Buddhist to teach peace, compassion this weekend

By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 8, 2009

Oakland, CA (USA) -- Lama Surya Das, a popular American teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, will be in Oakland Friday through Sunday to teach about peace and compassion.

Although his visit was scheduled before President Barack Obama announced that the G-20 summit would meet in Pittsburgh later this month, organizers thought the timing was perfect. They have tied his appearances into activities of the G-6 Billion, an interfaith group that is using the economic summit to promote human rights, peace and hunger relief. Its name is taken from the number of people on the planet.

"Lama Surya Das thinks about things in a global way. He is concerned about the broader interests of the earth, so this is timely," said Robert Marin, a psychiatrist on the faculty of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and a spokesman for the local community that adheres to the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

Dzogchen means both peace and perfection, and is a way of speaking about "the divine core of every human being," Dr. Marin said. "It's the idea that you know yourself and you find out that, despite your frailties, there is something which is already perfected within you."

Lama Surya Das is not your stereotypical guru. His Web site photos are more in line with those of shirt-sleeve evangelical pastors. His accent is pure Long Island, where he was raised Jewish and was known as Jeffrey Miller.

Pittsburgh played a pivotal role in his spiritual journey when he came here in 1970 for the funeral of his best friend's girlfriend, Allison Krause, who was killed during antiwar protests at Kent State University in Ohio.

His search for personal, community and global peace in the wake of that tragedy took him to France, India, Nepal and Tibet, where he embraced Tibetan Buddhism. He was given the name Surya Das, which means "servant of the sun," and his teachers included the Dalai Lama.

He has had an important role in popularizing the faith in this country, especially through his best-known book, "Awakening the Buddha Within." He lives in Massachusetts.

This is his first visit to Pittsburgh since Ms. Krause's funeral. The topic of his talk at 7 p.m. Friday in the Frick Fine Arts Auditorium will be "The Buddha Within."

From 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday, he will lead a retreat on "Nowness Awareness and Dzogchen Meditation" at the Community of Reconcilation, an interdenominational Christian church in Oakland.

Prices vary. Tickets at the door are $20 for the Friday lecture, $145 for the full-weekend retreat or $160 for all three days, with discounts for registering before Thursday and options for Saturday or Sunday only.

Tickets for Friday only are at Snow Lion Imports in Oakland (412-687-5680). Tickets for the retreat or all three days are available at www.dzogchen.org/retreats.

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