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 payments to monastic and lay workers at ACIP:
→ “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.
Then my lama told me, “You have to make a business, and you make some money and this will pay to save Tibetan literature.” And it’s many millions of dollars, so he said, “You go to New York, you start a business, you make like, I don’t know, 10 million dollars.” And I said, “I don’t like New York, I don’t like business.” And so then they asked me, “You have to go”. And I went. I started, I asked them, “What business do you want?” They said, “Diamond business.” And I said, “Diamond is dirty business.” But it has a religious meaning for us. So I started a diamond business. Then I said, “What is the business plan?” They said, “You use this book. This is called ‘Diamond Cutter Sutra.’” It’s the oldest printed book in the world. “You use this book.” And then I started to read the book, it says, “Why is a mountain big?” “Because the mountain is not big.” That’s all. I said, “How am I going to use it for a business plan?” Then they said, “You have to meditate.” So I did and we started a company, 3 people, and now that company is $250 million per year.
From the transcript of a 2006 talk:
We [unclear] try to raise money to Tibetan refugees, I know nothing about business and I hate business, I am not interested in business at all, so we started, we create [unclear] diamond business and I don’t know anything about that, nothing. But we started it on this principle that if you give a hug purposely and kindly a hundred hugs will come back.
By “we”, did Geshe Michael mean he and Tibetan lamas started a diamond business? Or did he mean to suggest that two Jewish immigrants, Ofer and Aya Azrielant, founded Andin to raise money for Tibetan refugees? Both scenarios are not true. As it turned out, helping Tibetan refugees was not even on Geshe Michael’s mind:
So the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of suffering, [laughs] you know? It’s a very weird thing. And I, I can think of this… I think the most classic example is… I mean when I went to work and I remember I couldn’t get a job and I, I wanted to work in the diamond business, I had to work in the diamond business. I went to thirty different companies, they all threw me out. And then finally I met this guy [Ofer Azrielant, the founder of Andin] and I begged him, “I’ll do anything, I’ll wash the windows, I’ll, I’ll clean the floor, I’ll do anything, just teach me the diamonds.” And so he said okay and he gave me like seven dollars an hour. I remember. And I had to carry things from 33rd street to 47th street and that was my job. And then one day he gave me eight dollars, and then later on he gave me nine dollars, and then he gave me ten dollars, and then he gave me a salary and then I got a position and then it was fifty thousand, and sixty thousand and it kept going, escalating, you know and then finally it reached this point where I’m the vice president and I have to have all these things. You know, at the beginning I didn’t know what to do with the money. I, I just put it in the bank account and I didn’t know what to do with it, you know, I just collected it. And now it seems like I can’t bear, I’m, I’m overspent usually [laughter] and I can’t bear to live without it, you know, and… And, and my mind still wants more, you know your mind wants more. And that’s the nature of all things you can obtain.
ACI class 8 1996
According to his website, Geshe Michael Roach started working at Andin in 1981, was “ordained as a full Buddhist monk” in 1983, and then was “awarded the Geshe degree” in 1995.
I graduated from that monastery, from the course that’s called the Geshe, or Master of Buddhism, … and then my own teachers, when I finished the examinations they took me into a room and they said, “We’d like you to do an extra examination.” And I said, “Well, what kind of examination?” And they challenged me to go to New York City, to start a business, they said I should start a diamond business, and they said they wanted to know if I could bring it up to a million dollars in one year simply by using the principles that they had taught me in the monastery…So I did start a business, I helped found a company called Andin International…
I was the first Westerner to finish at my monastery the Geshe degree, and then my teachers asked me, “We’d like you to do an extra part of an examination, an extra examination.” Then I, you know, I said, “What is the extra examination?” And they said, “Well, we’d like you to go to New York, and we’d like you to start a business, and we’d like you to use the principles of mental seeds and karma, which you learned in the monastery, and we want to see if you can use those principles in order to make a successful company, and then we will donate all the money to the Tibetan refugees.” So I agreed, and I went to New York City. I started a business, I helped to found a business, a diamond business called Andin International…
And when you do the geshe, a thousand people examine you in Tibetan language, and then if you pass, you get one of these big yellow hats. Then my teacher told me you have one more examination. And I said “What’s that?” And he said “You’ve to go to New York” and I said “Why?”, and he said “You have to make a business”, and I said “Why a business? I don’t like business.” He said “I want to see if you can make one million dollars in one year using the knowledge we gave you in the monastery, using the knowledge of the special book we called Diamond Cutter.” So I didn’t want to do it, but I went and then last year, after many years we sold that company it has reached 250 million dollars per year in sales of diamonds.
Did Geshe Michael lie about events in his own life, or did he really travel back in time to 1981, possibly in a DeLorean?
It is not known what wisdom and truths were realized in the first 3-year retreat, but one year out, Geshe Michael Roach showed no regard for the toils and brilliance of Ofer and Aya Azrielant, the two Jewish immigrants who founded Andin and gave him his “start as an errand boy” in their company:
I wanted to raise money for the Tibetan refugees. I started this diamond company in New York. It was the fastest growing company in New York, and I based it only on spiritual principles.
Yoga Chicago, 2004
Like let’s say I want a candy bar, okay, so I am a Buddhist monk, I’ve studied for many years, I know how to get a candy bar. How? I have to give one away. I have to, you see, and not just one. If you give away one, you get like seven back. I know the odds, I know how it works. [laughter] No, I built a two hundred and fifty million company, I know how it goes.
Spiritual Partners Course 2, 2005
Geshe Michael again claimed credit in a 5/2012 video:
… after that I went to New York city and started a diamond business called Andin International Diamond…
In a 3/2013 video, Andin’s actual founders were again left out of Geshe Michael’s narrative:
I went to New York City and I used what I learned to start a diamond business. That diamond business has reached $250 million dollars in sales per year…
This is in contrast with how Geshe Michael described his employment at Andin in ACI class 8 in 1996:
I went to thirty different companies, they all threw me out. And then finally I met this guy [Ofer Azrielant] and I begged him, “I’ll do anything, I’ll wash the windows, I’ll, I’ll clean the floor, I’ll do anything, just teach me the diamonds.” And so he said okay and he gave me like seven dollars an hour. I remember. And I had to carry things from 33rd street to 47th street and that was my job. And then one day he gave me eight dollars, and then later on he gave me nine dollars, and then he gave me ten dollars, and then he gave me a salary and then I got a position and then it was fifty thousand, and sixty thousand and it kept going, escalating, you know and then finally it reached this point where I’m the vice president and I have to have all these things.
According to the book jacket of The Diamond Cutter, first published in 2000: “Geshe Michael gives fresh insight into ancient wisdom by using examples from his own experience as one of the founders of the Andin International Diamond Corporation…” The Diamond Cutter Institute, which Geshe Michael founded in 2009, repeats the claim on its website: “Michael Roach is one of the founders of Andin International Diamond Corporation.”
On geshemichaelroach.com and in some promotional videos, Geshe Michael states more ambiguously that he “helped found Andin International Diamond Corporation.” It is questionable whether Geshe Michael had a founding role (“At that time I had $7 in my pocket…”) or if he helped in the capacity of an employee, as an “errand boy” to Ofer Azrielant, the founder of Andin:
By great good luck he was at that moment just opening a branch office in America, having already founded a small firm in Israel, his home. So I talk my way into his office and beg him to teach me the diamond business: “I’ll do anything you need, just give me a try. I’ll straighten up the office, wash the windows, whatever you say.”…
So I start as an errand boy, at seven dollars an hour, a Princeton graduate dragging through steamy New York summers and winter snowstorms on foot, uptown to the Diamond District, carrying nondescript canvas bags filled with gold and diamonds to be cast and set into rings.
This humble beginning haunted him years later as Aya Azrielant, the co-founder of Andin, continued using him as a “luggage carrier” on her shopping trips to Tokyo even after he had finally risen to vice president — a position not uncommon for a Princeton graduate.
… I was in corporate life for like 15 years and God, you sweat, you do these 70-hour weeks, you know, you claw your way up to the top, to the VP position, you know, and then it’s guaranteed that you will just get this stupid pin, you know, and I got a pin, I know I have a 15 year pin, I was the first person in the company to get a 15 year pin.
Spiritual Partners Course 4, 2006
Geshe Michael apparently was one of the first employees, but the old Andin homepage only named Ofer and Aya Azrielant as “the company’s founders.”
Geshe Michael did found a business institute after coming out of his three-year retreat (2000-2003), and said in a 2004 interview: “Through the Enlightened Business Institute we teach you how to conduct your business only through spiritual principles.” It is, however, questionable whether Geshe Michael was a principled businessman and his business conduct enlightening.
I’m in the diamond business. I was brought up from my innocence to try to trick these tricky diamond dealers, and get them stones for the best price, and they’re talking thousands of stones every day, and you’re supposed to outthink them and outsmart them and out-talk them and…basically lie, so [laughs], so this would happen, you know? I would go into the boss and he would tell me, “Tell the guy you can only pay five hundred dollars”, when we both know I can pay a thousand, okay? So I tell the guy, “I can only pay five hundred.” And he sells it to me for five hundred, and I think, “Oh, my boss is a genius “, you know? This stone costs a thousand dollars, and we got it for five hundred dollars, we just made a five hundred dollar profit. I lied…and we just made five hundred dollars. ‘Course it was…he bought it for three hundred but that’s another point, [laughter] which is always the case if he sells it for five hundred, but that’s another point. I lied. … So it looks like, if you, if you, if you look at the cause and effect of what just happened…I lied, and it triggered the profit. Okay I lied…and we just got five hundred more dollars. Okay? It looks like the lie caused the money, caused the profit, okay? … Correct view of reality says this, …you gave money to someone else long ago, at some previous time in your life, okay? In your lives you gave money, therefore you get money. Okay?
ACI Class 1, 1993
Andin was founded in New York in February 1981 by Ofer and Aya Azrielant, an immigrant married couple from Israel, with the husband as its chairman and CEO, and the wife as president and chief designer. Theirs is an inspiring story of entrepreneurial triumph by immigrants who dared to pursue the American Dream and made it real.
Before emigrating from the land of milk and honey to the land of burgers and fries, the Azrielants had been aspiring filmmakers until they realized that Jews controlled and dominated the film industry in Israel. As reported in a 1998 JCK article:
After completing her studies in fine arts, literature and film making, [Aya] Azrielant met her future husband Ofer, also a documentary filmmaker in Israel. During the mid-’70s, the young couple took a calculated risk: they opened a chain of jewelry stores in Israel with no previous experience in either jewelry or retailing. The business prospered. By 1981, they had moved to New York and established Andin International, which grew into one of the largest private label jewelry companies in the United States in less than a decade.
The enterprising Azrielants, having prospered in their homeland, without the help of Geshe Michael or his “karmic principles”, brought their business acumen and experience to New York, and quickly found success through their business strategies, work ethics, passion and creativity. A 1999 CNN article noted:
The Israeli couple has built Andin, their jewelry company, into a nine-figure business by focusing on middle American tastes and mass merchandise. The Azrielants design and manufacture private label jewelry for department stores, like Macy’s, and chain shops, including Zales.
Andin aims for ‘the very basic middle America that wants a nice piece of jewelry’… The prices are kept basic, too — typically within the $100 to $200 retail range.
“Work is not work. It’s a way of life … It’s my adrenaline,” she said. “Today it’s jewelry, tomorrow it could be handbags, perfume, you name it. I love the creativity of it. I love the possibilities of creating something from nothing.”
A 2005 Haaretz article stated, “The key to its winning formula was the focus on a target audience: the middle class. Andin’s jewelry was made of gold and inlaid with diamonds, but at prices to suit every pocketbook.”
From the old Andin homepage, archived in 10/1999, it does not appear that these no-nonsense Israeli Jews would have a use for Geshe Michael’s karmic principles:
Our success is built on three principles: our jewelry is conceived with fashion in mind, engineered with value in mind, and executed with quality in mind… Our quality is apparent, as well as inherent. By this we mean that our jewelry gives the most look for the money. Our quarter carat Total Weight rings, for example, look so impressive due to the large spread, that they are sometimes mistaken for half carats.
Andin believes that if a product isn’t the highest quality, it isn’t worth selling. For us, quality is an absolute. This means that every ring retailing for $100 is crafted with the same care as one retailing for $1,000… We take great care in designing and crafting our jewelry and hope that you [Macy's, JC Penney, Sears, etc.] enjoy selling as much as we enjoyed creating it.
The Azrielants’ success is inspiring, but not particularly unique among Jewish immigrants. It can be argued that the secrets to financial wealth are in the Talmud, not the Diamond Sutra, for the only wealthy Tibetan is Richard Gere.
In spite of all the karmic seed planting, it appears that Geshe Michael Roach could not gain the respect of Aya Azrielant, the creative mind and co-founder of Andin:
She used to take me on her trips to Tokyo. Why? So I can carry her luggage. I’m the vice president of the company, I’m making six figures, and she uses me as her luggage carrier, right? And I have to stand outside the Japanese cosmetic store with her bags while she spends three hours inside to get the most expensive cosmetics in the world. And she comes out and says, “How do I look?” And in my mind I’m saying, “You’re three god-damned hours older than you were when you walked in.”
Emptiness: A Deep Dive, 2010
Given such lack of respect from the co-owner of Andin, it is questionable how important Geshe Michael and his karmic management were to Andin’s success.
I went into three year retreat [3/2000 to 6/2003]… and then when I came out, I asked the people taking care of me … “Can I have a laptop? … It doesn’t even have a floppy disk drive. Where do you put the floppy disk? … How do you get a file from one place to another? What do you do if you can’t send a floppy disk in the mail, in an envelope?” She’s like, “Geshe-hla, I’ve got to tell you about this thing called the internet.” And I’m like, “What’s internet?” And she said, “Well, it’s a new way to send stuff to people, like you would just send a file across the internet … “God, it must cost a fortune” … “How long does it take to get there? How many days after you send it does the person get it?” She’s looking at me like I’m crazy. “No, Geshe-hla, you don’t understand, you send an email, they get it like 30 seconds later, 10 seconds later.” And I’m like, “That must be very expensive.” “No, Geshe-hla, you don’t understand, it’s free … you can send a message to anybody in the world for free, instantaneously” … We would say that the seeds of being in a deep retreat created the internet for me, OK? We’d say that the intention with which we started a thousand days of practice, you know, we were trying to do something good for the world, we were trying to help the world, so then the result of that is that I come out and there’s this thing called the internet.
While it is questionable whether the retreat helped anyone, it is clear that the internet was not the karmic ripening of 3 years spent unplugged from the world. In fact, Geshe Michael already knew about the internet long before going into retreat.
… “You don’t get rich from safe investments”, that’s not true. I mean, lots of mutual, you know, I mean, lot’s of big corporations make safe investments, then suddenly they turn around and go wild and, you know. If you made a safe investment in the internet or something two years ago, if there’s such a thing, you know. But what’s the answer?
From an article in Wire Magazine, volume 2 No. 8 of August 1994, the Dalai Lama’s government was already using email, and Geshe Michael was well aware of the sharing and linking nature of the internet:
When someone associated with the University of New Mexico took the liberty of posting the CD-ROM data on the Internet, the monks at Sera Mey were overjoyed. “It’s very exciting, the idea of nobody owning it now. Once it’s on the Internet, how can you stop it?“ Roach smiles and shrugs. … Roach is especially excited by the prospect of creating hypertext environments for Buddhist scripture, and points out that Tibetan commentaries already anticipate the nests and links of hypertext.
… Even the Dalai Lama’s central Tibetan administration in Dharamsala has an e-mail address …
A decade has gone by and Geshe Michael Roach still fails to manage the fallout of his 2003 letter in which he claimed spiritual attainment, and disclosed a “spiritual partnership” with his student Christie McNally. Because physical relationships with women are inappropriate for monks, he became persona non grata among Tibetan and Buddhist communities. Refusing to give up his monk’s robes, Geshe Michael found new audiences among yoga crowds, but he has become radioactive since the tragic death of his student Ian Thorson, who was doing a 3-year retreat with his wife Christie McNally. Geshe Michael’s credibility suffers further upon subsequent revelations of his secret marriage to Christie McNally back in 1998 and their secret divorce in 2010. It appears that Geshe Michael could now only acquire new fans and admirers among foreign, non-English speaking, and business audiences who are unaware of the scandals and controversies that brought him disrepute.
For a preacher of “karmic management“, Geshe Michael failed miserably at mending relationships with his monastic tradition, and with Buddhist communities at large. Despite a supposed expertise in karmic management, Geshe Michael failed to hold his marriage together, and failed to provide a successful retreat. It is also apparent that his karmic management has failed to hold off negative press:
Since Thorson’s death, neither Roach nor McNally have spoken to the press. But both agreed to interviews with Rolling Stone – Roach on the condition that he would not answer questions about Thorson’s demise, and McNally responding with a sprawling 44-page document.
… The office of the Dalai Lama issued a rebuke, and Roach’s associates urged him to remove his robes to indicate that he was not celibate. When he refused, Robert Thurman, a former ordained monk, tried to reason with him. “I asked him to meet,” says Thurman, who is married and long ago resigned his robes. “He finally came with his consort to Columbia. I told him to go back to being a lay minister, to take off the robes. Bottom line is, he said he wouldn’t give up the robes. He said, ‘I have never consorted with a human female,’ and I said to Christie, ‘Are you human?’ And she didn’t say yes or no. She said, ‘He said it, I didn’t.’”
… At the tsechus, Roach encouraged male adherents to better access their feminine side and honor Vajrayogini by dressing as women. Roach himself turned up at the temple on these evenings dressed as a “preppy girl,” with eye shadow, eyeliner, skirts and blouses. One night, he dressed as a woman to go to dinner with a group of Diamond Mountain students at a Tucson restaurant.
… Relationships frayed in the isolation and also under the pressure of Roach and McNally’s “spiritual partnership” teachings. Couples who arrived together broke up and connected with different partners.
… McNally believes Roach has been vindictive in ostracizing her from her former community. “In addition to losing my husband, I had no home to go back to, no more job, and it seemed like almost every person I knew was somehow turned against me by the person I used to trust with my very life….I did not realize the intensity of GM’s bitterness toward me. He is a formidable enemy, especially when you do not even realize you have one.”
… As for his critics in Tibetan Buddhism, he says, “I don’t care. I don’t have much connection with American Buddhists anymore.”
… “I will talk about Diamond Mountain if you want, but in three months nobody will care about what happened there. In a year, everyone will have forgotten about it.” He spoke with the certainty of a man who believes he can make his own reality. He says that Diamond Mountain’s days as a school are numbered anyway. “We should just make it online.” McNally is sad to hear this but not surprised. Roach, she says, told her he hated the place” and used to call it “Demon Mountain” in private.
Rolling Stone, 6/2013
Robert Thurman, a professor of religious studies at Columbia University, met with Roach and McNally shortly after Roach published his open letter. He was concerned that Roach had broken his vows and that his continuing as a monk could damage the reputation of the larger Tibetan Buddhist community. “I told him, ‘You can’t be a monk and have a girlfriend; you have clearly given up your vow,’” Thurman says. “To which he responded that he had never had genital contact with a human female. So I turned to her and asked if she was human or not. She said right away, ‘He said it. I didn’t.’ There was a pregnant pause, and then she said, ‘But can’t he do whatever he wants, since he has directly realized emptiness?’” On the phone I can hear Thurman consider his words and sigh. “It seemed like they had already descended into psychosis.”
… By the middle of 2010, plans for the second great retreat were coming together, but Roach and McNally’s relationship was falling apart…. Michael Brannan remembers “a lot of people just sort of swapped partners,” including McNally.
… Under Roach and McNally’s direction they threw parties in the temple at which they served “nectar,” specially blessed booze they could drink despite their vows of abstinence.
… “It was a very sad event,” he said, “but why are people not interested in my teaching? One person dies in the desert and suddenly everyone pays attention. People should be talking about all the good works that I’ve done instead.”
He wasn’t violating his vows as a monk, he insisted—he was engaging in sex not with a mortal but with a reincarnated Hindu goddess, Vajrayogini. In other words, he decreed, there was nothing carnal about their coupling; both he and McNally had achieved enlightenment. Reportedly, when word reached the Dalai Lama, he dropped his teacup and issued a letter of reprimand. Prominent Western Buddhists urged Roach to acknowledge his apostasy. Enlightenment is not something one proclaims; it can only be lived.
… He told his followers that it was time to lie low for a while, as reporters were swarming around. By next year, he suggested, things would be back to normal; maybe they could even have their annual Cinco de Mayo party.
Psychology Today, 11/2012
It wasn’t until after Thorson’s death that Roach’s students discovered that Roach and McNally had been legally married and divorced, according to Michael Brannan, a former Roach student who lives in Bowie and still volunteers at Diamond Mountain…. Brannan said that when he learned that McNally and Roach had been married, he realized that Roach’s story that he and McNally were spiritual partners was a farce. “He broke his vows as a monk,” Brannan said, adding that he wrote to the Diamond Mountain board of directors and asked that it cut ties with Roach to help Diamond Mountain regain credibility. “The critical eye of American Buddhism is looking at Diamond Mountain. A young man died.” Brannan claims that in response, Roach told the board that Brannan was no longer welcome to attend teaching events, but Brannan continues to volunteer by relieving caretakers assigned to provide food and other needs for each of the people in silent retreat.
Tucson Weekly, 9/2012
“It was really frowned upon by the Tibetan Buddhists,” said Robert Thurman, a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and former Buddhist monk. Thurman had worked with Roach in the 1980s on a database of ancient Tibetan manuscripts, which Roach ultimately completed without Thurman. “I told him to renounce his monastic vows because under our tradition monks do not keep consorts,” Thurman said, recalling a meeting he had with Roach and McNally. But Roach insisted he was technically celibate, and told Thurman he’d never had genital contact with a mortal being. According to Thurman, McNally’s response was, “He said it, not me.”
… But in an email, the Dalai Lama’s office advised Roach not to come because of his “unconventional behavior,” including “keeping company with women,” which “does not accord with His Holiness’s teachings and practice.”
… Roach and McNally’s breakup also caused a rift among their disciples, according to Ekan Thomason, a Buddhist priest who graduated from Diamond Mountain in 2010 after a seven-year course on the higher teachings of Tantra. “For years they had taught all around about being spiritual partners and told others that they, too, could reach enlightenment this way,” Thomason said. “Then suddenly they weren’t spiritual partners anymore, and they seemed to be competing for their students’ loyalty.”
… But when I asked if we could speak, he frowned and looked away distractedly. He didn’t think he could find the time, he said. “I just ask that you please focus on how hard the retreatants are working, not just on the one or two people that screwed up.”
He had described Ms. McNally for a time as his “spiritual partner,” living with him in platonic contemplation. What the other participants did not know is that before she married Mr. Thorson, Ms. McNally had been secretly married to Mr. Roach, in stark violation of the Buddhist tradition to which he belongs.
New York Times, 6/2012
His friend Professor Robert Thurman, father of actress Uma Thurman and a former monk, begged Michael to renounce his monastic vows and stop wearing robes. Michael declined, and the two stopped speaking. The Dalai Lama refused to see him when he traveled to India with a group of students in 2006. Despite such harsh criticism, Geshe Michael continued to live with Christie, though he says he’s been celibate since he was 22. Of course, his definition of celibacy differs from the norm. “We are not allowed to have sex, but in yoga there are practices that involve joining with a partner,” he explains. “They are secret, and you are not allowed to disclose them. You might think of them as sex, but their purpose is to move inner energy. It takes very strict training. There would be penetration, but no release of semen.”
… Though Geshe Michael talks with only diplomatic grace about his former partner and maintains the relationship wasn’t romantic, he is clearly heartbroken. “It’s difficult to keep it spiritual,” he admits. “We were trained since childhood to think of a partner as romantic, and I don’t think anyone truly overcomes that. There’s still a little high school stuff going on, but it’s a good lesson.”
New York Post, 2/2010
In a 5/2012 article in ElephantJournal, Matthew Remski broke the news that Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally were divorced on December 1st 2010, as declared by Yavapai County Superior Court in Arizona.
The New York Times reported in 6/2012 that Geshe Michael Roach married his student Christie McNally in 1998.
The marriage was a closely held secret. In writing, the only way he agreed to answer questions, Mr. Roach, who uses the title “geshe,” a type of doctoral degree in theology in the Buddhist monastic system, said he and Ms. McNally “come from strong Christian backgrounds” and “wanted to do a Christian partnership ritual at the same time we did the Buddhist one, at the beginning of our partnership.” (They were married on April 16, 1998, in Little Compton, R.I.)
…He had described Ms. McNally for a time as his “spiritual partner,” living with him in platonic contemplation. What the other participants did not know is that before she married Mr. Thorson, Ms. McNally had been secretly married to Mr. Roach, in stark violation of the Buddhist tradition to which he belongs.
The Tucson Weekly reported in 9/2012:
It wasn’t until after Thorson’s death [4/2012] that Roach’s students discovered that Roach and McNally had been legally married and divorced, according to Michael Brannan, a former Roach student who lives in Bowie and still volunteers at Diamond Mountain.
From an interview in 2003:
Q: And then the rings. I mean did you guys actually have like a ceremony?
GMR: We’re not married in that way. It’s not … I’m Vajrayogini’s disciple, and I wear her ring.
C: No, no, I’m Vajrayogini’s disciple and I wear her ring. (laughs)
GMR: And I guess it’s only coincidence, right, that the wedding finger is the finger that is sacred to Vajrayogini.