In 2012, thirty-eight-year-old Ian Thorson’s search for spiritual transcendence ended in tragedy on a remote Arizona mountaintop. His wife, a woman anointed as a goddess by an eccentric Buddhist community, held him in her arms as he slowly died from dehydration and dysentery. For Carney, a journalist and anthropologist who lived in India for six years, Thorson’s death was just the most recent iteration of an unspoken epidemic that connected intensive meditation and mental instability.
The Enlightenment Trap explores how Tibetan Buddhism in the West morphed from its roots in the Himalayan foothills into a fundamentally new American religion. For Thorson the entry point into this new faith was Geshe Michael Roach, the supreme spiritual leader of Diamond Mountain University.
Carney unravels the cult-like practices of Diamond Mountain to illuminate the uniquely American tendency to mix and match Eastern religious traditions like LEGO pieces. The result is that for some, enlightenment is a synonym for almost god-like powers and achieving it can become more important than life itself.
Aided by Thorson’s private papers and cutting-edge neurological research, the book reveals the profound impact of intensive meditation on the brain. Carney exposes stories of miracles and black magic, sexualized rituals, and tantric rites from former Diamond Mountain acolytes. The Enlightenment Trap is a gripping work of investigative journalism that reveals how the path to enlightenment can be riddled with danger.
The Enlightenment Trap was previously published under the title A Death on Diamond Mountain by Penguin Random House in 2015. This is the 2017 re-release.
Praise for A Death on Diamond Mountain
“A deeply engrossing account of spiritual ambition gone awry. At once illuminating and distressing, it is a riveting plunge into the liminal territory where naïvety, sexuality, and spirituality overlap.”
—Mark Epstein, Md, Author of Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart and The Trauma of Everyday Life
“An engaging and sobering account of a group of Westerners who are prepared to sacrifice everything in their desperate quest for transcendence. A Death on Diamond Mountain illustrates the promises, pitfalls, and deceptions of a young man’s search for Eastern wisdom that starts in a Tibetan monastery in Nepal and ends in a cave in the Arizona desert.”
—Stephen Batchelor, Author of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist
“The quest for supreme bliss goes spectacularly awry in A Death on Diamond Mountain, Scott Carney’s masterful account of a bizarre tragedy in the Arizona wilderness. A tenacious reporter who writes like a dream, Carney delves deep into the tangled lives of this saga’s key players, whose motives range from pure to venal. The haunting, multilayered story that he comes away with is one that will resonate with anyone who has ever pursued even the smallest measure of spiritual peace.”
—Brendan I. Koerner, Author of The Skies Belong to Us
“The transmission of Buddhism and spirituality from Asia to foreign lands is prone to misreading, confusion, and, in some cases, very real danger—all of which happened on American soil at Diamond Mountain. Scott Carney’s deftly narrated story is shocking. His should serve as a warning about self-styled, so-called teachers and how their misinterpretation of meditation and yoga techniques is not only unskillful but can result in tragedy.”
—Matteo Pistono, Author of Fearless in Tibet and In the Shadow of the Buddha
“In a masterful narrative, Scott Carney explores the dark side of our obsession with Eastern religions and philosophies. But in this search for Nirvana, some find insanity. Others find death. Carney takes you on a perverse spiritual journey that ends tragically on an Arizona mountain whose soil has long soaked up the blood of wanderers.”
—Trevor Aaronson, Author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism