Prodigy Online Interview

In 1996 Rama did two online interviews, one with CompuServe and one with Prodigy.

This is a transcript of an online interview with Rama on Prodigy. The interview occurred on Wednesday, February 21st, 1996. The interview was in the chat format, with Rama and the participants typing their questions and answers.

Interview copyright (c) 1996 Prodigy

Moderator: SURFING THE HIMALAYAS is a compelling novel of seeking and enlightenment, featuring two unforgettable, strong willed characters. Readers have likened it in spirit, charm and wide commercial appeal to JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL ... "

Frederick Lenz's novel is based in part on the author's death-defying experiences snowboarding at the top of the world .... please write to Dr. Lenz now with your comments and questions about his book or about other related subjects, including how martial arts and meditation helped allow our guest to get more out of life than one could imagine.

This evening's chat session is with author Frederick Lenz. His book, SURFING THE HIMALAYAS, is described by some as Eastern philosophy taught through the parable of snowboarding. Now for those not familiar with the book, that must sound a little strange! Nevertheless, the novel is winning all kinds of praise from critics and from readers. Please submit your questions now...

We'll be starting in about 10 minutes. Please continue to submit your questions for Dr. Frederick Lenz, author of SURFING THE HIMALAYAS ...
Frederick Lenz Welcome to "Surfing the Himalayas," a book which I wrote to inspire people to learn about snowboarding and a more ecological way of living.
Moderator: Besides being a world class snowboarder and a black belt in karate, Frederick Lenz is also an author, teacher and active partner in several advanced technology companies, and has directed the development of financial, business management and educational software products.

A Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude graduate of the University of Connecticut, he received a Ph.D. in English Literature from SUNY Stony Brook. He lives in NYC, London and Santa Fe ... Ladies & Gentlemen, Dr. Frederick Lenz ...

OK, Dr. Lenz... Let's get to the questions....
cemeteryguy: Have you always been an "adventurous" guy?
Frederick Lenz Yes! I've always had an interest in the unknown and edge sports.
Cjazz: Is your book popular?
Frederick Lenz Currently, it is tied for the number one spot in Marin County. It has sold over 200,000 copies in the U.S. in hardback and it has already been sold in 12 other countries. Does that qualify as popular??
Dave L in CT: What did you learn from writing Surfing The Himalayas?
Frederick Lenz I learned something that I had forgotten ... that it is easier to write computer code than books. It was fun to relive some of the most exciting moments of my life, and it was very challenging to put those in a dramatic form that would be both entertaining and enlightening for the reader.
Dave L in Ct: What would you say, after all the studying and living that you've done, is the key to happiness (and I know that's a tough one to give a short answer to!)?
Frederick Lenz The key to happiness, in my opinion, is taking the time to find out what your spirit wants you to do, and doing it. In short, following your dream, never giving up, and always believing in yourself!
kmfdm: Are there any specific yogic techniques that will insure that a person will be able to reincarnate in to a higher spiritual realm?
Frederick Lenz Certainly there are! The primary yogic technique IS meditation. There are many levels of meditation, starting with basic concentration and progressing to the complete cessation of thought.

In my sequel to Surfing, I will be presenting a number of these different techniques. Incidentally, they can also be learned first hand from qualified Buddhist Yoga teachers.
Dave L in CT: How long did it take for you to write STH? Was it a difficult book to write?
Frederick Lenz Since I am involved in the creation of software, and I'm also in the music business, I didn't really spend my full time writing the book, so all in all, the book took about a year and a half to write, and re- write and re-write!
cemeteryguy: What did your close friends and family think of your travels? Did any of them discourage you out of fear for your safety?
Frederick Lenz My travels to the Far East occurred primarily during the 1960s. Naturally, I have returned many times since. Of course, there was concern from my family that I was traveling to far distant lands to accomplish snowboarding activities that no one had tried yet ... but I went anyway!
cemeteryguy: What was the weirdest thing you saw up on that mountain?
Frederick Lenz I don't think I saw anything WEIRD in the Himalayas. What I DID see was a level of beauty that I had never witnessed before.
kmfdm: I just wanted to let you know, I found that your book is one of the few around that has taken a very complicated subject that is usually convoluted by religion and made it fun and readable! Thank you.
Frederick Lenz I have heard many people voice a similar response, and it made the time and effort of writing the book worthwhile.
Larna7: Dear Dr. Lenz, I read in your book that at the age of 29 Master Fwap met his teacher. This seems like a special time in life and I was wondering how to approach that age for myself. I am almost 29 and my outlook on life is beginning to change significantly. I am both excited by the process and somewhat confused.
Frederick Lenz From the Far Eastern perspective, 29 is considered a very special age. Astrologically, at that age, you experience a Saturn return. It is considered an auspicious time to reboot your life. It's a chance to have a clean start and move forward into something VERY exciting. I recommend that you do so.
cemeteryguy: Do you regret ANYTHING about the voyage?
Frederick Lenz: It has taken me many years to appreciate what the Buddhist monks taught me in the Far East, and my only regret is that I could not understand more rapidly the depths of their simplicity.
Moderator: Here's a question that may take a minute to digest! Thanks for writing in Yen ...
Yen for Zen: My experiences in several spiritual communities have led me to two seemingly contradictory conclusions.

(1) I am incapable of making spiritual progress without an advanced teacher;

(2) Students in spiritual communities invariably become obsessed with the life of the master, in effect living vicariously through the master, while simply trading old diversions (sex, drugs, etc.) for new spiritual diversions. Doesn't this foster ego reinforcement and defeat the purpose of spiritual practice?
Frederick Lenz I have studied in many different spiritual communities also, and have witnessed experiences similar to your own. My conclusion is that it is best to study from a teacher of ANY subject, as long as you focus on the teachings and NOT on the teacher. All of the real important answers to life's questions lie within your own mind. A yoga teacher's purpose is simply to teach you techniques that allow you to explore the hidden realms of light within your own mind.

I have never been a particularly social person, and that's why I think meditation, snowboarding, scuba diving and long distance running have always appealed to me. But some people do find it beneficial to have the reinforcement of regular meetings with a spiritual group or teacher. So, I think it's a matter of personal choice.
kmfdm: Master Fwap mentions both occult powers and siddha powers, in your book. Can you explain what is the difference between them?
Frederick Lenz Siddha powers are a type of occult power, but occult powers come in many shapes and forms. The siddha powers that you most commonly hear about are things like levitation, telepathy and astral projection. Occult powers, on the other hand, are much wider-ranging. They involve the ability to change dimensional structures and the evolutionary path of sentient beings.
Dave L in CT: How on earth did you ever come up with the concept of combining snowboarding and Buddhism?
Frederick Lenz I didn't. I went to Nepal to snowboard. While I was there, I met a particular monk, Master Fwap, who told me that snowboarding, or any activity could be improved by the practice of meditation. Since I previously had some training in Korean martial arts, I was somewhat open to the idea, but it was only after studying Buddhist meditation and seeing that it DID radically improve my snowboarding that I saw that the two were complimentary.
kmfdm: Was there any point after your meeting with Master Fwap that you realized and understood what he had said, and went back to the Himalayas to find him to let him know?
Frederick Lenz You have to wait for the sequel to find out!
liteone: Dr. Lenz, how did you become enlightened?
Frederick Lenz By spending many thousands of hours sitting at the feet of Buddhist Masters, and by then practicing what I learned from them in my day to day life. In other words, it was all karma from my pasts lives.
Dave L in CT: Did you by any chance see the movie Forrest Gump? What did you think of it? I found it kind of wild that the country got so swept up by the meaning of the movie.
Frederick Lenz I saw Forrest Gump several times. I personally thought it was Tom Hanks' greatest role and I think it was one of the most eloquent love stories of our time, set against the chaotic background of the 60's.
KingChud: Did you ever think it was all over for you?
Frederick Lenz Yes, several times. (Mostly while snowboarding). Also, while traveling in the third world and being held at gunpoint by Chinese border guards.
kmfdm: I enjoy meditating to music a great deal, but am having difficulty finding groups and albums that are clear enough to meditate to. Can you recommend any?
Frederick Lenz Absolutely!

This week, my new album ECOLOGIE came out. It's on Miramar Records, and I think you'll find that it is very easy to meditate to. I also personally enjoy meditating to Vangelis and Kitaro.
Moderator: Jacques Demers, the former head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, says that in SURFING THE HIMALAYAS, author Frederick Lenz: "goes on a wonderful voyage. He conquers the mountains of the inner self "
liteone: What about being psychic? How psychic are you?
Frederick Lenz I think everyone is equally psychic, but through the practice of meditation you learn to make your thoughts quiet and become more aware of your innate psychic abilities.
MightyTaco: Dr. Lenz, what could you recommend to help me strengthen my discipline?
Frederick Lenz I think you are probably very disciplined at being undisciplined. All that is necessary is to find something that really excites you in life and then the discipline will follow.
thevelvetfog: Most people consider martial arts to be implicitly violent ... true?
Frederick Lenz Not true.

In my opinion, the best martial artist doesn't WIN fights, but avoids fights. Martial arts is a way of gaining basic self mastery of your mind, body and emotions. It can also be very useful in combat situations.
Dave L in CT: Were you at all surprised by the book's success? What was your first clue that it was going to be bigger than most expected?
Frederick Lenz I had no clue at all. As a matter of fact, you could say that I was clueless! I did not at all expect the book would be embraced by so many people ... more every day. I think this simply proves that there is a tremendous interest in our American culture for the wisdom of the Far East and for more info about the world's fastest growing sport, snowboarding.
liteone: You often say you are a teacher of Buddhism, yet you consistently omit many key elements of the practice, such as the Eight Fold Path and the Four Noble Truths. Why?
Frederick Lenz I have often discussed the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path in talks I have given about meditation. But, since I also teach Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist mediation, I have a very eclectic approach to the subject. However, I can assure you that next to my bed, there is always a copy of the Dharmapada, which I read from every night.
Moderator: Peter Max, the artist, says that SURFING THE HIMALAYAS uses, "amazingly simple and completely wise approaches to living a much better and happier life ... Great reading ... Many spiritual moments."
Punk bOy2: where do you get your ideas?
Frederick Lenz From meditation!
Punk bOy2: do you like ozzy osbourne?
Frederick Lenz Yes. Since I am a producer of both rock and New Age music, I generally like all categories of music. In particular, I enjoy Ozzy's stage presence.
fwaznoid: One of the aspects of your book I enjoy the most is the spirit of the interaction between "young Frederick Lenz" and Master Fwap. It seems to be a combination of silliness, affection and enthusiasm, but carries a great deal of respect and love as well. Do you think it is possible for someone to learn how to bring this quality to their own interactions with teachers and other people in their lives?
Frederick Lenz Certainly! I think it is incumbent upon the student to go to the teacher to learn. That may sound obvious, but most people approach Far Eastern teachers and teachings with many preconceived notions. I think it is best to let the experience you have with a teacher direct itself. Instead of trying to make the experience into what you might like it to be, leave it alone! Simply allow your own natural feelings to evolve as they will. Be true to yourself.
Punk bOY2: What kind of BOOKS do you read?
Frederick Lenz My favorite novel is Ulysses by James Joyce. I also read a great deal of Shakespeare, Thoreau, and my favorite contemporary author is John LeCarre, the author of spy novels.
Moderator: Here's a concept taken from SURFING THE HIMALAYAS that you might find interesting: "Enlightenment is the complete awareness of life without any mental modification. It is only by clearing one's mind through meditation and thinking nothing that one becomes aware of everything. One cannot truly describe "enlightenment" in a vocabulary of words, because words are fences of a sort, and thus limiting ... "

Pretty interesting talk for a Wednesday night chat ...
kmfdm: I've always wondered how, when an enlightened master is in samadhi and there is no ego left, they are able to return to this world or whatever world they may be meditating in. Is this a siddha power or something like that?
Frederick Lenz Gravity.
Dave L in CT: Which do you like better: living the experiences you write about OR the actual task of sitting down and doing the writing?
Frederick Lenz I prefer living the experiences. For example, I was recently scuba diving at 235 feet in Saba. The experience was bright, vivid, and I didn't have to rewrite it! Even though I have a Ph.D. in English, I have never found writing easy, so I think I am prone more to adventurous sports and, while recuperating from my adventures, I return to writing to try and inspire others to push their own limits in a safe and intelligent way.
KingChud: I want to say that I loved the book and was inspired and I was wondering how and when you became a Buddhist Monk.
Frederick Lenz I was initiated as a Buddhist monk at the age of 19, but I think that initiation is simply a starting point. Being a Buddhist monk, to me, means never losing one's optimism in spite of all difficulties. It also means being harder on yourself than any of your teachers ever were. You must constantly check and re-check that you are meditating properly, and not becoming what Clint Eastwood refers to as "a legend in your own mind."
SeraSera: What is the difference between ego and personality?
Frederick Lenz There isn't really a difference. Personality is a manifestation of ego. Ego is the central sense of separateness that a person has from the rest of the universe. Personality is the form that that separateness takes.
Punk bOy2: Can you play any instruments?
Frederick Lenz: Yes. I can play the guitar, the dulcimer, the piano, and the drums. However, I am not a performance quality musician. Rather, I am a composer and a producer.
bhud: What was the inspiration for SURFING THE HIMALAYAS?
Frederick Lenz The actual inspiration was Generation X. I grew up in the 1960's. While it was a very turbulent time, it was quite optimistic. Unfortunately, the world that Generation X has grown up in is turbulent, but NOT optimistic. Through writing Surfing the Himalayas I hope to excite the members of Generation X in the wonders of both snowboarding and Far Eastern thought.
Dave L in CT: Will Surfing the Himalayas ever be made into a film? Could the book's message be adequately captured in a film?
Frederick Lenz I have had several offers to make the book into a film. I don't know if the message could be accurately transmitted, and so I have been somewhat hesitant in granting film rights. Perhaps someday ....
Yen for Zen: Buddhist masters are well known for radical teaching devices that seem irrational on the surface. Example, Tilopa and Marpa, who required disciples to endure extreme physical and verbal abuse, pay exorbitant fees, and carry out a variety of bizarre tasks.

Are the crazy trials somehow an integral part of the process? Are they tests of faith? Or is it ego shock treatment designed to turn the disciple inward to learn that the teacher's chaotic behavior is symbolic of the chaotic nature of life?
Frederick Lenz It seems to me that you just answered your own questions very well! Have you considered a career in spiritual teaching?
Frederick Lenz By the way, I no longer teach meditation. Only software design.
kmfdm: I notice that even though I meditate and have a lot of things to focus my mind on, I'm always thinking. It gets very frustrating. Is there anything you can recommend that I can do to reduce the static in my mind?
Frederick Lenz Yes, definitely.

Keep trying. Your experience is quite normal for a person during their first ten years of meditation. That doesn't mean that you are not making progress just because you are thinking. Meditation is a lifelong study. You are learning to be at peace with yourself. It is not simply a discipline, but also an understanding.
FreshPowPow: In your book you talk about the fall of Atlantis, but you don't go too deeply into the cause. What happened?
Frederick Lenz There were many stages to the Atlantian civilization. During the later stages scientists became involved with advanced particle physics. In particular they were interested in reverse gravity fields. Their experiments caused them to destabilize the structure of the continent and thus Atlantis sank beneath the waves.
bhud: What did you do after your experience meeting Master Fwap? Did you immediately become a serious yoga practitioner?
Frederick Lenz Not immediately. I returned to the US, had variety of different experiences, and then while in the mountains of Southern California I began to practice what I had been taught.
Miami Mary: What are your feelings about recreational drugs or alcohol? If done in moderation, do you feel that they can enhance a lifestyle or do you feel that in the long run that they'll only diminish or take away from true happiness?
Frederick Lenz My feeling is that drugs and alcohol take away from the pure experience of meditation. That does not mean that occasionally a person couldn't have a glass of wine or a drink, but if alcohol is used on a regular basis, it definitely negatively effects one's ability to meditate, and drugs REALLY mess you up.
Yen for Zen: The other day on Star Trek Voyager, a member of the Q, a nearly omnipotent species, fought for the right to commit suicide because he had seen and done everything in the universe. There was nothing left for him to learn or experience.

Does enlightenment happen only after you've seen and done everything in the universe and gotten bored with it all? (Don't worry, I'm not suicidal. Just curious about enlightenment).
Frederick Lenz Enlightenment can occur or be brought on by a number of different circumstances. Some people seek enlightenment, as you've suggested, because they feel they've seen and done it all, and need something new. Other people seek enlightenment to overcome pain, to experience ecstasy, or to find out what the true meaning of life is.
dharmakaya: You have taught meditation in the past. I would like to know what you think of Mother Meera.
Frederick Lenz There are many great teachers of meditation, but I think only a person who's studied WITH someone for many years is in a position to voice a true opinion about a particular teacher. Since I have not studied with Mother Meera, I am not qualified to answer your question.
Sally Seeker: A book I've been checking out about Buddhist mind training says that a method to get beyond ego is to mentally take on the sufferings of others. Did Master Fwap talk about this, Dr. Lenz?
Frederick Lenz Certainly!

One of the traditional Tantric methods of mediation is to imagine that you are taking on the suffering of all beings. There are many such methods and techniques which can be found in abundance in books on Tibetan Tantric Buddhist Yoga.
dharmakaya: What is the best way to hold onto and strengthen a spiritual realization and integrate it into one's daily conscious awareness?
Frederick Lenz It only takes a few minutes to read a spiritual book, but it may take many years or lifetimes to realize the truths contained in such a book. Don't lose your sense of humor, keep trying!
fwaznoid: I love your music, especially your new album Ecologie. Do you have any recommendations for how someone who is a performance musician can learn to compose music?
Frederick Lenz As you know, the group I produce, Zazen, has three current albums out: Enlightenment, Canyons of Light, and our latest, Ecologie. My own musical background is based in the blues and in classical composition. I grew up listening to Muddy Waters, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Beethoven and Bach. If you're really interested in composition, listen repeatedly to the music that turns you on most. Learn to anticipate every note and movement in the music before it occurs.

It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to go to Juilliard if you can afford it!
liteone: Dr. Lenz, you used to claim that there were 12 enlightened beings on earth, but recently it has changed to 5. Why?
Frederick Lenz Downsizing!
Nightcoder: Dear Dr. Lenz, would you please tell us about the name Rama you sometimes use. I saw it on the covers of your albums (Ecologie and those by Zazen). Is there a connection with Ramayana? Is there a connection with Arthur Clarke's Rama Revealed? Thanks a lot.
Frederick Lenz Interestingly enough, Aurthur C. Clarke once autographed a copy of his book Rendezvous with Rama for me. Rama is a fairly common name in India. It symbolizes an individual who is interested both in enlightenment and martial arts. I do not claim to have any past life connection with the historical Rama. It's just a name I liked ...
mr D Kaya: How do you try hard without being attached to results?
Frederick Lenz Keep trying!
Zilla8: Are there certain cues that you get when your energy is focused in the right place at the right time?
Frederick Lenz Yes! Definitely!

The main clue is that you feel better. Your mind is clear and you are optimistic even in difficult situations. As Buddha points out, however, you should not rely on the opinions of others for validation of your internal progression. That's why I don't read newspaper articles about myself.
Mr D Kaya: How can you love and be detached at the same time?
Frederick Lenz Read The Little Prince by Saint-Exupéry.
Sally Seeker: Dr. Lenz, what dreams do you want to fulfill in this life?
Frederick Lenz I would like to create better software for the United States Government military and private industry. My particular focus at the moment is on the development of genetic algorithms and neural networks that work together to create computer architectural systems. In addition, I would like to write a good sequel to Surfing the Himalayas, and dive to 350 feet! I like it down there ... you know who the sharks are!
Miami Mary: In your opinion, can one experience great happiness, satisfaction and pleasure in life without benefit of meditation? Or is it a pre requisite for everyone?
Frederick Lenz I think everyone meditates in their own way. Some people sit and practice formal mediation techniques for many hours a day while others spontaneously meditate while watching a sunset, listening to music, or participating in athletics. I would not attempt to define the meditative experience. That's what YOUR life is for. In Surfing the Himalayas I have introduced Tantric Buddhist concepts that will help many of you along the pathway to enlightenment. I have also tried to encourage a style of snowboarding which is similar to surfing.

One of my greatest personal heroes is Jerry Lopez. When you can snowboard like he surfs, you'll be there!

I would like to thank you for joining our chat session tonight, and for reading my book and listening to my music. I would encourage you all to follow your dreams wherever they lead you and pay for those dreams with good jobs in software programming and computer design! May the force be with you!