When you achieve the path of seeing, when you see emptiness directly, I think a minor realization is that you could control the elements. And it happened that my lama asked me to turn a brick into gold, just after that. And it was a funny statement, because I knew that if I trained further I could do it. You know what I mean? But I couldn’t do it then. He just said that right after the experience. He pointed to a brick and said that, and so I understand that it can be done, and I see how it could be done, but I’m not at that level, and I can’t do those kinds of things.
As of 2003, despite almost three decades of further training, Geshe Michael still failed the challenge, even with three years spent in retreat. Nevertheless, near the end of the retreat (2000-2003), Geshe Michael wrote to highly respected lamas a letter seemingly to request a few endorsing words for his upcoming Tibetan Book of Yoga, but actually to inform them of his spiritual attainment back in 1975 and thus to seek their support for his practicing sexual yoga while still in monk’s robes. For the well-qualified and thoroughly-prepared, the esoteric and highly-advanced practice is said to be capable of bringing full enlightenment in this lifetime; but in the Dalai Lama’s monastic tradition, a monk is celibate, and unless he could demonstrate extraordinary attainment, he would need to return monastic vows to take up the practice as a lay yogi.
A few lamas replied with endorsing statements for the book as had been requested, but their endorsements were left out when the book was published. The lamas who had lived in the West were alarmed and disapproving. His root lama, usually addressed as Khen Rinpoche (“the Abbot”), declined to write any endorsement; as did the Dalai Lama who has written forewords for many books by various authors. According to Geshe Michael’s former student Matthew Remski: “His Holiness was said to have dropped his tea cup when he heard the news [of Geshe Michael’s sexual yoga practice].” Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who had met Christie McNally but was unaware of Geshe Michael’s secret marriage to her, wrote a few prayers for the book and:
1) expressed concerns about Geshe Michael’s practice of sexual yoga: “If your conduct will be the way you explained in the letter, then it will not be normal from the monasteries point of view…”
2) suggested Geshe Michael to support his claim of attainment: “one should be able to perform miracle powers, show control or freedom like Milarepa or like any of those yogis such as Dukpa Kunleg…”
3) hinted at a mythic control over the genital organ for a monk to engage in sexual yoga: “it is not just an ordinary miracle that is needed, one needs to do a special kind of miracle, for example the 6th Dalai Lama pee-ed from the top of the Potala [palace] and just before the urine hit the ground he drew it back again inside his vajra [male organ]. Also there is the story of the previous incarnation of Gonsar Rinpoche, he pulled in mud through his vajra.”
Geshe Michael failed to step up to the challenge, and was no longer welcome to teach at Lama Zopa’s FPMT centers. It is unclear why his “karmic management” failed to earn him approvals from lineage lamas.
Three years later, in 2006, Geshe Michael restated his qualifications in email exchanges with the Office of the Dalai Lama, but the Office replied twice expressing concerns over his “observation of the Vinaya [monastic] vows” and his claim of realization: “If you have reached the path of seeing, as you claim in your letter, you should then be able show extraordinary powers and perform miracles like the Siddhas of the past. Only then will the followers of Tibetan Buddhis[m] be able to believe and accept your claims.” Geshe Michael again failed to step up, and was no longer welcome in the town of Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama lives. In addition to not welcoming his presence, the Office also refused $2000 which was Geshe Michael’s idea of a birthday gift to the Dalai Lama. It is unclear why his seed planting failed to work on the Dalai Lama and his officials.
Although Geshe Michael thrice failed to perform miracles for lineage lamas, at one of Diamond Mountain parties “awash in ritually blessed alcohol,” both Christie McNally and Geshe Michael reportedly walked through a wall. Former student Ekan Thomason believes what she alone had witnessed was real, but she is no longer a follower. While miracles like that may have occurred, they don’t necessarily matter, as Lama Zopa pointed out in his letter: “Of course I don’t mean only external miracle powers, because even Hindus can have that.” If Geshe Michael and McNally could in fact work miracles, it is unclear why they failed to step up for Ian Thorson in his final days — when a miracle would have mattered.
Notes: The siddhas mentioned by the Dalai Lama’s office refer to the 84 tantric masters: one was a monk named Ghantapa who “levitated with his consort into the sky” to demonstrate his attainment.
Sexual yoga may be practiced in Tibetan Buddhism by well-trained yogins. Neither sexual yoga nor alcohol consumption is an accepted practice in other schools of Buddhism. The yoga classes offered to the public at Diamond Mountain and elsewhere are just regular yoga.
Related post: Come Together: The Naked Truth When is it permissible for a monk in the Dalai Lama’s tradition to have a female partner?