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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: walter1963 ()
Date: April 22, 2012 02:53AM

Corboy

The fact that people who are sick or traumatized have messed up perceptions and cognitize functions is nothing new. Nor should it be equated with taking a Yoga class at the local gym. For the record over the decades I've seen yoga insturctors at the gyms I've attended, not one ever had a following. As soon as class was over - boom out went the students.

What I have seen is people socializing before and after class, which is a normal function of human beings.

Biggest threats in Yoga today is over commericialization and incompetent instructors that can harm students.

The real problem is usually with people who want a specific teacher - which means a famous one or one that claims special teachings, etc. By that very act they self-selected themselves as one those who will put the teacher on a pedestal. These people run into trouble and a lot of it.

You cannot protect or help these sort of people. They either dump the nonsense of teachers on pedestals, or they live their lives, running from one teacher to another looking for the special one, etc. The New Age movement is full of this sort, who literally have a resume of who's who in the New Age guru racket.

BTW the same thing applies to LGAT's. People who attend say a NLP seminar have already before stepping through the door have given the teacher/teaching a lot of power over them. Which in turn makes it easier for manipulation to occur.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: April 22, 2012 11:50PM

As I've probably mentioned in a previous post, I started doing yoga on my own with a book many years ago as a teenager, before it became the trendy big business it has become. I didn't start practising yoga to bliss out. I was looking for a safe, enjoyable way to exercise and I liked the grace of the poses.

What I was consistently attracted to over the years was that every book I read emphasized that yoga isn't about competition, that even if you're not particularly strong or flexible, no matter how far a person is able to get into a pose they're still benefiting. You didn't have to be slim, athletic or wear special attire; it was all about going at your own pace.

So if yoga isn't supposed to be competitive or only about physical exercise, than why are yogis participating in a hatha yoga championship and why are the organizers of the event trying to get yoga into the Olympics?

The writer of this piece states that "It’s an activity that often focuses, not on competition, but exercising and respecting the limits of the body." But these people were obviously competing against one another as only three people would be chosen to go to the world championship in California in June.

It's worth clicking on the link to access the article so you can access the photos.

[www.thestar.com]

Yogis vie for Hatha dominance and a shot at the Olympics


Chantaie Allick Staff Reporter

ogis from across Eastern Canada spent Sunday bending, folding and contorting for an audience of 400 and four judges.

“It’s showing the world what yoga’s about,” said competition organizer, Andrew Moniz who runs Bikram Yoga East York. The Bikram studio sponsored the event, along with other GTA hot yoga studios.

It’s an activity that often focuses, not on competition, but exercising and respecting the limits of the body.

The Eastern Canadian Hatha Yoga Championship was held at De La Salle College in Toronto. “We’re trying to get yoga into the Olympics by having more awareness of it and showing the public what you can do with your body and inspiring the community — that’s why we do it every single year,” said Moniz.

Competitors had three minutes to perform a series of seven poses. Five of them, Standing Head to Knee, Standing Bow Pulling, Bow, Rabbit, and Stretching, were compulsory, while they had their pick of the final two poses.

A few chose balance and strength poses that had them raising their bodies off the ground with just the palms of their hands on the ground and their straining biceps and forearms to support them.

The competition illustrates what can be achieved through extended yoga practice. They stretched arms and heads through legs, extended muscled legs in the air while folding over, silently sweating and breathing deep as they vied for the cup.

The female and male winners, Teshia Maher and Marc Cote, as well as the two second place winners and a youth competitor will go on to the world championship in California in June.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: Sparky ()
Date: April 25, 2012 01:49AM

I read a New York Times article recently (a few weeks ago) that mentions yoga is not good for westerners. The Indians all sit on the ground, are flexible due to their culture. Yoga is nothing but a tad more zealous norm.

Yoga can cause serious injury (according to the article) much like chiropractic can, no matter the expertise of the instructor/doctor.

I do not have a link to the article.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: May 09, 2012 01:34AM

The article below addresses various health and fitness myths. The following sections are especially relevant re. hot yoga: "more sweat = better workout" and "sweat eliminates toxins."

I know from experience that some yoga books advocate doing the same poses day after day. It seems odd no one has mentioned that, as with any other form of physical exercise, doing the same thing every day could result in injuries and major boredom. Yoga minus all the gurus and exotic names for its various poses is just another form of exercise. The section which focuses on abs is relevant regarding yoga in general because it mentions that it's not necessary to do plank pose every day.

[www.shape.com]

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: May 30, 2012 12:13AM

As the baby boomers age they're looking for solutions to help them deal with menopause, high blood pressure, arthritis, etc. Yoga is being increasingly presented as "the answer" with little or no regard for the possible dangers.

This article acknowledges that doing yoga, like any other form of exercise, can result in injuries, especially for the most at risk -- the ageing population.

[www.thestar.com]

Yoga has healing and hurting powers
Published On Tue May 29 2012

Paola Loriggio Special to the Star

It can help ease anxiety and insomnia, relieve back aches and arthritis pain, nurse injured limbs back to health and prevent them from getting hurt in the first place.

But yoga, often touted as a gentle workout and an alternative to more intrusive therapies, can cause as much damage as it is proclaimed to heal.

And those who most need yoga’s restorative effects — older people with underlying conditions, for example — are often the most at risk, some experts say.

Many forget that yoga is, first and foremost, a form of exercise, one with the same dangers as any other sport, says Angela Growse, a Toronto physiotherapist who has experienced firsthand the unfortunate consequences of a misstep.

“People completely underestimate the potential for injury,” she says.

“It’s easy to move beyond the physiological range of the body” while performing postures, which can aggravate muscle imbalances and other weaknesses, she adds.

Torqued knees, snapped ligaments and pinched spinal discs are some of the agonizing results of a yoga class gone wrong, leading to months of misery and rehabilitation, possibly even surgery, she says.

Some damage is irreversible: for example, overstretched back ligaments can’t always bounce back, Growse says. “That laxity can limit the ability to do other activities,” she says.

Part of the blame lies with a competitive culture that spurs people to shun beginner classes in favour of more “hardcore” advanced and intense sessions, she says.

That, coupled with a lack of awareness when it comes to their own body, can lead many to push far beyond their physical limits, often with disastrous effects.

“People can’t tell the difference between muscle tension and pulling a nerve,” she says.

Muscle spasms and pain are not a normal part of yoga, she stresses.

Common culprits include basic postures such as forward bend and downward dog, both easily forced past the body’s natural range, and pigeon, which puts dangerous pressure on the knees when performed by someone swith tight hips.

Others are more complex, like reverse triangle, which places the body in a “classic disc-tearing position,” Growse says.

Despite yoga’s reputation for healing, most classes are aimed at healthy, uninjured participants. Postures that are perfectly fine for the average person may not be safe for someone with, say, carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis in the neck, she says.

Still, “yoga is wonderful when used appropriately, like any other sport,” Growse says. And reducing the risk of injury can come down to a few simple steps, she says.

Start slow: Take a beginner class instead of jumping ahead to more rigorous styles like ashtanga. Focus on form rather than speed.

Practice due diligence: Make sure you go to a reputable studio with experienced teachers.

Communicate: Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist first if you have any existing conditions. And tell the instructor before class what you can and can’t do.

Know your limits: Pay attention to physical cues. Some discomfort is OK, but pain is not.

Cross train: While beneficial, yoga shouldn’t be your only form of exercise. Balance it out with cardio and strength training.

Paola Loriggio is a freelance writer in Toronto. She owns more workout clothes than real ones.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: June 12, 2012 07:36PM

This article is a good reminder that people should be cautious and ask questions -- lots of questions -- before placing their trust in any Buddhist/spiritual/yoga teacher, especially when long retreats are involved.

[abcnews.go.com]

Buddhist Yoga Retreat Death Raises Questions

An Arizona man who was a member of a Buddhist yoga retreat that his family compared to a cult was found dead in a mountain cave in Bowie, Ariz., Tuesday, weeks after being asked to leave the sect with his wife.

When rescuers found 38-year-old Ian Thorson, he was dead, apparently from exposure and dehydration, and his wife, Christie McNally, 39, was delirious.

The two were followers of the controversial spiritual leader Michael Roach, a Princeton-educated Buddhist monk, and they had entered a mysterious descent into darkness in recent weeks that would change their lives forever. In Dec. 2010, Thorson, McNally and about 35 other people hugged their families goodbye and entered into a three-year silent meditation retreat. Thorson's family never saw him alive again.

This strange story starts more than a decade ago when Thorson, then a recent Stanford graduate, found his way into the orbit of the charismatic Roach, who made millions in the diamond business and then became a Buddhist monk.

Thorson's mother Kay and his sister Alexandra said they were immediately suspicious of Roach. Kay Thorson said she believes Roach's group is a cult and that he promised her son "enlightenment in one lifetime," asking for "total dedication" in return.

"He always seemed a little creepy to me," said Alexandra Thorson.

Roach is a highly-trained monk in the same tradition of the Dalai Lama. However, in recent years, the Dalai Lama and other Buddhists have been very critical of Roach's decisions, such as living with women when he was supposed to be celibate, growing out his hair when monks traditionally shave their heads, and building a global following of adoring acolytes.

Under the sway of Michael Roach, Ian Thorson changed dramatically, losing weight and his spirit, his family said.

"He was not his person anymore," Kay Thorson said. "He was a very independent and deep, good thinker before and he was tending to follow the group think, which is what happens gradually in a cultic situation."

"I felt like I lost a brother," Alexandra Thorson said. "He was totally changed. Before he was a frat boy, he was a surfer, he was a partier, he had jobs, he was a student. His focus just changed, I guess, like even his hugs weren't hugs. They were like shells of hugs."

Thorson's family said they called in cult deprogrammers to work with Ian after he had been with Roach's group for several years, but he ultimately returned to Roach.

Then in 2010, Thorson married Christie McNally. It was a tricky romantic decision for him because McNally was formerly Roach's spiritual companion.

"There are so many women, why would you take that one?" Alexandra Thorson said of her brother's relationship with McNally. "That was not, in my opinion, a smart move."

McNally and Roach were profiled in the New York Times, talking about how they lived together in a yurt for years and were never more than 15 feet apart at all times. They said their relationship was platonic, but public records show they were married.

When McNally and Roach later split up, Roach was reported to have been distraught.

In her relationship with Thorson, McNally continued some aspects of the extreme intimacy she had shared with Roach. For starters, she and Thorson wrote a book together about partners yoga.

"Once we do this kind of yoga together, then the next day, when we try to do a series alone, it's really, really lonely," Ian Thorson said in a 2010 video posted on Youtube.

McNally was by his side. "It's really, really lonely, yeah," she said.

Thorson's sister said the pair was always at each other's side, and they would even share the same plate at meals and read books simultaneously.

"Reading the same book, slowly, same page, waiting, and then turning the page," Alexandra Thorson said. "I don't know if you could call it intimacy. It was almost invasive. They had no personal space."

In 2010, Ian Thorson and McNally went off for a retreat at Roach's "university" in the remote Arizona desert. After saying goodbye, they settled in for three years, three months and three days of silent meditation. However, after a year and a half, the couple was asked to leave.

According to a letter Michael Roach posted on his website, Thorson and McNally were the subject of a "mutual spousal abuse" investigation after a medical practitioner at the "university" allegedly treated Thorson for three stab wounds inflicted by McNally. The letter said McNally claimed it was an accident and it happened when she was playing with a knife.

After leaving, the couple went to live in a cave in the Arizona desert mountains close to Roach's group.

But six weeks later, McNally called 911, saying she had an emergency. When medical crews arrived, Thorson was dead. Police did not suspect foul play. An autopsy revealed that Thorson died of dehydration and exposure and there was no evidence of stabbings. Police are not conducting a criminal investigation.

"This is a very inhospitable environment," said Sgt. David Noland, the Search and Rescue coordinator for the Cochise County Sheriff's Office. "The Indians did it thousands of years ago, but I haven't heard of anybody living out off the land in this area."

Thorson's mother said she is still in shock over her son's death and that Michael Roach's allegations of spousal abuse are exaggerated. She and Thorson's sister believe his death would not have happened if Roach had not asked the couple to leave the retreat.

"Getting them geared up for this retreat and then kicking them off is setting them up for a problem," Alexandra Thorson said. "That was irresponsible, I felt."

On his website, Roach wrote that he took the appropriate precautions before sending the couple off, offering them money, an assistant and a rental car to ease their transition. He said they refused his help and refused to tell anyone where they were going. Roach also wrote that he is deeply sorry for the family's loss, but Thorson's mother said this case should be a wake-up call for parents about the dangers of extreme religious groups.

"There's nothing good that can some for me personally because my son is dead," Kay Thorson said. "I certainly don't want this to happen to someone else."

Roach declined to grant "Nightline" an interview. He is holding a seminar on reaching enlightenment this weekend.

ABC News' Lauren Effron contributed to this report

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: June 12, 2012 07:46PM

More on the above...

[www.nytimes.com]

Mysterious Buddhist Retreat in the Desert Ends in a Grisly Death

By FERNANDA SANTOS
Published: June 5, 2012

BOWIE, Ariz. — The rescuers had rappelled from a helicopter, swaying in the brisk April winds as they bore down on a cave 7,000 feet up in a rugged desert mountain on the edge of this rural hamlet. There had been a call for help. Inside, they found a jug with about an inch of water, browned by floating leaves and twigs. They found a woman, Christie McNally, thirsty and delirious. And they found her husband, Ian Thorson, dead.

The puzzle only deepened when the authorities realized that the couple had been expelled from a nearby Buddhist retreat in which dozens of adherents, living in rustic conditions, had pledged to meditate silently for three years, three months and three days. Their spiritual leader was a charismatic Princeton-educated monk whom some have accused of running the retreat as a cult.

Strange tales come out of the American desert: lost cities of gold, bandit ambushes, mirages and peyote shamans. To that long list can now be added the story of the holy retreat that led to an ugly death.

The retreat — in which adherents communicate only with pen and paper — was designed to allow participants to employ yoga and deep meditation to try to answer some of life’s most profound questions. Mostly, though, it has only raised more questions.

Was it a genuine spiritual enclave? What happened to drive Ms. McNally and Mr. Thorson out of the camp and into the wilderness? And just why, in a quest for enlightenment, did Mr. Thorson, a 38-year-old Stanford graduate, end up dead, apparently from exposure and dehydration, in a remote region of rattlesnakes and drug smugglers?

When Ms. McNally and Mr. Thorson left the retreat on Feb. 20, after having participated for one year and one month, she had been its leading teacher. 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, raising eyebrows from more traditional Buddhists.

He had described Ms. McNally for a time as his “spiritual partner,” living with him in platonic contemplation. What the other participants did not know is that before she married Mr. Thorson, Ms. McNally had been secretly married to Mr. Roach, in stark violation of the Buddhist tradition to which he belongs.

Even the manner in which Ms. McNally and Mr. Thorson left the retreat adds a fresh turn to an already twisty tale. It came days after she made a startling revelation during one of her lectures: she said that Mr. Thorson had been violent toward her, and that she had stabbed him, using a knife they had received as a wedding gift.

The authorities do not suspect foul play in Mr. Thorson’s death. Still, the events at Diamond Mountain University, as the place that hosts the retreat is known, have pried open the doors of an intensely private community, exposing rifts among some of Mr. Roach’s most loyal followers and the unorthodoxy of his practices.

In an 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 teacher” whom he used to respect until his popularity “turned him into a celebrity” whose inner circle was “impossible to penetrate.”

Others spoke of bizarre initiation ceremonies at Diamond Mountain. Sid Johnson, a former volunteer who also served on its board of directors, said his involved “kissing and genital touching.” Ekan Thomason, a Buddhist priest who graduated from a six-year program there, said hers included drawing blood from her finger and handling a Samurai sword, handed to her by Ms. McNally.

“Should a Buddhist university really be doing such things?” Ms. Thomason asked.

Erik Brinkman, a Buddhist monk who remains one of Mr. Roach’s staunchest admirers, said, “If the definition of a cult is to follow our spiritual leader into the desert, then we are a cult.”

Mr. Thorson’s mother, Kay Thorson, hired two counselors about 10 years ago to pry her son away from Mr. Roach, who was trained under the same monastic tradition as the Dalai Lama. She recalled him as “strange,” someone who “sometimes connects, sometimes doesn’t, but who clearly connected with people who were ready to donate and adulate.”

The intervention — the term she used to describe it — offered only temporary relief. Mr. Thorson left for Europe for a time, but eventually rejoined the group.

“We learned of a possible offshoot to over-meditation, or meditation out of balance, or the wrong guidance in meditation; I don’t know the right word here,” Mrs. Thorson said in an interview. She recalled her son’s “compromised critical thinking, as far as making decisions and analyzing things,” and she feared Mr. Roach’s technique and guidance had pushed him there, but could not get him back.

Mr. Thorson and Ms. McNally, 39, married on Oct. 3, 2010, by the sea in Montauk, N.Y., almost three months before they left for the retreat and a month after Mr. Roach had filed for divorce from her. Ms. McNally and Mr. Roach had an old Dodge Durango, $30,000 in credit card debt and little else, according to the filing, in Yavapai County Superior Court.

Ms. McNally and Mr. Roach had shared a yurt in an earlier three-year retreat he promoted, in 1999, but swore they were celibate. The relationship nonetheless stirred reproach by Buddhist scholars, who urged him to renounce his monastic vows, and the Dalai Lama, whose office decried his “unconventional behavior.”

The marriage was a closely held secret. In writing, the only way he agreed to answer questions, Mr. Roach, who uses the title “geshe,” a type of doctoral degree in theology in the Buddhist monastic system, said he and Ms. McNally “come from strong Christian backgrounds” and “wanted to do a Christian partnership ritual at the same time we did the Buddhist one, at the beginning of our partnership.” (They were married on April 16, 1998, in Little Compton, R.I.)

He also said he wanted her to be “legally entitled” to his possessions if something happened to him. Their success seemed interdependent: They had written books together, given lectures around the world and were the forces behind Diamond Mountain.

In early February of this year, Ms. McNally and Mr. Thorson received a letter from Mr. Roach and the five other members of Diamond Mountain’s board of directors, demanding explanations for the violence and stabbing she had discussed in her lesson. There was no reply. In a letter she posted online — which she wrote after their departure from the retreat, though before Mr. Thorson’s death — Ms. McNally described it as an accident by a novice martial-arts practitioner rehearsing her moves.

The board’s president, Rob Ruisinger, said in an interview that Mr. Thorson had been stabbed three times in the torso, and that one of the wounds had been sutured by a medical professional who is among the retreat’s participants.

Ms. McNally and Mr. Thorson were given five days to leave. Instead, they departed without notice.

In her letter, she said they simply were not ready to go back into the world, so they decided to “go camping in the cow-herding land” next to Diamond Mountain “to get our thoughts settled.” When people came looking for them, they clambered uphill, she wrote, to the cave where Mr. Thorson would die. Some of the retreat participants would leave water for them, knowing they were still around. She told the authorities that at some point, she fell ill, he fell ill and they grew too weak to fetch it, said Sgt. David Noland, the search-and-rescue coordinator for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office.

On April 22 at 6 a.m., Ms. McNally sent a distress signal to Diamond Mountain from a portable transmitter she had been carrying. Three of Diamond Mountain’s caretakers set out to look for her and Mr. Thorson, but could not find them. Around 8 a.m., the caretakers called 911.

Mr. Thorson was cremated in nearby Willcox on April 26. His mother said it was the last time she saw Ms. McNally, who could not be reached for comment.

The retreat is set to end on April 3, 2014. Of its original 39 participants, 34 remain.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: June 12, 2012 08:55PM

I want to emphasize that the retreat mentioned in the two articles I just posted was no weekend break from everyday living, but a commitment for three years, three months and three days!!! That's a huge chunk of time away from one's family, friends and career.

The following is extremely long, but worth wading through. It was written by someone who knew the people involved and has left the group.

[www.elephantjournal.com]

Via yoga 2.0 lab
on May 4, 2012
Psychosis, Stabbing, Secrecy & Death at a Neo-Buddhist University in Arizona


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.

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.
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.
Invite full police, state, and medical official investigations. Bring in professionals to question all principles.
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.
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.
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.
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.`
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.
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.
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.
Disclose the protocol by which you evaluate the mental health of retreatants, and how you will update this protocol in view of this tragedy.
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.
Publish the transcript of McNally’s February 4th talk, in which she made allusion to the domestic violence and the stabbing.
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.
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.

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.
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.
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.









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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.



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

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

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

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

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

Here are the corrections I’ve made so far:

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

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

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

to

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

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

11th graph: changed

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

to

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

graph 13:

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

to

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

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

graph 19:

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

to

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

graph 20:

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

to

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

graph 23:

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

to:

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

graph 30:

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

to:

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



graph 33: “tent” to “residence”

graph 35:

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

removed: a commenter pointed out this was an unfair generalization


second last graph: changed “Like Ian was.” to “Like Ian seemed to be.”
____
CORRECTION (posted 5/18/12 6:30am)
section on Shantideva:

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

His the knife, and mine the body:

the twofold cause of suffering.

He has grasped the knife,

I my body.
 At which is there anger?

Those who injure me are really impelled by my actions.

For this they will go to the realms of hell.

Surely it is they who are harmed by me?

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

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

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

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

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Film Director Impersonated a Yoga Guru - Kumare
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: June 25, 2012 10:26PM

"But people called me a guru, therefore I was considered one by everyone I met. "

Film director Vikram Gandhi, describing his film Kumare: The Story of a False Prophet


Friends, this is a new film, worth seeing if it is shown in your area or comes out on DVD.

Vikram Gandhi was benign. He was genuinely worried about the ethics of this experiment. He worried how people would take it when he'd reveal to them that he was a film director and not a guru, and that it had all been an impersonation.

[movies.nytimes.com]

Quote

Vikram Gandhi’s ‘Kumaré: The True Story of a False Prophet’

Disturbed by the yoga craze in the United States, Mr. Gandhi, a self-described first-generation immigrant from a Hindu background, travels to India and discovers that the swamis desperately trying to “outguru” one another are, he says, “just as phony as those I met in America.”

After returning to the United States, he transforms himself into Sri Kumaré and travels to Phoenix, where he gathers a circle of disciples. Imitating his grandmother’s voice, he imparts mystical truisms in halting, broken English. With his soulful brown eyes and soft, androgynous voice, he is a very convincing wise man.

Initially, Mr. Gandhi recalls, “I wanted to see how far I could push it.” He is shown presiding at one gathering with a picture of himself between portraits of Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden. But his earnest followers, including a death-row lawyer, a recovering cocaine addict and a morbidly obese young woman, are sympathetic, highly stressed Americans who pour out their troubles.

As Mr. Gandhi warms to these people, who demonstrate an unalloyed faith in his wisdom, the film becomes a deeper, more problematic exploration of identity and the power of suggestion, and its initially sour taste turns to honey.

The meditations, mantras and yoga moves he invents, however bogus, transform lives, as his followers discover their inner gurus and gain a self-mastery.

An essay here, describing Vikram Gandhi/Sri Kumare's visit to Sedona Arizona

Quote

Director Vikram Gandhi is not a guru. But he plays one in the documentary Kumaré, opening tomorrow, which sees him adopt the guise of an Eastern spiritual leader as way to explore the issue of why so many people flock to them. What starts out as a funny (sometimes cringingly so, as in the scene where Kumaré leads a group of New Age true believers in a ridiculous session of Sound Healing) and insightful look into the realm of New Age spiritualism takes a turn for the serious and insightful when the fake guru and his fake religion start attracting real followers—people who rely on the teachings of their Indian guru who, unbeknownst to them, is actually a moviemaker from New Jersey with a fake Indian accent.

Below, Vikram Gandhi writes about the experience of directing the film—and how “director” and “spiritual leader” really aren’t as far apart as most would assume them to be.

Quote

In my film Kumaré, I impersonate a wise guru from the East and start a following of real people in Arizona. In order to look the part, I grew my beard and my hair to Gandolfian lengths, wore a sarong and mala beads and carried a five-foot-tall custom-made trident.

I looked like the kind of reggae fan who sells oils and incense on Venice Beach. But people called me a guru, therefore I was considered one by everyone I met.

When directing a movie without a script, without a clue how it would turn out, without a genre to rely on for structural guidance, you need people to believe in you and your vision. And you have to find inspiration from wherever and whomever possible...


read the rest here.

[www.moviemaker.com]

Additional citations via Google

[www.google.com]

Disclaimer from Corboy

This is for education and emancipation. Anyone using this information to dominate and enslave other persons will become a prisoner of their own manipulations. They will become corrupt by the guru role, by the coddling of their entourages and their own inner characters wil be destroyed by the guru role. They will if they go into the guru business for selfish reason become monsters exiled from the human condition.

Their own families may suffer terrible consequences. This is not magic.

It is what happens when a human being lives a lie, recruits vulnerable persons to banrupt themselves to support this lie and earns dirty money by doing so.

The effects will pass to one's children, by growing up in a family made diseased by being in the profit making guru scene.

By contrast, Vikram Gandhi knew all along he was a film maker, not a guru and he wanted to understand the traps of the guru scene. He has sought to educate and emancipate after a tine limited period, did all he could to tell the devotees of his story that it was merely a story, only a story. It was their own belief that had changed them.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: Hope ()
Date: June 26, 2012 04:08AM

I thought I had posted this before but cannot find it.

A student at my alma mater was blogging about his hot yoga "journey" and throughout the entries, he made mention of his declining use of water in class. His instructor was teaching some pretty hardcore mind-over-matter stuff about how people psych themselves up to believe they need things - including water in hot yoga classes. He died of a heart attack. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone who wasn't following his blog knew what was going on in his hot yoga class. I mentioned it to some mutual school acquaintances when the news of his death was posted on FB and many people commented on how crazy that was. We'll never know if he had a cardiac condition and hot yoga/no H2O pushed him over the edge or what.

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