As he was going through the divorce, Geshe Michael appears to be talking about his ex Christie McNally who taught by his side: “I can’t forgive everybody. Personally, I can’t do it. People hurt me, and I keep it for a long time. There’s a separate word in Tibetan called tsig-pa which means still burning. I have tsig-pa, someone hurt me, I’ve got tsig-pa. I don’t say anything, I still get up and give nice talks, and I’m very reasonable in class, and I can sit there and pretend to meditate, everybody thinks I am. But inside I have tsig-pa. How can they do this to me? How can they do this to me? I’ll never forgive them.”
Although Geshe Michael has written a relationship book and continues to travel the world to give lectures on how to “plant” and keep a “perfect partner,” he was unable to do so for himself; but he seems to lack the integrity to disclose to his audiences that his method of planting seeds failed to prevent, and perhaps even led to, his divorce and “a huge number of break-ups” among more advanced tantra students. Since Geshe Michael has now declined to endorse his ex-wife and former protégé McNally, it appears that he was mistaken to identify her as “an emanation of the Angel of Diamond.”
Given that “to err is human, to forgive is divine”, forgiveness should have come natural for Geshe Michael who publicly claimed divinity in 2003. His ex-wife, however, seems to no longer have faith in such claim: “I did not realize the intensity of GM’s bitterness toward me. He is a formidable enemy, especially when you do not even realize you have one.”
It is regrettable that Geshe Michael’s seed planting yielded a bitter harvest, but rather than feeling tsig-pa, he would do well to follow the Dalai Lama’s teaching:
Forgiveness is an essential part of compassionate attitude…. Another truth to keep in mind is that forgiving others has an enormously liberating effect on oneself. When you dwell on the harm someone has done to you, there ia an inevitable tendency to become angry and resentful at the thought. Yet clinging to painful memories and harboring ill will do nothing to rectify the wrong committed and will have no positive effect on you…. If, on the other hand, you are able to overcome your feelings of hostility toward wrongdoers and forgive them, there is an immediate and perceptible benefit to you. By leaving past actions in the past and restoring your concern for the well-being of those who have done you wrong, you gain a tremendous feeling of inner confidence and freedom, which allows you to move on as your negative thoughts and emotions tend to dissipate.
In addition to holding grudges, Geshe Michael readily admits to harboring jealousy toward Dharma teachers. Such ignoble qualities seem unbefitting an arya whom Geshe Michael claims to have become since he was 22 years old. He explains the term to mean a highly-evolved noble being who is “as different from a normal human being as a normal human being is different from an ant.” Continue reading
According to Geshe Michael Roach, he was an altar boy for 15 years and in choir for twelve. One year out of retreat (2000-2003), he stated in an interview: “I was signed up for Christian seminary… I didn’t reject Christianity. In fact, I still consider myself a Christian.” In 2008, just two years before their secret marriage fell apart, Geshe Michael and Christie McNally co-authored “The Eastern Path to Heaven: A Guide to Happiness from the Teachings of Jesus in Tibet”:
Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally have, for the last ten years, explored together the ancient cities, rare manuscripts, and oral traditions of India and Tibet which bear witness to teachings of Thomas – the disciple that Jesus sent to the east. The Eastern Path to Heaven presents the great ideas that came to those lands through Thomas, and describes how we can use authentic Christian teachings of ancient Asia to achieve six goals of life: physical health; financial security; love; happiness; freedom from aging and death; and fulfilment in the service of others.
Geshe Michael and two students founded Star in the East to teach “the wisdom of the Eastern side of the Christian family.”
And it’s a very beautiful course for people who is, are on a Christian path and it emphasizes the techniques that grew up around the teachings of the disciples of Thomas, in India and Tibet.
So when we go to hear the Dalai Lama’s speak, some of what he says has come through a very ancient Christian tradition, which started in northwest India then went to northeast India and then came into Tibet. And they are very, very beautiful ancient Christian teachings on, that survived in Asia, that didn’t survive in Rome or Athens, you know, and there are very beautiful and very helpful if you are on a Christian path or you’re attracted to that path. And a lot of great meditation techniques and things that survived since the time of Christ in India.
So if you are interested in those, it’s once a week, free meditation. There is flyer called the Christian Path to Nirvana.
Spiritual Partners, 2006
In his book, Geshe Michael cited The Acts of Thomas in retelling how Christ sent the apostle to India (by selling Thomas into slavery for twenty pieces of silver) but provided no historical sources that link the teachings of Thomas with Buddhism in India or Tibet. Similarly, at his talks, Geshe Michael made claims that are of questionable scholarship:
And there was a very noticeable drop in the quality of Buddhism. Buddhism almost died out. Then, I don’t know, a hundred years after Christ, 150 years after Christ, you see the extraordinary revival of Buddhism, it’s called Mahayana or the greater way. It’s this unbelievable, unexpected sudden resurgence of power and clarity in Buddhism. Happened right after the time of Christ, like within a 100 years after Christ, this is Nagarjuna [2nd century Buddhist master]. This is the time of Nagarjuna.
… it appears that there was a big shot in the arm from Jerusalem and Greece in Indian painting, I mean, the Greeks showed up in India, Alexander the Great, 300 years before Christ, invaded the Kashmir part of India. And then ideas started to flow from Greece. You can see ideas in Buddhism that seem to be that you could trace them back to Plato or Aristotle who was Alexander’s teacher. And then you begin to see a Christian influence, Thomas the disciple of Jesus, doubting Thomas, was sent to India by Christ and spend his life there. After Christ died, he arrived in India and we have beauty scripture about his work in India but it appears if you look at it that there was a huge change in Buddhism right after the Greeks and Thomas, the Christians and also the Jewish settlements opened up in India. So there is this powerful influx of new ideas and strength and the clarity of Aristotle kind of thinking… So you feel this tremendous wave of power coming into India and Buddhism which had gotten sort of stuck, suddenly flowers again and Nagarjuna is the one who started it. Nagarjuna touched it off.
And then when you meet the Dalai Lama now, when you go hear the Dalai Lama speak in Tucson , I was … we were there at the stadium here and you feel this power and, you know, 5000, 10,000, 15,000 people show up to hear this Tibetan guy talk, that’s all directly from Nagarjuna and a lot of it is coming from Thomas and from the West, from the Greeks. So it’s very beautiful to see it come around full circle.
Spiritual Partners, 2006
Update 3/2015, marked with **
One year after coming out of his three-year retreat (2000-2003), Geshe Michael Roach began to take credit for starting Andin and bringing it to success: “I started this diamond company in New York. It was the fastest growing company in New York, and I based it only on spiritual principles.” In reality, Andin was a not a diamond company, and its actual founders were none other than Ofer and Aya Azrielant, an immigrant married couple from Israel.
Failing to credit the brilliance of the two Jewish immigrants, Geshe Michael has been marketing Andin’s success as proof that his “karmic management” worked:
I went to New York City and used what I learned [from Tibetan lamas] to start a diamond business. That diamond business has reached $250 million in sales per year and was recently bought by Warren Buffett, who is one of the richest people in the world… So many people have asked me, “What is your secret to business?” and I said, “Well, I used the idea of karmic seeds, how to plant the seeds of karma…”
I use it in business, I make money for Tibetan refugees. I started at $7 an hour and now the company does quarter billion dollars a year, okay. How? Just karma, just using the laws of karma, right.
Spiritual Partnership, Course 1, 2005
But we started it on this principle, that if you give a hug purposely and kindly, a hundred hugs will come back. And that company was doubled every year. I think it’s the fastest growing company in the history of Manhattan. I think it’s up to 200 million now. You see, so it works.
Spiritual Partnership, Course 4, 2006
But truth be told, back in February 1997, just two years before Geshe Michael penned the Diamond Cutter, Andin was in dire straits, and Geshe Michael could do little but watched helplessly as Andin continued to flounder for the third straight year:
We started this company ﬁfteen years ago …. and we expanded to two buildings and then we bought our own building downtown and we had nine hundred people working there, and selling like $150 million dollars a year and it was very exciting and very interesting and, and then about three years ago it started to collapse and it started to shrink again and now it’s just like my work day and again today and this week is very interesting. Because here you have hundreds of people who have built their lives around this thing for fifteen years and it’s just literally dissolving in front of their eyes. And we are all standing around and looking at each other and saying, “What did we do for fifteen years?” … And you know, people are thinking, “What am I gonna do now? I mean I worked all my time here, and I don’t know what to do now, and people are scared and upset … The bosses went from fifty thousand to one hundred million and now he owes the bank all this money, like he’ll be under fifty thousand and, and he’s like shell-shocked, his eyes are like glazed all the time now and he’s just walking around like, “What’s going on? What happened” you know. And we’re all just walking around, like “What happened?”
ACI Course 10, February 1997
** Why was the company shrinking and dissolving under heavy debts? Geshe Michael said in 2005: “To get my company to grow, I had to give money to the Tibetan refugees, I had to, no choice.” Using this line of reasoning, one may wonder if Geshe Michael had stopped giving, and perhaps started to borrow from the refugees instead. Continue reading
Update 12/2014: new information
I used to have a birth defect in my foot, a twisted bone. So I used the Diamond Cutter method to… on my foot, and now I do ballet…. So you can use those seeds on your body. You can remove diseases from your body, you can make your body strong if you know the [karmic] seeds…. And if you want to fix the bone in foot, you help sick people in a certain way, selectively.
Emptiness: A Deep Dive, 2010
And I’ve had other people come to me and say really I have a health problem, for example breast cancer or something like that, and they’ve come to me and asked me, “Can I use the Diamond Cutter principles to, for my health, or to stay young, and to remove sickness?” And so you can use the Diamond Cutter principles for all these things.
Karmic Management, 2011
It is no surprise that Geshe Michael’s chief disciple and former wife Christie McNally also held such view. In a talk right before leading almost forty people into retreat, McNally explained, “It is not that we go and we can take away somebody else’s pain just through that meditation, but the meditation does work. People have been given this meditation who have cancer, and they have actually cured their cancer from it!”
Had such way of thinking clouded Christie McNally’s and Ian Thorson’s judgment as they fell ill and thus were late to seek medical attention? While Geshe Michael referred to them as the “two people that screwed up”, perhaps the seeds of their undoing were sown in the hours and years of paying heed to his every word.
Not long ago, I gave this talk in New York, and there’re two ladies…. They’re secretaries in the advertising company, and they’re just typing, all day they’re typing…. Then after the talk, they said, “We want to start our own advertising business. Can you tell us what to do?” Then I said, “You read the book, and you start the company with the book.” Then they started a new company. They rented a small room, it’s actually not an office, it’s an old apartment. And they started their own company [Kaplan Thaler Group]. Now I show you their building, in the middle, this is their building in New York. They bought this building. Now their company is 1 billion dollars, it’s four times bigger than my company…. So like that, I helped many people.
It is questionable if such conversation with the two “secretaries” ever took place:
A) In reality, both women have graduate degrees and were already highly-successful ad execs: Linda Thaler Kaplan received a Master’s degree in Music in 1975, was Senior Vice President, Group Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson (1978-1994), and was Executive Vice President, Executive Creative Director at Wells Rich Greene (1995-1996); Robin Koval received an MBA in 1983, and was Executive Vice President of Interpublic’s Gotham, Inc.
B) Years before reading Geshe Michael’s The Diamond Cutter, as it was not even published, Kaplan and Koval launched their own advertising agency, the Kaplan Thaler Group. Thanks to their combined experience and connections in the industry, the company quickly grew from a small start-up in 1997 into a billion-dollar business by 2006.
Robin Koval and I have written two best-selling books — Bang! Getting Your Message Heard in a Noisy World [in 2003], and The Power of Nice [in 2006]. We were researching ideas for the first book and I fell upon The Diamond Cutter [first published in 2000], which I found incredibly insightful. We were so impressed with its philosophical ideas that we quoted it in our first book; and then expanded on some of its themes in the second. I owe much of the success of our company to the beliefs in The Diamond Cutter, and I feel so lucky to have found this book when I needed it most. For me, one of the most powerful themes in The Diamond Cutter is the importance of creating positive imprints in our lives. I believe, wholeheartedly, that our success has had more to do with the seeds of those imprints, many of them planted years ago, flowering in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Those imprints have blossomed to bring us success and goodwill, and have helped to create a nurturing work environment here at the agency. I love telling young people that the most important thing they can do to insure their future success is to start planting those seeds today!
While the book provided philosophical musings for two already highly successful businesswomen, it is questionable if planting karmic seeds, in actual practice, has led to any phenomenal success for two of Geshe Michael’s closest female students: his ex-wife Christie McNally, and his personal assistant Mercedes Bahleda.
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Related post: Karmic management at work: Epic Fail
You want financial success – you want to build a quarter billion dollar company in your spare time, while you’re doing the geshe degree in India. Could you plant [karmic] seeds to create a quarter billion dollar company in your free time?… basically seeds for money — if you want to make the fastest growing manufacturing company in the history of New York City, you develop a charity by which you can give money to Tibetan refugees.
…And if you understand it [emptiness], … you can make a quarter billion dollar company in your spare time, to help refugees…
Emptiness: A Deep Dive, 2010
It is not clear why “spare time” in reality may have been “16-hour days for 15 years”:
We often worked past midnight, and I would have a long trip back to my little room at a small monastery in the Asian Buddhist community of Howell, in New Jersey. In a few hours I would be up again and back on the bus to Manhattan.
… On the other hand they [Andin bosses] couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go home before 11 P.M., and more often than not we worked until that hour and sometimes even later. My commute back to the monastery was nearly two hours each way, and so I would get home about 1 A.M., and be up again at 6 for the ride back into the city.
… a diamond is the most important object in the regular world that can remind you of what you saw…. And to spend twelve hours a day at this stupid place would be worth it if you only remembered once a week what you saw, you see what I mean…to get up every morning at six, come home at eight, but to be there, and to touch them and to be around them would be worth it, just to remember the twenty minutes…
I worked in the diamond business for fifteen years only because I had seen emptiness and I wanted to remember what I had seen. So sixteen-hour days for fifteen years. I made a lot of money for the monasteries, and I did a lot of good with the money, but it was only to remember that twenty minutes. Fifteen years in a corporation just to remember what had happened to me, and that’s the only reason that I did it.
Geshe Michael now claims that he worked at Andin to raise money for Tibetan refugees, but before the three-year retreat, his reason was more self-serving: “you’d be willing to spend the next fifteen years, you know, working in some office to be around diamonds, just to be close to a diamond so you could remember…for no other reason“, and “you’d wanna be near them, touch them, see them, just…and it’d be worth it to go get a job and work there for fifteen-twenty years just to be close to them, and for no other reason, you know…even if they didn’t pay you anything.” It is not clear how he could have helped his monastery and financed various projects if he didn’t get paid for his long work hours.
Defending his dedication to an industry that was often linked to blood diamonds, Geshe Michael said, “I wanted to do good in the world, so I worked in one of the hardest and most unethical environments.” It is not clear how dedicating so much time to an industry that sells illusion of romance and wealth would help the world. It is not clear how working in what he called a “dirty business” where he lied to diamond dealers could benefit his spiritual growth.
Geshe Michael claims to have become a Bodhisattva at the age of 22, so it is not clear why he would not just look in a mirror if he ever needed a reminder or inspiration. A new Bodhisattva, according to scriptures and commentaries, starts out with twelve sets of special abilities, and “at will” can emanate 100 versions of himself and surround each with 100 fellow Bodhisattvas, can travel to 100 Buddha realms, and can “see 100 Buddhas face to face, and receive their blessings.”
From Geshe Michael’s account of seeing emptiness and the experience afterwards, it is not clear whether he has traveled to 100 pure lands, has seen 100 Buddhas and received their blessings — and whether such encounters would be particularly memorable:
You go into an experience where faces appear in your mind. You see faces in your mind. And this is very difficult to explain, okay? In those few minutes, you see the face of every living creature in this world. In the minute, at the same time, you see the whole face of billions of creatures. And I’m not talking just people — animals, insects, birds, worms, whales — all of them, you can see in the same moment, but separately. Okay? In the same moment, but separately, you can see the face of every living creature in this world. And get this, on every world. Okay? On every world at the same time. Separately and distinctly, you see the face of every living creature in this universe — and they have no number. There is no number. ‘Cause they are infinite. The sky is… space is infinite. There is no end to worlds — there’s no end to the number of living creatures. And you see them all at the same time. Within a few minutes time, you see all of their faces. And you love them …. And you are loving that many living creatures … at the same time. You are having an experience of love for every one of those beings at the same time.
Notes: From the Sutra of Kumaraprahba, quoted in Lady Niguma’s Stages in the Path of Illusion: the Buddha replied, “… these are the signs of one who dwells on the first ground of a bodhisattva: The [bodhisattva] in a fraction of a second, at will can … see one hundred buddhas, … travel to one hundred buddha realms, … fully display one hundred bodies, each body completely surrounded by an entourage of one hundred bodhisattvas who are each perfectly teaching.” Continue reading