I want to write about my relationship with Reggie and his (now-defunct) organisation Dharma Ocean.
As you probably know I have studied with Reggie Ray for the last 6 years and have been very proud to call him my teacher. I’ve written elsewhere about the special power of being a teacher and having a teacher.
You may also know that, of late, Reggie and DO have been battered by a storm of his own making. Two years ago accusations began to surface of ‘spiritual abuse’ and in the last few months, it’s become clear that something was rotten in the heart of Dharma Ocean and particularly in Reggie’s relation to power, control and his own temper.
What this has meant for me, personally
I won’t go into the painful material of this. Suffice it to say that hurt was done and I’m not convinced that it has been adequately processed yet.
What I would like to share, since you’re reading a Mindsprings blog, is what this has meant for me, personally. (In a later blog I’d like to talk about what it means for Mindsprings and how it’s organised but first I want to talk from my own perspective).
After resigning, I was grasped by an eery sense of dread.
Dharma Ocean is no more. It’s in the process of dissolving as a legal entity and wrapping up its teaching business. Which is sad, but perhaps necessary. And as part of that, I have stepped out of the organising roles I had in the European branch of DO.
This felt like a psychically ‘clean’ thing to do but the morning after I wrote the two or three emails that formalised it I was grasped by an eery sense of dread.
One of the problematic issues in the relationship between Reggie and his students has been the question of “samaya”. In the Vajrayana (or tantric phase of Buddhism that Reggie and his teacher Trungpa taught) the Samaya vow is a key building block of practice. And for many people now disentangling themselves from Reggie’s organisation, it’s the main point of pain.
Traditionally, Samaya is the pledge of ‘fealty’ a student makes to their teacher. And to be fair, Reggie never insisted on that old-fashioned definition of the term. Dismantling the rather feudal concept, Trungpa and Reggie spoke instead of Samaya being a fundamental commitment to Reality. A daily vow to connect to the awakened state, the sacred nature of the world and a compassionate relationship between the two.
I was haunted by the sense that the ‘light had gone out’
In my years of studying with Reggie, particularly since 2017 when I took the Vajrayana ‘transmission’ from him, I have felt an increasingly powerful and lovely connection to this awakened state. A sense of inner knowing that is connected to a more universal state of interconnection and wisdom.
And yet, as I awoke a couple of days ago, I was suffused by a dread feeling that I had somehow ‘broken’ my spiritual connection to this state. By stepping out of Reggie’s mandala (even partially) I had broken some magical thread that connected me through him to the sacred world.
When I sat meditation, I was haunted by the sense that the ‘light had gone out’.
On one level, I knew 100% that this could not be the case. The awakened state is indestructible and ineffable, it cannot be ‘put out’. And from years of practice, I could see that this ‘firm conviction’ was just a temporary obscuration of the true state of affairs. The clue was in its eery and dread-drenched quality – so evidently the signature of something from childhood. So I was patient and waited for the obscuring ‘part’ to become clear.
I was in the grip of a ‘part’ but which one?
I’ve written elsewhere about the power of Richard Schwartz’ work on internal family systems. How ‘parts’ of our psyche take over our awareness and obscure what Schwartz calls ‘the Self’ or I might call the Awakened State. And I knew that I was in the grip of a part. But which one? And what was it holding for me?
Sometimes I can think my way through these knots. In other cases, I have to sit meditation and enter into a state of receptivity (in this instance, instigated by a particular tantric practise called Vajrasattva) where things fall into place or become clarified of their own accord.
So I sat and I meditated and… I saw.
My ‘vajrayana’ manager was crumpled in a ball, feeling disappointed
Interwoven into my developing relationship with Reggie was a long-serving ’manager’ part which has protected me from being disappointed in intimate relationships by never getting too close, never too involved. This part of me has been active since childhood. Meeting Reggie joyfully challenged that part and opened up the possibility of more connection, more trust.
In essence, working with the practices of the Vajrayana that emphasise trust, surrender and commitment created a second manager who was at odds with that first, distrustful one. This ‘vajrayana’ manager was about overriding my fear of disappointment and jumping in fearlessly.
And of course, with the recent revelations about Reggie, that one is now crumpled up in a ball, feeling shameful AND disappointed!
However, fascinatingly, this was not the source of the dread and paranoia. It was not the problem.
It hit me like a shaft of moonlight (it’s never a thunderbolt here)
In a sense, the whole defence against disappointment is the problem.
In this wonderful, surprising meditation space, I was able to sit with the fundamental disappointment which was to do with my infant self being disappointed in my mother and my father. Feeling that something was missing in my family and that there was a lack. Either in them or in me.
This ‘childhood deficit’ is enormously important in “attachment theory” which I studied as a therapist and is currently the predominant model of understanding life-long mental health. Somehow we need to have ‘good enough’ or ’secure’ attachment to our parents when young in order to feel good about ourselves. Otherwise, we are bedevilled by issues throughout our lives.
It hit me like a gentle shaft of moonlight (it’s never a thunderbolt in this receptive state) that, from a Buddhist point of view, this fixation on a secure and good enough family is, in fact, a problematic delusion.
We build a lifetime’s defences against this sense of faultiness
According to Buddhism, one of the four marks of existence is disappointment. There is no relative relationship that is not inherently disappointing. No blissful union with the mother, no perfectly happy infant. You only have to look at a newborn baby to see how quickly they shift from full-contentment to furious disappointment within seconds.
Every external relationship with another – even with near-perfect mothers – is seamed through with creeping disappointment. But as infants and grown-ups, we are not allowed to accept this fact. Instead, we feel a lack. We feel shame.
And it’s our shame at our ‘faultiness’ that causes us to suffer. We feel that something must be wrong. If our parents are not perfect then we must be faulty. We build a lifetime’s worth of defences against this sense of faultiness. Perhaps, later in life, we do some therapy and realise that we’re not at fault but maybe our parents were. But actually, both positions are misleading.
We recognise we’ve been tying ourselves in knots for the wrong thing
In fact, there is no fundamental wrongness with human relationships being disappointing. They are disappointing because they are attempts to find security in the outside world which, as the Buddhists are constantly telling us, is always changing and impermanent.
Without recognising this (and which young infant could?) we grow up tying ourselves in knots against this bitter fact. As a little one, we sense that this disappointment is painful and shameful, and so we develop managerial techniques to avoid it. We become self-sufficient. Or we become clingy. We become super compliant. A bully, etc.
Attachment theory sees this as a maladaptation caused by poor parenting. I might argue that it is actually inherent to all beings. And our job as maturing humans is to recognise that we have been tying ourselves in knots for the wrong thing.
Disappointment seeps through the layers like eery methane
I had a desolate sense of disappointment when I was an infant. I chose to become self-sufficient and not get too close to people for fear of re-encountering that horrible feeling. At some point (meeting Reggie for example) I decided to over-ride that initial programming and trust someone and get close. Then, I am disappointed and my initial tactic seems justified.
That feels awful because it re-kindles that horrible sense of guilt-haunted disappointment from 45 years ago. It seeps out through the layers of my soma like eery methane. And then a thought jumps on board: “You have ruined it. You have broken the magic connection. And now you will be drenched in disappointment once again.”
Yes, I will but that is not a problem. It’s actually a gift. The true Samaya, the true commitment is to feel into that disappointment and rather than see it as a shameful failing, to see it as a glorious gateway into compassion.
We’re all in this ludicrous mess together
We all feel that disappointment and recognising that is the springboard into wide-open, compassionate empathy. We’re all in this ludicrous mess together.
We see how all other beings have also been driven by this heart-breaking sense of private shame, echoing with the thought, “There must be something wrong with me”.
And we see – suddenly vivid in the moonlight – how all of us are tying ourselves into terrible knots of suffering to avoid that fundamental disappointment. And in doing so, we are missing the gateway.
The eery sense of ruinous despair is the accompanying music to a breakthrough
Because, from a tantric point of view, this universal dis-appointment makes us recognise where our true ‘appointment’ lies.
If all external, conditioned relationships are inherently disappointing. If all mothers, all fathers, all siblings, all lovers, husbands, wives, children, friends are never going to satisfy that ‘itch’ for complete happiness. Then what is?
The Awakened State. That is what is going to not disappoint. Turning towards the awakened state, from which we see everything as perfect and sacred (even our disappointing parents and lovers) and from which a joyful compassion springs. This is our Samaya.
That eery, awful sense of ruinous despair that crept over me, is not the result of breaking samaya and ruining my connection. It is the accompanying music to an approach to deeper and deeper connection. I need to connect through the disappointment to recognise how universal it is and how it actually links me up to everyone in this suffering world in a beautiful display of sacredness.
Not letting Reggie off too many hooks
In my more generous moments, I wonder if Reggie has orchestrated this avalanche of disappointment in him, to free his students from the delusions of attachment. He himself has advanced that theory about his own teacher, Chögyam Trungpa’s rather dismal and disappointing last years of alcoholism and seeming insanity. It’s a very generous interpretation and lets Reggie off a number of hooks, so I’m not convinced.
But personally, for me, exploring this seam of disappointment has been rich, if unnerving. I’m still feeling rattled and uneasy. But have ceased to see that as a problem.
When I do follow these uneasy threads and treat them as gates rather than problems then I seem to always come out into the bright space eventually. Reggie taught me this and I am eternally grateful to him for it. I hope he is doing the same thing with all the uneasiness that he must be experiencing.
That is the Samaya for all of us.