In 2003, Geshe Michael Roach made public a letter to his lamas:
And then at the age of 22,
A seed inside of me
Suddenly awakened, a seed
Which was planted by the many efforts
Of the me of my past lives,
And so I saw ultimate reality directly,
I entered the gate
To the first level
Of the Bodhisattvas.
Perceiving emptiness directly is an extraordinary event that transforms a person into a level-one Bodhisattva, the first of ten levels before attaining Buddhahood. According to Geshe Michael, he is among a handful of people who have reached this spiritual milestone in 2500 years of Buddhist history:
There are just, you can see all the way back to the Buddha and there is one person between the Dalai Lama and the Buddha and it’s Nagarjuna [2nd century Buddhist philosopher], about emptiness, who understood emptiness. He is one of the few people in history who saw emptiness directly. So we call Arya, in Sanskrit ‘Arya’ means a person who has seen emptiness directly. Maybe since modern times back to the Buddha there had been maybe four, five people like that, Aryas. So someone who has seen emptiness directly. Nagarjuna is recognised as the first person since the historical Buddha’s time to have seen emptiness directly.
Spiritual Partners Course 3, 2006
I worked in the diamond business for fifteen years only because I had seen emptiness and I wanted to remember what I had seen. So sixteen-hour days for fifteen years. I made a lot of money for the monasteries, and I did a lot of good with the money, but it was only to remember that twenty minutes. Fifteen years in a corporation just to remember what had happened to me, and that’s the only reason that I did it.
Quiet Retreat interview, 2003
Geshe Michael spoke of a transformation into a highly-evolved super being:
The direct experience is different from the intellectual experience… You must be in a very deep state of meditation… It’s like the difference between reading about ice cream and licking ice cream… Something happens to you when you have that experience which takes like typically 15-20 minutes. It only takes 15 or 20 minutes. When that happens to you, a deep and lasting and incontrovertible change occurs in your being, okay? Something changes within you which can never go back again. You can never go back again. And you become what they call… in Sanskrit, they call “Arya.” … In Sanskrit, “arya” does mean “superior one,” “different one,” “set apart.” Arya means “set apart.” And when you see emptiness directly, then you become Arya. Arya means you are a different level of evolution. You are a whole different level of evolution. You are as different from a normal human being as a normal human being is different from an ant, okay? You are as different from a normal being – normal person, human – as a human is from an ant.
…If you undergo that experience, once, in your life, for twenty minutes, then … you are close, very, very, very close to the ability to make this world a single world of peace and harmony and no death. You’re very close to being able to guide an entire planet to deathlessness. You see? You would be like super Jesus. You would come to the world with this understanding and you could change the whole globe, quickly. You would have that… if you saw emptiness once directly, you would have that power to come to a world and change the entire world and eliminate, eradicate death, disease, war, hunger, poverty, in this planet. Like Jesus, but better. Okay? You could pull it off. If you saw emptiness once for twenty minutes in this lifetime, right? In this lifetime, if you could pull it off, your whole being would change and you would be a different… you’d be like an angel or something like that. You’d be a higher form of life because you would have that capacity to change the whole globe. … Because then your whole being would change. Your whole… you would become a person that could single-handedly save the globe.
Emptiness: A Deep Dive, 2010
Although Bodhisattvas are known for helping all sentient beings achieve enlightenment, changing a samsaric planet into a heavenly paradise seems overly ambitious. Meanwhile, the number of Tibetan refugees that Geshe Michael managed to help is modest for a Bodhisattva, and seemed limited to just the monks at his monastery and Tibetan women employed at his Asian Classics Input Project. Geshe Michael “did a lot of good” for the monastery with his hard earned money, but his largesse did not extend far into larger Tibetan communities or to the world at large, and so appeared paltry for Super Jesus; however, we can all rejoice in Geshe Michael’s good deeds which he recounted in a 2012 essay:
- built an elementary school for young monks “using the money from [his] job and from some Christian aid agencies in New York.”
- paid off 1/3 the debts of Sera Mey Monastery (Art Engle, a senior student of Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin, also paid off 1/3, and Khen Rinpoche paid off the other 1/3.)
- built a diamond-cutting factory in the monastery, and helped start a tofu factory (both not active)
- helped build up Sera Mey Food Fund for “over a thousand monks”
- built wells, water lines, dormitories, and a debate park with a covered pavilion for the monastery
- helped build a library, and started a textbook printing project
- founded the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP) to preserve Tibetan Buddhist literature
- raised funds through donations and grants to pay for various projects, including ACIP employees:
→ “The income from this computer input project has provided considerable financial support each year for the Sera Mey Scholars’ Food Fund.”
→ “We estimate that including the operators and their extended families, over 250 Tibetan refugees are fed and housed through the monthly employ of ACIP.”
There are 120000 Tibetan refugees in India, and every year many Tibetans risk being gunned down on treacherous journeys over the Himalayas to escape Chinese rule. It is praiseworthy to provide monetary support to Tibetan refugees, but what Tibetans long for is not Western or Chinese handouts, but a return of their free and independent homeland. While it may be a messianic mandate for Super Jesus to save the whole world, Geshe Michael — if he is not a false or failed Messiah — is hereby challenged to start small by doing something to free Tibet, for it is unbecoming of a Savior to play the sitar while Lhasa burns.
Art Engle, PhD together with Geshe Michael and the late Khen Rinpoche, each paid off 1/3 the debt of Sera Mey. Check out Dr. Engle’s book, The Inner Science of Buddhist Practice and his translation of Liberation in Our Hands.
Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin started the Sera Mey Food Fund that now feeds 2000 monks. “100% of donated funds is used to buy only food, in the form of rice, lentils and vegetables. During difficult times, only rice and lentils are bought to make the money last longer.” An alms offering to this sangha can be made through Paypal, credit cards, or checks.
Related post: All too human?