Near the end of his three-year retreat (3/2000 to 6/2003), Geshe Michael Roach wanted to inform students and supporters of spiritual developments three years in the making, and so his caretakers announced a new and improved version of Geshe Michael:
… we have received the following message from Geshe Michael Roach, which he asked to be relayed to you. He says that perhaps the most significant spiritual realization he can claim from the whole experience is that he has come to see what a big head he had gotten in the years before retreat… He has also been confronted with his pride and arrogance, envy and competitive feelings, especially towards his fellow Dharma students and other Western Dharma teachers. And he has come to see how badly he failed in working together with others like yourself, and in taking proper care to be open and up-front with everyone — especially his own Teachers — about his activities, their goals, and the personal history behind them.
… Geshe Michael would like to share them now almost as an act of confession for his failings in the past; and with the hope that you will forgive them…
Given that Geshe Michael counts himself among several of the most realized masters in 25 centuries of Buddhism, it is perplexing that he would have “envy and competitive feelings” toward more ordinary Buddhist teachers: “And I do it all the time. I catch myself all the time. I get jealous of other Dharma teachers.”
Coveting which means to to desire in a bad way the things that other people have. It is the root of jealousy. I have it, you know. If I meet a good Buddhist scholar, do I rejoice? Usually not. It’s like gee I wonder if he’s as smart as I am, you know. That’s nabsem. Nabsem is is wanting the good things that other people have and be willing to do something bad to get it, you know.
ACI Course 5, 1994
The Buddha advised followers to practice living in four “divine mental states” (Brahma-viharas), which include “sympathetic joy” (mudita), i.e., rejoicing in the happiness and wholesome acts of others, because it is an effective antidote to envy and jealousy. It appears that even with three years “in deep retreat”, Geshe Michael failed to cultivate a more sublime state of mind, and two years later, still could not overcome his darker side: “And if I hear about a good dharma teacher, I am like intensively jealous of them…”
Given that Geshe Michael claims to have perceived emptiness directly at the age of 22, it is questionable why his mindset seems incongruous to the mind that understands emptiness:
It is impossible to entertain a nyomong, a bad thought and the understanding of emptiness at the same time. It’s impossible, it’s totally impossible. That’s the whole clue to getting out of suffering. It’s very interesting. It can’t stay in the same skull at the same time. They are direct antidotes for each other. Once you have a… wisdom. Wisdom and the more wisdom you have, jealousy, hatred, desire, they have to go. They have to leave.
ACI Course 6, NY 1995
Geshe Michael claims to be an Arya-Bodhisattva, which he explained to mean a super being at “a whole different level of evolution” and “as different from a normal human being as a normal human being is different from an ant.” It is questionable if such a highly-evolved spiritual being has not transcended the darker human emotions and tendencies:
I lied, I do lie… Why, why is it that we’re still lying, why is it that I’m still lying after … twenty years of Buddhist education? It’s, it’s your instincts. It is your instincts…and it is because I didn’t study well enough, or I didn’t meditate on what I knew.
ACI Course I, 1993
While it may be human instinct to lie, perhaps a realized being would not revert back to old habits.
When that [realizing emptiness] happens to you, a deep and lasting and incontrovertible change occurs in your being, okay? Something changes within you which can never go back again. You can never go back again. And you become what they call… in Sanskrit, they call “Arya.” … In Sanskrit, “arya” does mean “superior one,” “different one,” “set apart.”
Emptiness: A Deep Dive, 2010
Although Geshe Michael acknowledged his “failings in the past” in not “taking proper care to be to be open and up-front with everyone — especially his own Teachers,” he proceeded to be unforthcoming about his secret marriage in 1998 to Christie McNally, whom he proclaimed to be “an emanation of the Angel of Diamond.” If Geshe Michael truly saw her as “Vajrayogini in the flesh,” it’s a question whether he now considers such view one of his biggest follies. His filing for divorce in 2010, also kept secret, suggests that it was.
Update: “Some delusions such as deluded doubt and wrong views are exclusively intellectually-formed and are therefore completely abandoned on the path of seeing. Other delusions such as anger and attachment may be either innate or intellectually-formed, and therefore they are not completely abandoned until the path of meditation. However, having realized emptiness directly, anger no longer arises even though it has not been completely abandoned at this stage.” – Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Heart of Wisdom: The Essential Wisdom Teachings of Buddha
From Ju Mipham Rinpoche's commentary of Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara: “The first bodhisattva ground transcends the levels of ordinary beings, Shravakas, and Pratyekabuddhas…. The Bodhisattvas on this ground have a direct realization of the nonexistence of the self. This enables them to abandon the three fetters: the view of the transitory composite, the belief in the superiority of their ethical discipline, and doubt–together with all the obscurations eliminated on the path of seeing. Because they have attained the sublime qualities of realization and have eliminated all defects, the Bodhisattvas experience an extraordinary happiness, which is why this ground is called Perfect Joy.” Continue reading
At Princeton University in 2010, Geshe Michael Roach talked about a karmic result of his three-year retreat:
I went into three year retreat [3/2000 to 6/2003]… and then when I came out, I asked the people taking care of me … “Can I have a laptop? … It doesn’t even have a floppy disk drive. Where do you put the floppy disk? … How do you get a file from one place to another? What do you do if you can’t send a floppy disk in the mail, in an envelope?” She’s like, “Geshe-hla, I’ve got to tell you about this thing called the internet.” And I’m like, “What’s internet?” And she said, “Well, it’s a new way to send stuff to people, like you would just send a file across the internet … “God, it must cost a fortune” … “How long does it take to get there? How many days after you send it does the person get it?” She’s looking at me like I’m crazy. “No, Geshe-hla, you don’t understand, you send an email, they get it like 30 seconds later, 10 seconds later.” And I’m like, “That must be very expensive.” “No, Geshe-hla, you don’t understand, it’s free … you can send a message to anybody in the world for free, instantaneously” … We would say that the seeds of being in a deep retreat created the internet for me, OK? We’d say that the intention with which we started a thousand days of practice, you know, we were trying to do something good for the world, we were trying to help the world, so then the result of that is that I come out and there’s this thing called the internet.
While it is questionable whether the retreat helped anyone, it is clear that the internet was not the karmic ripening of 3 years spent unplugged from the world. In fact, Geshe Michael already knew about the internet long before going into retreat.
… “You don’t get rich from safe investments”, that’s not true. I mean, lots of mutual, you know, I mean, lot’s of big corporations make safe investments, then suddenly they turn around and go wild and, you know. If you made a safe investment in the internet or something two years ago, if there’s such a thing, you know. But what’s the answer?
From an article in Wired Magazine, volume 2 No. 8 of August 1994, the Dalai Lama’s government was already using email, and Geshe Michael was well aware of the sharing and linking nature of the internet:
When someone associated with the University of New Mexico took the liberty of posting the CD-ROM data on the Internet, the monks at Sera Mey were overjoyed. “It’s very exciting, the idea of nobody owning it now. Once it’s on the Internet, how can you stop it?” Roach smiles and shrugs. … Roach is especially excited by the prospect of creating hypertext environments for Buddhist scripture, and points out that Tibetan commentaries already anticipate the nests and links of hypertext.
… Even the Dalai Lama’s central Tibetan administration in Dharamsala has an e-mail address …
Update: “I lied, I do lie… Why, why is it that we’re still lying, why is it that I’m still lying after … twenty years of Buddhist education? It’s, it’s your instincts. It is your instincts…and it is because I didn’t study well enough, or I didn’t meditate on what I knew.” – GMR, ACI Course 1, 1993
“Be truthful. Don’t lie; and lying means giving someone else an impression about things that you yourself know not to be true.” – GMR, Karmic Management, 2009
Related post: An eye for the Divine Who were the enlightened ladies of the first retreat?