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: write@elephantjournal.com.

~

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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716 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.

    • cathywaveyoga says:

      good for you fo rpointing the potential for libel defamation etc.. it is scary that one can be so intent on exposure and possibly with some validity .. but to go overboard in accusations.. opens another legal ground

    • surya says:

      This just seems like an intimidation tactic to silence Matthew. Again it only serves to cast Michael Roaches followers in a bad light.

      • Arly says:

        If you were concerned, you wouldn't be hiding behind your computer. You'd be calling police and local authorities and filing a complaint. It's pretty easy to point fingers from thousands of miles away isn't it? And who says I'm a "follower"?

    • Phurba says:

      "Why don't these folks just get to do retreat?"

      I guess you missed the part where someone was stabbed 3 times, and then ended up dead a few months later?

      • Arly says:

        So why should their retreat be thwarted? If they had done nothing wrong, probably didn't know about the events of March 2011 until the February 2012 teaching, if they were going along nicely not being involved in the drama, why should their retreat end? If this happened in the apartment next to yours, should I be calling for an evacuation of your entire building? Are you part of an incident of which you may know nothing? Leave them alone.

        Why are you people so hell bent on disturbing someone else's retreat. it doesn't sound like these people even knew there was this soap opera going on between these two people. Except for the medical person, who will either explain to the medical establishment that it was nothing or was something and then take the consequences of not reporting.

        • anon says:

          After the way the situation with Christie and Ian was handled, people are concerned that DM is more interested in its reputation than the care of those people whose welfare is in their hands. Look how quickly the website was whitewashed of references to Christie. Although she is clearly in need of support and compassion, it seems her community has not done right by her. There are recovering drug addicts in retreat right now. Are they getting the appropriate care and support? If there were more domestic abuse among retreatants, would that be handled better than Christie and Ian were? These are not hypotheticals. A man has died.

    • NoLimitNigga says:

      Oooh, you're a lawyer. Scary.

      Mentally ill? Anyone can spot a crazy person. Someone who doesn't know a knife can hurt someone is at best someone with "issues".

      Qualifications to lead a retreat? GMR has said in an interview that there is really no tradition of retreat in his lineage. Tell that to the Gelukpa 3 year retreatants in Wisconsin, who know good and well that there is such a tradition in the Gelukpa lineage. He never did a traditional retreat so he wasn't competent to lead one. End of discussion.

      GMR's and LC's "retreat" had a large component of yoga, ballet, playing music and chanting. Not so much structure. GMR has violated minor vows by retaining long hair and so forth. He gets a letter of reprimand from his teacher and sells it as a vote of confidence. He claims not to enjoy eating. Clearly a liar. Claims not to enjoy sexual activity, but claims to have masturbated since taking his monk's vows. Why masturbate if not for pleasure? Clearly a liar.

      Threatening legal action is the first and last refuge of someone fighting a losing argument on the internet. Hitler would never have done that. That's right, I did NOT compare you to Hitler. I win.

  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.

    • Arly says:

      Addendum: I find it fascinating that you will take the word of this madman, this mind-controlling charismatic charlatan when it suits your purposes but otherwise call him a liar. You take every morsel of his open letter that suggests domestic violence, mental illness, and the history of a deceased person who can no longer speak for himself and a woman who will speak to no one at present. This hearsay you will swallow whole to further your own ends. You believe what Geshe Michael Roach has said about these two people in his retreat only because it furthers your damning opinion when in fact, you profess to disbelieve anything he has to say.

      This is not buddhist practice. Nowhere does the Conqueror encourage His students to be buddhist police. Sit down and meditate. Do your own practice. You will NEVER be able to convince anyone EVER that seeking to destroy by lies and groundless allegation is a loving buddhist practice. You will NEVER be able to convince anyone EVER that to protect living beings, you must first plaster the web with allegations and suspicions while taking no useful action that could actually protect those living beings. You NEVER needed to do this. Any of you, all of you, could have contacted the authorities in Arizona, begun a dialogue, watchdogged the very people who could help you help the retreaters. You NEVER had to participate in slanderous and libelous activity.

      And yet you did. And you hid behind your "buddhist compassion" to make it look right.

      F*ing pathetic.

    • jerry says:

      Arly you really need to talk with Ben Brewer for a long view of Roach.
      Roach (in the real world we would call him "her Ex") in his letter is the guy trashing Ian. Without the 3 year,3 month,3 day retreat Ian would be alive… right.? George Orwell writes about the effects of isolation in a powerful way. Some people just can't handle it ( like me, like Ian and apparently his Lamas).
      You seem more interested in saving the institution while some of us are interested in the well being of the retreaters(one who have spoken to others about suicide during this retreat).
      Oh ,one more thing…when everyone talks about the Cochise county judge, keep in mind Justice of the Peace Mike Skyles is a non-lawyer in an elected job that spends most his time dealing with long haul trucker issues.He has done tractor work up in the valley for a fellow ex highway patrol officer that bladed the poor mountain to it's present sad state for DM.

      • Arly says:

        Jerry, I have no idea what your grammatically tortured paragraph is supposed to communicate.

        • Warren Clarke says:

          hey, lawyer Arly, tell ya what, whatever else you may think or be attempting to communicate yourself, Jerry knows a whole lot more about it than you do…….a whole lot more…….

          • jerry says:

            Warren i have to admit my grammar is pretty bad when i type on my phone! I have met too many Arly types up at DM..The builders,the old timers and fesh faced new comers are great people but there are a group of careerists chasing after spiritual credentials that should look at the facts a bit closer. . Full speed ahead is a great speed until you run onto the rocks.

          • Warren Clarke says:

            all kinds, all persuasions, each is an individual. there are those who have made an investment, not so much in their own personal struggle to obtain enlightenment, as in the continuing success of the lama, both in terms of years of time invested and vast amounts of cash spent or donated……..they don't want to see the ship founder upon the shoals, which is what has just happened……I have my hopes that it will be rescued, even though it is too late for Ian, but there are some egos that need to reconsider what they are up to….now i am up in colorado at the moment but happen to know that a certain resident whom the Board of Directors cannot touch told Geshe Michael at a big community meeting just a couple of days ago that he is passing out the title of 'lama' a bit too freely…..i absolutely echo this….i sent him an e-mail recently, to which he did not respond; permit me to quote myself, "Michael, you need to cut your engines, cool your wings, come back here and sit still for six months."

  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.

    • matthew says:

      I agree, Peter, about the ability to discern flawlessly. But both political and especially academic structures treasure their built-in checks on power: democracy and peer-review. These two mechanisms are at the heart of my calls to the Board.

  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.

    • Arly says:

      They say where there's smoke there's fire. And that's the premise you're working on; where's there's no conclusion drawn, there's you and your reasoning born from a cataclysmic dearth of logic. Consider, however, that sometimes there's smoke without actual fire. Like when I exhale from a drag on a cigar. No fire in my mouth, right? Yet, there's the smoke. Cool magic trick, huh?

      And do you want to know the coolest part? I just insulted you and called you a moron and you didn't even know it.

      And that's why no one cares about your ridiculous opinion based on someone else's slander.

    • cathywaveyoga says:

      I read the article and check back for updates and to get clarity for myself. This is the first comment I have seen which essentially accuses murder. has anyone else noticed? This is scary.

      • matthew says:

        This is the first comment. It is purely speculative. The Sheriff of Cochise is not pursuing foul play. The attention should be focused on the Board, in my opinion.

        • jerry says:

          he might have just taken a tumble too(in his weakened condition) i heard he showed signs of head trauma. i can't picture that little pumpkin head killing anyone…getting confused and sitting there spaced out yes, Not knowing how to operate the gps beacon yes… keep in mind this isn't CSI country up here

          • Warren Clarke says:

            Christie's got a reputation for wrath, to be sure, but when she made the call she was freaked out. 6 A.M, "He's not breathing!"!

            Arly, you are an 'armchair' lawyer with all your derisive dribble and onslaught of opinions.

  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/

    • matthew says:

      I remember this. To be fair: it seems to be a brief initiative, and the site seems abandoned. In my memory, Roach's devotees have given birth to many start-ups that have not gained traction. This one for obvious reasons that I think any Women's Studies profs would have field day with.

      • Tara Jolie says:

        These lady lamas are actively teaching as "Lamas", just not together using that website.

        • matthew says:

          I see your point. The title is being used currently.

          • jerry says:

            . Lisette Garcia looks like the lady that left the retreat she shared boyfriend …It would be interesting to hear from her…I'm sure we will as this thing works it's way along

          • ekanthomason says:

            Jerry – where did you see her? When did she leave? She is such a sweet woman

          • jerry says:

            well it sure looked like her…long time ago..If I'm wrong she has a twin in Town at Phils store

          • nancy allen says:

            Lisette Garcia is still in retreat.

    • Nancy Allen says:

      what exactly is your problem with the Lady Lamas?
      now you are just making judgments of others who are sincerely trying to pass on the teachings to benefit others. what is your intention?

      • Phurba says:

        I think the issue is that a bunch of people, ladies or not, are suddenly calling themselves Lamas, –who have hardly any real time or study of authentic dharma under their belts… sincerity aside, if they are not qualified — from the perspective of the holders of the lineage they are purportedly trying to transmit from– then there is a problem there. GMR has completely alienated himself from his own Gurus, and doesn't seem to respect their opinions. I can't judge in any ultimate sense, but from appearances alone that sure makes him look like a samaya-breaker. In which case, anyone associated with him will not be benefiting others, but corrupting the dharma and sacrificing their own precious human births. I truly hope this is not the case, I have no stake in this and only wish that anyone associated with this group does indeed attain enlightenment in this life. However, it truly looks problematic, for so so many reasons, I think this last tragic event and the story around it is just a breaking point, where many of us who have been alarmed and concerned for the last 5 or 10 years are now more worried than ever. And not just for the group, but for the larger transmission of dharma to the west… degenerations create obstacles for all.

    • Tara Jolie says:

      The site is suddenly taken down now…

    • surya says:

      I wonder who took it down. Was it one of the women on the site or by someone else? What would be the reason if doing so?

      • CAVEGIRL says:

        This is very strange since Deana's comments were just taken of the DM blog today also after they wer posted here..
        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.
        May 11, 2012 12:19 PM

        This is really strange!!! Someone is watching and has gone into serious suppress all info mode!

      • Tara Jolie says:

        I agree with Cavegirl, someone is monitoring and trying to control info on the internet. How interesting…

  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.

    • matthew says:

      Rugbymurf: thanks for parachuting in. Like many other critics of this post, you present a libertarian position I admire in some ways, but that unfortunately serves the circular and insulated worldview of the group, which is bound by its charitable status to public transparency and democratic governance (i.e., not under the spiritual director's thumb). Do you really believe they should not have been offered or committed to psychiatric evaluation, especially after reading McNally's letter, and after Roach's admission of Thorson's violent outbursts reaching back over the years? Do you really evict a "sensitive" soul without contacting his family or intervening in some way into the relationship that has become obviously dangerous, perhaps through Title 36?

      If I could have published anonymously and responsibly at the same time, I would have done so. It's not about me getting attention. It's about attention finally being paid to a self-authorizing power structure that leads people into the desert under a solipsistic and self-aggrandizing metaphysics, and o, while being tax-exempt, no less.

      I haven't alleged conspiracy. The problem of intentionality is at the heart of the group-dynamic here. Everyone says that they are free: that doesn't make it so. As devotion rises, critical thinking tends to fall.

      And yes, my subsequent experience in yet another cult-like environment gave me a very clear picture of what's going on in venues of social-spiritual control. I'll write about that someday as well.

  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.

    • Phurba says:

      woah… well, Jerry, they might not speak out, but why don't you? If you heard these stories, and feel they are an important and compelling reason to investigate DM then it would be negligent to not speak out. I understand if you want to respect your cousins wish to not disclose them publicly, but you are not stuck by the same code of commitment to Roach as they are…if that is what is compelling them to stay silent. They would probably be relieved if you spoke out, and take the burden off them, even if they wouldn't admit it.

    • matthew says:

      This is a stunning post. jerry, are you the cousin, or is deana? I agree with Phurba that you are not bound by the same group-secrecy. familial privacy is another matter, of course. but perhaps if you publish what you know anonymously it might begin to loosen the official narrative a bit, while preserving familial trust? It is a hard situation to be in: no doubt. My warmest regards go to your family in such a difficult time.

      • jerry says:

        Sorry it was late..this came from Matt (world weary retreat worker) blog http://diamondmountain.blogspot.com/
        comment 4

        • Arly says:

          This comment seems to have been removed and I would very much like to hear what Deana has experienced first hand of these events.

          I am not opposed to facts. I am opposed to all this hysterical finger pointing. Facts people. Facts, not hearsay. Even Geshe Michael Roach's letter is hearsay. No one has been diagnosed with mental illness. No legal charges of violent behavior or domestic violence have been witnessed and investigated.

          Remember, this whole domestic violence label was attached to the event by people who were not there, did not hear it, did not treat it. They decided it was domestic violence and reported it to a sheriff's department who said it didn't even warrant an investigation, which means they didn't agree that it was actually domestic violence.

          Again, not saying there was not an incident that the community should look into. I'm just pointing out there are a lot of opinions being thrown around on both sides that are not professional, not timely, and not legally verified.

          Calling for answers by asserting more speculation is fruitless. Calling for an investigation would have been a sound and reasonable action that Matthew could have taken. I'm not against that. I have no vested interest in this group of people nor in defending them. This piece of writing simply has no credibility as a call to action. It's libelous and personally motivated as an attack. There is no critical thinking and does not serve the purpose of opening up an investigation into alleged crimes.

          • matthew says:

            i did call for an investigation, based upon available sources and my own personal experience and the opinion I derive from it. Independent investigation is now coming, in the form of national media, in part based upon our exposure here.

            Arly, thank you for returning to the comments, minus the abusive tone. You've written enough from a clear point-of-view that I'd suggest you post your own article on this site — Waylon has invited this — and then your version of a call to responsibility would be available for all to see.

    • Tara Jolie says:

      Jerry, do you know this "Ben" person who keep getting mentioned? The one who knows Geshe Michael's true color? And has a letter GM written to trash Ian? I really really wish people who more insider information are not afraid to speak out. Is there a way to be able to talk to him and encourage him to write?

      • Jerry says:

        I am surprised he hasn't spoken out yet…Ben Brewer….He and his family know no first hand information on this retreat but was the on site designer of retreat valley, he tried to set things right years ago then left (200k less in the bank)…..he needs to put out his information.The higher ups at Diamond Mountain all have different pieces of the puzzle…..works to keep things "in house"

    • Pax says:

      It looks like this comment was removed from the blog by Deana. I just checked it. Did she receive pressure to rmove it?

    • Pax says:

      Hi Jerry,

      It looks like the comment from Deana was removed from the blog. So the plot thickens! Do you know Deana was she coerced into removing her comment?

      • Phurba says:

        It may not even have been her that removed it… just because it says so don't make it so. I would hope if there's any investigative reporting actually done on this, the reporter tries to contact this Deana.

  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?

    • Phurba says:

      when did he claim that?

      • Tara Jolie says:

        Don't have the exact date Phurba. It was after his three year retreat. He "admitted" it to his senior students at the Diamond Mountain.

      • matthew says:

        he published a poem sometime between 2003 and 2006, addressed to his lineage masters, explaining his consort practice. one of the verses says something like: "I achieved the path of seeing". but i no longer have the poem. someone out there must.

        • Phurba says:

          yeah, but that's just the first bhumi.. i was aware of that.. hadn't heard he'd claimed to be on the 8th

          • Tara Jolie says:

            GM did not make a public claim of the 8th Bhumi. Someone leaked it and I inquired about it. He told his closest and senior students.

          • matthew says:

            woops. gotta brush up on my bhumis, clearly.

          • Tara Jolie says:

            In a few years since he last claimed 1st Bhumi, GM advanced really fast on his path…like no others…

    • Lobsang says:

      This at least appears to be a claim to the first bhumi… Someone else can expand the interpretation of my poor knowledge.

      ===
      http://thedorjeshugdengroup.files.wordpress.com/2

      16 January, 2003

      [excerpt]

      "…I would like to add that I have enclosed some small current, personal news about myself. I feel that it would be best, o highest lama, if You were to read this over before sending us Your letter of endorsement. I have never communicated these details of my personal life in their entirety to anyone in the past, but I feel that now there is some special purpose served by doing so. And at any rate I have reached an age in my life — I have just turned 50 — where I feel less constrained to speak openly about these things."

      "…Offered by the American monk, Geshe Lobsang Chunzin (Michael Roach), and his Dharma colleagues on the 17th day of December, 2002."

    • Lobsang says:

      (continued…)

      [excerpt]

      I was born in America,
      And from the age of sixteen
      Up to the present day
      Have always been under the care
      Of the Diamond Angel, Vajra Yogini.

      At the age of twenty,
      I travelled to India,
      Land of the Aryas, realized beings,
      And first met the sages of Tibet.

      And then at the age of 22,
      Despite the fact that I myself
      Had no good qualities at all,
      A seed inside of me
      Suddenly awakened, a seed
      Which was planted by the many efforts
      Of the me of my past lives,
      And by the infinite blessings
      Of my Lama.

      And so I saw ultimate reality directly,
      And I achieved bodhichitta,
      The Wish for Enlightenment:
      I entered the gate
      To the first level
      Of the bodhisattvas.

      In the hours after this experience,
      I saw that the Four Arya Truths
      Were surely true themselves,
      And I perceived that the teachings of Lord Buddha
      In general, and in particular
      Those of Je Tsongkapa,
      Were perfectly, absolutely correct.

      And so then I became ordained,
      And as a means to keep
      These teachings from ever
      Being lost in our world,
      And to spread them further still,
      I entered the diamond trade.

      What I had seen upon
      The Path of Seeing.
      For of all the objects
      In this lie of reality,
      There is only one highest metaphor
      For the ultimate reality,
      And that is the diamond.

      I labored thus for fifteen years,
      And with the income
      I tried to help preserve
      The physical Dharma
      By printing books
      And storing in computers
      Our sacred texts
      Of the Kangyur, and Tengyur,
      And writings of the Tibetan masters.

      I also did as much as I could
      To help support Tibetan monks
      Of the great monasteries
      Relocated in India.

      During this time I continued
      My studies, and in the end
      I was able to achieve
      A geshe degree of minor rank.
      And then I tried
      To bring that task
      Of the nectar of deathlessness,
      The Five Great Books,
      To people in our foreign lands.

      I completed, as well as I could,
      Many retreats in the tradition
      Of the Diamond Queen;
      And now for three years
      In isolation, in the desert
      Here in America,
      In a small Mongolian yurt,
      With a Lady, who is an emanation
      Of the Angel of Diamond, a Messenger;
      And I’ve undertaken the hardships needed
      To try to complete the two stages
      Of the secret teachings.

      So too nowadays
      To help to trigger
      The final transformation into
      The Diamond Sow herself,
      I wear my hair
      As the Angel Herself does,
      And her bracelet
      And other accoutrement
      Together with my robes.

      I know very well
      That what I have
      Described in these words
      Is very difficult to believe.
      And yet I call upon the power
      Of the truth that emptiness
      And the fact that things still work
      Are in no way contradictory;
      Upon the truth that the teachings
      Of Lord Buddha are true;
      Upon the truth that the Angel
      Herself is true;
      And upon the truth,
      O my Lama
      Of Your kindness —
      Highest Lama, may Your heart not be troubled
      Highest Lama, may this rather cause You to rejoice
      Highest Lama, may You never abandon this yogi/monk;
      May You sustain me
      Deep within Your heart
      Till the very day
      That I can achieve
      The Union of the Two.
      — written 28 years later, on my 50th birthday,
      by the American monk Michael Roach

      • Phurba says:

        "I know very well
        That what I have
        Described in these words
        Is very difficult to believe."

        Then him and his followers, such as Arly, should not be surprised when we do not. If we disregard these unbelievable claims, we are only left with the very basic actions to form a judgement. And any public teacher who is claiming to be deserving of the status of Vajra Guru is inevitably offering themselves up to be scrutinized and analyzed by the vast numbers of people who are their prospective disciples. So any article, such as this one, should not be cause for some of the hysterical and downright nasty responses it has received.

      • matthew says:

        Lobsang. So glad you found that. I haven't seen it in years.

        • Lobsang says:

          Here are the replies from the Lamas and Rinpoches as well…
          http://thedorjeshugdengroup.files.wordpress.com/2

        • Lobsang says:

          [excerpt]

          "..Just to clarify I don’t mean you have to be enlightened to do that kind of conduct, it might seem that way from the story but all it means is having high realizations and showing to others through external miracle powers. Of course I don’t mean only external miracle powers, because even Hindus can have that.

          "By showing miracle powers then other people can generate devotion and non heresy by seeing the miracle power, something external, then they can have faith in high realizations seeing that you have control and are free and whatever conduct you dodoes not have the stain of samsara.

          "If one performs those behaviors to develop people’s devotion then it is not just anordinary miracle that is needed, one needs to do a special kind of miracle, for example the 6th Dalai Lama pee-ed from the top of the Potala and just before the urine hit the ground he drew it back again inside his vajra. Also there is the story of the previous incarnation of Gonsar Rinpoche he pulled in mud through his vajra.

          "This is just my suggestion I don’t know what other Lama’s and Guru’s will advise.

          With much love and prayers,

          Lama Zopa [Rinpoche]

          • matthew says:

            Does anybody have insight into the potential politics going on behind the rest of the letters (Lama Zopa's chiding aside). I find it hard to believe that Roach could win such endorsements based upon his poem of claims.

            The letter from the caretakers says: "All but one of the letters received was in Tibetan; they were translated by Geshe Michael. We have copies of the originals for anyone who knows or is learning Tibetan; they are quite beautiful and range from calligraphy to computer Tibetan to the shorthand Tibetan correspondence scrawl that looks a little like Arabic."

            I wonder if anyone posted the originals somewhere.

          • Tara Jolie says:

            All the endorsements came from people seriously involved with Sera Mey. If there is behind scene politic to reward someone a Geshe degree based on financial contribution then why not endorse him when asked? Wasn't the monk GM sent to pretend endorsement from HHDL from Sera Mey too?

            And in addition, GM loves to "beautify" his translations…

          • Phurba says:

            Yeah, I wonder what the original Tibetan says filtered through a more objective translator. . .

    • Tara Jolie says:

      I discussed this "8th Bhumi" claim with one of those senior close student of GM, one of the new Lamas and it was confirmed that GM did make such a claim.

      • Phurba says:

        wow. ok.. well i hope these new "Lamas" wake up soon. there's just too many obvious contradictions to that claim, not to mention the original one, to not see how absurd it is when examined from the POV of any literature about what the qualities are of anyone on the various bhumis.

        • Tara Jolie says:

          Phurba, the troubling thing is those who stayed believe in him. Why would you not believe your teacher is on the 8th when you believe yourself to be somewhere on the bhumis too?

        • Tara Jolie says:

          And it was told to me that admitting his levels of attainment has nothing to do with being humble or not. If I practice "Divine Pride" harder, then I wouldn't be uncomfortable to claim my levels of attainment. Mixing practice with reality…

  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

    • Lobsang says:

      That's how he speaks, so not judging. I am curious by the statement that he's performed marriage ceremonies. I thought that ordained were not supposed to perform weddings?

    • Sherab Dorje says:

      What he says in the video is not Buddhism, he didn't learn anything like that in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. He is obviously a liar and a con.

      • Tara Jolie says:

        GM and DM teach people how to use karma to get what they want by planting seeds. Usually to samsaric desires. Do something and give something so that you can get what you really want back. The focus is not on renunciation and selfless acts. Its not Buddhism.

        ‘If you have attachment to the happiness of this life, you are not a Dharma practitioner’

        • Phurba says:

          Just to contextualize your quote: it is from a concise four lines known as "parting from the four attachments", said by Manjushri to Sachen Kunga Nyingpo– for more details and the whole quote look here: http://www.lotsawahouse.org/lojong/parting-four-a

        • Ben says:

          I liken it to the "Prosperity Churches" in the Christian community which teach that god wants Christians to have material wealth and "faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one's material wealth." (wikipedia)

          Another aspect of the teachings at DM is that if you see something undesirable in your partner, instead of dealing with it with them through discussion or counseling, you plant the karmic seeds to see a perfect partner and they will change. I've pointed out that this totally negates the thoughts, motivations and will of the other person and have been told that, no, the other person still has thoughts, motivations and will but they are all coming from you. It is a nice little solipsistic contrivance. It makes life something which can be easily manipulated and gives the practitioner total control.

          • Tara Jolie says:

            According to this teaching, Lama Christine just had to plant more karmic seeds in order to see Ian's violent outburst as perfect. It doesn't give the practitioner total control to life, it does give the practitioner an illusion of control…

          • surya says:

            I just want to point out that while there have been allusions to Ian's being violent there have been no accounts of specific acts or actions by him that have been elucidated on this website or on the Diamond mountain website. How do we no he's not being scapegoated? It would be much more convenient for Roach to blame Ian or point fingers at him than at Christie Mcnalley since he proclaimed her a lama and "consort" and it would really make his judgement look worse if she turned out to be unhinged. On the other hand how convenient would it be to blame the guy who your mistress left you for ,, especially after he's deceased. Again there are these vague allegations of violence without any actual details, dates , acts, people involved witnesses etc. Hasn't anyone else notice this? If people are going to say he was prone toward violent outbursts or there were previous incidents than lets hear some facts. what did he do to whom and when? Otherwise it's just hearsay.

          • matthew says:

            This is a really good point, surya. The reports should definitely be corroborated, as should everything in the open letter.

            As far as pressuring the Board to remove Roach to restore credibility goes, either scenario is dire. If Ian was violent, he was not a viable candidate for retreat. If he was scapegoated, this is a whole other order of ugly.

            What is most troubling from the mental health perspective is the possibility that both might be true: that his violent outbursts made him an easy scapegoat.

          • Tara Jolie says:

            It is very true surya, no evidence of Ian's violent tendency except in GM's letter. I actually lean more towards to scapegoating after a power struggle between GM and LC gone very wrong. LC's cousin reported that GM's letter is completely not true and LC is being silenced. And, there is report that a "Ben" has a letter in his possession that GM wrote to diss Ian. Ugly indeed…

          • Kevin says:

            I also feel that the specific instances of "violence" by Ian need to be elucidated. There is an unwholesome aspect of character assassination due to lack of specificity.

          • Kevin says:

            And by "instances" I mean those prior to the Great Retreat

          • Ben says:

            I know of acts of violence by Ian but I do not intend to get into details here. I also want to clarify that Ian having a history of violence does not speak to whether or not Christie was "unhinged".

            Knowing Ian's history, when I heard he was going into 3 year retreat with Christie, I asked people who also knew of his history if this didn't cause them some concern. I believe the answer I received was that Ian loved Christie greatly and they were sure Christie could handle it.

            My question is why it didn't cause more concern to those in charge at DM. At least enough so Christie could have been prepared to deal with a reemergence of violence by Ian if it occurred. Perhaps they did and she tried to make it some sort of "spiritual practice" instead.

          • Phurba says:

            I think the main question from the POV of this purportedly being an authentic 3-year drupta run by an 8th-bhumi bodhisattva, is why did this highly realized bodhisattva-in-charge not see this coming a mile away? There are failures in management, all the way to the top, most importantly the top: GM himself, who should have the insight into knowing that this was a disaster waiting to happen. This is yet another example that his grandiose claims to near-enlightenment should be discerned with incredulous skepticism. If even you Ben, who aren't making such incredible claims, sniffed this out before the retreat even began enough to ask other people, –what does it say that you had better judgement than the Lama running the retreat, and the so-called bodhisattva-geshe that made her a Lama?

          • matthew says:

            I remember this reasoning. What is so tragic about it is that counselling and conscious communication is such a profound path to tread.

            Clinically, it is borderline autistic, insofar as autism-spectrum challenges often involve a failure to develop a "theory of other minds".

            Worst of all: it does not and cannot work.

  13. ekanthomason says:

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

    • matthew says:

      Neo, in the sense of renewed, reformed, recovered/reconstructed from an idea of the past, but inevitably different.

    • ekanthomason says:

      The reason I asked is because the only references I could find to neo-buddhism on the internet, relate to the mass conversions of hindus to buddhism for questionable reasons. It relates to caste systems and neo-buddhist is their differentiating title.

  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

    • sky says:

      When I see people making claims like this – that "professionals" need to be brought in – I can't help but wonder if they've ever done retreat or at least attended teachings where retreat is discussed in detail. Like I said in an earlier post, I study Buddhism with other lamas, and while I have never done an extensive retreat of any kind, I know many people who have. And I have talked about this situation a bit with other Buddhists who aren't part of the DM sangha – just so I could try to make sense of things.

      The problem with having mental health professionals coming into the retreat is that they most likely aren't Buddhists and therefore don't have the proper framework to understand the practices done in retreat. I don't really see how it would be useful, because, frankly, they're not going to get it. I think it would be more of a hindrance than a help. If anything, the retreatants should only be checked out by someone who has an understanding of the practices and Buddhist worldview.

      And even if some "professionals" were sent in to "examine" the retreatants, it isn't the public's business to know about it. If I was in retreat and someone busted in and started psychoanalyzing me and then put that information online (regardless of whether I "checked out" or not)? That's crossing a line. It's also a breach of doctor/patient confidentiality.

      My concern for DM's retreatants is that they basically lost their lama and now are being guided through the retreat by John Brady. He's their vajra brother, not their lama. And when doing a retreat, it's best to do so with your lama present. Regardless of what you may think of Lama Christie as a teacher, the fact is, these retreatants see her as their lama, and now she is gone. This is my main concern.

      • matthew says:

        These are good points. Would you advise that Buddhist psychotherapists be invited? I think the problem I and so many have raised is that this group is not ideally administrated for adequate self-inquiry. What do you suggest?

        No one has suggested that assessments be made public, but that the process of assessing be made public, to restore credibility.

        • sky says:

          I'm not sure what I would advise specifically, but I think if anyone is going to check on the retreatants, it needs to be someone who has the proper framework of what happens in deep Buddhist retreat. So, perhaps, Buddhist psychotherapists are the best choice.

          It's a tricky situation though, because this would require people to come into the retreat and essentially disturb it. And the mind can be very sensitive when doing deep meditation for long periods of time, and too much outside stimulus can be overwhelming. So I think that's something that needs to be taken into consideration as well.

          Whatever is done, it needs to be handled with care and compassion.

  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.

    • Marie says:

      "The obvious irony is that the Dalai Lama himself only claims to be a simple monk- Quite the 180 from Michael."

      Yep — this pretty much says it all ……

  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. . .

    • matthew says:

      Phurba: thanks for bringing up a fair point. I referred to the passage in the spirit of "the devil can quote scripture", because at DM, this seems to happen to justify all kinds of stuff. as i said in my revised comment:

      "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."

      In other words, I think the value of this particular Shantideva verse is deconstructive, but that this might be an incomplete philosophical gesture, especially when it can be read to dismiss the ethics of the intersubjective. Especially a line like: "Those who injure me are really impelled by my actions." Put these words into the mouth of a civilian war casualty, and you wind up with a very distorted view.

      But I do realize that we are talking about gross misinterpretations, and my citation may not present this firmly enough. On the other hand, we have no way of measuring how widely the citation is misinterpreted. Pretty sticky stuff.

      • Phurba says:

        I think it could be argued that the fault does not lie with the original text, but with the translation, and the odd way it was excerpted. Also, when you excerpt any quote out of the context of the larger text, where it is intended to be read in order to understand it properly, it can also cause misunderstanding, obviously. You do not site the translation source, and you actually do not even reference the correct chapter: I am certain that the excerpt you give is a translation of one of the verses in chapter six, –the chapter on patience– not chapter three, which is just a tribute to the awakening mind. In chapter 6, there are many "if's" i.e., hypotheticals, to show different ways to view anger as it arises, in order to see it as the true source of harm. From my brief online research it looks like you took a translation from Kate Crosby and Andrew Skilton and conflated line 43 from Chapter 6 with line 47 from Chapter 6. So you are using a not-great translation and then conflating two different verses into one. This could be seen as intentionally manipulative. I don't think that's an honest way to critique Shantideva, and certainly this citation is probably not widely misinterpreted, since it isn't even a valid citation. In Batchelor's translation, which is the one used when HH the DL is teaching this text, verse 43 is "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?"
        Then there are three entire contextualizing paragraphs, before verse 47 which reads: "Having been instigated by my own actions, Those who cause me harm come into being. If by those (actions) they should fall into hell, Surely isn't it I who am destroying them?" This is clearly both on it's own and in context, an appeal to karma in the sense of interdependance, not solipsism, and a point of reflection in order to arouse compassion for someone you perceive as trying to harm you… this is a relative method, as most practices in Buddhism are methods, not examples of the ultimate experiential understanding that the philosophical texts point towards. . . It should be read in that light, and in the context of what it trying to communicate in this chapter: ways to examine one's experience in order to accomplish the perfection of patience. Again, I think your point here, especially with a mismanaged quotation, is not convincing. You have many valid points in your article, but since you offered to change things once their corrected I suggest you look at the actual Shantideva text and check against your excerpt.

        • matthew says:

          Thank you, Phurba: I concede all of your points. My citation was hasty and clearly grabbed from an unreliable source. It stuck in my mind because I actually worked on a transcript of Roach teaching from this very text 12 years ago, and in his oral commentary he conflated Shantideva's subtlety with his own solipsism.

          Even given your context and erudition, I still think the text requires a grad-level sensitivity for it to evoke a richly intersubjective point, and I wonder if it's what the world needs most at this particular point. I think there are far more palpable arguments for intersubjectivity that do not potentially diminish the true power dynamics visible in oppression.

          But my purpose is not to misrepresent in the same way Roach does, so I'll take a look at how to amend both the quote and my reasons for including it. Thank you again.

          • PAX says:

            I would have to agree with Phurba on this one. When I first read the article I was really bothered by the Shantideva quote and thought it was misused especially since you quoted it as an influence on Roach's solipsism.
            Shantideva is revered in Tibetan Buddhism as a saint and a voice of enlightenment. To drag his quote out of context into this whole sordid affair is almost blasphemous. Although I do appreciate the literary metaphor in this case it just didn't work for me.

          • matthew says:

            PAX: thanks. I think if it's misinterpreted, it can well influence Roach's solipsism. But as I've said to Phurba, I acknowledge that my commentary should be more subtle.

            One more point of interest your comment brings to mind: it is impossible for non-believers to blaspheme.

          • Pax says:

            Good point Matthew but in a non-religious context to blaspheme is equivalent to irreverence. Therefore even non-believers can blaspheme.

          • Phurba says:

            Matthew, I appreciate you conceding the points and look forward to an amending of the article to reflect that. I purposefully did not raise the issue early on, so you would be clear on my overall stance regarding the main issue, and that this specific critique regarding your article was not frivolous. Certainly, not only does the text require grad-level sensitivity, but according to the tradition it requires quite a bit more: not just a scholarly approach but a path of deep contemplation and deeper meditation, while in collaboration with a skilled guide. Unfortunately, yes you are right: the text can be twisted and manipulated by an unfit guide to suite their agenda. This is the danger of these territories, because especially in deeper waters –tantra specifically– texts are recorded in coded language that is terribly easy to misinterpret. . However, they were coded this way partly as a cautionary measure to keep them protected from those who would misuse them, to keep them dependent on an oral lineage of transmission, from guru to chela, from generation to generation. I find it much more troubling that GM is teaching tantra, apparently without the blessing of his gurus, and making a lot of other students into tantric gurus. . . but I digress. Regarding your thoughts in intersubjectivity and power dynamics of oppression: you can study this within the Tibetan political context itself: HH the DL who generally has tried to embrace a Shantideva and Ghandi style response to the colonization and oppression of Tibet by the Chinese has had plenty of opponents that are not only Tibetan, but who simultaneously revere HH. However, many have found his approach too passive, and who knows how it will unfold, but since HH has stepped back from any overt political role recently– many have risen up to protest in intense and horrifying ways, the upsurge of self-immolations inside and outside of Tibet recently and the hunger-strikers in NYC (one of which was a Gelugpa Tulku). Clearly, to sacrifice one's own life to benefit the situation in one's country, and all the people connected to it is quite an intersubjective sacrifice: there is no end-game benefit to the self. Actually, suicide is frowned upon in Buddhism, not considered such a good thing from a karmic perspective.. but there is a history of Buddhist self-immolation in China that goes quite far back, -one could even call it it's own tradition. But what is interesting is that in one sense the violence is self-contained, the paradigm of not harming others is still held with respect. I can't personally see a downside to this. As history shows, yesterday's oppressed may become tomorrow's oppressor, and vice versa. Just relieving a community from oppression may not solve any larger problems, if they then replicate unfortunate power dynamics once they're on top. A pervasive influence of Shantideva-inspired mind-training can only be of benefit in the long run, in my view, and so in that sense I would argue it is precisely what the world needs. . . a greater sense of our interdependence, and the weight of our personal actions on the entirety of the matrix.. this is necessary right now, while we watch with horror as our planet deteriorates at the whim of a very wealthy and self-serving minority, and most of us trot along because it's what is the easiest to do. . .

          • Phurba says:

            Hoping you haven't forgotten about this! (friendly reminder)

          • matthew says:

            thanks for the reminder and i apologize for the delay. i've made the edit — finally! what do you think?

          • Phurba says:

            I think that is much clearer: differentiating Roach's distortion from the intent of the original text is important. I appreciate the effort, as I am sure does Shantideva himself if he is listening in;) Just as a grammatical aside: in the last line of that graph you have an extra now ( "But now now I have to wonder "). .
            Ok, thanks again for considering my points and changing the content to reflect them. . .

  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.

    • Mari says:

      Tsering – I have known Matthew for years, and also studied very briefly with GMR in the late 90's, including organizing teachings for him in Vermont with my partner at that time (though my own lineage was Drikung Kagyu). I very much appreciate your comments, and agree that Matthew has shown a lot of integrity, mindfulness, and courage. We all must be willing to question and to call forth serious analysis. It is all too easy to get lost along the way with any esoteric path, fraught with egos that fall into the delusion of fame, and egos that fall into the delusion of needing an 'other' to save them.

  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

    • Ben says:

      From here: http://diamondmountain.org/node/33

      "Following the teachings, the DMU Board of Directors met to hold its annual elections, voting in Rob Ruisinger as president, Nicole Davis as vice-president, Scott Vacek as secretary, and Charae Sachanandani as treasurer; along with Ven Jigme Palmo (Elly van der Pas), Tim Muehlhausen and Geshe Michael as the remaining board members. The board also voted to re-affirm Geshe Michael Roach as the sole spiritual director of the university."

    • Tara Jolie says:

      DM wiped McNally off their website really fast after the fallout. She is no longer under the "Lineage" part and barely credited as a co-founder anymore…

    • anon says:

      It appears that she has also been removed from the lineage page. http://diamondmountain.org/about/lineage_and_root

        • Jeff says:

          On the day before our arrival in China we received an email from a senior staff member of His Holiness' office expressing this staff member's doubts about our viewpoints and asking us not to attend a previously scheduled program, immediately following our China tour, in the Indian town of Dharamsala, where His Holiness resides.

          We of course respected this request, and then within the same month a different senior staff member made an unannounced appearance at one of our teachings. He publicly presented both of us with the offering of the mandala before our lecture, a great honor for us as Western teachers. We believe that all this reflects a natural concern about the changes we represent, balanced by a respect for our many years of hard work to help Tibetan people and culture.

          what senior staff member of His Holiness offered them a Mandala at the beginning of there teachings??? I'm quite curious…

  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?

    • matthew says:

      A few discrepancies emerge.

      The report says that it took 9 days for Ruisinger to report the McNally's speech to the Cochise Sheriff. This contradicts many accounts that the violence was "immediately" reported.

      The report also says that deputies directly questioned the retreat doctor. This is new, and contradicts many accounts in these comments that suggest that the tsam was unbroken. Also it would seem to contradict Roach's statement that "At no time did police enter the campus property or the retreat valley." (Open Letter)

      • PAX says:

        I live here in Arizona and many people have issues with the accuracy of the Phoenix New Times. It is a free paper considered a sensationalist left wing rag (and I am left wing myself!). The previous news article states that Christie was driven to the hospital by staff members after Ian's body was flown out. There are other discrepancies here too. Great photos though!

  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

    • Kevin says:

      I agree with this description of debate and logic at DM and in the community. I deeply desired philosophic and logical dis course — pithy, unexamined statements were the level of debate.

      • Random says:

        and don't even think about mentioning that Je Tsongkhapa instigated the burning of books and the forced conversion of monks….

  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.

    • Anon says:

      +1
      Great Post!

    • matthew says:

      Ah: the high-road meta-view charging in at the tail end! Good to hear from you, IH. It always warms my heart to be out-cynic-ed.

      Yes, the Buddhist superhero team swooping in with robe-capes is a goofy stretch, but do you really think the wider Buddhist community has nothing to offer a self-isolated sect under charismatic control?

      Also: "clear cases of abuse and intentional harm" are easy targets. It's when things get really muddy and intentions are ambiguous (and recognizable in ourselves) that our outrage is forced towards greater intelligence, and crosses that line into deep empathy. What I love about this story is that it reflects and interweaves with my own. More on that later.

  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.

    • cathy says:

      Enter text right here!so wise and true.. this will also apply to John friend and the yoga scandal.. the power we give to others.. may go against us

  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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