Smear: Geshe Kelsang calls himself ‘the Third Buddha’ and seeks veneration from his students

Tenzin Peljor on a recent Tricycle editors’ blog, refers to Geshe Kelsang: “In NKT there is an autocrat and he uses his power in an autocrat way.” Elsewhere, the NKT has been accused of calling Geshe Kelsang the “third Buddha” and seeking veneration from his students.

The truth is that Geshe Kelsang has never used any self-aggrandizing terms in relation to himself — he is very humble and self-deprecating, attributing any success or good qualities that he may possess to Je Tsongkhapa and his Spiritual Guide, Trijang Dorjechang.

For example, in a teaching before a Je Tsongkhapa empowerment in 1995 he said:

“We can think, how is it possible that a foolish man like myself can write fifteen Dharma books? These are very different from other books. The NKT Dharma books that we are using as our subject of study and practice are not just a collection of lectures. They are complete with root text, commentary and outlines, made perfectly like Dharma scripture. How can a foolish man write these books? I can say that because Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings are so profound, precious and clear, it gives Geshe Kelsang the opportunity to write these books. All the explanations of NKT Dharma books come from Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings. Because these teachings are so special, even a humble practitioner and foolish man like me has the opportunity to present such beautiful books. Through this alone we can understand the pre-eminent qualities of Je Tsongkhapa.”

Moreover, gradually throughout his teachings and books over many years, Geshe Kelsang has been clearly teaching how not to rely inappropriately or in a cult-like way on a Spiritual Guide. Buddha’s traditional instructions on Guru devotion need to be understood and practiced carefully within our modern Western context. They must be applied in a very different way to how they were (and still are) sometimes applied in Tibetan society, and especially they must not be mixed with political control.

For example, in Paris in 2008, Geshe Kelsang said:

“Generally, of course, relying upon the Spiritual Guide is the root of Dharma realizations, as Buddha Vajradhara said in the Highest Yoga Tantra teachings and Buddha Shakyamuni said in the Sutra teachings. This teaching is everywhere — from Buddha Shakyamuni up to our present teacher, every teacher has unanimously taught this. We cannot change this. But because society, times and other conditions are different, we need to be careful. What we say and what we want should always remain in the middle way, never extreme.”

Geshe Kelsang explains that although it is a traditional and vital Buddhist teaching to view your Spiritual Guide as a Buddha in order to gain realizations of the stages of the path to enlightenment, this view must be kept inside the heart and not verbalized; and the teachers and students must also not claim to be holy beings (whether they are or not).

He explains: “Je Tsongkhapa strongly rejected revealing clairvoyance and miracle powers, or giving physical or verbal indications that we are a holy, pure or enlightened being.”

This is a “middle way” followed in the New Kadampa Tradition, which enables both teachers and students to avoid strange, “extreme” behavior, and to act normally around each other. It is in keeping with the practice of Je Tsongkhapa’s disciples in their monasteries in Tibet. For example, if a monk made a display of his miracle powers or clairvoyance, he would be asked to leave.

More on this subject coming later. Please feel free to make comments or ask questions.

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5 Responses to Smear: Geshe Kelsang calls himself ‘the Third Buddha’ and seeks veneration from his students

  1. Sue says:

    I find this interesting, because I see less of this in NKT than in other Buddhist traditions I’ve been to. It seems ironical that it is used to further the Dalai Lama’s criticism of Geshe Kelsang when the strongest example of putting someone up as a Buddha has to be with regard to him whom everyone touts as the ‘God King’ and reincarnation of Buddha Avalokiteshvara.

    Guru devotion is a private decision. If students hold this view of Geshe Kelsang (or of the Dalai Lama), it can benefit them in their practice but I’ve never heard it come from the side of Geshe Kelsang himself. He simply explains what past lineage gurus have taught regarding choosing and relying on a Spiritual Guide. But neither should he forbid/discourage such personal views, because this would contradict the teachings on Guru Devotion that are key to the long lineage of Mahayana Buddhism.

  2. Joe says:

    These are degenerate times and it’s easy for people to misunderstand the teachings on reliance on the Spiritual Guide. For example, they might think “this Teacher is telling me this because they want me to see them as a Buddha” and then they assume the Teacher has delusions of grandeur and their ego is running amok!

    The teachings were on reliance on the Spiritual Guide are given so the student can benefit. If they view their Teacher as a Buddha, they get the benefits of that pure view in terms of blessings, and the teachings they receive will have a more powerful effect on their mind. It’s not so the Teacher can get off on everyone calling them a Buddha and prostrating to them! I suppose it is possible that the teachings can be abused in this way, though, but there’s no way that Geshe Kelsang’s doing that.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Talking about Tenzin Peljor, someone who knows him recently wrote this about him on another blog in response to the comment quoted below, and I’ve taken the liberty of including it here as it may give some useful context in which to understand Tenzin Peljor’s actions and even develop some sympathy for him:

    “He abandoned his teacher?? Well that does say it all doesn’t it? How sad and flippant. Spiritual practice is not like seasonal fashion trend. And we don’t switch our teachers like changing to the latest ‘hot’ designer of the year.”

    Actually he’s a very poor guy grown up in an orphant house and probably his main troubles just arose from projecting his very personal childhood problems on his first teacher. I suppose he had been better advised to do a good therapy instead of terrorizing the whole Tibetan Buddhist scene with his psycho problems. I met him one time in my Nyingma Sangha where he had gnashingly to accept when he saw Rinpoche sending me around with the scull cup – obviously without any problems for my Dorje Shugden background. All his present Gurus as to mention Ringu Tulku, Dagyab Rinpoche and others advised him very clearly to stop slandering on his previous teachers but he doesn’t listen to them. When he was offered to do a proper monastic education in India by one of his masters he rejected it as it is more comfortable for him to spend his time in denigrating others on the cost of some naive donators. Just recently I heard from a friend that he believes our monastery doing Pujas against him. But I fear I am the only one who even knows him from our monastery and I have definitely better things to do let alone that we do usually pujas for persons and not against. I could gossip a little more about him but I don’t want to grab too deeply into the dirt box, it’s too disgusting and he’s really a very, very poor guy Lips sealed

  4. andrew paisley says:

    Geshe Kelsang is humble and wise. He saved me from a life of hell and has given me Pure and Precious teachings. If he told me what to think and interfered with other traditions etc..i would not want him to be my teacher and Guide…he is only interested in spreading Pure Dharma..nothing else is on his agenda…such a Guide is very precious in these degenerate times!!!

  5. Luna Kadampa says:

    My feeling is that relying on the Spiritual Guide is a deep practice that is supposed to help us, not the Spiritual Guide, and it need not involve any outer actions. (Indeed Geshe Kelsang emphasizes keeping our faith in our hearts, not going on about it verbally or bowing and scraping physically — clearly that behavior leads to obstacles.)

    So if, for whatever reason, one feels like distancing oneself from one’s chosen Spiritual Guide in person, one can still beneficially hold him or her to be in essence a manifestation of all the Buddhas, even teaching us what not to do through manifesting faults.

    As Tantric Buddhists in particular we are training in pure view, starting with our Spiritual Guides; but that need not mean that we ever do anything contradictory to the teachings or vows.

    As Buddhists we are not relying on inherently existent Spiritual Guides. Spiritual Guides are never precious from their own side, vis a vis Geshe Potowa’s wise advice that whether the Guru is precious or not depends on you not the Guru.

    Interesting blog article: http://dharmaprotector.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/the-virtuous-friend-you-will-know-them-by-their-root

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