Lama Surya Das Releases New Book THE YETI & THE JOLLY LLAMA
Spend a pitch black night meditating on death in a cemetery? You have to be kidding! But that's what best-selling author and Buddhist Lama Surya Das was instructed to do by his Indian Guru. Buddhists think meditating on death and mortality helps you make a better life. But the practice of "Chod" is a bit scary.
Think those little ghosts and goblins knocking at the door tonight are pretty scary? Maybe so. But how about spending an evening meditating on life and death in a spooky Indian cemetery with rats and other mysterious animals scurrying to and fro behind your back?
That's what American Buddhist Lama Surya Das author of the newly released children's book "The Yeti and the Jolly Lama." had to do as part of his training to become the most highly trained American lama in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. "It was the scariest night of my life," says the best-selling author, who was born Jeffrey Miller in a Jewish household on Long Island before hitch-hiking to the Himalayas after his college graduation to spend 25 years studying and meditating. His new book is scary too -- but not too scary! When the legendary Yeti terrorizes a small Tibetan village, the local lama―a cave-dwelling, meditating hermit―shows us how generosity, patience, and a sense of belonging can turn an Abominable Snowman into an adorable one. With themes of resilience, interconnection, acceptance, and a subtle introduction to lovingkindness meditation, this story of spiritual friendship will awaken the hearts of children young and old.
Halloween was created by the Celts in Ireland in the 5th Century B.C. as the festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) as a festival of the dead marking the beginning of the dark, cold winter. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and the ghosts of the dead returned to earth to cause mischief -- but also to help inhabitants make predictions about the future.
The Buddhist practice of "Chod" contemplates death as well -- but more as a way to assist the living improve their future. "Chod" is a Tibetan word that means "cutting through." "Chod uses the demonic images (representing our inner demons) to befriend our dark side and conquer fear," says Surya. "It is a way of facing and getting past our personal inner demons."
Although the purpose of Chod is to allow an individual to overcome fear and lead a more fearless and fulfilled life, the visualization process sounds a bit gruesome:
"Practitioners of Chod invite the shadow side and its terrors in, and instead of recoiling and running away in a self-protective reflex, they symbolically offer their bodies as food to the demons," says the Lama. "They literally visualize their bodies being chopped up and all of their blood pouring into a cauldron made of the upturned skulls of their own heads, in order to test their greatest fears and attachments...This gory stew is then blessed, mystically transformed, sanctified and ritualistically offered up to repay karmic debts and satisfy the demons' hunger. "The practice encourages practitioners to regard adversity and suffering as friend. I finds this works in very profound psychological ways," he adds.
Surya notes that the Chod meditation does not always have to take place in a cemetery and for Americans, he recommends against it. "You can do this right in the comfort of your own living room," he says. "But you'll probably want to turn off the TV first."
Lama Surya Das is a sought-after speaker and teacher and director of the Dzogchen Center in Boston, whose motto is "Buddhism for the West." His first book, "Awakening the Buddha Within," was a best-seller, with 300,000 copies now in print. As an aspiring lama he served as a bodyguard and interpreter for the Dalai Lama; he has been praised by the Dalai Lama of Tibet as 'The Western Lama'" and "a leader of Western Buddhists." Surya has appeared as a guest on "Politically Incorrect," CNN and National Public Radio, and has been profiled in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald and New York Post. (For fans of the ABC TV show "Dharma and Greg," an episode entitled "The Return of Leonard" was based on his life.)