BULLS COACH DESERVES TECHNICAL FOUL
FOR BLURB ON MYSTIC BOOK
Date: Wednesday, November 29, 1995 Byline: Eric Zorn
Bulls head coach Phil Jackson e njoyed reading an advance copy of "Surfing the Himalayas," a 236-page novel subtitled "A Spiritual Adventure" and recently published by St. Martin's Press.
"A fund read," said Jackson's blurb, which figures prominently in a massive publicity camp aign for the book that has included full-page ads in numerous major publications, including the Tribune. "It brought levity and humor to a subject often relegated to a mundane, boring prospect."
Coach and I differ there. It's a dreadful read. Such sentences as "I stared at the Himalayas for what seemed like an endless time" blight the story of a shallow young man who heads to Nepal to snowboard the world's highest mountains, but instead becomes an acolyte to a mystical monk named Master Fwap -- a "plot" that is little more than a flimsy skeleton for a series of lectures on Eastern mysticism.
"What does that mean, Master Fwap?" "It means that enlightenment exits within all things." And so on to such assertions as "To go into the s amadhi you must pull the kundalini energy up from your root chakra."
It might all be as unintentionally amusing as an old "Kung Fu" episode were it not for passages such as this:
"Most individuals... absorb a great deal of psychic ener gy from the people they casually associate with, and an even greater amount of psychic energy from the people with whom they have strong emotional connections... If these negative auric vibrations are not kept to a minimum... they will accumulate and e ventually become extremely toxic (and impair) our ability to perceive psychically."
Translate this mumbo-jumbo and you have the call of the cult leader -- leave your friends and family and follow me -- which is exactly what critics say author Frederick Lenz is.
"He's a dangerous guy, a con man who believes his own con," said Mark Laxer, a former leader among Lenz's estimated 500 to 1,000 followers who are said to live in near-poverty to fund his life of luxury. Laxer broke from len z and wrote, "Take Me for a Ride: Coming of Age in a Destructive Cult," a book that alleges that lenz financially and sometimes sexually exploits his devotees.
Laxer and others opposing Lenz say that the message he preaches -- that those on th e road to enlightenment need to protect their psychic energies from those who would steal or erode them -- creates paranoia among his followers that he uses to strengthen their allegiance to him.
"He is all about deception," said East Coast pol itical consultant Thomas Derr, who mounted a publicity campaign to discredit "Surfing the Himalayas" because he said he lost a close friend to Lenz's unnamed cult. "He is to Zen Buddhism what Beavis and Butthead are to public TV."
Lenz, 45, i s a Ph.D. in English who gained followers in the mid-1980s by slickly marketing a new-agey blend of Eastern religious traditions. He promoted himself as "Zen Master Rama," a truly enlightened miracle worker with numerous important past lives who could grease his followers' way to nirvana. But as he gained fame, families and individuals who claimed to have been devastated by him came forward and prompted a flurry of negative publicity that caused Lenz to close ranks in 1988 and all but drop from sig ht.
Lenz was out of the country this week and unavailable for comment, but in numerous newspaper and magazine articles over the past decade he has denied all allegations of wrongdoing or sinister intent.
The ad campaign and dust jacket for his comeback opus, "Surfing the Himalayas," paint him as a sportsman and high-tech entrepreneur and contain no hint of his previous outlandish claims, his pretentious former pseudonym or the controversy that dogs him.
Jackson, whose own da bblings in mysticism have always seemed harmless enough, said he knew nothing at all about lenz when he read and endorsed the book.
"Of course I wouldn't want to be associated with something as tainted like that," he said Tuesday when reached a t his hotel in Vancouver. "But until these allegations are proven, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and not make a stink about it."
The book stinks enough on its own, I guess. But when Jackson returns to town he might want to look a litt le deeper into the man to whose work he is lending the considerable weight of his name.
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