In the darkening banquette of a Mexican diner, Roach's limpid blue eyes frequently roll upward so the whites show beneath, in the manner of medieval saints. Faced straight on, he is less a messiah and more of an aging Beach Boy with a long fringe around his bald spot, exactly what one would expect of an aging boomer. But toward the end of the evening, he turns his head, and in profile, in shadow, for a moment, he is transmogrified into a man even older and smaller, a Mickey Rooney as the Wizard of Oz.
Roach is particularly proud of a new client he has engaged, a Russian banking conglomerate. "The owner is worth $8 billion," Roach says. "He was a colonel in Afghanistan, and when the Soviet Union fell, he got his hands on some oil, became an oligarch and then became spiritual." He also says that his Diamond Cutter seminars are very popular in China, Tibetan Buddhism's greatest foe. ("When I ask the Chinese about Tibetans," he says, "they say, 'Geshe Michael, you live on Navajo land. When you give the land back, we will.' ") His assistants say they need to hire bodyguards to keep at bay the adoring audiences who want to touch him. His picture is on public buses. In the Chinese industrial city of Guangzhou (population 8.4 million), Roach's program is advertised as "King Kong Rules of Success."
"I dream of this thing," he says. "Judeo-Christianity in its secular form has become democracy. I want to do the same with Buddhism. I want it to become the golden rule, where corporations understand that making money comes from serving other people and helping the poor make their own money. That's my dream."
As for his critics in Tibetan Buddhism, he says, "I don't care. I don't have much connection with American Buddhists anymore." Thurman thinks China is a key part of Roach's plan. "The big source of his money is Chinese Buddhists," he says.
Roach's supporters say he barely breaks even on the retreats and habitually hands off donations. He insists the tragedy of Thorson's death at Diamond Mountain is a matter of the past. "I will talk about Diamond Mountain if you want, but in three months nobody will care about what happened there. In a year, everyone will have forgotten about it." He spoke with the certainty of a man who believes he can make his own reality. He says that Diamond Mountain's days as a school are numbered anyway. "We should just make it online."
McNally is sad to hear this but not surprised. Roach, she says, told her he "hated the place" and used to call it "Demon Mountain" in private.
I ask Roach if he had, in fact, seen emptiness, the sine qua non of the Bodhisattva. "I can't say," he says. "It would be like seeing God for a Christian." The only thing he will confirm is that the vision involved the hardest substance known to man. "Diamonds," he says, explaining his side career. "I only wanted to be around them because of my dream." As he talks, he lifts his lip to show me the diamond implanted in his left canine.
He insists his worldly goal is to do one thing: to teach everyone how to "farm" seeds of good karma. And he's expanding beyond the Chinese and the Russian oligarchs to more immediate converts: He says that several prisons in Arizona are considering offering inmates Diamond Cutter Institute's entrepreneurship program.
"My life is so beautiful," he says. "I just want to share that with other people. I'm not interested in being a cult leader. I want to teach people to farm, and then they can go farm for themselves, and I can see them once a year. I don't need to have a church."
To that end, he has written yet another book, this one, despite the sordid demise of his relationship with McNally, about finding and keeping love – The Karma of Love: 100 Answers for Your Relationship. He told a packed audience in New York this winter that the book, which contains tips about matters such as how karma can help a man rekindle his wife's desire for him, will "automatically save the world." But despite the diamond ring on his finger, Roach says he has no plans to remarry.
This story is from the June 6th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
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