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'Tantric sex rituals' of notorious Buddhist retreat revealed

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Tantric sex rituals' of notorious Buddhist retreat revealed by James Nye, The Daily Mail, 10 March 2014

Ex-member of mysterious 'cult' lifts lid on head monk whose secret wife left him for love rival who died in deser Arizona, USA -- A new investigation into a mysterious Arizona yoga retreat - likened to cult - and the death of one of its members alleges the Princeton-educated leader condoned bizarre tantric sex rituals at his camp.

Divisive: Roach's teachings and rituals were questioned during the course of his relationship with McNally. He and McNally lived in a yurt together, right, for years before she left him for Thorson, their attendant

It was the death of Stanford-graduate Ian Thorson from exposure and dehydration in the desert after he had been expelled from his love rivals Michael Roach's Diamond Mountain in June 2012, that shone at light on the shady religious practices of the Buddhist community.

Aired on Sunday, NBC's Dateline re-examined the circumstances surrounding Thorson's passing and spoke with a former member, almost two years after he was found in a cave alongside his wife, Christie McNally who had separated from Roach three years previously.

Thorson and McNally were hardcore devotees of Tibetan Buddhism, studying literally at the feet of Michael Roach at his Arizona desert compound.

By all accounts, Roach demanded total obedience from his followers, that some have compared to a the megalomania of a cult.

At the Buddhist Diamond Mountain retreat, nearly 40 aherents pledge to meditate for three years, three months and three days. Their only communication is by paper and pen. It is run by divisive Princeton-educated monk and McNally's former husband, Michael Roach, whose teachings have been rejected as unconventional by some, including the Dalai Lama.

Roach, who had previously run a diamond business worth tens of millions of dollars, raised eyebrows for promoting Buddhist principles as a path to financial success, the New York Times reported in the aftermath of Thorson's death in 2012.

One of his former students, yoga teacher Matthew Remski described the leader as a 'charismatic Buddhist teacher' who he respected until his popularity 'turned him into a celebrity'.

Others have cited concerning initiation ceremonies. Another former volunteer, Sid Johnson, told NBC's Dateline that his involved 'kissing and genital touching'.

He also made the bizarre claim that Roach, who as a Buddhist monk should not have had sex let alone marry, made unusual exceptions for bedding McNally.

'He said that he had never had sex with a human woman,' said Johnson to Dateline, explaining that Roach told his followers that McNally was a supernatural being and not a woman.

According to Johnson the sexual rituals at Diamond Mountain became increasingly bizarre.

'It was so surreal, but then there was a part of me that was thinking that these were some kind of sacred rituals and perhaps something amazing is going to happen,' said Johnson.

Another former follower, Buddhist monk, Lama Lobsang Nyima described walking in on Ian Thorson’s creepy devotional practice to Michael Roach.

'Michael had a room in this temple in New Jersey and sometimes I would crash there,' said Nyima.

'So I walked in once and saw Ian, lying prostrate on the floor in the middle of some sort of devotion to Roach.

'He was very much intent on staying with Michael Roach - it was very clear he had some form of attraction to the teachings of Roach.

'The strong devotion that Roach asked of his followers came with a tantric element .

'There are normal relationships a Buddhist with have with his followers and then there are vows of a tantric nature.

'You have to do what they say. This can be very dangerous when taken out of context and is like a cult.'

Another of his questionable practices was his secret marriage to McNally, which is forbidden by Buddhism. It lasted more than a decade and ended in 2010 - a month before she married Thorson.

The couple met in New York city when he was her teacher. Despite the 20-year age gap, their friendship became something more - and they vowed never to stray more than 15ft from each other.

Criticism: Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, left, and the Dalai Lama, centre, both turned their backs on Roach after it came to light that he had married

Roach and McNally had lived together in a yurt throughout a three-year retreat he had promoted from 1999, but they claimed they were celibate and kept the marriage secret from others.

But, as the New York Post reported, his version of celibacy was also questionable.

'We are not allowed to have sex, but in yoga there are practices that involve joining with a partner,' he said.

'They are secret, and you are not allowed to disclose them. You might think of them as sex, but their purpose is to move inner energy. It takes very strict training.'

Together, the couple wrote books and presented lectures around the world.

When the marriage came to light, Roach said he and his wife came from Christian backgrounds so they wanted to carry out a Christian partnership, as well as a Buddhist one.

He added that he wanted her to be able to legally claim his possessions if he passed away.

But the union garnered derision from Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, father of actress Uma Thurman, who said he should renounce his monastic vows - but Roach refused.

The Dalai Lama's office called it 'unconventional behavior' and refused to see him when he traveled to India with his students in 2006.

But in 2009, McNally left Roach for Thorson, a young student who had once served as their attendant. After, Roach was seen dancing in Manhattan clubs with Russian models.

He said of the break up: 'You should see your partner as an angel who came to teach you. I look at Christie that way - the education is finished and now she is teaching a new person. If you try to see it that way, it helps your heart to hurt less.'

Her union with Thorson seemed far from simple. In a lecture before they fled, she admitted he had become violent and she had stabbed him.

She used a knife the couple had been given as a wedding present, but later claimed she was practicing martial arts and it went wrong. He suffered three stab wounds to the chest.

In a letter written after they left the retreat, she wrote: 'Of course it was an accident! I would never do harm to anyone’s body on purpose, least of all my holy husband, who I adore.'

She explained: 'We were simply fooling around, like children playing with their father’s samurai sword, unaware that eventually someone is bound to get hurt.'

After the incident, they were given five days to leave, but they left immediately.

In her letter, McNally said they were not ready to re-enter the world so were going camping on land next to the retreat 'to get our thoughts settled'.

When members of the retreat searched for them, they hid in a cave. The people also left water for them, knowing they were around, but the couple fell ill and could not retrieve it, authorities said.

On April 22 at 6 a.m. - six weeks after they left the retreat - McNally sent a distress signal to Diamond Mountain from a transmitter she had been carrying.

When caretakers could not find the couple, they called 911.

A search-and-rescue team from the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office found Thorson had died from dehydration and exposure, and his wife was weak and delerious.

Three of Diamond Mountain’s caretakers set out to look for her and Mr. Thorson, but could not find them. Around 8 a.m., the caretakers called 911.

The retreat will end on April 3, 2014. Of its original 39 participants, 34 remain.