But I was not prepared for how deeply I experienced what he said as true. Some of this may drive you crazy, but now you're warned, so if you read on, it's only because you want to be incited! (that's the disclaimer, kids, no karmic lawsuits allowed). He started by saying how much of Tibetan and Asian Buddhism is cultural, bringing with it the hierarchies, the sexism and other aspects that are not essential parts of practice. Yes, I wanted to stand up and shout, yes. That's what doesn't sit right with me. That's one of the things that causes me to say "I am between traditions" when people ask me where I sit these days. It's like that awkward pause when people ask you what you do and you confess that you are "between jobs". Ah so now I get it, I am spiritually unemployed!
Ray seemed so clear and present in a way you don't often see. He talked about how his initial relationship with his Buddhist practice was all in his head and his intention was slightly misplaced. He talked about a brush with a cancer diagnosis (that turned out to be false positive), but lead him to throw out all his academic writings on Buddhism and embrace a more earthy approach that was based on the importance of how we live our daily lives.
I loved his story about his cancer encounter, how he realized as he spent time in cancer clinic waiting rooms, that there are 2 world views. Most of us live in a dream world, he said, even if we say we know we will die some day, we don't really believe it. There is an unreality to it. It's out there in the great beyond of "some day, pass me another slice of pizza, please." The other world view is that of cancer patients, who finally get it on a visceral level that they will die. Once you have been touched by this, he said, it doesn't go away. Speaking as a member of this little club I can attest to what a shocking realization this is. And even though there is a waking up to reality, I don't recommend membership in this club (not that you get to choose)
Ray went on to candidly talk about how he is hated by 12,000 people, briefly touching on his split with the Shambhala community. He spoke of his teacher Chogyam Trungpa with nothing but the utmost reverence and respect.
He did a couple of short body meditations with the group so we could have a taste of his practice, and talked about how his Vajrayana style or pre-Vajrayana meditations bear more similarity to the spiritual practice of indigenous people than Buddhist practice as we know it. It can sound a little esoteric or perhaps heady when he talks about the ultimate reality being accessed through the relative reality but I think it is just the shortcoming of language. It is difficult to describe in words what must be experienced through the body. You need that direct encounter to actually "get it". All the words are really only pointing the way.
He talked about what is really important, is how we live our day to day lives, how we experience each person and circumstance as our path. He talked about how the body is each person's personal gateway to what he calls the "ultimate", what others might call awakening. He talked about how it is all a transformative experience that takes a life time and that it's really all about love; coming to that place where we can deeply appreciate everything we encounter. It's not about "idiot compassion" which has been a subject for discussion out here in Buddha's blogland or "being nice all the time". Just as we can love our children but let them know that some actions are inappropriate, we can use this same discernment but without judgement and unkindness. Not easy, but possible.
I was deeply moved by what I experienced as a deep expression of truth as I listened to Reggie Ray speak. I have seen videos of him and heard his audio tapes and while I often liked what he had to say I was never really touched by it in the same way as hearing him speak for 2 hours. Tonight I experienced the humility and clear vehicle that he is for the Dharma. And for that I am truly grateful.