Geshe Michael Roach
December 17, 1952
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Lineage||Rashi Gempil Ling Temple|
Gemological Institute of America Inc.
|Based in||Phoenix, Arizona|
Michael Roach (born December 17, 1952) is an American non-traditional teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. He has started a number of businesses and organizations, written books about Buddhism, and translated Tibetan Buddhist teachings.
Roach has written and lectured that yoga, meditation, and a practice of helping others—even competitors—leads to financial prosperity. He has at times been the center of controversy for his views, teachings, activities, and behavior.
Michael Roach was born in Los Angeles, California in 1952 to Episcopalian parents, and grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. After his high school graduation, he received the Presidential Scholars Medallion from U.S. President Richard Nixon, then attended Princeton University in 1972. He traveled to India in 1973 to seek Buddhist instruction, while still in college. He returned to the United States and received a scholarship to return to study in India in 1974. While in India, Roach learned about a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in New Jersey led by a Mongolian-born lama, Sermey Khensur Lobsang Tharchin. Roach returned to Princeton, living at the monastery from 1975 to 1981. In the year before his graduation in 1975, both of his parents died due to cancer and then his brother committed suicide. In 1983 he was ordained as a Gelugpa Buddhist monk at Sera Monastery in South India, where he would periodically travel and study. In 1995, he became the first American to qualify for the Geshe degree.
Beginning in 1981, Roach helped found and run Andin International, a jewelry manufacturer based in New York. He used proceeds from his work to set up financial endowments to fund various projects, in particular the Sera Mey Food Fund.
In 1987, Roach founded the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP). He founded ACIP with the goal of producing a complete and electronically searchable version of the Kangyur and Tengyur, together with related philosophical commentaries and dictionaries. ACIP has input over 8,500 texts—nearly half a million pages—which it has made available for free. ACIP also provides a means of earning income for many Tibetan refugees.
From 1993 to 1999, Roach developed and taught 18 courses on Tibetan Buddhism in New York City. These courses were based on the training monks receive in Tibetan monasteries, but organized to be taught in a conventional western setting.
From 2000 to 2003, Roach organized and led a three-year silent retreat in the Arizona desert with five other participants including another American Buddhist, Christie McNally, with whom Roach had a complex and controversial relationship. The retreat was run along guidelines modified for modern times from ancient Tibetan traditions.
In 1981, Khen Rinpoche, the teacher of Michael Roach, instructed him to set up a business in Manhattan to help Tibetan refugees. Since then, Michael Roach has helped to found and develop the corporation Andin International, a jewelry manufacturer based in New York. The activities of Andin International started with a loan of $50,000 and three employees. By the time Michael Roach left the firm in 1999 as vice president, the company's annual turnover was $100 million per year. In 2009 Andin achieved a turnover of more than 200 million dollars, and was acquired by Richline Group Warren Buffett. He used the money from his work to create funds to finance various projects, such as food fund Sera Mey.
In 1999, the publishing house Doubleday Corporation, which is now part of Penguin Random House, invited Roach to write a book about the style of management for. He used his life experience as the basis for the book "Diamond Cutter", in which he explains how to apply the lessons of the Sutra of the Diamond Cutter (Diamond Sutra) in the context of business.
In 1987, Roach founded the Asian Classics Input Project (ACIP). He founded this project in order to create a complete and accessible version of Kangyur and Tanjur in electronic form along with related philosophical commentaries and dictionaries. ACIP contains more than 8500 texts - almost half a million pages, which he provided for free, and has digitized 15286 books over the course of 31 years.
ACIP also provides funds to generate income for many Tibetan refugees. ACIP creates valuable jobs, especially for many women who otherwise would not have a chance to find work or learn to work on the computer.
In 1996, Christie McNally became Roach's student and they began a "spiritual partnership" in which they took vows that included never being more than 15 feet apart, eating from the same plate, reading the same books together. They were married in a Christian ceremony in Rhode Island in 1998. The marriage was kept secret. When news of the marriage emerged in 2003, Roach explained to the New York Times that they had wished to honor their Christian heritage and that he wanted McNally to be entitled to his possessions if something happened to him.
Marriage is a breach of Gelug monastic vows. Professor Robert Thurman urged Roach to "renounce his monastic vows and to stop wearing the robes that mark him as a member of a monastic order." Lama Surya Das has also questioned the wisdom of the partnership.
When Roach proposed to teach in Dharamshala in 2006, the Office of the Dalai Lama rebuffed his plan, stating that Roach's "unconventional behavior does not accord with His Holiness's teachings and practices"; the teaching took place in nearby Palampur instead.
In 2005, during a tantric initiation practice, retreatant Sid Johnson, a musician who was briefly on the board of directors of Michael Roach's organization Diamond Mountain, recalls that Roach inviting him to lie down in his and Christie McNally's bed. She then began to massage him from his head down to his penis before finishing with a kiss on the lips. Roach was part of a handful of Western Tibetan Buddhist teachers facing such allegations in the 2000s including Surya Das and Ken McLeod. He was said to have multiple sexually promiscuous relationships while still donning monk's robes.
Death of Ian Thorson
Ian Thorson was a close student of Roach and McNally and served as their attendant after he began attending lectures at Three Jewels Outreach Center in New York City in 1997. In 2000, Thorson's mother hired anti-cult investigators to stage an intervention after her suspicions grew. In 2010, one year after the dissolution of her marriage to Roach, McNally married Thorson. A few weeks later, they entered a three-year retreat at the Diamond Mountain Center; McNally was appointed as the retreat director and guiding teacher. After reports emerged of a series of erratic and even violent episodes between Thorson and McNally, and bizarre behavior by McNally in talks to the community, the Diamond Mountain board of directors asked McNally and her husband to leave the retreat, giving them a few hundred dollars and offering them airfare to any desired destination. Thorson and McNally left the Diamond Mountain property, setting up camp in a cave on Bureau of Land Management property within the retreat boundaries, secretly supplied by a number of retreat participants who felt themselves loyal to the pair. Thorson, aged 38, died in April 2012 of dehydration and exposure while McNally, then 39, would recover from dehydration and exposure. Authorities said that there was no suspected foul play in his death, and that there was no criminal responsibility on behalf of Roach. However, several journalists have noted that Roach's unorthodox teachings through ACI fostered dangerous outcomes. The whereabouts of McNally have been unknown since this deadly incident.
Michael Roach has fielded critiques of cult like behavior after his many controversies. In an interview with NBC News, Robert Thurman, Columbia University Professor of Buddhism, says Roach's organizations have "become a kind of cult although there is a lot of good learning in it." Roach has been uninvited to teach at FPMT centers across the globe In addition to being publicly rebuked by the office of the Dalai Lama. When asked in an interview about his admission of realizing emptiness, generally looked down upon in Buddhist circles, Roach says, "if a lot of people thought I was being a bad person or a bad monk or even a corrupt person, that was less important than doing what I felt a divine being wanted me to do, even if everyone thought it was crazy. And I’ve never had a doubt about that. I think that it's more important for me to get enlightened and to follow what I perceive to be direct divine instructions than to be thought of as a bad person."
- The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life, Three Leaves, 2000. ISBN 0-385-49791-1
- The Essential Yoga Sutra: Ancient Wisdom for Your Yoga, with Christie McNally, Three Leaves, 2005. ISBN 0-385-51536-7
- The Garden: A Parable, Image, 2000. ISBN 0-385-49789-X
- How Yoga Works: Healing Yourself and Others With The Yoga Sutra, with Christie McNally. Diamond Cutter Press, 2005. ISBN 0-9765469-0-6
- The Tibetan Book of Yoga: Ancient Buddhist Teachings on the Philosophy and Practice of Yoga, Doubleday, 2004. ISBN 0-385-50837-9
- China Love You: The Death of Global Competition, Diamond Cutter Press, 2017. ISBN 978-0692794272
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- The Karma of Love: 100 Answers for Your Relationship, Diamond Cutter Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1937114060
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