Sam dech Preah Bhanté Vira Bellong Dharmawara Mahathera, an homage


By: Dr. Russell Jaffe

Bhante was my principle life mentor and spiritual guide to many. As he sometimes said of himself, it took him 40 years to get sick followed by 40 years to get well. Then he could get started.

He decoded a non-invasive color healing system that forms an episode in this documentation and narrative, mostly from personal experience of a remarkable life and exemplary human being. In recent years, many have told me that the few minutes that they had with Bhanté were ‘life changing’ in the sense of being guided to meaningful work in harmony with their highest potential and aspirations.

This is by way of introducing a man who lived a life of Buddhic qualities, touched the lives of many and, by example, mentored many in the art of living.

The arc of this narrative starts near the completion of his life. In 1996, when he was 107, he and I shared an experience starting with his being held hostage by a monk whom he had ordained. His captor wanted Bhante to sign the deed to the Ashoka Mission in the Meroli district of Delhi on land given him by Prime Minister Jaharawal lal Nehru for his service to India.

Next, I’ll recount my meeting with him at his birthday celebration at the Buddhist Vihara in Oxon Hill, Maryland in 1978. From meeting to becoming an acolyte of a color healing system given by Gautama Buddha, practiced for 500 years, lost for near two millennia and decoded by Bhanté.

Another anecdote is my conversation with Rev Dr Bob Leichtman about Bhanté.

From roughly age 40 to 80 he became a Mahathera, recognized by all Buddhist major denominations, Mahayana, Hinayana, Theravade, and Zen. By 80 he felt and functioned well, followed by three decades of sage-ing, mentoring, and inspiring.

During the last season of his life, it was my privilege to attend a number of his introductory vipassina retreats. Commonweal in Bolinas, California twice and once at Josh Reynold’s family estate near Asheville, NC — each was two weeks. The instructions simply were to spend the next two weeks in silence. If you need guidance, you can talk to Bhanté. The simply elegant and elegantly simple structure can be described. The experiences observed personally would fill a book or make a better movie.

Among the dozens of meaningful moments with Bhanté included in this narrative are:

  1. An introduction overview to Bhanté Dharmawara
  2. Missing Bhanté at Georgetown and meeting him later
  3. Bhanté kidnap and rescue in 1996
  4. Commonweal Vipassina course 1982
  5. Oriental practices certification program, SUNY Purchase
  6. Buddhist ceremony, Vienna, 1983
  7. HH at JFK Tu eve Elsa Rebecca Russ
  8. Sky and Anna receive names
  9. Bhanté traveling over Memorial Day weekend to LA via BWI.
  10. Bhanté recovers from a stroke at Alan Stein’s home in Potomac, Maryland
  11. Bhanté meeting HH the Dalai Lama on Capital Hill
  12. Bhanté founds the Institute for Buddhology
  13. Bhanté and John Bennett, College for Continuous Education and Claymont
  14. Bhanté and Ramamurti Mishra at AnandaBhanté and the Peace Weavers
  15. Bhanté with Anna and Sky
  16. Bhanté and his daughter in Thailand and Vancouver, Washington
  17. Bhanté and Stockton zoning variance… cultural center
  18. Bhanté and Judy Skutch’s tooth in Tiburon
  19. Bhanté and Buddhist ceremony in Vienna, Virginia
  20. Bhanté and resolving to leave government service
  21. Bhanté and languages from Sanskrit to Cambodian, French, German, Italian,
  22. Spanish, Hindi, English, Greek and Latin
  23. Bhanté and Billie Meyer confirmed by Phobol
  24. Bhanté in residence at Georgetown University while Phobol in graduate school
  25. Bhanté and John Vasconcellos at Dorothy Lyton’s house in San José
  26. Bhanté and Phobol / Owen
  27. Bhanté and my parents
  28. Thanksgiving ceremony after recovery from coma
  29. Bhanté Richard Kyle in Rochester NY
  30. Bhanté at Holistic Health conference; Richard Rising Sun
  31. Bhanté and Sky Rocket, peace maker
  32. Bhanté and Anna, scholar
  33. Bhanté and Stockton school shooting
  34. Bhanté and Governor Jerry Brown
  35. Bhanté and Land of 10,000 Buddhas
  36. Bhanté and Michael Lerner at Commonweal


Bhante’s Kidnap in India 1996

First, the main participants in this episode:

Bhanté (Sam Dech Preah Bhanté Vira Bellong Dharmawara Mahathera). (Bhanté had established a Buddhist Vihara when he initially took up residence in Lucknow, India ~1947 and there met B K Nehru (Uncle to Jawaharlal Nehru and manager of the family tea plantation) who frequently said Bhanté cured him of ‘the incurable’ through use of color healing methods and prayer.


Bhanté also converted Ambedkar to Buddhism ~1956 (Ambedkar converted millions of unclass Dalits to Buddhism and his birthday is celebrated as a national holiday in India to this day).

Dharmavirio, a monk he had ordained decades before, hence his name Dharma virio, who was then a member of the All India Refugee Commission in New Delhi with an apartment on Shahshahan Road, a staff of three and an office all provided by the Indian government

Ram Nath Mishra, recently retired as Deputy Finance minister of India and his gracious family in Delhi, Mr Sharma, the Duty Station Manager of the All India Railroad Terminal in New Delhi,

Sham Bhatnagar, an acquaintance from Skillman, NJ, who was visiting family back home in India. His brother was the head of the All India Eye Institute in Delhi and Sham’s nephew and his wife also maintained a private clinic with him. Shyam’s mother hosted us for an evening in Delhi.

Bob Sonawane, an EPA deputy administrator and attendee at an Environmental Medicine International Conference in Mumbai chaired by a Dr from Goa, and about 250 global experts.

Second, the places of this saga:
Mumbai/Pune then New Delhi, Benares/Varanasi (Kumba Mela) and Lucknow

Third, the saga:

This episode starts in Mumbai/Bombay where an international environmental medicine conference was being held. Bob Sonawane, a Deputy Administrator at EPA at the time and friend of Dr. Ted Rozema, suggested it as a quality meeting and helpful because the participants and presenters spanned the globe as well as the full intellectual gamut.

There are a few amusing episodes to fill in later in regard to first experiences of Mother India in the effulgence of diverse strata that co-exist in largely exclusive subgroups, the successors to the caste system.

This includes a brief visit to Pune and to Meher Baba’s Samadhi. Erych, Baba’s aide, was alive and his hug and blessing remain memorable till today. Charles Haynes, a first amendment advocate, had lived with Meher Baba when he was a toddler. He told me exactly where to go and whom to ask for once at Meher Baba’s retreat center.

Being in India for the first time, it was my plan to travel to wherever Bhanté was in the Orient and spend some time with him. Initially, it was my impression that he was in Bangkok. Upon inquiry of the Wat Po Monastery and of the chief of protocol to the royal family, I was informed that a monk from Delhi had come to visit. Bhanté and the other fellow were in Delhi although I was not informed where or with whom he was staying.

Checking with the Ashoka Mission that Bhanté had formed on the land given him by Prime Minister Nehru at the urging of Nehru’s mother, I was told that Bhanté was staying with the monk who brought him back to Delhi. They were not sure where that was.

I checked in to the Taj Mahal hotel in Delhi. The address of Bhanté’s host came to me through usual networking among Bhanté’s students. The next morning I went to the Bellman who also coordinates transportation for guests at the property and asked if he had an English speaking driver available for the day because I had an address but I did not know how to navigate in Delhi nor where I was going. The Sikh fellow looked at the paper and then at me. He told me the place I was looking for was across Shahshahan road, on the other side of a hedge about 100 yards away. It took just a few minutes to get to where Bhanté was staying even though when I booked the hotel, I did not know where was Bhanté in all the New Delhi, at that time a city of 7+ million people.

Upon arriving at the apartment, I was met by a female cook and a male attendant / driver. I was initially told that Bhanté was resting. In a short time, the host appeared, one of many monks whom Bhanté had ordained many years before.

For the next three days it became increasingly clear that something was wrong because I was never able to have any time alone with Bhanté. Finally he and I had a few minutes alone. He informed me to follow his lead exactly; to do nothing on my own. He confirmed that the monk / host was holding Bhanté hostage because he wanted Bhanté to sign the deed of the Ashoka Mission land over to him personally rather than to the trust to which it was supposed to go after Bhanté’s passing.

The real estate in question is the approximately 10 hectares of land that was donated to Bhanté by Jawaharlal Nehru and on which he founded the Ashoka Mission in the Meroli district of New Delhi. Over time, Bhanté established a place for travelers to stay that was safe. A two hectare garden produced much of what was eaten at the centre. An orchard, library, school for children and meditation center round out the Ashoka complex. Bhanté said the Buddha in the Ashoka Mission library was donated by U Nu and U Thant of Burma. Today, The Ashoka Mission is where certain Tibetans stay when they are in Delhi on behalf of His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso.

Bhanté instructed me to make friends with his captor to fool him into thinking that I was oblivious to his shenanigans. Specifically, I was to go the Khan Market and purchase enough cloth for a robe for the monk/captor as a gift. To curry favor, I purchased 15 yards of 21 momme silk cloth in the Cambodian saffron color (enough for two robes).

Returning to his apartment, I placed the cloth on his bed and retired to the living room or kitchen to await his return. By then, most of my meals were with his staff. Within a few days, our host asked if I had ever been to a Kumbh Mela or to Lucknow where Bhanté initially settled, established a small Vihara, met B K Nehru and cured him of some mystery illness that had long plagued him and resisted treatment.

Bhanté’s  ‘host’ was able to get us three tickets on the train to Lucknow (a trip of about 12 and a half hours at that time). The Indian government took over the British Raj administrative buildings. We had the privilege of staying there, about 2 Km from Lucknow at the over sized complex with beautiful flowers in profusion, manicured grounds and attentive staff.

On the second day, word spread that Bhanté had returned. Celebration broke out. In the midst of the momentary pandemonium, Bhanté motions me over and asks me sotto voce if I see the man leaning against the wall with the gun. I ask if he means the policeman. He instructs me to ask him to get us three tickets on the express train back to Delhi. The fellow’s initial reaction was ‘when pigs fly’. In India, you apply for tickets, your credentials are checked, then you are permitted to purchase tickets and board the train. The process takes days. The policeman had a loving wife and family. He said Bhanté had found him the wife. In return, he somehow got us three sleeping compartment births on the express train to Delhi.

When the train pulled into the New Delhi station, I wanted to make sure it was safe for Bhanté to de-train. Shyam Bhattnagar and Bhanté stayed on the train in the compartment. Shortly after the last person was off the train, the locomotive moved out to a birthing track. There is no platform where the train sat. At least it was on site. Finding the duty station manager’s office bustling, I asked Mr Sharma if he would help and he explained to me he was busy doing his job as senior duty station manager. I mentioned that Bhanté had worked with Nehru, Gandhi, Ambedkar, and Patel. Mr Sharma stopped what he was doing and brought a group of porters (Coolies) out to the train. The people formed a human ladder. Bhanté looked at this and refused to put his foot on the shoulder of another person in that way. Eventually, Mr Sharma brought a second train parallel to the first so that Bhanté could be lifted from train A to train B that, in turn, could be rolled back to where a platform was open.

[The New Delhi All India train station handles over 350 trains and 500,000 passengers daily with 16 platforms. Trains often de-train and embark passengers in less than five minutes. The station covers over 30,000 square meters. At the time, probably about the same. The footprint of the Indian National Rail System is essentially what the British turned over to India at the time of its independence.]

Bhanté’s long time friends and students, Ram Nath Mishra and his family took us into their home in Delhi. Bhanté was now safely away from his captor although we lacked his ticket, cloths, passport etc.

On the following Sunday, Bhanté woke up insistent that he needed a passport. Jan Lipsen in DC was able to identify the duty officer at the American Embassy that day. [Jan had been chief of staff to Mr Carl Albert when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives during President Nixon’s term. Her husband Chuck had been in the Justice Department and was advance man for President Lyndon Johnson. Their daughter Linda Lipsen had worked in the Justice Department. Chuck’s sister Esther Coopersmith was chief of protocol for President Carter and then America’s UNESCO ambassador.]

He opened the Chancery to take Bhanté’s application for a new passport as a courtesy to an elder. He made it clear it would take about two weeks to cancel the old passport and get a new passport for Bhanté. After he took the application into the back of the Chancery, he came back in a few minutes and asked if Bhanté had been a guest of the United States State Department in 1957. Bhanté affirmed that he had worked with John Foster Dulles and President Eisenhower before the French withdrew from IndoChina. His goal at that time was to encourage America to stay out of Southeast Asia militarily. In light of his services, he was presented with his passport on the spot with expressions of deep gratitude. On the way out, he leaned over to me and said, again, “you see Russ, I needed passport”. Asked why he had not mentioned that he had been a guest of the State Department, he said simply that we had not asked about that. He only answered the questions asked.

He returned to the Mishra’s for a few more days. During one of those days, the disreputable fellow came to visit. He said little, stayed a short time, Bhanté apologized for any distress he was caused. Dharmavirio slunk out. Bhanté and I were able to tour the Ashoka Mission together for a day. On another day, Bhanté hosted a group of monks I think he had ordained at the Mission.

My recollection is that Bhanté stayed about another week with the Mishra family. Before I left there was an additional episode. A gentleman appeared whose card identified him as a retired Indian Supreme Court justice. Over an evening at his home, he expressed reverence for Bhanté and his work. While wanting to be ‘behind the scenes’, he also seemed eager to learn exactly what was going on and what were Bhanté’s plans. The next morning, after showing Bhanté the fellow’s card, he asked, “Do you know the people who have been making mischief.” Yes. “If you put all their brains in a teacup, do you think you could find them?” Good point. “Your new friend has been behind all of what has happened. Unfortunately for him, he did not prevail.”

Ashoka Mission: +91 212 66 44 70

Dharmavirio: +91 38 94 52/ 38 4664/ 469 0809 (office);
4/2 Multistory Flat, Shahshahan, New Delhi 110 011

Ram Nath Mishra: +91 67 13 18

Introduction: Dr. Carl Franzblau

life and timesThe common term Renaissance man is used to describe a person who is well educated or who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields.

The notion in Renaissance Italy expressed by one of its most accomplished representatives, Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472): that “a man can do all things if he will” is the theme of our new Life and Times series. The notion embodied the basic tenets of Renaissance humanism, which considered humans empowered, limitless in their capacities for development.

The individuals highlighted in our series represent the innovation of thought found during the Renaissance. They epitomize the Scientific Revolution, an era that followed the Renaissance in the 16th and 17th centuries. In this period, new ideas and knowledge in physics, astronomy, biology, medicine and chemistry transformed medieval and ancient views of nature and laid the foundations for modern science. The era was sparked by the publication in 1543 of two works that changed the course of science: Nicolaus Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres and Andreas Vesalius’s On the Fabric of the Human body.

We are pleased to feature in our inaugural edition Dr. Carl Franzblau, definitely a Renaissance Man, definitely a man of new ideas, one who would have been at home during the Scientific Revolution.

Life and Times Feature

There are two ways of living: a man may be casual and simply exist, or constructively and
deliberately try to do so. The constructive idea implies a constructiveness not only about one’s
own life, but about that of society, and the future possibilities of mankind.

– Sir Julian Huxley


Our feature today is of a man who has constructively and deliberately lived his life and in so doing affected the present and future possibilities of mankind.

HSC’s Life and Times series focuses on those who have committed their careers to the advancement of Science. Dr. Carl Franzblau, Associate Dean for Graduate Biomedical Science Studies, Boston University School of Medicine will retire in September after 50 years of exemplary service. Dr. Franzblau, a Senior Fellow of HSC, has been involved with the Foundation since its inception.

When the Boston University Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Dr. Franzblau, the announcement stated,

Professor Carl Franzblau’s entire career as a teacher has been spent at the Boston University School of Medicine. It has been a great career in medical research and teaching. Dr. Franzblau’s first doctoral student, now a professor of biochemistry at a major medical center says, “I credit whatever skills I have to his guidance and to the example he set.” And one of his current students says, “He exemplifies excellence not only as a lecturer-teacher, but also as a caring and understanding human being.”

Five years ago a symposium was held to honor Dr. Franzblau. It was written that the event would celebrate a University leader who has made countless lasting contributions to Boston University and the national and international scientific community during his more than 45 years of dedication and service. Many have reflected on the breadth and scope of Dr. Franzblau’s guidance, mentoring, and positive influence throughout their careers and lives.

HSC Senior Fellow Dr. Carl Franzblau has now served 50 years at his post, contributed volumes of work as can be seen in his official Curricula Vitae (CV) and is still finding time to expand the lives of children who would never have developed an interest in science but for his relentless pursuit of the CityLabs program. Click here to read Dr. Franzblau’s CV.

Let’s look at one of Dr. Franzblau’s projects that, in HSC’s opinion, is exemplary of his vision and talent.

The CityLabs program created by Franzblau was launched in 1992 with funding from an NCRR Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA). Initially, the program offered science lessons on the Boston University Medical Campus. In 1998, CityLabs unveiled a 40-foot bus outfitted with state-of-the-art biotechnology equipment that could deliver lessons directly to students at their schools. Franzblau in the course of building his science on wheels program, created an initiative for low socio economic school districts. His hope was to capture the interest of students who would never have had the chance to expand their horizons into the realms of scientific discovery. Not only did he inspire those students but the CityLabs model has greatly expanded and is used by many other communities than its original start in the greater Boston area. As of 2010 it had served over 32,000 students. To learn more about this amazing program, please read the article entitled “Taking Science Education on the Road – Traveling laboratories deliver engaging science lessons to classrooms everywhere,” written by Laura Bonetta and published in the NIH’s journal The NCRR Reporter. Click here to read.

Another facet of Franzblau’s, is his understated but ever present ability to be a visionary and develop programs ahead of their times. Today when Electronic Medical Records (EMR) systems are being installed in all major hospitals, those who follow Franzblau’s work realize how ahead he was in advocating the use of personal EMRs through his Med-InfoChip concept.

The Med-InfoChip program enables a person to organize, carry and maintain their personal medical profile at all times. Designed to be worn around the neck, attached to a keychain or carried in a wallet, this lightweight, affordable “plug ‘n’ play” device inserts into a USB port on any computer for easy access by a patient, physician or emergency responder. The chip was targeted towards business and leisure travelers who need medical attention on the road, anybody incapacitated during a medical emergency, campers and students who are away from home and the elderly trying to manage multiple prescriptions with their pharmacist.

There are many programs credited to Franzblau all noteworthy, all dedicated to his pursuit of innovative applications in bio medical science. In closing, we share with you one more star in the panorama of creation that Franzblau produced over this last half a century of work.

Hemagen, a company created by Franzblau, started with 2 employees and $125,000 in funding, part of which was provided by Boston University. Franzblau served as COB and CEO for the first 14 years. The company focused on the development and manufacture of medical diagnostic kits with FDA approval. Ultimately, Hemagen became a public company and grew to 120 employees, $16 million in sales and carried 125 FDA approved products.

While teaching, and inspiring students who have repeatedly acknowleged his influence, Dr. Franzblau has also managed to create a great body of innovative programs.

If the Merriam-Webster definition of a Renaissance man, “a person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas”, is to be accepted, then Dr. Carl Franzblau is, without doubt, that man.