Knotty Veneer wrote:
In response to Namdrol's point that two explanations are not mutually exclusive, as I am not privy to the decisions of the Dharma Protectors I cannot say. However, I think in this case there are plenty of plain old rational explanations for what led to this sorry situation that any intervention by supernatural forces would be superfluous.
Gdon attacking retreatants and causing them to behave in bizarre ways is not unheard of. For example, Sachen Kunga Nyingpo was attacked by Gyalpo Pehar, for which he resorted to the meditation of Acala.
Likewise, Ngagpa Yeshe Dorje was assigned by Dudjom Rinpoche to do retreat in a cave where several people had died, presumably becuase there was a malevolent gdon that inhabited the place. His attendent was so freaked out, he left after only a few days.
Having myself done a solitary three year retreat, I can report that one's imagination can run away with itself. I can remember having a fantasy, among other fanatasies, that a chainsaw that my dad gave me to cut wood for myself suddenly started and chased me around the cabin. I had a similar fantasy about an axe.
These fantasies were very vivid. I of course understood they were merely fanatasies, but they were powerful. I can remember brooding about what I would do in case of a nuclear emergency, and wondering which way I would go, west to find my parents, or east to find my best friend, etc.
Further, it is very easy for people in retreat to be subject of provocations of various kinds.
Despite the fact that we all generally are not super impressed with the Diamond Mountain scene (but then I am not super impressed with any of the missionary Buddhist organizations in the US, regardless of lineage or affiliation), the meltdown of Macnally and Thorson's retreat and ensuing tragedy should be met with compassion. Further, it must be very difficult for the other people in the retreat as well.