyone to be there, authentic to show up. 

Authentic, effective, yes. Authentic is a hard word to define. But it’s so important. No need to kill anything or kill your ego. Anti-ego is just another crime. Egotism, “I’m the worst”, or “I’m worse than anybody else!”

I think Buddhist greatest teaching is the middle way. Not too much and not too little. Not ascetic and not indulgent. There’s a lot of room in between, it’s not a razor’s edge. There’s a lot of lanes in the great highway of authentic awakening.  And the awakened life. The mindful life. The beautiful loving true life that everyone deserves. Not in an entitled way, that everyone can have and participate in equally.

There’s a lot of lanes in this great highway of life, let’s just try to stay away from the ditches on either side. Nihilism, nothing matters. Vs Materialism, everything is as real as it seems. If we can’t weight it or see it, it’s not real. That’s materialism. Nihilism and materialism are extreme views, the ditches off the highway. Extreme views. Killing for God mentality.

There’s a lot of lanes in the great highway including the different religions, like humanism, and atheism. Atheists and Agnostics are some of the most spiritual people I know. There’s room for all.

Suicide bombings and genocide, not so much room in my mind for that. We have to deal with that for sure. It’s part of life. And the inequalities and injustices of life make the problem worse. So we have to make some systemic changes, not just change ourselves.

When I become clearer, everything becomes clearer. That’s Buddha’s basic premise. That’s why we meditate, concentrate, self-inquiry. But still we have to work on the outer level, as well as the inner level. 

It’s election year, an important time to step up, speak out, and vote. If you don’t vote, I don’t want to hear you complaining about what’s wrong with politics in Washington.

Being an informed citizen is a co-meditation in a way.

Participating. If you’re a parent you got to participate with the children, not just send them off to school, and hope someone else do the parenting. Stand up for them, going to the school, and being involved.

This is a time for integration, not getting away from it all.

Of course having said that, I got away from it all for a long time. I still lead silent meditation retreats year-round. You can see my schedule, see below in the resources. But I still talk a lot about integration and selfless service, seva.

Linking our hands, hearts and heads. We’re all in the same boat, we rise and fall, sink or swim together.

We got a lot more to do, with terrorism, school shootings, separation and alienation. 

Yes, it’s terrible. The education system in North America. But the gun problem is even more of a crisis than the education crisis. There’s some pretty entrenched lobbies around that issue. Maybe we need to implement more mindful anger management in law enforcement. So people can think before they respond. More mindful management amongst teachers and institutional leaders. And with children. But it’s coming.

Mindful anger management can go a long way to reducing the violence that is becoming so endemic to our society.

These school shootings and mass killings are becoming like a national characteristic. It’s infuriating. Doesn’t happen in Canada. In this country there’s more guns then people! Don’t know why.

Inner peace and outer peace and harmony have to go together. I’m all for it.

You mention in your book, there’s a massive movement towards mindfulness , but folks miss out on some of the spiritual benefits, if they only go for the more mindful this or that. Effectiveness training.

It’s probably always been this way, com-modifying. Different societies generalize the things they import, like Yoga, that came into the 50’s and 60’s. Now probably in the armed forces.

Yoga just for exercise and health is missing out on the real meaning of Yoga, which is Yoga as Union with the Oneness, God, the highness. Missing out on the spiritual dimensions. The 8 limb yoga. Not just physical yoga.

Similarly meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness for effectiveness, mindfulness for relaxation, for stress relief is terrific. But mindfulness is also part of the Buddhist path of awakening. Brings enlightenment, brings other benefits. Brings wisdom development, less selfishness, more openness. Wouldn’t want us to lose out on those aspects.

If prayer would be only for what you want, like kids petitioning Santa. It would be a big loss.

If mindfulness becomes only about us getting what we want, like feeling a little better, getting a bigger high, reducing blood pressure and stress. It would be a loss from the point of view of wisdom cultivation and development.

Awareness, self-knowledge development, attitude transformation, and so on. Other aspects of mindfulness. When Surya Das teaches, he also teaches about 6 kinds of mindfulness. It’s a very rich subject.

It’s also about soulfulness and heartfulness. Not just about the mind. That’s very American, we love the mind and thoughts. We’re think-aholics! Addicted to thinking. 

But there’s life without thinking! Sometimes we’re having an experience and we’re still there, but not thinking. Like in the throws of ecstatic love making, or other situation, extreme exercise, or lucid dreaming.

Thoughts are a good servant, but a poor master. We’re too much under it’s power. Which is why I stress awareness.

I really appreciate my uncle who was a priest at the time. We were on a boat, about to go under a bridge, and I was standing on the boat about to get my head sliced off. He swore the most highest profanities at the time to get me to immediately bend down, or my head was about to get sliced off. That response was very appropriate!

Yes, you can’t legislate that. We call that wrathful compassion, not anger. He saved your life by cursing at the top of his lungs. If your children run into the street, you scream. You don’t just tiptoe, mindfully, silently toward the street to save them. That would be insane.

Spiritual life practice make us more sane, not insane. 

Meditation is a good friend with benefits.

I wouldn’t want it to be just mindfulness for effectiveness or yoga for health.

And that does require a balance between taking the practice seriously, but holding it lightly..another balance you gotta learn over time. 

Life aint much fun if we’re taking ourselves to seriously. That’s one of the downsides of religion today. It’s become so intimidating, so sectarian. I believe we need to really work to transform the atmosphere of spirituality. Apply it to daily life in many different ways, like mindful anger management, health and stress reduction is all good.

We need to lighten up, as well as enlighten up.

Joy is one of the four boundless virtues of Buddhist practice. Also joy in the good fortune of others, rejoicing. Joy is an important virtue to cultivate. Not just thinking this world sucks, waiting for the next world. 

And your book title, “Make me one with everything”, maybe you can mention this joke.

Here’s the joke! BTW, I’m proud that, “Serious Das” (his wife used to call him that when he got too serious about his practice) has the only book title that I know of, in which the title is the punch line of a joke.

So you probably don’t know what the Dalai said to the hot-dog vendor?

The Dalai Lama walked up to the hot dog vendor and said, “Make me One with Everything!”

But there’s more! So then the vendor starts making the hot-dog, the sweet relish, the crappy onions, bean sprouts, mustard, ketchup, etc.

Then the vendor hands over the hot-dog to the Dalai Lama, and then the Dalai Lama hands over the 10 dollar bill. Then there’s a pregnant pause, a silence, are they meditating? Staring contest? What’s going on? Misunderstanding?

The Dalai Lama then finally gives in, speaks first, “What no change?”

The hot dog vendor responds, “Change must come from within”….:-)

Lightening up, while enlightening up. Not taking ourselves too seriously, and also cultivating the joy. Life is a miracle, we didn’t create it. Everyday we get up is a good day, we’re not dead. We all know folks who are younger and have died or dread diagnosis. In parts of the world where people are in slavery, poverty, wars, famines all the time, or most of the time. etc.

The beautiful nature around us, the freedoms we have in this great country. Increasingly diverse.  Religious freedoms, freedom of speech and so on. Let me add, especially if you’re a white person.

I practice this kind of reverence and gratitude everyday. That makes my heart more joyful. I’m more resilient. Less brittle, less fearful, less cautious. More free and spontaneous. I can give and take. I can breathe in and out. Co-meditate with the difficulties, as well as with the people I like. Have much more resilience, forbearance and tolerance. Joyous, it’s a buoyant awakening.

And the meditation practice is what helps you with these benefits like resilience..

Yes, I’ve been meditating since 19791, when I did that first mindfulness course. Like that American expression, don’t leave home without it. I take it with me everyday, wherever I go.

Sometimes twice a day, sometimes in retreats all day. Sometimes I take part of the Sabbath off to take some time off to meditate. Meditate pray chant. Walking meditation, natural meditation, or sky gazing, lie down, dissolving into the sky, or co-meditation with water. Walk outside without earbuds. Co-meditation helps us integrate, inter-meditate with everything, every moment, even if we’re in a busy place. 

It seems like the lack of appreciation is one of the reasons why there’s so much depression, why people have problems with the world. 

It’s the difference between seeing the half of glass that’s empty and the half that’s full. Or, if things are never good enough for you, if you’re a perfectionist. Or worse insatiable craving or addiction. How those things cycle. It’s hard to get out of it by more of the same things that you’re stuck in. You have to make a quantum leap. Not just a little adjustment.

I’m  not an alcoholic, I’ll just drink less. Well good luck to you if that works. From my understanding, the 12 step program at stopping totally, is the best and almost the only solution for alcoholics. I’m for the middle way, but sometimes you have to be all or nothing with certain things.

With the bad habits, afflictions, things like depression, or other pathologies, maybe we need some psychiatric help, or chemical intervention. Maybe we need to change our diet, or lifestyle. If we can’t change our ways of thinking.

Back to what I believe in is experiential practices. Not just converting to another religion, or converting to another political party, they’re so much the same. But doing the inner work, on oneself, and together. And asking for help, getting help from others who have more experience can be very helpful.

So meditation, self inquiry, support groups, therapy, Tai chi, yoga, or your favorite hobby. Maybe kneeling in the sun in your garden is your way of being closest to the One, rather than kneeling in the church where you have all kinds of other associations. Maybe some creative art is it for you. Authenticity, we have to be honest with ourselves, or imitate someone else’s way. If we’re truth seekers. Not fool ourselves, learn and apply. With our youngers, with our elders, with other species etc.

As a teacher what issues do you see your students struggle the most with?

I shouldn’t tell on them (laughing) from their private consultations, etc. It’s no secret, that westerners mostly struggle with mental stuff. Less so with poverty and disease that you see in other parts of the world. Like genocide, being refugees, or having your family members disappeared, kidnapped.

A lost of his students struggle with relationships. The search for love and wholeness. The feelings of incompleteness, feelings of loneliness and isolation. Meaninglessness, what’s it all about in life. Why bad things happen to good people. People with various cancers, ill children, parents, to take care of. These are things that people struggling with, and have always struggled with.

That’s why I’m thinking about co-meditation. The difficulty or challenge. Being with it not trying to get away from it. The “enemy”, like a disease. To be with it, breathe with it, learn to tolerate it, be more patient less resistant.

See through the illusion of separation, is a great antidote to all this mental suffering. 

You don’t just mean intellectual..

Breathing with it, tolerating. Like befriend anxiety, if you have difficult feelings. Not fighting it, thinking it has to go away. Or over-medicating it away. Like sweeping crap under the rug. Where it festers. Throwing radioactive waste into the ocean. So we don’t have to deal with it. Of course our children would have to deal with it. Breathing through physical pain. Moving your attention can move your world in a positive direction.

Recognizing the inter-connectedness, putting yourself in others shoes. If your “enemy”, “bad” boss, (bad is subjective) employee, neighbors, if you have a problematic relationship. If you put yourself in their shoes, you might see yourself very differently.

We might have been the Hitler youth, if we’d been brought up in Nazi Germany. With the boy scouts, everyone was in the Hitler youth. You have to say that these extremists from the middle east. I don’t know that I’d be a terrorist. But they’re very loyal to their parents, their schools, just like we were. They’re not that different. They have the universal commonality of human beings, we love our land, our children, etc. We gotta find some common ground. Doesn’t mean we have to have the same religion.

Look at our gridlocked separateness in our nation’s capital. The partisan politics. Nobody can get anything done. It’s a real problem if we can’t find a third or fourth way, and see through the illusion of separateness. And get to the greater common good.

We have to take relational actional steps, learning, inquiring steps.

This Tibetan practice about riding the breath is very helpful and important today. Breathing in the difficulty, with Tibetan Tonglen practice is very important. Equalizing self and other.

You mention the shootings, it’s about what we’ve been talking about. Why do people do it, it’s about feeling separate, excluded, meaningless, victimized, pushed out, no one will listen to me. I’m gonna make a statement, extreme statement, because I’m not heard. We need to address these issues.

And the spiritual practice and path is a timeless and evergreen path to addressing these big life questions. 

What further encouragement would you give someone listening who’s not fully committed or sure why they’re practicing?

Nobody fully understands it, I don’t pretend to fully understand. Life is a mystery.  We have to live it. It’s like love, who fully understands love? But some are better than others, they become good lovers, good loving people. Like Buddha or Christ like love. Buddha said only go where invited, and when people ask. You can’t push people. So if people ask, then I share the best that I can.

In general I don’t need people to be different then they are. If they’re interested and looking where I’m looking, then we can start to “co-meditate” together. Discuss, and practice together. I’m not that square that I think everyone should meditate. There are people who should not meditate, like extreme introverts. They might do better with a relational spiritual practice.  Being involved with others, like sing and dance and chant.

Tai chi was a big one for me when I was young. A martial art, not an us/them martial art, an internal martial art. 

Yes, that’s more like contemplation in action, it’s a very good competitive sports. They train kids in ethics, character, self empowerment, courage, I advocate that for sure. Also, as my wife used to say it’s un-american to sit quietly and do nothing. Tai Chi, Chi gong, yoga. Especially with the younger people. It’s a little late when kids are already in college, their habits are already entrenched. It’s hard to change.

Since I was in college I’ve been working in this self-growth and transformation biz. And it’s still hard to change!

But a little acceptance goes a long way to transform your relations, which is the point. Self-acceptance, other acceptance. radical acceptance. I love Tara Brach’s, Radical Acceptance book. Much recommended.

So there’s definitely a discernment where you can’t just shove down each person’s throat to meditate.

Yes, that’s aggressive. Only teach where asked, not intervene. Maybe you don’t really know better than them. People used to say, how can I get my family to go to church, eat vegetarian, do this or that, etc. How can I get them to do what I want them to do. That’s not my situation. What we’re talking about is a journey where you can easily be their travel agent. Not for everyone, inner travel.

So it’s important for everyone today to take a breath, and slow down, breathe, relax, center and smile. Have a moment of prayer, connect with yourself. Not always thinking or looking down the road into the future. Sit in the car and feel the feelings in your bud cheeks and in your hands, not just thinking about where you’re going to arrive.

More fully inhabit your body and mind, and spirit, energy and soul. And then see about authenticity, inquiring into about what you’re deceiving yourself about. Or denying, or “bad habits” that you always wanted to change, but never can.

This is all part of working on ourselves, very doable. Just wise and sane, and the world needs that.

The head is the office, the heart is the home.

Try to live from the heart. Be kind and compassionate to others. 

And then the method doesn’t matter, as long as you’re moving towards the heart. 

And it’s an infinite journey, so there’s no hurry. Hasten slowly, and you shall soon arrive as the Chinese proverb says.

Life moves fast, you must move slowly. 

That’s what this podcast for me is about to, I like to interview folks from very differing backgrounds. I have a more Zen background, I do believe that everyone has to find what works for them. As long as it makes them more loving and move towards non-separation, then whatever works for them. 

Right as long as it doesn’t intrude on others. We all have the right to be as eccentric as we want to be, if it fits. If the Nazis want to march, but they’re not to genocide.

We have to live by that, and also for ourselves. We have to respect others, and respect ourselves. We don’t want to fit into someone else’s mold. That’s imitation. Not just sit there like ice cubes in a tray, like in a Zen monastery. Everyone on a cushion, same position, at the same time.

If you’re a single mom with 3 kids, that’s probably not going to be your practice for the next 20 years. There’s got to be another way. There’s a million ways to worship and to reverence and to be beautiful in this world. All different kinds of flowers in “God’s Garden”. Not just one kind, just roses, not just lotuses. 

And a lot of gardeners. 

If you have a ending poem that helps people feel less separate. 

Let me chant out my millennium prayer that I wrote and said on the radio of Y2K.

May all beings everywhere, with whom we are inseparably interconnected

And who want and need the same as we do

May all be awakened, liberated, healed, fulfilled, and free

May there peace and harmony in this world, and an end to war, violence, injustice, poverty, and oppression.

And may we all together fulfill the promise of the spiritual journey.

All together now, one family, one sangha, one beloved community, all one.

In love, the heart of the matter.

And I bow to the Buddha in your seat, don’t overlook her.. friends.

Thank you.


Lama Surya Das Books 

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