Dalai Lama’s physician to tell his story at UW Tacoma Thursday

Staff writerApril 30, 2013 

Being a Buddhist monk is no shield against life. Dr. Barry Kerzin was reminded of that fact this week as he dealt with his father’s death.

When he talked Tuesday, it was by telephone from his father’s Los Angeles condo, where Kerzin and his brother were sorting through years of memories and keepsakes.

“When one goes deeper into meditation, transitions become less difficult,” Kerzin said. “I’m sad for Father’s passing. It’s painful, but not compared to when I didn’t have my Buddhist knowledge.”

Kerzin, a medical doctor and former University of Washington assistant professor, will be in Tacoma on Thursday to share some of that Buddhist knowledge – and tell a little of his own story – while speaking at UW Tacoma.

It’s a story that could have been written in the city where he was born: Hollywood, Calif.

A boy reads about zen and meditation at 13, studies medicine and Buddhism, and, while teaching at UW, visits India at the request of the Dalai Lama and later becomes his personal physician.

“I followed my heart and was fortunate to have doors opened,” Kerzin said.

It’s been the journey of his life. Now 65, he was married but lost his wife to ovarian cancer nearly 30 years ago. Once in India with the Dalai Lama, Kerzin’s plan was to spend six months teaching and then return to Seattle.

About 25 years have passed, and Kerzin hasn’t moved back to the Pacific Northwest, though like the Dalai Lama himself, he has made visits. The 77-year-old Dalai Lama will appear in Portland May 9-11. He was in Seattle for a major public gathering five years ago.

Kerzin’s journey to the center of the Tibetan exile world didn’t happen overnight.

“In the late ’80s, I probably considered myself a Buddhist. A Lama came to Seattle and spent two years,” Kerzin said. “In essence, I became his chauffeur. He led meditation retreats near Vancouver.”

A friend heard the Dalai Lama was asking for a Western physician to visit India and work with Eastern doctors there. Kerzin volunteered and was accepted. A year later, he became the Dalai Lama’s doctor – and asked to become a Buddhist monk.

“I asked a number of times, and I’d been treating His Holiness since 1990-91,” Kerzin said. “And he always said ‘Well, I want you to do this and this … .’ When I asked in 2002, he finally said ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ ”

Kerzin was ordained, at last, in January 2003.

What did he do as a new monk?

“I spent much of my years in silence and meditation. Then His Holiness nudged me to go out and teach,” Kerzin said. “One prepares oneself in meditation to help others. I eased into teaching.”

Still a practicing physician, Kerzin has lectured in Japan, Russia, Malaysia, Mongolia and America. He speaks extemporaneously, tailoring his talks to the audience.

“In American med schools, I’ll sometimes talk about nonreligious-based ethics, based on love and compassion,” he said. “There, I’ll often be asked about secular ethics, about happiness – how do I become happier?

“In Buddhist culture, the questions are about how to become more loving and compassionate – people will say, ‘I’m trying, but it’s not working.’

“Death and dying comes up a lot in both.”

Kerzin lives in two rooms in the Dalai Lama’s compound in Dharamsala. He hasn’t owned a car or a refrigerator since he left Seattle. He is altogether a different man from the one who left Washington a quarter of a century ago.

“I’m much less judgmental. I live without anxiety, and when it does come up, I think, ‘Wow, what is this?’ ” he said. “I have more wisdom, more perspective. I am happier inside, peaceful and calm.”

Kerzin meditates three or four hours a day. When he needs to “recharge the batteries,” he returns to India for serious meditation. He recently completed a two-month silent retreat.

This week, he spent time with family in Los Angeles, grieving a father who accepted his son’s choices and who admired the Dalai Lama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Kerzin’s siblings?

“They say they were surprised I hadn’t become a Buddhist monk years earlier.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638



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