(The Independent Press for Colorado University and
The Weekend: November 17-19, 1995
AUTHOR DRAWS FIRE FROM SOME WHO FOLLOWED
By Chris Logan, Colorado Daily Staff Writer
According to a biography provided by the Los Angeles
based public relations
firm handling his publicity, Dr. Frederick Lenz is an American success story.
He grew up poor, the biography says, a lonely boy in
an Irish immigrant
family who worked his way through college and went on to earn a Ph.D. in
English literature from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He
has been a teacher of literature, meditation technique and computer
programming, and has achieved business success as a designer of business
and educational computer software. Now, he's on a nationwide tour to
promote his new book "Surfing the Himalayas: A Spiritual Adventure" -- a
tour that includes a 2 p.m. appearance Saturday at the Barnes and Noble
bookstore in Boulder's Crossroads Mall.
The book is a fictional account of an American snowboarder
who embarks on
a spiritual journey with a Buddhist master in the Himalayas. Described as a
"compelling novel of seeking and enlightenment," the book sold 100,000
copies on its first printing.
But there are darker stories about Frederick Lenz --
stories of suicides,
disappearances and lives shattered inside what former Lenz students and
friends and family members of current followers call a dangerous cult.
"Lenz is a horrible man," said a former follower
named Barbara who asked
that her last name not be used. " I met him when I was 19. I stayed in his
group for five solid years, during which time I came to believe he was a fully
enlightened Avatar of God. I saw this guy levitate, I watched rooms dissolve
around me. I felt my skin burn, and I wa told I was experiencing the power
emanating from him. I was completely under his power; he had control of
me physically, mentally and emotionally."
Barbara first saw Lenz at a meditation seminar at the
Beverly Wilshire Hotel
in Beverly Hills in 1985. That session cost her about $40.00.
By the time she fled Lenz in May 1990, Barbara was paying
him $1,500 per
month in cash for computer training courses because she had been led to
believe she was a spiritually advanced being who had gone through many
lifetimes before reaching the level where she was able to study under an
She left, she said, after Lenz called her to his Long
Island, N.Y., home one
evening four years after she began following him. She said she was thrilled
to have been noticed. He told her she was advancing spiritually. Then she
said he gave her pills and had sex with her.
The next morning, standing in his kitchen, Barbara's world fell apart.
"He looked at me and asked me when my period was.
I told him, but the
whole time I was thinking, 'this guy's supposed to be telepathic, why doesn't
he know?' Then he told me if I got pregnant to get an abortion immediately.
I thought 'wait a minute, this guy's saying he has the power to create
universes and he can't control conception.'"
That day, Barbara said, she had a breakdown and Lenz
kicked her out of his
house. It took her another nine months to leave the group completely.
Dr. Frederick Lenz once went by the name of Zen Master
called him the "Guru from Malibu" and the "Yuppie Guru." He taught
meditation in the San Diego area in the 1980's, at that time claiming he had
first appeared in 1531 in Japan and was an incarnation of the Hindu god
Shiva, according to an article in Wired magazine. He built a following in
California's burgeoning New Age movement, teaching a form of Buddhism
he called "American Buddhism," which espoused hard work, high incomes
and lavish lifestyles. In the mid 1980's he moved to the East Coast where he
began teaching computer-programming courses.
The Lenz organization, according to cult-watch organizations,
"traditional" cults in that there is no cult compound and the members come
off as being well-dressed, well-educated professionals. They follow Lenz,
observers such as Marcia Rudin of the American Family Foundation say,
because he offers them a pathway to success -- financial and spiritual. The
computer courses he offers gives his followers the key to high-paying jobs in
the computer industry. His 'energy" takes them to a new spiritual height and
moves them along the pathway to enlightenment.
But ex-followers say Lenz also exacts an incredible
amount of control over his
students -- physical, emotional, psychological and financial. Stories abound of
computer consultants making close to $100,000 per year sharing small
apartments and living on coffee and candy bars while paying Lenz thousands
of dollars a month for the privilege of studying with him.
"Every minute of every day is accounted for,"
said former Lenz-follower Jim
Picariello, a 24 year old who dropped out of the University of Massachusetts
15 credits before graduation to follow Lenz. "You wake up, meditate for an
hour, go to work, come home, meditate for another hour, do homework for
group sessions, go to group sessions, sleep for maybe four or five hours, then
start again. You have no time for you."
"You become susceptible to the propaganda and they
explain everything --
every little detail of your life. But not only is it not true, it's a deliberate lie.
Lenz will tell you he's only a teacher, he only teaches meditation or computer
classes, but man, we worshipped that guy. I was spiritually raped."
Picariello and Barbara count themselves among the lucky
ones. There are
those who have disappeared after leaving to follow Lenz, among them 40
year old Brenda Kerber, who left California to be closer to Lenz in New York.
There are the suicides allegedly associated with Lenz,
including that of
Donald Cole, a 24 year old UCLA student who killed himself n 1984, leaving
behind a note that read "Bye, Rama, see you next time."
But Lenz denies responsibility for any of it.
Reached Thursday in Las Vegas where he was conducting
Lenz said he is nothing more than a computer-programming teacher who has
no army of followers.
"What am I today?" he asked a reporter. "Jim
Jones? The Ayatollah? These
stories are nothing new -- the usual bullshit -- so ask me the questions and I'll
give the usual answers."
Lenz said he has no information about missing persons
or suicides and said
individuals and groups such as the now-bankrupt Cult Awareness Network
have singled him out for unfair treatment.
"They prey on the fears of the parents and families
of people involved in
what I'll call nouveau organizations," he said. "They tell these people their
kids are in cults and for a fee, they'll get them out. It's a money-making
"The woman who disappeared? She'd pulled this
little act before," he said.
"Apparently, her disappearances occur on a regular basis. No one mentions
"I do know of one very troubled individual whom
I taught who committed
suicide, and that's very unfortunate, but statistically, the chance of a
University of Colorado student committing suicide is probably higher than
one of my students committing suicide."
As for the people who give firsthand accounts of what
goes on inside the
group, Lenz says he can't explain their motivations.
"I've taught literally a half-million people during
the past 20 years, and the
criticism is coming from a small group of about 15 people," he said. "For
their own reasons, they've decided to make me a scapegoat for all their
Lenz denies ever claiming to be an incarnation of the
Hindu god Shiva, as
reported by former followers in books and interviews. He says he's never
used hypnosis or other forms of mind control on anyone.
"My training is in English literature, not hypnosis,"
he said. "I teach my
classes, I go home, and I play with my dogs."
But cult-watch groups say the claims are valid.
"It's difficult to understand that this is a cult
because there' no compound,"
the AFF's Rudin said. "The members are clean-cut. They wouldn't stand out
in a crowd, but the psychological damage that's being done is tremendous."
Nonsense again, Lenz said.
"I have never usurped the rights of anyone I've
dealt with," Lenz said. "I'm a
Buddhist... I'm not a cult leader. I enjoy life, and I'm not going to take this
crap from these people anymore. it hurts me that my neighbors read stories
saying I'm the leader of a dangerous cult."
For former followers like Barbara, however, Lenz's denials
do little to ease
the pain she says she feels every day.
"The five years that I've been out have been as
traumatic as anything I
experienced on the inside," she said. "I'm getting better, but it takes a long
time. He was so deep inside my head, it takes years to get him out."
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