This website documents abuses perpetrated by Dharma Ocean spiritual leaders and experienced by the community at large. Though not all members of Dharma Ocean have directly experienced the abuse– the brunt of it has been borne by Vajrayana students, minorities, staff members, volunteers, and people “close to the center of the mandala”– its shockwaves reverberate throughout the organization.
Because some Dharma Ocean teachings and teaching styles train practitioners to tolerate abuse, and because the pattern of manipulation and abuse in Dharma Ocean is longstanding, harmful, and unlikely to change– despite promises of new and inspiring visions from lineage holders that have long been used to mislead practitioners– it is our moral obligation to provide resources to recovering, current, and future students so they can make informed choices about their spiritual lives. The years of silence are over.
Reggie Ray was a founding member of Naropa University, a longtime Shambhala International teacher, and from 1996-2004 a teacher-in-residence at Shambhala Mountain Center. In 2005, Ray left the Shambhala organization– a group that is now famed for decades of emotional manipulation and sexual abuse under the leadership of Ray’s guru, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Ray founded his own non-profit, Dharma Ocean, of which he served as Spiritual Director. Dharma Ocean offered meditation programs and intensive retreats and was “dedicated to the practice, study, and preservation of the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.” Ray appointed himself Vajra-master and began to offer samaya vows for Vajrayana students.
From its inception, a steady stream of students, staff, and teachers have left Dharma Ocean. Most quietly left the community after identifying abusive dynamics in the organization and severed ties with spiritual teachers Reggie Ray and Caroline Pfohl. Many also chose to drop contact with all other members of the community.
In 2018, a public conversation between past and current students about emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse experiences within Dharma Ocean finally arose in the volunteer-run Dharma Ocean Vajrasangha Facebook group. Many sangha members who had disclosed experiences of abuse or expressed concern as allies were removed without warning from the Facebook group and from the Dharma Ocean sangha contact lists and website. Reggie Ray eventually instructed one of his students to delete the group.
Dharma Ocean hired a Director of Community Life to serve as an ombudsperson that people could approach with a variety of issues and concerns. The Director contracted Lama Rod Owens to facilitate a discussion about harm in Dharma Ocean. Reggie Ray, Caroline Pfohl, and current Vajrasangha members attended. Shortly after, Reggie Ray asked the Director of Community Life to resign, citing her lack of Ngöndro practice and spiritual insufficiency as grounds for termination. The Dharma Ocean spiritual directors did not engage in another discussion with the sangha about these matters. Lama Rod was not invited to continue facilitating discussions about harm in Dharma Ocean.
On October 7, 2019, a group of former students released an open letter to make public the abusive dynamics that underlie many cultic groups and that have long existed at the core of Dharma Ocean.
By October 9, the board of directors released a response to the open letter, including their plans for utilizing services from An Olive Branch to hear concerns of past and current students. The response also limited Ray’s scope of power over Dharma Ocean.
On October 15, Ray violated his agreements with the board and released this video. Dharma Ocean Board Chair Michael Reeds immediately resigned.
Within days Bryn Rees, senior teacher, and the final voting board member, urged Ray to accept counsel from the board and An Olive Branch and reconsider a request to amend DO’s governance structure, giving up his highly unusual veto power over the board of directors. Ray fired Rees, then claimed that Rees had resigned and not been fired for challenging Reggie Ray.
Ray appointed a new board, of which he himself is a member, and has not implemented any of the former board’s recommendations. Thereby, ceasing any further investigation into abuse at Dharma Ocean.
Senior students and teachers voiced concerns over Ray’s behavior, the video, and shared their own abuse experiences in a private forum called The Practitioner’s Circle. (The Circle, a forum designed by Ray after he shut down the Vajrasangha Facebook Group, was open only to Dharma Ocean members who had taken a ceremonial vow to abstain from criticizing Ray or Dharma Ocean.) Ray then ordered the Dharma Ocean staff to delete the Practitioner’s Circle forum.
Amidst the supposed dissolution of Dharma Ocean and closure of the organization, Ray published a series of dissertations via email to the Dharma Ocean Vajrasangha. These emails clearly demonstrate the abusive behavior that will be outlined on this website. You can see two of them on the Dharma Ocean website. Should Dharma Ocean delete the letters from their website, one of them is available here.
In March 2020, the Dharma Ocean staff completed their jobs.
In April 2020, the new Dharma Ocean board announced
*the retention of their non-profit status and retreat center;
*Ray’s plans to teach introductory-level programs to new students and to continue working with Vajrayana students;
*and plans for Caroline Pfohl (Ray’s wife, student, and one of Dharma Ocean’s top donors) to begin teaching Vajrayana students immediately.
In April 2020, Dharma Ocean Europe, an organization made up almost entirely of new students, named Reggie Ray Spiritual Director.
In August 2020, Dharma Ocean created yet another new Vajrayana cohort for Ray to continue teaching.