NKT detractors have claimed that after Geshe Kelsang’s retirement in 2009, the General Spiritual Director of the NKT will not be a Geshe, Lama or Rinpoche, and therefore there will be no lineage for NKT in the future.
This objection arises from comparing the NKT-IKBU (New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union) with the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, feeling that it should operate in the same way. This does not have to be the case. The living lineage of any Buddhist tradition exists in the hearts of its practitioners as realizations. It cannot exist on paper or in titles such as ‘Geshe’, ‘Lama’ or ‘Rinpoche’. These titles should be given either out of respect for the example that such a practitioner demonstrates, or as a qualification (in the case of ‘Geshe’) for a particular course of academic study.
In earlier times, titles and paper qualifications were not required for sincere spiritual Teachers and disciples. For example, Atisha was not called ‘His Holiness’ or ‘Rinpoche’ or ‘Geshe’. Even students of this great Master who were called ‘Geshe’ (meaning ‘spiritual friend’) such as Geshe Potowa, Geshe Langri Tangpa and Geshe Sharawa would not have recognised the Geshe degree that passes for a qualification to teach in the Tibetan Gelugpa tradition these days. They did not engage in such formal study – they simply listened to their Spiritual Guide’s instructions and, putting them into practice with a pure motivation, developed genuine realizations. They then passed the lineage of the instructions on to their disciples.
Many great lineage Teachers of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition never passed a Geshe degree but they were serious, wise and realized Teachers. As Gyalwa Ensapa, a lineage holder of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition, said in one of his many songs:
My only good qualities are that first I made single-pointed requests to my Spiritual Guide, then I practised my sadhanas as soon as I received them, and finally I attained enlightenment in three years and three months.
As it happens, the NKT-IKBU does have three study programmes, the Teacher Training Programme in particular being very rigorous, consisting of many years of study, exams and meditation retreats. Unlike the Geshe degree, it is not hampered by politics (for example, to study at the Gelugpa monasteries under control of the 14th Dalai Lama these days it is necessary to have signed a document renouncing the practice of Dorje Shugden, a political qualification stipulated by the Tibetan Government in Exile). Also, while containing many profound philosophical subjects such as Lorig (the nature and functions of the mind) and the profound wisdom teachings of the middle way, the NKT Teacher Training Programme is also very practical with the extensive study of Lamrim (stages of the path) and Lojong (training the mind). It is also meditative, orientated towards the Yogi’s way of life, with subjects such as training in meditative concentration and Mahamudra. This is unlike the Geshe degree, which emphasizes philosophical studies instead of practical and meditative ones. To complete the Teacher Training Programme requires great dedication and many years of sincere practice. The final qualifications for any NKT-IKBU Teacher to aspire to are explained in the eleven reversals.
Just as the NKT-IKBU does not need to rely on traditional Geshe training, neither does the NKT-IKBU have to rely on reincarnated Teachers or ‘Tulkus’ for lineage because it is not necessary. Sadly, there are many examples in the Tibetan tradition of how the Tulku system has been abused for the sake of power, wealth and reputation. Since mistakes and worldly motivations are common in these degenerate times, it is not wise to rely upon such a system. A Teacher should be assessed on the merit of their own teachings and example, not by their reincarnation lineage or titles.
The lineage of the NKT-IKBU is maintained as follows: The essence of Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings on the path to enlightenment have been transmitted to Geshe Kelsang’s disciples, both orally and in written form. These instructions contain everything required to reach enlightenment. NKT-IKBU practitioners have therefore received the lineage of all of Buddha’s teachings, and through their own sincere study and practice can become a lineage holder.
The purity and authenticity of the tradition is the responsibility of the Education Council of the NKT-IKBU, consisting of the Resident Teachers of all NKT-IKBU Dharma Centers, excepting the General Spiritual Director. This system is democratic and protects against the NKT-IKBU being taken in a wrong direction by any NKT-IKBU General Spiritual Director who develops a degenerated motivation. More information about the function of the Education Council can be found in the NKT-IKBU Internal Rules.
Thus, having received the unbroken transmission of the genuine spiritual teachings of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition from Geshe Kelsang, having been authorised to transmit them by NKT-IKBU, and by relying upon Buddha Shakyamuni, the Teachers of the NKT-IKBU have the authority and blessings to transmit these precious holy teachings for countless generations to come.
I agree, there’s no substitute for genuine spiritual practice!
Look at the Dalai Lama – he’s got a fancy title but he’s harming Dorje Shugden practitioners. Is that the kind of example that warrants the title ‘His Holiness’?
I think Geshe Kelsang said somewhere that these days someone with a big title and reputation is easily believed but a genuine, sincere and humble practitioner is not. This criticism of the NKT is a sign of the times.
Great stuff! It’s so uplifting to read this, I think this message that Dharma is in our hearts, not in titles etc. is one of the great, empowering, liberating gifts Geshe Kelsang has given the world. The view that the Dharma is held by an elite group who hold special titles (given to them by whom?) however is limiting and disempowering. this article also indirectly undermines the false belief that particular peoples or cultures have more authority to speak on Buddhism than others. It has been insinuated by certain people that we in the west have no authority to speak on Buddhism just because of our place of birth, ‘it was we who brought Dharma to them, not the other way round’ were the words one Tibetan person used to undermine us when his valid reasoning failed him. Thank you very much fo this beautiful article.
For future generations, will the prayer to the Mahamudra lineage Gurus be updated beyond Geshe-la?
I was wondering the same about the long-life prayers. Would be nice to be able to make prayers for the long life of the Gen-la’s who are working so hard to flourish the Dharma.
Great article – should be on the main site!
I might be wrong about this, but I don’t believe the Mahamudra Lineage Guru prayer will be updated in the future. Years ago there was an article in the NKT-IKBU Internal Rules that said that the name of every General Spiritual Director of the NKT-IKBU would be included in the list of lineage Gurus of lamrim and Heruka and Vajrayogini practice but later this was removed. I think these days there is too much danger in titles, recognition and adulation. It’s best to keep things simple and to be humble to maintain a pure spiritual practice and a pure tradition.
As far as the long life prayers are concerned, they are largely generic so they can apply to any Spiritual Guide who is ‘untying the sealed knots of the profound meaning of the sutras and tantras…’ and so forth, so in your heart you can make these prayers for the Gen-las, why not?
In your heart you can make these prayers for anyone you consider to be your teacher, including the Genlas or indeed your resident teacher or another admired Kadampa practitioner. Who your Spiritual Guide is depends on your karma. As Geshela has said, you choose your Spiritual Guide. No one chooses your Spiritual Guide for you, which is a great beauty of our tradition.
Hello could I reference some of the content found in this entry if I link back to you?
Yes, Benedict, you are welcome, thank you for asking.
I really am not at all concerned about who is, or is not, a lineage holder, other than to say if a senior practitioner can capture the volksgeist by drawing huge crowds, that would, in my opinion, be an excellent confirmation of that person being the new lineage holder. They would probably achieve this by moving the teachings on in some way, but without of course diluting or distorting them, although I do have to say that some very senior monks have in the recent past displayed such dreadful character faults as to make it, in my view, impossible for them ever to achieve such a status.
Of much more concern to me is the subject, referred to elsewhere in this site, of reliance on a spiritual guide. The discussion seems to have revolved principally around whether or not this is desirable, and not specifically on whom to place such reliance.
I believe this mind of faith to be absolutely indispensable if our Dharma practice is to continue to grow and be protected.
As a practitioner who has had the privilege of meeting Geshe Kelsang a few times, I have no difficulty whatsoever in giving him a mind of 100% faith. He shows an astonishing depth and breadth in his Dharma awareness, and his conduct is beyond reproach.
However, two questions now arise, consequent on his retirement:
(i) upon whom are new practitioners now supposed to place such reliance? They will never have met Geshe Kelsang and now never will; and
(ii) upon whom should the rest of us now rely as and when Geshe La goes to his pureland? When I was first introduced to NKT teachings many years ago, I was told that one’s Spiritual Guide had to be a living person. At the moment, I cannot find anyone who commands remotely near the amount of respect needed to fulfil such a role.