Geshe Michael Roach’s secret marriage to Christie McNally ended in divorce

In May 2012, Matthew Remski broke the news that Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally were divorced on December 1st 2010, as declared by an Arizona court.

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.

—–
Notes: In a 1997 article, Geshe Michael pointed out an anomaly that he observed on his trip to Mongolia in 1996: “I should say one thing about the monks [in Mongolia]. The Communists forced a lot of monks to get married, and as they came out of Communism [1991], there was a custom of some monks getting married, and that’s now stopped. Bakula Rinpoche [a Tibetan geshe] and other people have worked very hard to teach them proper vinaya [monk’s vows]. They made a rule that those monks who were married before a certain time were allowed to stay married, but they’re not allowed to call themselves monks; they’re not allowed to take formal ordination. They’re allowed to wear robes, but they’re not considered bhikshus [ordained monks] or even getsuls [novice monks]. That’s sort of a compromise they made. So if you go to Mongolia you might run into a monk who talks about his family.” A year later, Geshe Michael got married.

The Dalai Lama said in a 1996 interview, “No, no, no. This is absolutely wrong … Nowadays, unfortunately, we have a new vocabulary — a monk with a wife. This is wrong. A monk is celibate. Those who dress like a monk, with a wife, they are not monks. Of course, it’s the individual’s right. You can always give up a monk’s vows, and then change your dress.”

—–
Related posts:
. Come Together: The Naked Truth When is it permissible for a monk in the Dalai Lama’s tradition to have a female partner?
. Self-delusion: a proof of concept Why did his marriage fail?

Advertisements

4 comments

  1. Tony

    Thank you for this website. I have been a critic of Roach since the 1990′s. I invited him to Bodhgaya to teach in the mid 90′s, not knowing him but only hearling some good things. At that time he was still on the approved FPMT techers list.

    I then spent a month at Diamond Mountain in the early 2000′s and from that experience became the author and publisher of the old diamondcutter.org website. If you need any of the original files or info from that site, please email me. I am glad to see a copy is still archived. http://web.archive.org/web/20090424022404/http://diamond-cutter.org/about/about.html#2

    From my experience, Roach is deleded and a danger to the public, and to the Dharma in general. Good work on this site.

  2. Ben Zaiten

    Let’s consider the modern societal norms of the Judeo-Christian West, where everyone is expected to pair up and get married, be fruitful, multiply, all of that. Anyone who becomes a monk or nun is considered a religious nut, and anyone who fails to pair up is considered an unattractive loser. Contrast this with the continuing tradition in South Central Asia where practically every family has at least one son or daughter (or some close family member) remain a (celibate) monk or nun for life in order to take care of the ritual religious needs of the rest of the family throughout their lives. In the West, such an outlook on life is inconceivable, but it’s pretty commonplace in the region around Tibet.
    I don’t think it’s possible for a Western person to become a celibate Buddhist monk or nun without encountering problems caused by the imprints left in their subconscious mind during their early life.

    Let’s try and see the intrinsic emptiness of the vows. For a soon-to-be monk or nun who grew up in the tradition, the vows are viewed as a positive thing. They have been expecting such a thing their whole lives, and they have been taught from an early age why those vows exist within the context of the rest of the culture. Marriage and child rearing is a distraction from which the initiate is being freed. For a Western person “seeking a more spiritual path”, the vows and their implications are a price that must be paid for a spiritual reward, so the vows could be viewed, perhaps in part, as a negative thing. The locals see the vows as one more step on the path they have been following their entire lives, and so they aren’t really “giving up” anything that they, as children, have come to expect of their own lives. A Westerner who plans on living life as a monk or nun in the West, however, can expect to be stigmatized upon returning to the West, in addition to having to forgo something they learned to expect out of life as a child. Nobody in the West seeks Buddhism because it promises a way to be forever single and never have sex again.
    Even worse, a Westerner who is coming to the East for spiritual reasons is probably going to believe that the vows are a deeply positive thing without any negative component, even though they’ve just set themselves up for future suffering without knowing it. “If it’s good for the local monks and nuns, then it’s good for me” (this attitude is easy to adopt if you forget the lesson of emptiness). This simultaneously creates a problematic imprint that will inevitably manifest itself and a means for the problematic imprint to evade scrutiny until it’s too late. Denying that there is a problem is desirable, since accepting that there’s a problem would diminish the perceived value in the “accomplishment” of becoming a monk or nun. Basically, the Western person sees local monks and nuns and thinks “I want what they have” without considering whether or not following the exact same steps is going to actually lead them to the same results.

    I don’t think anyone here is going to argue that Geshe Roach is lacking in knowledge of the subject matter of Buddhism. Perhaps the problem, then, is that he was never cut out to be a monk — not because of any spiritual shortcoming — but rather because he’s a Western person who grew up in a different tradition, so trying to adhere to a specific role which doesn’t fit in to Western society is going to be a continuous source of misery.
    Perhaps if he had been acquainted with the Sakya school instead of just the Gelug school, he may have found a more appropriate example to emulate: a white-robed married lama (who is not a monk). Being secretly married and all of the problems that resulted looks a lot like something a couple of lovestruck teenagers might do. I’d argue that the suppressed imprints that manifested themselves so tragically are their memories of their teenage years silently rebelling against the idea of celibacy the moment they took their vows. They were, albeit unwittingly, being dishonest with themselves, and it came around to bite them in the butt. They were convinced they had cured themselves of a problem that never really existed in the first place and took a vow to never do something they would forever be tempted into without knowing it (since they thought they had already solved that problem and subsequently taken a vow).
    I’m not saying it’s impossible for a Western person to successfully be a celibate Buddhist monk or nun. I’m saying that, for the average Westerner with the cultural norms I first described, there is an additional price to pay every day for the rest of their lives simply due to cultural differences that the Westerner may be all too eager to overlook as being problematic.

    I went on a seven year long retreat during which I was sexually abstinent (this was in my 20s so it was a serious undertaking). When I returned and started having intimate relations again, there were some pretty unexpected — seemingly paranormal — things I experienced that reminded me of how people describe tantric sex. For example, I was able to “link up third eyes” and send a telepathic shock, like an emotional blast, to my partner without us being in physical contact (sex right after that is mindblowing, by the way). I did this unintentionally, and it was actually kind of scary when it first happened. My point here is that the whole business of abstinence and non-abstinence is empty. Roach and McNally could have, if they approached it differently, gained lasting benefit from marriage, and it sounds like they were indeed able to experience some of the things I experienced coming back from retreat. However, because of the lies they told to themselves on the paths they took leading up to their secret marriage, the innate potential of their union was ultimately squandered and resulted in both being harmed and causing harm to others.
    I’m not excusing their actions. I’m trying to explain how this could have all happened even with the best intentions from Roach and McNally, and how this shouldn’t ever have even been a bad thing they had to keep secret. Maybe the problem is that becoming a celibate monk was a thing that Roach should never have wanted in the first place. He failed to see this and now he just looks like a crazy White guy peddling new-age bullshit to gullible business folk, which is a tragic waste of all the effort his teachers spent educating him.

Comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s