All too human

Near the end of his three-year retreat (3/2000 to 6/2003), Geshe Michael Roach wanted to inform students and supporters of spiritual developments three years in the making, and so his caretakers announced a new and improved version of Geshe Michael:

… we have received the following message from Geshe Michael Roach, which he asked to be relayed to you. He says that perhaps the most significant spiritual realization he can claim from the whole experience is that he has come to see what a big head he had gotten in the years before retreat… He has also been confronted with his pride and arrogance, envy and competitive feelings, especially towards his fellow Dharma students and other Western Dharma teachers.  And he has come to see how badly he failed in working together with others like yourself, and in taking proper care to be open and up-front with everyone — especially his own Teachers — about his activities, their goals, and the personal history behind them.
… Geshe Michael would like to share them now almost as an act of confession for his failings in the past; and with the hope that you will forgive them…

Given that Geshe Michael counts himself among several of the most realized masters in 25 centuries of Buddhism, it is perplexing that he would have “envy and competitive feelings” toward more ordinary Buddhist teachers: “And I do it all the time. I catch myself all the time. I get jealous of other Dharma teachers.”

Coveting which means to to desire in a bad way the things that other people have. It is the root of jealousy. I have it, you know. If I meet a good Buddhist scholar, do I rejoice? Usually not. It’s like gee I wonder if he’s as smart as I am, you know. That’s nabsem. Nabsem is is wanting the good things that other people have and be willing to do something bad to get it, you know.

ACI Course 5, 1994

The Buddha advised followers to practice living in four “divine mental states” (Brahma-viharas), which include “sympathetic joy” (mudita), i.e., rejoicing in the happiness and wholesome acts of others, because it is an effective antidote to envy and jealousy. It appears that even with three years “in deep retreat”, Geshe Michael failed to cultivate a more sublime state of mind, and two years later, still could not overcome his darker side: “And if I hear about a good dharma teacher, I am like intensively jealous of them…”

Given that Geshe Michael claims to have perceived emptiness directly at the age of 22, it is questionable why his mindset seems incongruous to the mind that understands emptiness:

It is impossible to entertain a nyomong, a bad thought and the understanding of emptiness at the same time. It’s impossible, it’s totally impossible. That’s the whole clue to getting out of suffering. It’s very interesting. It can’t stay in the same skull at the same time. They are direct antidotes for each other. Once you have a… wisdom. Wisdom and the more wisdom you have, jealousy, hatred, desire, they have to go. They have to leave.

ACI Course 6, NY 1995

Geshe Michael claims to be an Arya-Bodhisattva, which he explained to mean a super being at “a whole different level of evolution” and “as different from a normal human being as a normal human being is different from an ant.” It is questionable if such a highly-evolved spiritual being has not transcended the darker human emotions and tendencies:

I lied, I do lie… Why, why is it that we’re still lying, why is it that I’m still lying after … twenty years of Buddhist education? It’s, it’s your instincts. It is your instincts…and it is because I didn’t study well enough, or I didn’t meditate on what I knew.

ACI Course I, 1993

While it may be human instinct to lie, perhaps a realized being would not revert back to old habits.

When that [realizing emptiness] 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.”

Emptiness: A Deep Dive, 2010

Although Geshe Michael acknowledged his “failings in the past” in not “taking proper care to be to be open and up-front with everyone — especially his own Teachers,” he proceeded to be unforthcoming about his secret marriage in 1998 to Christie McNally, whom he proclaimed to be “an emanation of the Angel of Diamond.” If Geshe Michael truly saw her as “Vajrayogini in the flesh,” it’s a question whether he now considers such view one of his biggest follies. His filing for divorce in 2010, also kept secret, suggests that it was.

Editor’s note: Meditation on Amoghasiddhi Buddha is said to vanquish envy/jealousy (irshya), which is one of the five poisons.

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Update: “Some delusions such as deluded doubt and wrong views are exclusively intellectually-formed and are therefore completely abandoned on the path of seeing. Other delusions such as anger and attachment may be either innate or intellectually-formed, and therefore they are not completely abandoned until the path of meditation. However, having realized emptiness directly, anger no longer arises even though it has not been completely abandoned at this stage.” – Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Heart of Wisdom: The Essential Wisdom Teachings of Buddha

From Ju Mipham Rinpoche's commentary of Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara: “The first bodhisattva ground transcends the levels of ordinary beings, Shravakas, and Pratyekabuddhas…. The Bodhisattvas on this ground have a direct realization of the nonexistence of the self. This enables them to abandon the three fetters: the view of the transitory composite, the belief in the superiority of their ethical discipline, and doubt–together with all the obscurations eliminated on the path of seeing. Because they have attained the sublime qualities of realization and have eliminated all defects, the Bodhisattvas experience an extraordinary happiness, which is why this ground is called Perfect Joy.”

From the Avatamsaka Sutra: “Disciples of the Buddha, when Bodhisattvas dwell on the Ground of Happiness, they accomplish much happiness, much pure faith, much delight, much bliss, much elation, much enthusiasm, much courage, much freedom from contention, much absence of troubling, much absence of anger.”

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Related posts:
. An Eye for the Divine
. Unforgiven
. Super Jesus?

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12 comments

  1. Jed Forman

    1) Your analysis is faulty in several places, but most glaringly: “never going back again” has nothing to do with never having mental afflictions again. That happens at the level of an Arhat, which is different than an Arya. No Buddhist text says that someone who was seen emptiness directly no longer has mental afflictions, nor is Geshe Micahel saying that in these quotes.
    2) You’re just as guilty of the deceit you claim Geshe Michael is procuring. You say, “if you read carefully, you will find no criticism of Geshe Michael Roach on this site. The site merely presents possibilities and facts. It is up to the reader to to interpret these facts and possibilities.” Come on, really? Your site content is editorials, not facts. If you really want to “just present the facts,” then just upload the primary sources without commentary. That would be admirable. Instead, you’re quoting things out of context and down right misinterpreting them.

  2. mrf

    Hey Jed, thanks for the feedback. Here’s an update of my reply to you back in March:
    1) Please see the update section. If a human like me can refrain from lying, I’m pretty sure an Arya, with or without afflictions, could do the same but regrettably, Geshe Michael chooses to lie to his audiences around the world.
    2) What you quoted was from “About diamond-cutter.org” and we’ve made no such claims about this blog. Like most blogs, the content here is our opinions and may not be entirely accurate, but you’ll find it more factual than what Geshe Michael states about his own life. But errors are unavoidable, and we appreciate you or anyone taking the time to point them out.

  3. Jerry kelly

    Interesting stuff,living next to DM of as I now call them “The Kali Death Cult” after the two scary guys off I-10 that showed up at my Ranch house door just to the south of Roachworld wanting directions to “the cult that worships Kali and death and stuff” at 2am a few weeks ago I will refer other new visitors to your

      • JERRY KELLY

        that is their story and they are sticking to it…the DM prison outreach program gives some people with anger problems some new tools…like swords

  4. Tenzin Peljor

    The Buddha about lies:

    The Buddha’s stricture against lying rests upon several reasons. For one thing, lying is disruptive to social cohesion. People can live together in society only in an atmosphere of mutual trust, where they have reason to believe that others will speak the truth; by destroying the grounds for trust and inducing mass suspicion, widespread lying becomes the harbinger signalling the fall from social solidarity to chaos. But lying has other consequences of a deeply personal nature at least equally disastrous. By their very nature lies tend to proliferate. Lying once and finding our word suspect, we feel compelled to lie again to defend our credibility, to paint a consistent picture of events. So the process repeats itself: the lies stretch, multiply, and connect until they lock us into a cage of falsehoods from which it is difficult to escape. The lie is thus a miniature paradigm for the whole process of subjective illusion. In each case the self-assured creator, sucked in by his own deceptions, eventually winds up their victim.

    Such considerations probably lie behind the words of counsel the Buddha spoke to his son, the young novice Rahula, soon after the boy was ordained. One day the Buddha came to Rahula, pointed to a bowl with a little bit of water in it, and asked: “Rahula, do you see this bit of water left in the bowl?” Rahula answered: “Yes, sir.” “So little, Rahula, is the spiritual achievement (samañña, lit. ‘recluseship’) of one who is not afraid to speak a deliberate lie.” Then the Buddha threw the water away, put the bowl down, and said: “Do you see, Rahula, how that water has been discarded? In the same way one who tells a deliberate lie discards whatever spiritual achievement he has made.” Again he asked: “Do you see how this bowl is now empty? In the same way one who has no shame in speaking lies is empty of spiritual achievement.” Then the Buddha turned the bowl upside down and said: “Do you see, Rahula, how this bowl has been turned upside down? In the same way one who tells a deliberate lie turns his spiritual achievements upside down and becomes incapable of progress.” Therefore, the Buddha concluded, one should not speak a deliberate lie even in jest.

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/waytoend.html#ch4

    The bahaviour of GMR is IMO very coarse by far to coarse for a 1st ground Bodhisattva.

  5. Hazel Zhang

    It’s very interesting that you would create this site about Geshe Michael Roach. I assume you’re not a buddhist, otherwise you won’t only see the negative side of a person while dismissing all the good teachings he gives. It’s very sad.

    • mrf

      Hi Hazel, good teachings are grounded in truth/reality and should stand up to some basic fact checking. What GMR teaches have neither worked out for himself nor for some of his best and closest students, you may find such statement negative but at least it’s factual, unlike many of his claims. And yet GMR continues to sing his own praises and market teachings that in reality have not worked in his professional and personal life. You can find links to authentic teachings in the resource section on the sidebar. For the record, as written in Super Jesus, we do rejoice in good acts by GMR, but oddly enough, he found it hard to rejoice in the scholarship of dharma teachers — which seems quite un-Buddhist.

  6. B

    A very disingenuous article. Aryas are not free from the mental affliction of lying at all, nor jealousy.

    They are simply very good at watching their minds and observing the mistakes it makes, and quickly making efforts to correct it since it directly opposes their view of emptiness.

    Furthermore it is not clear what level of lying Geshe Michael is speaking of. Is he telling fabulously offensive and constructed lies? Or is he merely telling us what is happening on a subtle level of his mind, that these instincts/karmas still appear.

    I think its clear that its the latter if you stop taking his comments out of context, and stop making up new buddhist rules to fit your agenda.

    • mrf

      Hello B, thanks for the feedback. These are pretty clear-cut examples:
      1. He claimed to be clueless of the internet (“what’s internet?“) until after the retreat (2003), but he already knew about it back in 1994.
      2. He claimed to start at Andin (“an extra examination“) after receiving the Geshe degree (1995), but he had already worked there since 1981.
      3. By his own admission, he lied to trick diamond dealers into giving him better deals. Why did he resort to lying? Planting seeds didn’t work?
      1 and 2 seem fabulously constructed, but 3 seems to be just run-of-the-mill, agree?

    • Iggy Aztec

      Unless he’s simply delusional when he states he’s “The first arya-bodhisattva since Nagarjuna” which was said to us in class by Michael in 2004. And why would he threaten me in with libel in a letter directed to me and the board for witnessing aloud the fact? You can tell a lie so often, and it becomes believable. The brain is fully-capable of deluding itself.

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