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Home arrow Eastern Cults & Isms arrow Frederick Lenz, a.k.a., Zen Master Rama arrow Washington Post expose on Frederick Lenz, a.k.a., Zen Master Rama

Washington Post expose on Frederick Lenz, a.k.a., Zen Master Rama

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Washington Post expose on Frederick Lenz, a.k.a., Zen Master Rama
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Visions of Gold

I looked at my body and I was nothing but light. I wasn't solid anymore. Eternity has named me Rama. Rama most clearly reflects that strand of luminosity of which I am part. -- Rama, in "The Last Incarnation"

In recent interviews with The Washington Post, six former Lenz followers -- three women and three men -- told basically the same story of their introduction to the group. Their experiences ranged from the Lakshmi period in the early '80s to the computer seminars of the early '90s.

All are smart and motivated, but some were emotionally vulnerable at the time. All were seeking answers and eager to follow someone. All grew to love Rama and the group above all else; all took his advice to enter the computer field and paid him monthly fees. Four say they lied to get jobs, at the urging of Rama or other group members.

Two of the women said they consented to sex with the guru because Rama told them it would advance them spiritually -- that this guaranteed they would be reincarnated in the next lifetime as more enlightened beings.

All of these former students now believe that they were subjected to a form of hypnotic mind control; some are in therapy. Yet their demonization of Rama can also be seen as a way of excusing their own bad choices.

Rama and his disciples lined up new recruits by advertising free or low-cost meditation sessions on college campuses. At these initial meetings, former students say, the suggestion was planted that Rama was fully enlightened and capable of turning a room golden. Eventually, the recruits got to attend a meeting with Rama himself. There, with the help of trancelike music and altered consciousness brought on by hours of lecturing and meditation, the spell would take hold.

Jim Picariello of Boston, now 24, attended a dinner meeting with Rama in October 1992, with his then-fiancee. He was a philosophy major at the University of Massachusetts. "Everyone [at the dinner] was a computer programmer, making between $ 80,000 and $ 200,000 a year. Everyone was happy and successful," he recalls.

After an evening of lectures and meditation, "Rama had a wrap-up after dessert. His voice got quiet and controlled. I don't remember what he was talking about -- neither does my fiancee -- but everything in that room turned into solid gold, as if inlaid with gold leaf. She felt a rush of euphoria. We looked at each other and thought, 'Holy [expletive], that was phenomenal.' We thought he was the real McCoy."

Students were taught that meditating up to three hours a day was the path to achieving success and power in the computer field; and it was Rama who would empower them. If they meditated well, they would make more money. Naturally, some of this money should go to Rama, who charged little for beginners, but accelerated the fees as the students secured lucrative computing contracts. Over time, the dropouts say, Rama would equate one's spiritual progress with one's earnings.

He also used demonstrations of his "powers" -- followers swear he changed shape, altered the patterns of stars, shot beams of light -- as a way to instill awe and to control them. Ex-students say he even dictated what shampoos they should use; Nexxus and Paul Mitchell were best, "high-energy." They say they learned the doctrine of "inaccessibility" -- using answering services and mail drops to avoid contact with relatives and friends.

"It was an insidious, slow shift," says Charlie Rubin, 30, a software consultant in Upstate New York who estimates that he paid Rama $ 40,000 over three years. (He says he was among a group of students who chipped in to buy the guru a new Bentley.) "Rama is kind of like a drug dealer," says Rubin. "He has the ability to alter consciousness, but he doles it out like heroin."

"If people had a good job, they thanked him for it," recalls Frances, who followed Rama for six years, now lives in Southern California and asked that her last name not be published because she fears repercussions in the job market. "But if anything negative happened, it was your fault. If he was sick, it was because you were sending him bad energy. If you got sick, it was your fault -- you were communing with lower entities and demons.

"He told us, 'In your dreams you all go to Hell and make deals for power. What if you didn't have me to give you the cleaning energies? If you leave me, you could die of cancer or in an accident.' That was the hold he had on everybody: fear. People were terrified. They slept with the lights on."

Teri Koressel, a Rama disciple from 1984 to 1989, says she was among the women he selected for a private "spiritual" session at his Long Island mansion. It soon became clear what the guru wanted when he invited her into his bedroom, she says, then reappeared in his underwear, holding a tube of lubricant.

It wasn't rape, she says, because Lenz didn't force her into sex. "I felt very uncomfortable with him initiating that, but I ended up wanting to be with him. I felt honored, special. What do you call that?" Koressel, now 37, wonders in a phone interview from her home near White Plains, N.Y. "I was with him maybe 12 times, but the last five times he really treated me like a hooker: 'Go take a shower, put on a robe, jump in bed, I'll meet you there -- I know what you want.'

"He'd say, 'You look at this like we're having sex, but we're not. It's an exchange of energy. You think I get a charge out of this? I'm doing this for you!' I'd end up thanking him at the end: 'Thank you for lifting my awareness to new heights.' "

Today Lenz says his "dating" is in line with the traditions of Tantric Buddhism, which includes a sexual dimension in some of its rituals and symbols. "This is a perfectly acceptable habit," he says of having sex with his students. Thousands of women have attended his seminars, and "it's like meeting somebody at church and you go out. . . . I think it's called being a healthy American male."

Yet, in his lectures, Rama derided male students for making advances on female classmates. "As a man who's working toward [spiritual] liberation, you can aid women mainly by leaving them alone and not projecting sexual energy toward them," Lenz said in one course that was tape-recorded in the 1980s. "For most men, sexuality is filled with violence," he contended.

He cautioned women: "In this age, in this time cycle of this universe, the destructive vibrations are very powerful. . . . So, as a woman, if you are interested in enlightenment, then it is necessary to detach yourself from men till you become much stronger." It was advisable for a woman to be around only one kind of man during these dangerous times, Rama suggested. "[I]f she's around an enlightened spiritual teacher, has spiritual friends .. . . her growth will be tremendously fast."

David and Goliath When you attain my level of enlightenment, you transcend good and evil. -- Lenz, as quoted in "Take Me for a Ride" For much of the past year, Mark Laxer rolled around the country in a 1973 VW bus with a quarter-million miles on its odometer, accompanied by his aging Siberian husky. Often they slept in the back of the van, which was filled with copies of a book Laxer spent six years writing but no publisher would touch.

Laxer, a computer programmer, spent $ 8,000 to print the paperback, which he titled "Take Me for a Ride." It is a harrowing account of his life with Zen Master Rama. Laxer spent seven years with the guru, including two years as his housemate.

Trying to sell the book, the frumpishly dressed Laxer hung around mainly on college campuses. "Meet famous Husky and her faithful author," he scrawled on a sign. It worked well enough to prompt students to talk to him. But not many wanted to pay the $ 14 asking price for his book, so Laxer offered discounts, accepted items in barter (once, a Hacky Sack) or simply gave copies away.

Laxer told the college students he wasn't against cults. Cults are all-American, he says; the nation was founded and peopled by weird sects, dating to when the Pilgrims landed. They are not necessarily a bad thing. "They give you a sense of belonging, of community, support. And when kids fly the nest, away from their parents, they should experiment.

"Cults are not the problem," Laxer says. "Cults that turn destructive are the problem." Today, Laxer still has thousands of unsold copies of "Take Me for a Ride." He is back in Washington working as a programmer on contract with the U.S. Customs Service. He lives alone in an unheated basement apartment. He is 35 years old. He commutes to work on a dilapidated 12-speed bicycle.

He wishes he had a steady girlfriend. "I want to get on with my life," he says.

Laxer left Lenz 10 years ago, but he has remained in the guru's shadow. "It's a David versus Goliath story," Laxer says. And it is also a Cain and Abel story. As a high-schooler in New York, Laxer was intrigued by the mystical writings of Carlos Castaneda. After graduating, he wanted to hitchhike to Mexico to meet a brujo, a sorcerer. But he never did: Mark's older brother, David, a physics student at SUNY Stony Brook, took him to a lecture by a Sri Chinmoy recruiter who called himself Atmananda and told stories about the lost city of Atlantis. Both Laxer boys were raised Jewish, but their rabbi could supply none of the spiritual thrills offered by Chinmoy and Atmananda.

In 1979, Mark Laxer followed Atmananda and other devotees to San Diego. He became Fred Lenz's faithful assistant, distributing posters and collecting the money. About a year later, his brother left college and moved west to join the group.

Laxer came to seriously doubt the teachings of Atmananda/Rama/Lenz in 1984, in part because of Donald Kohl's suicide. In his book, he recounts a conversation with the dead student's father: "I know what you're thinking, but Donald was not involved in a cult," Laxer told him. Then, in July 1985, Laxer writes, he was invited to an LSD party at Rama's house.

"I thought in terms of computers," he says in the book. " 'He's formatting us like floppy disks!' I thought." Laxer left the group a few weeks later. His older brother stayed. Today, David Laxer is 37 and describes himself as a wealthy man, an expert in software and computing. He won't provide the name of his company because he doesn't believe that a reporter will be fair to him in print. He says he hasn't seen Lenz in more than a year.

He indicates that he has paid Lenz more than $ 100,000 in fees in recent years, but says the money was well worth it: "Suppose you want to run in the Olympics, but you need a coach. That is my relationship with Dr. Lenz. I studied with someone who helped me bring out the best."

Furthermore: "Dr. Lenz can transmit a religious experience. . . . I know where it came from, this success -- and it didn't come from my parents."

David Laxer hasn't seen his parents since 1981. He believes they have been contacted by deprogrammers and are part of a campaign against Lenz that includes "media assassination" and "blacklisting" and "blackmail."

"I have no relationship with my parents by my own choice," he says, the contempt in his voice barely muted. "The amount of damage they have done to my life and my peers is incalculable."

And his brother Mark? He's a vindictive liar who's only out for money: "He's doing this for power, for fame. It gives him an identity -- he's got nothing else going on. My life is very challenging. . . . He's got time to defame someone. That's his career."

Mark Laxer responds: "I love my brother. That's on the record." But he won't say anything else. The last time he talked publicly about a Lenz follower, he was sued for libel. That suit recently was dropped, but Laxer says he's afraid his brother would file another.