Reginald Ray

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Reginald "Reggie" Ray is an American Buddhist academic and teacher, a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche for forty years. He was a faculty member of Naropa University, where he taught from 1974 until 2009. He was teacher in Residence at Shambhala Mountain Center from 1996–2004, and co-founded the Dharma Ocean Foundation,[1] a non-profit educational organization dedicated to the practice, study and preservation of the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the practice lineage he embodied. As the Spiritual Director of Dharma Ocean Foundation, he oversees the community and teaches meditation programs in Crestone, Colorado, and elsewhere in North America.

Early life[edit]

Reginald Ray was born in New York City in 1942 and raised in Darien, Connecticut and from a very young age found Tibet compelling. In 1962, Ray traveled through Japan, India, Laos and Nepal, though he was unable to enter Tibet due to the Chinese occupation. After this first direct encounter with Buddhist cultures, he returned to Williams College in Massachusetts where he had been an undergraduate and majored in religion. One of Ray’s primary teaching areas is in somatically grounded meditation. This interest began in his late teens, in Europe, at the encouragement of an early mentor, the post-war welfare worker, Charlotte B. MacJannett. She introduced him to the work of Gerda Alexander, the famous German-Danish somatic teacher, and also to Edmund Rochdieu, a Swiss psychologist and direct student of C.G. Jung.

1965–1973 Academic Training[edit]

In 1965 Ray entered the Ph.D. program in History of Religions at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago where he focused on Buddhism and Indian religions. His primary mentors there were Mircea Eliade, the influential Romanian historian of religion, fiction writer and philosopher; Frank Reynolds (South Asian Buddhism), Charles Long (indigenous religions) and Joseph Kitagawa (East Asian Buddhism).

It was during his years in graduate school that Ray first encountered his main teacher, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and began a seventeen-year apprenticeship with him ended by Rinpoche’s death in 1987. Ray returned to India again in 1972 on a Fulbright-Hayes Scholarship. On this trip, he was able to spend time with Tibetans and, most impactfully, to meet the Sixteenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpei Dorje (August 14, 1924–November 5, 1981).

It was also during his years at Chicago that, over a period of several years, Ray worked closely with June Singer, a gifted Jungian psychologist who, at that time, was just beginning her career. Singer provided Ray with tools for exploring the inner world that were particularly suited to Western spiritual work, such as dream analysis, active imagination and the exploration of the process of individuation. These later became integral aspects of his teaching of meditation to modern audiences.

After receiving his PhD in 1973, Ray began a tenure track position at Indiana University.

1970–2004 Trungpa Rinpoche and the Shambhala World[edit]

In 1969 Ray encountered Chögyam Trunpa’s autobiography entitled “Born in Tibet.” In an unpublished interview Ray recounts knowing immediately that this was his teacher, though he had to wait until 1970 for Trungpa to arrive in the U.S. in order to meet him. This occurred in 1970. Ray remained a close student until Rinpoche’s death in 1987. In 1974, at Rinpoche’s request, Ray relocated to Boulder, Colorado – then the center of Trungpa Rinpoche’s community – in order to teach at Naropa University. In addition to increasingly teaching programs with and for Chögyam Trungpa, Ray also served on the Nalanda Translation Committee, which translated many texts from Tibetan into English.

At the time of Trungpa Rinpoche’s death in 1987, Ray was professor of Buddhist Studies at Naropa University with, in addition, a half-time appointment in the Religious studies department at the University of Colorado. At this time and for the next eight years, he continued as an academic teacher also teaching courses on meditation to Trungpa’s sangha.

In 1995 Ray was misdiagnosed with terminal cancer, believing for a time that he had only months left to live. It was at this point that he made the pivotal transition from academic teacher to dharma or meditation teacher, devoting himself more and more to teaching meditation, to the students who came to his programs, and to his own meditation practice. In 1997 he and his wife at the time, Lee Ray, moved to the Rocky Mountain Dharma Center at Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche's invitation to become the first teacher in residence. As the Rays had financed and built their own home there, the expectation was that he would continue to teach there until retirement and remain there afterwards. From 1997–2004, Ray taught or co-taught many of the core programs at RMDC, including annual dathüns and helping Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche with seminaries.

2005 – Present, Dharma Ocean Foundation & Crestone, Colorado[edit]

Beginning in 1995, a regular group of students formed who were studying primarily with Reggie and/or Lee Ray, and this group developed a sizable and vibrant community. [Reggie was interviewed on this topic by The Chronicle Project, from which this info is drawn:]. Eventually, it became clear to both Ray and Shambhala International that their paths were diverging and his continued residence at the RMDC became increasingly awkward for both parties. In 2004, some of the Rays’ students suggested Crestone, Colorado as the new spiritual and physical home of the community. In early 2005, the Rays left RMDC and moved to Crestone. Over the next few years, the community purchased land for a program center (including a meditation hall and residence hall), retreat land higher in the mountains bordering on Wilderness Area, and a teachers’ residence. [Listen to interview for more info]

In 2005 Dharma Ocean Foundation was launched as the educational nonprofit through which Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings would be disseminated via Ray, and in 2006 Shambhala International made the separation official. From 2004 through 2007, programs were held at the historic White Eagle Village in Crestone, but beginning with Dathün 2008/9, the Blazing Mountain Retreat Center Shrine Hall was completed, and programs began to be held there. [Drawn from the organization's webpage]


Ray's first scholarly book, Buddhist Saints in India (Oxford University Press, 1994), looks at paradigms of sainthood in the Buddhist tradition, and Buddhist practice and practitioners in Buddhist India. Ray uses the hagiography of the Buddha to establish a basic paradigm of sainthood. A pattern is established which includes more than thirty themes over the lifetime of the Buddha. However, one theme that stands out is his "forest renunciant" character - the paradigmatic Buddhist saint is not typically a monk living in a monastery (what Ray calls a "settled monastic"), but an ascetic living a solitary existence in some out-of-the-way place, practicing meditation. He then compares various figures (Mahakasyapa, Upagupta, Sariputra, and Devadatta for instance) with this paradigm and shows that to a large extent they do conform to the basic model. At the points where they differ, Ray sees a bias in the telling of the story toward settled monasticism.

This is established by comparing various early scriptures including the Pali Canon and what has survived of the Dharmagupta, Sarvastivadin, and Mahasamghaka canons. What emerges, Ray argues, is a picture in which the original ideal was the forest renunciant, but with the rise of settled monasticism the renunciants began to be occluded in Buddhist texts which were preserved by the settled monastics. The practice of dhyana (meditation), and therefore the realization of nirvana, was sidelined in favor of ethical observance and scriptural study. Settled monastics provided a focus for the lay community who relied on the merit gained by supporting monks to bring about a fortunate rebirth in the next life. As such, the ethical conduct of the settled monastics is of primary importance since the merit gained is proportional to the purity of the monks. Ray even suggests that the reputation of Devadatta as an evil person, a fallen saint in the Pali Canon, may be the demonization of a forest renunciant by a group of settled monastics.

Published academic reviews of Buddhist Saints in India:

Reviewed by John Schroeder in Philosophy East and West, Vol. 49, No. 2, (Apr., 1999), pp. 235–237.

Reviewed by Kevin Trainor in History of Religions, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Aug., 1997), pp. 96–98.

Reviewed by John S. Strong in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 55, No. 1 (Feb., 1996), pp. 193–194.

Reviewed by Matthew Kapstein in The Journal of Religion, Vol. 76, No. 3 (Jul., 1996), pp. 523–526.

Reviewed by L.S. Cousins in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 59, No. 1 (1996), pp. 172–173.

Reviewed by Winston L. King in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 64, No. 2 (Summer, 1996), pp. 425–427.

“The myth matters more than the man,” by Urgyen Sangharakshita in The Times Higher Education Supplement, Issue 1163 (February 17, 1995) pp. 22.

“Ideal Types in Indian Buddhism: A New Paradigm,” by Charles A. Prebish in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 115, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1995), pp. 651–666.

Published books:

  • Buddhist Saints in India: A Study in Buddhist Values & Orientations. (1994 Oxford University Press US) (ISBN 0195134834)
  • Indestructible Truth, which describes the exoteric traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. (2000 Shambhala Publications) (ISBN 1570621667)
  • Secret of the Vajra World explores the esoteric and tantric aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, focusing on the Vajrayana. (2001 Shambhala Publications) (ISBN 157062917X)
  • In the Presence of Masters: Wisdom from 30 Contemporary Tibetan Buddhist Teachers. (2004 Shambhala Publications) (ISBN 1570628491)
  • Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body. (2008 Sounds True) (ISBN 1591796180)
  • Tibetan Buddhism Reader,. (Shambhala Publications)

Audio recordings:

A list of articles and interviews in popular Buddhist publications such as Shambhala Sun, Buddhadharma, Tricycle, and other publications, is maintained on the website of Ray's organization, the Dharma Ocean Foundation

Audio interviews[edit]

  • Toms, Michael (May 11, 2008). Your Body is Your Guru. Guest: Reginald A. Ray, Ph.D. New Dimensions Media Program 3287. Interview Date: 11/5/2008. Program Length: 1 Hour. [1]
  • Interview with The Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche Chronicles Project (June 16, 2008) [2]
  • Episode 105 on Buddhist Geeks, "The Forest-Dwelling Yogi," [3]
  • Sounds True Interview with Tami Simon & Reggie Ray, "Hard Questions for a Vajra Master," [4]
  • Episode 281 on Buddhist Geeks podcast, March, 2013. "Part 1: Mahamudra in the Modern World" [5]
  • Episode 282 on Buddhist Geeks podcast, March, 2013. "Part 2: Specializing in Letting Go" [6]


  1. ^ Joiner, Whitney (20 February 2008). "Dive-bar dharma". Retrieved 30 January 2011. 

External links[edit]