by Gussie Fauntleroy
Many of us are familiar with Dharma Ocean’s beautiful meditation hall through events hosted there by other local spiritual centers and community organizations. With its exquisite bamboo floor and immense wall of windows overlooking the Valley, the facility provides a serene, adaptable space for (shoes-off) gatherings of all kinds. Yet the qualities that make the hall inviting and appropriate for use by various groups also represent an important element in the teachings and practices offered through Dharma Ocean itself. The architecture’s Zen-inspired simplicity, in particular, reflects a welcoming openness that honors diverse spiritual traditions while presenting Tibetan Buddhism in a form accessible to contemporary Western sensibility. Founded in 2005 by scholar, author and teacher Dr. Reggie Ray, Dharma Ocean is a non-profit educational foundation.
Its aim is to embody, unfold and widely offer the path to awakening and human fulfillment taught by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939-1987), Reggie Ray and his senior students. “Dharma Ocean’s mission is to create a living continuity of the practicing lineage in the modern world,” notes Nanda Zipp, president of Dharma Ocean Foundation. Reggie serves as the foundation’s spiritual director, leading retreats at Dharma Ocean as well as teaching around North America. He is the author of several books and audio programs, including Touching Enlightenment, Indestructible Truth, Secret of the Vajra World, and Your Breathing Body. With a gentle sense of humor and approachable manner, Reggie is known for combining deep scholarship—he holds a Ph.D. from the Divinity School of the University of Chicago and has received major research fellowships—with a teaching style that is accessible to practitioners at all levels. Just as Chögyam Trungpa understood the need to broaden and shape his teachings to the contemporary Western context, Reggie has continued in that vein. (He was in personal retreat at the time of this writing, and thus not available to talk.) In particular, Reggie has developed an intensively experiential meditation curriculum called Meditating with the Body®, which uses guided meditation to “allow modern people to experience the depth of our own somatic experience as a gateway to our most basic nature,” Nanda explains. “It draws on ancient tradition but doesn’t use the traditional vernacular, so it allows people to access the practices without cultural barriers.” In 1974, Reggie—who had just completed a year in India on a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship—moved to Boulder on the invitation of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Over the years he also has studied with other Tibetan Buddhist and Zen masters, as well as worked with indigenous teachers and traditions from North America, South America and Africa. “Trungpa Rinpoche was also very open,” Nanda notes. “His relationship with Suzuki Roshi and Zen Buddhism was very influential in some of the teachings he developed.” Dharma Ocean’s meditation hall, designed by local architect Michael Bertin, was completed in 2008. Currently work is in progress on a 46-room residence hall nearby on the foundation’s mountainside property. When it is complete, sometime in 2011 if all goes as planned, the foundation will be able to house retreatants onsite, rather than shuttling students from the center to housing around Crestone, as is the case now. The retreat center and residence hall will be available for use by other centers and organizations as well. Among Dharma Ocean’s most well attended annual programs is Winter Dathün. The month-long retreat, Dec. 12 to Jan. 8, is expected this year to draw some 150 people from around North America. Participants may attend for anywhere from a single week to all four weeks. (The final two weeks are only open to those who have previously taken part in Dathün with Reggie.) The program is structured as an introductory retreat and is attended by new students and long-time practitioners alike, Nanda notes. The daily schedule includes periods of sitting and walking meditation, meals taken in silence, teachings and various forms of practice, and work periods. Discounts are offered for Crestone residents. A five-month Meditating with the Body® course, which includes spring and fall retreats and at-home study and practice, will be Dharma Ocean’s next major program following Winter Dathün. Also on the horizon are periodic daylong public events, which will be advertised as they are planned. Central to Reggie Ray’s approach to meditation is the belief that “the body is the gateway to enlightenment—that to discover the body is to discover awareness, and eventually, the awakened state. We start here, with the body,” Nanda quietly says, placing his hands on his thighs as he sits in a patch of morning sunlight in the meditation hall. And while Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Reggie Ray’s approach is tuned to the modern mind, the ultimate goal echoes back through the millennia: “to be awake, to fully open to our deepest selves, other people and the world around us.” For more information on Dharma Ocean, visit dharmaocean.org or call 719-256-4335.