Awakening to the Sacred: Creating a Spiritual Life from Scratch


A beautifully written, simple guide to creating a spiritual life from scratch and connecting with the sacred in everyday life.

All of us long to connect with something greater than ourselves, to experience the sacred in our daily lives, and to enhance our sense of spiritual enlightenment—yet often we don't know where to begin. Awakening to the Sacred is an extraordinary new book that provides seekers of all faiths with the tools and practices ...
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New York, New York, U.S.A. 1999 Hardcover First Edition, First Printing New in New jacket Signed by Author ! New, no remainder marks, no shelf wear, no surprises. Same day ... Shping. ! Read more Show Less

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A beautifully written, simple guide to creating a spiritual life from scratch and connecting with the sacred in everyday life.

All of us long to connect with something greater than ourselves, to experience the sacred in our daily lives, and to enhance our sense of spiritual enlightenment—yet often we don't know where to begin. Awakening to the Sacred is an extraordinary new book that provides seekers of all faiths with the tools and practices they need to build a spiritual life from the ground up and to cultivate a divine presence in everyday life.

In this elegant, inspiring book, Lama Surya Das—the most highly trained American lama in the Tibetan tradition and author of the bestselling Awakening the Buddha Within—integrates essential Buddhist practices with a variety of other spiritual philosophies and wisdom traditions to show you how to create a personalized spiritual practice based on your own individual beliefs, aspirations, and needs. Through reflections on his own life quest, thoughtful essays, and entertaining stories, Surya Das examines the common themes at the heart of any spiritual path, including faith, doubt, love, compassion, creativity, self-inquiry, and transformation. He then explores prayer, yoga, chanting, guided meditations, breathing exercises, and myriad other rituals, providing practical examples of each that we can use day-to-day to nurture our inner spirit.

Surya Das's unique and accessible approach emphasizes that we are all, by nature, spiritual beings and that our lives are naturally filled with sacred moments. Awakening to the Sacred illuminates the natural meditations already present in dailylife and shows how we can use them to awaken our hearts and minds and progress toward inner peace, happiness, and enlightenment.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The truth is that I feel as though I learn as much from my students as they do from me, writes Surya Das, an American lama in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the author of the popular Awakening the Buddha. Here in the West, he adds, it seems appropriate that student and teacher should share Dharma in this way, finding their way together. In this affable, conversational tour of spiritual ideas and practices, the author, calling himself a spiritual player-coach, reaches out to the broad audience in this country who experience spiritual longing yet arent harnessed to a particular teacher or tradition. Dividing his book into three sections, Surya Das moves from a discussion of such major themes as rebirth and faith to spiritual practices, giving clear, simple instructions in meditation and the cultivation of the moment-by-moment awareness that Buddhists call mindfulness. With a disarming lack of pretension or reticence, the author explains his personal take on fasting, psychotherapy and prayer. Some of the prayers that I use include the concept of God or Divine Source or spirit, he writes. As a Buddhist and a Westerner, I am completely comfortable doing this. Others may feel differently. The book concludes with Surya Dass description of his own Buddhist tradition of Dzogchen: Dzogchen is about recognizing and realizing who we are. The author emphasizes that Dzogchen is grounded in principles of naturalness, openness and authenticity, and he demonstrates these qualities throughout. Offering the reader fresh, authentic impressions that are clearly the result of his own spiritual work and reflection, Surya Das emerges here as a genial post-denominational spiritual teacher, one whose straightforward approach to the esoteric deserves to reach a wide readership. (May)
Library Journal
Lama Surya Das (Awakening the Buddha Within, LJ 8/97) was once a Jew named Jeffry Miller, and though his central perspective as a monk is Tibetan Buddhist, he speaks well to the spiritual concerns of Americans and ably brings the views of several religious traditions to his topic. In his understanding, humans are essentially good, and the sacred is our own deeply spiritual nature. He breaks down his discussion to cover "Matters of the Spirit" and "Approaches to Spiritual Practice," respectively, introducing Tibetan Buddhism and helping the reader understand its fundamental spiritual concerns and then offering simple yet profound and practical suggestions on how to practice it. In the final part, he explains Innate Great Perfection and how seemingly nonspiritual activities (gardening, writing haiku) can be deeply spiritual. Surya Das's ability to meet readers where they are while explaining how Tibetan Buddhist or spiritual practice can meet their needs is highly effective. Recommended as a gem among the plethora of books on spirituality.--David Bourquin, California State Univ., San Bernardino Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767902748
  • Publisher: Random House, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/4/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 382
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

Lama Surya Das has spent thirty years studying with the great spiritual masters of Asia, including the Dalai Lama, and is a leading spokesperson for the emerging American Buddhism and contemporary spirituality. He is a poet, translator, and full-time spiritual teacher who leads lectures, workshops, and meditation retreats worldwide. He is the author of three books, including the national bestseller Awakening the Buddha Within, is active in interfaith dialogue, and has been featured in numerous publications including New Age Journal, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and Tricycle. He lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.
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Read an Excerpt

There seems to be so much hate, anger, and violence around us; how can we learn to find love, compassion, and forgiveness in our hearts? The world we live in is often filled with injustice and unkindness. Some of this seems to be directed at us personally. Even when the unkindness is minor and petty, it feels unfair, and we frequently respond by asking, "What did I do to deserve this?" We may wonder, "Why me?" or "Why those innocent people?"

Much of the injustice around us, of course, is large-scale and so horrific that it is difficult to imagine or deal with. Whenever I talk in public about love and forgiveness, someone almost inevitably raises a hand to ask about the Holocaust and Hitler, and, more recently, killings in places like Cambodia, Rwanda, Kosovo, or even the high school in Littleton, Colorado. Some events are so unbearable and indescribably awful that, as the expression goes, "even God hides his face."

Forgiveness and patience in the face of evil seems like an impossible task, even for the most loving and saintly among us. Yet when we fail to forgive, we are left with the price that bitterness and anger exacts on our physical and emotional health. When we view the world with cynicism and hate, not only do we risk headaches, indigestion, tension, we do violence to ourselves. Personal anger increases violence in the world; we become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

I think it is important for all of us to realize that it is possible to forgive without forgetting the injustice that has occurred. Thomas Szasz once wrote, "The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naïve forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget." If we are hurt by a person or a situation, wisdom and common sense remind us to avoid similar situations. Wisdom and love are always connected.

It may seem impossible to forgive an Adolf Hitler, a Pol Pot, an Idi Amin, and even a Milosevic, but we can work at forgiving a human race that has allowed the hate that is found in Nazism, racism, or any other form of hatred to flourish. We have to forgive our own part in this, even as we vow to resist hatred in the future. If we can't do this, then there's little hope for this planet. On a more personal level, many of us need to work at learning to feel greater forgiveness for the "adversaries" in our own lives -- from our acrimonious in-laws to our difficult bosses.

Recognizing the many cruelties of this world helps us become more conscious of our own behavior and thoughts. If we really revile and detest man's inhumanity to man, as we say we do, then we have to painstakingly root hate and prejudice out of our own hearts and minds. Perhaps we ourselves could learn to be more gentle, compassionate, and loving. This is absolutely necessary for our own peace and well-being.

Sometimes the best place to start the practice of forgiveness is with ourselves. We need to be able to make peace with our own lives. Every one of us has done things that in retrospect cause us to flinch. Can we begin to learn to become more gentle and forgiving of ourselves? How can we learn to forgive others, if we continue to be intolerant of our own shortcomings and mistakes? Something to keep in mind is that even the IRS has a statute of limitations.

Spiritual work is inner work. Every time we work at becoming more aware and more conscious in our own lives, we are almost by definition growing spiritually.

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Interviews & Essays

On Thursday, May 6th, welcomed Lama Surya Das to discuss AWAKENING TO THE SACRED.

Moderator: Thank you for joining us for what promises to be an enlightening hour. How are you this evening?

Lama Surya Das: It's nice to be here with everybody. I hope this helps us to awaken something deeper and truer in our lives. I think of this as a wake-up call, to awaken us to something beyond us and deeper in us. Just like in the movie "The Matrix," waking up to reality, to a better life, to freedom, to freedom of mind, to freedom of heart. Waking up from dreamwalking and the sleep of illusion. I think of "The Matrix" as a kind of Buddhist movie, waking up from the sleep of illusion and serving all in the highest sense.

Wendy from Brooklyn: I read your last book and really liked it. What I'd like to know is how this book is different, and what you like best about it.

Lama Surya Das: Hello, Wendy from Brooklyn! I'm from Brooklyn, too -- from Brooklyn to Buddha and back! My last book was more about Buddhism for the West, bringing it all together to be practicable and accessible to westerners today. This book makes the next step from Buddhism to contemporary Buddhism and contemporary spirituality behind any particular -ism. Something that anybody can practice and benefit from: these spiritual technologies of awakening and liberation, these practices for awakening the heart and illuminating the mind. For example, in this book, I talk more about natural spirituality and finding the sacred in everyday activities, like gardening, nature, exercise, animals, music, journal writing, creativity, dreams, prayers, fasting, yoga, and so on. Putting a natural spirituality back in its rightful place in the center of our lives. Good luck!

Joanne from Boston, MA: I've had sacred moments, I can say, at different points in my life. But always, eventually, the reality of my everyday life comes rushing back in and shatters the experience. Is there any way to preserve the experience of the sacred in your everyday life?

Lama Surya Das: We should not think about preserving; we should think about accessing it, because it's always there. Experiences come and go -- that's natural. But the timeless reality, the eternal, is always present. We only need to cultivate it, to reconnect with it. This is what I've written about, the practices for direct access. The practices that I have written about help us to access it alone or with others, at work or at home, during the day or night, even while we're asleep through lucid dreaming. Every moment is an opportunity. Everything is impermanent -- let it go, what happened before. Just rediscover it anew right now, by paying attention to the present moment, and enjoy the beyond-ness in every finite thing, in every moment. Not just in special or extraordinary experiences. That's it.

Maria from Indianapolis, IN: There is an excerpt from Walt Whitman at the beginning of your latest book. Knowing you also are a poet, I can understand why this passage has meaning to you. Where is this Whitman piece from? How does it relate to your book?

Lama Surya Das: I don't remember where I got it from -- I copied it a long time ago; it was in one of my spiritual notebooks. How does it relate to my book? It says love the earth and the sun and the animals -- that's what this book is about. Learning to love and seeing the transcendent and infinite in every person and being. And as it says at the end of the quote, reexamine all of what you have learned in church and in school and in books, and think for yourself. That's what it's about, and that's why I chose it as the inscription of this offering. There's another reason. It's what Whitman stands for as a poet, as a man who found his own voice, his own way of expression. That's what we have to do today, find our own voice, our own faith, our own way of being. In that sense we are all poets -- creating our own life and our own way, our own paths.

Eva from Wisconsin: What do you think is responsible for the evil that people create in the world? Do you think there is any way to ensure that someone won't grow up to be a "bad seed"? Do you think an ideal, loving world is attainable for the human race?

Lama Surya Das: Yes, to the last question. And I think that we are responsible for the evil that is in this world. Maybe not you or I personally, but us collectively, and we collectively have to retool and recondition ourselves and our society in a wholesome, healthful nonviolent fashion in order to have a loving, sane, and safe world. Talking about "bad seeds" doesn't seem to be enlightened thinking. Enlightened thinking would be to think that we are all children of God, we are all enlightened children, and a combination of nature, what we're given, and what happens to us determines what kind of fruits flower from us. Even a bad seed can be rehabilitated and reborn and transformed into a saint, I'm sure.

Sal from Boca Raton, FL: Your book makes reference to the sacred texts of many different religions. Do you think religions are at heart aiming for the same thing? Is the sacred universal?

Lama Surya Das: Yes, absolutely. All religions are aiming for the same thing with different stated purposes, goals, and forms. That doesn't mean that all religions are the same, just as all the cuisines from the world or languages are not the same. But the common ground is there, just like languages have a similar purpose, not identical purpose, and cuisine has a similar purpose of nourishment. All religions seek ultimate happiness and fulfillment under whatever name it's called. For that is the true purpose and meaning of life. Religions may look different on the outside, but the spirituality within them is similar. And even more deeply, outside religions, inside spirituality, and its core in the mystical experience of reality or of the divine -- they all seem to converge.

Andy from Hoboken, NJ: What are your feelings about what has been happening in Kosovo recently?

Lama Surya Das: I feel terrible about it. What can I say? There's war in 30 or 40 countries of the world today; it's tragic. We have to find a way to peace and reconciliation in the world in our time, before it's too late. What about the killings in Colorado, what about Rwanda? What about the domestic violence in our own homes and in our own relationships? That's a place to start, and even with our own self-destructive personal habits -- that's something we can work on today wherever we are. To reduce violence and danger in the world. My motto is think globally and act locally, beginning with yourself and your close relations. There's a Buddhist bumper sticker for you: Think globally, act locally. Beginning with yourself.

Ian from Brooklyn, NY: What do you say to people who dismiss some more modern spiritual ideas and practices as "new age"?

Lama Surya Das: I think they should enjoy their "old age" or old country religion as much as they can. Different strokes for different folks. There is nothing new age about religions that are older than Christianity, like Buddhism and Hinduism, which teach yoga, meditation, vegetarianism, and natural healing and natural therapies. What's new age about that?

Mary from Ohio: I'm Catholic, but I am very interested in your writing and would like to learn more about Buddhism. Do you think one can incorporate Buddhist thought into their lives without surrendering their faith? Can one practice Buddhism and still call themselves a Catholic?

Lama Surya Das: Absolutely! That's why I wrote this kind of book! There are plenty of Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis who practice Buddhist meditation, because it's just like going to therapy or something else -- it's something that cannot contradict but only complement our spiritual life. Anybody can benefit from these spiritual practices -- even an agnostic or an atheist. No problem. In my new book you'll find prayers to God, Albert Schweitzer's prayers for the animals, an agnostic's prayer, Tibetan healing prayers, and so on. These are all things anybody can do today. There's nothing to convert to or convert from. However, we may have to reexamine some of our beliefs and our own tradition to go deeply into it. That's the whole point -- to go more deeply into our spiritual quests. As the Dalai Lama always says: Don't become a Buddhist; be a better whatever you are -- Jew, Catholic, or other.

Bill from Boston, MA: I've always marveled at how many people seek spiritual guidance when life throws them a curveball, and they are unhappy. And yet so many people who appear content never really go seeking spiritual guidance in their lives. And yet, I'm not sure it means that the content people have found the sacred in their lives, but perhaps they're just moving along fine without it. What do you think? Does one need a crisis to "awaken to the sacred"?

Lama Surya Das: No. Any number of things could help us awaken or seek it more deeply -- perhaps just an inquiring spirit or just some intellectual skepticism could help us look more deeply into the spiritual world. Of course if we are totally satisfied, then why would we seek for anything more? Even if some people can be totally satisfied, when things change, where do they turn? Who doesn't turn to prayer or to something transcendent as a last resort when tragedy strikes? On the other hand, spirituality heals. It heals our ills and unease and disease. It heals the body as well as the mind, the heart, and the soul. It can heal division between peoples and nations. Spirituality is like medicine -- no wonder people turn to it when they feel unwell. This is good; this is natural; this is the whole point. If you don't need it, there's no need. You get to choose.

Moderator: What is your ideal summer vacation?

Lama Surya Das: Going to the beach with my friends, my partner, and my dog. Riding bikes and playing ball, sports outside. Catching up on my reading and having some fun in the sun!

R.T. from West Virginia: This all seems like it should be common sense to me. Maybe it's because of the way I was reared. But is there anything different about this book from others trying to help us find peace and happiness? Also, doing yoga and meditating outside in the sun.

Lama Surya Das: There are so many ways to look into this. Of course it's all common sense, but if you go more deeply into it, it's a little more subtle. For example, health seems like common sense, but who among us today can't benefit to learn a little more about modern research on diet, exercise, alternative therapies, vitamins, herbs, and so on, which may not have been part of our upbringing? As well as fasting, how to work with our dreams, or awaken when we're with our dreams, and other more esoteric spiritual practices. We've all heard sacred music in church or a synagogue or mosque, but who knows how to chant or to pray today? Therefore, I'm teaching these things and bringing forth what I've gathered from 30 years of full-time spiritual training, mostly in Asia. Things seem like common sense when we understand them well, not before then.

Mark from East Village: How could someone who preaches peace and inner sanctity in life support a film so violent as "The Matrix"? I, too, drew religious comparisons in watching the film, but not in so positive a light.

Lama Surya Das: I don't particularly support the film. I, too, was disturbed by the amount of violence and also by the guys in the black coats with the weapons, which reminded me all too vividly of what happened in Colorado recently. We have to be responsible for the media. The media is the school that our society goes to every day. And we have to be aware of that.

John from Seattle, WA: Most religions believe in some sort of afterlife that gives meaning and purpose to our short time on earth. Isn't this just wishful thinking? Do you believe in an afterlife (reincarnation)? And if so, why?

Lama Surya Das: Many things are wishful thinking in our life, so it might be useful to examine our assumptions and beliefs about many things. There's all kinds of wishful thinking, inherited beliefs and superstitions, prejudices and biases that we all unwittingly subscribe to. Buddhists believe in rebirth, in a greater ecology or recycling of everything. That lends meaning and significance to our actions now and what the results could be later, and also helps us realize our small part in the greater, ongoing whole. One way to look into this, not just about beliefs but to explore it for yourself, is to reflect upon where life ends and where it begins. It's very difficult to find any beginning or end. For example, are we alive when we're born, or nine months before when we're conceived? And similarly when we die. It's a process, and there may be more to this than meets the eye. Just like falling asleep at the end of the day, leading to dreams and on to other realities perhaps. I have a question for you: Why is so surprising to think we could be born several times? How is that more unimaginable than that we could be born once? Where did that notion of "once" come from? In other words, why is it more surprising to think that we were born again and again rather than we were just born once? Where did that notion come from?

Blake from Chapel Hill, NC: I'm seeing a lot of "Christian" fiction out there these days, like Jerry Jenkins and others. As a writer, have you ever considered writing a novel to convey your ideas?

Lama Surya Das: Yes. But I'm more of a poet. It would probably take me 50 years to write a novel -- I'd be revising every line so many times! One day I'll write an autobiography -- that will be like fiction, I'm sure! Even nonfiction is fiction; it's just my view. Somebody once said authors of history are fiction writers. I think it's obvious that we all have somewhat selective perceptions or selective memory, which is the entire resonance of art and expression of our own vision of things.

Naomi from Bellport, NY: I know that you were born Jewish -- how did your family react to your Buddhist studies?

Lama Surya Das: I'm Jewish on my parents' side, as I like to say. It took a while for them to get used to me living in Asia for the '70s and '80s, rather than going to graduate school and the American lifestyle. But they got used to it eventually, and now my mother calls me her "Deli Lama," and she thinks Buddhism is quite kosher.

Kai Li from Marin, CA: What is your view on marriage, and how can a man and woman (darkness and light) consistently maintain balance and harmony for one lifetime? I ask this because I am getting married tomorrow! ^_^

Lama Surya Das: Marriage is beautiful. It's a sacred institution. I give you my blessings! And it's a matter of commitment and priorities. To work and play and grow together throughout this life for as long as it works. Conscious marriage is a spiritual path. Marriage vows are not that different from monks' vows. It's a commitment to something greater than ourselves. There's a saying in India: "Serve your mate, and you serve God. Love your mate, and you love God." Marriage is a sacred dance. Enjoy it all the way.

Moderator: If the Y2K bug wreaks its havoc, what three books would you like to read in your bunker by the light of your generator?

Lama Surya Das: The book I would most miss reading, which I think we most need to preserve, is the book of nature. I love to read that book every day. Besides that, I love to read the TAO TE CHING by Lao Tzu. The Gospels of Jesus, the four Gospels. THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, which I never get tired of rereading. And Shakespeare's amusing Henry plays. And Basho's haiku. And WALDEN by my Massachusetts neighbor Thoreau. Also THE LITTLE PRINCE by Saint-Exupéry. And A PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK by Annie Dillard.

Halley from California: Do you have any advice for any young people (I'm 16) who are interested in AWAKENING TO THE SACRED?

Lama Surya Das: I think you should read what I've written in my book and look in the back at my resource section and get some of the videotapes, audiotapes, and so on. And look at my reading list, recommended videos and CDs and audiotapes. And think about volunteering for some charity organizations and do some social good works. Also, check out my web site, And take good care of yourself; be careful. You are a precious resource yourself to all of us.

Rich from Kansas: What do you think the goal of each human being should be?

Lama Surya Das: I don't deal in "shoulds," but I think we're all looking for happiness and fulfillment through our various individual means. And I think we need to honestly look into ourselves in order to live genuinely and authentically and awaken to who and what we truly are. This will be of ultimate benefit to one and all.

Moderator: Thank you for joining us tonight, Lama Surya Das. We truly enjoyed having you back with us again. Any final remarks as we close?

Lama Surya Das: I think I'd just like to offer a blessing. May this offering be of benefit to a more peaceful, safe, and more beautiful world and life for all of us. And may we all together fulfill our great spiritual journey. Many blessings to one and all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2007

    A reviewer

    An amazing book filled with inspirational resources with the purpose of creating a personal spiritual practice. A great book for everybody not just buddhist.

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