Seeing time as an ally, friend

‘American Lama’ to talk at Fort Lewis

Originally from Long Island, N.Y., Lama Surya Das moved to India and Nepal for 20 years after his friend died the 1970 Kent State shooting, a turning point in his life. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Young Minds Conference Darling Harbour

Originally from Long Island, N.Y., Lama Surya Das moved to India and Nepal for 20 years after his friend died the 1970 Kent State shooting, a turning point in his life.

In an era when Americans are living longer than ever before, why does it seem like there’s never enough time?

“We’re all having this problem, being harried, being hurried, being constantly interrupted,” said Lama Surya Das, author of Buddha Standard Time: Awakening to the Infinite Possibilities of Now and Awakening the Buddha Within. “We’re not focused on our priorities. We need to slow down and simplify.”

Das will speak Aug. 4 at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College as a fundraiser for the Durango Dharma Center. The next day he will lead a retreat at Congregation Har Shalom.

Das began life as a Jewish boy from Long Island, N.Y., growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. While in college, he became active in the movement against the Vietnam War. The death of his friend, Allison B. Krause, in the 1970 Kent State shooting, was an unexpected turning point in his life.

“We were fighting for peace, and I began to see that as a contradiction in terms,” Das said in a recent telephone interview. “To find peace, we must become peacemakers.”

Off he went to India and Nepal, spending the next 20 years studying with a variety of gurus, including some of the Dalai Lama’s teachers. One of them gave him his name, which means “servant of the disciple of light,” and he was eventually dubbed the “American Lama.”

His mother found the whole thing perplexing.

“She said, ‘So many years contemplating your navel. What gives?’” Das said with a laugh. “When I started teaching and writing books, she came and met the Dalai Lama. ‘You’re doing a beautiful thing, working with beautiful people,’” she said.

When he returned to America in the 1990s, he experienced a big culture shock. Not only was the pace and lifestyle dramatically different from the America he knew before, technology had exploded.

“Fax machines were amazing. I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “How could I make this little drawing on a piece of paper, and my friend could see it across the country?”

Das has since wholeheartedly adopted technology as a way to reach more people, especially young people. But he uses it to spread the timeless Buddhist teachings of mindfulness, lessons he considers important for everyone, whether or not they’re interested in becoming Buddhists.

“We have all the time in the world, and it’s up to us how we choose to use it,” Das said. “We’re not focused on our priorities. We need to slow down and simplify.”

His interaction with an audience is not just speaking at them, but holding practices of techniques people can use and question-and-answer periods because people learn in different ways, he said.

“Life is not just a to-do list. People need to step off the treadmill of actions,” Das said. “It can be very simple. Be here, now. Breathe, relax and smile.”

abutler@durangoherald.com