This page contains an excerpt from The Training and the Path, outlining the view behind how to approach the many study and practice opportunities that Dharma Ocean offers.
For resources for each stage of the path as well as the requirements of study and practice in each stage, you may view and download a document here.
Excerpt from The Training and the Path – by Reggie Ray
The Spirituality of the Body
Ways to Enter Further Into the Somatic Lineage
How to Become a Member of the Dharma Ocean Community
How to Relate with the Training Mandalas
Becoming a Dharma Ocean Teacher and Lineage Holder
The Spirituality of the Body
Dharma Ocean is a community of meditators, in Colorado, North America, and around the world, following the path of embodied spirituality. Dharma Ocean is a non-monastic, householder based lineage, a community of householder yogins and yoginis, who prioritize the practice of Somatic Meditation in their lives. In the approach of this lineage, the unfolding of the human person through the many stages of life, and his or her spiritual development, are not two separate things; they are one and the same. In other words, to become fully and completely human and to attain spiritual realization are the very same thing.
This means that the arenas of spiritual practice and everyday life are also not separate. In contrast to many conventional approaches, for us the spiritual journey does not involve distancing oneself from “samsara,” from all that is physical, worldly, impure, and problematic; quite to the contrary, it is a process of deeper and deeper entry into those very domains of our existence. We discover that it is precisely within the interior “space” of those aspects of our fully embodied, ordinary, human lives that the most important discoveries occur and our true spiritual journey can unfold.
In this lineage, we emphasize the body as the ground of the spiritual journey because it is only in the body that we are able to find the full measure of our deepest person, our true humanity, and our ultimate spiritual fulfillment. Uniquely, in the body we are able to meet our own experience in a pure and naked way. And, as we well know from the somatic psychologies of our time, it is only that kind of direct, unmediated experience that is able to bring about deep and lasting transformation.
Though the path of Somatic Meditation that we follow is secular in nature, it has deep and ancient roots in the Vajrayana Buddhism of India, Tibet, and elsewhere in Asia. Put simply, the tantric approach of Somatic Meditation takes our Soma—our body—as the fundamental arena of meditation practice. Rather than trying to develop meditation through our left-brain, thinking mind in a “top-down” process, as is the case with most contemporary approaches, Somatic Meditation involves a bottom-up process, wherein we connect with the inherent, self-existing wakefulness that is already present within the body itself. In contrast to conventional approaches which emphasize entry through the application of deliberate, imposed techniques, Somatic Meditation develops a meditative consciousness that is accessed through the feelings, sensations, somatic intuition, and felt sense of the body itself. We are simply trying to tune into the basic, primordial awareness of the body. Put in Buddhist terms, the human body, as such, is already and always abiding in the meditative state—the domain of awakening—and we are just trying to gain entry into that.
Unless we are able to make room for the direct, unmediated experience of our body as it is, without manipulation or distortion, then deep, lasting, ultimate transformation is unable to occur. This helps us understand the curious fact that many people, after sometimes decades of practicing top-down meditation methods, will just give up meditating when they find that the ultimate transformation they were looking for never happened.
For all the benefits of top-down meditation, there is always an element of a conscious agenda, a subtle if largely unconscious culling of what comes up, and a prioritizing of some kinds of experience over others. This freezes our development; it lands us in what John Welwood calls “spiritual bypassing.” We are unable to grow. We are bypassing our actual life and therefore the opportunity for endless spiritual maturation that is in us. When we let what we think should happen override our body’s imperative of what actually needs to happen, we are turning away from the opportunity to become fully and completely human in this life; we are turning away from the highest spiritual realization.
The Vajrayana ancestry of Somatic Meditation is marked by many different somatic methods and practices, and several distinct territories of somatic spiritual development. Dharma Ocean draws on this rich heritage and offers training in several areas, the “training mandalas” described below. Each of the training mandalas is also referred to as a “yana” or “vehicle,” a Buddhist term denoting a body of distinct inspirations and practices, aiming to develop particular spiritual/neurological capacities that we are trying to achieve over the course of our journey through practicing in that mandala. Each of the training mandalas leads us deeper and deeper into our spiritual embodiment. At a certain point, we see that the entire somatic journey to full realization involves nothing other than becoming more and more fully embodied, somatically present, and identified with our corporeal human incarnation.
The Ground Yana: Here, we are learning how to enter into the interior experience of the body, explore what is going on there, and surrender into the “groundless ground” of the Soma that is the foundation of our human life. Training in the Ground Yana involves learning and practicing the some two dozen somatic protocols that form the basis of all the other training mandalas and the entire Dharma Ocean path.
The Meditation Yana: Once we gain entry into the inner space of the Soma, we see the limitless possibilities of openness, awareness, and experience that reside there. But we have a very hard time “staying with it”; without meaning to, we tend to jump right back into our left-brain, thinking mind, back into our disembodiment. In the Meditation Yana, through the practice of sitting meditation, we train our minds to be less impulsive in response to thoughts and we cultivate the experience of pure awareness within our state of being. The particular form of meditation we teach, drawing on the great awareness traditions of India, Tibet, and East Asia, is what we call “the Somatic Practice of Pure Awareness.” It is similar to “silent illumination” in Ch’an, Shikantaza or “just sitting” in Zen, and “abiding in the natural state” in Mahamudra and Dzogchen, except that it is more explicitly and consistently somatic in nature.
The Yana of Somatic Descent: Even in Ch’an, Zen, Mahamudra, and Dzogchen, the awareness traditions just mentioned, there may still be a tendency toward disembodiment. Without quite realizing it, we might visualize and aim for a meditative state that is empty of content, devoid of the experiences of birth and death that run through our lives. In the third yana, we bring our meditative awareness fully into the density, the energy, and the eventfulness of our body. In this tantric approach to meditation, we begin to see that everything that bursts forth from the empty space of our basic Soma, “the natural state,” is the energy of awareness, its radiance, and its expressions. This not only returns us to “samsara” with new eyes, but it helps us realize there never was any samsara to begin with, just the enlightened manifestations of our own awakened state.
The Yana of Love and Compassion: In the fourth yana, we refine our embodiment and our somatic awareness further; we begin to tap into the subtle warmth and wisdom of the heart. Through embodied bodichitta (or awakening heart) practices, we discover that the heart, as the organ of wisdom within our Soma, beholds all people and all of life as they are, in and of themselves and from their own side. This is simply the heart’s natural way of regarding everything, once the ego-based veils of conceptual thinking are relinquished. And we come to realize that to behold things within the heart’s territory is to love them selflessly and unconditionally.
The Vajrayana: In our journey to the complete embodiment of spiritual realization, there are obviously going to be many impediments and blockages getting in the way. The most difficult of these “obscurations” and “obstacles” are what we term today “traumas.” These are unconscious emotional assumptions and beliefs about the nature of ourselves, other people, and the world. These unconscious attitudes and beliefs were laid down through our entire life, beginning at least from birth, and they skew our perception of everything. Because they are unconscious, generally it is very difficult to see them and address them. We are talking here not only about the major incapacitating traumas that may be active in us, but also about the hundreds and perhaps thousands of insults to our person that were so painful that we could not fully process the experiences when they occurred. In the Vajrayana, we turn directly to work with these obstructing, traumatic patterns, bringing them to consciousness through the practice and learning to fully inhabit the painful experiences, thus resolving them. This Vajrayana trauma work releases a huge amount of energy; our awareness opens up further and further, and over time we develop the capacity to open and make room for the vastness of life that is our human birthright.
The Yana of Life Itself: In the final yana, we engage in what is called “the return.” This sixth yana is not really a separate training mandala, because it is the fruition of all the training we have been carrying out through the whole previous journey we have been making. Having developed an initial acceptance and openness toward all situations and emotions, and to all the people we meet in life, we now need to take that unconditional openness further. In this yana, we need to let go of all our reference points—especially those of our understanding, our practices, and our experiences of the past five yanas—and enter the practice of surrendering into everyday life. We use the challenges of being alive, moment by moment, as occasions to let go further and further into the “what is” of ordinary reality. Here, finally, we have reached the full measure of our embodiment; this is spiritual realization in the tantric journey of Somatic Meditation.
Ways to Enter Further Into the Somatic Lineage
There are many ways that practitioners make their initial connection with the somatic teachings of this lineage. For example, you might see a Dharma Ocean ad in a magazine and feel a sense of immediate recognition and connection and go from there. You might search “meditating with the body” or “somatic meditation” and, finding the Dharma Ocean website, begin to listen to some of the free talks and guided practices found there. Or, perhaps you hear a podcast or interview, read an article or book, or discover one of the Sounds True audio programs. But then what? How do you enter further in?
At that point, there are many gates into the deeper world of the somatic training we offer. Perhaps you begin to practice with one of the audio programs at home, setting aside time everyday for your somatic practice and entering into the training in that way; or, you take an audio program into solitary retreat and spend a week or two with the practices. Some people can go very far and very deep in just that way, long before they are able to meet a Dharma Ocean teacher or are able to avail themselves of in-person training opportunities.
You might also connect with a Dharma Ocean sangha or practice group in your area and begin to explore these teachings with others. Or you might attend a talk, weekend, or retreat where you live. Or, again, you might decide to come to Crestone for one of our week-long up to month-long programs there.
How to Become a Member of the Dharma Ocean Community
Although we are an inspired and vibrant community, and although there is a deep caring for one another, Dharma Ocean is not an organized religion. We are a large and diffuse community without any definite boundaries, but one linked by a common inspiration toward the body and a common love of life. There is no “signing on the dotted line” or any series of requirements for you to be part of our community of somatic practitioners. Simply by connecting with the somatic teachings, you are already a member of this lineage and the flame of this lineage is already beginning to burn brightly within you. How you want to position yourself in relation to your other fellow practitioners is entirely up to you.
You may want to hang out on the periphery for a long, long time, making the somatic journey alone, perhaps attending programs occasionally. This is the retreat style of Milarepa and the other great meditators of our lineage: solitary, self-contained, and noble. Or you may wish to be part of the day-to-day community wherever you live, connecting with your sangha sisters and brothers in person and also through the online sangha events and trainings that we offer. Because we are a lineage of householder practitioners, most of us are deeply involved in our daily lives, our relationships, families, and work. For that reason, Dharma Ocean is now working to offer more programs online, including on-going courses, virtual retreats, and live-streaming events, to honor the spiritual way of the householder. In this area, there is more to come. Finally, you may wish to come into the center of the mandala of our community, working with our leadership and senior teachers and lineage holders to create programs, nourish our community life, and spread the somatic lineage to those thirsty for it.
In fact, most sangha members, including our most senior teachers and meditation instructors, cycle through these different ways of being in sangha at different times, according to their individual inspirations and needs. We often compare our community members to comets. Sometimes we circle very close to the Sun, the “center of the mandala” as we say, pulled very close by our longing and devotion, and energized by intense training with our mentors and sangha peers; then swooping by, we catapult out into space, the teachings within us, and we explore on our own. Perhaps we disappear from sight for a long time—historically maybe even years—and then when we feel it is right, we circle around and come in close once more. In Dharma Ocean there is no one way to do anything; one size does not and cannot fit all or even two individual practitioners. The only rule is that of our own human heart. As a member of our community, you are called only to trust your heart on your journey and to help others do the same.
How to Relate with the Training Mandalas
When you connect with the somatic teachings, what is your primary inspiration? Are you most inspired to connect with your body and deeply explore what is there for you (the Ground Yana)? Or does the meditation practice of Pure Awareness most deeply call you (the Meditation Yana)? Are you deeply compelled by the wisdom of the body and the messages and practical guidance that it has to offer (the Yana of Somatic Descent)? Or do you most deeply drawn to the somatic practices of love and compassion (the Yana of Love and Compassion)?
Whichever of these first four training mandalas most strongly calls to you, that is your entry gate into the somatic lineage. Although there is a course of training in each, there are no prerequisites. You can just come and explore that particular body of teachings to your heart’s content. If and when it feels right, you can take up another of these mandalas and incorporate that into your further training and journey. Again, the only instruction is to follow your heart and explore, explore, explore.
To provide support to you on your journey, a group of senior practitioners within our lineage has offered themselves as meditation instructors (MI), or mentors. At some point in your practice life, you might want to consider initiating a relationship with one of these folks. The primary role of the MI is to open themselves to your state of being and to see and receive you as you are. They are there to listen and respond in ways that will be helpful to you at that moment.
An MI can meet with you in person or via phone or online video chat in some mutually agreed upon way, regularly or on an as-needed basis. He or she can assist you to figure out how to continue to engage with the teachings and practices, and help you through the rough spots. Any time you come to a program, you will have an MI available to you automatically, but it is nice to have somebody there in an ongoing way to connect with as the need arises.
The meditation instructors have undergone and continue to undergo specific, intensive training to help them be there for you in a selfless, open, and objective way. All of us need someone like this in our journey to be “for us.” After a certain point, many of us, and all of our tantrikas (Vajrayana practitioners), will have an MI who plays this role for them.
Importantly, though, your sangha sisters and brothers will also play the role of mentor for you, and you will do the same for them. We are an eye-level community; this means that each of us has critical insights to offer the others, as well as the acceptance, openness, and encouragement they so much need; and we ourselves need the very same things from them. The “eye-level relationship” is sangha-wide and includes everybody, from the most beginning person up to the senior-most lineage holders. We are all here to help each other on the journey and to receive that very same help in return. While we do have an organizational and teaching structure, at the same time, it is just a convenience; fundamentally, we are all making the very same journey. We are all sisters and brothers to each other; and we are all the same: nobody is “above.”
Among the array of teaching mandalas within Dharma Ocean, the fifth yana, the Vajrayana, is a little different. In order to take up Vajrayana training, practitioners need a strong grounding in each of the first four yanas or training mandalas. That grounding provides the prerequisite for being accepted as a Vajrayana student.
There are several reasons for this. For one thing, the Vajrayana practices are “advanced” in the sense that it is assumed that practitioners are well practiced in being in the body (1st Yana), the practice of Pure Awareness (2nd Yana), meditating in a way that is somatically present to our relative experience (3rd Yana), and practicing with tremendous tenderness and sensitivity to others and a commitment to their welfare (4th Yana). The Vajrayana practices are going to build on that foundation of the first four yanas. In addition, the Vajrayana does stir up a great deal of our subterranean garbage for recycling. Only a good grounding in the first four yanas gives us the stability and the confidence to handle what comes up in an open and creative way.
Becoming a Dharma Ocean Teacher and Lineage Holder
When you enter into this lineage, even on your very first day, the way is open for you to become a Dharma Ocean teacher and, if you want, a lineage holder in this tradition. The only requirement is that you are willing to undergo the full training we have to offer and open yourself to the connection, communication and love of this community. The journey to becoming a lineage holder requires a very great deal from each of us, particularly in terms of letting go of our self-centered approach. The Dharma Ocean community really does aspire to lead the world out from chaos and, to do this, we need to become extraordinarily open, selfless, and committed to relieving suffering wherever we find it.
When you commit yourself to the Dharma Ocean lineage, as mentioned, you are not joining up with an organized religion. Instead, you are connecting yourself with the mindstream of this lineage, which is nothing other than the energy of life itself. You are joining a community of like-minded souls who are committed to the somatic path and who gather, practice together, and interact in a myriad of ways. When you commit yourself to the energy of this lineage, you set in motion an unceasing unfolding of your own life—your own process of becoming fully human. You are entering into the great project of becoming a complete, whole human being. You are fulfilling the inborn destiny for which you were born, here on this earth at this time, and that, and nothing else, is the spiritual journey that each of us is called to make. To arrive at the full measure of our human existence, to become fully and completely human, is the most noble and also most challenging thing we could ever do; that journey is the spiritual journey, and attaining that goal is the highest form of spiritual realization available to human beings.
I began studying with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1970. Beginning then, and until his death in 1987 and then afterwards, to the best of my ability I have been trying to gradually absorb and transmit the lineage that I received from him. Lineage is defined in many ways in Tibetan Buddhism, but in Rinpoche’s ultimate presentation, its definition is actually quite simple and straightforward. Once we remove the politics and cultural trappings from it, a lineage is simply a way, based on tradition, of understanding and practicing the spiritual life. In my experience, the lineage that Trungpa Rinpoche taught and embodied was amazingly profound, insightful, and transformative; and it was also quite unique. It is my aspiration that, through Dharma Ocean, the essentials of it will be passed on to others.
The spiritual journey outlined by Trungpa Rinpoche included the same six stages of development described above, although he talked about them mostly in different terms. For him, the first stage—our Ground Yana— in fact precedes the official entry onto the Buddhist path; in Rinpoche’s presentation, it involved discovering and connecting with our basic human situation and becoming healthy, grounded, and decent people. He called this stage introducing the world to the basic Shambhala principles, and he believed that it can be presented to anyone, regardless of whether or not they ever become a Buddhist. The next four stages are traditionally divided among the so-called three yanas: the Hinayana, focusing on the development of a sustained meditation practice (our 2nd and 3rd Yanas); the Mahayana, focusing on awakening the compassion of the heart (our 4th Yana); and the Vajrayana, through uniquely powerful practices and methods, focusing on fully transforming the two veils of emotional upheavals and deeper unconscious obscurations that get between us and our true self (our 5th Yana). The sixth stage taught by Rinpoche, roughly corresponding to the fruition stage of Dzogchen, revisited the Shambhala teachings, but at a deep post-Vajrayana and post-Buddhist level (our 6th Yana). In this stage, the basic Shambhala principles—the fundamental openness of reality, the perfection of the unfolding of the universe, and the utter sacredness of our incarnation—become matters of direct and personal experience and an actual way of being in the world, rather than being mainly an intellectual understanding.
Although our six yanas correspond to the main areas of Rinpoche’s teaching, the way we practice them in Dharma Ocean represents a further evolution in one important respect. We understand and practice them in a less theoretical and hence much more grounded and embodied way than was often the case in Rinpoche’s day. Hence, there is much more emphasis on the actual direct, non-conceptual experience of each yana, and on the concrete and practical transformation that that pure experience actually brings about.
In what follows below, each yana is described in terms of view, practice, study, and community. It is not intended to be a complete guide, but to provide a concise overview of the Dharma Ocean path. Fully engaging with this path necessitates engagement with the Dharma Ocean community, but much of it, such as working with a meditation instructor, can be done from anywhere in the world. As mentioned above, there are many ways to become involved with this lineage. It is important to realize that the training mandalas represent, more than anything, a great invitation to explore your life in whatever way you are called to; they are not boxes to be checked off, but territories we might explore together in this training.
I mentioned that the first four yanas do not need to be practiced in any particular order. Nevertheless, in the following description, I describe the yanas in a progressive manner, each leading to the next one. I am doing this so that those who are interested in becoming teachers or, beyond that, lineage holders, can see what lies ahead for them: how each yana builds on the other yanas, and how each yana can provide the foundation for and naturally lead to the next yana. Even if you are not currently aspiring to be a Dharma Ocean teacher, you might consider following the unfolding journey described below, as it provides a very detailed and thorough training in the process of spiritual embodiment.
The following description should not be thought of as being set in stone. Our experience and understanding of the path is continually evolving, and so is the way it is laid out and practiced at any given time. And of course, just as your own individual journey is quite unique, so, too, will be how the path unfolds for you.