For the past five years, I have engaged in fieldwork and filming a documentary about Diamond Mountain, a community of Western converts to Tibetan Buddhism in southern Arizona under the leadership of Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally. The latter was retreat master and, along with her husband Ian Thorson, in the middle of guiding forty students through a three-year, three-month, three-day silent meditation retreat. But when McNally stabbed Thorson, the Diamond Mountain Board asked both to leave. Feigning departure, the couple sneaked into a small cave just outside the Diamond Mountain property, where two months later Thorson died of dehydration. Stories of scandal, cult and death flooded the media. This essay provides an account of these events, the mistrust of my research that emerged because of the media’s stigmatization of the group, and the type of trust-building necessary to continue my research.
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