Those who find the physical world a sufficient source of intellectual and emotional enrichment are likely to be both puzzled and annoyed by A Death On Diamond Mountain. Why would the two middle class American men at the center of the story—both well-educated and neither from a particularly religious family—become so fixated on achieving “enlightenment” through Tibetan Buddhism that their quests take over virtually every aspect of their lives? And given the inward focus of their questing, why should their story matter? The real drama here arises from the charismatic woman both men loved and who ultimately set them at odds with each other.
Upon graduating from Stanford, Ian Thorson surrendered to a spiritual restlessness that took him on a nearly two-year tour of religious shrines throughout Europe and Asia. During these wanderings, he became increasingly interested in Buddhism. After his return to America, he encountered Michael Roach, a Princeton-educated seeker who, by the time they met in New York in the late 1990s, was a well-established Buddhist scholar, teacher and author. Roach’s chief aide and consort was the alluring and cunning Christine McNally. Years later, when she shifted her affections from the Roach to the younger and more vigorous Thorson, she became the apple of discord at Diamond Mountain, the retreat Roach had created for his followers in the Arizona desert. In the end, she and Thorson were cast out of this rustic Eden, a fate that led to Thorson’s slow and agonizing death.
Himself a student of Buddhism, author Scott Carney deftly traces the paths that brought these three people together and the machinations that drove them apart. The book also describes the intricacies of Buddhist history and thought and shows how Roach Americanized the religion to comfort the rich and successful.