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 does 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.” Continue reading
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 1974 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 wrote back, but their endorsing statements were never included 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. So 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, provided a few prayers for the book and in a separate letter he:
1) expressed concern 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. Continue reading
Update 4/2015, new paragraph **
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 tshig pa which means slow burning. I have tshig pa, someone hurt me, I’ve got tshig 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 tshig pa. How can they do this to me? How can they do this to me? I’ll never forgive them.”
** Often a divorced couple could manage to be friendly, but Geshe Michael did not appear very magnanimous toward his ex-wife and her new husband Ian Thorson. As McNally disclosed in a letter: “[We were] uninvited to join Geshe Michael and whatever group he had gathered around him. He made it clear that these were his gatherings, and his students, and that we should stay away.”
Although Geshe Michael published a relationship book in 2013, 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 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 not clear why Geshe Michael’s seed planting yielded a bitter harvest, but rather than feeling tshig 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 is 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 admitted to harboring jealousy toward Dharma teachers. Such ignoble characteristics seem unbefitting an arya whom Geshe Michael claimed to have become since he was 22 years old. He explained the term to mean a highly-evolved noble being: “Arya means you are a different level of evolution. You are a whole different level of evolution. You are as different from a normal human being as a normal human being is different from an ant, okay?” 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
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
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.
Since the tragedy, Geshe Michael has not shied away from such talk:
Everything is coming from you. You can change everything. Financial, you can make $250 million if you understand Chin-kang Ching [Diamond Cutter sutra]. You can make $250 million…. You can change it, if you have some cancer. I had a woman, she had a cancer in her breast and she said, “Can I change it?” I said, “Of course.” It’s coming from you. If it’s not coming from you, you can not change it. If it’s coming from you, you can change it. How many things are coming from you? Everything, OK, everything. Cancer is also coming from you, you can change it. She’s … that was how long ago? 25 years ago, I think, in New York. She asked we what to do, then now, I don’t know, how old is she? 80?…. She’s 80 years old and she’s still fine.
Karma of Love, 2013
Update: It appears that the “Diamond Cutter principles” were not effective against a more commonplace ailment:
“So we just got back from India. We try to go every year to get recharged and learn new things…. And then every year we say, we are not going to get sick this time, you know. We’re definitely not going to get diarrhoea this time, you know…. So this time, … we took one suitcase full of Cheerios, like eight boxes of Cheerios in this suitcase and then we had our own olives and we had our own coco and we have somebody in India went and set up an ultraviolet water purification system and then we boiled that afterwards it was purified. And we didn’t eat anywhere and we cooked everything ourselves and we boiled everything twice. And then the first day we got diarrhoea.
So all the things which you think would be healthy to eat, right, so you look at a glass of milk, somebody hands you a glass of milk in India. Or they just hand you a glass of water, right, you can’t get a glass of water in India, you can’t get a glass of water which you can drink. So here is this thing, you are looking at it, will this kill me, you see. And I am talking literal, you know. Like we were very sick there and there is nothing you can do, because the penicillin is bad too, you see, I am not kidding, I am not kidding. Maybe somebody in the factory wanted an extra 50 cents, they threw in some rat poison or something, you see. So you look at all the objects in the store, you go in a store and you look around and you say, everything in here, in this store that I could buy to make myself strong and healthy, or just to eat today, any one of them could kill me. And you start to get paranoid, you get really paranoid. You buy these bottles of water, right, very expensive. You buy bottled water, people open it, they pour out the bottled water, they pour in the dirty water. They glue it back shut. And they sell it to the foreigners, you know. So you got this bottle of water and you don’t know. Maybe this bottle of water will kill me, maybe I won’t get back to Tucson, you know. It’s a real thought go through your mind like the fifth week you have diarrhoea, you can’t eat, you can’t … you lose like 20 lbs and you are like, I don’t know if I’ll make it back, you know.”
Spiritual Partners, 2006
With such a disconcerting health issue, it is not clear how frequently and for how long Geshe Michael studied at Sera Mey monastery. Continue reading