Surja Tjahaja can turn minds in the right direction

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Meeting Surja Tjahaja is a pleasure. Through 15 years of meditation he has become a completely different kind of person.

Surja Tjahaja is such an unusual person that upon meeting him people ask, “What’s up?”

He is so calm, serene, self-possessed, gentle and friendly — genuinely friendly — that you must wonder why.

The answer is meditation. Tjahaja has practiced meditation for 15 years, and he has been a meditation instructor since he moved to West Linn five years ago.

He has a wonderful way of making the complex simple and the ordinary profound. He does not claim he can make your troubles disappear, but he can help you deal with them much more effectively.

What Tjahaja wants most is to help people concentrate in a noisy world that is full of distractions.

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Surja Tjahaja demonstrates how he meditates. Tjahaja says you can meditate anywhere, even in the mall while Christmas shopping.

“Meditation has so many benefits, like improving our ability to concentrate and focus,” Tjahaja said. “Concentration is something we used to do very well. American Indians were able to hear and smell things from very far away. These are skills we used to have, but it is very easy to become distracted in today’s world.

“This can affect so many areas of our lives, like education and relationships. We pay less attention to the other person. There is a much better way we can listen to others. It’s called active listening.”

Students who listen to Tjahaja can benefit greatly. He gives an example of a woman whose face would twitch with facial tics whenever he glanced in her direction.

“She was so full of self-judgment,” Tjahaja said. “She is so much better now. Her face is calm. She smiles more than she frowns.”

Tjahaja knows very well where such people are coming from, because he used to be where they are. In fact, he said, “I’m 180 degrees different from the person I used to be.”

It was 15 years ago that Tjahaja was going through a terrible time in his life. He was faced with tragedy that seemed way beyond his ability to deal with. It had happened on his birthday, he said, and “I was in a deep state of depression.” Tjahaja was on a lonely walk on a city street in Palo Alto, Calif., when he went by a used book store and a book on display caught his eye.

“It was called ‘The Art of Happiness,’” Tjahaja said. “I thought, ‘I would like to know this.’”

When Tjahaja looked at the photo of the author, however, he was not impressed: “He had no hair, and he wore these owlish glasses. I thought, ‘I hope this is not a cult.’ I thought it wouldn’t hurt if I investigated a little further.”

The odd-looking author was the Dalai Llama, and Tjahaja’s life was on the verge of being totally turned around. The strange book deeply aroused Tjahaja’s curiosity.

“I thought, ‘Where could I ask a question?’” Tjahaja said. “It turned out that the Insight Meditation Center was only 10 minutes away from the book store. It was a total fluke. I stayed there 10 years. I really gained a lot. I became a chaplain in a San Francisco hospital. I sold my business and became interested in sharing what I had.”

Fate had given Tjahaja a helping hand, but it was his hard work and dedication that transformed him from being a troubled man into a confident one who would not be defeated by the inevitable sorrows of life.

“One can actually change an attitude or a reaction,” Tjahaja said. “Meditation is like going to a gym where you take care of your mind. You can have a positive state of mind instead of anger or sadness. I know because there are 10,000 times I have practiced it.

“Sometimes an event will cause you to think, ‘Oh, what a terrible life,’ and it spirals into depression. When you know the trigger points that cause this, you don’t let yourself go there. You can direct your mind. You can tell yourself, ‘I’ve survived this far, I have 10 fingers, I have a roof over my head.’ You can go from being ‘miserable me’ to realizing life can be wonderful.”

Since becoming a meditator instead of a worrier, Tjahaja’s life has been showered with blessings.

He said, “I can overcome any hardships much more quickly. I have a better relationship with myself as well as others. I’ve been married 32 years, and my marriage is better than ever. I have more friends than I’ve ever had before. I never get sick. I used to get sick every couple months.”

Perhaps the most unique thing about Tjahaja’s philosophy about meditation is that it is by no means dedicated to any spiritual or religious quest.

“I’m a business man,” he said. “I’m interested in the bottom line. I want to know what really works for your day-to-day life.”

Instead of being a question man, Tjahaja is an answer man. And his bottom line is this:

“If you point your mind in the right direction your body will follow.”

Tjahaja is currently holding classes in Lake Oswego until Nov. 11 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the West End Building, 4101 Kruse Way. The cost is $56 for residents and $70 for nonresidents. Registration is open at or by calling 503-675-2549.

He will hold classes in West Linn from Oct. 9 to Dec. 4 at the West Linn Adult Community Center at 1180 Rosemont Road. The cost is $60 for residents and $65 for nonresidents. Registration can be made at or by phone at 503-557-4700.

On Sept. 24, Tjahaja will give a public talk at the Lake Oswego Public Library at 706 Fourth St. from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

For more information, go to

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - A group of students listen to the wisdom of Surja Tjahaja. He will soon be offering meditation classes in Lake Oswego and West Linn.

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