The Naked Truth

When is it permissible for a monk in the Dalai Lama’s tradition to have a female partner?

Editor’s note: Geshe Michael Roach and his junior monk Nyingpo both got married while still in Gelug monastic robes. We call on Geshe Michael to uphold the teachings and practices of the tradition, and request the Board of Directors at Diamond Mountain to not name a new building “Je Tsongkapa Center” as this name will lend credibility to Geshe Michael’s questionable teachings and will mislead many more students for years to come. The following article challenges Geshe Michael’s teaching of “spiritual partnership” and his misleading statements about Je Tsongkhapa — the founder of the Gelug tradition, and Tsangyang Gyatso — the 6th Dalai Lama.

In an interview with the New York Post, Geshe Michael Roach touched on karmamudra or sexual yoga — a set of esoteric practices that supposedly could bring full enlightenment in this lifetime: “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.” According to Gelug tradition, monks are celibate and would need to return to lay life in order to practice sexual yoga without fault. Professor Robert Thurman, a former Gelug monk, reminded Geshe Michael “to renounce his monastic vows because under our tradition monks do not keep consorts,” but Geshe Michael’s response was “I have never consorted with a human female.” According to Geshe Michael, his then wife Christie McNally was an emanation of the angel Vajrayogini — the answer to his prayers: “I prayed constantly for Vajrayogini to come to me. One of the first things she taught me was to pray for her to come and stay with me. And I did that for years, every night before I went to bed.” Although McNally had been one of his students, Geshe Michael viewed her as “Vajrayogini in the flesh” who had come to teach him directly; and according to his reasoning, he was not breaking monastic vows:

And it’s completely wrong for an ordained person to have any form of sexual activity. It’s completely forbidden. It’s the first of all monks’ vows. And a monk can never engage in sexual activity at all. And I never have…. I never broke any of those vows in a major way. I never had any kind of sexual contact with a woman since I was 21 or 22. And then in very extraordinary rare cases, it’s important, it’s useful, to do special kind of physical yoga with a divine being. And in the vinaya texts, I think even in the Tsotik, which is the basic huge vinaya text for the monasteries, you don’t break your vows if you engage in high yoga with a divine being. It isn’t anything normal at all.

Not normal at all was when Geshe Michael and Christie McNally ordained their student Eric Brinkman as Ven. Lobsang Nyingpo in 2006, and arranged the marriage of this monk to Mercedes Bahleda — the personal assistant of Geshe Michael. This marriage was revealed in a recently published book A Death on Diamond Mountain: “Mercedes Bahleda and Eric Brinkman (Nyingpo) gave me a lengthy interview together while we were in Phoenix but neglected to mention that they were married. I learned of the story of their arranged marriage from several people who attended the ceremony.” A DCI document about travel and lodging arrangements for staff in 2013 confirms their marital status: “Eric and Mercedes are married and can share a double bed.” In a video, Bahleda called it “an arranged marriage” because it was neither her idea nor the monk’s. Let’s hope Bahleda, who can sing like an angel, is a divine being and Ven. Nyingpo can perform miracles.

In old Tibet, to have permission to practice sexual yoga, a monk of the Gelug tradition needed to perform a miracle to “demonstrate that he had control over the elements, which obviously meant he also had control over all his inner winds, and so on, and energies, so that he could practice in this way without violating any of his vows.” During the time of the previous Dalai Lama when each large Gelug monastery housed thousands, only two monks were deemed qualified for the practice, one was a monk from Ganden monastery:

[Serkong Dorjey-chang] had attained the stage of anuttarayoga tantra at which he could practice special yoga techniques with a consort to reach the deepest level of mind. This advanced point on the complete stage requires full mastery of the subtle energy system, with total control over both internal and external matter and energy. His vows of celibacy would normally prohibit him from such practice. When His Holiness the Thirteenth Dalai Lama asked for proof of his attainment, Serkong Dorjey-chang tied a yak horn into a knot and presented it. Convinced, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama permitted Serkong Dorjey-chang to keep his monastic holdings while practicing at this level.

That was the standard of the 13th Dalai Lama (1876-1933). The current 14th Dalai Lama “said he didn’t know how to do this practice” and explained: “… I’m a monk, so it is never appropriate. Truthfully, you can only do such practice if there is no sexual desire whatsoever.” He further explained that an extraordinary equanimity of mind is the minimal requirement to practice sexual yoga:

[A student] asked, “How many lamas or teachers can do this [practice]?” The Dalai Lama replied, “Very few.” One intrepid woman pursued this further, “Well, who?” And he thought for a while and then he looked up and said, “Zero. Nobody that I can think of.

Given that the Dalai Lama did not know how to practice sexual yoga and Geshe Michael failed to perform miracles when asked three times by lineage lamas, it is not known why Geshe Michael practiced it and imposed such an advanced practice on a junior monk. This line of married monks is utterly against the Gelug tradition whose founder was Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419): “Tsong Khapa was a reformer whose writings and biography indicate he was deeply concerned with the rising popularity of sexual yogas and practices that he considered to be problematic….and he denounced monks who violated their vows by engaging in sexual practices.”

To lend legitimacy to his practice, Geshe Michael claimed that Je Tsongkhapa “himself had a spiritual partner who was given the name Tangsha Marmo: the Lady in the Red Hat.” Biographies have always been clear that Je Tsongkhapa never had a consort. Geshe Tashi Tsering explained: “Although I am sure Lama Tsongkhapa was ready for this practice, as an example to his followers he never sought a consort during his lifetime but instead attained the union of clear light and illusory body during the death process.” Kirti Tsenshap Rinpoche wrote: “…though Tsongkhapa had attained a high level of realization he chose not to utilize a physical consort” and noted: “Some biographies state that after passing into paranirvana, Tsongkhapa manifested as Drakpa Gonpo — or Kirtinatha in Sanskrit — and displayed the conduct of a mahasiddha, such as taking an action seal.”

Geshe Michael also made other misleading statements: “Another example — the 6th Dalai Lama, …. he also had spiritual partner and he followed this practice. And it’s very famous in Tibet. He wrote many beautiful poems about his relationship and they are very, very famous.” While it is true that the 6th Dalai Lama (1683-1706) had many women, Geshe Michael did not inform the audience that the Sixth had refused to be ordained as a full-fledged monk, and even returned his novice monk’s vows to live as a lay person. To go by some poems attributed to the Sixth, he was an adept yogi who was not bound by lust:

Sensory delights, those illusory riches,
are gathered by lust, by love and hate.
Yet, when I fell in love with her,
The knot of my lust became untied.

Never have I slept without a sweetheart
Nor have I spent a single drop of sperm.

Although the Sixth had gained mastery of tantric techniques, he understood that his involvement with women would have been incompatible with being a Gelug monk.

Notes: Geshe Michael made misleading statements about the historical Buddha with regard to the practice, but we will refrain from discussing high tantras in public.

According to Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, unlike the Kagyu school’s interpretations, the “Geluk tradition says that these three different vows are interdependent. If one is damaged, the other two are also violated. It is similar to a building with a foundation, pillars, and roof. If the foundation is damaged, then the pillars and roof will collapse. Similarly, if the self-liberating vow [pratimoksha or monastic vows] is violated, then the bodhisattva and tantric vows are both automatically damaged…. Gyalwa Tsongkapa, the founder of the Gelukpa lineage, who was believed to be the emanation of Manjushri, very clearly and strongly emphasized that regardless of the number of practices one has realized, one is still subject to observing the three commitments in a clear and proper way. He gave an example of a crystal bowl without a crack that can contain whatever you put inside it, such as water. He compares this crystal bowl of water to the self-liberating vow that can hold the bodhisattva vow. If you take the crystal bowl of water outside, you can see the reflection of the moon in the bowl of water. The moon in this analogy is regarded as the tantric commitment. If you have a bowl with no defect and put water into the bowl, you can get the reflection of the moon in the bowl. If there is a crack in the bowl, then the bowl can no longer hold the water, and consequently you will no longer see the reflection of the moon. Just as the bowl without defects that holds water has the ability to reflect the moon, the three vows must be preserved and kept clearly and properly.”

According to Legends of the Mahasiddhas: Lives of the Tantric Masters, a monk named Ghantapa “levitated with his consort into the sky” to demonstrate his attainment.

Related post: Awaiting a miracle Did Geshe Michael Roach and his then-wife Christie McNally actually walk through walls?


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