An Interview with Lama Surya Das

What do you mean by the "Buddhist Heart," and how can awakening it help us to make meaningful connections with ourselves and others?

LAMA SURYA DAS: Buddhist heart means the enlightened consciousness, what Tibetans call bodhicitta, or awakened heart-mind, our basic goodness. My book, Awakening the Buddhist Heart, is about how to awaken our inner wisdom and love, so that we can use every kind of relationship as a vehicle for sacred living and for being more authentically and lovingly ourselves. In this way, we can make our lives meaningful and productive, and contribute to a better world at home, at work, and afar.

Evidence of anger and rage fills the headlines every day. You state that applying Buddhist principles can help us let go of negative energy. How?

LAMA SURYA DAS: The root of war, violence, and aggression is the anger, avarice, and cupidity in our own hearts and minds. Buddhist practices, such as loving kindness and compassion meditation, and tonglen-exchanging self and other, reversing egotism-can help root the hatred and anger out of our hearts and bring us inner peace, balance, and harmony. Nonviolent practices such as forgiveness, peacemaking and reconciliation, vegetarianism, returning negativity with love, and so on have personal, familial, social, and global implications.

Many of us have difficulty achieving lasting marriages and romantic relationships. Are there some Buddhist spiritual practices to help us to make a deeper and more lasting connection with our romantic partners?

LAMA SURYA DAS: There are many spiritual practices and other things we can do together with our partners. We could meditate and pray, read scriptures or spiritual poetry, make sacred music, chant or do yoga, practice tantric sex and energy work, or mutual eye-gazing in sacred silence, go on pilgrimages or nature walks, or engage in shared volunteerism and charitable activities. We could share one of my favorite Buddhist meditations-walking or sitting in a cemetery and reflecting together on our priorities in the light of death and eternity. Furthermore, we could practice recognizing our partner as a reflection of the divine, and honor them in that way. Then relating to them will deliver us to the divine, for human love is the tip of the iceberg of divine love. We could practice bringing more spirituality into our family meals and holidays, as well as our daily routines and rituals.

Why is Buddhism so appealing to Americans?

LAMA SURYA DAS: I think many people are somewhat disenchanted, or like myself, did not find what they were spiritually longing for in the religions of their family. Many of us have sought elsewhere before discovering the practical, experiential path of practice found in Buddhism. It encompasses the benefit of working unselfishly toward a better world, but it is also individualistic in the sense that it is a do-it-yourself path. By walking the Eight-Fold Path taught by the Buddha, you yourself can awaken the Buddha within and become enlightened, just as Buddha did. This is a very modern, practical, practice-oriented outlook. And it is scientific in the sense that it doesn't require any belief or dogma; in Buddhist thought and practice, there is nothing to believe and everything to discover for yourself, through your own experience.

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