A Dharma Talk for a Departed Mentor: Roger Dorris (1947-2013)

Roger Dorris

Dr. Roger Dorris, Naropa University core faculty member; a former board member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship; and “one of the great practitioners of engaged Buddhism” (according to the Upaya Zen Centerpassed away this past November 9th, 2013.

Roger, as his obituary noted, “worked extensively with marginalized populations including the homeless, those incarcerated, the HIV community and those suffering from addiction.” He put these experiences, as well as his academic work (an MA from Naropa and a Ph.D. in Peace Studies from the Union Institute and University), to good use in helping to establish both the Master of Arts in Engaged Buddhism and Master of Divinity programs at Naropa in 1995. These programs, and Roger’s work in general, also benefited greatly from his training as a Shambhala Buddhist teacher and student of indigenous religions, in particular Native American spiritualities (Roger had Native American heritage) and the Dagara tradition of West Africa.

His is one of those losses in which the depth is very difficult to convey. Suffice it to say that for those who worked with Roger and/or benefited from his service, it is a profoundly felt loss. (Among other things, after announcing his death on social media, I shared quite a few messages back-and-forth with a veritable “who’s who” of engaged Buddhists leaders saddened by the news, and who all remembered him with great fondness and inspiring stories of his service to others.)

I was a student of Roger’s in the M.Div. program from 2003-2006. We enjoyed a close working relationship (my cohort helped to found the Naropa Chaplaincy Project, under the supervision of Roger and his partner-in-crime at Naropa, Dr. Vicki Howard), and he and I became real pals outside of class, attending movies and protests together on memorable occasions. He was a dear friend as well as an important mentor, and I miss him very, very much. It’s been a hard loss, and I know I’m not alone in saying or feeling that.

In the weeks following his death and funeral in Boulder (which I attended), I was invited to speak at Long Beach Meditation, and found myself somewhat unexpectedly drawn to teaching about Roger. Here’s what I said…

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