My Spiritual Teachers

My primary (“root”) Buddhist teacher is Lama Surya Das ( He is a Western-born Lama, fluent in Tibetan, and trained classically for many years in retreat. He is in the Longchen Nyngthig lineage of Dzogchen (Natural Great Perfection) and the author of “Awakening the Buddha Within” and other excellent books. Surya had an almost instantaneous impact on me when I met him in 1995, through his introduction of Dzogchen (known as the “highest” practice in Tibet). I had been a spiritual practitioner and teacher for many years, and nothing I had experienced came close to the profound clarity and openness to which he introduced me. I will forever be grateful to him and his lineage, which has carried this profound practice and realization for centuries. The community of students that has formed around Surya through the Dzogchen Foundation is my primary sangha (spiritual community).

Surya’s associate, Lama John Makransky (professor at Boston College), has also been mentoring me with great wisdom and patience. He is a master in teaching the “relative” practices that connect the highest spiritual reality (Dzogchen awareness) with everyday and moment-to-moment life. My gratitude to him is also immense. As it is to Charles Genoud. And to Pema Chodron. It was at her Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia that I first encountered Tibetan Buddhist practice and instantly fell in love, feeling as though I had come home. The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan teachers have been a continual inspiration for their having actually embodied qualities of compassion, wisdom, joy, and peace, not just talked about them. They are genuinely happy, and their dedication to the well-being of others is inspiring.

My teachers have also included Christian practitioners who didnít just preach, but who embodied love and compassion: Douglas Steere (Quaker), and Basil Pennington (Roman Catholic). My Sufi (Islam) teacher was Bawa Muhayadeen, whom I met in the early 1970′s. I have had teaching from Hindus – especially Chidvilassananda (Shaivist-Sidda Yoga) and Hugo (Vadanta), and I have learned from Advaita teachers, Frances Lucille from France and Eckhart Tolle from Germany. As a Unitarian Universalist I also acknowledge Ralph Waldo Emerson as a spiritual mentor. I continue to study and practice with other teachers, such as Ken MacLeod and Namkai Norbu Rinpoche. The list of spiritual patrons who have contributed to me through teachings, books and prayer would be pages long. But isnít it interesting that one teacher, Surya Das, almost at the end of the long list of teachers, had a signal impact on me that opened and fulfilled all my other teachersí aspirations, and also went way beyond them. This is why in Tibetan Buddhism connecting with a teacher is seen as an essential aspect of the path. And, one’s spiritual teacher is considered the kindest, most important person in life, because who could be more important than the one who introduces, in direct form, your own true nature, and what greater kindness is there than to awaken another to unshakable joy?

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