At One With the Mountain

Tibetan Buddhist students attain enlightenment in Southeastern Arizona.

Near a small southeastern Arizona town so small there is no stoplight, some new arrivals are quietly creating a community of Tibetan Buddhism students. Under the spiritual direction of America's first Buddhist monk, the students are studying to attain the degree of geshe (master of Buddhism).

Buddhism has come to Bowie.

In October 2001, a Buddhist group purchased 1,000 acres of high desert country located 14 miles south of Bowie. They named their church, monastery and property--a envisioned enlightened community, complete with a 500-year plan--Diamond Mountain.

Next to Fort Bowie, at the site formerly known as Bear Springs Ranch in the northern foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains, Diamond Mountain is the realized vision of Michael Roach.

Roach, a 51-year-old Los Angeles native who grew up in Phoenix, graduated from Princeton with honors in 1974 and traveled to Asia to study with Tibetan lamas. In 1995, Roach became the first American to earn the ancient degree of geshe after completing 22 years of intense study with the lamas. He took the vows of a Buddhist monk in 1983.

During his study in southern India at the Sera May monastery, Roach's teacher encouraged him to return to America and enter the world of business--telling him that a busy American office would provide the perfect place to test the Buddhist ideals he had learned at Sera May.

He was told to keep quiet about being a Buddhist, wear his hair at normal length (instead of shaved) and dress in normal clothes. He was to apply his Buddhist principles quietly, too.

"I was to be a Buddhist sage on the inside, and a normal American businessman on the outside," Roach wrote in his book, The Diamond Cutter, The Buddha on Strategies for Managing Your Business and Your Life.

After working 16 years in New York City as director of Andin International, a hugely successful diamond firm, and founding the Asian Classics Input Project and the Asian Classics Institute, Geshe Michael moved West with a vision of creating a community of students from all over the world devoted to the principles and practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

Even before property for Diamond Mountain was purchased, Geshe Michael began a three-year, three-month and three-day silent retreat with five advanced ACI students on March 3, 2000 in the Dragoon Mountains of Cochise County, leaving the business of developing Diamond Mountain up to his students.

During this period (except for four brief breaks), the six have been spending all their time in individual silence and meditation. A team of volunteers from around the globe meets their daily needs. Geshe Michael and the others are living in yurts imported from Mongolia for the retreat.

"Our goals here are spiritual in nature. We have a 500-year plan," says 40-year-old Winston McCullough, Diamond Mountain's director. McCullough is currently living at the century-old Bear Springs ranch house with his wife and two young children, overseeing construction of new buildings and managing operations of Diamond Mountain.

A senior teacher of Buddhist philosophy, McCullough holds a doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology and is a graduate of the Teacher Training Program of the ACI. He is also a classical and jazz pianist, having previously worked as a professional jazz musician. He and his family are having a house built at Diamond Mountain, one of the first new buildings to be constructed.

All buildings constructed at Diamond Mountain will be property of Diamond Mountain, but that doesn't deter serious students from moving there.

A home is being built by Tucsonans David and Susan Stumpf. Susan is a retired physician's assistant whose practice specialized in traditional Chinese medicine. David is a research scientist at the University of Arizona. The couple has been studying Tibetan Buddhism for 10 years.

Though the house they are building will belong to Diamond Mountain, the Stumpfs plan to live there and further their study towards enlightenment.

"For a dharma (the study of teachings by the Buddha throughout history) center to work, you need committed students," says David Stumpf. "One commitment is to build a residence on the property and donate it to the community."

Provided the Stumpfs meet certain guidelines, such as actively participating in spiritual events of the community, they can continue to live in their house. David says they are having an additional apartment built in their home to accommodate another community member.

"Giving to help others, giving the house for future residents to use, is another commitment that can plant the seed for a thriving community of like-minded people," he adds.

About 30 volunteers currently are actively involved with Diamond Mountain locally, but it isn't just Americans being drawn to the monastery. Alistair Holmes, a 32-year-old Australian from Brisbane, moved to Bowie in August 2002, where he rents a house with two other Diamond Mountain volunteers.

A student of Tibetan Buddhism since January 2000, Holmes heard Geshe Michael speak of his vision of Diamond Mountain at a course he attended in India. He visited Diamond Mountain for the first time in September 2001, when the group was operating from the St. David area. After returning home and obtaining a visa, he returned to Arizona in August 2002 to volunteer in any way he can with the development and growth of Diamond Mountain.

With his family's third child due in April, McCullough says he is seeing a growing number of families with children becoming involved with Buddhism.

"To me, it's totally natural that the family would be a core unit that would support the growth of Buddhism," he says. "Taking care of children is exactly like the practice of Buddhism. You have to get out of your own selfish skin. You're forced to pay attention to other people's needs. That's the heart of Buddhism too."

McCullough reports that Geshe Michael and the five other silent retreat participants will take their final break April 17-20 to offer a teaching event for anyone interested. There is no fee charged for any Diamond Mountain teaching event, McCullough says.