Some people have accused the NKT of having inexperienced or unqualified teachers. This has been addressed on the New Kadampa Truth website. Here are some extracts.
“This complaint generally arises in the minds of those who feel that all Dharma teachers need to be Geshes who have studied for decades in monasteries, or the nearest Western equivalent. However, the NKT never claims that its teachers are already fully trained or perfect…
Some teachers in the NKT have been studying and practicing for decades and have a vast depth of knowledge and experience. Others have been studying and practicing for only a few years. However, although there are a variety of NKT teachers, all of them are the same and effective insofar as they are acting as spiritual friends, simply teaching pure Dharma to help students find a happy life in accordance with the tradition of Buddha Shakyamuni, Je Tsongkhapa and Atisha as presented in the West by Geshe Kelsang….
Geshe Kelsang has also said on several occasions that teachers and students can help each other to make progress and can learn from one another. He cites his own example of learning so much from his own Western disciples. From this point of view, the NKT is more democratic and adapted to Western society than most Tibetan Buddhist organizations, where the teacher is considered superior to the students, Tibetan teachers are favored over Western teachers, and monks and nuns are favored over lay people….”
There are also a couple of other current blogs on the subject:
Dharma Teachers in the New Kadampa Tradition
Everyone can teach Kadam Dharma
As the author of the first one has pointed out, Geshe Kelsang has said that we don’t need to be Dharma millionaires in order to teach. People in this world are poor in terms of Dharma, so whatever experience of Dharma we can give them will benefit them.
It is so true. You don’t have to be a millionaire to give something of benefit to a homeless person, you need only a few spare dollars and a loving heart. Same for Dharma. And Dharma is the gift that keeps on giving — the more we give, the more we get, and the more we have to give!
Someone new to Buddhism told me recently that they would feel just as comfortable, if not more comfortable, listening to weekly Dharma teachings from someone who was not too far advanced and too far ahead of them. They said they would feel less intimidated and under less pressure because, as they pointed out, they were not at this early stage necessarily interested in learning everything about Buddhism and meditation. They just wanted a kindly instructor who was a few steps ahead and could teach them some basic meditation techniques for e.g. overcoming their anger problem. That person could always point them in the right direction if they wanted to find out more later. Also, they could always attend Celebrations and Festivals occasionally to see the bigwigs in action.
This is what they told me, and it led me to an insight into Geshe Kelsang’s point about Dharma millionaires. I pondered this and realized that I have had the same thoughts in the past when it came to learning other things, like yoga. When I attended a yoga class, I remember feeling relieved when the instructor did not seem to have mastered every asana, but seemed to be just a few steps ahead of me — I even found myself feeling pretty relaxed, and closer to her as a person, when I saw her make a mistake and topple over! It didn’t make me want to stop and find another teacher. And, thinking about it, it did not in any way diminish my respect for her as she never pretended to be perfect in the first place.
I remember feeling that there was a real possibility that I could even catch up to her if I wanted to, and that she could teach me what I needed to know in a very direct, immediate, unpretentious way. I didn’t want to know everything about yoga, I just wanted enough to help me become a little more flexible. So she could teach me the downward dog, and that was enough to begin with! Then she could teach me a little more. And so on. She only needed to stay a few steps ahead. I also knew that she could always point me in the right direction if I happened to surpass her and needed further instruction.
People who come to NKT weekly introductory classes are very often seeking simple, practical advice to make their lives happier and more peaceful. Most of them are not Buddhist. Even someone who has a few years of experience in Kadam Dharma, some faith, and a compassionate intention is able to give them this practical advice for a happy life. If their students go on to surpass them in experience and understanding, that is wonderful — and those students can then be directed to other more experienced teachers as necessary. Moreover, there are plenty of opportunities in the NKT to receive teachings from very experienced teachers, just not necessarily weekly on your own doorstep.
On the other hand, if every potential student had to wait for every Buddhist teacher to be thoroughly realized and accomplished before they could receive any teachings, they might have to wait for a very long time — death could easily come first. Looking back, if I had had to find the most accomplished yoga instructor before I could get started on the downward dog, I would have given up before even reaching the starting post.
(Please feel free to make comments. Also, you are still most welcome to send accounts of your own experiences of the New Kadampa Tradition to our comments section on this blog entry: Kadampa Blogs and Questionnaires.)
Thank you for this article. I know from my own experience that you can learn a tremendous amount from someone who is themselves putting Dharma into practice, even if they are not a Geshe or Tibetan monk or nun. It all comes down to the sincerity of practice, I think.
Thanks so much for this, especially the mention of Geshe-la’s comment – it has finally extinguished some personal self-doubt I had about my own qualification to teach.