Lama Rod Owens, Buddhist

Lama Rod Owens Wants To Create ‘New Saints’ Through Buddhist Teachings

Owens has gone from “breaking up with God” in college to reconciling with God and refining his image of God.

Lama Rod Owens, a 44-year-old Black Buddhist educated at the Harvard School of Divinity, blends teachings from Buddhism and Judeo-Christian religions to nurture what he terms “New Saints” among his students. Raised in the Black Baptist and Methodist traditions, Owens departed due to unwelcoming attitudes toward gender and sexuality, seeking personal religious autonomy and a more inclusive spiritual path.

As the Associated Press reports, Owens credits much of his spirituality to his mother, Rev. Wendy Owens, whose path as a United Methodist minister inspired his spiritual journey. “Like a lot of Black women, she embodied wisdom and resiliency and vision.” Owens told the outlet, “She taught me how to work. And she taught me how to change because I saw her changing,” he shared.

After graduating from Berry College, a non-denominational Christian school, Owens redoubled his commitment to service, which he told the AP was his new religion. Owens trained as an advocate for sexual assault survivors and also volunteered for projects focusing on HIV/AIDS education, homelessness, teenage pregnancy, and substance abuse. “Even though I wasn’t doing this theology anymore, what I was definitely doing was following the path of Jesus: feeding people, sheltering people,” Owens told the AP. 

Shortly after graduating from Berry College, Owens joined Haley House, located in Boston, where he would meet people from all walks of faith: Christianity, Buddhism, Wicca, Islam, and even Monasticism. He credits a friend who gave him a copy of “Cave in the Snow,” written by Vicki McKenzie, which tells the story of Tibetan Buddhist nun Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s search for enlightenment that set Owens on his spiritual path. 

“When I started exploring Buddhism, I never thought, ’Oh, Black people don’t do this, or maybe this is in conflict with my Christian upbringing,’” Owens said. “What I thought was: ’Here’s something that can help me to suffer less… I was only interested in how to reduce harm against myself and others.”

His exposure to various religions only deepened at Harvard Divinity School, where Owens met a member of the Satanist faith. According to La Carmina, the author of the “Little Book of Satanism,” despite the moniker, most Satanists are non-theists. 

“There are many different kinds of Satanists, but most don’t actually believe in Satan and don’t worship him as either a god or as a force of evil. For the most part, Satanists are non-theists and view Satanism as a personal liberation from traditional theistic beliefs.” La Carmina told Columbia Magazine. “We value nonconformity and revolt against the ideas of superstition and arbitrary authority. Modern Satanists are nonviolent and interested in the pursuit of reason, justice, and truth.”

Owens has gone from “breaking up with God” in college to reconciling with God and refining his image of God, as he told the AP, “God isn’t some old man sitting on a throne in the clouds, who’s, like, very temperamental. God is space and emptiness and energy. God is always this experience, inviting us back through our most divine, sacred souls. God is love.”

Owens continues to find inspiration from figures as varied as James Baldwin, Harriet Tubman, Alvin Ailey, Andre Leon Talley, Toni Morrison, Tony Kushner, and Beyoncé. This wide-ranging group of influences motivates him to continue to be fluid, as he told the AP, “I want people to feel the same way when they experience something that I talk about or write about.”

Owens added, “That’s part of the work of the artist — to help us to feel and to not be afraid to feel. To help us dream differently, inspire us and shake us out of our rigidity to get more fluid.”

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