An American lama in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, poet, chantmaster, spiritual activist, author of many popular works on Buddhism, meditation teacher, and spokesperson for Buddhism in the West. He has long been involved in charitable relief projects in the Third World and in interfaith dialogue. Surya Das is a Dharma heir of Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche, a Nyingma master of the non-sectarian Rime movement, with whom he founded the Dzogchen Center and began leading Dzogchen retreats in 1991. Surya Das was born Jeffrey Miller and raised in Valley Stream, Long Island, New York. He attended the State University of New York at Buffalo,
graduating with honors in 1971, with a degree in Creative Education. After his best friend's girlfriend, Allison Krause, was killed during the Kent State shootings, Surya Das began pursuing spirituality. From 1971 to 1976 he traveled in India. There he studied Hinduism with Neem Karoli Baba as well as Vipassana with S.N. Goenka and Anagarika Munindra, of the Theravada tradition. His name, which means "Servant of the Sun" in a combination of Sanskrit (sūrya)
and Hindi (das,
from the Sanskrit dāsa
), was given to him in 1972 by the Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba. In 1973 and 1974, he lived in Kyoto, Japan, where he taught English and studied Zen Buddhism under Uchiyama Roshi. During his travels in India and Nepal, Das studied with Tibetan Buddhist Lamas Thubten Yeshe, Kalu Rinpoche, The 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Tulku Urgyen, Thrangu Rinpoche, Dezhung Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse, and Kangyur Rinpoche. He resided at the newly established Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastery in Woodstock, New York from 1977 to 1980. Surya Das attended the first Nyingmapa retreat center in Dordogne, France in 1980. At the center, he completed two Dzogchen three-and-a-half-year retreats under the guidance of Dudjom Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. He was empowered to teach in 1984. He has worked with the Dalai Lama since the early 1990s on a variety of projects. That included organizing several weeklong International Buddhist Teachers Conferences with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, and America. He also founded the Western Buddhist Teachers Network. In 1991, Surya Das returned from his two decades at Tibetan monasteries and retreats to establish the Dzogchen Foundation and Centers to help further the spread of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. According to the Foundation, Dzogchen introduces and unveils the "innate spiritual intelligence or intrinsic awakefulness" in practitioners. Surya Das has said, "It is the perfect nature of all things."