Das, Lama Surya 1950-

views updated

DAS, Lama Surya 1950-

PERSONAL: Born Jeffrey Miller, December 26, 1950, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Harold (a certified public accountant) and Joyce (a teacher; maiden name, Rot-house) Miller; married Kathleen Peterson, May 12, 2001. Education: State University of New York at Buffalo, degree in creative education (summa cum laude), 1971; studied with spiritual teachers in India and Nepal, 1971-77; studied Zen and haiku, Kyoto, Japan, 1973-74; Vipassana meditation courses, beginning in the 1970s; completed two traditional lamatraining retreats at Nyingmapa Retreat Center, Dordogne, France, 1980-88. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Buddhist. Hobbies and other interests: Sports, poetry, dogs.

ADDRESSES: Office—Dzogchen Foundation, P.O. Box 400734, Cambridge, MA 02140. Agent—Susan Lee Cohen, Riverside Literary Agency, 1052 Weatherhead Hollow, Guilford, VT 05301. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: College English teacher, Kyoto, Japan, 1974-75; Karma Triyana Dharma Chakra monastery, Woodstock, NY, founder, 1977, director, 1977-80; Lama in Non-Sectarian Practice Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, 1988—. Meditation workshop and retreat teacher in Dzogchen, Vajrayana, and Mahayana Buddhism; charity worker with Tibetan refugee communities and Cambodian and Vietnamese boat people; organizer of Western Buddhist Teachers Network with the Dalai Lama, Dharamsala, India; founding board member of the Seva Foundation international health projects; Dzogchen Foundation, Cambridge, MA, founder and spiritual director, 1999—. Established Dzogchen Center and Meditation Gardens outside Austin, TX, 2002—. Talks by Lama Surya Das have been recorded on audio cassettes and released by the Dzogchen Foundation.

MEMBER: International Padmakara Translation Committee, Western Buddhist Teachers Network (president, 1993-99), SEVA Service Foundation (board member, 1978-80), Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS: Short poetry award, Library of Congress; First Buddhist Web site award; Spiritual Broadcaster Service award, Inner Dimensions Radio Foundation, Infinity Foundation Spirituality Award.


The Snow Lion's Turquoise Mane: Wisdom Tales from Tibet, HarperSanFrancisco (San Francisco, CA), 1992.

(With Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche, and translator) Natural Great Perfection: Dzogchen Teachings and Vajra Songs, Snow Lion Publications (Ithaca, NY), 1995.

Dancing with Life: Dzogchen View, Meditation, and Action, Dzogchen Foundation (Cambridge, MA), 1996.

Awakening the Buddha Within: Eight Steps to Enlightenment, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Awakening to the Sacred: Creating a Spiritual Life from Scratch, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Awakening the Buddhist Heart: Integrating Love,Meaning and Connection into Every Part of Your Life, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be: Lessons on Change, Loss, and Spiritual Transformation, Broadway-Doubleday (New York, NY), 2002.

Also author of The Facts of Life from a Buddhist Perspective; author of "Ask the Lama" Web column, www.wurya.org. Appears on sound recording Chants to Awaken the Buddhist Heart, Inner Peace Music (Ashland, OR), 2001. Translator, editor, and publisher of Buddhist works. Contributor of articles and poetry to periodicals.

WORK IN PROGRESS: New Dharma Talks: Buddhism for Today and Tomorrow.

SIDELIGHTS: Lama Surya Das, an American-born lama (Tibetan Buddhist priest and teacher) and meditation master, is a well-known spiritualist. The author/teacher described by Boston Herald writer Christopher Cox as a "nice Jewish boy named Jeffrey Miller who lettered in three sports at Valley Stream Central High and bar mitzvahed at Temple Gates of Zion" found his spiritual calling in college. That's when the young man's good friend, Allison Krause, was one of four Kent State University students shot to death by the Ohio National Guard during a 1970 antiwar demonstration. As Surya Das put it in an interview with Guy Spiro, "Another kid I knew, Jeffery Miller, my namesake from Long Island, was shot and killed that day." Miller finished his American education at the State University of New York, then traveled to Asia—looking "to find peace and become peace," as he told Spiro in Monthly Aspectarian.

Miller trained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk for ten years, earning his Sanskrit name (which means "servant of the sun") and eventually becoming a lama; after that Surya Das entered into the first of two meditative cloistered periods, a "three-year, three-month retreat that is a formal Lama training," as he noted to Spiro. Buddhism, he told Cox, "is not so much a religion as an ethical, psychological philosophy of awakening. There's no dogma, no theology, no God, no fixed rules. It's much more a way of life."

Returning to the United States, Surya Das sought to share that way of life through his writings and teachings. He established the Dzogchen Foundation, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he teaches meditation; according to the Ann Online Web site, Surya Das says he conducts "two dozen retreats in ten different countries" each year. He also began to publish books. In the preface to his bestselling and widely translated Awakening the Buddha Within: Eight Steps to Enlightenment, Surya Das states that he seeks to make Buddhism's Eightfold Path to enlightenment available to American readers by offering "an essential, Western Buddhism: pragmatic, effective, and experiential, rather than theoretical or doctrinal." In addition to explaining Buddhist concepts, the book lays out meditation exercises for readers to follow as they undertake the "heroic journey" along the Eightfold Path. A contributor to Publishers Weekly praised the book's "elegantly written short essays," presented in an approachable manner for both beginning and advanced Buddhist practitioners.

In a 1999 volume, Awakening to the Sacred: Creating a Spiritual Life from Scratch, Surya Das, according to Booklist's Donna Seaman, combines tradition from the East and the West to "[guide] readers toward an understanding of what a spiritual practice consists of and how to establish one that meets their personal needs." Indeed, the author does not downplay his American cultural upbringing, referring to himself as a "player-coach" in the guide to enlightenment, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer; the critic added that Surya Das provides an "affable, conversational tour of spiritual ideas." One aspect of traditional Buddhist practice, meditation, is discussed in the book. Surya Das maintains that mediation does not necessarily entail sitting for hours on end. "That's just one way and may not even be the best way," he told Spiro. "I like to jokingly say that sitting so long and solemnly is positively un-American. Chanting and walking meditation and eating meditation and yoga meditation and things like gardening and ocean-gazing and star-gazing can be meditation." "While flexibility is the hallmark of Buddhism," commented Cox, "the lama acknowledges the dangers of cafeteria-style dilettantism. However, he says, 'the upside is we can find out what works for us and have a tailor-made spiritual life . . . not just a one-size-fits-all curriculum that we inherit.'"

Surya Das's philosophy embraces self-discovery. "If you can't love yourself, how can you love and respect others?" as he put it in a 2001 Share Guide interview with Dennis Hughes. "We have to learn not just mentally but physically, such as with yoga. And we have to learn emotionally through attitude transformation or therapy or other kinds of spiritual work to see through our self-illusions and our limited self-concepts and find out who we truly are through self-inquiry and introspection. This can help us a lot."

"At heart I am a poet, and write poems almost daily," Surya Das told CA. "Haiku and mystic poetry deeply influenced me in my formative years, and during my year in Kyoto, Japan, during the seventies. Dreams, mediation experiences, insights, visions and nature are all important to my work. My mission is to further the transmission of authentic transformative spiritual practices here in America today, and to help awaken the atmosphere of contemporary spirituality. I have discovered that it is all within, innate in each of us. What we seek, we are."



Das, Lama Surya, Awakening the Buddha Within: Eight Steps to Enlightenment, Broadway Books, 1997.


Booklist, April 1, 1999, Donna Seaman, Awakening to the Sacred: Creating a Spiritual Life from Scratch, p. 1363.

Boston Herald, June 10, 1999, Christopher Cox, "A Thoroughly Modern Monk," p. O69.

Bulletin with Newsweek, July 3, 2001, Gillian Mears, review of Awakening the Buddhist Heart, p. 86.

Houston Chronicle, January 20, 2001, review of Awakening the Buddhist Heart: Integrating Love, Meaning and Connection into Every Part of Your Life, p. 1.

Library Journal, May 15, 1999, David Bourquin, review of Awakening to the Sacred, p. 100; October 15, 2000, James Kuhlman, review of Awakening the Buddhist Heart, p. 76.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 19, 1999, Peter Clothier, review of Awakening to the Sacred, p. 2.

Publishers Weekly, July 14, 1997, review of Awakening the Buddha Within, p. 80; April 26, 1999, review of Awakening to the Sacred, p. 73.

Share Guide, March, 2001, Dennis Hughes, "An Interview with Lama Surya Das," p. 14.


Ann Online,http://www.annonline.com/ (June 18, 2002), "Biography."

Dzogchen Organization,http://www.dzogchen.org/ (November 17, 1997).

Lama Surya Das Home Page,http://www.surya.org/ (September 23, 2003).

Monthly Aspectarian,http://www.lightworks.com/ (June 18, 2002), Guy Spiro, "A Conversation with Lama Surya Das."