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“Should a Buddhist university really be doing such things?”
June 6, 2012 4:49 AM   Subscribe

A three-year, three-month, three-day silent Buddhist retreat takes an unusual twist, ending in death in the desert mountains of Arizona. Previously.
posted by Gordion Knott (54 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
The monk who ran the retreat, Michael Roach, had previously run a diamond business worth tens of millions of dollars and was now promoting Buddhist principles as a path to financial prosperity...

Oh yeah. This is going to end well...
posted by Jimbob at 5:01 AM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Dammit, I was literally in the middle of creating a post about this when the server crashed. Anyway, anybody interested may want to check out these links as well.

A letter purportedly written by McNally while at the retreat raises some concerns about her mental state.

A former student of Roche has much that is critical (and speculative) to say on the case.

Page Six was on the Roche story years ago. .
posted by Diablevert at 5:02 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


From Roach's website, a blurb for his book Karmic Management:
Readable in fifty-eight minutes: Traditional Eastern wisdom and real-life business experience come together in this brief and practical guide, which offers a step-by-step plan that will help readers adopt a more successful way of working and living.
Oh American professional class, is there anything we can't corrupt into a vapid and banal religion of "success"?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 5:27 AM on June 6, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'd just finished reading that before coming here. That article seemed way out of character for the nytimes. It was something more suited for a tabloid.
posted by DarkForest at 5:29 AM on June 6, 2012


You might want to be putting "Buddhist" in quotes in this story. Roche is among those teachers who have trained with teachers in a particular lineage (in this case Gelug-pa Tibetan Buddhism), but whose actions after striking out on their own have brought cautions and reservations from former teachers. See for example this list. (The problem of Buddhism getting weird, exploitative, and dangerous in the hands of rogue western teachers is a fairly serious one.)
posted by aught at 5:35 AM on June 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


Had to give up reading halfway trough, it's like they locked three 10th graders in a room and told them not to come out until you have written an article, goddamn it.

He had described Ms. McNally for a time as his “spiritual partner,” living with him in platonic contemplation.

is a badly written and confusing way to start a paragraph, but seriously:

The authorities do not suspect foul play in Mr. Thorson’s death.

makes it all sound like a reiteration of the Yoga scare way back in 1910
posted by edgeways at 5:39 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember reading the original article, where they said they'd never be more than 15 feet apart and thinking, "Cool. But one of you is gonna end up dead."
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:41 AM on June 6, 2012


Oh American professional class, is there anything we can't corrupt into a vapid and banal religion of "success"?

Blaming either Americans or the professional class for this sort of thing is too narrow. A little study shows pretty clearly that religious ideas and ideals a) have a great deal of attraction for people, b) don't often mesh well with "worldly" concerns, and c) find ways to align themselves with those concerns within a generation or two. The history of Buddhism has plenty of examples of encouraging "lay financial success" (often passed on to religious figures) when the root Buddhist teachings actively reject such success -- other religions do, too, it's obviously difficult for a creed that doesn't align itself with power to survive.

That being said, I think this specific case is a solid example of what happens when people who are already lacking in stability explore their "inner architecture" with the "help" of even more unstable and manipulative individuals. Brad Warner, in Hardcore Zen, has a story about having this huge cosmic revelation and rushing to his teacher the next morning. The teacher told him it was basically a fantasy, interesting but unimportant. Without that kind of grounding guidance, it seems pretty easy for people to fall into crazy delusions and then spread those delusions to others who are eager for "an answer."
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:43 AM on June 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


Wow, formally censured by the Dalai Lama. "Buddhist" indeed.
posted by zangpo at 5:45 AM on June 6, 2012


I was under the impression Yoga and Buddhism weren't all that closely associated (beyond having roots in India). This sounds like the sort of "only in America" mishmash of Asian religious practice that we do so well here.

And by "well" I mean "not very well", of course.
posted by tommasz at 5:52 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


...formally censured by the Dalai Lama.

I'd imagine that's a pretty short list and I pray that I never make it to that one.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:58 AM on June 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


You might want to be putting "Buddhist" in quotes in this story.

I agree with this in theory, although, in practice, I think Buddhists have to face this sort of thing the way that Christians have to face, say, clinic bombers and the least-scrupulous charismatic preachers. They may not be "authentic" by some (or many) measures; they may be obviously deludes, wrong, or criminal; they may be creating half of their theology out of whole cloth, but they are drinking from the same well, and you can't just dismiss them with quotes. People outside the religion in question won't make such fine distinctions for one, which makes the disavowal seem disingenuous, and it becomes way to easy to shunt people who make your creed look bad into a "no true religious person" niche rather than address the potential failings and pitfalls of your own beliefs. The cult you avoid could be your own!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:06 AM on June 6, 2012 [18 favorites]


Wow, formally censured by the Dalai Lama. "Buddhist" indeed.

I read this earlier, and that was the part that jumped out at me, too. If the Dalai Lama censures you, you know you've fucked up big time.
posted by Forktine at 6:12 AM on June 6, 2012


The history of Buddhism has plenty of examples of encouraging "lay financial success" (often passed on to religious figures) when the root Buddhist teachings actively reject such success -- other religions do, too, it's obviously difficult for a creed that doesn't align itself with power to survive.

I don't disagree, but when, say, a lay Thai Buddhist businessman wants a religious edge on financial success, at least he just goes down to a wat and gives the monks some food and toiletries, and maybe offers some boiled eggs to the Buddha image or buys a lucky amulet. It seems a lot healthier to me than some kind of step-by-step-plan-encrusted Buddhist prosperity gospel.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 6:17 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's time the government started regulating these Buddhists. They're a menace to society.

Oh, and everybody else too. People are dangerous!
posted by nowhere man at 6:19 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read this earlier, and that was the part that jumped out at me, too. If the Dalai Lama censures you, you know you've fucked up big time.

Agreed; the thing is, how do you get on the Dalai Lama's shit list and still manage to market yourself as a Buddhist teacher? Seems that would be a hard thing to smooth talk yourself out of.
posted by Mooski at 6:19 AM on June 6, 2012


Maybe the Dalai Lama's shit list is only available in Classical Tibetan, and even then you have to send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Walla Walla, WA to get it.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:25 AM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Diablevert, what in the letter raises concerns about her mental state? She seemed to be rationalizing her actions, out right lying at parts (not knowing a knife could cut?) and narcissistic but I didn't read anything that made me wonder about her perception of reality.
posted by saucysault at 6:27 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems a lot healthier to me than some kind of step-by-step-plan-encrusted Buddhist prosperity gospel.

I dunno; that's a matter of degree, not kind, much the way that, while the average Christian who prays that she will get that raise is somewhat different from the hardcore "prosperity Theology" believer, the two are both asking a deity who pretty clearly said that money was at best unimportant for financial assistance.

It's more than that, though, in much the way that the Catholic Church accumulated enormous wealth during the European Middle Ages, Buddhist sects helped the downfall of the T'ang in China by assisting in tax evasion and land speculation, two fairly un-Buddhist activities. Militarized monks in Kyoto wrecked the city more than once during the Sengoku Jidai, and that's about as anti-Buddhist as you can get. So Buddhism has its share of skeletons in the closet, and ignoring or othering them doesn't exactly help you be a better Buddhist.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 AM on June 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, Buddhism isn't magically more pure than other religions.

I spent a couple of years in my twenties teaching English at a Buddhist temple in Toronto and, of course, started taking meditation and theology lessons from the monks. I connected with Buddhism very strongly and made some pretty dramatic changes to my lifestyle in accordance with the lessons, but I never really considered myself a Buddhist. Some of that was skepticism about the more metaphysical parts of the belief system, but a lot of it was just not feeling like I had committed myself fully enough quite yet. I had a long way to go before I would be able to feel truly disentangled from the material world.

I remember then, one day, being invited by the monks to attend the regular Saturday service for the temple's ordinary parishioners. At ten in the morning, hundreds of Korean-Canadians who I had never met, despite all my time at the temple, began filtering in. Sunim (the head monk) gave a brief sermon and lead us in a chant of the Diamond Sutra, we performed a handful of prostrations, and then the final gong was struck. The parishioners mingled, gave money, and said individual prayers.

My Korean was pretty bad, but I had a growing vocabulary (long gone, now, alas) and I had to ask Sunim about something I thought I had overheard. She confirmed my suspicion. One of the more common prayers involved asking Buddha for prosperity in business.

Then, about an hour after they arrived, these real Buddhists, many of them first-generation immigrants, left the temple and continued with their material lives until the following Saturday. I, on the other hand, was planning to stay at the temple another 8 hours that day, meditating and performing prostrations, but did not consider myself a true Buddhist. Because I was trying to be a monk.

Basically, what I'm saying is that this guy, Roche, is clearly a fuck. But, honestly, the fact that he pushes Buddhism as a path to professional success, while it would make many monks cringe, isn't as anathema to living Buddhist tradition as Western thought might like to think.

Imagining that to be a real Buddhist, you must live this austere existence free of selfish desire is, essentially, exoticism. It's really no different than saying that to be a real Christian, you have to live like a Franciscan monk.
posted by 256 at 6:43 AM on June 6, 2012 [37 favorites]


The authorities do not suspect foul play in Mr. Thorson’s death.

makes it all sound like a reiteration of the Yoga scare way back in 1910


In the circumstances this is ridiculously relevant information.
posted by oliverburkeman at 6:45 AM on June 6, 2012


honestly, the fact that he pushes Buddhism as a path to professional success, while it would make many monks cringe, isn't as anathema to living Buddhist tradition as Western thought might like to think.

I think you make an excellent point, but I also think that the very exoticism you identify is part of the way that Buddhism is packaged and sold to Western consumers. The prevalent inability to see Buddhism as a religion rather than a superpower is intrinsically bound up with this kind of exploitation.
posted by howfar at 7:01 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Agreed; the thing is, how do you get on the Dalai Lama's shit list and still manage to market yourself as a Buddhist teacher?

The fact that Roach got himself denounced by the Dalai Lama does make me suspect that he's some kind of jerk or moron, since by all accounts the current Dalai Lama is a pretty perceptive and generous guy.

But even within Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is not actually any sort of pope figure or ultimate spiritual authority. He's not even the official spiritual head of the lineage he belongs to. And that's just one lineage out of many.

It's tempting to look at Tibetan Buddhism as sort of the Catholicism of the Buddhist world. But I think in some ways it's less like Catholicism and more like Orthodox Judaism. There are a lot of important teachers and scholars. None of them runs the whole show, or even really pretends to. There's an awful lot of debate and Talmudic-style reasoning, and the influential teachers are the ones who do well at that sort of thing and get a reputation for being insightful and making good calls. Practitioners generally respect the opinions of teachers outside their lineage; but it's not universal, and there are all sorts of ongoing rivalries and disagreements and quibbles and so on.

So getting on the Dalai Lama's bad side is a little bit like getting on some important rabbi's bad side. It's a red flag for sure, it might lead to splits and schisms between your followers and theirs, but it doesn't actually necessarily get you run out of the larger religious movement the way excommunication would in a Catholic context.

posted by nebulawindphone at 7:11 AM on June 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


If the purported letter is actual, (Lama Christie) McNally makes a strong case against her own mental health. That she could think such a letter would convince others, is itself evidence of either her own confusion or of a community so insular, they no longer share society's standards for recognizing someone's insecurity. While it may be both, I strongly suspect it's more of the former than the latter. The degree to which she is convinced of her own righteousness is remarkable, "We are on a pure path, and we work very hard to hold the line and stay there."

The cry "Thus do I dispel untruth with my shining blade of truth!" is quite the declaration. I may have to trot that one out sometime. I'm curious to see how far it gets me.

As mentioned with the Buddhism + business, there's a whole lot of goal oriented activity here. This line about her student, "He is a great meditator, and results came very fast. Within a month, he met the partner of his dream" made me wonder if she believed the meditation would have been worth doing if there was no result of a new partner. I didn't have to wonder for very long. It's followed by her claim, "I want to give people that - the partner of their dream, everything their heart desires, all the way to heaven. And to do that, we must make sure that Tantra is practiced purely, because then it will surely work for you."

Also, I like the underlining. The Diamond Sutra could use some.

I suspect everyone involved with this has brought more pain into their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, and would have done so no matter how the external circumstances of their lives may have changed: new lover / no new lover, business success / failure. This is not a tree bearing good fruit.

-----

Imagining that to be a real Buddhist, you must live this austere existence free of selfish desire is, essentially, exoticism. It's really no different than saying that to be a real Christian, you have to live like a Franciscan monk.

Many people hold that there is a real qualitative difference between the life St. Francis led and the rest of us. He is, after all, widely considered an exemplar of Christianity. I'm not arguing that you must be a mendicant to be Buddhist, but changing one's relationship to their desires is a pretty big part of it regardless of how many Buddhists born to the religion do so or not.
posted by BigSky at 7:11 AM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


Diablevert, what in the letter raises concerns about her mental state? She seemed to be rationalizing her actions, out right lying at parts (not knowing a knife could cut?) and narcissistic but I didn't read anything that made me wonder about her perception of reality.

Well, I'm certainly not a doctor, I should make clear. Thinking it over, I probably should have phrased that otherwise.

It just struck me that anyone who could confess in public to stabbing her husband as part of a "teaching" and then write a letter like that shortly after, where they basically claim to be unclear on the concept of how knives work, is not someone whose judgement is well-suited to wandering around by themselves in the desert. The group they were with seem incredibly negligent not to have reported them missing.
posted by Diablevert at 7:17 AM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Roach's first name is Otto, right?
posted by elgilito at 7:18 AM on June 6, 2012


If the Dalai Lama censures you, you know you've fucked up big time.

Yeah, even this guy didn't get formally censured, so yeah, you have to really cross the line.
posted by Naberius at 7:18 AM on June 6, 2012


The concept of 'censure' has absolutely no meaning or place within Buddhist history. It does, however, tell you everything you need to know about Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama cult of personality. (Worth reading: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor, which has an interesting story about how worshipping the wrong spirit got some Tibetan Buddhists in trouble.)

And, yes: yoga and Buddhism have exactly zero to do with each other, save in the minds of confused Westerners who seek the exotic otherness of the East.

In short: these people in the desert be crazy.
posted by gsh at 7:33 AM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


And, yes: yoga and Buddhism have exactly zero to do with each other, save in the minds of confused Westerners who seek the exotic otherness of the East.

There's definitely something called "yoga" in Tibetan Buddhism, but my understanding is that it has relatively little to do with the Hatha Yoga exercises that most Americans think of when they talk about "yoga".
posted by ThisIsNotMe at 8:03 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's weird shit happening out in the desert.
posted by ph00dz at 8:32 AM on June 6, 2012


Tragedy at Diamond Mountain: an Update.
posted by gen at 8:46 AM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's weird shit happening out in the desert.

If you're at all familiar with that part of the country you'd know that weird sh*t is almost always going on out there.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 9:10 AM on June 6, 2012


“If the definition of a cult is to follow our spiritual leader into the desert, then we are a cult.”

Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way.
posted by nTeleKy at 9:13 AM on June 6, 2012


“If the definition of a cult is to follow our spiritual leader into the desert, then we are a cult.”

Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way.


I thought the very same thing! What a weird story with poor reporting. How did McNally lecture if the retreat was supposed to be silent? How did she post the letter online after she left the retreat with Thorson and went camping? Did she have access to electricity, are cell signals even strong enough out there to post to the internet? Also, like DarkForest, I thought the NYT article read more like the screenplay of a Lifetime TV movie than a piece of journalism.
posted by bluefly at 9:36 AM on June 6, 2012


In Buddhism it's said, over and over, that it is the students' responsibility
to determine the validity of the teacher and the teachings....even Buddha himself said this. Every religion has it's charlatans.
posted by eggtooth at 9:41 AM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't understand how a paper is supposed to be come as respected as the Times when they publish something like that. Halfway through it I was wondering when this morning I suffered the head injury as none of the sentences and paragraphs were quite making sense. I think I was going to make a comment on cults or something related to this, but now I don't know what it was. I think edgeways is right, but the kids all have ADD.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:51 AM on June 6, 2012


And, yes: yoga and Buddhism have exactly zero to do with each other

Completely misinformed. Tibetan Buddhism is characterized by the practice of various yogas. It would be more true to say that the Western suburbanite's understanding of yoga has little to do with yoga.

There is a fundamental tension in Tibetan Buddhism, which is a synthesis of tantric and monastic strains of Buddhism. The monastic side insists on sexual abstinence, at the same time as the 'highest' tantric practice involves sexual union (yab yum). Many years ago, I might have defended Geshe Michael Roache's approach as he insisted that his yab yum practice did not violate his monk's vows. From an esoteric perspective, I could accept this distinction. In fact, I might have felt that the monks who explicated the yab yum practice without having engaged in it had been lacking in conviction.
I have since experienced the breakup of the Tibetan Buddhism group I was part of, due to the behaviour of teacher - a monk, and a tantric guru, according to his own claims - with prostitutes, including young prostitutes. The letters to and from the board, and the (very well articulated) accusations and (almost pathetic) defences in this episode sounded very familiar to me.

So many western groups undergo this same process when they try to implement eastern, Buddhist, and especially Tibetan Buddhist teachings that I have come to see it as the rule, not the exception.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 11:36 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Nobody does the yab yum practices anymore....not for hundreds of years.
Of course there are yogic practices in Tibetan Buddhism...tummo, for instance.
posted by eggtooth at 12:51 PM on June 6, 2012


Don't follow leaders. Watch your parking meters.
posted by Twang at 1:26 PM on June 6, 2012


Nobody does the yab yum practices anymore

I don't even know how you might provide some evidence for this, since interviewing 'everyone' would be onerous. Certainly, Geshe Michael Roche made assertions to the contrary...I'd settle for a quote from the heads of the four main sects of Tibetan Buddhism to this effect.

Actually, your remark, and my reaction to it, point up the tension around this aspect of the teachings. I get that there has been a lot of confusion and misuse of this aspect of the teaching, but that doesn't mean that no-one has practiced it in hundreds of years.

Also, I should temper my reaction to gsh's remark about yoga, after a friend sent this link to me just now. Cause that is wrong in just the ways that gsh was pointing out.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:37 PM on June 6, 2012


"I don't even know how you might provide some evidence for this,"

I heard it from the mouth of my own teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche.
posted by eggtooth at 1:43 PM on June 6, 2012


Wait, did I miss something? I remember the 15ft apart yurt article. So did they break up, the community expanded to 35 or so and somehow she met and married the other guy (now deceased) and kept living there? Where is the middle part of the story? Actually where are the beginning and the end? How did any of this come to be?? Better go back and read more articles...
posted by bquarters at 1:45 PM on June 6, 2012


Trungpa Rinpoche said a great many things, some of them apparent contradictions. He was at least as controversial as Geshe Michael Roche (and my own teacher, who was not at all famous). I don't mean to slam your appreciation for your teacher - I really like a lot of Trungpa Rinpoche's teachings as they appear in books. But it is not as simple as Nobody does the yab yum practices anymore.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 1:56 PM on June 6, 2012


Well, as far as Tibetan Buddhism goes, the great contemporaries of his time, especially
the 16th Karmapa, considered him to be one of the greatest Masters of the 20th century....
In fact, a cute story is he came out of a dinner with the 16th Karmapa, somewhere in NYC, drunk, and fell down on his face on the sidewalk. When the Karmapa saw him, he pointed to him and said: "The best teacher we've had in a thousand years." He was serious.

So, as far as opinions about him, people have them.

But his credentials as a teacher of the dharma is undisputed by most knowledgeable people.
posted by eggtooth at 2:06 PM on June 6, 2012


so, I stick to my statement
posted by eggtooth at 2:07 PM on June 6, 2012


" some of them apparent contradictions"

this is very true.....but, unlike normal dualistic monkeys,
he saw reality as a paradox.
posted by eggtooth at 2:18 PM on June 6, 2012


It seems to me it's the charisma that confuses people into thinking a person has had some spiritual awakening. I saw Andrew Cohen (mentioned in a referred site as a probable charlatan)... he could perform "shaktipat" (bestow bliss) a hindu "siddhi, or, power....a "learned" thing, a technique.
He did it to a friend of mine, a barrista, in a coffee house in Boulder....my friend, a savvy Buddhist,
got really pissed! No...these people have some power...
posted by eggtooth at 2:32 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Trungpa called it P.O.O. = Power Over Others
posted by eggtooth at 2:38 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, did I miss something? I remember the 15ft apart yurt article. So did they break up, the community expanded to 35 or so and somehow she met and married the other guy (now deceased) and kept living there? Where is the middle part of the story?

From the New York Post, which I personally value as a shining bastion of credibility when it comes to petty gossip:
Last summer Christie left Geshe Michael for another man. Ian Thorson, a young student who had once served as the couple's attendant and delivered them food and robes, had come between them. After nearly a decade of eating off the same plate, reading the same book and never leaving one another's sight, the couple's spiritual partnership came to a dramatic end.
After that, Roach and McNally apparently continued running the retreat center together, even after McNally married Thorson. Then some of kind of trouble prompted McNally and Thorson (whose mother hired cult deprogrammers to try to separate him from the retreat center) to leave the retreat center and camp nearby, which is where the NYT article picks up.

Seems like a sad story with a sad ending.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:39 PM on June 6, 2012


This has been a very interesting post and thread. Just last night I decided to start a cult recovery blog, as this topic has been on my mind for some time now.

I like what corboykatz says here in Rick Ross' cult discussion forum:

Critical thinking (aka 'meme testing/meme busting') is the intellectual equivalent of a boundary--like a well functioning immune system.

When you lack a healthy immune system, you get sick from any alien micro-organism that comes along, because your physical boundaries are readily breached.

If you dont know how to detect and test new memes through use of critical thinking (and a capacity for healthy, appropriate annoyance when your BS detector is triggered)--then your brain will be infected by any stray meme that floats in on the cultural tide.

If you dont have a 'meme buster'--that is, critical thinking skills and tools such as Carl Sagan's Baloney Detector, you have no way to test the memes in your collection and determine which ones are truthful and which ones are just cluttering up cognitive space.

Unless you can test memes, you'll eventually get stuck with what I call 'cognitive packrat syndrome'--your inner life gets more and more cluttered up with a burgeoning jungle of memes that you've never tested and dont ever toss out, exactly the way you get more and more dust bunnies under your sofa when you neglect to clean house on a regular basis.

posted by nickyskye at 2:55 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Michael Roach situation sounds in every way like a classic cult and typical of the West's fetishizing Eastern religions. He seems like a charismatic narcissist cult leader, zigzagging from diamond businessman millionaire, robe wearing pseudo-monk with enmeshed female consort, wilderness retreat control freak to Armani suited, disco dancing with Russian model hedonist, while dragging his devotees' minds into various states of mental and social confusion. Related reading by Len Oakes: The Charismatic Personality and Prophetic Charisma as well as Eric Berne's Structure and Dynamics of Organizations and Groups, which analyzes the social dynamics of the members of a cult.

Christie McNally sounds like a classic cult devotee, as well as a cult leader herself, previously pathologically enmeshed with Roach to the point of 15 feet proximity for years (yikes). Whatever it was they had going on, it doesn't sound remotely Buddhist but more like a folie à deux, some sort of profound co-counter dependence.

She stabbed her husband 3 times in the torso but didn't know a knife could cut. What? Looney tunes right there. Her husband, Ian Thorson, had a history of violence with her so she, who considers herself to be her husband's holy teacher, takes him to a cave where he starves to death? Wtf?! Seriously nuts. Roach kicks her, his ex velcro-partner, and her new husband out of a lengthy meditation retreat with a 1 hour notice to get off the property/retreat center she helped found? Huh, sounds like he's having a hissy fit, vindictive jealousy-paranoia attack. Lethal mix.

My condolences to the family of the man, Ian Thorson, who died.

The current Dalai Lama, whose lineage has its own scandals, may verbally chasten manipulative/scandal-ridden Tibetan Buddhist teachers/cult leaders, such as Sogyal, a notorious serial sexual abuser, but then condones by going to the centers, endorsing their books, various photo ops etc. There are tens of millions of dollars being given by Westerners (here over 4 million just to one center alone) to these often grossly lavish centers, packed full of golden statues, ritual relic holders to be venerated, huge icons, Big Brother style pics, as well as the increasingly luxurious Tibetan communities or wealthy monasteries (with the tax free status of any religious group in the United States) connected with them.

In the 70's I was previously involved with Tibetan Buddhism and it is my opinion that it may have at one time, perhaps a thousand years ago, when Atisha arrived in Tibet, tried to be authentically Buddhist, but rapidly devolved into a nightmare shamanistic-theocracy mashup, based on the indigenous shamanism of Tibet, Bon, but then heavy on the monastic control of an entire country with no printing presses (except hand carved wood blocks printing only religious texts), almost no popular or secular literature, pretty much country-wide illiteracy (still still less than 25% literacy in 2003), no use of the wheel except for ritual purposes (prayer wheels), all travel up until 1959 was on horseback, no electricity, no phones, no tv, no radio, no plumbing, no secular education, no hospitals, no secular universities, Tibetan Buddhism was the state religion, almost no contact with the outside world, no newspapers, no magazines, no secular books, almost no study of science and that almost only by the wealthy or the politically connected central Lhasa families, not least a language in which the word for woman, key-min, means inferior birth.

Then when the leading proponents of Tibetan Buddhism came West in 1959, straight out of this Medieval, feudal culture with serfs, Trungpa, Sogyal and Kalu, they were all involved with sexual abuses/manipulation of their devotees, who they encouraged to worship them, kowtow on the floor to them, as living Buddhas.

A young Tibetan lama, also named Kalu, talks here recently about his having been sexually abused "by other monks", his life being threatened by his "tutor" and his disillusionment with the Tibetan Buddhist scene.

If Buddhism does take root in the West I think Stephen Batchelor's approach, Buddhism Without Beliefs, seems to be not only a healthier, saner, wiser approach but authentically Buddhist, even without some of the typically traditional beliefs, such as reincarnation (some of his online audio talks). There are excellent, non-cultic Buddhist meditation centers without gurus/devotees, such as the Vipassana meditation centers, that teach Buddhist meditation, for free, with videos on YouTube, no clap trap, no gold icons to worship, no tantric sex bs.

For those who are spiritually inclined it is, imo, important to maintain critical thinking as well as some understanding about how a cult works, not just about the cult leader but to be honest in oneself about the impulse to be a devotee.
posted by nickyskye at 3:31 PM on June 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


Saw the headline and immediately wondered if Michael Roach was somehow involved. madness.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:53 PM on June 6, 2012


How did McNally lecture if the retreat was supposed to be silent?

As an example -- in Zen retreats, sesshin, the people attending the retreat (whether monks or laypeople) remain silent, but the monitors who keep order in the meditation hall and announce whatever needs announcing speak, and the Zen teacher gives a formal talk (teisho) once a day.

There's also dokusan where you meet with the teacher privately and talk to each other, and there is chanting by everyone. It's a silent retreat in that you don't talk to (and distract) other participants.

I don't know exactly how the Diamond retreats go, but there being lectures at a silent retreat is typical.
posted by mendel at 6:53 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Michael Roach's pitch to Oprah Winfrey for "The Karma Show" reveals some of his insane charlatanism, hinting that he can magically cure cancer or his taking credit for "the karma" (whatever he may mean by that, it isn't Buddhist but some delusional New Age definition of his own), success of a billion dollar ad agency, the Kaplan Thayler Group. In the Oprah vid he dons the costume of a Tibetan monk, then in the Shanghai vid, like an Amway corporate spiel guy.

A pity Roach couldn't "fix the karma" of his former student/disciple, the now late Ian Thorson.
posted by nickyskye at 8:18 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


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