In this short book, Lama Surya Das introduces readers to Buddhism, and the process of Awakening the Buddha Within. It is subtitled Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World, which is an accurate description. Lama Surya Das tells how a guy from Long Island ends up in Tibet and India studying Buddhism in the 1970s. He escapes the psychedelic era for one of contemplation and compassion.
However, this book isn’t a memoir. Das just provides readers with the context of what makes him a unique teacher. He now teaches, writes, and runs the Dzogchen Center in New York State.
Das walks readers through the main principles of Buddhism, always relating them to life in the West. The steps are calming, introspective, and brought me much peace. According to Das and Buddhism, walking the Eight-fold Path leads to Enlightenment. Das breaks each step down, including examples from the reality of our Western lives. He understands that his typical reader isn’t sitting on a mountaintop, but driving in traffic. I certainly was, since I listened to the audio book!
The first two steps are considered to be Wisdom Training. They include Right View and Right Intentions. This is where you start to understand the Buddha nature within you. While I’m not a true practicing Buddhist, what I like about it is that the goal is to find the best within yourself. Das talks about how we look within ourselves for answers, instead of waiting for outside forces to make us or our lives better. I can get behind that.
The next three steps are the Ethics Training part of the Eight-Fold Path. They are Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood. Here Das discusses the Buddhist approach to our interactions with the rest of the world. The subtitle for the last section comes through loud and clear: “Work is Love Made Visible.” He infuses each step with stories from his own life, and what we know about the Buddha’s life.
Das then moves to meditation training with the last three steps of the Path: Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration. Much is made of mindfulness today and, like karma, we often get the true concept wrong. Das makes it eminently clear. This is a section you want to read in a quiet, still place, since Lama Surya Das actually leads you in meditation. This is the section I’ll come back to again and again on audio.
Now, let’s talk about that audio version. Das is certainly a gifted teacher. But he’s no audiobook narrator. At regular speed, his narration is cumbersome and his Long Island accent distracting. He drags the words out in a misguided effort to be crystal clear. It sounds like he’s just trying too hard. I had to bump the speed up to 1.5 in order to comfortably listen. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the reality of different voices and levels of narration expertise.
If you’re looking for a short, relevant explanation of Buddhist principles, Lama Surya Das is your guy. Because he’s a Westerner, his ability to place the principles in a context that makes sense for Western lives is unique. That said, this is an older book. It was published in 1998, so it doesn’t address 21st-century lifestyle changes. Nevertheless, I found it to be a place of peace and comfort in my busy life.