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.