Mission Implausible: “Coffee Meditation” and the Four-Step Method

Can Geshe Michael’s four steps possibly work?

According to Geshe Michael Roach, his “coffee meditation” and 4-step method can help people make money, have good health, and find a perfect spouse or improve the current life partner:

We will teach you four steps for creating any result you would like in your life. You can achieve great corporate success and personal success. You can “upgrade” your life partner from Economy class to Business class!” – GMR, 10/2015

If that’s true, would Geshe Michael’s secret marriage to Christie McNally have ended in divorce? During their marriage, he tried to apply his “Diamond Cutter principles” to achieve a very simple goal: having plain cereal for breakfast. McNally unknowingly added strawberries to their cereal and because they ate from the same bowl, he had to endure the strawberries “for years.” By 2005, seven years into their marriage and still unable to get rid of the strawberries, he gave up on his seed planting method, and finally communicated to her his displeasure.

Despite the clear failure of his karmic management, more than ten years later Geshe Michael is still promoting his “seed system” as the way to achieve success in life:

We are recommending that you use the only approach that offers 100% guarantee of working to solve problems and achieve goals — to understand the seeds that will bring the result, and then systematically plant them.” 4/2015

Let’s stop doing things that don’t work. Let’s focus our time and energy on the one thing that works 100% of the time. In this system, our chance of success is: 100%.5/2015

Called by many names, including “Starbucks Four Steps”, the method is based on Geshe Michael’s misinterpretation of how karma works. In Buddhism, karma refers specifically to intentional acts: “when you do something without intention, such as killing insects without knowing it… you do not accumulate the karma of killing.” Traditionally, how karma works is compared to planting a fruit tree: results (fruits/ripening) come when there are appropriate causes/actions (seeds) and conditions (water, soil, sunlight, etc.), and few or no obstacles (flooding, wild fire, hurricanes, etc.). A traditional teaching is that “karmic results of our actions most frequently do not ripen in the same lifetime in which we commit the actions.” According to the Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta, the effect of being generous in life is “on the dissolution of the body, after death” the person will be “wealthy wherever reborn.” Likewise, Nagarjuna advised the practice of generosity because “for the next life, there is no better friend than what one has given.”

However, the results of an action in this lifetime may start taking effect in this present life and possibly continue into future lifetimes if the action is carried out with intense emotion and directed toward “special recipients” such as one’s parents or spiritual teachers, communities of monks or nuns, and enlightened beings:

So for a result to arise in this lifetime, a deed must have great power, and to produce a deed of great power, the person (object) to whom we are doing this deed must be someone special, such as a fully enlightened being. The motivation for doing the deed must be incredibly strong, and the article involved in the deed must be a special object. If either of these elements are not strong enough, then the result will arise in the next lifetime; if they are even less powerful, then the result can only arise after three or more lifetimes. Thus, it is very difficult to obtain a result quickly in this lifetime. – Khenpo Appey Rinpoche

But according to Geshe Michael, it’s quick and easy to get a desired result such as finding a life partner: “What’s the best way for me to steal my neighbor’s beautiful wife? Just respect their relationship. Don’t do the slightest thing with his wife. And within six months the perfect partner will show up. That’s how you create them. It’s very beautiful. And doesn’t it make everyone more happy?” Respecting the marriage of the neighbor, who presumably is a normal human being, is hardly “a deed of great power” so it’s very unlikely that karmic results will ripen in 6 months or even in this lifetime. Typically, Geshe Michael promotes a more active approach: if single, one can “plant” a husband or wife by serving some old lady at a retirement home, and at night reflect on the good deed and rejoice in it while laying in bed or relaxing on a couch, perhaps over a cup of coffee:

How to do coffee meditation? Say you want a partner, you go and find an old lady. You spend time with her. And then when you lay in bed before you go to sleep, feel her happiness, and stay there for 5 minutes.” 12/2014

According to Buddhist teachings, rejoicing in good deeds strengthens the positive karma, while feeling remorse for bad deeds weakens the negative karma. Geshe Thupten Jinpa said: “Even if the karma is not powerful, if you subsequently rejoice, its strength increases. You should therefore, after engaging in any virtuous action, cultivate a special sense of rejoicing, free of any self-importance [without arrogance and expectations].” However, scriptures and commentaries do not suggest that rejoicing would bring results in this lifetime. Therefore, even with coffee meditation, the karmic results of serving the old lady are unlikely to ripen soon because the service was done with mixed motivations (mostly a self-serving intent to find a life partner) and the old lady is not a special recipient (yul yon tan can gyi zhing).

However, if the lady struggles with poverty or illness, she is what’s called a “suffering recipient” (sdug bngal ba rnams kyi zhing) — which “refers to travelers from far away, to those who are suffering from a long-term disease, to those who have many enemies, and to those who are in miserable conditions of extreme poverty, and so forth.” Serving such persons (planting seeds in a “field of those who suffer”) out of empathy and compassion may get results in this lifetime — if there’s a very strong motivation to relieve their sufferings rather than to angle for praises, karmic rewards, etc. According to Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche, with a “special motivation” (bsam pa khyad par), “paying respect to one’s parents; helping those who are ill; and helping travelers from far away are all actions that will generally ripen in this very life.” Note that there’s no guarantee that results will come in six months or any time soon. Because most actions lack a powerful motivation, Geshe Lhundub Sopa said: “By giving to the poor, giving food, clothing, housing, and medicine, and by generally serving the needy, you create the causes of a long, healthy, and comfortable life. Some of these results may ripen in this life; most will be experienced in future lives.”

While it can be difficult to have a powerful enough motivation, the most implausible aspect of Geshe Michael’s method is finding the exact cause(s) to fix a specific problem in life. Because karmic results come “later, usually in a future rebirth,” and the outcome may be delayed for many lifetimes — until the causation meets the appropriate conditions to ripen, Sogyal Rinpoche said that “we cannot pin down one cause, because any event can be an extremely complicated mixture of many karmas ripening together.” Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche explained: “He [Buddha] did not just talk about karmic causes but also about karmic conditions. Buddha does not teach that there are linear causal relationships, where a single cause can bring about a single effect. Buddha teaches that there are many causes and many conditions and always refers to causes and conditions in the plural, never just as cause and effect. We are presented with a very complex picture of how things work. Just because a certain thing seems to have caused something to happen does not mean the particular cause we identified was solely responsible.”

Good, bad, and neutral actions all lead to corresponding results, this general principle is simple enough but “only a fully enlightened Buddha can understand all the subtle intricacies and workings of karma.” The precise working out of karmic results is said to be imponderable and unconjecturable. According to Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche, “no one other than a Buddha can actually see the workings of karma fully and clearly; therefore no one can actually indicate the precise karmic reasons [for life events].” However, Geshe Michael and his Diamond Cutter Institute are in the business of coaching people on what seeds to plant to get specific results, and the DCI coaches have even claimed:

If you understand these principles [of karma], you can find the cause for any problem you are having and eliminate it easily. You can also understand the cause for anything, any dream, that you want to see become reality in your life, and create it easily.” 8/2015

If that’s true, why couldn’t Geshe Michael figure out the exact cause to eliminate strawberries from his breakfast? Getting fed up with the strawberries, he finally abandoned his failed method, but rather than privately informing his wife of his distaste for strawberries, he guilted her in front of hundreds of students, and she immediately agreed to serving him plain cereal from then on. This instant outcome should not be considered a karmic ripening: “‘Ripen’, then, does not refer to the arising of immediate man-made results (skyes-bu byed-pa’i ’bras-bu, Skt. purushakaraphalam), like the pain from stubbing our toe, or to the immediate effects of our actions on others.” Such results from human activity/effort “don’t ripen from karma.” According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, the Sanskrit term purusakaraphala (or purushakaraphalam) “refers to effects that are the result of human effort (rather than the result of the ripening of past karma)”. Its Tibetan equivalent, skyes-bu byed-pa’i ’bras-bu, is likewise defined as “a result that depends upon the efforts of a living being or individual, such as a harvest that results from planting crops or the wealth that is gained through a business transaction”; but that does not mean karma doesn’t have any effect on the size of the profit.

Geshe Michael spent years trying to get a bowl of plain cereal and failed, could his “karmic management” have brought success to Andin International? If planting karmic seeds can quickly get any desired outcome, why did he resort to lying to diamond dealers to get better deals? Why does he lie to his audience about when he started working at Andin, and why is he marketing his failed method around the world? People in Asia have a low divorce rate and undoubtedly get to eat what they want for breakfast, so it’s peculiar that Geshe Michael, a monk with a failed marriage and who for many years didn’t get to eat his breakfast of choice, would give paid lectures on “perfect relationships” and success while standing in front of a huge portrait of himself.

Despite his secret marriage ending in divorce and the ex-wife calling him a bitter and “formidable enemy,” Geshe Michael had the chutzpah to write The Karma of Love and give talks titled “Perfect Relationships” and “Relationships Never End.” If his method really works, why did it not save his marriage or prevent “a huge number of break ups” among his most advanced students?

If Geshe Michael is an Arya Bodhisattva as he claimed to be, why is he so mistaken about how karma works? If McNally was the fully-enlightened “Vajrayogini in the flesh” as he had claimed her to be, why couldn’t she read his mind? Why couldn’t he plant the seeds to hold their marriage together, and why is she now calling him a “formidable enemy”? Since his audiences are just normal humans who do not have access to fully-enlightened beings, can they quickly “get whatever they want, whatever they dream of” in life and accomplish what Geshe Michael himself failed to achieve?

Out of thousands of people who come to his talks every year, how many will fail to achieve goals through his four steps and start losing faith in karmic principles — the teachings spoken by the Buddha and expounded by authentic teachers?

There are three or four factors that are necessary to make complete positive karma: 1) Proper motivation, 2) right thought, 3) right effort [in taking action], and 4) satisfaction [rejoicing]. If you carefully examine the way we are engaging in the positive actions or karma, most of our positive karma becomes incomplete because of lack of bringing these factors together. Proper motivation refers to motivation which is not influenced by a self-cherishing attitude, or material reward out of self interest. Right effort refers to effort that should be joyous. Once positive karma is created we immediately dedicate this positive action, or deed, for the welfare of every sentient being, without expectations of self interest. If we think in this way, most of our positive karma, becomes complete.” —Geshe Dakpa Topgyal

When you persevere in Dharma practice, it is essential to always train in turning any virtuous root of action, through body, speech, or mind, to be for the benefit of others. First, train gradually in this with the smallest deeds. From time to time, check to see whether or not you are tainted by the defilement of self-interest. You will not be successful if you retain even the tiniest taint of selfishness. Make sure not to be tainted by the defilement of self-interest. —Padmasambhava

Both virtuous and nonvirtuous actions are formed in the mind. Actions, though more apparent, are secondary to our motivation. Even an apparently virtuous action is of little benefit if the root of our motivation is selfishness.” – Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche

Generosity is said to be the best family and relative. But we should do good deeds without any expectation of gain…. The definition of generosity is giving fully without attachment or expectation. Generosity is defined as a mind co-emergent with non-attachment and with the motivation of giving.” – Kenchen Konchog Gyaltsen

People who are generous may not be trying to get rich, but the natural result of their merit will bring them ever-increasing wealth in their future lives…. Never hope for anything in return for an act of generosity, and do not expect as a result that in your next life you will be treated well or be happy and prosperous. Generosity is complete in itself; there is no need for any other reward than having made others happy. If you give something motivated by self-interest, the joy you might have felt will be spoiled, and further unhappiness is certain to follow. But giving out of sheer devotion, love, or compassion will bring you a feeling of great joy, and your gift will create yet more happiness. The motivation behind the act of giving makes all the difference.” —Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Karma propelled by a strong intention and activity, and done in relation to a supreme object [special recipient], will ripen in the same lifetime.” —Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche

Some of our acts are what we call karma that is visibly experienced: the act and the motivation are so strong that the result comes in this very life. If we do something extremely good and virtuous in this life, its result might be happiness in this very life.” —Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche

In this way, the Buddha points to one of the most distinctive features of his own teaching on kamma: that the present experience of pleasure and pain is a combined result of both past and present actions. This seemingly small addition to the notion of kamma plays an enormous role in allowing for the exercise of free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have ripened. In other words, this addition is what makes Buddhist practice possible, and makes it possible for a person who has completed the practice to survive and teach it with full authority to others.” —Thanissaro Bhikkhu

However, one of the many things the Buddha discovered in the course of his awakening was that causality is not linear. The experience of the present is shaped both by actions in the present and by actions in the past. Actions in the present shape both the present and the future. The results of past and present actions continually interact. Thus there is always room for new input into the system, which gives scope for free will. There is also room for the many feedback loops that make experience so thoroughly complex, and that are so intriguingly described in chaos theory.” —Thanissaro Bhikkhu

I once heard of Karma to be described as a huge web, with many, many interconnections between the threads making up the web. Now think of a drop of water sliding down one thread, changing course where another thread crosses its path. The drop of water can go this way or that way. We are making up the interconnections in the threads with our actions, and accordingly we do control our Karma. The only “predetermination” we will find is that virtuous action results in happiness and non virtuous action results in suffering.” —Anyen Rinpoche

Up to now – when and where you were born, who your parents are, your brothers and sisters – things like that are all caused by actions in your past life or lives and you are now experiencing the result. But it is also said that you do have some choice to plan for your future – both for next year and the next life. Your future depends on what you do right now. Right now you are planting the seed – that is the cause – and you will experience the result later. And if you plant a potato seed now it will not grow into an apple tree. The result, the future, is in our hands; our actions now will create a result. The law of karma does not mean that you just sink into a sleep, thinking, “There is no point. All I can do is wait for the result”. Our present human life carries the experience of the result of our past actions, but at the same time we are creating our own future. If you see it in this way, everything is not pre-determined by karma, because we are also creating our own, new karma. One thing I keep on saying is, “Doesn’t matter what you did, what matters is what you do now so that you can make your future better”. —Akong Tulku Rinpoche

[The kinds of results that one experiences right away in this present lifetime, sometimes quite soon after the behavior] is not really a “karmic ripening.” It is the “immediate effect” of the action, but not the ripening result or maturation of the action itself. That is still to come.
… The kind of thing I am referring to is classified as a condition, a transitory or temporary condition, rather than a karmic result. It is not a karmic result if it not the ripening of the imprint of an action within your being, which is what a karmic ripening or true result of an action is. My point was simply that everything that happens to us is karmic. We have to make a distinction between conditions and results of actions, or karmas. It is very difficult to be absolutely precise about this and to actually point to events in one’s life and say with certainty that this is karmic or this is not. Only a Buddha can do that. We can, however, have a rough idea of it by basically understanding that anything we can change, anything we can do something about, is not fundamentally karmic for the most part. That which we can do nothing about, that is karmic. For example, you have many choices and small changes that you can make in your life; however, these are not changes in the problem but changes in your conditions. What you cannot change are the facts of birth, aging, sickness, death, and so on. You can do nothing about the inevitability of these, therefore that is the karmic situation. All the things that you can change through all the various things you do, by whatever means, those are probably conditions.” —Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

There are two possible causes of upheaval or negative conditions. They can be the result of your previous actions, which is your karma, or they can just happen in the course of circumstances, in which case they are the result of adventitious conditions. In the case of upheaval that results from adventitious conditions alone, any means of protection may be effective. For example, if you are trying to get out of the rain all you have to do is go into a building and that will suffice.
… Definitely, you can experience unpleasant things that are not caused by previous actions. The indication of that is that they will be remedied by conventional means. For example, if you become ill and the illness responds to medical treatment, it means the illness was caused by adventitious conditions and not by previous karma.
… Yes, and that is why so many methods that we have come up with to deal with situations may be effective. They are effective when a situation is not produced karmically but is produced by adventitious circumstances.” —Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche

Further reading:
Causes, Conditions, and Results
Kamma and Rebirth in Buddhism

Related posts:
Blatant dishonesty, blind devotion, and breathtaking delusions Did Geshe Michael’s method work for him and his top students?
“Play the odds”: selfless or self-serving?What did he get wrong about the practice of generosity?



  1. spieltmit

    I just found my way to Buddhist wisdom through DCI and GMR. I admit that reading your article is interesting and I thank you for your effort to warn people so they do not fall for the wrong “prophet”.

    I know DCI now only for about 1,5 years and I’m totally fascinated by the teachings. Thanks to you I will be more careful and try not to get lost in blind Euphoria.

    I’m not the best practitioner of the DCI principles yet but it changed already many things in my life to the good.

    The simple fact that I could integrate the basic ones into my life made huge changes.

    For me it is now more clear than ever that everything comes from me, so blaming or shouting at external circumstances just create the same seeds for similar circumstances again. This changes one’s perspective radical and I owe it to DCI that it is more clear to me than ever before.

    And I don’t see bad seeds if I’m happy about helping someone and that I know that it creates good karma for me too.

    This should not be the only reason why I do good – but even if it would be the only reason in the beginning I’m sure that it will change over time as it is really fun to do good to others.

    And I don’t care why good things happen and which reason someone has to do good – it is still good!

    It is always taught that the intention is the most important part, that one really wants to help so else and I wonder if this can be misinterpreted in a selfish way.

    The other thing which I found really nice is that it is said that no one should believe what is said until one proofs it for oneself as correct.

    Ok, GMR talks more like “it is like that”, maybe I had a good DCI teacher as he always added “If this would be true” – he never said it is the ultimate truth.

    So GMR may be no Buddha – ok, so what? He may be a normal human being with “defects” as so many others (including me) too. Is the Dalai Lama a Buddha? I don’t care!

    Can someone who teaches wisdom has to be enlightened? Would be good, but name me one.

    And yes, he makes it look easy to generate good karma to catch people for Buddhist ideas. I know already that is not that easy. What is the negative what DCI does to people?

    That they got to know about their responsibility of her own life? That they have to do good things to retrieve them? That they get interested in Buddhist wisdom? That more and more people start to meditate and do yoga?

    Please name me the danger you see here, save my life!

    Why is the marriage of GMR such a big problem? Do I have to get real deep into Buddhism to understand it, this may be true, I can hardly name me a beginner….

    To live 10 years within 4 meters distance maximum – what a challenge! Nowadays more than half of marriages break up without being so close to each other.

    And that in a retreat of many months to years people could go crazy by overestimating their own abilities sounds also reasonable to me.

    I heard of the practice that one day you swear to your lama to do everything he commands. This is a practice which could be misused easily and I wonder how I will deal with this challenge if I ever get so far in this life.

    In the end, if what DCI says is true, all what happens to me is coming from former actions I did in this or in a previous life.

    You seed good karma by intending to warn people of dooming their life following the wrong path that is clear to me, thank you for that!

    You may be right or not, nothing in this article really convinces me that DCI is all bad and not working as I already experienced little wonders in my life since I’m thinking about what I’ve learned so far through DCI and using it for my daily handling of bad situations.

    Maybe I’m like the ones who deny climate change? Blind to see the truth – I hope not….

    All the best and the love in the world! <3

    • mrf

      You stated that “no one should believe what is said until one proofs it for oneself as correct.” Aren’t the multiple failures among GMR and his top students proofs that the DCI seed system doesn’t work? If you believe it works, what’s stopping you from planting seeds to be wealthier than Donald Trump or become at least a multi-millionaire? I know you’ll use the money for good.

      • spieltmit

        If it would be that easy why should we meditate? Why should we fight our own “Jihad” which means nothing else than fight with your mind in the original meaning?
        We are not enlightened so we struggle a lot at seeding only good seeds. And there are the ones from previous lifes too. Why should this only be true for us and not for GMR himself?
        Has he seen the emptiness? You write that he told so – ok, so maybe or maybe not. But even in the case he had seen it he is not safe from bad seeds automatically – or?
        It was told that even after seeing the emptiness of things it will last for another 7 (as far as I remember) lifetimes until all previously planted seeds have opened and the birth-death spiral ends.
        I encountered many good results in some areas – in others not. I never heard so say that GMR is the perfect enlightened superstitious life form which can plant and open seeds at the same time.
        What do I want to seed? Do I want to be wealthier as DT? No – do I want to be freed of fear and worries in connection with money or let’s say basic life needs? Yes!
        Do I want to help other people? Yes! Can I do more good with financial independence or even if I get rich? I have the feeling that yes but it is no guaranty. I wonder where the millions of donations which were done by rich people are really landing. Personal help will in my opinion outrun financial help in most cases.
        Life is complicated and karma principles look easy but are also complex at the end. As stated in the quotes somewhere on the site: You never know in which terms the karma comes back to you and you never know how karmic seeds combine in the end.
        But I do believe that the general direction is influenceable and I have the strong feeling that I already witness the outcome of my efforts.
        And again: The bottom line to get good things by helping other people who want the same is just great and high ethic standard. Combined with the right intention to do so not for the only reason to gain benefit for yourself makes it even stronger.
        I hope I will never have to see an evil face of GMR but even if that happens it won’t crush my believe in the karmic system.
        I see that all the critic is mostly boiled down to “see GMR and his top students they are not perfect and therefore are a proof that the system don’t work”.
        And you quote me correct “no one should believe what is said until one proofs it for oneself as correct.” – so no one can show me if it works – including GMR himself. So I don’t depend on the success of other people I really have to experience it on my own – and I do!
        Another bottom line is that if this karma system is true that no one else than me can change something in my world. The wrong perception of seeing the outside world as self existing and blaming it for things which are happening to me keeps us in the neverending samsara circle…
        And yes – I work in a company which I will take over one day and I hope I can be that successful that I achieve financial independence or even more – based on ethic principles like not to best or exploit someone as it would anyway fall back to me.
        Thank you for taking the time to read my comments! <3

        • mrf

          > I never heard so say that GMR is the perfect enlightened superstitious life form which can plant and open seeds at the same time.

          If you bothered to read the articles, you’d see he claims that his 100% guaranteed method will get results quickly and easily in this lifetime, for example, “within six months” to find the perfect life partner. If his method works as claimed, there’s no reason why you can’t plant seeds to become very wealthy in 2017.

          > I see that all the critic is mostly boiled down to “see GMR and his top students they are not perfect and therefore are a proof that the system don’t work”.

          Where did we make such claim? Please actually read the articles and let us know how well his 100% success guaranteed method worked in each of the 8 cases.

          Your comments are very long and unfortunately we don’t have time to address each point. Please read the 3 latest articles thoroughly before making any further comments. Thanks.

          Have a happy and prosperous New Year. :)

  2. JBT

    I have just come across the blog. I entered serious study in Buddhism after 10+ years ‘dabbling’ after being pointed to the early courses GMR taught in New York, around 1995, 1996 (under the Asian Classics Institute) and these are excellent and highly academic resources firmly seated in primary scriptural texts, which GMR makes available on his website as part of the course curriculum. These are formally annotated and side by side English / Tibetan translations. It is true that later in life GMR made some unfortunate decisions; however it is also important that the buddhist teachings he provides through the Asian Classics Institute provide an excellent resource for those who want formal buddhist study but do not have resources for this in their community. The ACI materials, I have found, are presented much more soberly than his later teachings and do provide the deep scholarship essential to formal buddhist study and practice.Though he did make unfortunate decisions later, one must not forget that GMR DID earn Geshe degree legitimately and was the first westerner to do so. He is also the only (to my knowledge) individual to systematically outline his course of study online, with full primary text readings, for the benefit of all. Please bear this in mind.

    • mrf

      Dear JBT, thank you for your feedback. As you can see on the sidebar, Geshe George Dreyfus was the first Westerner to receive the degree, and you may find his statement interesting. Due to Geshe Michael’s serious misunderstanding and/or misrepresentation of Buddhist views on karma and generosity, we do not have confidence in his teaching of the source texts in ACI. Since we haven’t examined ACI materials with any seriousness, we have not challenged the content, but perhaps we will some day.

    • Swirl Harrison

      Hello JBT-
      For more Tibetan Buddhist study materials without the taint, you might check out the FPMT’s education courses, which cover every level and are written by the top scholars in the Dalai Lama’s tradition (Gelugpa lineage): https://fpmt.org/education/

  3. I Heart Heaumeaux

    “GMR DID earn Geshe degree legitimately and was the first westerner to do so.”

    No, but munch, he was NOT the first Westerner so to do. Georges Dreyfus was.


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