According to a 2012 talk, Geshe Michael Roach was pressured to start a diamond business to support Tibetan causes:
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 may not have been 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 Course 8, 1996
It is questionable whether an Arya, someone who has perceived emptiness directly and thus become an entry-level Bodhisattva, would feel so attached to money.
According to his letter in 2003, Geshe Michael “at the age of 22” “saw ultimate reality directly”, “entered the gate to the first level of the Bodhisattvas”, and then “entered the diamond trade” “because it would be a way never to forget what [he] had seen upon the Path of Seeing.”
Why was I in the diamond business? I was meditating when I was in the monastery, I was sitting there one day and something special happened and then I knew I had to work in the diamond business. And I didn’t need money. I had an inheritance and it wasn’t big but it was enough to stay in the monastery indefinitely. But it said, you have to work in diamond, you must work with diamond, you know. So okay, it took me like several years but then I went into the diamond business.
Spiritual Partners, Course 1, 2005
It is questionable whether Aryas, who know emptiness, including the emptiness of emptiness, would have any attachment toward material objects:
It’s an experience of all Aryas, when they come down out of that, that they are obsessed with diamonds. okay? It’s, it’s an experience. And that’s why you see diamonds throughout Buddhist literature. Dorje here means “diamond”, in the sense of the closest thing an Arya could talk to you about, to describe emptiness as an ultimate. It is an ultimate. It is a higher reality. It’s way beyond this reality. It’s so ultimate that if you saw it, directly, for twenty minutes, it could eventually stop every kind of suffering you have. That’s why you’re here. okay? That’s its quality, and that’s the closest that an Arya could come to telling you about it. And a new Arya, a baby Arya, would want to be around diamonds all the time. To remember, what they saw. You know? They would purposely set up some kind of way to be near diamonds, okay?
ACI Course 12, 1997
Far from being pressured by his lamas, or feeling reluctant towards a “dirty business”, Geshe Michael so wanted to work with diamonds that he was willing to be an errand boy, and to even work without pay:
Every person who ever sees emptiness directly realizes that a diamond is the most important object in the regular world that can remind you of of what you saw. And you’d be more than willing to spend the rest of your life working in some crummy diamond company just to be close to them. Because it would make sense to spend the rest of your life…even if they didn’t pay you…just to be close to them so you could remember, you see what I mean, and it wouldn’t be a problem to work for twenty years or something in a company without any need for money or any desire to have any money, just to be close to them. You know, you get this knowledge that you must stay close to them and you must be around them to remind you of what you saw, okay. And to spend twelve hours a day at this stupid place would be worth it if you only remembered once a week what you saw, you see what I mean…to get up every morning at six, come home at eight, but to be there, and to touch them and to be around them would be worth it, just to remember the twenty minutes…you should never forget the twenty minutes, okay.
ACI Course 17, 1999
Despite more recent claims of his desire to help Tibetan refugees, Geshe Michael previously said twice that he had worked at Andin “for no other reason” than to be reminded of the experience of seeing emptiness. It is questionable whether an Arya would continue to live out that transformative experience, or his/her non-grasping mind would need some external stimulus for a reminder:
And when you see emptiness directly for the first time, after you come out of that experience, you’re groping for some kind of metaphor, you know, you’re looking for something to remind you of what you saw, because it was the most profound experience that a human can undergo, okay? And and you’re groping for something that you can keep near you and un…and keep remembering what you saw. So like, if you saw it directly, you would come up with diamond and then you would want to be around diamonds, okay…like somehow you would want to be involved with diamonds, okay. And that that would drive your life, like you’d be willing to spend the next fifteen years, you know, working in some office to be around diamonds, just to be close to a diamond so you could remember…for no other reason, just to remember those twenty minutes, you would be willing to work in in some stupid place for eight hours a day just to remember those twenty minutes…for fifteen years of your life…you know what I mean? It’s worth it, okay. It’s an amazing experience and you have to remember it, okay.
Diamond is close to that because diamond is the hardest thing in the natural universe, okay? And so it’s, as an idea close to ultimate, it’s close, but the day you see emptiness directly you will search for an ultimate, and diamond will come in your mind. And if if for the rest of your life you you never did anything else, you’d want to be close to diamonds, okay. You’d you’d wanna be somewhere, touching them, looking at them to remember what happened to you for twenty minutes one day. Maybe fifteen years ago, or twenty years ago, but still you’d wanna be near them, touch them, see them, just…and it’d be worth it to go get a job and work there for fifteen-twenty years just to be close to them, and for no other reason, you know…even if they didn’t pay you anything. It would be well worth it in your mind to remember what happened.
ACI Course 17, 1999
Update: “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
This post is sponsored by the Gemstone Dealers Association of Greater New York.