Frederick Philip Lenz, III, Ph.D., also known as Rama and Atmananda (February 9, 1950 in San Diego, California – April 12, 1998), was a spiritual teacher who taught what he termed American Buddhism, including the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Vedanta, and Mysticism. Lenz was also an author, software designer, businessman, and record producer.
Childhood and adolescence
Lenz was born February 9, 1950, at Mercy Hospital in San Diego, California. At the age of three, he and his family moved to Stamford, Connecticut. He spent the rest of his childhood and teenage years there, attending schools in the Stamford area.
Lenz's father, Frederick Lenz Jr., worked as a marketing executive and later went on to become the mayor of Stamford from 1973 to 1975. His mother, Dorothy Lenz, was a housewife and a student of astrology. His mother and father divorced when he was seven years old, his father remarried six years later. His mother died later on when he was sixteen years old. Lenz spent his childhood living alternately with his father, aunt and uncle, and grandparents.
After high school, he spent a short period of incarceration in a work camp near San Diego for possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor offense which was later removed from the court records by way of a dismissal. After the work camp, he traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal and encountered a Tibetan Buddhist monk who informed him that in the future, he would help millions of people and carry on the teachings of a lineage that had almost disappeared.
Lenz graduated from Rippowam High School in 1967. He later attended the University of Connecticut, where he majored in English and minored in Philosophy. He was inducted as a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and graduated Magna Cum Laude.
After college, he won a competitive State of New York Graduate Council Fellowship enabling him to continue his studies. He earned a Master of Arts and a Doctor of Philosophy from State University of New York at Stony Brook. His doctoral dissertation was on "The Evolution of Matter and Spirit in the Poetry of Theodore Roethke".
Lenz's work, including his teaching and projects, focused on modern spiritual enlightenment through the application of Eastern religious principles. The main themes of his teaching included the practice of meditation, living and working in the world, and the enlightenment of women.
Lenz instructed students on methods for living more productive, fulfilled lives. He was an advocate of computer science and other mentally challenging professions as a means of achieving mental clarity.
Lenz wrote he first went into samadhi, or a state of spiritual absorption, at the age of 19. In his books Surfing the Himalayas and Snowboarding to Nirvana he stated that traveling to sacred locations heightened his experiences in meditation.
Beginning in 1972, he became a follower of Hindu guru Sri Chinmoy, who gave him the name "Atmananda" meaning "one who Bliss is in the Self". In 1981, after moving back to San Diego, he broke with Chinmoy and founded his own teaching center called Lakshmi.
"Self-discovery is the essential core of all of Rama's teaching", according to Zoe Nicholson. "The principle is simple; that inside of each woman and man is the Self, Nirvana, Eternity. It has been covered with layers of conditioning, lifetimes of tendencies and fear of the unknown. Through the practice of Self Discovery all these layers are peeled back eventually revealing one's true nature: perfect pure light."
Lenz is quoted as saying, "It's necessary for you to have a strong base ... the economic independence to live a life of beauty and meditative seclusion. The strength and freedom to live a life of oneness." and that, "Money is energy in today's world. A great deal of the teaching that I do is about your ability to achieve financial independence." He taught that having money was one way to help others. Throughout his 27 years as a teacher, he offered thousands of free public meditations where he introduced numerous people to meditation, some of whom became students.
At the end of 1982, he adopted the teaching name of "Rama", stating that he was not the historical Rama but rather represented a warrior quality implied in that name. He claimed to remember all of his previous reincarnations, including his life as a high priest in Atlantis, and as a teacher in ancient Egypt, India, Japan, and Tibet.
His students wrote that they witnessed him perform miracles, or siddha powers, including levitation, teleportation, disappearing, turning rooms to molten gold light, projecting light from his hands, and transforming into an old, bearded Asian man before their eyes. He often took his students on field trips to the deserts of Southern California and to Disneyland where a number of these events were witnessed. Lenz stated: “I like miracles. They inspire me. Miracles cause you to believe, to have faith in the unseen, to look further into things, deeper into things. Miracles are the fun of enlightenment. When a teacher does a miracle – an enlightened teacher – and someone sees it, they’re astonished. Suddenly they have faith in what the teacher has to say about self-discovery and spirituality and enlightenment.”
Lenz's core teachings focused on the practice of meditation, mindfulness, the enlightenment of women, and living and working in the world as a Buddhist practice.
The following quotes are taken from public talks he gave in the 80s and 90s:
- "Enlightenment is a timeless void. It's an emptiness that's filled with the most excellent light. That light is suffused through every part of your being. It is your being. There's no sense of separation between yourself and the light. There's no self but the light. That's enlightenment – timeless, stillness, perfection."
- "Only a pure heart, a completely pure heart can house eternity. Your heart has to be absolutely pure. You can only want that which is absolutely good. You have to live in goodness all the time, and nothing else can matter. There can be no thought of self, no apartheid in the inner world. No discrimination. It's only with that absolute humility and purity that you can make friends with God because otherwise you're just too busy with all your desires".
- "What is self? What lies beyond self? Self is the perception of perception. Beyond self there's no perception of perception. That's the riddle. The only way to answer the riddle is to go beyond perception and, of course, then there's no answer because there's no perception, there's only silence."
- "In meditation, in selfless giving, in anything that lends nobility to the soul, we rise beyond the limitations of our self-created illusions and we become perfectly what we are".
- Career success is using daily work—schoolwork, work in the world, work at home, doing the laundry, all physical tasks, cleaning the car, any kind of work, and specifically career itself—as a way of advancing one's mental state.
- Women exemplify, from a spiritual point of view, power. The power of the kundalini energy, the energy of life, flows through them in a very different way than it does through a man, innately. In a fallen world, in a world of fear and darkness, men have reacted very negatively to the power that is inherent in women. Rather than realizing that that power is also indigenous to themselves, that they have the same power, only it manifests in other ways, men have rejected that power and sought to convince women of the exact opposite, that they are powerless. They have done this through sexual repression, economic repression, political repression, social repression, ideological repression and spiritual repression.
Claimed previous incarnations
- Zen Master, Kyoto, Japan 1531–1575
- Head of Zen Order, Kyoto, Japan 1602–1671
- Master of Monastery, Tibet 1725–1804
- Jnana Yoga Master, India 1834–1905
- Tibetan Lama, Head of Monastic Order, Tibet 1912–1945
Lenz was the producer for the rock band, Zazen. Zazen produced 21 albums in 13 years. The group also released several music videos. Although some of Zazen's albums were simply intended to be fun, new-age music, a number of their albums, such as Enlightenment, Canyons of Light, Cayman Blue, Samurai, and Samadhi, were specifically for meditation.
The band's name is taken from the Zen Buddhism term Zazen, literally, "seated meditation". Originally the band was named Nirvana until it was discovered that another band was using that name.
Criticisms and controversy
Rama received criticism from the anti-cult movement. Various accounts of Lenz portray him as a charismatic leader who tried to teach balance and compassion but found it difficult to maintain his own balance, ending his own life in 1998.
One person, Donald Cole, a 23-year-old who went to a series of widely attended public talks in 1983 in Los Angeles but never spoke directly to Lenz, felt that he was disappointed at his progress. He left a suicide note that read, "Bye, Rama, see you next time."
A small number of Lenz's students became involved with several cult watchdog groups, including the CAN (Cult Awareness Network) and deprogrammers (in particular, Joe Szimhart, who is accused of kidnapping and imprisoning several of Lenz' students, including Karen Lever).
Death and his estate
Lenz was found drowned in a bay next to his home on April 13, 1998. He left an $18 million estate, including two homes and two Range Rovers. His death was later ruled a suicide. His will was a matter of dispute between the National Audubon Society and his estate, which was settled by a donation to the National Audubon Society, and the creation of the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism, which is headed by Dr. Lenz’s accountant, Norman Marcus (executor of his will) and Norman Oberstein, his attorney. This act fulfilled provisions of the will necessary to apply the funds from Lenz's estate to the creation of the Lenz Foundation. According to The New York Times, the will was contested by Diana Jean Reynolds, who claimed to be Lenz's widow, and Deborah Lenz, whose claim to be Lenz's widow is based on her view that they had a common law marriage. Both claims were withdrawn and dismissed. His estate was settled in 2002. The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism has engaged in substantial grant making activity (close to $6 million to date) to approximately 80 American Buddhist organizations from 2003 onwards. As part of the settlement with Audubon, a gorge was named for Lenz at the Sharon Audubon Center in northwest Connecticut.
Frederick Lenz published eight books between 1979 and 1997.
- Lifetimes: True Accounts of Reincarnation, 1979, Fawcett Crest, New York (ISBN 0-449-24337-0)
- Total Relaxation: The Complete Program for Overcoming Stress, Tension, Worry, and Fatigue, 1980, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis (ISBN 0-672-52594-1)
- Meditation: The Bridge is Flowing but The River is Not, 1981, Lakshmi Publications, Malibu, CA, Revised 1983 (ISBN 0-941868-00-1)
- The Wheel of Dharma, 1982, Lakshmi Publications, Malibu, CA (ISBN 0-941868-01-X)
- The Last Incarnation, 1983, Lakshmi Publications, Malibu, CA (ISBN 0-941868-02-8)
- Insights: Tantric Buddhist Reflections on Life, 1994, Interglobal Seminars, New York (ISBN 0-9642196-7-0)
- Surfing the Himalayas, 1995, St. Martin's Press, New York (ISBN 0-312-14147-5)
- Snowboarding to Nirvana, 1997, St. Martin's Press, New York (ISBN 0-312-15293-0)
From 1982 to 1992, Lenz created over 120 audio recordings. The topics of the talks covered a wide range of titles, including "Meditation", "Tantric Buddhism", "Career Success", "Women and Enlightenment", and "Psychic Development".
These talks were recorded as nine audio sets, six of which were also published in book form:
- Lakshmi Series 1982, 30 Talks (ISBN 1932206116)
- Insights: Talks on the Nature of Existence 1983, 13 Talks (ISBN 1932206078)
- On the Road with Rama 1985, 7 Talks (ISBN 1932206051)
- Zen Tapes 1986, 18 Talks (ISBN 1932206035)
- Tantric Buddhism 1989, 27 Talks (ISBN 1932206094)
- The Enlightenment Cycle 1992, 12 Talks (ISBN 1932206019)
- Blue Skies Buddha. Liz Lewinson. 2015. Mystic Buddha Publishing House, San Antonio, TX. ISBN 978-0982050576.
- Rama Gaze in My Direction: The Story of an American Buddhist Rebel, Dr. Frederick Lenz. Liz Lewinson. 2013. Sausalito, CA. Epiphany Press. ISBN 978-0-9898899-1-9.
- The Last Incarnation: Experiences with Rama in Southern California. Compilation. 1983. Los Angeles. The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism. ISBN 0-941868-02-8.
- The Art of Rama: Interviews with Direct Students of Rama. Marsha Pritchard. 2011. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1461052999.
- Unplugging the Patriarchy. Lucia Rene. 2009. Williamsburg, VA. Crown Chakra Publishing. ISBN 978-0982377628.
- American Zen: The Wisdom of an American Zenji. Y. Ohta. 2009. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1449560799.
- Take Me for a Ride. Mark E. Laxer. 1993. College Park, MD 20740. Outer Rim Press. ISBN 978-0963810830.
- Insights: Talks on the Nature of Existence, p. 299
- Gerald Renner (October 18, 1992). "Furu Mixes Money, Mystique". The Hartford Courant. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
- Smith, Merrit (5 October 1972). The People of the State of California vs. Frederick P. Lenz III: Modified Order. Superior Court of the State of California.
The above-entitled matter coming on this date for hearing and it appearing to this Court that good cause exists for a modification of the Order of Probation heretofore made on August 6, 1969 for three years following conviction for Possession Marijuana (11530 H&S) Now, therefore, it is ordered that said Order be and the same hereby is modified in that the defendant's offense of Possession of Marijuana be reduced to a misdemeanor.
- James, R.B. (10 May 1971). The People of the State of California vs. Frederick P. Lenz, III: Order Dismissing Accusation Against Probationer. Superior Court of the State of California.
This matter coming on this date for hearing and it appearing from the report of the...crime of Possession of Marijuana (H&S 11530)...It is further ordered, adjudged and decreed that the above-entitled action, and the Accusation filed therein be, and the same is hereby, dismissed; and the said defendant is hereby released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense of which the said defendant was convicted.
- Lewinson, Liz (22 September 2015). Blue Skies Buddha (2 ed.). Mystic-Buddha Publishing House. p. 42. ISBN 0982050577.
By December, 1969, Freddie had saved enough to book a multi-stop flight. He figured he could stay at youth hostels once he arrived. ... When he arrived in Kathmandu, the teeming town was packed with sadhus and Western hippies from many nations... The lama said he had been waiting a very, very long time for Freddie, longer than this lifetime. He told Freddie that in the future he would be a great teacher in the West and that Freddie would carry on the teachings of a lineage that had almost disappeared. That he (Master Fwap) was passing along these teachings to Freddie. Master Fwap predicted that Freddie would become the new lineage-keeper who would revive the teachings and help millions of people.
- David Diamond (September 1999). "Street Brawl in the Twilight Zone". Wired Magazine. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
- Insights: Talks on the Nature of Existence, p 299
- Frederick Lenz Dissertation
- Pat Flynn (12 November 1995). "Controversial sect leader pays brief visit to his old hometown". San Diego Union-Tribune.
- Dr. Frederick Lenz. "Why Don't More Women Attain Enlightenment". Narkive Newsgroup Archive. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
- Ruth L. McKinnie (14 April 1998). "Frederick Lenz , 48 led controversial sect". San Diego Union-Tribune.
- The Associated Press (16 April 1998). "F.P. Lenz III, 48, Self-styled Guru". Sun-Sentinel.
- The Frederick P Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism
- The Books, Album, Interview
- Lenz as Author
- Book Reviews
- home Archived December 23, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
- Chronology/Biography, Frederick Lenz
- John Gallagher. "Diving to Conscience Bay". Psychology Today. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
- Ann Nicholson, Zoe (2003). The Passionate Heart. Lune Soleil Press. ISBN 0972392823.
- On the Road With Rama
- "Career Success". Rama Meditation Society. 1992. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- ("Zen", "On the Road", "Tantric Buddhism")
- Don Lattin (30 July 1992). "Yuppie Guru Finds Cash in Computers". San Francisco Chronicle.
- AP (19 June 1998). "Death of self-styled guru ruled a suicide". AP Online. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
- "Clarification". The Washington Post. 21 June 1998. Retrieved 24 February 2013.
- "The Last Incarnation: Experiences with Rama in California" (PDF). Lakshmi Publications. Retrieved February 25, 2013.
- Lenz, Frederick P. (2002). The Enlightenment Cycle, Miracles. The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism. p. 142.
- Lenz, Rama – Dr. Frederick: Tantric Buddhism, page 87. The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism, 2003.
- Lenz, Rama – Dr. Frederick: Insights: Talks on the Nature of Existence, page 127. The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism, 2003.
- Lenz, Rama – Dr. Frederick: Tantric Buddhism, page 355. The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism, 2003.
- Lenz, Rama – Dr. Frederick: Insights: Talks on the Nature of Existence, page 283. The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism, 2003.
- Music - Road Trip Mind by Uncle Tantra
- Zazen Music Video: What is Dancing? on YouTube
- (Source: "Who Is This Rama? The master of Zen and the Art of Publicity is now having some very serious problems," Newsweek February 1, 1988)
- CESNUR - Appendix A - Sampler of Deprogramming Cases
- Certificate of Death (Recorded District 5143; Register Number 1-1998). Suffolk County Department of Health. 28 April 1998.
- Rediff On The NeT: The guru, $18 million, and the bird people
- West, Debra (June 13, 1999). "Two Women's Claims to Be New Age Guru's Widow Complicate a Complicated Case". The New York Times.
- Marx, R. J. "Audubon may be heir to guru's Bedford estate", Bedford Record-Review, March 12, 1999.
- Noonan, David. "$18M Battle of Wills: The guru & the bird people", New York Daily News, April 11, 1999.
- "Stipulation and Consent to Withdrawal of Petition (Diana Jean Reynolds)" (PDF). The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism. 23 November 1999. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
- "Stipulation and Consent to Withdrawal of Petition (Deborah Lenz)" (PDF). The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism. 15 November 1999. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
- http://www.fredericklenzfoundation.org/ The Frederick P Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism
- Official website
- The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism
- Rama Meditation Society - Resource Library