Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rama of Hollywood: Frederick Lenz


In June of 1983, a musician friend found (probably in the Recycler) a $6000 synthesizer for $2000. He went to Malibu and bought it. Thus begins another case in the annals of Celebrities I Have Known; or, in some cases, not quite known. Actually, the connection is very tenuous.

The seller of the marvelous electronic music machine was the guru known as Rama, who had bought it to make meditation tapes, and then changed his mind. At least, that was what I heard at the time. Yet Zazen, the ensemble that Rama put together, released their first album in 1984. So he must have changed his mind back again in a hurry, or maybe he found an even more wonderful synthesizer, or maybe another musician brought along his own… who knows?


Perhaps intrigued by that incident, Dale Hartman and I went to a theatre somewhere in LA for an introductory lecture by Rama, a.k.a. Frederick P. Lenz III. He was a handsome, Shirley-Temple-haired young man with, as I remember the occasion, some interesting ideas. The take-away literature was enclosed in two different folders, one with a gorgeous aerial photo of metro Los Angeles at dawn, a folder in which I still store papers (see picture.) The other featured an equally opulent shot of the city by night. It’s still around here somewhere too.


So yesterday, curious about what he’s been up to all these years, I looked up Rama. As it turns out, he’s been dead since 1998. I hesitate to use the word “facts” in connection with information gleaned from the Internet. But certain things have been said about the sordid circumstances of this suicide by a Buddhist who lived in a $1 million (or perhaps $2 million or $4 million) piece of Long Island real estate. (See what I mean about the Internet?)


Roughly, here’s what happened:

Brinn (or Brynn) Lacey was staying with Rama. I don’t know why their ages matter, but people seem to care about that, so she was 37 (or 33) and he was 48. On April 11 they both took a lot of pills. Maybe Valium, maybe phenobarital. One source says Rama took 150 tablets and Lacey took 50.
Rama wore a suit and tie, and he, or someone, secured around his neck the cloth collar of his favorite dog, complete with rabies vaccination tag. (He had also fed fatal doses to the dogs.) For some reason, he and Lacey went out to the dock, and Rama fell in the water.

On the 13th, a law enforcement officer passing Rama’s house noticed the night lights on in the daytime, stopped to investigate, walked in through the unlocked front door, located a caretaker, and then found Lacey, who was described as “incoherent.” At some point, however, she conveyed the information that Lenz had drowned. Divers found the body in Conscience Bay, 60 feet from shore, in 20 feet of water.


Here are some of the things said of Rama: Phi Beta Kappa; Magna Cum Laude; made his rent in grad school as a builder of dulcimers. Listed his previous incarnations on his resume’. It is also said that, contrary to the teachings of many religions and even some brands of Buddhism, he emphasized that women could be enlightened too. So enlightened, in fact, that according to Wikipedia,
In 1998, one of Lenz' female students founded Funwomen.com, a softcore website with photos of many beautiful topless and nude women students of Lenz.
This site apparently still exists in some kind of archival form.

A former adherent to the Rama philosophy says the guru was very fond of birds, which he regarded both as power symbols and as spiritual beings in their own right. In 1979, he is said to have bought 14 macaws. This same man says that in 1984, he helped his guru to navigate a bad acid experience by telling him a story about a bird. The Freedom of Mind website
offers an in-depth exploration of the legal battle over Rama’s estate, which was claimed by the Audubon Society. Some kind of accommodation was eventually reached, it seems.

Rama taught that it’s much easier to explore the spiritual realms when the needs of the material world have been taken care of, and there’s nothing wrong with wealth. Unlike many other gurus, he actually had a program through which people willing to do the work and follow his plan could become very well paid computer consultants. One follower went on to produce the film What the Bleep Do We Know? which appears to have found its audience.

Against critics of Lenz’s emphasis on money, there are two main arguments: he held a lot of free and reduced-rate classes, which someone solely interested in money wouldn’t do; and he washed out hundreds of prospective devotees who just didn’t seem like Rama material, whereas the truly greed-motivated guru will take whatever he can get from anybody. According to Rama, what matters is not how much stuff you have, but how non-attached you are to the stuff.


In holy-man mode, Rama could levitate, heal, teleport, shape-shift, project rays of light from his hands, and control the weather. Telling followers that he "wielded the power to create and demolish the universes," he also predicted that his enemies would either get cancer or be hit by cars.
So, why did a guy who had everything, kill himself? According to one of his security staff, the guru was looking at endless lawsuits from families of disenchanted followers, and the depression overwhelmed him. Why didn’t he just zap these troublesome pests with cancer or have them hit by cars? We don’t know. Maybe because he didn’t believe in violence, and felt that removing himself from the scene was the best karmic career move. So he intended suicide by drugs, but accidentally accomplished it by drowning. Or maybe it was always his plan to do both, just to make sure. Or maybe…. There’s a screenplay in this, and I’m sure somebody has already written it.

RELATED: great article by David Diamond in Wired
Rama’s own website

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