is Rama, Dr. Frederick Lenz?
In response to the question on the RamaLila Bulletin Board:
"What is American Buddhism?"
Now, I can only speak of American Buddhism as taught to me by my teacher, Rama. I think there are many other groups of Buddhists in America, so I don't want to come across as speaking for all of them, as I couldn't possibly do that.
The kind of Buddhism (study of enlightenment, in particular those branches that root back to the Shakyamuni Buddha who taught many different teachings during his life for people of varying degrees of motivation, intellect, inclination, etc). I'm most interested in a practice that involves daily meditation...not all people on the planet who call themselves "Buddhists" meditate everyday...for them Buddhism may be a religion, but I would say our focus here is on the kind of Buddhists who meditate everyday as meditation is at the core of all the pathways to enlightenment that my teacher Rama exposed me to...
Buddhism of that kind has always been carried by teachers into different countries. The Shakyamuni Buddha taught in India and centuries later, a teacher named Bodhidharma took the teachings into China and another teacher (probably in a different age) named Padmasambhava took the teachings into Tibet and so on. The energies released through meditation are very dynamic and alive and adapt to whatever culture they go into. So for example, in Japan, Buddhism took on the Zen flavor and in Tibet, the Tibetan Buddhism has a different flavor...
Rama was an enlightened teacher who had taught meditation and enlightenment in many lives, in many countries. This was his first Caucasian incarnation as an enlightened teacher. He was actually planning to come back to Tibet in this life, but the Communists had already trashed the place, so at the last moment he took a huge left turn so to speak and incarnated in San Diego instead.
So he grew up in a culture very, very different from other Asian countries that he had taught in before. They did not come looking for him when he was a child. They did not have a monastery ready for him to be named abbot of, etc., etc. Instead he grew up in our culture, had to deal with getting beat up in high school and all the usual garbage we all go through...even though he was a very high being (like the Golden Child movie)... So, he had a lot of first-hand insight into our culture and when it came time to teach, at first he was drawing on more traditional ways of laying out the material...in the early 80's he was doing his teaching referencing the Hindu lines, and so forth...but as he worked to figure out how to get this across to people who, although they may have had some lives where they studied meditation before, in this life were heavily conditioned as American, he began having to graft it a different way...during the 80's he gave us teachings from many of his earlier lives, Taoist, Zen, mysticism, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, karma yoga, and so on.
By the the 90's he had decided the Buddhist packaging was the easiest for Americans to grapple with and allowed him the most fluidity. By teaching American Buddhism, he could easily give the teachings in a contemporary way (a tantric approach) and yet still be conveying the essentials. He was getting the best results with his students in teaching in ways that directly took their cultural upbringing into account.
This meant teaching directly to Americans without them having to try to understand it through a cultural reference (Japanese, Tibetan, etc.) that was foreign to them. I have no doubt if Rama spent several years in let's say Germany or Australia, etc., that he wouldn't have figured out how to do "German Buddhism" or "Australian Buddhism" and so forth.
He used to say what he was teaching depended on who was in the room that night and the actual location of where he was. And I found during the years I sat with him, that he would give different teachings in different cities, because he was taking into account the local energy of the area in terms of what gradients of light and what topics he was inspired to talk about...it's a very "real-time" download when you are listening live to an enlightened teacher.
So, for example, in Tibetan Buddhism, right now they are celebrating New Year's (the year of the Golden Dragon) and I know at least one monastery of Tibetan Buddhism where they will be doing some special warrior dancing during this time, doing dancing in honor of Gesar, a Tibetan enlightened warrior king. They're on a tantric line. Rama did dancing with us, but not this costumed variety, but American rave dancing...interestingly, Buddhists I know from the Tibetan tantric branches and Bhutan branches who dance with us Rama students when we are in rave mode find the essential celebration energy to be very familiar to them...so there is a place where the core is the same, but the outer expression is a different flavor.
In particular, Rama taught us things like using computer science as part of our yoga. I have been very amazed since Rama's death in discussing his teachings with Zen and other Buddhists how respectful they are of his great skill in adapting the teachings for Americans.
I would refer you to 2 novels Rama wrote "Surfing the Himalayas",and "Snowboarding to Nirvana" to give you some flavor at a very introductory level. (These books will have his American name: Dr. Frederick Lenz, listed as the author.) This is not his most sophisticated teaching...more oriented to an American kid with curiosity and not much exposure to the subject matter...to give them a clean introduction in terms they can follow.
I meditate in a large, urban city. Rama taught me to use music while meditating as a buffer between me and that large city. He designed some special music for people in that kind of situation..."Enlightenment", "Canyons of Light", for example are CD's by a band of Rama students called Zazen. This music is "American Buddhism" in action...the music has doorways in it to higher dimensions and if you follow the music, you find some beautiful planes of light for meditation...
I live in a violent time. Rama taught me to sometimes wear a leather jacket and shades as part of my yoga when out and about...so I wouldn't seem like a twiff and get nailed by anyone looking for trouble. He taught me to sometimes eat a hamburger or a steak when the energies I'm dealing with in the corporate world are rough. He taught me to take martial arts, to use going to the movies as a way to shift my attention, to use many small things of American life as part of my yoga...my 'rituals' if you like are not about banging drums and blowing horns, but include things like reading a Wall Street Journal everyday for reasons that Rama explained to me that made sense to me (and inwardly connect me to everyone in my sangha who is also doing this), to update my wardrobe periodically to stay in the flow of the times and not get "stuck", to be in a relationship if that makes sense for me, but to respect my friends in the practice who may be doing a celibacy phase and vice versa...to be doing self-discovery for real, in an American setting, and of course, to be meditating every day...
My friends who put Rama's teachings into action in their life have what I consider to be "uncommonly fine" lives...they are all very different people and yet vibrant, self-confident, and I have watched them unfold and blossom, each in ways unique to them, over the years...
I spent some time a while back with another Buddhist group in America...and I felt like they were "cousins", but it felt like when I was younger...I grew up in California and used to visit relatives in the Midwest sometimes and us California cousins, while always welcomed and loved as part of the family, were always viewed as a bit "out there" as we were from California and had a different way about us...I felt the other Buddhists I was visiting really respected my enthusiasm and so forth, but I was definitely a more radical variety than they were...and it was not a problem...just you could feel a difference in flavor and expression...
Fellow Monk - from the RamaLila Bulletin Board (Temple)