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So, the big question is WHY do I care? Right now I'm not so clear why I care so much, but it's clear to me that I do... So hold on - Josh Hawkes Professional Ranter and Bad Karma Detective is on the case

Saturday 15 May 2010

"Lama" Christie McNally's Personal Biography

Ok, let' get right into this... no sitting on the fence or beating around the bush.

This is how Nally McScally describes herself... so let's break it down.

"Lama Christie is a professor of spiritual studies and a translator of Tibetan and Sanskrit classical monastic texts. She co-authored The Essential Yoga Sutra, How Yoga Works and The Eastern Path to Heaven. She is an accomplished practitioner who has spent six years of her life in silent deep meditation and is one of the first American women to be recognized as a lama. Lama Christie trained in India and Nepal and has received extensive instruction in all the texts required for a Geshe degree (traditionally a 20-year course of study). She is co-founder of Diamond Mountain University, a revolutionary effort to provide a classical monastic education to Westerners from all walks of life, free of charge. In 2003, she completed a traditional three-year silent meditation retreat with her spiritual partner, Geshe Michael Roach."

Let's take this line by line, because you can't just keep saying this stuff, and not be prepared to back it up.

"Lama Christie is a professor of spiritual studies"

So, turns out, she is a Professor of a University her one time partner set up by himself. So, she's basically a self-appointed Professor, not recognized by anyone but herself, her Ex and those that attend the private university. The university isn't accredited to ANYTHING.... no learning association, academy or monastery, anywhere in the world.
The Dalai Lama's office has issued a public statement denouncing Roach and his behaviour, and doesn't recognize any of the teachings that Roach conducts anywhere in the world. (This we will discuss later)

If Lama Christie McNally actually did a Phd study then let's see it. It should be a peer reviewed paper, right? This is the usual format for someone calling themselves a professor of anything, so let's read it.

"and a translator of Tibetan and Sanskrit classical monastic texts."

What texts? Where? Being able to read, write or speak Tibetan or read Sanskrit text does not make you a translator of classic text. What institution, or monastery has used and now clearly cites her as a translator? One only has to travel around Tibet, of which I've done extensively, to find a gaggle of westerners who've gone local, and often a bit whacky, who now think they're some how a medium between Tibetans and the west because they now speak the language.

By her friends she is described as speaking "fairly fluent" Tibetan and is "highly proficient" in Sanskrit. This is nice, but it doesn't make you a translator of classical monastic text.
What text from the Buddhist cannon has she translated that are used in mainstream Buddhism?

Why is this important? Well, it's really important, you can't just announce you're translating from classical text without it being peer reviewed. This goes for any subject, not just Buddhism. Otherwise, it risks personal distortion. One only needs to look at the confusion Edmund Backhouse caused on the history of China for generations of scholars, duping even the famous Bodleian Library at Oxford University with his so called translation of secret text.

"She is an accomplished practitioner who has spent six years of her life in silent deep meditation"

Now, we can't comment on her personal attainments, however we can comment on what's written and commonly known about her retreats. None of her retreats have been carried out in accordance with any Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Especially her so-called 3 year Tantric Retreat with Michael Roach. For anyone who has even a slight knowledge of Buddhism they'll tell you that hanging out for 3 years in the desert with a member of the opposite sex is never going to qualify as a Tantric retreat. The fact that even now, after so many years of criticism, she is still trying to pass this off as a valid Buddhist retreat shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Dharma from any tradition other than her own, and challenges her "classical" understanding of Tibetan Buddhism.

"and is one of the first American women to be recognized as a lama."

Well, this is the root of the entire investigation... who exactly is recognizing Christie McNally as a lama? Certainly, Michael Roach has no authority to do so. No reputable Buddhist organization anywhere in the world is doing so. In fact Buddhist organizations bend over backwards to distance themselves from her. So, who is it?

In a later post I will discuss the intricate relationship between a teacher, their guru and their students... Nothing like this seems to be existing in this case. So, to clear this up, will the guru who recognizes McNally as a lama and his/her student, please step forward and make themselves known? no, not you Michael, a practicing Guru.

If one understands the concept of lama, then one knows that it's not a self appointed title and is dependent upon a number of factors, that all seem to be absent here. Will discuss this more later.

"Lama Christie trained in India and Nepal and has received extensive instruction in all the texts required for a Geshe degree (traditionally a 20-year course of study)."

What a beautifully whimsical sentence this is, it's hard to know where to start, but let's try.
"Trained in India and Nepal."

Where? Under who? A credible sentence would read like this.

Student X, trained under lama X, at monastery X, for X years, in India. Seems the important details have been conveniently missed off, probably because no one other than Michael Roach is willing to associate with her. But if there are reputable teachers
out there who are willing to put their name to her training then please come forward.

"and has received extensive instruction in all the texts required for a Geshe degree."

Again, I'm repeating myself but from who?
Plus, this sentence means what? It's complete nonsense.
I have purchased all the books written
by Heston Blumenthal, watched all his shows and have recieved extensive instruction, from my mum, on cooking, but this doesn't make me a Michelin Star Chef does it?

"(traditionally a 20-year course of study)"

What? So, you're implying she did a fast track Geshe Degree? With who, Diamond University? This opens up more questions than it answers.
So, how long did she take?
Who taught it?
Can anyone do it?
Is it a correspondence course?
How was it measured? Did she do like 10 classical texts a year, while a normal Tibetan would say do 1. What's the deal? Sounds like a really great thing.

"She is co-founder of Diamond Mountain University,"

Well that's handy, seeing as you awarded yourself the Phd from the very same institution. It's all starting to make sense alot more now.

"a revolutionary effort to provide a classical monastic education to Westerners from all walks of life,"

How is the Diamond University providing classical monastic education? What classical monastic scholar, other than those attending or teaching at the University accept this? A University with self-appointed teachers and professors, which isn't recognized by a single independent organization could hardly be described as "classical."

"free of charge."

Cool, well if they're giving away this free then fine, I'm not entirely sure many people would actually be willing to pay for it.

"In 2003, she completed a traditional three-year silent meditation retreat with her spiritual partner, Geshe Michael Roach."

Well, we've already covered this. The only people recognizing this as a credible three year retreat are those at Diamond University. There are no credible classical texts to back up a three year retreat, where one shares it with an actual, physical, human consort, and I challenge McNally with all her knowledge of Sanskrit to produce one.

More Unsubstantiated Self Promotion

So, Here are some more statements from the McNally tradition.

"she immersed herself in the secret teachings of Buddhism."
A statement to over mystify her achievements. Any devote Buddhist with a qualified teacher has access to the so called "secret teachings" of Buddhism.

"through her efforts, she has begun to change the face of Buddhism that has historically been predominantly male."

This is a completely misleading statement. Since Tibetan Buddhism was first introduced to the west it has been completely open to all sexes and there are countless great women teachers all over the world teaching without fanfare or sensationalist hype. In fact Tibetan Buddhism practiced in the west is probably one of the most fairly represented religions on the planet and does not distinguish between sexes when it comes to teachers. All of the biggest organizations representing the modern-day, western lineages of Tibetan Buddhism have very high ranking female teachers. So, what she is doing is hardly revolutionary or face changing.
In Tibetan societies there maybe a case for a more fair representation of the sexes, however McNally hardly represents the interests of the average Tibetan woman or nun. Especially as there are no independent Tibetan organizations supporting the work of McNally. Note: if there are let's see hear from them. All the organizations quoted on her literature have been created by her or Roach.
Her actions are hardly "face changing" but seem typical of a modern day cult leader distorting a traditional religion for her own purpose.

"After translating over 10,000 pages of Buddhist text (including sutra and vajrayana teachings)"
What pages? Where are they? Have they been published and independently verified? Plus, the translation of Buddhist scripts hardly surmounts to a complete study of the work. In Buddhism there's a clear distinction between reading or translating something, and receiving a full commentary and an oral transmission from a fully qualified master. This is why it takes so long to obtain a Geshe degree. It's not a matter of taking a few years out and reading (Translating) through all the text, as McNally seems to have done.
This is the very essence of Buddhism and is something that really can't be boxed and packaged into a consumer-able western format in a few years by an un-guided practitioner. As McNally's Sanskrit, by all accounts, is up-to-speed, there's no reason to doubt that she hasn't read all the original text, in their original formats that a Geshe would study, but this a million miles away from actually studying them under fully realized master, of which Michael Roach, with his "Rock n Roll" Guru style antics seems to fall pretty short of by any measure.

"and teaching 36 advanced courses to students at Diamond Mountain University, Lama Christie and Geshe Michael plan to undertake their second Three-Year Retreat starting in 10/10/10. "
By McNally's and Roaches own design the students are classed as "advanced" but seeing as the Diamond Academy is not recognized by any other Tibetan Buddhist organization, either western or Tibetan it's hardly an accurate description that would lend itself very far outside the Diamond University grounds.
Regarding their up-and-coming 3 year retreat in 2010, then if she truly is prepared to squirrel herself away for another three years, I'm sure the world of Tibetan Buddhism will not shed a tear and will probably breath a sigh of relief. However, I very much doubt that she has the ability to step out of the limelight now that she's busily making a little niche for herself as a "Global Lama."
Just like her self-proclaimed practice of Buddhists-partners dissipated into nothingness once it became no longer suitable for her cause, I'm sure her future 3 year retreat will be put on the back-burner, if she can achieve her goal of being the next "Rock n Roll" California- lama to the stars.
On top of this, it sounds like her spiritual partner is not making the best preparations for such a retreat anyway, hanging out in the clubs of New York with Russian models. Nice one Michael, "Rock n Roll, dude!"


Anyone with even a shred of Buddhist knowledge can see that this entire bio is superficial and devoid of credible content at best, and at worst deceitful and manipulative of those with little knowledge in the subject.

A Great Bio the the Bad Karma News Blog me thinks........


  1. agreed. thanks. the whole thing stinks from a mile off.

  2. Now, I have heard Christie McNally when she was working with Geshe Michael Roach, and the two of them had something many other Tibetan Buddhist teachers would be proud of: they could communicate the essence of Buddhism to a Western audience in a way that resonated with Western culture and traditions.
    This is much more important than arguing over whether Ms McNally is or is not qualified.

    Who qualified the Buddha? I have yet to see his qualifications paraded anywhere, but despite that I still tend to think he is pretty good.

    One thing the Buddha taught was that we should refrain from gossiping. If we do not find someone's profile or teachings helpful, we should move on. We should possess the wisdom and compassion to desist from destructive criticism of those we disapprove, and instead to praise what we find of value in others of whom we do approve.

    1. Acknowledgment seems to be the key. We all need at least a meager amount of acknowledment.

  3. “Who qualified the Buddha?”

    The Buddha in his 49 years of teaching life, have taught hundreds of thousands of people and brought them into various levels of awakening. Among those disciples, many had been great and prominent teachers, religious masters, and philosophers in different parts of the world long before they met Shakyamuni. For instance, when Mahakashyyapa came to see Shakyamuni and ask for teachings from him, he brought with him his own 5000 students. The first five disciples Shakyamuni ever had were also highly regarded teachers and practitioners. Those were the people who knew what they were seeking for and found out that the Buddha was the one who had attained those qualities and wisdom.

    It is extremely important to have a truly qualified teacher. People who cannot overcome their own ego and emotions will only bring others into a meaningless path.

  4. I'll start by making an assumption that you have never been in the direct presence and teaching of either Geshe Roach or Lama McNally. I feel that if you had, you would not be making many of your own assumptions above. I guess I would also begin by saying that you appear to make an assumption that they do not regularly and openly discuss all of the points and questions that you discuss above.

    Perhaps Lama Christie's goal is to serve and benefit all beings to the best of her capicity.

    Perhaps Geshe Roach and Lama McNally have made a conscious decision to bring teachings to the west in a format which is best suited to benefit as many beings as possible.

    Perhaps they have decided that some of the old traditions of "Tibetan Buddhism" like blowing big horns and wearing big ornate hats (which came from the Bon more shamanic type of practice of early Tibet) or keeping traditionally secret practices from Tantra (like Asana Yoga and Yoga) which came from India like Buddha and were accepted into the Tibetan teachings as beneficial to the path, were not designed under the traditional rule to make sense in this world today.

    Perhaps they are making a conscious choice to shift things in order to benefit more beings and potentially to let go of some outdated regulations and traditions which really may not serve anything but cultural norms.

    Perhaps they see the opportunity for women as equals in the world and that sitting the highest Nun behind the youngest child Monk may no longer have a place in this world. Perhaps they have an understanding of Karma that may have lead to the destruction of the Tibetan culture and Buddhist tradition which may have been quite oppressive and less available to women.

    How do you qualify a teacher? Does a degree qualify anyone? Does experience qualify anyone? Does being called a "scholar" qualify anyone?

    As I've heard Lama Christie say, "All the prophets, all the religions are really trying to teach the same thing. You have people who have had the experience of what is Truth, and they are trying to put something into words which is very difficult to put into words".

    Find your teacher. If you don't think Lama Christie is a qualified teacher than find someone who is for you. Spending energy publishing divisive material on someone who is offering her understanding and experience of the highest teachings for free and working endlessly on all of our behalf's seems like such a misuse of your focus.

    Je Tsongkapa is regarded as the Father of the Gelukpa lineage. Geshe Roach and Lama McNally recently published a beautifully illustrated masterpiece work on his life. They clearly hold him in the highest regard.

    I wonder why they would have published such an amazing work on this revolutionary teacher of his time?

    To some Lama McNally may remain a scam and a betrayer of a lineage. To others she may look like a Fully Enlightened Being. I guess it all depends on your karma and your view. :) Right?

  5. I was intrigued by this article and took time to actually listen to some of her beautiful teachings on the Net. I am mostly interested in whether or not her teachings are helpful to sentient beings; I believe they are. We don't know who wrote her biography--I imagine it was written by a devoted student. Anyway, she goes into more detail about where she first trained (Kopan & Vajrapani Institute) here: http://blip.tv/lama-christie-mcnally/lama-christie-mcnally-retreat-and-meditation-talk-at-vajrapani-institute-part-1-3986954

  6. Umm, I`ve listened to Geshe Roaches teachings & have found them extremely useful & offering them all free is wonderful ... It`s only after the retreat that things started to become somewhat controversial.

    My point is, His Teachings on Buddhadharma are standard, its with Vajrayana that things become, well, no need to repeat...

    So I say, Geshe Roach, thank you for all the free teachings .... but if you are fibbing karma will bite your butt.

  7. My my... such vitriol! Your seething ire speaks volumes more about YOU than your subject...

    Instead of gadding about "extensively" through foreign lands whose cultures you will NEVER fully comprehend (they don't need your spokesmanship either, as it happens...), would you please inform yourself of some basic buddhist history regarding spiritual partnerships. Reference Professor Shaw's
    "comprehensive review of core ancient texts which reveal an original foundation of reverence for woman
    as spiritual teacher-partner-lover, in the early Tantric Buddhist tradition, in contrast to the later
    distortions of patriarchal influences in Yoga and Tantra." Read about the venerable Machik Labdon also. It will be a far more profitable use of your apparently available time :)

  8. Came across this article after the news that Ms. McNally was found in a cave with her dead husband, Ian Thorson. Even with all the naysaying about her credentials, I have to stop at "husband". In retreat with a husband? Oh, and secretly married to Michael Roach before that? And, she accidentally stabbed Ian Thorson with a knife that was a wedding gift? If you haven't read the whole story yet, especially from several different sources, this real-life drama is stranger than fiction. This article was written about 2 years ago, and while no one could have guessed that things would have turned out this way, the powers-that-be at Diamond Mountain University and Christie McNally are tragic pieces of work. I wish healing for everyone involved.

  9. In "Three Years of Silent Retreat: A conversation with one of the West’s only female lamas, Christie McNally" - http://retreat4peace.org/node/17"
    which was published to promote the 3-year 'retreat' during which Christie was expelled from Diamond Mountain and her second husband died in Apri 2012.

    CM says about her 2000-2003 retreat where she lived in a tiny yurt with her husband, Michael Roach (they married in 1998) in reply to a Q:

    "G: Is there any sort of communication among people at retreat?

    CM: It depends. When I did mine, I didn’t have any communication to anyone at all, except for the caretakers. That was very limited. It was like “Get me more toilet paper.” [laughs] We asked them not to send us any letters from anyone. We asked them not to send us any news. We didn’t know about 9/11. It happened during our retreat and we found out a couple years later. They didn’t tell us. I think we were the only ones on the planet who didn’t know about it."

  10. You obviously know nothing about tantra and retreats.
    Also I am not part of that sangha, but I would much rather take my teachings from a university that is founded on a very reputable lineage (no one can deny Khen Rinpoche was a learned master) than some stuffy university professor who has a merely intellectual knowledge of Buddhism and no skills as a practitioner or any realizations. Diamond Mountain is a university, just because it isn't a western mainstream university means nothing. Many Chinese masters have instituted universities in Taiwan, are their universities any less because they are not Cambridge or UCLA?
    I also have never read or heard of GMR or Lama Christie ever saying they have had realizations. It is what others have assumed from the open letter that came out of the retreat.
    I'd get over it mate. Stop worrying about others karma and watch your own.

    1. This doesn't seem to be about other's karma but rather protecting people from frauds. Any reputable teacher will tell their students that Buddhism is similar to the wings of a bird, you need both to fly. One wing is practice, the other is study. They compliment each other.

  11. From: "Three Years of Silent Retreat: A conversation with one of the West’s only female lamas, Christie McNally" - http://retreat4peace.org/node/17"

    G: Did it change the way you communicated with people?

    CM: Sure. Now, I can always tell when people are not telling the truth, and I always call them on it. I don’t think I could say that before. It’s very helpful as a teacher and have that capacity, for your students.

  12. Anyone who has had the fortune to be around actual authentic teachers in the tibetan buddha-dharma is likely to see that that Michael Roach and Christie McNally are frauds. My intention in saying this is to prevent more people from being lead by false teachers which is very harmful for all involved. Anyone who wastes their precious human life with false teachers will never taste the true profound vajrayana. Being that the Dalai Lama himself has asked these people to desist and they completely disregard these instructions is immoral behavior. The list goes on, and what is very telling is that there is no living teacher or organization within the interdependent organization that is Tibetan Buddhism that will vouch for them. I have received teachings that have warned to be very discerning when accepting a new teacher, observe their qualities carefully for 3 years before committing to a trust relationship with them. I implore anyone reading this who has been under the influence of these people to please go and receive teachings from other teachers who are actually affiliated with reputable organizations in the tibetan buddha dharma and reputable teachers in the interdependent network. For me, hearing the difference between these two and other authentic teachers is like night and day! Also, real authentic teachers will never teach you anything that is bliss mongering, like "how to see emptiness" the way that Roach does, because the whole point of the essence of the teachings is to cut through attachments (i.e. bliss & superpowers being common attachments) That is not the point. Authentic teachers i have met have always stressed pure motivation to bring great benefit to beings, not how to get rich or see emptiness. be very very discerning! end rant.

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  14. An interesting and in-depth article regarding McNally and Roach and the Jivamukti Yoga School by one of Roach's former students http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/jivamukti-and-geshe-michael-roach-the-cross-marketing-tangle-of-magic-teachers/

    1. My ranch is next door to DM...they are still trying but it seems the undercurrent is a quiet effort to give Roach the boot....Christen,...well her dad is a lawyer and knows what a close call it was that she wasn't charged...her book will be interesting