Geshe Michael Roach – The Sad Case of a Gifted Man

Sorry, but I don’t want to add more on this topic. There has been said enough already. I just want to make you aware of two recent articles about Michael Roach, one in Rolling Stone and one by Scott Carney (in Playboy). You find more material and links at the end of the article by Scott Carney.

When I read the Interview with Geshe Michael Roach & Christie McNally (PDF) in 2003 and especially the passage where Roach tries to defend himself, skillfully avoiding to answer the question what his teacher, Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, says about his (strange) behavior, I realized that Michael Roach has created an own inner world where voices can only reach him if they suit his own views. Since there are still some people who think it might be worth to follow Mr. Roach or that he might be a genuine Buddhist teacher, I added the article by Scott Carney to my website. Food for Thought! I am grateful that Alexander Berzin warned me personally to be careful with Roach – though at that time, I was not pleased to hear it because I placed my spiritual hopes already in Michael Roach …

During a tantric teaching the teacher of Roach, Khen Rinpoche, was asked about Roach, and he clearly distanced himself from Roach. Sadly, so far I was not able to get the recording but it exists. That this explicitly alienation by Roach’s teacher exists was told to me by a person I trust who listened to these teachings by Khen Rinpoche.

Last and least, Robert Thurman about Roach in the RollingStone interview:

Robert Thurman, a Columbia University religion professor and a leading expert on Eastern religions, calls Roach’s version of Tibetan Buddhism “an American pop-religion knockoff.”  …

The office of the Dalai Lama issued a rebuke, and Roach’s associates urged him to remove his robes to indicate that he was not celibate. When he refused, Robert Thurman, a former ordained monk, tried to reason with him. “I asked him to meet,” says Thurman, who is married and long ago resigned his robes. “He finally came with his consort to Columbia. I told him to go back to being a lay minister, to take off the robes. Bottom line is, he said he wouldn’t give up the robes. He said, ‘I have never consorted with a human female,’ and I said to Christie, ‘Are you human?’ And she didn’t say yes or no. She said, ‘He said it, I didn’t.'”

Thurman felt McNally was young and naive and being manipulated by Roach, but McNally felt empowered. According to her, the retreat had altered their dynamic. She had gone into it as Roach’s lesser, emerging as his equal. “The roles in the play now had changed from teacher and student to ‘partners,'” she says, and goes on to say that since Roach was interested in embracing his feminine side, “normal sexual relations between two married partners were absent from this relationship.”

Instead of waiting for new acolytes to come to them, Roach and McNally began holding classes at popular New York yoga studios like Jivamukti, whose clientele included Wall Street bankers, fashionistas like Donna Karan and celebrities such as Sting, Russell Simmons and Madonna. He had translated the Yoga Sutra from Sanskrit and spoke of how yoga could lead to enlightenment. “His teaching was the missing link in the writings on the Yoga Sutra,” says Morris. “Nobody had accomplished what was described in there, and here was somebody who had. I was moved. He was a good, holy, honest man then.”


Update September/October 2016


  1. Roach is a boogie yogi!

  2. Anne Wilson says:

    I first heard Geshe Michael Roach speak in Galway in 1999 and was very deeply moved by him considering him to be the holiest man I had ever been in the presence of. Next time I heard him was in 2011 and while I noticed some of the joy or shine had left him I remained deeply moved. He imparted to me the idea that everything around me comes from me and based on that I can surmise from events which I have happened that I need to take great care in how I behave within my own relationships and how I treat everyone around me.

  3. He sounds like nothing but a scammer and a fraud. How sad for people who follow him. Sometimes people are so desperate that they will latch on to any charismatic scammer to relieve the pain of life. They did that in Jonestown.

  4. bruce cohen says:

    Weak people are easily scammed and misled. I know him from the jewelry industry- always a weird dude.

  5. alexis b says:

    is he a buddhist monk? i heard that he break a vow

  6. The Nameless says:

    If the activities he engaged in included either oral or anal sex then he had committed a ‘Parajika’, an offence entailing immediate and automatic return to lay status. If he engaged solely in solitary or mutual masturbation, this would be classed as a ‘Sanghadisesa’, an offence which involves immediate suspension, and one which can only be purged by the consent of a committee of twenty ‘pure’ monks. The suspension for such an offence lasts for as long as such an offence has been concealed. Roach may have received the consent of such a committee during his period in India, if he were able to locate such a gathering. However, it is certain that he could not have made such a confession in the post India period because such a large number of Tibetan Sangha, the tradition into which he initially ordained and who have since denounced his actions, were not present to gather for such a purpose

  7. Hi! I read the Diamond Cutter a year ago. In a week he is in my town and thought, how lucky I am, because he is not comming so oft in Europe and I made plans to go 3 days Seminar retreat … but a friend call me and asked to be carefull about, because can be a scamme, brain wash, etc.. It is someone who has been to his speaches? Please give some info about? it is worthy to go?

    • Hi Myriam, I attended a public talk with him and ChristyMcNally some years ago in Berlin. I am a Buddhist monk and was quite amazed to see and to hear how he twisted Buddhist teachings as means to fulfill mundane desires for money and to attract wonderful partners (“your dream partner”! as he had found in Christy – this he said himself). It felt like he is turning Buddhism into the wish fulfilling jewel that’s purpose is to fulfill samsaric desires. After the talk my lay friends where very excited. Chatting about ideas how to use what Roach said to fulfill their samsaric wishes. Their minds were full of graving and ideas formed how to fulfill those gravings. I didn’t say anything just relaxed and listened. When they finally turned to me with their excitement and urged me to say something I replied: “how did you feel before you came here and how are you feeling now? Isn’t your mind more agitated and filled with attachment than before? Do you think to increase desire is Buddhism?” This made them silent and settled the excitement.

      Then someone else had the idea I should see and talk with Roach. I had no interest at all. It was clear for me that he twists Buddhist teachings – among others he claimed those in the tantric monastic (Gelug) colleges would have all sexual partners if they are “advanced” enough. Which is nonsense because Tsongkhapa is seen as the role model and he didn’t have any. When I got up from my seat a lady checked me quite inappropriately with a view “is he advanced enough?” I felt really ashamed/embarrassed with her checking gaze on me.

      I concluded from all of this that Roach is misguiding people.

      Now it happened that I accidentally really bumped into him (I was the only monk there when I remember correctly, and I refused to take a seat in the first row which the organisers offered. I insisted to sit in the back rows.) after his public talk. When he saw me he turned to me and he preached me things about the ego and it’s strange plays. What he said felt strange, bizarre and unconnected to the situation. Just using spiritual language for what ever reason but not appropriate to the situation.

      I would neither recommend to go or not to go but if you go, observe yourself, be mindful, be aware of your feelings and thoughts and how they change, listen well and see and judge for yourself if these are Buddha’s teachings / is in line with Buddha’s teachings, or not.

      For me it was worth to go because I base my knowledge or relate all what I heard and read to these experiences and that makes my judgments more grounded, I think. So, it was finally helpful to make up my own mind about Roach by attending a talk of him! HTH

  8. Gregg Geist says:

    Marriage is power. In a world that has been sexist for so long, even Buddhism has suffered from it. As with Christianity, women were seen as a kind of accessory object, and target of desire, and not as possible cohorts. As a spiritual and economic liability, women were considered a distraction from pursuing something like a spiritual quest. In Catholicism, and apparently in Buddhism, this has translated to sex being a weakness and marriage being a liability. But this is not so. Marriage is power and a married yogi will have more of all of the kinds of strengths needed to advance a cause of bettering the world, just as a married priest does. This crisis happened in Catholicism centuries ago and the married priests call it a reformation. Does Buddhism need a reformation? Yes.

    • Bristollad says:

      “marriage is power” – why?
      “in a world that has been sexist for so long, even Buddhism has suffered from it” – yes, some buddhists are and have been sexist
      “women were considered a distraction from pursuing something like a spiritual quest” – no, attachment is the cause of suffering for everyone
      “a married yogi will have more of all of the kinds of strengths needed…just as a married priest does” – why?
      “this crisis happened in Catholicism centuries ago and the married priests call it a reformation. Does Buddhism need a reformation? Yes” – this seems to ignore the four-fold assembly that the Buddha established – lay and ordained women, lay and ordained men;. practising the path has never been restricted to ordained renunciates in Buddhism.

  9. Worth Gurkin says:

    I was a student of Geshe Michael for several years. I completed the ACI course. I met with him privately many times and attended many of his teachings. Concurrently with my relationship with Geshe Michael I had another teacher, Geshe Tsulga, a Tibetan and a contemporary of the Dalai Lama. My main attraction to Geshe Michael was that I could speak to him in English, and we both understood the subtleties of the English language. Geshe Tsulga’s English and my Tibetan were equally poor. This Geshe Michael that I read about in these articles is so different from the one I knew. I knew someone who treated me with great tenderness, as if I were a fragile snowflake, beautiful and unique and apt to disappear at any moment. Ultimately I withdrew from his sphere of influence simply because I knew one thing for certain: Until I had a truly kind heart, until I had true Bodhicitta, the wish to become a fully enlightened Buddha purely for the sake of all sentient beings, any further effort was futile if not outright dangerous. Now I try on a daily basis to embrace that “boss in the office with the red angry face” that he talked about in his early lectures, as a projection of my own negative karma. It is difficult but I am making progress. Very small but very real steps. For this I am forever grateful to my teacher Geshe Michael.

    • Memories of things past do not negate or justify subsequent inappropriate behaviour
      Hitler was a beautiful baby but that means nothing in light of his subsequent behaviour
      Perhaps instead of clinging to sentiment it might be more useful to contemplate the lesson of impermanence.”well he never did me any harm” sounds remarkably lacking in empathy

      • Gregg Geist says:

        Well, since all of our conclusions ultimately rest on memories of things past (ours or other people’s that have been communicated to us) I guess we’re in pretty sorry shape. Maybe there wasn’t a Hitler (since all historical documentation of him was ultimately based on memories) or for that matter, the events at Isipatana, the Buddha, sages, all of it. Then again, more to the point, discounting people’s stories outright is definitely lacking in empathy.

        • I think you either misunderstood or distort what he said: “Memories of things past do not negate or justify subsequent inappropriate behaviour” … I understand this as the argument, when there was something good in the past you can remember, this is no reason to conclude that in the presence there is no problem coming from the same person whom you have a good memory of. This is a valid argument, isn’t it?

    • It is one of the most difficult things of students of misleading teachers to separate their good experiences from the abusive or misleading/manipulative behaviour of their teachers.

      Teachers and experiences are not one-dimensional, qualities and faults + good and bad experiences + progress and degeneration can coexist. If you read Robert Jay Lifton’s “Destroying the World to save it” you can see that even after Shoko Asahara was definitely found guilty of crimes some of his students couldn’t make any sense of their good experiences and his negative and manipulative actions. Not being able to discriminate this correctly they refused to acknowledge the crimes, denied these and clung to their good experience as the only valid point of view regarding this misleading guru.

      It is also interesting to read and to understand, how Asahara abused the Indo-Tibetan concept of “Guru Yoga” to manipulate his students. It might be enlightening for any Buddhist to read this book!

  10. There is a new interesting article by Why I Joined—And Left—A Yoga Cult by Kristin Diversi. I added it to the Update section.

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