We live in very interesting times. It’s not every lifetime we see our Teacher in the physical world, and even less often, we get to see our Teacher at the beginning of a new lineage. Rama is an American Buddha, who showed the Path to a bunch of Americans who have no cultural reference for Enlightenment. He definitely had his work cut out for him! Rama often said he did not plan to be born in the United States; he also said things usually don’t work out the way you planned.
As a Teacher, he took “orders” from what he termed the Company. He would receive inspiration to undertake a certain activity, and he would do his best to do it. In the same way, Ramakrishna in India used his cultural influences to describe his activities. Ramakrishna would say Mother Kali told him to do this or go to a certain place, and like a devoted son, he always would without question, even when it didn’t make sense to anyone else. By calling that indefinable Grace “the Company,” Rama gave us Americans a reference we could understand.
With the unique challenge of implementing timeless teachings in a new culture, Rama was a master of innovation. On one level, he was very traditional. With a thorough study of good translations of the classic texts and Rama’s lectures and books, you’ll find the traditional teachings mirrored, with only the language and examples updated for a modern audience. With the inner, or energetic, interactions, Rama was also very traditional in how he trained his students. Probably the most innovative implementation was his using the world as a monastery.
Throughout history, enlightened teachers created monasteries for their students, where they would study in an insulated environment. While Rama saw the value of a monastic environment, he also saw that to complete their growth, the monks must eventually leave. So, Rama took a different approach, and instead taught us how to insulate ourselves while participating in the world. He saw an opportunity for us to grow very quickly by teaching independence and reliance on our own individual practice, rather than leaning on a monastery or organization for support. Needless to say, this Lineage is not for those looking to escape from life. It is however, a very powerful pathway to liberation from suffering. The Rama Lineage is a Tantric path, meaning we use everything and every circumstance as fuel for our spiritual awakening. No vacations, and no time off from the practice.
Rama left the physical world in April 1998. Before he went, he sent out an inward call to all of his students – the ones in the current program, and the ones in all previous programs – to join him for one last empowerment. More students than he expected responded to the call in December 1997 and arrived in Westchester County, New York to sit with him. Personally, I heard, or more precisely felt, the unmistakable urge to be in New York the day before the event. I called a friend, who told me about Rama’s invitation. I had only hours to buy a plane ticket, pack, and explain to my husband that I had to leave town right away. Life with Rama was always weird and unpredictable like that.
Rama had the amazing ability to teach many different pathways simultaneously. Which means, Rama students are an incredibly diverse community. He told us many times: “I teach individuals, not groups.” Even in a seminar hall filled with 500 students, each one would receive a different teaching. This, of course, led to many heated discussions following each meeting among the students who spent time together. Now that Rama the person is gone, the debates continue. Sometimes these debates are destructive, where the interaction devolves into personal attacks. Other times these debates are constructive, where students learn from each other, sharing their different aspects of awareness, and spinning everyone involved higher and higher.
Because of the type of teacher Rama was, it is no wonder that there is not a single organization that can claim they are the sole holder of the Rama Lineage. Rama left us the Frederick Lenz Foundation, which promotes American Buddhism and preserves the recordings and books Rama personally created. However, even those treasures are teachings taken out of time and context. When listening to a frozen slice of Rama, we need to remember he was speaking at a particular time, in a particular place, for a particular audience. While the teachings contained within those materials are certainly valuable and should be treasured as a precious gift, it is up to each person to figure out what is useful in their individual life and circumstances.
As a teacher of individuals, Rama insisted we each have a project to work on with him. He suggested computer science; however for people who had other ideas, he left the door open. I was crazy enough to ask that my project be writing. After reading some samples, he agreed and my personal adventure with Rama began in full.
When I couldn’t figure out what exactly to write, I finally asked his advice. He looked at me stunned and said, “You really don’t know?” I admitted I didn’t have a clue. Rama responded with, “The Study. Write about the Study.” Once he said it, I could clearly see that had been my dharma all along. For years, I had spent my time during the breaks at seminars scribbling in my notebook. It was like a light being turned on in a room, and I could finally see the furniture.
Of course, my ego jumped at the chance to be instructed to write about the Study by my teacher. Feeling very proud and special, I went to the next seminar, where Rama promptly announced to everyone that if they liked to write, they should write about the Study. He envisioned entire bookshelves full of stories about our adventures. My ego’s bubble burst and I was able to continue with the project without the pressure of “being special.”
Through my project, Rama taught me how to interact on an energetic level. I would turn in a copy of the manuscript, and a few weeks later I would be inundated with inspiration for improvements. This form of inner communication opened a door within me, where I could finally start to clearly hear my own “orders” from the Company. I’m sure most other students developed this in a similar way, although I suspect they have their own descriptions for it.
Rama was a rare being in this world. What many Rama students don’t seem to realize is that they too are rare beings. Now my numbers are complete guessitmates, but I’m guessing high. Out of 6 billion people on the planet, only about 250,000 actually sat in the room with Rama. For those people, he revealed the pure light of Enlightenment. Some saw the light, others felt it, and a few missed it altogether. Out of those 250,000 people, only 5000 became official students. Out of those 5000, only 2500 became Buddhist monks. These monks committed their lives to the Path. Out of those 2500 monks, only 1000 accepted a Teaching Empowerment. Remember, as I said, my numbers are probably elevated. Just as a point of reference, when I was in a room of 400 monks, and Rama offered a teaching empowerment, only 20 of us stayed to receive it.
If you are one of the monks of the Rama Lineage, remember Rama opened a doorway within you when you chose to become a monk. You can share that doorway with others, simply by being willing to sit with them. If you are one of the teacher-monks, Rama not only opened that door, he gave you what you need to be able to open that door in others.
It doesn’t matter what you teach, as long as you teach from the heart and your own experience. The best teachers know their subject well, and are still willing to learn more about it from any source. When teaching any subject, the light pours through you. It is the purest magic. Teaching is a dynamic activity in which the awareness of both individuals is transformed.
So with only 1000 out of over 6 billion people, teachers of the Rama Lineage are rare. And we are all getting older. However, with the world as our monastery, we are out here. Only a small handful of us advertise that we are meditation teachers. Others from the Rama Lineage may work in your office, ride the same train or bus as you, or be sitting at the next table in your favorite coffeehouse. If you are fortunate enough to stumble across a monk or a teacher-monk of the Rama Lineage, count your blessings. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to meditate with one of them. Even if your particular Path does not exactly line up with theirs, know just by sitting with them with pure intent, you are being introduced to the entire Rama Lineage. With such diversity, you have a great opportunity to find someone who is compatible with your individual Path. Then the next time you meet one of us, perhaps you’ll recognize that line of Light and your own spiritual adventure will begin in full.
~Jenna Sundell, a Buddhist Monk of the Rama Lineage