An eye for the Divine

Did Geshe Michael Roach receive blessings from the “angels” in his life?

In March 2000, Geshe Michael Roach and four female students went into a three-year retreat in St. David, Arizona. Near the end, Geshe Michael wrote a letter to inform other students that the four women were actually angels — his parlance for Buddhas: “And, I repeat, angel is not a funny guy or girl with two wings and flutters around and tells you the lottery numbers for next week [laughter]. It’s a being, a Buddha, it’s a woman Buddha or a man Buddha, who can appear as a normal person, but they are operating on every planet in the universe at the same time.” The letter had step-by-step instructions on how to request teachings from these angels/Buddhas and was read out loud in class:

Now suppose you hear some strange talk about an old Buddhist monk who has been staying for a while around some wonderful ladies and you’re curious about what’s been going on. And suppose you hear that that what the old monk says has been happening is that for all these years, holy angels have been coming to him and showing him the path to reach a true heaven in this one body, even before he dies.

Suppose that you, yourself, have been thinking about the fact that everyone close to you, and everyone you have ever met have nothing to look forward to in life except growing older, loosing everything we have and dying with nothing. Suppose you feel pity deep within you that things must go on this way. So suppose you thought that, although this old monk is certainly a bit odd, he is unquestionably determined and well trained in his Buddhist practice and so what he says about his experiences just might be true. Certainly if there was even a small chance that it was true then it would be worth checking out for yourself, although you might feel a little unsure or silly about it. I mean so much to gain for yourself and all those I love, so little to loose if it’s not true. And so you decide you’d like to try to meet one of these angels yourself. For this you are going to need these little instructions.

Instructions on Angel Catching:

. Step 1: Go up to one of these so called angels that the old monk has been talking about. Circle around them three times to the left with pure thoughts of faith and reverence, then kneel down on one knee in front of them.
. Step 2: Fold your hands at your breast, close your eyes and say the following: I beg you from my heart to bless me and teach me how to see all of those around me, my husband or wife, my companion, my friends and even my children as a true angel who can teach me all I need to know to take myself and all I love to a true heaven even before we die. If you’re not feeling too nervous or shy it’s helpful to repeat this three times, although just once is fine if you really mean it.
. Step 3: Now there’s something you need to know about this angel business, they never admit to it right off. They never admit who they really are. So it’s very likely that you’ll just get a blank look and they’ll say something like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m no angel, I’m just an ordinary person.”
. Step 4: Be persistent. Maybe grab her feet, press your forehead down on them and repeat your request with unshakable, or nearly unshakable, faith.
. Step 5: You need to know in advance at this point, they usually look at you very exasperated, and they repeat that they’re just an ordinary person. Very often they’ll even say terrible things to you, or about you, to see if you’ll get discouraged. Even if you do get discouraged, try to act like you’re not.
. Step 6: If they can get away from you they might even go away from you someplace else, and refuse to talk to you. Hang in there. Go find them and insist on the teaching.
. Step 7: In special cases you might get hit on the head at this point, just like in the old stories of people like Naropa, or even in The Garden book. It hurts a bit but don’t despair, you’re getting really close.
. Step 8: Now it’s time to pull out the heavy guns. Refold your palms again and present this irritated looking lady with an unavoidable act of truth as follows: Oh, enlightened lady, if it is true that I have sincerely if not perfectly kept up my book of vows for (state a time), like the last three years. If it is true that I have sincerely, if not perfectly kept up my daily prayers and meditations for (state a time). If it is true that I have sincerely, if not perfectly tried to live and care for others as I do myself, then by this truth will you teach me what I ask of you?
. Step 9: Now, of course, an act of truth like this can never fail and so things should really start to happen in a steady but often bumpy way. Of course, if you don’t really have at least a few serious good deeds like the above to bargain with, you’re going to need to get back to work on your own practice until you’ve got something ready to bargain with. At this point you can’t really blame the angel or the old monk if you see something less than infinite loving compassion for every living creature.

Please know that even though these instructions are written in a funny way, they are dead serious and come directly from holy scripture. This virtue is dedicated to every person who has any doubts about the magic of our life together.

With love,

The American Buddhist monk
Lobsang Chunzin Geshe Michael
Easter 2003

At one of his Great Retreat teachings, Geshe Michael described the experience of living in their encampment on a vast ranch land: “We were alone, each person. The nights are very dark, and there are many, many strange sounds…. Every kind of creepy, crawly, desert thing has crawled in people’s yards and yurts [Mongolian-style tents], and sometimes very frightening things, but I think, the hardest thing is the loneliness, to be alone for month after month…. We see each other for the holidays, like Sojong, confession ceremony, twice a month. When we’re in deep retreat we don’t see each other at all, so for a month or maybe two months.” The five retreatants were cared for by a small group of student volunteers. According to a recent book A Death on Diamond Mountain, their cook and primary caretaker Amber Moore: “hauled supplies to the five yurts as quietly as possible. On her very first visit she realized that one of the structures was empty. McNally was sharing room with Roach. After the scene at her vow ceremony, the coupling didn’t surprise her, but she also knew it wasn’t part of the plan.”

Unbeknownst to the students and volunteers, Geshe Michael — against monk’s vows — had secretly married Christie McNally two years before the retreat started, and the couple had vowed to stay within 15 feet of each other. Another volunteer would later protest the lack of transparency in an open letter to Geshe Michael: “I was at Diamond Mountain before the retreat started and helped to build your floors and put up your yurt – no easy matter, especially considering there weren’t any instructions. And at no time was there any mention about you sharing your Yurt with anyone. In fact, I recall the spot where Christie’s own yurt was being constructed. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary but with the perspective of time, it now appears that it may have been done to create a false impression. Why weren’t you upfront with your plans before the retreat started? I’m sure I am not alone in wishing I had known more about what my contributions of time and energy and money were supporting from the beginning. Further, when you came out to give the Quiet Retreat teachings, why did you continue to emphasize that all the retreatants were alone and in isolation in their yurts except for the group ceremonies?” Regarding their 12-year relationship, McNally revealed in 2013: “I stayed right next to him for 12 years without a single break.”

Although Geshe Michael may have known how to catch angels, he does not seem to know how to keep them. Christie McNally flew away and called him a "formidable enemy." Two other angels also took off and seemed to indicate their disapproval by not mentioning Geshe Michael in their biographies. Petra Williams, who has since become a nun, stated that she had “completed several long meditation retreats” and only named the Dalai Lama, Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche, and Lama Zopa Rinpoche as her teachers. Trisangma only mentioned studying with meditation teacher John “Culadasa” Yates and Geshe Tashi Tsering, and wrote tersely: “When Trisangma was 30, she completed a three-year silent meditation retreat.” It is not clear why Geshe Michael’s seed planting failed to earn approvals/blessings from his angels/Buddhas.

Note: Trisangma was misidentified as a nun in the book. The nun in that retreat was Ani Pelma, who has done a second 3-year-3-month-3-day retreat (12/30/2010 – 4/4/2014) at Diamond Mountain in Bowie, Arizona and is still a follower of Geshe Michael. Readers are asked to respect the privacy of these women and leave them be.

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?

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