Reginal Ray: Transmitting Trungpa’s lineage of abuse.

Another Tibetan Buddhist heavy weight bites the dust!

Eight students of Reginald Ray, inspired by the revelations of abuse in Rigpa in the letter written by eight Rigpa students and in Shamabala by Buddhist Project Sunshine, have written an open letter revealing Reginald Ray’s abuse of students and the cult dynamics in his organisation, Dharma Ocean.

An all-too-familiar story

This excerpt from the letter sums up the general contents, and those of us familiar with this kind of thing from Rigpa, Shambala, NKT and other Tibetan Buddhist groups will recognise the methods and language used to create this kind of cult-ure. It’s the same-old story. Clearly, we, as Westerners, are importing the worst of this tradition on a grand scale.

“The forms of emotional and spiritual abuse perpetuated by Reggie Ray and, by extension, those in positions of leadership within Dharma Ocean, are commonly acknowledged as characteristic of high demand groups :
● grooming;
● love bombing new group members;
● questioning and doubt being discouraged or punished;
● public shaming of community members;
● a cycle of verbal abuse and triangulation in interpersonal communication;
● selective enforcement of rules/community norms; dissent framed in terms of spiritual immaturity/shortcomings;
● a pervasive culture of fear and paranoia;
● a charismatic leader insulated from any external accountability;
● reframing dissent or the loss of prominent members as proof of the worthiness and
exceptionalism of the “in-group”;
● frequent public appraisals of other spiritual paths and communities, which were
always found inferior by comparison with Dharma Ocean.
● the organization’s all-important ends justify its unethical means.”

A worrying transmission of abuse by Westerners

This abusive Tibetan Buddhist teacher is a Westerner, a man whose books I loved for their clarity and the depth of the author’s dharma understanding. But as we’ve come to realise, knowledge, and even practice of, the dharma according to Tibetan Buddhism is no guarantee of developing any kind of decency as a human being, especially if your master practised abuse in the name of dharma.

Chokyo Lodro, Sogyal Rinpoche’s master, was abusive in his behaviour, and so was Chogyam Trungpa, Reginald Ray’s master. Sogyal can be cut some slack for his perception that abuse was acceptable behaviour due to being a child while under the influence of at least one man who thought beating increased wisdom, but RR came to the dharma as an adult with a Western upbringing and presumably some awareness of the concept of human rights, so why is he behaving in a similar fashion? Answer -Chogyam Trungpa. He’s following a flawed role model, and presumably, like many of us did, has given up his personal integrity (presuming that he did at one point have some) on the altar of devotion.

Chogyam Trungpa: the father of the Western lineage of Tibetan Buddhist abuse

Trungpa’s alcoholism, womanising and hedonistic lifestyle have long been well-known but were generally brushed off as a result of the free-love ethos of hippy days in the sixties and seventies.

“Vajradhatu students had a reputation for the wildest parties in Buddhist America. Although most Tibetan Tantric schools clearly discourage “acting out” passions and impulses, Trungpa Rinpoche did not. In fact, drunk and speeding, he once crashed a sports car into the side of a joke shop and was left partly paralyzed. He openly slept with students. In Boulder, he lectured brilliantly, yet sometimes so drunk that he had to be carried off stage or held upright in his chair. …

When Trungpa Rinpoche lay dying in 1986 at the age of 47, only an inner circle knew the symptoms of his final illness. Few could bear to acknowledge that their beloved and brilliant teacher was dying of terminal alcoholism, even when he lay incontinent in his bedroom, belly distended and skin discolored, hallucinating and suffering from varicose veins, gastritis, and esophageal varices, a swelling of veins in the esophagus caused almost exclusively by cirrhosis of the liver.

“Rinpoche was certainly not an ordinary Joe, but he sure died like every alcoholic I’ve ever seen who drank uninterruptedly,” said Victoria Fitch, a member of his household staff with years of experience as a nursing attendant. “The denial was bone-deep,” she continued. “I watched his alcoholic dementia explained as his being in the realm of the daikinis.'”

Tricycle: Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America

However, some have revealed an even darker and clearly abusive side to Trungpa, and though (as it was with such students in Rigpa) vehemently denied by those who cannot bear to have their faith shaken, others have corroborated most of the stories that have come to light.

Chogyam Trungpa’s abusive behaviour has been documented in various places, such as the frank revelations of Leslie Hays, one of his ‘wives’, Katherine Rose talking about how Trungpa and his followers stripped a couple naked against their will, and John Riley Perks who shares the story of Trungpa’s abuse of a dog in his book The Mahasiddha and His Idiot Servant.

A worrying transmission

On its website, Ray’s organisation, Dharma Ocean, says that it’s core mission is “transmitting Trungpa Rinpoche’s living lineage in the modern context.” That page goes on to tell us that “Dr. Ray has practiced and studied in the lineage of Chögyam Trungpa since 1970, when he met Rinpoche just after his arrival in the U.S. ” And “Dr. Ray passes on the “moving and remarkable trust” he received from his teacher. Under this guidance, many of Dharma Ocean’s senior students are beginning to instruct others along the Dharma Ocean path of Chögyam Trungpa.”

Now that “senior students beginning to instruct others along the path of Chögyam Trungpa” is a worry. And one wonders what “moving and remarkable trust” refers to. Is that the never-question-your-teacher-because-they’re-perfect-and-what-might-appear-as-abuse-isn’t-really-because-it’s-all-for-your-benefit bullshit?

The third point on that page where it summarises the essence of the lineage is “The everyday practice to “never turn away” — to develop an attitude of complete acceptance and openness toward all experience …” But if you take a look at the letter   you’ll see a lot of non-acceptance and close-mindedness in practice. Another instance of the guru and his organisation not walking their talk.

The lineage of abuse Trungpa left in his organisation, Shambala, carried by his son, the Sakyong, is also now widely known thanks to Buddhist Project Sunshine. In between Chögyam Trungpa and the Sakyong, Shambhala was led by an American-born Buddhist who is mainly remembered for having sex with students even after he knew he had AIDS.

In the book Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism, Mary Finnigan tells how in 1975 Sogyal’s behaviour changed abruptly from jovial to a tyrant’s attitude, which included public berating and humiliations of his students, after he returned from his visit to the U.S. where he met Trungpa in Boulder/Colorado.

Unfortunately, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has also made his respect for Trungpa clear, and who knows how many other Tibetan Buddhist teachers, of both Eastern and Western roots, idolise a man now known to be a serial abuser.

How do we stop this transmission of abuse?

SPEAK UP! Tell it as it is, just like these eight students of RR and the eight Rigpa students and others who have broken the silence. And report crimes to the police. Treat abusive dharma teachers as we would any corporate boss who abuses his workers.

If you have knowledge of others abusing in the name of dharma, find others who can corroborate your story and write an open letter signed by as many students as you can who witness the same kinds of behaviour in their teachers, and post it wherever you can on the internet. If you can’t find anyone to back up your story, maybe you could be the first and hope that others will come out of the woodwork if you speak up. Best is make a You Tube video where you simply tell your story as ‘this is what happened to me’, no accusations, just facts as you know them. It’s hard, I know. But videos work best if you’re the only one speaking out. On a video you’re a real person, much harder to disregard, but don’t allow comments on your video. Best not to open yourself to further abuse. Be prepared for a backlash, though. Unfortunately those who feel threatened by such revelations will retaliate. For support, join the Survivors of Vajrayana Abuse Facebook group.

Cut the lineage here, now. No matter how wise they might sound, do not quote abusers or teachers who were once their students unless that person has made a public statement denouncing their teacher’s abuse and vowing not to continue it. To stop lineages of abuse from taking deeper root in the West, we have to stop seeing having Trungpa as a teacher as some kind of respected qualification.

Don’t support dodgy organisations and teachers. Only take teachings from teachers who make a public stance against abuse and cult behaviour. In today’s climate, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.


On another note, you might be interested in this review of Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism.

22 Replies to “Reginal Ray: Transmitting Trungpa’s lineage of abuse.”

  1. Thanks for letting us know so promptly Thalia. This comes as deeply disappointing. One had imagined Reggie Ray was one of the good ones who could see the need for ethical awareness in the transmission of Vajrayana practices, but instead after attempting to follow the path himself he turns into a nasty twisted dictator. What is going wrong with these people who set themselves up as gurus? Reading the open letter it is apparent that he had a group (at least the 8 letter writers and the other senior instructors who left) of far more advanced spiritual practitioners than himself around him. Did he feel threatened? The Trungpa lineage is leaving more and more a foul taste in my mouth.

    1. Yeah. I find it really very sad to see a Westerner propagating the worst of his teacher. I don’t know the guy at all, but I figure that when 8 people get together to speak up, then there’s truth in what they say.

  2. It is sad to read this story, but finally it boils down that the human race is still a naked ape and in some circumstances instintive primate behavior is seen.
    Look at a group of chimps with one dominant leader, quit often the same dominant behaviors are seen as those decribed in this letter. In the long run humans cannot resist their instinct ones they are a leader unless you are willing and capable to handle your instinct. Perhaps this was the reason the buddha travelled and did not stay very long in one place, so the group behavior around and by a leader could not devellop.
    In one suttra the Buddha made a remark about a famous teacher, he said when you become famous as a teacher you are in danger, we now see the danger of it.
    It also show the importance of teacher to do solitary retreats to counter act their dominant instincts when they are to long exposed as being a leader in a group of followers.
    Even in the local centres of Rigpa yoy see this dominant behavior develop by certain individuals and they become as crazy as the Rinpoches.

    1. Yes, Jan, it is far more common than we want. There is also Ole Nyadahl of Diamond Way and Spatz/Lama Kunzang of OKC (now deceased but responsible for horrible abuses of children), as well as several Zen masters. In addition, there is the NKT, who have a missing Tibetan monk that they revere as their leader, but he hasn’t been seen or heard from since 2013 and so now they are led by a group of Western leaders with some creepy ideas and this is a very large, very rich, very corrupt and creepy organization of Tibetan Buddhist origin. Tsem Tulku, who follows the same creepy ideas (centered around the worship of the Shugden spirit) has recently died and there are reports that his death was rather horrible.

      So it feels like we are in something of a critical juncture, a sort of flood. And this is why our conversations are so important. This is a large problem involving large numbers of students.

      It is my opinion that the validity of the Vajrayana in the West at present needs to be re-assessed. It is only in the Vajrayana that this power dynamic is present. Without it, then the Dharma can be presented in more robust, equalitarian ways. But how to dissemble all this mess? I don’t know.

      Years ago, I remember reading “Sex and the Spiritual Teacher” by Scott Edelston and he wrote how pervasive it was, listing all these Buddhist teachers with sex scandals. This was a real eye opener to me and I think that’s where we have to see ourselves, it’s where we are.

      1. Spatz/Lama Kunzang is far from dead. OKC/Spatz lost in the high court of cassation against the civil parties (46 in total) and the belgian state.

        A new trial will take place in 2020 in Liège. exact date unknown for now.

        And since pretty much all the gas lighting/confusion to be found on RIGPA and remaining students is also to be found inside OKC, it is worth noting that the people that paid for the OKC/Spatz trial are victims themselves, once again, it is reported that one of the few adepts that actually became a monk used his inheritance to pay for the cost of the trial and new rumors is that OKC is about to sell some properties (organic whole seller) to pay for the next phase: in short Spatz is drying OKC remaining few adepts to pay for his own crimes and OKC administrators are the first one to have cultivated this idea that such great master should not be bothered with worldly matters like a judicial trial caused by the bad karma of his own adepts (that’s how it goes inside) they enforced it. the remaining adepts are in such state of mind that even after the revelations that their root guru abused sexually their own childrens, the remaining of adepts are still united, their defense is united against the civil parties and the belgian state. OKC can portray all it can that they got ride of Spatz from the organisation, the fact is that OKC assets, all of them, belong to the Kunzang Foundation that is 100% controlled by Spatz and his close adepts.

        that’s not the activity of a dead men.

  3. It’s really discouraging to see how many Tibetan Buddhist communities in the West end up getting printed off this same template — the forming of inner circles, the emotional manipulation and abuse, the gaslighting. It’s all so incredibly unhealthy, but at least it reveals (finally) the absolute spiritual poverty of the leaders and sycophants who run these horror shows.

  4. I would add that not all Tibetan Buddhist communities are like this — only that a distressing number of them are. Vajrayana itself rises gloriously above this swamp.

  5. It is interesting to see how C.Trungpa was promoted as vidhyadhara in USA by the XVI° Karmapa as his vajra regent too, and the consequences of this in the past and today…
    Interesting too to see the close relation of C.Trungpa with the famous late Dilgo Khyentse , and the complete aproval of CT action by the actual Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi ( who is on S.Lakar homage page too):
    Splendid exemple of brainwashing for gaslighted westeners : the snake is a rope, sheet is chocolate…luminous, no?

  6. No one in any spiritual tradition should hold a position of power. But it is just the opposite. The teachers have god status and with that comes a power they can not handle. Throw money, fame and sex into the mix and you have a recipe for disaster.
    I don’t know if these allegations are true. I don’t care really, because it is the same story over and over. Power, conditioning and control.

    People, step outside of the system and stand on your own two feet.
    The teaching is what is important. Study it, test it and pull it to pieces. You don’t have to believe it or follow it.
    Become a critical thinking savage. Test your beliefs, your habits and your logic.
    Trust your self. Be independent and self reliant.

    1. @ Kata

      Your comment puzzles me, superficially there’s nothing most people would disagree with, and your advice to “Study it, test it and pull it to pieces.” is sound, but applying it to your comment raises just a few questions.

      Given that a “spiritual tradition” (especially Tibetan Buddhism ) is hierarchical, in that information viewed as authoritative wisdom or knowledge, is maintained and passed from one generation to the next, by a teacher instructing and a student learning, how could it exist or function without these “positions of power”?

      “I don’t know if these allegations are true. I don’t care really…..”

      For the sake of politeness, I’ll say that’s an unusual stance: you describe the problem clearly and precisely yet infer you doubt the truth of what you describe and claim to be indifferent to it anyway.

      So all these appalling accounts of abuse, violence and corruption are just “allegations” and even if it’s true you don’t care about it?….I assume you’re a Buddhist, but perhaps I’m wrong.

      In terms of Tibetan Buddhism or any other form of organized Buddhism, I’d be interested to know how exactly “the teaching” can be separated effectively from the teachers and the institution.

      Could Buddhism even exist outside “the system” you’re advising people to step out of ? It certainly doesn’t and never has….if the teacher to student transmission that Buddhists regard as indispensable had ever been interrupted entirely nobody would now know what Buddhism actually was.

      How can someone rely on critical thinking and simultaneously be “a savage” in the general sense of the word?…..unless your starting point is that uncritical blind religious faith is somehow “civilized”….. no, I’m afraid you’ve lost me completely there.

      “Trust your self. Be independent and self reliant.”…..I’ll concede it’s a novel idea….kind of “be your own guru” while following an entirely guru-based system.

      I wonder if anyone has ever actually tried it.

      Interestingly this kind of “have your dharma-cake and eat it” attitude reminds me of the Dzongsar Khyentse school of sophistry…..are you a fan of his?

      1. @ Pete
        @ Kata

        Some of the teachings and practices can be removed from the religion that holds them – you can take the ‘good’ and leave the ‘bad’ – but it wouldn’t be Tibetan Buddhism or even Vajrayana anymore.

        I’ve been doing a bit of ‘meditation’ lately and working with what was helpful for me without the unhealthy devotion to the teacher – the empowering teachings on mind and meditating with visualisations – and I realise that what I end up with isn’t something you couldn’t call vajrayana. And without taking refuge in the Buddha, it’s not Buddhism either. Which is fine by me since I don’t think of myself as a Buddhist anymore. But what would you call something where all you’re taking refuge in is the nature of your own mind and the nature of reality? Not that names matter.

        I’m just clear that what I’m taking away from my study and practice isn’t vajrayana because vajrayana will always have that fixation on the teacher. It’s key to how it ‘works’ and how it doesn’t work, and it’s open to abuse and always will be for so long as the teachers and students follow the scriptures that give the leaders licence to abuse. All the codes of conduct in the world are meaningless in light of it.

        So if you’re still wanting to be a Tibetan Buddhist or just study and practice the vajrayana, then you’d better care about abuse because you could be next in line for it, and if not you, then certainly someone somewhere. Someone is likely being abused by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher right now. That’s how common it is. And not just in the West, but also in the monasteries and nunneries in the East. No student of Tibetan Buddhism should be ignoring this or not caring; if they are, then it’s not just a question of where is their bodhicitta; it’s where is their ordinary compassion and empathy?

        The Dagri Rinpoche case shows how TB teachers just ignore the codes of conduct. The FPMT has a really strong code, the best I’ve seen, but it didn’t stop him. And Lama Zopa’s response shows why they get away with it and think it’s all perfectly fine.

        The very least one can do is care.

        1. @ Tahlia

          You’ve expressed it more eloquently than I have. I wouldn’t deny that some things of benefit might be abstracted from Buddhism, although I don’t have your experience of doing that because it never seemed necessary.

          It’s good if that works for you, but as you say, it’s not Vajrayana any longer ( if you don’t accept the whole package )

          In the same way, I think Heraclitus had some good ideas but I wouldn’t dream of calling myself an Epicurean.

          Probably most of the useful stuff pre-dates Buddhism and has been common in societies across time and location.

          Like you, I think indifference isn’t acceptable, and I’ve lost count of all the people I’ve met who adopted that kind of posture…..they were inevitably the ones who didn’t care about what didn’t touch them…..until it did of course.

          I’m afraid I can’t resist paraphrasing Martin Niemöller here:

          “When they came for the Buddhists……”

          1. I’m not sure, but I think I meant Epicurus not Heraclitus
            ( he said some interesting things too ) Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of philosophy would know that so my apologies to anyone reading who does……I haven’t and I couldn’t be bothered to check either.

      2. I can’t speak for Kata, but I am pretty sure she didn’t mean she doesn’t care about the abuse in Tibetan Buddhism. When I read her comment, I took it to mean that even if the allegations about one teacher proved to be false, she wouldn’t care to renew her faith in the teachers in general because the abuse is so rampant.

        I hope Kata can respond and tell me if I’m correct or not, but that’s what I think she meant by “I don’t care.”

        1. @Kata,

          Or maybe you also meant that you wouldn’t care if the story about RR turned out to be false because you’re already disgusted by the abuse that is so widespread. Therefore, even if the allegations about him turned out to be untrue, that wouldn’t make you change your mind. (I’m pretty sure you meant something like that.)

          Feel free to respond, correct me, or add more.

  7. Many thanks to Thalia who fulfill my wishes to put the light on these abusers.

    Your blog is like a luminous jewel in this awfull dark age of betrayal and perversion of Buddha’s teatchings for cash, sex and fame, often endorsed for decades by the highest hierarchy of TB.

  8. I was excommunicated by Reggie and his devotionally obedient henchmen, a nightmare when already commited with him as Vajra master. Vows, honesty, humility,… it ultimately seems it all meant NOTHING to the guy.

    But to what extent he was hexed himself is for him to figure out… As it seems this abuse rabbit hole goes a lot deeper…

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