Psychosis, Stabbing, Secrecy & Death at a Neo-Buddhist University in Arizona

Via yoga 2.0 lab
on May 4, 2012
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Editor’s update: a post from Geshe Michael Roach describing his education.

Editor’s update: a rebuttal to the below, by John Stillwell, is offered here. As a reader-created open forum, we welcome all views: [email protected]

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Author’s update: I have since published a followup piece to this post, which attempts to collate and analyze the 660+ comments, opinions, and concerns generated in the thread below by both supporters and critics of Diamond Mountain and Michael Roach. MR

reporting and opinion by Matthew Remski

Special thanks to Joel Kramer, Diana Alstad, and Michael Stone

for their help in the preparation of this article .

 

Abstract for Media Outlets

Ian Thorson, 38, died on the morning of 4/22/12 of apparent dehydration in a cave in southeastern Arizona, after having been banished by the administration of nearby Diamond Mountain University, which is under the leadership of “Geshe” Michael Roach. Thorson’s wife, “Lama” Christie McNally, was rescued from the death scene by helicopter. Thorson had for years exhibited signs of mental illness and violence towards others, including McNally, who had recently stabbed him, presumably in self-defense. The failure to fully report the couple’s violence to local authorities, along with the subsequent banishment of the couple from Diamond Mountain property without adequate psychiatric, medical, and community care, all raise stark questions about the competency  of this secretive and autocratic organization, and call into doubt whether its Board is qualified to protect the safety of the remaining residents of Diamond Mountain.

 

The Story and My Intention

A tragedy has occurred, and is continuing to unfold, amidst the mountains of southeastern Arizona. Thirty-eight year-old Ian Thorson died on Sunday, April 22nd, in a mountain cave at 6000 feet of elevation. The Cochise County Sheriff’s spokesperson has ruled out foul play so far, but the investigation is ongoing. The coroner’s report has yet to be released. The immediate cause of Thorson’s death is most likely exposure and dehydration. But I believe that a full investigation will show that the deeper causes involve cultish religious fanaticism, untreated psychosis, and the gross negligence, incompetence, and obstructionism of the Board of Directors of a neo-Buddhist retreat centre called Diamond Mountain University, headed by its founder and spiritual director, Michael Roach. This full legal and medical investigation is warranted immediately, because there are still 35 people in retreat on Diamond Mountain property who may well be in as much physical and mental danger as Thorson was.

Thorson was found dead in a 6-by-8 foot cave on federal reserve land, attended by his dehydrated wife, Christie McNally, 39, a former lover of Roach, known to the Diamond Mountain Community, and globally, as “Lama Christie.” She is recovering from her loss and exposure symptoms in an undisclosed location.

My intention in breaking this terrible story to the meditation and yoga community, and the public at large, is fourfold, and without malice. Firstly, I wish to encourage an immediate investigation into the physical and mental safety of the remaining Diamond Mountain residents. Secondly, I wish to amplify our ongoing discussion of what constitutes grounded, empathetic, and useful spirituality – as opposed to narcissistic and dissociative delusions of grandeur that may be harmful not only to practitioners, but to the larger culture. Thirdly, I want to put pressure (and encourage others to put pressure) on the Board of Directors of Diamond Mountain University to curb the obvious whitewashing of events that has already begun (characterized by Roach’s recent open letter). The events at Diamond Mountain evoke core questions of responsible leadership, democratic accountability and therapeutic qualifications that the directors should answer to, not only for the sake of their own students, but for the wider Buddhist community, and for spiritual seekers in general, many of whom come to ashrams and retreat centres with deep psychological wounds that are tragically salted by robes and prayers and authoritarian power structures. Lastly, I’m writing in the hope of softening the grip that I believe Roach has upon his followers, many of whom, including Thorson, were friends and acquaintances of mine, long ago, when I myself (full disclosure) was also in Roach’s considerable thrall. I acknowledge that many people around the world feel that their lives have been enriched by Roach’s enthusiastic idealism, and I do not wish to demean this. But my long-view concern is that the power structure that Roach has consciously or unconsciously fostered around his charisma depresses independent thought and growth, and is now protecting itself by flinging Thorson’s corpse, and the personhood of Christie McNally, into the outer dark of spiritual rationalization.

I have gathered as much information as I’ve been able to in the push to publish this story in time to mediate the danger to the remaining retreatants. Unfortunately, my attempts over the last few days to engage with my old community acquaintances about the events have been dead-ends, because, I believe, of the secrecy endemic to cults. Nonetheless, I do have a considered view on the documents that everyone can plainly access, and I hope my thoughts on these will encourage more skilled inquiry—both journalistic and legal—to follow. I will be careful to qualify my perceptions with the words “seem” and “presumably,” and my opinions with the phrase “I believe.”

My analysis of these events is in some areas speculative. I am quite sure that I will unintentionally render certain details incorrectly, and I hope that knowledgeable respondents to this post help me with factual errors, which I will correct in the text itself, in real time, as evidence is presented. I intend for this to be an open document, evolving towards greater clarity through the input of many. I will not let factual errors linger online, and will notify readers through social media of the edits I make.

There are two accounts of the events leading up to Thorson’s death. Neither come from disinterested parties, and the details of each have not be independently confirmed. One account is written by Roach himself, in this open letter that was “reviewed and approved by the Board of Directors of the University.” The other account is incomplete, published on April 19th by Christie McNally, three days before Thorson’s death. McNally’s letter is profoundly disturbing in many ways, showing what I believe to be the depth of her spirituality-induced delusions of grandeur, magical thinking, denial, and Stockholm Syndrome symptoms. The idea that this person in this state was teaching Buddhism or leading anyone through anything as extreme as a medieval-style three-year meditation retreat is absurd to me.

I’ll reconstruct the general history according to the available accounts, but also by drawing on my personal knowledge of this group, which is informed by my understanding of cult dynamics. This will involve my reading of incompetence, negligence, and buck-passing in Roach’s letter. I’ll end with a call for full disclosure from the Directors of Diamond Mountain University, and an appeal to the more grounded leaders of Western Buddhist culture to intervene on behalf of this community with the grace of good mentorship. Though I am admittedly antagonistic to extremist religious belief and behaviour, this article is not an anti-religious crusade. I repeat: there are about 35 people at this moment in deep seclusion in the Arizona desert under the influence of a woman who appears to have gone insane, and their guardians—the administration of Diamond Mountain—have shown themselves to be, I believe, unequal to the task of protecting and nurturing them.

 

Background to the Tragedy

McNally has been a student of Roach since 1996. Roach himself had been a student of the late Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tharchin, of Howell, New Jersey, since the mid 70s. In the mid-80s he took monk’s robes, and attained the Tibetan monastic degree of “Geshe.” By the time I became Roach’s student in 1998, McNally was at his side continually, ostensibly as a personal assistant to his extensive teaching appearances, and also as a co-worker in the translation of ritual Tibetan texts for Roach’s growing population of American and European students. Roach’s closeness to McNally raised eyebrows in more conservative wings of the westernizing Tibetan Buddhist community, and there were rumours that they were lovers, something that Roach’s monastic vows would have forbidden. It was utterly obvious to me that they were lovers, and this was confirmed in 1999 on a trip to India during which many community members expressed dismay at seeing McNally slink out of Roach’s cell before dawn every day. Because by nature I care little for tradition or propriety, the sexuality of their relationship didn’t bother me personally, until I became aware of the acute power imbalances that it projected into the social sphere of the group, and later, how the closeness seemed to contribute to the distortion McNally’s self-image and mental health. I also believed that their boundary-less merging stripped her of interpersonal presence, giving her the same vacant gaze with which Roach seemed to mesmerize his acolytes. It seemed that she took on the social dysfunction of all charismatics: brilliant in a group, but insufferable in person. Soon she began to parrot his speech: a strange mixture of English nouns and choppy Tibetan syntax. “Tiblish,” I used to call it. An essential skill, I believe, in her later rapid ascent as Diamond Mountain teaching star. I believe she quite literally lost her own voice as she became host to his.

It’s hard to remember Christy as-she-was. I suppose it’s because I never saw her except in Roach’s shadow, walking a few steps behind him always, carrying his shoulderbag with his 30-lb late 90’s laptop bumping on her tiny hip, fetching food for him at every communal meal, waiting outside the men’s room while he took a leak. She was my age, an English major like myself, someone I should have been able to talk to. But for Christy to even say hello to anyone besides Roach seemed to involve an intense effort to demagnetize herself from his gaze. I wondered if she was lonely with this strange man, twenty years her senior. I remember wishing a private life for her, of libraries and dance classes, graduate school and study carrels. A life not overdetermined by the dreams of a giant. Alone, but with autonomy, integrity. Perhaps this is a solitude she can can finally experience now, shorn of merging, shorn of fantasy, shorn of romantic violence. This would be my hope for Christy, once she recovers from this terrible amputation: a bright solitude. A room of her own.

In 2000, Roach, McNally, and five of his other female students entered a closed 3-year retreat on desert land close to the 960 acres of what has become Diamond Mountain University. While marketing the retreat during its fundraising period as “traditional,” “authentic,” and “ancient,” Roach neglected to disclose to his thousands of sponsors that he would be cohabiting with McNally in a shared desert yurt, a fact that became apparent to many during the several open teaching periods of the retreat, during which hundreds of students traveled to the desert to hear Roach teach blindfolded. Many were confused, some disappointed, and a few were outraged. The broader western Tibetan Buddhist community began shunning both Roach and his community, not only for his unconventional behaviour and lack of transparency, but also increasingly for his shoddy scholarship and new-age-thin interpretations of Middle-Way philosophy – the bedrock of Gelukpa metaphysics. It was primarily this latter weakness that prompted me to leave his instruction at that time, although I also had grave misgivings about how he seemed to manipulate his students, including myself, with make-work projects and student rivalries designed to stratify his power through grievances he would both provoke and resolve.

Roach and McNally emerged from retreat in 2003 as openly committed spiritual partners who engaged in “celibate intimacy,” a claim that mystified their married students, and outraged the pious. By virtue of her retreat completion, but also, I believe, to professionalize their relationship, Roach elevated McNally to teacherly status with the title of “Lama.” Luminaries in the Buddhist world as prominent as Robert Thurman implored Roach to renounce his monk’s vows if he wanted to continue in open relationship. Roach refused by publicly claiming saintly status through his constant verbal allusions to private revelatory experience, and by claiming he was beyond supervision, as he does in this 2003 interview. The relationship exposed their multiple challenges to Tibetan orthodoxy to full and tawdry view, and concretized the boundaries of their growing cult by forcing their devotees to separate themselves from the broader Western Buddhist culture, which now firmly rejected and criticized Roach’s titles and authority. By association, his rebellion separated his followers from the Dalai Lama, the head of their own lineage, who through his Public Office, censured Roach in 2006. In what I presume to have been an attempt to heal the rift the Public Office left the door open for Roach’s followers to attend teachings of the Dalai Lama, and many did and still do. Many remain convinced that Roach’s teachings and those of the Dalai Lama are part of a coherent cloth, but there is much debate on the matter.

I hope that Diamond Mountain residents and Roach’s students around the world fully understand what this rupture means. It matters little that he had doctrinal differences with Tibetan hierarchy: Tibetan Buddhism has been invigorated by doctrinal debate for centuries. What matters is that Roach effectively extracted himself from the cultural oversight of the larger tradition. Over the years he has made many justifications for establishing himself beyond the pale: he’s a realized being, the old schools don’t understand the contemporary zeitgeist, etc., etc. But whatever the justification is, he has found a niche for himself with no supervision. And there is no human organizational structure in existence that remains functional and resists authoritarianism without its highest members being subject to the oversight of peers.

Not every rupture in Roach’s world is political or theological. McNally separated herself from Roach in 2008 or 2009, who was shortly thereafter seen swanked up in Armani and hitting the Manhattan clubs with Russian models. McNally soon partnered with Thorson, and began making charismatic inroads into the New York yoga scene, teaming up to teach wholly fictional “ancient Tibetan asana practices for reaching spiritual goals using a partner.”

I remember Ian Thorson from perhaps two hundred classes and lectures across America, Europe, and India between 1998 and 2000. He was thin and wispy, underfed and protein deficient, perhaps anemic, with impeccable lotus posture, and distant, unfocussed, entranced eyes. He’d sit right up at the front of any teaching, his eyes rolled back, clothes unwashed, hair tousled, by turns elated and catatonic in his trance. I ate rice and dal with him at the same table at Sera Mey monastery in Bylakuppe for a month in 1999. We talked philosophy and the esoteric for the short spurts in which he could hold conversational attention. He complained that his family could never understand him. I had the impression he came from wealth—he graduated Stanford—but he was always bumming money and rides. I don’t remember him asking me a single question about my life, or lifting a finger to help any of the hordes of women devotees setting up the lecture halls or tea or whatnot. Altogether he seemed tragically self-absorbed. He had a girlfriend named Beatrice in those days. By the end of the India trip she was pregnant. I don’t know what happened to her. I think she ended up returning to Germany with the baby. Baby must be about twelve now, and I wonder if he or she has substantial knowledge of daddy, and whether and how his death will be known to them.

There was something strange going on with Ian. During every teaching he displayed severe and rattling kriyas—spontaneous bursts of internal energy that jagged up his spine, snapped his head back sharply, and made him gasp or hiccup or yelp or bark. At the time I took these tremors to be signs of kundalini openness, but now I see them as bursts of neurological misfiring induced by zealous meditative abstraction and cognitive self-referentiality. There were always a bunch of kriya-kids at Roach’s feet, with Ian at the centre. Roach seemed to pay them no mind, which normalized their jitterbugging to the rest of us, who I believe felt vaguely insecure that our own evolutionary prowess failed to bestow such outward signs. The kriya-kids all sat up front, and Roach looked over them to the more mundane sea of the hoi polloi, as if to say: Do you see the power I have over those who truly surrender to me? I occasionally felt my own mirror neurology shudder in Ian’s presence. But I put a lid on it, preferring to enjoy the conductivity of my inner body alone in the forests of Vermont, where I lived in between Manhattan or California or Galway intensives.

Apparently Ian’s tremors weren’t all light and grooviness. As Roach states in his open letter:

Ian was incredibly sensitive to outside stimulus—an accomplished poet, linguist, and spiritual practitioner who could “hear” the world in a way that most of us cannot.  Sometimes those of us who spent time around him would see him get overwhelmed by this sensitivity and fly into windmills of unintended physical outbursts, which at times caused potentially serious physical harm to those close by.

This unqualified diagnosis by Roach is actually a crafty validation of his own spiritual power and authority. For if Ian is a sensitive jitterbugging waif under the power of the Holy Ghost, the teachings are working. But if Ian is actually suffering from psycho-somatic dystonia or neuropathy, or histrionic or somatization disorders resulting in aggression and assault, he’s in the wrong damned place, and Roach is out of his league as mentor. Further, Roach’s charisma may be provoking him towards deeper confusion, perhaps rage. Further still: the students around Ian would be neglectfully endangered by a colleague’s unfortunate mental illness, instead of witnesses to some magical and incomprehensible transformation. In my opinion, Roach has negligently misdiagnosed a profoundly disturbed man, perhaps dissuading him and others from seeking proper treatment. But this is no surprise. The first rule of a cult is: turn everything oppressive or dysfunctional into a sign of the Greater Plan. The sick person is “spiritually sensitive.” A violent outburst is a “purification.” An assault is the “result of the victim’s karma.” Enduring an assault defenselessly is a high virtue.

There’s an old adage: “The devil quotes scripture.” A self-validating metaphysics will twist anything to its purposes. I remember Shantideva’s  Bodhisattva’s Way of Life being one of Roach’s favourite texts. In it the sage writes (as per Stephen Batchelor’s translation of 6:43):

Both the weapon and my body
Are the causes of my suffering.
Since the other gave rise to the weapon,
and I to the body,
With whom should I be angry?

I remember being enthralled by Shantideva’s breathtaking and poetic subject/object blurring: it taught me a lot about consciousness and the stickiness of private perspective. But now now I have to wonder whether Roach’s usage of this and similar passages, distorted by his solipsism, has been gasoline to his dangerous fire.

 

A Stabbing in the Desert

In 2010, after several years of increasingly grandiose claims and proselytizing around the globe on subjects as diverse as “Spiritual Marriage,” “Creating Your Own Buddha Paradise,” “The Secrets of Jesus and the Buddha,” and “Enlightened Business,” McNally was appointed Retreat Director for the second three-year retreat, and went into desert silence with Thorson and 39 of her own disciples on the University property. She was appointed by Board members that she herself had chosen, as she recounts in her letter of April 19th. But at some point (we won’t be sure until the Board does a thorough public inquiry) episodes of domestic violence erupted within the secluded house she shared with Thorson. Retreatants are sworn to silence by retreat protocol, so if any of them were aware of trouble, there would be pressure against reporting. But then, McNally reached out, consciously or not, for help.

Every six months or so, the Retreat Director and selected retreatants, and non-retreatant teachers gather publicly to give teachings. These are strange and austere events, as the retreatants are either blindfolded or separated from the public by a scrim. In early February of this year, McNally spoke at one of these events, attended by students and acolytes from around the world. As Roach reports:

During her public talk on the evening of Saturday, February 4, which I also attended, Lama Christie told a story which appeared to describe serious incidents of mutual spousal abuse between herself and her husband, Ian Thorson, on campus during the retreat.

Lama Christie described what sounded like repeated physical abuse of herself by her husband, and also an incident in which she had stabbed Ian with a knife, under what she described as a spiritual influence.

Roach and the Board were of course deeply concerned, and they met the next day to deliberate. And this is where, I believe, we can begin to see years of authoritarian control, solipsistic philosophy, psychological shadow suppression, overt whitewashing, and subliminal scapegoating begin to snowball. It is important to know that most if not all of the Board members have been long-term students of both Roach and McNally, and that most have donated vast amounts of time and money to his vision. I believe that this power dynamic alone would suppress the democratic functions of such a body. The question to keep in mind as the story rolls onward is: “What would an independent and peer-reviewed process have looked like, in place of unanimous decisions being reached by those within a matrix of social control?” A simpler question for the lawyers might be: “With Roach in control of the Board, does Diamond Mountain forfeit its 501(c)(3) status?”

Roach reports that local police were made aware of the contents of McNally’s talk, but chose to take no further action. I hope further investigation reveals why. If the police reviewed a transcript or audio recording of the talk, I would be concerned that they might not have derived enough context from this alone to be sufficiently alerted to the potential for danger. I don’t imagine that anyone internal to the group would have been able to provide police with the full spectrum of concern, including Thorson’s history, the history of internal power dynamics, the philosophical zeitgeist of the group, and the violence-laden meditation visualizations of their Tantric practice.

McNally’s letter of 4/19 describes months of battery at the hands of Thorson (complete with delusional justifications). At Roach’s admission, this battery was coherent with a pattern that the staff at Diamond Mountain was well aware of for some time, from different contexts:

Members of the Board had previously received multiple formal and informal reports of partner abuse and assault of students and staff by Ian, including a written complaint of an incident which took place off campus, and another incident at the University which led to Ian being asked to leave the campus for a period of time.

Multiple formal and informal reports. And yes, McNally had indeed stabbed Thorson with a knife three times, I imagine in self-defense, as attested to by the retreatant who was a medical doctor. The doctor stitched him up and then was bound to silence not only by the rule of the retreat but also, I believe, by his spiritual subordination to the couple. One of the stab wounds was “deep enough to threaten vital organs.”

It comes as no surprise to me that knife-violence would characterize the psychosis of a deranged couple in this context. Why? Because the central tantric meditation practice of this group involves the fantastical visualization of oneself as a sexually aroused goddess, armed with a chop-knife, who dances on the corpses of foreign deities, and then ritually dismembers herself limb by limb for an auto-cannibalistic feast meant to represent egoic dissolution. The Vajrayogini Tantra reveals a horrific yet strangely beautiful poetics of embodied sacrifice to the present moment. When I practiced it I found it compelling for many reasons, but nobody asked me at the initiation: “Have you ever had suicidal mentation or violent thoughts or outbursts?” And no-one asked Thorson and McNally, either. What have we done in our new-age, neo-colonial appropriation of these arcane wisdom traditions, that we blithely overlook the potential for psychiatric trauma that they obviously contain? How can we play with fragile people in this way?

Tragically, McNally’s letter describes the events through a thick pall of what seems like Stockholm Syndrome confusion. She writes: “My Love’s temporary aggression in those first few months of the retreat didn’t ripen for me as a negative karma in the slightest. I saw the whole thing as a divine play. He taught me so much.” And in a stunning whitewash of her armed self-defense, she writes: “Well, there is this big knife we got as a wedding present… thus began our rather dangerous play. If I had had any training at all, the accident never would have happened. I simply did not understand that the knife could actually cut someone. Neither of us even realized he was cut when it happened.”

 

A Board of Directors, Blinded by Dogma

From the discovery of the battery and stabbing onwards, I believe every decision the Board made has been (most likely unconsciously) designed to protect the hierarchy of the University and the sanctity of its dogma, rather than to nurture the physical and emotional health of these two critically troubled people, or anyone lower on the ladder of power.

The State of Arizona has a very liberal involuntary commitment law (Revised Title 36) which allows virtually anyone who had suspected that Thorson or McNally had mental problems and needed help could have filed an application to a state-licensed healthcare agency for a court-ordered evaluation. This point is crucial to remember. Because by not taking advantage of this power, the Board has protected itself from any outside intervention that might have questioned the competence of the entire University. In so doing, I believe they also actively presumed training and jurisdiction where they had none: deciding to treat two mutual batterers – one of whom was a stabbing victim – not as people in dire mental danger in need of assessment and perhaps medication, but as free-thinking, upright citizens who had made a few errors in moral judgment that they could correct, perhaps, with a change in philosophy.

The decision to not immediately invite outside law enforcement or mental health services to the property to examine the situation and interview the principles is, I believe, coherent with group’s general resistance to outside influence. On site, the sheriff or the shrink would be, I believe, as invasive to Diamond Moutain property as other Buddhist teachings or teachers would be to Diamond Mountain cosmology and lineage. The stakes in resolving the issue internally are very high for the Diamond Mountain infrastructure.

Instead of taking advantage of Title 36 or appealing to law enforcement for direct help, the Diamond Mountain Board, according to Roach’s own account, came up with what in my opinion was an incompetent, secretive, and punitive plan to oust the offending dyad from their Eden. This plan consisted of $3600 in cash, a rental car, two prepaid cell phones, a hotel booking by the nearest airport, and two flight tickets to the US destination of their choice: all to be made available to them once they had been served with a notice from the Board to vacate their residence. The plan did not provide for psychiatric assessment or support, nor qualified chaperoning, nor contacts for shelter services. It appears that not one single piece of help was offered to the couple from outside of the worldview and power dynamic of the cult. Not one mediating influence was allowed to intervene. Roach writes that he made attempts to persuade McNally to seek guidance, but the encouragement was towards guidance from other spiritual teachers – most probably also unqualified in the realms of psychiatric health. Most disturbing, perhaps, is that this plan did not consider the possibility that Thorson and McNally should at the very least be restrained from each other’s presence until it was verifiably clear that they posed no danger to each other. Let’s let this sink in: on some level, the entire Board felt that it was within Thorson and McNally’s personal rights as responsible adults to batter each other. But please—not on the University property!

In essence, I believe the Diamond Mountain Board and Roach unsafely banished two mentally ill and mutually violent people for whom they held communal (if not legal) responsibility to the mercy of their psychosis and the terrifying isolation of not only the surrounding desert, but also what they would have perceived as the closed door of the broader Buddhist and spiritual community. We have to remember that to follow an excommunicant like Roach is a self-isolating act. If Buddhism shuns Roach—okay: stick to Roach. But when Roach banishes you: where do you go? The stakes of banishment rise algorithmically for those who are incapable of self-authorization because of cultic influence. The cult leader is a life-raft in a stormy sea. Residents of Diamond Mountain routinely describe their acreage as “the end of the world,” in harmony with Roach’s my-way-or-the-highway metaphysics. So where do you go when you’ve been banished not only from the last place on earth, but also from the grace of the leader you depend on for your self-worth?

 

The Veil of Secrecy

The secrecy that kept the Board from reaching out for qualified help soon metastasized into confusion and uncertainty as Diamond Mountain carried out their decision to banish the couple. The Board hand-delivered letters to the couple’s tent, demanding they leave within the hour, to meet their assistant who would be standing by with the rented car. There was no answer, and the messengers failed to find the couple. After several days of uncertainty, the assistant e-mailed the message that the couple had left the grounds, but would refuse to disclose their location. Further requests for information from the assistant were ignored. The Board and Roach, according to Roach’s account, remain ignorant of the couple’s whereabouts between the date they deliver the letter (Roach doesn’t specify but it is before February 20th, which is when the assistant’s e-mail was received by the Board) and the day of Thorson’s death.

For sixty-one days, Roach and the Board claim that they had no knowledge of the couple’s whereabouts. What did they do in their uncertainty and professed worry? Roach sent emails to the assistant that went ignored. Roach asked other “spiritual teachers” of McNally to try to communicate with her as well. The requests were ignored. And what did they fail to do? File a Missing Persons Report. And why didn’t they? Because drawing law enforcement attention to the case would implicitly criminalize the events. I also believe that there would have been a strong motivation to avoid the public humiliation of the police finding them, and taking statements describing their experience. A cult cannot appeal to outside authority, as this would disrupt the self-generated logic and legitimacy of the group.

In perhaps the most cultish decision of all, Roach and the Board thought it best not to contact the couple’s families directly when it was clear that they had gone missing. Roach explains: “We felt that the decision of contacting relatives about the recent events and situation was only the couple’s to make.” I believe the likelihood that Thorson and McNally would have contacted their families of their own accord in this state of hiding and humiliation would be very low. I remember, somewhere back around 1999, asking McNally and Roach outright over lunch one day what her parents thought about her travelling the world on the arm of this weird monk. She laughed and said: “O they think I’m in a cult.” Roach smiled somewhat ironically and said “Well you are in a cult.” She giggled, I believe, nervously.

Secrecy is endemic to both the structure and the metaphysics of Roach’s organization. Buddhist knowledge was secret. His relationship with McNally was secret. Whether or not it involved intercourse was secret. The instructions for rituals were secret. The nature of his realizations was secret. The locations and identities of many of his teachers were secret. Tantric practices were secret. In the absence of physical coercion, secrecy was the key currency of Roach’s power.

And how’s this for secrecy? As of this writing, there are close to 7000 reads of the letter from the Venerables Chandra and Akasha, who are reportedly taking care of McNally in her seclusion, and close to 5000 reads of the letter from McNally. Only the first letter has been left open to comments, and after one week of exposure there are only 16 comments. This is akin to a blackout in social media culture. My personal social media network connects me to several old Diamond Mountain affiliated friends. None to my knowledge have shared these two letters. I have only seen four shares of Roach’s letter, and only a handful of comments upon it, all expressing condolence to McNally and the assistants, and none with any questions. I have reached out to several of these old friends to express my dismay at the events, to ask how they are handling the news, to ask about the health of the community, and to ask if there is any more to share, and I receive eerily similar responses: “Geshe Michael’s letter tells it all, dear,” and “Anything more I would have to say about it would be gossip, dear.” Everybody’s calling me “dear.”

Two things to note here: as an ex-member of this cult, I will not likely be a trusted confidante in a time of trauma and loss, unless it is to those who crave the empathy of an outsider. I understand this. But my friend’s comment about “gossip” reveals something deeper than any social exclusion. All students of Roach have taken initiation into the Bodhisattva Vows, one of which explicitly forbids criticism of the clergy. The Brahma Net Sutra gives a definition of this major vow. Stalinist bureaucrats would be proud:

A disciple of the Buddha must not himself broadcast the misdeeds or infractions of Bodhisattva-clerics or Bodhisattva-laypersons, or of [ordinary] monks and nuns—nor encourage others to do so. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of discussing the offenses of the assembly. As a Buddha’s disciple, whenever he hears evil persons, externalists or followers of the Two Vehicles speak of practices contrary to the Dharma or contrary to the precepts within the Buddhist community, he should instruct them with a compassionate mind and lead them to develop wholesome faith in the Mahayana. If instead, he discusses the faults and misdeeds that occur within the assembly, he commits a Parajika offense.

It is now Friday. Last Saturday, when I came across the news, I thought that surely it would be widely known by now. But as the days have dragged on and I have pounded together these thoughts and memories, it has become clear that nobody from within the Diamond Mountain community, or perhaps those sympathetic to them, would be broadcasting these events, along with the cascade of questions they raise. So here I am, and here we are.

 

Requests to the Diamond Mountain Board: Rob Ruisinger, Nicole Davis, Jigme Palmo, Charae Sachanandani, Scott Vacek, Tim Muehlhausen, Evan Osherow.

  1. Remove Michael Roach from the Board of Directors. His past intimacy with McNally and his current spiritual influence over you will make it impossible for you to perform your regulatory function under the articles of Diamond Mountain’s  501(c)(3) non-profit status. Surely you must also recognize that he is not fit to disinterestedly administrate any internal inquiry into the death of his former lover’s husband.
  2. Disclose everything that you knew about the domestic violence, the stabbing, and the other retreatant’s reactions/responses, and how you have addressed their concerns. Show the transparency that will expose the effects of the power relationships you foster.
  3. Invite full police, state, and medical official investigations. Bring in professionals to question all principles.
  4. Explain why you thought it reasonable to allow two disturbed and mutually violent people to remain in each other’s presence after clear evidence of potentially mortal danger to both of them.
  5. Explain why you did not call on local law enforcement and mental health officials to intervene in a circumstance for which you have no qualification.
  6. Create an emergency fund for the residential mental health care of Christie McNally, in the eventuality that this is recommended by public health professionals. In the event that this episode destroys her professional teaching career, create an additional fund for her continuing education and career transition.
  7. Describe the educational or work experience  of the “assistant” who was assigned to chaperone the couple that would have qualified him or her to care for a mentally ill and mutually violent couple.`
  8. Report the medical doctor referenced in Roach’s letter as having sutured Thorson’s wounds to the appropriate medical licensing board so that they can investigate why he/she did not report Thorson’s stab wounds to authorities.
  9. Release the remaining retreatants from their ritual vow of silence, so they can say anything they need to related to the events, their leadership, and their concerns. Release them further from their long-term vow against disclosing grievances against their leadership.
  10. Show publicly that the retreatants currently under your care have no history of mental illness that might endanger their health within the context of the severe isolation of your retreat property and the potentially provocative nature of the meditation practices that you advocate.
  11. Disclose the protocol by which you evaluate the mental health of retreatants, and how you will update this protocol in view of this tragedy.
  12. Disclose the qualifications of the replacement Retreat Leader, John Brady, and have him issue a statement detailing how he is specifically administering to the retreatants who have been disturbed by these events.
  13. Publish the transcript of McNally’s February 4th talk, in which she made allusion to the domestic violence and the stabbing.
  14. Provide the link on your website to McNally’s letter of 4/19, to both end the silencing of her point of view, but also to expose the clear psychosis at the very heart of your faculty.
  15. Remove Michael Roach from the teaching schedule of Diamond Mountain University until he has shown that he has put himself under the supervision of his lineage, perhaps by submitting himself for monastic review to his home community of Rashi Gempil Ling, in Howell, New Jersey.

 

Requests to the Mentors of the Greater Buddhist Community, including the Office of the Dalai Lama

Modern Western Buddhism prides itself on being anti-authoritarian grounded in reason, and non-cultish. In the light of Thorson’s death, its time for the community mentors to step up and prove it.

There are many mentors I have in mind. All of them are either non-sectarian or have scholarly or secular backgrounds. I’ll name a few, but please suggest more: Robert Thurman, Pema Chodron, Sharon Salzberg, Michael Stone, Blanche Hartman, Bernie Glassman, Stephen Batchelor, Mathieu Ricard, Sylvia Boorstein, Jeffrey Hopkins. Also: the senior teachers of FPMT will probably be up to the task. Here are some things you can do to help both the safety of Diamond Mountain residents, but also the general movement towards responsible leadership in Buddhist and other spiritual organizations.

  1. Please take time to investigate Roach’s history and teachings, and publish your thoughts on the broader Buddhist life to those students of Roach who are confused, in distress, and perhaps hungry for a more grounded cosmology. A series of calm, welcoming, non-judgmental open letters might be most helpful.
  2. Please disclose any protocols for mental health and physical safety that you have designed as leaders or members of Buddhist communities that would be helpful to the Diamond Mountain Board as they go through a necessary review of their own practices.
  3. Offer gratis counseling/conversation to any Diamond Mountain practitioner who might reach out for a broader view.

I also call on the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to review these events and to consider reiterating and strengthening its censure of Michael Roach, first initiated in 2006.

 

In closing, for now…

I’m so grateful I grew up since my involvement with Roach ended in 2000—at least a little bit. I read The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, went into therapy, worked on my daddy/authority issues, and now I return to meditation only once in a while to touch the quieter parts of my experience: not to escape anything or fantasize about what’s not here. I have a good and meaningful job. I don’t fly around the world chasing bliss and approval, responsible to nothing but the wind of my thought, avoiding those who know me best. I am no longer, as Leonard Cohen sings, “starving in some deep mystery, like a man who is sure what is true.” Like Ian seemed to be.

Goodbye, Ian. A younger, thinner, sadder version of myself died with you in that cave, dry as dust. I send my love to your child, wherever he or she is.

 

 

Matthew Remski is an author, yoga teacher, ayurvedic therapist and educator, and co-founder of Yoga Community Toronto. Please check out his site for more writings on Ayurveda and Yoga.

 

 

 

 

~

The opinions expressed by the authors at elephant journal and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of elephant journal or any employee thereof. elephant journal is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied in the article above.

 

___________

CORRECTIONS (posted 5/6/12, 5am)

As I wrote above, I expected to get some details wrong. I invited corrections, and received several, for which I am grateful. I hope that crowd-sourcing this story helps to establish a clearer picture.

Most corrections are minor. I have a few dates wrong, and I misrepresented the housing situation for retreatants at DM. I’ve also taken out a few terms that are immaterial to the argument, but which some found offensive.

The correction of substance involves my omission of Roach’s statement that he and the Board alerted the police to the contents of McNally’s talk on 2/4/12.  Roach doesn’t describe this in detail in his open letter, which led me to presume that the disclosure was not clear enough to provoke further law enforcement interest. I might be mistaken here. In any case, my omission created the impression that the Board did less than they did, and I have corrected it. My contention is that the strongest disclosure would have evolved from professional, on-site investigation at that point.

While I am grateful for the corrections, none of my critics have substantially engaged the core material of the article: the 15 suggestions I make to the Board.

Here are the corrections I’ve made so far:

Abstract: changed “…failure to report..” to “…failure to fully report…”

1st graph: changed “camped out” to “in retreat”

7th graph: changed “I’ll reconstruct the general history according to the available accounts, but also by drawing on my personal knowledge of this cult, and my understanding of cult  dynamics in general.”

to

“I’ll reconstruct the general history according to the available accounts, but also by drawing on my personal knowledge of this group, which is informed by my understanding of cult dynamics.”

 7th graph: changed “camping” to “in deep seclusion”

11th graph: changed

“His rebellion even alienated his followers from the Dalai Lama, the head of their own lineage, who publicly censured him in 2006.”

to

“By association, his rebellion separated his followers from the Dalai Lama, the head of their own lineage, who through his Public Office, censured Roach in 2006. In what I presume to have been an attempt to heal the rift the Public Office left the door open for Roach’s followers to attend teachings of the Dalai Lama, and many did and still do. Many remain convinced that Roach’s teachings and those of the Dalai Lama are part of a coherent cloth, but there is much debate on the matter.”

graph 13: 

Not every rupture in Roach’s world is political or theological. Ian Thorson was the retreat assistant for Roach and McNally. Sometime between 2003 and 2005, Thorson and McNally became lovers. She separated herself from Roach, who was shortly thereafter seen swanked up in Armani and hitting the Manhattan clubs with Russian models. McNally and Thorson soon began making charismatic inroads into the New York yoga scene, teaming up to teach wholly fictional “ancient Tibetan asana practices for reaching spiritual goals using a partner”.

to

Not every rupture in Roach’s world is political or theological. McNally separated herself from Roach in 2008 or 2009, who was shortly thereafter seen swanked up in Armani and hitting the Manhattan clubs with Russian models. McNally soon partnered with Thorson, and began making charismatic inroads into the New York yoga scene, teaming up to teach wholly fictional “ancient Tibetan asana practices for reaching spiritual goals using a partner”.

graph 14: removed “probably vegan” from the description of Thorson, as one commenter found it offensive.

graph 19:

“This is all crazy-making. I believe.”

to

“I remember being enthralled by Shantideva’s breathtaking and poetic subject/object blurring: it taught me a lot about consciousness. But now I see how dangerous such poetry can be without existential grounding.”

graph 20:

“But at some point (we won’t be sure until the Board does a thorough public inquiry) the other retreatants began hearing episodes of domestic violence from within the secluded house she shared with Thorson. Retreatants are sworn to silence by retreat protocol, so of course nothing was reported – until McNally reached out, consciously or not, for help.”

to

“But at some point (we won’t be sure until the Board does a thorough public inquiry) episodes of domestic violence erupted within the secluded house she shared with Thorson. Retreatants are sworn to silence by retreat protocol, so if any of them were aware of trouble, there would be pressure against reporting. But then, McNally reached out, consciously or not, for help.”

graph 23:

“Roach and the Board interviewed the retreatants and their assistants and found out that yes, Thorson and McNally had been battering each other for some time, with Thorson probably being the majority aggressor. McNally’s letter of 4/19 confirms this (complete with delusional justifications).”

to:

“Roach reports that local police were made aware of the contents of McNally’s talk, but chose to take no further action. I hope further investigation reveals why. If the police reviewed a transcript or audio recording of the talk, I would be concerned that they might not have derived enough context from this alone to be sufficiently alerted to the potential for danger. I don’t imagine that anyone internal to the group would have been able to provide police with the full spectrum of concern, including Thorson’s history, the history of internal power dynamics, the philosophical zeitgeist of the group, and the violence-laden meditation visualizations of their Tantric practice.”

 graph 30:

“The decision to not immediately report the battering or stabbing to outside law enforcement or mental health services is coherent with general cultic resistance to outside influence. The sheriff or the shrink would be, I believe, as invasive to Diamond Moutain property as other Buddhist teachings or teachers would be to Diamond Mountain cosmology and lineage.”

to:

“The decision to not immediately invite outside law enforcement or mental health services to the property to examine the situation and interview the principles is, I believe, coherent with group’s general resistance to outside influence. On site, the sheriff or the shrink would be, I believe, as invasive to Diamond Moutain property as other Buddhist teachings or teachers would be to Diamond Mountain cosmology and lineage.”

 

graph 33: “tent” to “residence”

graph 35:

“A common characteristic of many of Roach’s followers (including myself way back when) is familial alienation.”

removed: a commenter pointed out this was an unfair generalization


second last graph:
changed “Like Ian was.” to “Like Ian seemed to be.”

____
CORRECTION (posted 5/18/12 6:30am)
section on Shantideva:

And of course all cultists have handy scriptures to back them up: As Shantideva says in the third chapter of Bodhisattva’s Way of Life(one of Roach’s favourite texts):

His the knife, and mine the body:

the twofold cause of suffering.

He has grasped the knife,

I my body.
 At which is there anger?

Those who injure me are really impelled by my actions.

For this they will go to the realms of hell.

Surely it is they who are harmed by me?

I remember being enthralled by Shantideva’s breathtaking and poetic subject/object blurring: it taught me a lot about consciousness. But now I see how dangerous such poetry can be without existential grounding.

 changed, through dialogue with Phurba and others, to:

There’s an old adage: “The devil quotes scripture.” A self-validating metaphysics will twist anything to its purposes. I remember Shantideva’s  Bodhisattva’s Way of Life being one of Roach’s favourite texts. In it the sage writes (as per Stephen Batchelor’s translation of 6:43):

Both the weapon and my body
Are the causes of my suffering.
Since the other gave rise to the weapon,
and I to the body,
With whom should I be angry?

I remember being enthralled by Shantideva’s breathtaking and poetic subject/object blurring: it taught me a lot about consciousness and the stickiness of private perspective. But now now I have to wonder whether Roach’s usage of this and similar passages, distorted by his solipsism, has been gasoline to his dangerous fire.


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About yoga 2.0 lab

Matthew Remski is an Ayurvedic practitioner and Yoga Teacher Trainer in Toronto. His latest book, Threads of Yoga, is gathering international acclaim. He's teaching this online course starting 1/7/14. It's currently full, but there is a reduced-tuition option for auditing. The 12 weekly lessons will be available online for six months following the course. Participants receive a 130-page manual of notes.

Comments

720 Responses to “Psychosis, Stabbing, Secrecy & Death at a Neo-Buddhist University in Arizona”

  1. OM says:

    Matthew Remski : or Jaded Heart

    Great Deal of bitterness and Envy in this writing , Kagyu Lineage is know for Crazy Wisdom , certainly not for many or All , but there is craziness everywhere especially in what is considered normal or ok. Lack of Compassion in the writing is sad and obviously there is much Healing to continue for the writer , OM AH HUm
    To say , "now I return to meditation only once in a while to touch the quieter parts of my experience: not to escape anything or fantasize about what’s not here"– if this is the case then you should not be instructing anyone in any Yoga no matter how watered down , you are obviously an Intellectual so stick with that, perhaps Jnana Yoga

    Balancing the Mundane and the Supra
    The Yin and the Yan
    everyday extraordinary carrying Fuel and chopping wood

    the closing comments , "Like Ian was". and referencing his child in that way is highly unprofessional from someone who is touting himself as one nowadays with a "meaningful job" unless your job involves cleaning up or offering alms I doubt it is very meaningful to anyone but your own Ego and need for approval and Self validation and Worth . Your heart is hurt and if you do not face and heal that nothing you do write or say has any meaning or authority . One Hemisphere of you Brain works very Well , but the Heart is weak , Padma Sidhi Hum HUm HUm

    Bow to your Sensei Padmasambhava Kwan Yin Compassionate Goddesses Tara om tare svaha

    gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svah

    Aham Prema Namah Shivay

    May Truth BE Victorious OM

  2. heynow says:

    “this secretive and autocratic organization”

    gosh, perhaps your old acquaintances didnt contact you because you are a pernicious troll looking for view counts?

    there are NOT 35 people “camped out” at DM. they are living in houses and are not in danger of dying from exposure and dehydration. therefore they are not “in as much physical and mental danger as Thorson was” you horrible, godawful troll.

  3. Brad Yantzer says:

    Matthew, as shocking it is not, my heart gasps at the truth and reality of the situation. My heart and wishes go to all those involved. To me this is more of the same as all the other BS out there parading as spiritual but under the facade lay sharp teeth dripping with saliva of desires and ego. It is often even hidden for the view of the one in the offense. John Friend is but another name and another target in the media. The scary thing is that it is everywhere constantly. I only trace the roots of this back to stepping out of the truth and into the mind. The spiritual community is filled with hyper jumping to the nondual with out the safety net of the knowledge leading to the experience that actually brings one there. What you are left with is exactly like your Yoga 2.0, someones take on how an ancient science needs to be changed because things are so different now. But remember this science has remained through out time, untouched and pure. It is only when either the uneducated and unexperienced get their hands on something or when the power hungry ego needs more that the purity is lost. This is what we have today. I don't see an end to it, it is gonna hurt. What are we gonna do, try to put any kind of template or formation of foundation down for those who are feeding off the irresponsible crutch of our narcissistic yoga/buddhism/spiritual movement? How do you stop a tidal wave?
    The problem is not in how it is now, the problem is that it was never really taught.

  4. PAX says:

    Hi Matthew,

    I am not sure if I would include Stephen Batchelor on a list of would be mentors. I don't think he considers himself a Buddhist anymore and he definitely no longer follows the Tibetan tradition in fact he has a very negative view towards it. I would recommend more Tibetan Buddhist to help integrate the DMU students back into the fold. There are many excellent teachers Gelek Rinpoche, Lama Kunga, Thubten Chodron to name a few.

    Lastly I had some experience with this group and my prayers are with them during this time.

  5. Gyelten Jangchub says:

    Personally, I never found Michael Roach to be charismatic. Actually I found him rather repulsive. However, he has contributed to making Buddhist teachings available to a Western audience. I think he deserves a lot of credit for that.

    As to the author of this article, Matthew, it's clear you have an ax to grind. Describing Kriyas as "bursts of neurological misfiring induced by zealous meditative abstraction and cognitive self-referentiality" shows a great disdain and disrespect for a central aspect of tantric practice. Meanwhile, you clearly have quite a lot of respect for the standard unenlightened Western establishment mind. "Some unknown level of marital discord going on? Send in the cops and psychiatrists!" I suppose that Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree refusing to move, having visions of demons and past lives, would be considered delusional and suicidal today. Better put him on some Ritalin and file him away somewhere until he can be placed in a job, to function as a mildly retarded, yet harmless, cog in our society. There, it's all better now.

  6. nrfd says:

    Before reading this, I never would have thought that anything could make me feel sympathy for Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally (who have gotten under my skin for years), especially following such a tragic occurrence. And yet, this incredibly judgmental, prejudicial diatribe has done just that. I only wish I had stopped reading at the ridiculous vegan comment, or the creepy description of how the author remembered Christie to be.

    There's also something rotten in all this about how Christie and her role seem to be defined in ways that they wouldn't be were she a man and/or older. Here she is, serving as the teacher for a serious retreat, with some presumably serious practitioners, and you're still writing about her as if she were an awestruck teenager who must be "mentally ill." How about holding her responsible for a situation that she herself took responsibility for? Or at least giving her a chance to comment on the death of her husband before calling her a mentally ill fraud?

    And EJ, this is a new low. Seriously sleazy move. A few more like this and you'll find likely yourselves in the libel lawsuit that puts you out of business.

  7. anonymouswone says:

    Part of this is an idea of living like milarepa did. Traditional Tibetan Buddhism has stories of yogis living in caves. Modern people find it appealing the idea of returning to nature . My question would be when they did this in Tibet were lots of dead bodies found also? And if so what did the Buddhist masters comment about it who knew how to do this lifestyle?

  8. anonymouswone says:

    Im seeking former members of Geshe Michael Roach's organisation and current defenders. I have written a website about the dynamics of Tibetan Buddhism and the problems that various sects might have in common. I hope you will come and share your knowledge with me so we can all learn and understand these issues better. If mutliple sects are experiencing similar issues and we can see this perhaps we will come closer to understanding the causes http://removingallobstaclestoflourishingnkt.blogs

  9. Sam Muglia says:

    Dude, You need to relax.

  10. Jerry says:

    Repeating myself…it is not safe out here (we live in the Last House on the Left(yikes) before you cross the property line and are retinking living out here because of the drug smuggling.

    Living next door we have run into people that were not happy with friends or family being part of DM or were leaving themselves. Our view of Roach(who I've never spoken with) is colored by these meetings. A few years ago I went up to the Temple to retrieve my dog (they don't allow dogs or even pack animals..(.which might have both come in handy 2 sundays ago) and a girl kissed the tire tracks of a car coming from the big house that Roach lived in…".holly crap they are in trouble" I said to myself. I worry about a few people in the retreat I have met who stayed at a house in town I rented out I have heard the same thing from other townies…most were pretty together but.I just think some were going along with this as part of a group dynamic or for some sort of economic boost completing this gives them. One guy in retreat has given orders that even if his mom dies he should not be disturbed The first retreat drove the leader over the edge and some people just don't want to see more go too.

    Why not just do 3 month retreats under new leadership?The cloud would be lifted……. no one seems to every answer this question..

  11. Ted Lemon says:

    "Not allowed to be private," not "now allowed to be private." Too bad we can't edit our comments here.

  12. Sid Johnson says:

    I am so grateful to Matthew for writing this. I was involved with this group from 1999 to 2005, and sat on the original board of directors at the beginning of the first 3 year retreat. I could write a book (and maybe someday I will) about the dysfunction and general madness that permeated every aspect of this bizarre organization. It is embarrassing now to admit that I willfully participated, and I sense it is this same embarrassment that keeps other former members from coming forward. At some point I will disclose more, like the details of the "initiation" I witnessed, including the infamous incident in which Mr. Roach stabbed himself in the hand in front of a room full of students, setting the precedent for magical interpretations of violence. I share Matthews concern that others may be in danger, although I am not really interested in getting into debates with the faithful who are still drunk on the koolaid. For those of you still involved but in doubt, I want you to know there are so many healthier options out there. Getting free from the dogma, superstition and dysfunction is where the real liberation lies.

  13. Anon says:

    I am so shocked to hear about Ian. I was also involved in the group from 1999-2003. Yes there was a lot of secrecy, and some revelations in late 2002, not mentioned here, that prompted me to leave. As well, I was going through enormous heartbreak and depression, which I won't bore you with. Your article is very thorough and alarming. But at the same time it helps me compartmentalise that unhappy period of my life. So thanks for that. I am not suggesting that Diamond Mountain was responsible, but as you suggest here, there was a lack of fundamental empathy for those who were vulnerable. I managed to extract myself quietly and dealt with my unhappiness surrounded by my loving family. I don't practice Buddhism any more but I respect the Dalai Lama, and always will. Thanks Matt.

  14. wakajawaka says:

    To the best of my understanding there is no bodhisattva vow that states:

    "A disciple of the Buddha must not himself broadcast the misdeeds or infractions of Bodhisattva-clerics or Bodhisattva-laypersons, or of [ordinary] monks and nuns — nor encourage others to do so. "

    Which vow in particular were you referring to and where did you get that information?

  15. […] Rebuttal: “Psychosis, Stabbing, Secrecy & Death at a Neo-Buddhist University in Arizona.” Rebuttal by John Stillwell. […]

  16. Warren Clarke says:

    The reason the police did not become involved is because they have no desire to enter into partner disputes, especially when knowledge of the incident comes six months after-the-fact and has been resolved. The board replaced McNally with John Brady as inside-the-tsam retreat director. He is older, capable, knowledgable and responsible. The retreatants are in no danger whatsoever. Supply lines are efficient. Communication by post is permitted, but not e-mail. No coercion or brainwashing occurs at DMU. I know. I am a rogue with a critical 'bad attitude' and everyone in the campground is aware of it. I do not agree with all of the decisions made by the Board of Directors. No. For unrelated reasons (summer travel season) I have just recently left DMU after seven months as a volunteer caretaker. I was there. My cactus garden is blossoming. I trust that this wave of crisis created will subside and that the retreatants will persue their practice for peace and spiritual profit, to benefit all, without scatalogical sectarianism.

  17. Jacob Kyle says:

    I think most people should appreciate that the spirit of skepticism that this piece embodies is fundamental to the life of any organic, healthy spiritual community. I commend Matthew for speaking out in the spirit of openness and transparency that marks the best in our culture. I swallowed Matthew’s words excitedly, feeling that they were in line with some of the discomfort I have had in the short time I have been involved in this community. However, not a day after reading his paper, I have questions for Matthew. I have questions regarding some of his own presuppositions, his seemingly unquestioned use of certain fear-mongering rhetorical devices and his complete dismissal of any discussion of this “neo-Buddhist” community at the level of their own truth, which would, of course, involve addressing specific tenets of their Buddhist worldview. The questions that I have should not be taken as a rebuttal of Matthew’s concerns but rather as contributing another layer to the overall discussion.

    My questions relate to two basic features of Matthew’s charges: that Geshe Michael Roach’s community is a “cult” and his pervasive appeal to “mental illness”. Both features, I think, relate to a presupposition about what constitutes “health” and “normality”, labels that bring to bear the notion of emptiness.

    From a young age, I can recall many instances when some community was referred to as a “cult”. I remember there being a community somewhere in the woods near where I grew up in the Northwest, a group of houses surrounded by a tall green wall. I drove by it one day with my family and my mother or some adult pointed out that this was a cult. I had been sufficiently indoctrinated to know that “cult” meant “bad”, meant “insane” and probably had something to do with demons and suicide. My point is that Matthew falls into the habit of so many political ideologues by appealing to a term of generalization so loaded with emotion that its use cannot be analytical, but rhetorical. It is a rhetorical device that does more to foster fear and divisiveness than it does the kind of novel understanding required to be true to the specific contextual conditions of a unique community. It tosses Roach’s community into the irrational bin of “mad cultists”, thereby subverting a more sophisticated understanding of the reasoning behind certain practices. And anyone familiar with Tibetan Buddhism—even the Roach “variant”—knows that there is usually a rich reasoning behind these practices. By not taking stock of the reasoning that might have manifested, for example, certain comments by McNally that Matthew quotes, he does something parallel to what conservatives do when they label Obama a “socialist”. Like the charge of “socialist” in American political discourse, “cult” stirs up the same kind of animosity and fear in American spiritual discourse. And if a label is this reductive and loaded with meaning, isn’t it better to analyze with a different vocabulary? All we are told are that certain characteristics are the defining characteristics of a cult, but we are not offered a critical appraisal of the very notion of a cult, which would do well to avoid unnecessary fear-mongering and give us an informed idea of what we are actually talking about.

    My second main concern relates to the first which, taken together, points to the elephant in the room: the Buddhist concept of emptiness. How Matthew can criticize using all these labels without even alluding to the concept of emptiness is something I find baffling, especially considering the fact that he claims to have been a part of the community himself at one time. But more on this in a minute.

  18. Jacob Kyle says:

    My second concern is regarding Matthew’s continuing return to a notion of the “mentally ill”. This concern relates to an overall one I have with contemporary culture, in that this culture, in its appeal to mental illness, endorses a historically contingent notion of “normality” that is both culturally and emotionally leveling. In other words, what is this supposedly objective notion of “normal behavior” that is serving as a ruler for the various points Matthew makes about McNally and Thorson‘s abnormal, red-flag behavior? Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to imply that there are not certainly actions which point to an individual’s need to seek help from healthcare professionals (nor that ritualized stabbing isn’t one of them!). Obviously, people suffer from emotional imbalances that should be treated. But there is a difference between what should be properly considered as a mental illness and what should be addressed at the level of worldview. Of course, many statements by McNally that Matthew quoted, taken out of context, sound like the ravings of a mad women. But read within the larger context of a spiritual vocabulary and worldview, perhaps to some they are still disturbing, but they are nevertheless intelligible. Of course, everyone knows that the line is fine between spiritualized discourse and psychologically-questionable diatribe; some would even argue that what constitutes the difference is entirely ambiguous, for hasn’t the historically recent emergence of “psychology” and “psychotherapy” as disciplines in many ways supplanted religion and spirituality as the preferred vehicle for the working-through or transcendence of psychical issues? For example, were we to import this modern notion of Western mental health into a pre-invasion Native American community, our doctors would almost certainly diagnose shamans, medicine men, and like spiritual practitioners as mentally ill. All of them would almost certainly be considered as suffering from the kind of “delusions of grandeur” that Matthew takes to be characteristic of mental decline. The same applies to other current non-Western cultures. Furthermore, I don’t imagine it would be very difficult for a mental health advocate to make the case, if he/she were so determined, that a yogi’s claim to divinity is itself a delusion of grandeur. Should we then send all the om-ing, lotus-legged vegans to the loony bin for mental assessment? Well, perhaps.

    Again, my comments are not meant to say that McNally should not visit a mental health professional. Given all the things this poor woman has gone through, she no doubt should. But she should for the sake of a well-rounded, multi-faceted approach to life, not because the modern mental health industry is the only way to properly deal with psychological phenomena. And that is what distinguishes Matthew’s argument: he presupposes that there is something “objective”, “true”, and “real” about the concepts and worldview that he endorses. Of course, the problem is that, for those who meditate on emptiness, nothing is objective, so Matthew’s views can be seen by many Buddhists as no more than the subjective projections of an individual who speaks from a place of relative cultural indoctrination, at least when it comes to concepts like “cult” and the “mental”.

  19. Jacob Kyle says:

    I think that Matthew would have spear-headed a much more fruitful discussion if he had addressed Roach’s community not from a place of vilifying condemnation, but at the level of their own truth, which would have been to take the issue of emptiness seriously and to engage in a discussion of the potential ethical consequences of seeing things as empty. For if emptiness is interpreted from a place of emotional imbalance or ignorance, it could certainly lead to the sort of problematic consequences that took place at Diamond Mountain. I, for one, in my short time engaging with the notion of emptiness, have many times returned to this question of ethical ramifications, because, it seems to me, this is a territory that deserves much more consideration by the wider Buddhist community. Seeing the world as empty must be acknowledged as, yes, quite liberating, but also potentially dangerous to many. It is a far from innocuous concept, and, in my view, most who grapple with it are not approaching it with the kind of well-rounded philosophical and emotional sophistication that is required for enlightened understanding. For example, there are numerous reasons why the pen analogy so common to Geshe Michael’s teachings is a weak and problematic one, yet it is ceaselessly regurgitated by teachers in this lineage as the epitomizing analogy of emptiness. That a dog chews on what a human writes with is hardly radical or illuminating, yet it is packaged as if it is a life-altering realization. For some, perhaps it is, but my concern is that this reductive and simplistic notion of emptiness might lead to a certain kind of ignorance rather than enlightenment, and new students should be both skeptical and wary.

    There is much room for inappropriate interpretations when a tradition that arose in another historical cultural context is transplanted into a cultural context with its own particular history and sociological patterns. In their eagerness for the exotic East, Westerners on the path do a grave disservice to themselves by turning their backs on their own historical traditions. By doing so, they do not, of course, somehow relieve themselves from the influences of their heritage. Rather, they drive it underground, pushing it into the unconscious where it simmers and hisses like a sleeping serpent, waiting for the most inconvenient of times to awaken and shock us out of our fantasies.

  20. HighlySkeptical says:

    Matthew:

    Of course the Board and the followers of Roach have all clammed up. Thorson’s death could still be ruled a negligent homicide, for which they could be criminally responsible. All we seem to firmly know is that McNally stabbed him and then he shows up dead weeks later. If everyone wasn’t so resolutely being defensive and “spiritual,” the authorities would have to take a good hard look at the case as a criminal matter. Which they should.

    I’ll take issue with your points above. Why do you call for various Buddhist leaders to get involved in this cult’s affairs? Why not the Arizona police? A man actually died, after all, under highly mysterious circumstances, while in the company of McNally’s who appears to have believed herself to have become a “different kind of Being.” People who believe themselves to be God are usually extremely mentally ill.

    Where is McNally, why isn’t she in the hospital or the custody of the police? Who is shielding her from these legitimate questions?

    Don’t back down before the followers of Roach – they have an obvious financial and legal interest in hushing the whole thing up. Although they are victims of his cult abusiveness, like most cult members, they will lash out to protect their group identity. The criminal aspects only raise the stakes for them.

    Keep up the pressure and pour the sunshine in. Good work so far.

  21. Student of Dharma says:

    I have been a student of Geshe Michael for almost 7 years and Geshe MIchael has taught me how to become a kinder person and has helped me increase my compassion for others and myself immensely. Throughout these seven years I have traveled with him around the world, Asia and South America. He has treated me with incredible kindness and has touched my heart deeply. I have also been a student of the Dharma for almost a decade and a student of yoga for many years. The late Diado Loori Roshi (zen master of the mountains and rivers order), also a great luminary of our time was my first Dharma teacher who I also see as a completely remarkable being. I feel fortunate to have been able to study with these beings and many other wonderful Gelugpla Lamas of Tibetan Buddhism from a wide range of centers. FPMT included. I continue to do this while studying with Geshe hla.

    This article aside from being filled with incorrect statements was written at a time when a group of people are mourning the loss of a dear friend. We should all do our best to put compassion into practice.

  22. @visvavajra says:

    Hi Matthew,

    I noticed one more very minor item that needs corection: you said "the Dalai Lama, the head of their own lineage".

    I'm assuming the lineage you meant is Gelugpa. However, the Dalai Lama is not the head of Gelugpa, the actual head is the Ganden Tripa.

  23. Allison says:

    I think I saw another Allison on here and it's not me, Allison D. Just being clear. I did not post a 'yay' to this firebomb.

  24. Paul says:

    I have no independent knowledge of these events, and I have no bias in favor of or opposed to DM or Geshe Michael. The extent of my involvement with Geshe Michael is that I have read some of his books and like them, and I attended one teaching given by him and Lama Christie, which was very inspiring. I have no idea what actually happened over the past few months beyond what is reported in all the letters and articles that have come out recently, and my reaction is simply to offer prayers and blessings to everyone involved.

    Matthew Remski claims to have grown up a little bit since he left Geshe Michael, and I have no reason to disbelieve that. But his article was not written by a grown-up (nor was it written by an authentic teacher of yoga, which Mr. Remski claims to be), and consequently it is not credible. I am not disagreeing with, or even expressing any opinion about, the facts he offers or his conclusions or his recommendations. From where I sit, I am not qualified to make those judgments. But I am qualified to react to the tone and use of language in Mr. Remski's article, all the way from the title to the last line of the piece. A grown-up (or a real teacher of yoga) who shared Mr. Remski's views would have made the same points with dispassion, discernment and objectivity. Instead, Mr. Remski has contributed to the noise and confusion of avidya. That is regrettable.

  25. Chaiwallah says:

    This is yet another sad and disgraceful episode that gives Dharma a bad name. I much appreciate the invitation to "community mentors" to step up and offer advice. As a founder of Jamyang Study Group (originally formed as affiliated to FPMT but no longer so; Patron: His Holiness the Dalai Lama) and many other Buddhist and Tibet-related groups since the 1970s, and as 'Chaiwallah' at the Urgyen Fiends Chai Khana on the Old Dharamsala Wallahs, I shall consult my community and convey whatever good advice comes up. Obviously, the first thing for the board to do would be to unequivocally censure Roach and remove him forthwith from all positions and connections with the organisation, and secondly to issue a statement detailing the steps that are being taken to rectify the situation.

  26. Ekan says:

    What happened to the picture of Ian?

  27. Another Perspective says:

    Hi Matthew,
    I am curious if you have ever visited Diamond Mountain for yourself. I wonder this mainly because of the idea presented in your piece that DM is resistant to outside influences and teachers. When DM was running as a "university", I stayed there for a full term, and often visited for parts of terms (I live in Tucson, so it was easy for me). There were often teachers from outside the DM community: martial arts teachers, yoga teachers, and even Geshe Lothar, from Sera Mey Monastery.
    Geshe Michael and some students of his actually had a program to send young people over to study at Sera Mey Monastery every year. My fiance and I were able to participate in this program, and to study with the monks at Sera Mey in India for about a month in 2008/2009. They organized this and helped us raise funds for the trip. I know many others who also participated in this program. This does not seem like isolation from other Buddhist communities to me!
    As far as the "secret-ism" at DM – the teachings of Tantra are meant to be secret for those who have not shown themselves to be well-versed in the teachings of Buddhism. At Sera Mey, I was not allowed to participate in or view a Tantric ceremony, because I had not received Tantric initiation or teachings. Would you also accuse Sera Mey monastery of being a cult? How about Gyu Mey Tantric college?

    One other point I would like to address – you seem to imply that teachers at DM bully students into not questioning what is being taught. My experience has been quite the opposite! DM strove to keep traditional Tibetan debate alive and well. There is a designated debate ground at DM, and debate night was a time when we were all encouraged to question everything we'd heard. I studied debate/logic at DM, at Sera Mey, and at Three Jewels Tucson ( a Dharma center run by the same lineage). Yes, a dynamic teacher with many followers may entice people to be less questioning, but I cannot count how many times I have been told to question the teachings for myself by people of the DM community.
    Does this mean there are no wrong views amongst DM students? – or course not! One person commented here that they were told not to question Geshe Michael and Lama Christie's qualifications for teaching. If this is true it does seem quite crazy to me – I have always been strongly encouraged to find out as much as a can about a teacher's credentials! (and that encouragement came from people of the DM community, and indeed there are guidelines for checking out a teacher in ACI Course 1)

    Anyway, I couldn't resist putting in my 2 cents. I hope it is at least somewhat beneficial.

  28. Geronimo says:

    Figuring or studying Buddhism and workings of Karma are admission that one wants to get stronger mentally, spiritually, and (with yoga) physically. Through service to others one learns that they will benefit karmicly. These realizations in our modern consumerist society usually occur to the lucky retired in this country because we have to work so hard to pay for everything and then get two weeks vacation (whereas the Europeans get six weeks vacation)

    The tragedy of Ian’s death is made worse with your aspersions that he was mentally ill and now practically demand the mental check up of everyone associated with this “organization”

    I wonder when geronimo prayed for guidance on the same land that Ian died on and probably to understand the forces that drive and swallow up individuals in this unique and valuable system called The United States…..whether he got the same answer to follow big daddy’s rules or the Father in the Sky to make oneself happy….but at least in this country and unlike any other country I know about we can search for these rules with real answers because of all the People who made Karmic sacrifices for me and Ian and even you….GMR is a holy person and everyone that I have met in this organization has the best ultimate intentions…..

  29. Roberto says:

    Let the air out of your worthless bags of skin, all of you.

  30. Manhattan Tara says:

    For shame Elephant Journal. That you would publish something whose obvious intent is to slander and cause harm to others is surprising. In the year that I’ve followed the various writers on here I have NEVER read something that seems more fit for the National Enquirer. Should questions be asked in this situation? Yes! A man has died. But ask with compassion. Op-Ed or not, it’s obvious this author has an agenda. The sensational nature of this article makes me heartsick. If this is the type of journalism I can expect in the future I will not be renewing my membership to this site.

  31. Geronimo says:

    I am really wondering if the vow of celibacy applies to some monks or all. I am sad and disappointed about Ian’s death ……does this middle way need to be called the Liberal Way or left way? I am disillusioned with questions about everything including the poorly written article that is disguised journalism and awful but the Boards responses are are almost as poor….there needs to be some clear clarification about the boundaries of this middle way in the USA after we find out what really happened. I am just so sad for Ian and everyone associated with it; be it directly or indirectly…

  32. Padma Kadag says:

    The Geshe was very familiar with Ian's "character flaws", or psychosis, for sometime prior to the retreat. The Geshe admits and mentions this prior knowledge in his official statement. If the Geshe were acting out of wisdom and just plain common sense, he would not have put Ian in retreat either individually and certainly not in a group especially when you consider the nature of Ian's apparent "issues". I do not know the Geshe nor do I know Ian. All of my information regarding Ian's less than normal behavior comes from the Geshe and "Lama" Christy's own descriptions which were seemingly well known prior to his admittance to retreat. This is the problem if we are to point at one. This failure in judgement by the leaders of DM is the root of the cause.

  33. Ben says:

    These have been my questions from the beginning:

    If Ian had a history of violence with women, why was he allowed to go into three year retreat with Christie?
    Did anyone make sure it was safe for him to do so and, if so, who and how did they determine this?
    Was Christie aware of his history and was she advised on how to deal with violent behavior if it arose?
    Was Christie's belief (I am inclined to use the word "delusion") that Ian's violent behavior was a example of a "Divine Being" engaged in "Divine play" a result of the stresses of deep retreat or a result of teachings given at DMU and considered the proper way to interpret a violent spouse?
    If someone else in the retreat came to Christie with reports of another retreatant being violent or delusional, would she have advised them that it was "Divine play"?
    Why was she in charge?

  34. anonymous says:

    Just putting out there what people often tend to exclude: partner practice is actually a high spiritual practice practiced by many monks. There are several remarks That imply that Geshe Michael broke his vows through his partnership with McNally. The Dalai Lama has also spoken in reference to his spiritual partnerships that involve a consort/spiritual partnership. The “banishment of GM” notably came about when he publicly displayed his partnership.

  35. Warren Clarke says:

    The "Dharma Wheel" site is running a fair bit of erroneous speculation and misinformation. I couldn't make it through their complicated blogging process, so I'll see if I can straighten stuff out here. Time line: the letter that Christie wrote six weeks ago from the cave was published on Facebook only days before Ian's tragic death. Christie had passed the letter to another (never mind whom) to post it for her. How did Ian die of dehydration if there was water in the cave? He had passed out from delirium in the searing heat and died in his sleep.—–As for neighbor Jerry (hey, hi Jer, I was over at your place with K– a couple times; she's doing great in the retreat, got her garden goin' good) the illegals and drugs have pretty much stopped coming through since all the retreat valley construction activity began. I know. I used to pick up all the garbage they'd leave way up every remote wash, huge bagsfull. There ain't no more. As for potential instability among the retreatants, don't worry on their behalf. The volunteers know who they are, oh yeah, and the largest problem at the moment appears to be overeating, not a big deal. They are a hardy bunch up there. Yes, D. S. would have been the man for the rescue job, but he got yanked out already last year during the Big Freeze when the pipes all cracked, bless him. We let him be. The government had three helicopters and a huge crew of search and rescue people bivouacked at Ft. Bowie.

  36. Arly says:

    You've already stated that you're not qualified as a journalist even though you 'report' from available sources. I appreciate a person's right to state facts and ask questions, even throw in an opinion, in efforts to make something known of which the public may be not aware.

    You have no idea how much respect I have for speaking up in situations where speaking may not be encouraged or even suppressed. But you have been irresponsible to a high degree.

    It's the tone of your 'piece' and your dogged attachment to any favorable comment and pat dismissal of any conflicting opinion as irrelevant. You have done nothing but blame, throw shit, insult, and whine in your piece. You don't correct the article, leaving it intact to deliver your original hysterical message only adding corrections at the bottom.

    You change your facts at the bottom, but never change your opinion. At all. Oh my gosh, they live like slaves in tents! Oh, no they don't. Well, it is still neglect and a cult.

    They alienate their families, well, I'm just generalizing here, I have no real anecdotal evidence of that. But even though that's the mark of a cult and may not be happening here *sputter sputter* it's a cult.

    You have been very irresponsible.

    I was waiting, dear Matthew, I was waiting for someone with balls to stand up and say I'm confused, can you help me understand. I was hoping someone who had heartfelt questions would come forward to say help me because this is more than my practice explains.

    I don't expect everyone to be confused. It sounds like many practitioners are helping each other, are being supportive of family and friends, are still grieving as well or holding the event as a type of ascension. But there will be some. And you could have done such a great service by opening up and just saying you were angry or confused or heartbroken or any number of things you and others might be feeling. But instead of asking What's the problem here, you decided what the problem was and ever since you have not let go to any other idea.

    There will be no real discussion here. You have written your 'piece' in such a way as to continue to infect with your opinion based on half truths. And your corrections are not complete nor are they in the right place. And they are not all minor.

    You have been very irresponsible. You have incited hysteria and not once have you revised the actual material nor corrected your opinion based on these corrections. Before they were corrected, these facts were the reasons that supported your conclusion. Once corrected, they were 'minor'. You have been irresponsible and continue to be. You are behaving in a sad, small manner. There is no courage here.

    Elephant Journal should be ashamed of itself. You should be ashamed of yourself, Matthew. If you had as much fervor for justice as you say, you would have been on a plane within hours and visited the police and filed a complaint demanding an investigation. But you just sit comfortable and safe behind a keyboard making stuff up as you see fit. You don't have questions, Matthew, you have blaming statements.

    Not everyone seems to have been thrown into a state of confusion.

    But I am waiting still. I am waiting for someone to say they are hurting and want to know how they can understand this thing. That at least would be honest.

  37. jerry says:

    A few notes:
    Read "Darkness at Noon" sometime of get thrown in the hole for a while.You will fear for these ordinary people infected with "magic thinking" too
    Temps in Bowie April 2012…it just wasn't that hot (until the day Ian Died) note the cave is 1000 plus feet above where these readings were taken he died because "the experiment" made them make bad choices that weakened them…who is next?
    DS should have been "bothered' he would have gotten you guys to the cave with the evened out dirt floor (only one) and now will come out of this a new man but knowing he wasn't given the choice to help save ian yet he was brought out to fix frozen pipes!!!! wtf,

    Hey i admit we like most of the people up there but really do wish "the Crummy Carnival That Never Leaves" would just pack up and go. it is an eysore from out place….If a western facade of a Fort was built on the road to a Temple in Tibet monks would hate it.We feel the same about a temple on the road to the Fort Bowie.The site of a meeting of some of the greatest warriors (on both sides) of the 19th century.All this spiritual stuff about the Apaches is great but remember they had a whole separate language for the art of war.They are the ultimate badasses.

    The retreat is called The Three Year Retreat For Peace" Fail!!!! End it

    The drug Smuggling danger is not over Krentz was shot 20 miles to the east for finding some bales.There was a car chase between two group last month by our ranch,Locks have been shot off at night with AK47s…it is not safe Warren…you just don't get out enough

  38. Nancy Allen says:

    All of this has really helped illustrate what Geshe Michael always tried to teach about the emptiness of a Lama. To me, he is one of the kindest people I have ever had the honor to be near. All I have seen is a being who, morning until very late at night, non-stop, works for others. He teaches two things – kindness and wisdom, and that they are two sides of the same coin. When he isn't teaching, he is translating ancient texts. When he isn't teaching or translating, he is making people happy in some way.

    I have been a student of his since 2004. i can easily say that these teachings are not in any way "neo-Buddhist." They always reference a Sutra or commentary. They are clear and thorough and if followed correctly, they help you to be a better, kinder person.

  39. taj says:

    Your obvious anger, which clouds clear thinking, would be reason enough to hold your words until you calmed down. Then you might be able to get the facts straight and leave behind the assumptions and vicious attack of people’s character. Your valid points get lost in the muddle of emotional attack.
    I have been to several religious centers and found Diamond Mountain to be the most free and open of them all. When you go there, there is virtually no pressure to conform or participate and open discussion and disagreement is encouraged. Debate is a big part of the curriculum. Whether you attend classes and teachings is totally up to you. Most of the people I have known there have regular contact with their families and are not estranged as you suggest.
    All of the retreaters are free to leave at any time. You say; Retreatants are sworn to silence by retreat protocol. You, as a teacher of yoga, probably have some knowledge of the inner body and the benefits of keeping silence for periods of time. Many traditions have this practice of keeping silence which is in no way equivalent to suppression of opinion or subordination to authority. The retreaters are in silence but communicate by writing and are free to say whatever they want in that format. I am in touch with one of the retreaters who sends me notes regularly about things he needs. When the news of the potential domestic abuse came out, he was concerned about how his family would feel and advised me that if they were upset he would send them news of how he was doing.
    It is sad to me that you said such derogatory things about Ian, who you have very little current knowledge of, in an open forum where his family, who are in deep grieving, are likely to see it. You have slandered his character based on events from 12 years ago and assumptions of his present state of mind.
    The idea that you could judge these peoples mental states from afar is absurd. (untreated psychosis- insanity – spiritually induced delusions of grandeur, magical thinking, denial, and Stockholm Syndrome symptoms) Are you a trained psychologist? Did you consult a trained Psychiatrist before making this diagnosis? Perhaps you have; negligently misdiagnosed or made an: unqualified diagnosis Are you dealing with facts or just spewing venom?
    You seem to have missed the fact that as soon as the Diamond Mountain board of directors heard about what seemed to be abusive behavior, they consulted the police as well as got psychological evaluations to the best of their ability with no cooperation from the people involved. They then, with great sadness, compassion and concern, removed Lam Christie and Ian from the position of retreat leaders. You say you need to protect the retreaters; there are about 35 people at this moment in deep seclusion in the Arizona desert under the influence of a woman who appears to have gone insane. You obviously, in your deeply emotional state, missed the fact that the retreaters are no longer under the influence of these two people. Perhaps you should be subjected to a psychological evaluation since you are exhibiting anger and aggression which does not seem to be based in fact.

  40. taj says:

    You also reach into the past to support your accusations with unrelated incidents. I learned long ago that to bring the past into a current situation acts only to fuel emotion and cloud anyone’s ability to clearly discern the facts of the current situation. This does not mean that the past has no bearing on the present but certainly people can and do change. Because I pushed someone as a toddler does not mean I am prone to violence now. Because I once cheated on a relationship does not mean I would do it again. Perhaps I learned from my mistakes of the past and to keep bringing them up doesn’t help. Much of your diatribe is based on events of 12 years ago. Are you the same as you were 12 years ago and should we diagnose your current state of mind based on how we perceived your state of mind then, as though you had not done years of self reflection and therapy? Perhaps even though you seem to have changed, you might slip back into some previous behaviors so we shouldn’t give you the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps because you were subject to cult mentality then, you are not qualified to be a yoga teacher now.
    Just because someone is odd or holds odd beliefs does not mean they are mentally ill.
    It is not an easy thing to predict when someone’s angry outbursts will lead to violent actions or when a mind will slip into instability. I have known many angry people who have not gone over the edge into violent actions. Are you suggesting that if someone has angry outbursts, we as a culture immediately put them in a mental hospital for evaluation? If we could predict violence, there would be no more violence and our prisons would be empty. Also in cases where violence is likely, we are not able to take away someone’s personal rights until they actually commit a crime. I have known several people who work in adult and child protective services and there are very strict rules on how and when to intervene so as not to take away basic human rights. These are not easy or clear cut decisions. In this case, when the evidence of potential domestic abuse was presented to the police, they chose not to take action. Are you suggesting that you, from many miles away with no personal knowledge of the evidence are better equipped to make an evaluation than the local police? Perhaps we should blame the police for the outcome because they made a decision which turned out badly. Or perhaps we should blame you for not taking action sooner given that you forsaw the insanity and did nothing about it.
    You present your case as though it is easy to make decisions in situations like this and that well thought out decisions will always turn out nicely. Have you never made a decision to the best of your ability only to have it turn out badly? There are accidents happening everyday in which the people involved carry a lot of guilt over how they could have done something differently to have avoided it.
    Yes, investigating is important. To the best of my knowledge, there is currently an investigation into the incident by the local police. The Diamond Mountain Board is also investigating the details. There is a lot of agonizing over the decisions made, how it could have been different and how to proceed. Many have offered care and concern. A meeting was held where open questioning was invited and candid answers were supplied. Some asked questions similar to some of yours and they were answered clearly.
    I for one find it far easier to accept concern and advice when it is presented in a coherent and non accusatory fashion, especially if I am in a tense situation in the first place. When someone is obviously angry and is spewing nasty accusations along with incorrect information, it is hard to listen to any wisdom which may be buried inside the ugliness. I am sorry that your heart is so wounded. If you truly wish to be helpful, perhaps you should present your ideas without all the venom.

  41. randolphr says:

    Very absorbing to say the least. My only add here is that questioning the full scope of meaning or authenticity of a letter written by the office of HH the DL is an assertion that seems to stand on scant and almost desperate reasoning.

    Despite the very sad and awful nature of this story in all it's complexity, that the contributors here have far more than generally kept to a genuine focus of communication is very admirable. Heartening, even. Strengthening within the here and now and of the going forward.

  42. Arly says:

    to rebut: to expose the falsity of (PART ONE)

    PARAGRAPH 1: "stabbed him, presumably in self-defense" She already said it was an accident. So presumably means: this will incite the public quickly, even though presumably means there is no actual evidence of this yet. Falsity.

    "without adequate psychiatric, medical, and community care" According to Christie's letter, they were well enough to attend meetings and meet with retreaters. Scratch the need for medical care. The local professional authorities didn't seem to consider the previous year's alleged domestic violence issue to be of concern; scratch the need for psychiatric care. Community care seems to have been given in the form of attendants, travel arrangements, phones, and money. Doesn't look like they were dumped by the side of the road or anything. Falsity.

    2: "The Cochise County Sheriff's spokesperson has ruled out foul play so far, but the investigation is ongoing." There is no ongoing investigation according to the Cochise county sheriff's office as per a comment below. Falsity.

    "deeper causes involve religious fanaticism, untreated psychosis…etc" Someone who sounds like he was around at the time comments they both were sick with some flu and succumbed to the intense heat of the cave even though they had water. Okay, death by stupid camping choice? You make it sound like the coroner is going to list your opinions as cause of death. Falsity.

    "This full legal and medical investigation is warranted immediately" Legal and medical professionals don't seem to think so. Falsity.

    4: "without malice." Are you f-ing kidding? You've already presented 3 outright lies and malicious innuendos. Er I mean presumptions. Opinions? Well, they are definitely not facts so I'll stick with: are you f-ing kidding? FALSITY.

    "encourage an immediate investigation" Well, you're certainly encouraging the right people. A bunch of people on the web who either hate the place or love the place, none of whom have the authority to open any such investigation and aren't going to leave the comfort of their own homes to do so even if they could. Good call, Matthew. This shows Matthew's false intent. He's not asking for something he can get. He's just stirring the pot.

    "amplify our ongoing discussion of what constitutes grounded, empathetic, and useful spirituality" Because after all, you and I were just shooting the breeze on your porch when we got the news. Who is "our"? What discussion? Falsity. Useful spirituality? Hitler thought judaism and catholicism were not useful spirituality. What exactly are you advocating here?

    continued:

  43. Arly says:

    PART TWO

    "I want to put pressure on the Board" That doesn't sound conducive to a working relationship and according to you they haven't answered 14 of your emails. Some people don't like to be pressured. Have you thought of sending a sympathy card, just to let them know you care as much as you say you do? Not a falsity, but a stupidity.

    "writing in the hope of softening the grip I believe Roach has upon his followers" NOW you're talking. That's one of the few honest things you've said. It's personal. You have issues. You want other people to agree with your issues. You just rebutted your own ENTIRE "piece" with this.

    5: "secrecy endemic to cults" Maybe they won't talk to you because they just don't like you. Most cult members are so hell-bent on endlessly verbally assaulting me with their happiness, I have to show them my vampire fangs to scare them away. You haven't established this IS a cult so down boy. Falsity.

    "a considered view" It's not considered. It's absolute. If it were considered, by definition, at least one of your ideas would have changed or been bent a bit due to the addition of the many corrections you have been given. Corrections to items you once saw as cornerstones of your arguments, but once corrected, now become "minor" points according to you. Falsity.

    "skilled inquiry both journalistic and legal" Admission that your own "piece" is not skilled, not journalism, and not legal. Agreed.

    "I will be careful to qualify…with seem…presumably…I believe" The very fact that you've already used the word "cult" without the words "seem" "presumably" or "I believe" kind of proves you have one agenda here. It's all your opinion. Why not just say calmly: "I read 3 documents and a couple of newspaper articles online. WTF? I want to know if everyone's okay?" I believe that would be seem honest. Presumably. Falsity.

    6: "I will correct in the text itself" Then why are all the corrections at the end of the page where the reader isn't going to see them until they've already been assimilated into your skewed reality? Falsity.

    I'm not going to bother with the rest. Matthew Remski has used an event that hasn't resulted in any legal or medical blame to DM as the catalyst for his unresolved issues, motivating him to call for an investigation which he wants someone else to administer because he is not qualified. Without a criminal connection between this event and DM, what is his "piece" about? Unresolved personal issues aimed at something he's no longer even a part of. Take away everything about the death of Ian Thorson in this "piece" and see what's left. Personal vendetta.

    Next episode: Cults – Does DM measure up?

  44. Arly says:

    PART THREE

    CHARISMATIC LEADER

    Has anyone seen Geshe Michael Roach? Google him. Watch some videos. He's, you know, nice. Now Google charismatic people. I got Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, David Lee Roth, and Winston Churchill.

    I think we're done with that one.

    CULT MEMBERS GET A NEW IDENTITY BASED ON THE GROUP

    Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, and Cary Grant got new names. Catholic nuns get a new name. Jesus got a new name. The bible says – he shall be called Emanual. Matthew Remski got a refuge name. Well, I guess it takes one to know one. So which buddhist cult are you in Matthew? So DM people, are you known by any cult names? Because if one of you is called Hugh Jackman, I'm joining. I didn't think so. Moving on.

    MEMBERS ARE SUBJECT TO ENTRAPMENT, ISOLATION FROM FRIENDS, RELATIVES, MAINSTREAM CULTURE, AND THEIR ACCESS TO INFORMATION IS SEVERELY CONTROLLED

    Most of these people seem to live normal lives, work, have families and live in numerous cities across the globe. Not much isolation going on. Except the retreat of course, but then isn't that the purpose of retreat? And we've already heard those that want to are in contact with family and friends.

    I have heard that Geshe Michael Roach taught people to stop reading newspapers on a daily basis to maintain some peace of mind. Have you seen the political news his students post on Facebook? Doesn't look like they took their cult law seriously. Moving on.

    THE LEADER IS NOT ACCOUNTABLE TO ANY AUTHORITIES

    Geshe Michael Roach seems to be accountable to the IRS and the county where DM is. DM's finances are on the web for anyone to see. They did go to the police. Also seems like the retreat houses met some kind of state imposed building codes. Moving on.

    THE GROUP IS PREOCCUPIED WITH MAKING MONEY

    Have you seen the pictures of this place? Staff and visitors live in tents and yurts. Show me the money. Geshe Michael Roach has also said something about owning an old Volvo. Probably because it's so charismatic. Moving on.

    MEMBERS ARE EXPECTED TO DEVOTE INORDINATE AMOUNTS OF TIME TO THE GROUP AND GROUP-RELATED ACTIVITIES

    But they live at home. With their families. And they go to work. :-/ Moving on.

  45. Arly says:

    PART FOUR

    MOST TRUE BELIEVERS FEEL THERE CAN BE NO OUTSIDE LIFE

    Read the above. Almost no one lives at this center. No one seems to want to. Did you see the pictures? They all live in New York and Asheville and Portland and lots of really beautiful places. (Hey, I did my research.) Moving on.

    LEADERSHIP INDUCES FEELINGS OF SHAME AND DOUBT

    Not according to comments here. It seems that one's religious beliefs are quite respected and one is free to come and go as one pleases. The only members who have professed to feeling shame and doubt are the ones who've left and gone into therapy to resolve their unrelated personal issues. Moving on.

    THE GROUP CLAIMS BEING SPECIAL, ON A SPECIAL MISSION TO SAVE HUMANITY

    "Presumably" Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King did the same thing. Alright, one point for the cult. Because you're losing and I feel sorry for you, Remski.

    MEMBERS RECEIVE WHAT SEEMS TO BE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE FROM A CHARISMATIC LEADER OR GROUP

    We've covered charismatic. So I should really throw this one out but since the pro-cult movement is losing, I'm going to give it a mercy point.

    What's wrong exactly with unconditional love and acceptance?

    Children must belong to cults because their parents (who are charismatic, give you your name and identity, isolate you from friends they don't like, control access to TV and the world, are preoccupied with making money, expect children to devote inordinate amounts of time to homework and housework, induce feelings of shame and guilt if children don't, and claim they alone can save you because they know what's best for you) most assuredly fit the profile of cult leaders. Is Matthew Remski willing to concede that a family is a cult because it meets more criteria than DM?

    Except parents don't even love their kids unconditionally.

    Two points for the cult. Eight points against.

    Sorry DM. I won't be joining. I was looking for a cult. And you don't meet my needs.

    No matter what self-serving dribble Matthew Remski believes he seemingly presumes about cults.

    PS: On the matter of the safety of the retreaters and of the teacher who has so recently lost her husband: I offer my sincerest condolences and hope that any needs the organization may have to keep people safe are being reviewed and met.

    I am not angry at Matthew Remski. I am startled, horrified, taken aback, aghast, shocked, bewildered, sickened, saddened, appalled and dismayed by Matthew Remksi and everyone who has unflinchingly agreed with him regardless of the fact that this "piece" is riddled with unproven innuendo and personally motivated criticism.

    I appreciate a good question. It's just too bad he didn't ask one. I presume to believe that it shouldn't seem as if he has.

    May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,
    May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,
    May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering,
    May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.

  46. Jared says:

    I've read through the entire article, both letters, all the comments so far, the rebuttal by John, and all of those comments. Fantastic discussion. In full disclosure, I am a semi-student of GMR, attending some shorter retreats, doing a few ACI courses, etc. – but I do not have a lama, financial investment, or any kind of other interest in this topic besides deciding whether or not to continue to study under GMR's system. Unfortunately there is little objectivity, so I've been trying to balance the attacks and counter-attacks.

    While I find the presentation and tone of this article objectionable, the larger discussion has brought up some important points that I hope some of GMR's students might address.

    Integrity: Lama Christie appears to have lost her bearings and her letter appears, to me, indefensible for a high practitioner. GMR has repeatedly said, and echoes in his letter, that students should not receive higher teachings without getting the foundations down first. He has also said, that on occasion there are 'special students' to whom you can introduce tantra, so long as you make sure to go back to the foundations – which he made special reference to Lama Christie. GMR said that in these cases, you must be very careful, and that you are taking responsibility for that student's welfare. Therefore, by GMR's own standards, he has failed in the proper care of Lama Christie.

    This point is particularly troubling when I consider that GMR deceived the public into believing he was in solitude, while actually living with LC. Now I don't expect GMR to be perfect, and I can understand if things moved quickly and some relationship developed. I can even understand him hiding this fact until after the retreat ended. But where rubber meets to road for me is the speed at which LC became a 'lama', how GMR made extremely strong claims without evidence in order to maintain lineage status, and how I see tantric studies being encouraged rather quickly in the school. It feels as if something occurred between GMR and LC on that first retreat that was in defiance of orthodoxy – but in order to maintain some status, LC was bestowed title too quickly and a new system had to be developed that justified the relationship. Something just doesn't fit. Either provide evidence that you've had the realizations you claim (though by listening to some of his speeches, it appears he admits to having a way to go on his own path) or have the guts to come out and stand by what you believe in. But don't try to wiggle around the system to maintain lineage authority. I want a lama that is willing to stand up, be honest, and fight for what he/she believes is right. There is another Lama famous for sexual deviance, but he was not afraid to admit it. That's what I mean by integrity.

    To me, this account makes most sense. LC is perhaps unqualified and loose with the teachings because GMR's reputation depended upon him granting her a status of 'lama' prematurely. This may have affected her own ego and made further teachings difficult – in particular the fundamentals.

    This loose attitude seems rather pervasive in the school now. They say 'there aren't enough doctors in the field'. Yoga knowledge is sufficient for Tantra. Teachers often speaking that they notice corruptions taking form. Perhaps there is a consequence to fast-food Dharma…

    I could be mistaken. If so, I would welcome any students of GMR to correct my errors or to help shed light on some of these mysteries. If not, I would hope that GMR come clean with the entire story – thereby regaining my respect.

    I do not however, feel there is any kind of cultish, power obsession going on. I see no reason to suspect ill-intent on the part of GMR, nor DM. There is value in his teachings, courses, and system. But integrity is Wedge that separates good teachers from great leaders.

  47. Thick as a Brick says:

    In the style you so enjoy using, there are two points to make here: One, there is unbiased, objective writing and reporting, and Two, there is ax grinding biased opinion blasting. This definitely falls into the latter and as such is difficult to take seriously. Nice to know you "care" so much about others with no agenda. Hope this generates nice publicity for your "yoga 2.0". Next time try not to write with such anger and judgement :)

  48. aguse says:

    noone is questioning its existence. however, it doesnt say what you pretend it says.
    for example, its not a public letter. PRIVATE COMMUNICATION DOES NOT FIT THE DEFINITION OF A CENSURE.
    SORRY.

    furthermore, what His Holiness himself has written contradicts what the letter says. it is possible for a monk to practice with a consort and maintain his vows.

  49. Cassie says:

    To Arly.

    For someone who requested Matthew to use less anger in his post, you certainly use the word “f-ing” a lot, which if I’m not mistaken, stands for “fucking”, a pretty angry word, in general. Let’s let all of us pots and kettles call all of the other pots and kettles black, and then get on with asking ourselves if the drama whirlwind that surrounds DM makes sense, when everyone’s final goal is supposedly enlightenment.

  50. tenpel says:

    BTW, a real Geshe from Sera, who studied with Roach in Sera, and who is teaching in Monastery Nalanda / France said, that Roach studied all together not more than 4 years at Sera monastery. His title was given as an honorific title for his financial sponsorship.

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