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American-Born Lama Will Hold Talk for Students at UC Irvine

Lama Surya Das

Students seeking to overcome stress and improve their overall academic and personal well-being have an opportunity to learn about meditation, yoga and other contemplative methods during an on-campus talk by Western Buddhist meditation teacher and author Lama Surya Das scheduled on Jan. 29.

“We know that university students are hungry and thirsty as they seek to discover more about the inner meaning and purpose of their lives, their studies, the current relational experiences in their lives and to their future careers,” said Manuel Gomez, Vice Chancellor-Emeritus of Student Affairs.

Lama Das will be speaking to the campus community about improving one’s relational awareness, or the association between the awareness of oneself and others, through relationship yoga, pilates and meditation.

UCI Professor of Psychiatry Roger Walsh, also one of Lama Das’s students, invited Lama Das, who currently resides in Massachusetts, to campus during UC Irvine’s Peace Week, a campus-wide initiative for peacebuilding and nonviolent practice which will held during the last week of January.

“For me [Lama Das] has been a repository and transmitter of deep, hard won wisdom and I have learned a great deal about meditation, the mind, how to train and heal it, it’s (and our) potentials, and the possibility of growing beyond conventional levels to awaken to our deeper, truer nature,” said Walsh. “Although I’m a trained psychiatrist, I’ve still learned much from Lama Surya about the mind and psychological well-being, which is not yet part of western mental health knowledge.”

For Lama Das, meditation is a great tool which helps a person attend to his mind, body, soul and spirit. It helps individuals develop self-knowledge and self-awareness through contemplation and inquiry, instead of blindly accepting beliefs inherited from parents or through a religious leader.

Born Jeffrey Miller, Lama Das became interested in Buddhism during college in the late 1960s as he searched for truth and peace. After completing college, he went to India to further pursue his search. Lama Das attended meditation retreats, practiced yoga and studied the writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus and the Dalai Lama. He embraced Tibetan Buddhism in the 1970s.

“A vital component of Buddhism is to be mindful, compassionate, wise and loving, rather than being unhappy, depressed, anxious and alienated, which many people are falling into in these violent, volatile and insecure times,” said Lama Das during a telephone interview on Jan. 9. “We can learn not to just blindly react but respond mindfully as needed, and to use mindfulness and anger management to find inner peace, harmonious relations and unconditional love by treating others from the heart.”

According to Lama Das, because Buddhism is new to the western world, there are many misconceptions about Buddhism and meditation perpetuated today. Many people assume Buddhism is simply about world denial or introspection, but Lama Das stressed that very important components of the faith include “altruism, compassion, volunteering and community service.”

Moreover, Lama Das insisted that  meditation is not about stopping thoughts as many tend to believe, but rather about thought awareness. The meditator should be relaxed and breathing, but also aware of his immediate thoughts and sensations.

Lama Das also discussed other practical benefits of meditation, including lowered blood pressure, increased creativity, sharpened focus and an enhanced attention span.

“When I become clearer, everything becomes clearer. That’s the secret of meditation,” said Lama Das. “Whether the world changes or not — it’s hard to say — everything is changing anyway. Getting clear truth, being unselfish, objective, discerning, patient, compassionate and empathizing with others goes a long way in transforming all our relationships and the world.”

Lama Das mentioned that the families and friends of students who began meditation have described the students as becoming more “patient, peaceful, focused and less reactive.”

Lama Das emphasized that, although students may struggle with meditation at first, they should keep practicing it until it becomes habitual, as one of his first teachers in India taught him: “continuity is the secret of success.”

Lama Das has held several workshops for UC Irvine and the surrounding community in the past, transforming many UCI students and members of the community.

“The best research, much of it here at UCI, is re-confirming the ancient understanding of the body and the mind, and Lama Surya Das is an important teacher who has helped many individuals to become more aware of materials and methods to achieve inner peace,” said Gomez.

Lama Surya Das will speak and hold a book signing at the UCI Student Center on Jan. 29 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. A full day workshop of meditation techniques will be held on Jan. 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Neighborhood Congregational Church in Laguna Beach.