Sex and Death on the Road to Nirvana

Page 5 of 6

McNally says the reaction to the stabbing was overblown and blames Roach. "There were no swords," she says. "There was no fight. It was a very frightening accident that happened when we were playing around with a kitchen knife. Frightening to me, at least. Ian thought the whole thing was funny. He also thought it was a divine message."

McNally says that the day after her "teaching," Roach gathered the community and gave his own lecture, "ridiculing my teaching, denouncing me and saying how DM was his place and he was not going to let it go. . . . GM began campaigning for our abrupt excommunication. GM told another group of people that I was the dangerous one. Dangerous for him, perhaps."

In a public letter after Thorson's death, Roach said he and the board together agreed to eject the couple because they were afraid of more violence. "Some of us felt that Lama Christie, by mentioning the abuse publicly at the only talk which I attended, was making a conscious or unconscious cry for help."

McNally and Thorson left Diamond Mountain, but instead of returning to speech and civilization, they continued their retreat on their own. A pair of Diamond Mountain students serving as McNally's assistants – a chef from Houston and a young hedge-fund analyst from Wall Street – begged them not to move into the desert. But McNally and especially Thorson were adamant, so the assistants agreed to buy them camping gear and stay in contact with them by phone. Roach and McNally had ordained the two men as monks with the Tibetan names Chandra and Akasha. Akasha (who asked that we not use his real name) says that other followers were aware the couple had remained nearby, but that nobody knew exactly where they were camping.

"We had a wonderful adventure, at first," McNally says. "We started out pitching our tent fairly close to the edge of DM property." But they heard voices and saw flashlights and figured the Diamond Mountain board was pursuing them, so they moved to a more remote location. "It was pure luck that we found the cave," she says. "It was kind of luxurious for a cave, and there were all these signs of the Apaches living in different places all up and down that same mountain ravine."

Two months passed, and the couple subsisted on canned food and water collected in a tarp. McNally says they imagined they would stay there for a year.

A few days before she activated the SPOT emergency call, McNally – through one of the assistants – released a rambling treatise. In it, she described how Ian, who she was calling "Ein," had been subject to fits of aggression during the retreat. McNally wrote that she decided to take up martial-arts training, not to defend herself but in order to "learn" whatever lesson Thorson's violence was supposed to teach her.

"He had been having a lot of physical aggression at the time (nothing too serious), and I simply didn't relate to it and wanted to understand it better," she wrote. "I wanted to understand how he felt."

She assured everyone that she and Thorson had found bliss in their "retreat place in the sky" and concluded, "I love you all very much, do not worry about us, we are still impossibly very happy – more and more joy each day."

Three days after the letter was delivered, Thorson was dead.

McNally's final days in the cave were far from blissful. She says that no sooner had they handed the message to their assistant than she got ill. She was "bedridden for days," possibly sickened by bacteria in melting snow they drank. "Ian was taking care of me. We had water but not so much, and we were rationing – a couple of bowls a day. Ian could have gone and gotten more, but he did not want to leave me. We could have texted someone, but Ian wasn't too keen on people knowing where we were. And, as I discovered, even if you described the place, it was still almost impossible to find."

When McNally recovered enough to "stumble out of the cave," Thorson was felled by the same disorder. She woke up to find him unconscious and called her assistant, who told her he would bring help. "It took nine hours before anyone found us," she recalls. "Actually, the first person to find us, thankfully, was the nurse from the retreat. She was the one to break the news to me. So gently, she said, 'I'm sorry, Lama Christie, he's gone.' That single moment will forever be the worst moment of my life."

McNally stayed with Thorson's body at a nearby funeral home, believing that she needed to assist Thorson's soul on its journey out of the body: "I would come each day and sit and hold his hand and just be there for him."

Kay Thorson lays the blame for her son's death squarely on Roach because he "induces people to value enlightenment above communication and personal safety."

After Thorson's funeral, McNally disappeared, declining all interviews. Her followers have reported they heard she was seen in Kathmandu, Nepal, but she won't reveal her current whereabouts. "I have spent this past year in various places," she says, "none of which matter very much, except for the fact that they were far from both my former community and from all the various people trying to contact me for 'my story.'"

She says the letter from the Diamond Mountain board expelling her made it clear she should stay away. "It said something like, 'The DM board feels that your teachings are not in keeping with the vision we have of DM.'"

McNally believes Roach has been vindictive in ostracizing her from her former community. "In addition to losing my husband, I had no home to go back to, no more job, and it seemed like almost every person I knew was somehow turned against me by the person I used to trust with my very life. . . . I did not realize the intensity of GM's bitterness toward me. He is a formidable enemy, especially when you do not even realize you have one."

A year later, nothing seems to have changed at Diamond Mountain. Most of the acolytes who took the vow of silence are still at the retreat. The temple's altar table remains the same. There's a photograph of Lama Christie in her trademark white, garlanded with dried red flowers. Across from it, a portrait of Geshe Michael, smiling beatifically, in maroon robes. "We didn't know what to do with their pictures when they broke up," board member Nicole Davis says. "So we left them together."

Of Thorson, there is no sign at all, not even a memorial stone among the manicured walkways and shrines around the temple. This fact upsets Jerry Kelly, the university's next-door neighbor, who got to know Thorson on his hikes outside the grounds. "I don't understand why the police didn't ask more questions," he says. "If I had stabbed my wife, and then she died next to me in a cave, you can bet they would have been hitting me with phone books in the police station."

This spring, almost a year after Thorson's death, Roach agreed to meet me at his favorite eatery in downtown Glendale, Arizona. The restaurant is near where he grew up, and about two hours from his house in the mountains near Flagstaff.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Culture Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.