This article appeared in the first issue of The Dot in November 2002, just after Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche appointed Richard Reoch to the position of President of Shambhala.
Richard Reoch is one of the oldest Dharma Brats in the Shambhala Buddhist community.
Born in Toronto in 1948, he became a Buddhist at age six, when his family joined the Toronto Buddhist Church, a Japanese Pure Land community devoted to the buddha of compassion.
For years, he and his parents were its only non-Japanese members. Visiting Zen and Jodo Shinshu masters who asked to meet a local Canadian family would be taken to the Reoch apartment.
“Even the great D.T. Suzuki came to visit us,” Richard recalls, “but I was sent to bed because I was too young to stay up that late. Looking back, I see how much I learned from those formative Buddhist years: I went regularly to services every Sunday until I was 23. That was when I moved to London, England, to work at the headquarters of Amnesty International, the human rights organization.”
After starting at Amnesty as a volunteer in 1971, Richard worked as a research assistant on Amnesty’s first report on the global epidemic of torture. He was posted to South and East Asia as the organization’s first Field Secretary.
“In under five years I travelled more than the distance around the equator on Indian third class trains,” he says. “I also had the honour of working with the Tibetan community in exile and formally introducing His Holiness the Dalai Lama to our worldwide work (he kindly agreed to intercede on behalf of Buddhist monks detained in South Vietnam at that time).”
Appointed in 1978 to head Amnesty’s global media operations, Richard became part of the organization’s senior management.
For thirteen years he played a leading role in developing the multicultural policies needed by this diverse, democratic movement working in 60 languages with supporters in 150 countries.
Since leaving his Amnesty post in 1993, he has become a widely sought speaker in schools and colleges.
He is currently the Chair of the International Working Group on Sri Lanka, a consortium of senior officials from governments and international agencies supporting the peace process in Sri Lanka which has been torn apart by war for the last 19 years.
He travels frequently to Belfast and Dublin, acting as a consultant to human rights and peace groups on both sides of the Irish border.
His publications include the official field manual on combatting torture of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), that includes Canada and the US.
Asked by Sting to help lead the Rainforest Foundation soon after it was launched, he is also a Trustee of its UK foundation, campaigning to save the forests and their peoples.
A slipped disc in his mid-thirties brought Richard to the study of Tai Chi and Chi Kung under London-based Chinese master, Lam Kam Chuen. Both Richard and his partner Jane, with whom he has lived since 1973, are teachers of these arts and regularly visit China.
“These trips are always a bit unnerving,” Richard says. “In this tradition, masters show their proficiency by making their students fight each other. Once I ended up against the martial arts instructor of the national police of China! The code of honour required that I be polite enough not to defeat him (no problem!), but on the other hand not lose (that would cast shame on my master).”
Trained in oriental medicine, Richard was asked by UK publisher Gaia Books, to author a handbook on holistic care for dying people and their caregivers. Published in 1997, Dying Well, is now available in eight languages.
He is perhaps best known to the Shambhala Community, which he joined in 1993, as the Director of the Consecration of The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya and as the Sakyong’s Secretary in Europe. He attended Seminary in 1996 and Kalapa Assembly 2000.
Previously director of the London Shambhala Centre, he now chairs its board of trustees.
Much of this experience came together in the last two years when he was able to put together an international Buddhist peace delegation to Sri Lanka, which met hundreds of monks and nuns, the country’s Prime Minister and many war victims. Drawn from six nations, most were members of the Shambhala Buddhist community.
The delegation’s work is described in Richard’s article, “Listening for Peace”, which appeared in the inaugural issue of Buddhadharma, the quarterly for practitioners.
“When Rinpoche asked me to work closely with him as President,” says Richard, “he made it clear that I should continue with this international engagement, as part of Shambhala vision. The challenge will be to serve our own community, while helping to put a bit more flesh on the bones of our commitment to achieving the wider goal of enlightened society.”