One Buddhist Teacher's Views on Geshe Michael Roach
As a Zen Buddhist teacher, I feel moved to add some comments regarding issues not fully addressed in "Buddha in the Desert" (Sept. 6).
I was surprised to find that Michael Roach had such a large following in Tucson. Whenever people heard I taught Buddhism, they mentioned Roach as if he were equated with Buddhism.
Though his early work with the Asian Classics Institute is widely recognized as solid, many in the wider Buddhist community felt he had fallen off the mark sometime around the late '90s, and his teaching since has been a strange mixture of authentic Tibetan Buddhism, distorted Buddhist philosophy, and new-age pabulum. The larger Buddhist community—even the lineage in which he had studied and was ordained—has unfortunately ostracized him and his community, which has led to an even greater insularity within the Diamond Mountain community that seems to be a contributing factor in the tragic death of Ian Thorson.
Whenever I discuss the issue of cultism, I offer prospective students at least two points of inquiry. First: Notice if the personality of the teacher seems more important than the message. The "cult of personality" is often a sign that something is askew.
Second: Note the level of transparency within the community. I was not surprised that Christie McNally and Ian secreted themselves in the cave and had students secretly aid them, despite the fact that the pair had been told to leave the retreat grounds. After all, their leader, Michael Roach, had concealed the true nature of his relationship with Christie for years.
This leads to the general principle: Beware of any "secret teachings" or "transmissions." A healthy community must be transparent in operations and structure.
I feel deep empathy and sorrow for those most touched by this sad event: the families of Thorson and McNally, obviously, but also their students and the other retreatants. While I'd hoped that the revelation of this sad affair would prompt some deep questioning and structural changes within the community, it seems that the "true believers" have closed ranks and moved on, with little changed. Caveat emptor.
Poep Sa Frank Jude Boccio