A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment  |  Scott Carney  |  Nonfiction, Buddhism  |  2015

Summary

A Death on Diamond Mountain is a curious account of the inception and rise of a radical Buddhist group, and the significant part it played in the death of one of its converts, 38-year-old Ian Thorson.  The narrative not only focuses on Thorson and his supposed brainwashing, but ties together key influencers, participants, and the tempestuous history of Buddhism as well.

Ian Thorson was one of those typical, good-looking, superstar kids who, for some reason or another, got caught up with the wrong crowd.  After graduating from Stanford, Ian went world travelling and ended up studying Buddhism in Nepal.  Once he returned to the States, he was encouraged to continue studying with New York-based Buddhist, Michael Roach (aka ‘the wrong crowd’).  Although Thorson’s family staged an intervention to save him from Roach’s ‘cult’, Thorson fell deeper and deeper into the close-knit, seemingly impenetrable community.

Michael Roach began studying Buddhism in India and became one of the first to teach and spread the religion in the States.  However, as time went on, Roach started to deviate from the traditional branch of Buddhism he practiced to form a new one.  He gained handful of followers (such as Ian Thorson) and eventually created a ‘Buddhist retreat’ in Arizona where students could further their studies.  It was here, at the Diamond Mountain Center, where Thorson lost his life.

Thoughts

This book was an engaging read full of intrigue and mystery.  It was fascinating to piece together such a multi-faceted story, and I found myself learning so much about the religion of Buddhism itself.  You don’t often hear about Buddhism in a negative light, but there’s a lot more to it than the cherubic face of a meditative Buddha!  Buddhism, like most religions, has its fair share of bloody roots (war, violence, death, disagreement, etc.), and like all religions, can have extreme branches.

I really appreciate how this book drove my curiosity, both whilst reading and after finishing the book.  I googled the event and matched photos to names afterward–some photos were quite shocking.  It’s apparent that Carney consulted a great variety of sources for this book, and did a lot of research.  It’s also quite interesting that Carney was inspired to write about this topic in response to a somewhat similar event that occurred in his own life (he, too, practices(d?) some form of Buddhism).

Is it for you?

A Death on Diamond Mountain is a great book to pick up when bored, and very easy to get in to.  I would recommend this book to any and all, especially to mystery lovers with an interest in religion.

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