Inner life

Geshe Michael Roach has spent most of his adult life as a monk in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, and has been meditating for over 30 years. He has passed more than six years in deep retreat, including a traditional “Great Retreat” of 3 years, 3 months, and 3 days in silence and meditation, from 2000 to 2003, in a hut in the Arizona desert. When asked about any inner achievements and realizations, he prefers the Tibetan approach of not talking about things which cannot be proven to others, saying only that he has been “very fortunate.” He does like to say that his personal practice has made him “the happiest person I know.”

Upon completion of the Great Retreat in 2003, Geshe Michael wrote a personal letter to all of his major teachers, and to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, describing special experiences that had occurred to him since the age of 16. In this letter he also described his intention of engaging in a period of spiritual partnership with Lama Christie McNally.

The tradition of a spiritual partner in Buddhism is 2,500 years old, and was followed even by Lord Buddha himself. It is allowed even for the ordained under special circumstances, including initiation from ones personal Master, which Geshe Michael had received a number of times. This type of partnership, utilizing the interaction of male and female energy, is stated in many scriptures throughout the history of Buddhism to be necessary for attaining enlightenment within a single life.

Such partnerships are often engaged in only within meditation, and those with an actual, physical partner have rarely been made public in the Tibetan tradition. Geshe Michael believed this approach to be unfair to the female partner, who was hidden away and never allowed to speak. And so for the next 12 years he taught publicly alongside Lama Christie, as an equal partner.

This received mixed reactions from the Tibetan Buddhist community: a senior official in the Office of the Dalai Lama who had never met Geshe Michael discounted his experiences entirely, while other eminent Lamas sent him letters of congratulation. The partnership though was successful, attracting on some nights over a thousand participants to attend spiritual partner talks from New York to Shanghai. The partnership was concluded in 2009, with Lama Christie launched independently as an internationally acclaimed author and public speaker. Her recent engagement to a mutual colleague has greatly mollified the ruffled feathers of more traditional Buddhists.

As for other practices meant to transform the inner body, Geshe Michael received empowerment into the “unsurpassed yoga” (anuttara) systems of the Tibetan tradition–including Bhairava, Vajra Yogini, Chakra Samvara, and Kalachakra–beginning in the early 1980´s, from some of the highest Lamas in the world at that time, including Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin (1921-2004), Kyabje Ling Rinpoche (1903-1983), and Kyabje Zong Rinpoche (1905-1984). In Tibetan monasteries, physical yoga (yoga asana) is considered highly secret, and only after completing his geshe degree did he receive empowerment into the Six Yogas of Naropa, the most famous of the Tibetan systems of yoga poses.

For the last 12 years he has also maintained a daily practice of Indian styles of yoga, which began with training under David Life, Sharon Gannon, Ruth Lauer, and David Swenson of the jivamukti and ashtanga systems. He has since also studied with other teachers such as Shri Dharma Mittra and Ana Forrest. For his personal practice and public yoga teaching, Geshe Michael specializes in the yoga practice of Lady Niguma, an Indian yogini who lived a thousand years ago, and whose teachings came to Tibet. He has taught this system worldwide, especially in Asia and in the ACI Prison Program in the United States.

Geshe Michael also utilizes sacred dance in his personal practice. He began his dance studies in 1997 with Ze´eva Cohen, the director of Princeton´s Department of Dance, and continued into ballet with Laura Donnelly of the University of Arizona, and Eva Natanya, formerly of the New York City Ballet and the Royal Ballet, London. He has also studied with Tibetan and Mongolian masters of sacred dance.