Lama Surya Das, author of the bestselling Awakening the Buddha Within, is the most highly trained American lama in the Tibetan tradition. In this elegant, inspiring book, he integrates essential Buddhist practices with a variety of other spiritual philosophies and wisdom traditions, to show you how to create a personalized spiritual practice based on your own individual beliefs, aspirations, and needs. Through reflections on his own life quest, thoughtful essays, and entertaining stories, Surya Das examines the common themes at the heart of any spiritual path, including faith, doubt, love, compassion, creativity, self-inquiry, and transformation. He then explores prayer, yoga, chanting, guided meditations, breathing exercises, and myriad other rituals, providing practical examples of each that we can use day-to-day to nurture our inner spirit.
The truth is that I feel as though I learn as much from my students as they do from me, writes Surya Das, an American lama in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the author of the popular Awakening the Buddha. Here in the West, he adds, it seems appropriate that student and teacher should share Dharma in this way, finding their way together. In this affable, conversational tour of spiritual ideas and practices, the author, calling himself a spiritual player-coach, reaches out to the broad audience in this country who experience spiritual longing yet arent harnessed to a particular teacher or tradition. Dividing his book into three sections, Surya Das moves from a discussion of such major themes as rebirth and faith to spiritual practices, giving clear, simple instructions in meditation and the cultivation of the moment-by-moment awareness that Buddhists call mindfulness. With a disarming lack of pretension or reticence, the author explains his personal take on fasting, psychotherapy and prayer. Some of the prayers that I use include the concept of God or Divine Source or spirit, he writes. As a Buddhist and a Westerner, I am completely comfortable doing this. Others may feel differently. The book concludes with Surya Dass description of his own Buddhist tradition of Dzogchen: Dzogchen is about recognizing and realizing who we are. The author emphasizes that Dzogchen is grounded in principles of naturalness, openness and authenticity, and he demonstrates these qualities throughout. Offering the reader fresh, authentic impressions that are clearly the result of his own spiritual work and reflection, Surya Das emerges here as a genial post-denominational spiritual teacher, one whose straightforward approach to the esoteric deserves to reach a wide readership.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 08, 2000
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Excerpt from Awakening to the Sacred by Lama Surya Das
Introduction--Awakening to the Bigger Picture
Let none turn over books, or roam the stars in quest of God, who sees him not in man.
--JOHANN KASPAR LAVATER, Swiss poet (1741-1801)
If you have picked up this book, then in all probability you are a seeker. My dictionary has a simple definition of a seeker as "one who seeks: a seeker of truth." In practical terms, a seeker is a spiritual traveller or wayfarer, a pilgrim who has embarked on a quest to find and experience the sacred. Seekers are ubiquitous: They can be found in every nation; they can be part of any religious group or denomination. The search for truth and love--something beyond and bigger than ourselves--is the common element.
Seekers want to understand and explore themselves as well as the universe with all its mysteries, both known and unknowable. In their hearts, seekers believe that the universe makes sense and their lives have meaning. They believe not only that truth exists, but that it can indeed be found, and experienced.
When I was young, and even more foolish than I am today, I believed that one had to travel far and wide in order to seek truth, divine reality, or whatever you call it. I believed that truth would most likely be found in the world's so-called sacred places. Yet the fact is that truth is everywhere; it knows no religious, cultural, temporal, or ethnic bounds. Truth is the perfect circle. Its center is everywhere; its circumference stretches into infinite space. The land on which we stand is sacred, no matter where we stand.
The Tao Te Ching says:
Without going out of my door
I can know all things on earth.
Without looking out of my window
I can know the ways of heaven.
Each of us--you and me--stands at the center of his or her own truth. Throughout the ages, saints, sages, and holy men and women have all discovered the same thing--that truth is found by living truly. Awareness is the essential ingredient in a spiritual life. Seekers walk the spiritual path to enlightenment because they believe it will bring a true understanding of reality--an understanding of "what is" and how things work. The spiritual path is best walked step by step, very mindfully, with as much consciousness and commitment as one can summon.
I firmly believe that we've all been touched by the sacred, no matter how fleetingly. We've known breakthroughs, epiphanies, and blessed times of grace, no matter how ephemeral. Often these vivid moments happen when we are children. People tell me that they remember times, albeit brief, when the smoky veils of illusion and delusion lifted, and they were literally able to "see the light." Others have related childhood memories that include relationships with angels. Still others say they have had no such otherworldly encounters, yet they remember experiencing a sense of cosmic divine love, a magical universe of goodness, interconnectedness, and belonging so profound that it inspired them for a lifetime.
As adults, we also have brief glimpses of a more sacred reality. Sometimes we find it in nature--on a solitary walk in the woods or along a sandy beach. Sometimes it happens when we come into contact with a person whose spiritual energy is inspirational. Sometimes it happens when we attend a worship service, a meditation session, a spiritual retreat, or even something as secular as a fine concert. We come away transported, momentarily transformed by what we've seen and heard. We feel different--more grounded, genuinely real, and "alive," as well as more connected to the divine. We feel as though we have finally come home. We want the feeling to continue, and we think to ourselves, I must do this more often. This is something that should be part of my life--all the time.
Like all things, these glorious seconds of illumination eventually vanish. And when they do, the lives and worlds we have constructed for ourselves come rushing back in like the relentless tide. Our habitual patterns return, and the sublime feelings evaporate. But we retain the memories of those moments that contained the essence of spirituality--true peace, love, freedom, and a sense of belonging. It makes sense that we want to revisit and re-create these spiritual memories. It makes sense that we want to move in and stay closer to the light.
I've spent most of my adult life in various Buddhist monasteries, as well as ashrams and retreat centers, so I feel as though I have a fairly good idea of what it means to want to lead a more centered and sacred life. And I know how challenging it can be to take the first committed steps on such a path. When I give lectures or readings, almost inevitably one or more members of the audience comes up afterward to tell me how much he or she wants to become more committed to spiritual values in his or her life. They usually tell me how difficult it is to find specific day-by-day ways to do so. Often they go so far as to ask me whether I think they have to leave their lives, their jobs, and their mates so that they can do more than merely pay lip service to their spiritual inclinations. Some even ask me to recommend specific sites in the Himalayas.