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

Via on May 4, 2012

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.

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.

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Comments

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

  1. Arly says:

    YOUR REQUESTS – PART ONE

    Matthew, I'm going to suspend all disbelief in you and ask calmly: Can you state your intentions in one or two sentences?

    Your article is so long and it has so much information that it's possible to construe a lot of intentions. But the tone is so blaming that it's difficult not to think the main issue is yours alone, some kind of blame or vendetta or something.

    Here are my honest assessments of your requests some of which are valid:

    1) It seems like someone with authority over me who wanted a cover up would not have allowed me to go to the police and notify them of any alleged problem at the center. I'm not sure this is true because of that fact. Done.

    2) a) Until it has been established as domestic violence, I would prefer to call it the alleged incident of domestic violence. There are conflicting stories.

    b) It does seem like a medical report from the doctor who treated Ian would be helpful. And if there are statements of concern from retreaters – that are pertinent – then really a local official should be asked to take statements freely offered by concerned retreaters. If there are no statements, Matthew, will you accept that?

    3) They basically did by going and reporting the alleged domestic violence as a sure incident of domestic violence. If the county or state doesn't do anything about it, it's their call. And now that someone has died, it's difficult to believe that an inquest won't be opened if anything out of the ordinary has occurred. Done.

    4) You really have to stop diagnosing people using your diploma in ayurvedic herbs. They didn't allow them to remain. After they found out, they kicked them out of the retreat. Done.

    5) They did when they went to the police once they labeled the alleged sword play as domestic violence. Done.

    6) Calling Dr. Remski. Who are you to be writing a scrip for 'residential mental health care'? It's not an eventuality. Can you maybe restate this as "Provide post-retreat financial support (housing, food, medical) for Christie McNally if needed."

    See this is the kind of language you use that just turns me off. You make this thing sound like the Inquisition, dude. It's not friendly.

    7) Again, where's your medical diploma? They haven't been deemed mentally ill by professionals as far as I can tell. So lose the attitude, please. And domestic violence hasn't been confirmed. They were being driven to a hotel or airport or something, right? I guess the assistant need a driver's license. I assume he had one. Done.

    8) You don't "report" a doctor to the medical board because you don't like his buddhist teacher. You could be sued by the doctor. What I would do that would get the same result is ask for a report from the doctor to be submitted to authorities. Then if they think there's been a mistake, that's their job to deal with the doctor on their own terms.

  2. Arly says:

    PART TWO

    9) I have all but monk's or nun's vows. And I know what they are. Not one says I can't speak up if my teacher is harming someone or asking someone or me to do something that's not okay. Maybe you've interpreted your vows that way, but I don't have a vow anywhere that says that. Done.

    I can't remember anyone saying they took a ritual vow of silence. Can you tell me where you saw that they did? They seem to be writing family and friends. Done.

    10) How do you prove someone doesn't have a history of mental illness? Do you read what you write? Can you prove you don't have a history of mental illness? How would you do that?

    Can you explain "potentially provocative meditation practices"?

    I agree, the retreat location is very isolated. If there is a student with a known (as in diagnosed by a real doctor, not you) mental health issue, this really should be addressed by the protocol from #11.

    11) If any wrong doing is uncovered by local authorities, then certainly the protocol should be made known to health officials and updated as per their recommendations. I'm not convinced that you are entitled to that information.

    "This tragedy" has not yet been established as negligence on the part of any organization to treat or care for a mentally ill person, so it has nothing to do with your request for protocols. A protocol should be there regardless.

    12) What qualifications are you looking for, Matthew? Is there a CV that will meet some standards of being a retreat leader? Can I take a certificate course in this at a local community college? Can you be more specific? This is too general and I would throw it out of my courtroom. Done.

    13) Alleged domestic violence. The organization has the right to publish any or none of its teachings, but it is odd that this is the one teaching that isn't published. The only reasons compelling them to disclose this is 1) they want to or 2) it has been subpoenaed in the investigation regarding the death of Mr. Thorson.

    14)This means nothing. You just want them to fall at your feet and say they were wrong. This accomplishes nothing but your own personal satisfaction to have them do everything you say. The document is clearly available to anyone who wants it. Throwing this one out. Done.

    15) Is there such a thing as proof that you are towing the lineage line? One gal said his Tibetan teacher in New Jersey told her to go there and study. His teacher's nephew has flown in from India a few times to teach there. Their students have been welcomed at the monastery in India. One of his students has been living with and studying with Prof. Robert Thurman.

    I'm backing away from this one. You're dangerously close to calling him an outright liar. I'm not touching this. So done.

    Items 2, 6, 8,11, and 13 have some merit but you've applied stupid erroneous reasoning to your badly stated requests.

    Here's the deal, Remski. I'm a lawyer. I've been playing here because I have a perverse sense of humor. But you could be sued easily by these people for slander, libel, defamation of character, and attempting to obstruct the public good by casting dispersion on a public institution. You attempts to practice medicine without a license by diagnosing mental illness again and again are dangerous. That's why there are laws against it.

    You have points. You are entitled to your opinions. You have a couple of reasonable requests. But you're skating on thin ice here with your allegations which is all you have. Nothing concrete. You have no case. You have no mental health records or diagnoses. In this, you have only hearsay and speculation. You have no proof of what the lady lama said at her teaching. So you are left with suspicions.

    Generally, once in retreat, we don't see that person for the length of the retreat. Asking someone to make any sense at all while in a state of deep concentration is the moral crime here. Why don't these folks just get to do retreat? No teaching. No show. Let them finish their retreat in peace. If the authorities have questions, they'll investigate.

  3. Arly says:

    Matthew, I'm going to suspend all disbelief in you and ask calmly: Can you state your intentions in one or two sentences?

    Your article is so long and it has so much information that it's possible to construe a lot of intentions. But the tone is so blaming that it's difficult not to think the main issue is yours alone, some kind of blame or vendetta or something.

    Here are my honest assessments of your requests some of which are valid:

    1) It seems like someone with authority over me who wanted a cover up would not have allowed me to go to the police and notify them of any alleged problem at the center. I'm not sure this is true because of that fact. Done.

    2) a) Until it has been established as domestic violence, I would prefer to call it the alleged incident of domestic violence. There are conflicting stories.

    b) It does seem like a medical report from the doctor who treated Ian would be helpful. And if there are statements of concern from retreaters – that are pertinent – then really a local official should be asked to take statements freely offered by concerned retreaters. If there are no statements, Matthew, will you accept that?

    3) They basically did by going and reporting the alleged domestic violence as a sure incident of domestic violence. If the county or state doesn't do anything about it, it's their call. And now that someone has died, it's difficult to believe that an inquest won't be opened if anything out of the ordinary has occurred. Done.

    4) You really have to stop diagnosing people using your diploma in ayurvedic herbs. They didn't allow them to remain. After they found out, they kicked them out of the retreat. Done.

    5) They did when they went to the police once they labeled the alleged sword play as domestic violence. Done.

    6) Calling Dr. Remski. Who are you to be writing a scrip for 'residential mental health care'? It's not an eventuality. Can you maybe restate this as "Provide post-retreat financial support (housing, food, medical) for Christie McNally if needed."

    See this is the kind of language you use that just turns me off. You make this thing sound like the Inquisition, dude. It's not friendly.

    7) Again, where's your medical diploma? They haven't been deemed mentally ill by professionals as far as I can tell. So lose the attitude, please. And domestic violence hasn't been confirmed. They were being driven to a hotel or airport or something, right? I guess the assistant need a driver's license. I assume he had one. Done.

    8) You don't "report" a doctor to the medical board because you don't like his buddhist teacher. You could be sued by the doctor. What I would do that would get the same result is ask for a report from the doctor to be submitted to authorities. Then if they think there's been a mistake, that's their job to deal with the doctor on their own terms.
    continued….

  4. Arly says:

    9) I have all but monk's or nun's vows. And I know what they are. Not one says I can't speak up if my teacher is harming someone or asking someone or me to do something that's not okay. Maybe you've interpreted your vows that way, but I don't have a vow anywhere that says that. Done.

    I can't remember anyone saying they took a ritual vow of silence. Can you tell me where you saw that they did? They seem to be writing family and friends. Done.

    10) How do you prove someone doesn't have a history of mental illness? Do you read what you write? Can you prove you don't have a history of mental illness? How would you do that?

    Can you explain "potentially provocative meditation practices"?

    I agree, the retreat location is very isolated. If there is a student with a known (as in diagnosed by a real doctor, not you) mental health issue, this really should be addressed by the protocol from #11.

    11) If any wrong doing is uncovered by local authorities, then certainly the protocol should be made known to health officials and updated as per their recommendations. I'm not convinced that you are entitled to that information.

    "This tragedy" has not yet been established as negligence on the part of any organization to treat or care for a mentally ill person, so it has nothing to do with your request for protocols. A protocol should be there regardless.

    12) What qualifications are you looking for, Matthew? Is there a CV that will meet some standards of being a retreat leader? Can I take a certificate course in this at a local community college? Can you be more specific? This is too general and I would throw it out of my courtroom. Done.

    13) Alleged domestic violence. The organization has the right to publish any or none of its teachings, but it is odd that this is the one teaching that isn't published. The only reasons compelling them to disclose this is 1) they want to or 2) it has been subpoenaed in the investigation regarding the death of Mr. Thorson.

    14)This means nothing. You just want them to fall at your feet and say they were wrong. This accomplishes nothing but your own personal satisfaction to have them do everything you say. The document is clearly available to anyone who wants it. Throwing this one out. Done.

    15) Is there such a thing as proof that you are towing the lineage line? One gal said his Tibetan teacher in New Jersey told her to go there and study. His teacher's nephew has flown in from India a few times to teach there. Their students have been welcomed at the monastery in India. One of his students has been living with and studying with Prof. Robert Thurman.

    I'm backing away from this one. You're dangerously close to calling him an outright liar. I'm not touching this. So done.

    Items 2, 6, 8,11, and 13 have some merit but you've applied stupid erroneous reasoning to your badly stated requests.

    Here's the deal, Remski. I'm a lawyer. I've been playing here because I have a perverse sense of humor. But you could be sued easily by these people for slander, libel, defamation of character, and attempting to obstruct the public good by casting dispersion on a public institution. You attempts to practice medicine without a license by diagnosing mental illness again and again are dangerous. That's why there are laws against it.

    You have points. You are entitled to your opinions. You have a couple of reasonable requests. But you're skating on thin ice here with your allegations which is all you have. Nothing concrete. You have no case. You have no mental health records or diagnoses. In this, you have only hearsay and speculation. You have no proof of what the lady lama said at her teaching. So you are left with suspicions.

    Generally, once in retreat, we don't see you for the length of the retreat. Asking someone to make any sense at all while in a state of deep concentration is the moral crime here. Why don't these folks just get to do retreat? No teaching. No show. Let them finish their retreat in peace. If the authorities have questions, they'll investigate.

  5. Peter Hoff says:

    It may very well be that there was no foul play, or even perhaps some kind of sexual experimentation going on. Perhaps the board panicked because of pressure. In sensitive psychological states, things can quickly spiral out of control. A good lesson for all, I think, is how dangerous some of these games with high stakes can get.

    I'm not sure it's entirely possible to determine the 'right' course of action. After-all, political and academic structure has its own biases to contend with, which may also resemble 'cultishness'. Hopefully we may all grow a little wiser in the wake of these events, and become more mindful of our own assumptions.

  6. Open Your Eyes says:

    The forthwith may be considered a matter of opinion but it is really just an application of basic common sense:

    I. Clear motive.

    Roach is a megalomaniac. McNally as well; she learned from the best. These are facts obvious to a casual viewer of their online videos. Roach was the odd man out in a love triangle. He saw an opportunity/need to oust McNally and Thorson and wipe his and his organization’s hands of a messy loose end. Christie in turn blamed and resented Thorson for causing her to be stripped of all of her authority and her flock and booted from her career. As she points out in her bizarre letter, she had all the power over Thorson in the relationship. Anyone meeting Thorson over the past years could tell he was long the puppet of Roach and then McNally. She admits to stabbing him. Then, out in the cave, she saw an opportunity to get free of what had become a major liability and a domestic situation no longer particularly agreeable to her. As a megalomaniac with a self-vested “spiritual” authority, she considers herself above the law or the mundane constraints of human affairs.

    II. The act.

    McNally had an emergency satellite beacon with a panic button and a cell phone. They were well stocked with victuals and water. These are not the accoutrements of a wayward soul. McNally is anything but an honest person- again, simply watch a video of her. In particular notice the affected mannerisms and faked smile. Why did she wait until Ian was dead to call for help? It only took search and rescue two hours to arrive and he was already dead when they arrived. One does not die suddenly from dehydration or intestinal infection. It takes days. She was found hardly in bad shape, good enough to be released from the hospital within a day.

    She offed him, or let him die, which is only a matter of fine distinction. This is a plain old classic love triangle / power struggle. A cliched story that plays out many times in many communities and places of business around the world. This one just happened to be in a cult. Roach and DM are negligent- you don’t claim dominion over mentally vulnerable people and then turn them out without major care. Christie is just a spouse murderer.

    Sometimes things are not as mysterious as they seem. Just plain old sad.

  7. surya says:

    all you have to do is just look at this to see how ridiculous whatever they were doing or teaching had become: http://ladylamas.wordpress.com/about/

  8. Jessie Paul says:

    I watched an interview posted by Wanderlust with Christie McNally last year where she talked about the upcoming 3 year retreat. She had a look about her that struck me as not quite there. I think it was irresponsible after the stabbing to just let these people go with no care for their welfare. Isn't compassion the number one teaching of the Buddha? Thank you for bringing some light into this situation. I wish the best for those remaining in retreat.

  9. Rugbymurf says:

    I'm petty impressed at the diligence that the DM people did regarding the stuff that went on. They contacted the authorities, asked Christie and Ian to leave and gave them an uncommon level of support, which, unfortunately, they chose not to use wisely (that's the great thing about America folks, adults can make choices!). Arly has pretty much said it all. It's so sad. DM isn't a "Cult", unless you want to say that Christianity and most religions are "Cults". The defamatory comments that have been put on this site are alarming (especially the foul play allegation). I'm neither pro nor against DM or GMR. But I respect people's right to do a treat if they wish, unmolested by someone's morbid curiosity about their personal mental health status. The authorities will no doubt do what they do.

    Seems to me that Matthew wants some attention. Oh, and that outfit "A Course In Miracles" that Matthew became a devout "follower" of for years after he left DM, now THAT'S a CULT dude! Those are some nutters! I can understand to some degree why he's scarred by his spiritual experimentation and has been waiting for an opportunity to project that stuff on to events that are really not any of his business. And under the guise of being all altruistic. Not so much.

    Let those guys heal Dude. This isn't some conspiracy. People have each others best interests at heart. It was a terrible tragedy. Now let them move on.

  10. jerry says:

    deana said…
    What amazes me is that the letter written by Michael Roach is such that he is trying to cover his a__, and that the board members, his followers, that were hand picked, by Christie (my cousin), are so easily swayed – again, validating that this cultish "spiritual" sanctuary should be investigated.
    I spent the days following Ian's death with Christie, and the stories being told in those days are so very different than what is being written by the followers of Michael Roach. I not only talked to Christie, but to her "caretakers", who have evidence that these stories are false.
    Sadly, Christie will not speak out, nor is she being allowed to, by her caretakers, because they are still "employees" of Diamond Mountain. This way Michael still has a hand in what will come about.

  11. Tara Jolie says:

    Geshe Michael claimed he is at least on the 8th Bhumi of Bodhisattva path. The Sanskrit term bhūmi literally means "ground" or "foundation", since each stage represents a level of attainment and serves as a basis for the next one. When one reaches the 1st Bhumi, one is already enlightened.

    The ten grounds of the bodhisattva are grouped within the three subsequent paths:

    Bhūmi 1: The path of seeing
    Bhūmi 2-7: The path of meditation
    Bhūmi 8-10: The path of no more learning (Here is where Geshe Michael claims he is at least at!!!)

    According to Avatamsaka Sutra, attaining bhumis 1-8 means GM rejoices at realizing a partial aspect of the truth (1st bhumi); GM is free from all defilement (2nd bhumi); GM radiates the light of wisdom (3rd bhumi); GM's radiant flame of wisdom burns away earthly desires (4th bhumi); GM surmounts the illusions of darkness, or ignorance as the Middle Way (5th bhumi); GM's supreme wisdom begins to manifest (6th bhumi); GM has rises above the states of the Two vehicles (7th bhumi); GM is Immovable as he dwells firmly in the truth of the Middle Way and cannot be perturbed by anything (8th bhumi).

    It is my opinion that GM and DM don't really practice "humbleness" as most Buddhists do. The rest of us just don't have enough "Divine Pride" to admit our level of attainments. This is another example how GM and DM mix up a wonderful way of practice "Divine Pride" to actual philosophy and reality. How can this kind of teaching not lead to magical thinking and delusions?

  12. surya says:

    Here is a video of Geshe Michae auditioning for a show on Oprah's network called "The Karma Show. He's appears totally affected and unnatural. I mean who would fall for this character? http://myown.oprah.com/audition/index.html?reques

  13. ekanthomason says:

    Matt – What is a neo-buddhist? And what do you mean by it?

  14. matthew says:

    Posted by "Ron Starbuck", on the "Rebuttal" blog, this morning:

    ________

    I'm so sorry for all involved, everyone; , Christie, Ian, their families, and everyone still involved in the Retreat for Peace.

    I'm sorry too, but this feels like something is very very wrong here, and that things in general were greatly mismanaged by the DMU leadership at many different levels.

    Hind sight is always 20/20 as they say, but I hope the leadership is moving forward with a better plan and response. DMU may may be a non-profit, but the board members are all legally bound and libel for the management of the retreat. Do they know or realize this?

    At the very least, the board members should now (immediately) hire medical and mental health professionals to be on site in a constant monitoring and evaluation of each person participating in the retreat. Required check ups should be the norm and done on a regular basis, once a month perhaps, not just once a year or every few months.

    Especially now, counseling should be offered to both the people in retreat and their caregivers. I hope that is happening, but I did not see it in any of the communications or responses I've gone through. It should be standard protocol and policy in the by-laws of the non-profit organization and general retreat rules, and management of the DMU Retreat for Peace. A lessons learned review should take place immediately and such policies, procedures, and protocol put into place immediately.

    If I were a family member of anyone participating in the three year retreat, I would be insisting on this immediately. I'm glad they can communicate with family via email, but more needs to happen I think.

    Christie and Ian should never have been allowed to go off on their own without any medical/mental professional service at hand. Especially if Ian was known to be mentally ill, unstable or unbalanced at times, or in any psychologically stress at all. Any domestic violence should have been dealt with immediately and by a professional team. It does not sound like that happened. More one thing fell through the cracks and it led to tragedy.

    When Christie and Ian went off on their own, steps should have been taken immediately, local/state/federal authorities should have been brought in to find them and bring them back into the community for proper care and transition before leaving DMU, under such medical/mental psychological team help. Saying that you are honoring their wish or did not wish to intervene in a spousal relationship/situation or their personal decision to live in a cave in the desert is unacceptable and negligent.

    Their attendants, as the primary caregivers, should have escalated this back to the Retreat for Peace Spiritual Director and he should have insisted on an intervention. It should have happened, the board should have insisted that it happen. The fact that it did not, and that it resulted in a great tragedy speaks volumes. And one wonders what communication and contact was taking place between the attendants and with Christie & Ian after they left DMU and were living in a cave. A cave? A cave without proper food, water, and sanitation. Someone was simply not thinking to allow this to happen.

    There should be a very clear cut policy and protocol, approved by a neutral medical-mental health professionals, who will monitoring a person's or couples progress through a transition back into the real world, as well as in retreat. Asking them to leave within a day or even 5 days, without them being monitored by a professional team is not only unacceptable, it's just plain wrong. Perhaps that happened, perhaps I don't have all the facts. I would of thought that someone would have mentioned it in the article and rebuttal though. Did I miss something?

    There are so many questions still. The board needs to addressed and answer those questions, assurances need to be made to families and friends of the people in retreat, and comprehensive policy/protocols need to be established immediately and posted for anyone to see. A report by a team of (neutral-third party) Medical/Mental Health Professionals need to be happen as well, it should all be completely transparent and open.

    Ron Starbuck

    Houston, Texas

  15. Bill says:

    I was involved with Michael Roach in the mid to late 90's when he was accessible in New York City's lower east side. Although, I didn't go through the entire program, I did casually attend lectures and meditations either at the outreach bookstore, the center itself or whatever school auditorium was locally rented.

    I remember parting with the group around the time they had announced Michael and a few others would be leaving for the three year Arizona retreat.

    (On a side note: I remember a contest was held for the naming of the Arizona retreat and always thought it odd that 'Diamond Mountain' coincided with Michael's diamond industry background from which will all know he made his millions. Since he chose the name, no one really 'won'. The official line, was that it had to do with the 'Diamond Cutter Sutra' which could make sense, but somehow, it did play into his mystique- but that's my two cents.)
    Prior to his retreat departure, it was understood that those of us left behind in NY would be in the great care of the students handpicked by Michael and that they had gone through 'the program' and were qualified. After attending some of these classes, my intuition flat out said- 'No they weren’t’.

    I distinctly remember the disappointment in these new 'teachers'. And it's not that I knew anything more, but I could just tell they were fumbling and unqualified.

    Years later when Michael ordained Christie McNally as Lama, she too seemed unqualified. All one has to do is watch any of her videos to see this. Unfortunately, we now have this tragic story.

    Aside from the new teachers lacking certain qualities, I also felt that perhaps they lacked that special Geshse charisma? In hindsight, I remember one special quality that Michael was endowed with but they had so lacked.

    And that was- Implied Authority.

    Many times during a lecture, Michael would describe an enlightened state or certain realizations to be expected on the ever-evolving path. But instead of speaking about the results via certain practices in an objective way, he always inferred that he had direct experience himself.

    Although, he never did say- 'I am enlightened'.

    He would always preface the experience with a phrase like- 'When you're in it… such and such happens… and then you will feel such and such… etc.'

    Harmless statements, but what made them effective was his delivery. Myself having studied method acting, I am very acquainted with something called ‘subtext’. And his subtext was always implying that 'He has been there'… and you can too someday. It's all about the tone of voice and the subtle inflections.

    Some of these experiences were pretty extraordinary. I remember it was during one of the 'Wheel of Life' lectures when he said something to the effect that- 'If one's Karma is good enough, the world around that person will literally change, and that to a 'High Level Practitioner', the very auditorium we were sitting in, wouldn't appear the same to this High Level Person, but could in fact, be experiencing the room as brightly illuminated in gold'.

    He implied that was most likely the way the Dalia Lama would see things, but also… he himself does.

    I remember being fascinated by it (and do think it is possible) but also my inner critic sent up a red flag. And that wasn't the first time either.

    In hindsight, it all makes sense given the exchange that promoted the fallout between himself and the Dalai Lama. (His claims of High Level Realization. etc.) The obvious irony is that the Dalai Lama himself only claims to be a simple monk- Quite the 180 from Michael.

    In the end, perhaps I have not only to thank my method acting for picking up his subtext without getting glossy eyed about it, but my fallen Catholic background for sending me another red flag. And that was the sense of hierarchy amongst the followers.

    I also took my Bodhisattva Vows and was deeply disturbed by the one that said something along the lines of 'not associating too closely with anyone outside the Sangha.' I remember thinking that that was just a little too cultish for me. (Albeit- it is an old oath, it just didn’t sit right within their context.)

    There was no doubt, he was in charge, and he was the enlightened pope with secret mysteries to unfold.

    But hey… don't all gurus have that quality?

    All that said- I do honestly feel that he himself is neither malicious nor dangerous in a direct sense. I do believe he means well and I doubt he would ever set out in a pre-mediated manner to accomplish some evil. But like you, I also feel, he is delusional and with that comes the problem of making a healthy choice when it comes to 'his' world and his followers… especially when there is no longer any outside authority from the ancient tradition he has forgotten about.

  16. Phurba says:

    "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?"

    Matthew– I just want to say, I think we agree on many points — but I am not so sure about dragging Shantideva into this mess. If Shantideva was to blame, I think you'd see this kind of thing in every three-year retreat that's ever happened. Seriously, it's like blaming The Beatle's "White Album" for Charlie Manson's killing spree. The above quote is in reference to logical analysis to overcome the habitual tendency of getting angry at external objects, -to rather see anger itself as the enemy. Seeing one's own negative emotions as the enemy is not something that is dangerous: indulging our negative emotions is dangerous. It doesn't recommend allowing this poor enemy that you have aroused compassion for to actually stab you– it is clear: that would result in much worse suffering for them! But it also does not recommend retaliation, or anger. So what is there to misunderstand here? You could easily read this to say, in a practical framework: learn defensive martial arts so you can disarm your "enemy" out of compassion, so he doesn't end up in the hell realms! It doesn't mean, stab him three times, to teach him a lesson, or that knives don't cut, or anything else you could relate to this situation. I think bringing Shantideva into this is not really relavent, and makes it sound like the dharma itself is at fault, and not a gross misinterpretation of it. I just don't think that's valid. Just my 2¢, once again. . .

  17. Tsering says:

    This is a huge tragedy. And it would seem it has been mishandled from the beginning. When an assault occurs in the context of a romantic partnership or familial relationship it is, de facto, domestic violence.

    I was one of Michael Roach’s early students – back in the hells kitchen days. I fled at the first whiff of his having a sexual relationship with Christie. I had nothing against it personally, I just believed he should take off his robes, as is commonly done in the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions and become a lay teacher or ngak-pa.

    What I did take issue with, in addition to the question of his vows, was the lack of respect for the power differential. There is a reason that professors can’t have relations with students, that therapists cannot engage in sex with their clients and that spiritual teachers have to be ridiculously aware of the potential for exploitation and abuse. With the exception of my closest dharma brothers, I have not in twenty years commented on GMR’s activities. But as a mental health practitioner, I think that the way this was handled demonstrated a profound lack of compassion and wise caregiving and I share the outrage of many.

    There is no doubt that GMR is well-read, engaging, provocative and dynamic a speaker. He had a beautiful ability to translate the dharma into the modern age. But at some point his narcissistic grandiosity seemed to take over. Such exploits as the Karma Show are a ridiculous and self-serving distortion of the teachings.

    I think this letter is thoughtful. I think it is important. But moreover, I think the letter was very brave.

  18. matthew says:

    Diamond Mountain website is currently offline with the error message:

    "Fatal error: Class 'PDO' not found in /home/diamondm/public_html/includes/database/database.inc on line 184"

    I have saved Roach's Open Letter and can post it somewhere for continued study, if I can get advice on any potential copyright issue there might be. An Open Letter is just that, yes? Or no?

  19. Random says:

    from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Coptic, 5th Cen., Berlin Papyrus, acquired 1895:

    "The soul found itself in the fourth Climate.
    This has seven manifestations:
    The first manifestation is Darkness,
    The second, Craving,
    The third, Ignorance,
    The fourth, Lethal Jealousy,
    The fifth, Enslavement to the Body,
    The sixth,Intoxicated Wisdom,
    The seventh, Guileful Wisdom.
    These are the seven manifestations of Wrath…

    Lama Christie's Wisdom, in her letter, is most Intoxicated.
    Geshe Michael's Wisdom, in his letter, is very Guileful."

  20. anon says:

    Is Mcnally still on the board of directors at Diamond Mountain? http://diamondmountain.org/about/board_of_directo

  21. AnnetteVictoria says:

    Now at Phoenix New Times: http://blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/valleyfever/2012

    So it seems there was no water, and they stopped eating?

  22. Jerry says:

    The County is still recovering from the financial downturn and if any DM financial backers are out there please consider making a donation to County Search and Rescue.The near helicopter crash in the difficult surroundings could have been a additional tragedy. We all need to have these peoples backs.

  23. […] was heartbreaking to read of the recent tragic events at Diamond Mountain University (DMU), the center run by Michael Roach in Arizona […]

  24. JOsh says:

    As far as cults go, DM is probably small potatoes, BUT, here's what I saw when I attended a couple of classes at the "university's" first semester (2004? 3?), and had fairly close contact with the organization for about 6 months (and none subsequent to that time):

    -obsession with developing 'light bodies', immaterial and made of light. I remember a talk where GM claimed that in the monastery they used to put needles into their arms to check their progress.

    -promises of physical immortality as the end of buddhist and yoga practice

    -conviction that jesus had travelled to hemis monastery in ladakh and that the mahayana was the eastern form of christianity (those were his literal words- i remember a thai theravada monk in attendance being quite startled at that one!)

    -extremely literal teachings on karma that attached significance to literally everything, so that he had all his students go see the da vinci code to show that the world was catching on to his way of thinking, and that a sort of new era was about to dawn. the mood was that enlightenment was imminent for everyone if they would just get the higher teachings (from him). if they didn't, then they would be missing the cosmic boat. a lot of public and semi-public tears from GM and Christie over this one.

    -from talking to students, the practice of the higher teachings involved literally hours of 'canned' reflections that came from his textbooks. meditation as i have learned and practiced in other settings was entirely absent, advanced students could barely sit still for a minute. the teachings were extended 'reflections' that involved tracing a line of argument or doctrine in detail. this isn't without precedent in buddhism or necessarily a problem, but does give him a tremendous amount of power over his students' inner lives.

    -DM makes a lot of claims that turn out to be sheer hype ("pure view"?) about members' qualifications. the most egregious to me were in regards to the scholarship. i know translators who appreciate ACIP, but DM's tibetan language and buddhist philosophy are so idiosyncratic as to be unintelligible to outsiders. GM and Christie's yoga sutra stuff is especially bad and it hurts me to see it on the bookshelves from a reputable publisher.

    -anectdotally, a former student who had also lived with khen rinpoche, GM's teacher, said that the rinpoche asked him not to read GM's commentaries on valid cognition, that they were inaccurate. i don't place a huge amount of value on this one, if it is true, on the basis that i think claims that western buddhists would be better off under asian, 'traditional' authority are misguided. they have their own unique problems and we have ours. remember that dilgo khyenste, a pillar of traditional authority, and spiritual authority as well if indeed such a thing exists, covered up for the vajra regent; from his perspective, that was the best thing to do. from mine? totally wrong.

    -i also remember GM once citing elizabeth claire prophet as an authority. her church universal and triumphant? now that was a cult! she stockpiled automatic weapons and thought grizzly bears were created by evil sorcerers. citing her in a talk doesn't implicate GM or DM in any of that, but it shows a real naivete.

    -a student told me about having heard GM claim in a talk that bad things had happened to people who spoke out against him

    -i didn't witness this, but i remember reading one of the talks from the first long retreat: GM brought up the accidental death of a little desert lizard that shared their tent. he's absolutely inconsolable in the talk. i remember being touched the first time i read that, but now it just seems kind of crazy to me.

    -and it was so strange to me that he couldn't just say he had a girlfriend. people have girlfriends, right? why make it so weird, publicly claiming that it's strictly spiritual and all that? must we care what you do or don't in the bedroom?

  25. JOsh says:

    i remember generally liking his students. they mostly seemed like the kind of cool, slightly new agey but not whacko folks you'd meet in any yoga class. there was a lot of creativity and fun, though i thought they were a bit puritanical sometimes. some seemed pretty far out, and often the most far out claims were either not brought up or left to pass without comment. the impression that i got was that they were trying to be open minded, and that questioning GM doctrine was kind of rude. the instructor of one of the courses i took (british i think, or australian. alistair? maybe he's in retreat) said on different occasions that GM was:

    -omnipotent

    -the next jesus

    -the supreme being

    as far as the practice of "debate" goes, i can say that at DM it was not in my limited experience a socratic means of arriving at understanding through mutual inquiry, but instead a wholly scripted delivery system for predetermined conclusions. candrakirti's "cup of water" (tho i think it comes from haribhadra originally? non-DM scholars feel free to correct) was brought up a lot, usually to the effect that if you see something bad, it's your own badness. if you see something good, it's your own goodness. this is not the only way to read this philosophical problem, tho i'm sure pangloss would be proud.

    i split quick from the scene, mostly because i didn't feel that DM had practices or teachings that dovetailed with what i had learned before i came, and was by that time rather invested in. but there was a kind of group think that has made me deeply uncomfortable over time. every DM student that i knew personally had a nuanced view of the group in private conversation, but on the grounds of DMU in Bowie, or at official programs, there was a right and a wrong way to think and speak about things, and people generally played along. i didn't see much outside reading. i don't think anyone had time! they were a busy bunch.

    i guess in a free society people are allowed to think screwy things, but it does make one sad to see people using their freedom to limit it so thoroughly.

    best to all, whatever that may be,
    josh

  26. NoLimitNigga says:

    She didn't know the knife could hurt anyone? End of discussion.

  27. integralhack says:

    I did a quick scan two years ago of Roach and McNally's book "The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life" and very quickly came to the conclusion that they were charlatans (the title was a BIG clue).

    People follow these types because they want to believe this crap. It isn't that far removed from The Secret crowd. They like it when it "works" (they are making money, having great sex or whatever) but disenchanted when it isn't working.

    The funny thing is that Buddha had a diagnosis and a cure for this situation–if you choose to accept this mission–that ran contrary to claims of Buddha's business management skills. It's there and freely available, but most people are just too lazy to pursue the program.

    The diagnosis is that most people always pursue the "quick fix" because they seek to avoid the pain of reality. For some DM will be a wake-up call; others will just move on to the next drug, guru, or capitalist circle jerk.

    Really, we're all just addicts (our drugs just vary), so don't be too accusatory toward DM. The notion of an elite cadre of legitimate Buddhist teachers descending upon DM and straightening out their shit is about as delusional as the bullshit that preceded it.

    Let's save the outrage for clear cases of abuse and intentional harm.

  28. integralhack says:

    That's weird: I had a comment and Matthew Remski had a response (and a good one), but both seem to be missing (removed?). In any case, I just wanted to say to Matthew thanks–sincerely–for chiding me for my "meta view:" although I may have had a good point or two the message was probably lost in my delivery.

    I did chuckle: my meta view was about as elitist as the superhero Buddhist team Matthew mentioned. An empathetic response is much more appropriate here.

  29. […] weeks after breaking this story, I thought it would be helpful to summarize the discourse around the Diamond Mountain tragedy as it […]

  30. matthew says:

    I've posted an update to this piece, which attempts to collate and explore issues raised in the 660+ comments so far:
    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/05/tragedy-at

  31. […] everyone agrees with how Diamond Mountain handled things. Matthew Remski, a former student, wrote a long post on a website called Elephant Journal questioning why, among other things, the group cast the pair […]

  32. […] on that has drawn in very helpful and informative comments (thank you all who have commented), and the original story, broken at Elephant Journal, has even more.The first, and only that I’ve seen, journalistic […]

  33. […] everyone agrees with how Diamond Mountain handled things. Matthew Remski, a former student, wrote a long post on a website called Elephant Journal questioning why, among other things, the group cast the pair […]

  34. Bernie says:

    Hello everyone,
    I have to say I don't agree with this person and the paranoia in this article, I'm sorry Matthew, I believe that Lama Christie has the most beautiful intentions.
    Too much drama for an accident. LOVE to all!

  35. […] interview, Matthew Remski, a yoga teacher from Toronto who unleashed a storm online after posting a scathing critique of Mr. Roach after Mr. Thorson’s death, described Mr. Roach as a “charismatic Buddhist […]

  36. S. Pfeiffer says:

    Thank you. Your observations about authority in cults, and how they absorb abuses by framing it as part of the plan, blurring subject/object, or attributing other spiritual meaning to it, is interesting. At the same time, I see the way a cult functions as a technology that can indeed be transformative, that can release the power of participants as they project onto the cult leader. It is certainly fantastic to be in an altered state where everything seems magical, supra-real and loaded with meaning. I had a teacher whose initiation involved explaining that his role was like that of a mirror. I understood that the power he appeared to have was the power that we gave to him. Still the group dynamic was a struggle for me. I tried to be a quiet observer for a year, but eventually decided to experiment with speaking up in my usual manner, asking a series of critical questions of our teacher publicly and not accepting what did not seem like satisfying or well thought out answers. I was asked privately, later, if I had faith in our teacher, if I was trying to destroy the organization, and to agree to not speak that way again. I took it as a signal to leave the group. It was threatening to followers who perceived it as a breach of etiquette and loss of face for my teacher. I am not sure if the structure of the cult – the belief that the teacher can do no wrong, for example – is an essential part of it's transformative ability. Perhaps this makes Tibetan Buddhism a riskier path than others. I do hope that Tibetan Buddhism has an effective peer review process to prevent abuse, and find hope in the fact that the Dalai Lama seems to be playing a role in this regard.
    One can learn a lot by taking a charismatic teacher as sacred and perfect. But teachers of Buddhism are also human, and can also turn around and do or say things in private that seem far from dignified or enlightened. Lose your self, but don't lose yourself.

  37. […] Remski, a yoga teacher fr&#959m Toronto wh&#959 unleashed a storm online &#1072ft&#1077r posting a scathing critique &#959f Mr. Roach &#1072ft&#1077r Mr. Thorson’s death, d&#1077&#1109&#1089r&#1110b&#1077d Mr. […]

  38. […] Matthew Remski, a yoga clergyman from Toronto who unleashed a charge online after posting a scathing critique of Mr. Roach after Mr. Thorson’s death, described Mr. Roach as a “charismatic Buddhist […]

  39. […] interview, Matthew Remski, a yoga teacher from Toronto who unleashed a storm online after posting a scathing critique of Mr. Roach after Mr. Thorson’s death, described Mr. Roach as a “charismatic Buddhist […]

  40. […] interview, Matthew Remski, a yoga teacher from Toronto who unleashed a storm online after posting a scathing critique[6] of Mr. Roach after Mr. Thorson’s death, described Mr. Roach as a “charismatic Buddhist […]

  41. […] Matthew Remski, a yoga clergyman from Toronto who unleashed a charge online after posting a scathing critique of Mr. Roach after Mr. Thorson’s death, described Mr. Roach as a “charismatic Buddhist […]

  42. […] which the couple left in February after participating for a little more than a year, has been painted as a cult led by diamond seller-turned-monk Michael Roach, to whom McNally had secretly been married before […]

  43. Alan says:

    As a 62 year old who, as many in my generation, has been involved in studying and practicing many of the tenets of Eastern religions (from primarily a literary / academic perspective) triggered by a trip to India in 1970, as I read Matt Remski's account, I was very struck by the clarity of his reporting and how it resonated with my own past experiences, now so far away.

    I reflected back on my various associations with Trungpa Rimpoche, Ram Dass and others and see a self that was very ungrounded and disassociated from many normal experiences and who had at least one breakdown that led to hospitalization and restraints. (to be continued. . . )

  44. Alan says:

    (continued from previous post. . . )
    In the intervening 40 years I have worked to become successfully grounded and I have led a very 'normal' life. When I read the report I was not surprised to see my own wounded and vulnerable self, desperate for a charismatic authority such as Mr. Roach, to justify my loose thinking and emotional turmoil as spiritual insight.

    Mr. Rimsky's assessment rings very true to me. I applaud him for speaking up so disspasionately and firmly and add my own hope that the paths followed by the members at Diamond Mountain will take them to a better place of spiritual fulfillment than reached by either Christie or Ian.

  45. George Tallichet says:

    A review of Roach's self-published web page definitively confirms your descriptor: "…narcissistic delusions of grandeur…" Roach is on an unbridled, massive ego trip and is a clear and present danger to others.

  46. wrappsilber says:

    how perfectly human!

  47. […] interview, Matthew Remski, a yoga teacher from Toronto who unleashed a storm online after posting a scathing critique[6] of Mr. Roach after Mr. Thorson’s death, described Mr. Roach as a “charismatic Buddhist […]

  48. […] interview, Matthew Remski, a yoga teacher from Toronto who unleashed a storm online after posting a scathing critique of Mr. Roach after Mr. Thorson’s death, described Mr. Roach as a “charismatic Buddhist […]

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