What is the relationship between the NKT and Tibetan Dorje Shugden practitioners?

August 3, 2010

Our relationship is one of mutual support, mutual respect and love. We are all disciples of Lama Tsongkhapa, we follow in the spiritual lineage of Gelugpa instructions passed down through the great Lamas Je Phabongkhapa and Trijang Dorjechang, and we do this with the help of our Dharma Protector, Dorje Shugden. NKT students have joined Tibetan monks and Tibetan lay people in the Western Shugden Society demonstrations requesting the Dalai Lama to give freedom to Dorje Shugden practitioners. Geshe Kelsang and a number of NKT students have also supported the new Gelugpa monasteries, Shar Gaden and Serpom Norling, not just morally but with generous financial aid. Shar Gaden acknowledge his courage on behalf of all Dorje Shugdan practitioners and his help in bringing these new monasteries into existence.

Inviting other teachers?
NKT individuals naturally have the freedom to go to other teachings given by other Lamas at different institutions if they wish. Representatives of the NKT, such as teachers and managers, are not however permitted to invite Lamas from different traditions to teach.

Recently, a visiting Tibetan Lama and Dorje Shugden practitioner, who is currently in the States to help highlight the situation with the Dalai Lama’s ban on Dorje Shugden practice, was invited by some NKT teachers to teach at a branch of one of the NKT centers. They were then requested not to do this because, as Geshe Kelsang has said, “We are different traditions.” Over the years, the NKT has consistently resisted inviting Tibetan teachers, including fellow Dorje Shugden practitioners, to teach at NKT centers and this is now in the Internal Rules. This article will help to explain why.

Different traditions
That we are different traditions is evident in several ways. For one thing, it is unlikely that the three NKT study programmes will ever be adopted at the Gelugpa monasteries in India (even though many Tibetans who speak English greatly admire Geshe Kelsang’s commentaries), or that Western NKT teachers, lay or ordained would ever be invited to teach Dharma at Gelugpa monasteries or centers. This is all well and good, as we are different traditions; we are a Western tradition, within Western culture for Western practitioners, and they are a Tibetan tradition, within Tibetan culture, teaching largely in a monastic context.

Here in the West, the majority of practitioners are lay and live in vastly different cultural circumstances from those found in Tibet and India. What works for Tibetans does not easily translate for Westerners and the presentation of the teachings, which has been carefully designed for Westerners, differs widely from the Geshe program taught in the monasteries. As it says in the Internal Rules:

15§1. The Education Programme of all NKT-IKBU Dharma Centres shall consist only of the three New Kadampa Tradition Study Programmes: the General Programme, Foundation Programme, and Teacher Training Programme.

15§2. These programmes form the very core of the NKT-IKBU, and are what distinguishes the New Kadampa Tradition from other traditions.

Other teachers from other traditions can of course be realized beings and qualified to teach holy Dharma in general. The NKT has never said that it has a monopoly on Dharma — that would be going directly against our understanding that Buddhas appear in different forms to help diverse living beings. But, logically enough, only those trained in the NKT study programmes are qualified to teach those programmes.

Geshe Kelsang has taken into account that most Westerners lead very busy and full lives and so the Dharma he presents has become more and more immediately practical. The circumstances are different to the monasteries, where the Geshe program takes twenty years to complete and is intellectually rigorous, involving huge amounts of memorization and formal debate. Some of the monks then go onto do retreats. This system has produced many qualified practitioners, including our own lineage Gurus! But the average Western Buddhist does not have the time or the inclination to complete a 20 year Geshe degree – only one has managed to do this. The NKT study programmes differ from the Geshe program in their very practical emphasis on Lamrim, Lojong and Mahamudra and the emphasis on meditation and retreat. And it is true to say that Geshe Kelsang has conveyed the priceless Ganden oral lineage in a clear, unique and precious way to his Western disciples, for which they are very grateful.

In the NKT the teachings emphasize how to integrate the practices into daily life with family, jobs, etc. Many of the sadhanas have become shorter, with more time for meditation. As it says in the Internal Rules:

16§1. All NKT-IKBU Dharma Centres shall follow the same tradition regarding rituals, retreats, pujas, and granting and receiving empowerments.

These rituals are in many ways far simpler (and shorter) than those in the monasteries. If we examine the life stories of those who grew up in the monasteries, they are utterly admirable, yet utterly unrepeatable for most people in the West. Shar Gaden and Serpom Norling however can recreate these conditions for Tibetan monastic practice in accordance with the changing needs of their own students. Other lay Lamas in the Tibetan tradition can also provide the conditions their own disciples might need.

Books
Even Geshe Kelsang’s detractors acknowledge that his books (which are the basis of the three study programmes) are written by an erudite Buddhist scholar, and no one has found mistakes or inaccuracies in any of them. Geshe Kelsang has not omitted or added anything to the meaning of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings. It is clear that Geshe Kelsang is an accomplished Yogi with great personal experience, and through his own experience and wisdom has found ways to help students access the profoundest aspects of Buddha’s teachings as elucidated by Je Tsongkhapa in a swift, achievable, and step-by-step way. His textbooks reveal in astonishing clarity and detail all the stages and practices necessary; a complete road map to attain the enlightened state of Buddhahood. What more can we ask? Our job as NKT practitioners is to put these perfect and detailed instructions into practice every day of our lives.

Language
Within the NKT, all the books, teachings and practices at the centers are given in the language of their country. This means that to engage in the study and practice of Buddhism, people do not have to learn the Tibetan language. Within the NKT Study Programmes, there are no linguistic barriers to the study of Buddhadharma.

Monks, nuns, lay men, lay women
Related to this, the moment Geshe Kelsang arrived in the West he set about training and empowering Westerners to teach Buddhism, based on their own sincere spiritual progress, so that they could teach people in their own languages and cultures. He said he wanted four types of teacher — monks, nuns, lay men, and lay women. Geshe Kelsang has ‘democratized’ Buddhism here in the West by appointing teachers in this way and has said repeatedly that one’s Spiritual Guide can be a monk, nun, lay woman or lay man. This is a vast departure from Tibetan ways. Geshe Kelsang also shows no discrimination based on race or sexual orientation, setting the tradition apart from the Tibetan hegemony of the FPMT and other Tibetan Buddhist centres and the 14th Dalai Lama’s condemnation of homosexuality.

No Tulku system
While to some, the practices of recognizing Tulkus and using oracles for divination may seem interesting and exotic, they are well outside Western cultural norms. With respect to the Tibetan Lama mentioned earlier, one NKT branch teacher recently told a relatively new student that “This Rinpoche is even higher than Geshe-la as he is a reincarnate Lama.” This reveals the danger of the Shangri-la syndrome, naively idealizing foreign cultures and grandiose titles as magically perfect and naturally superior to ours. The Tulku system is one of inherited power where reincarnate Lamas (almost always Tibetan boys, even these days) are discovered at a very early age and then groomed for their privileged status and authority. This system creates an unbreakable glass ceiling for Western practitioners. What is the place for lay Gelugpas in the Tulku system? What is the place for women, ordained or lay? This system worked in Tibet on many occasions, but it can and has also been misused by those with a bad motivation for worldly purposes.

The NKT has decided to elect its leaders instead. Indeed, not just one but two women have been appointed to the highest positions in the organization for a period of at least the next four years. This utter breaking with the Gelugpa monastic tradition makes perfect sense in a Western democracy but would not be appropriate for Shar Gaden, for example, which is a Gelugpa monastery. Nuns in the highest position in a Tibetan monastery would be as much of a cultural hurdle there as relying upon the Tulku system would be to the NKT.  It is also worth noting that Geshe Kelsang has not tried to interfere with how Shar Gaden or Serpom Norling are organized, even when his involvement was requested. He has never tried to interfere with any other Buddhist Center in the West either.

No teachers in the NKT have been recognized as a Tulku, most teach without fanfare or recognition. Inviting Tibetan Tulkus and Lamas to teach at NKT centers can undermine the teachers’ credibility simply because Western teachers appear more run of the mill and “like us” than an exotic Rinpoche.

No oracles or divination

The Internal Rules state:

16§2: To prevent Dharma being used for political aims or worldly achievement, no NKT-IKBU Dharma Centre shall follow any tradition of recognising and relying upon oracles, or follow any system of divination.

This is not saying that these systems are always misused or that they never work or should not be used by others. Within our lineage our own great Tibetan Lamas sometimes relied upon oracles and divination. Even Geshe Kelsang himself used divination to find the rebirth of his mother, as explained in the book Introduction to Buddhism. Early on in the NKT years, the oracle of Dorje Shugden came to a few NKT centers and Dorje Shugden composed a beautiful and inspiring long-life prayer for Geshe Kelsang. However, it is true that on occasion this system has been used in the service of political power and still remains open to abuse. Not to mention that an oracle’s possession can present a large cultural barrier to the average Westerner, seeming alien or superstitious. Acceptance of the validity of divinations and oracles, while firmly established within Tibetan culture, is outside of our own.

Ordination within the NKT
At the present time the NKT-IKBU has about 700 ordained people around the world. The way of granting ordination was designed by Geshe Kelsang following the ancient Kadampa tradition. It is very simple and very practical. A great deal has been explained about this on our website and blog.

Independent Buddhist Tradition
The Internal Rules state:

§3 The New Kadampa Tradition shall always be an entirely independent Buddhist tradition and the NKT-IKBU shall have no political affiliations.

Geshe Kelsang has worked hard for the last 30 years to create a modern tradition of Je Tsongkhapa’s Buddhism, one that can be transplanted into any country in the world because it is divested of Tibetan politics and culture. This has not been easy as it has challenged the Tibetan status quo, and over the years even some NKT students have sometimes questioned whether we really need to let go of the Tibetan language, customs and connections with the Tibetan establishment.

However, Geshe Kelsang has a far-reaching, compassionate vision and, as a direct result of his wisdom, skill and courage, hundreds of thousands of people (and millions of people potentially) who would never have met these Buddhist teachings now have access to them and are now practicing Je Tsongkhapa’s clear and powerful Buddha Dharma through the NKT every day. Many Western people in the NKT are making spiritual progress without abandoning their own Western lifestyles, by practicing in their own cultural milieu, and by transforming their own 21st century environments. They are able to do this without having to waste a great deal of precious time figuring out which Tibetan cultural customs and institutions are necessary for their practice and which on the contrary can get in the way of actual inner transformation.

A bridge between east and west, a bridge to the future
This article has outlined some of what has Geshe Kelsang removed and what he has kept. His epic achievement has been in transplanting Kadampa Buddhism from the snowy mountains of Tibet into an entirely alien Western soil so that it becomes a natural part of the landscape of our societies. This is a true bridge. NKT students need to know the nature of this achievement if they are to feel confident about protecting this legacy rather than defensive or out on a limb, or feeling the need to supplement their tradition by inviting other teachers. If we do begin to invite Tibetan Lamas to give teachings at our Centers — teachings that will naturally have subtle and not-so-subtle differences and even contradictions to the three study programmes — what does that say to others about the completeness and effectiveness of our own tradition? And what or whose teachings and path will we then follow?

So, NKT students are encouraged to keep our enthusiasm and respect for all traditions of Buddhism while relishing studying, practicing and realizing our own.

In Part Two of this article we will pursue some of these themes. If you would like to contribute to this discussion, please let us have your comments.

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Heart Jewel – Standing Up for the Middle Way

October 9, 2009

We’re happy to recommend ‘Emptymountains’ site ‘Heart Jewel – Standing Up for the Middle Way’, which has just been re-designed.

The site is well-written and contains the actual published and unpublished speech of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Trijang Rinpoche and Je Pabongkhapa, which answers the smears and allegations against the NKT-IKBU. It also contains a great deal of clear background and reasonings related to the Dorje Shugden controversy that you may find helpful.

Enjoy!


New Kadampa Survivors (continuation of the ‘cult’ smear history)

March 25, 2009

For previous installments:

The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 1
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 2
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 3
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 4
E-Sangha and “sect bashing” (continuation of the ‘cult’ smear history)

The New Kadampa Tradition is not different from other spiritual organizations in that it is not suited to everyone, and many people who try it out do not stay. As a non-proselytizing Buddhist tradition that is not trying to convert anyone, this has always been expected and it is not a problem.

Sadly, though, some of these people leave through disappointment or even irritation and anger; and some of these go onto become active critics of the NKT on the Internet. The bad reputation the NKT has received from the Dalai Lama’s words and actions has proved a rallying point for diverse criticism of the NKT. This can obscure or distort people’s genuine personal grievances by causing every difficulty or disappointment to be exaggerated by the supposition that the NKT must be a cult because the Dalai Lama says so. Instead of taking each disappointment on its merits and seeing it in the context of an organization that is basically sound with room for improvement, some have jumped to the conclusion that their own difficulty is part of a far larger pattern – and that, although they appreciated the NKT before, they have only just realized that they have always been part of an abusive spirit-worshipping sectarian cult 🙂

Learning from criticism

This is not to say that the NKT~IKBU has not made mistakes because of course it has. The NKT~IKBU is a groundbreaking movement and operates worldwide. The Kadam Dharma it offers is pure and has stood the test of time, but the organization itself is naturally made up of imperfect living beings. It would be strange if there were not some problems. As the NKT~IKBU has said, it accepts and is sorry for its mistakes and is trying its best to learn from these, hence the Internal Rules and its many edicts for ensuring harmony, democracy and pure behavior. A great number of improvements and adaptations have been made over the past 30 years.

Hopefully, improvements will continue to be made both by the organization and by its individuals – there is no reason why not. From this point of view, as an ancient Buddhist tradition strives to adapt to the modern world, criticism has proven to be a very helpful mirror in which the NKT~IKBU has been able to see its faults and strive to remove them. As the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! As Geshe Kelsang has advised on the subject of criticism: check whether what is said is true or not. If it is true, accept and learn from it gratefully. If the criticism is not true, it is still true that we have the basic fault of self-cherishing, so we can still appreciate that person for criticizing us and use it as a reminder to reduce self-cherishing.

Understanding the Status Quo

But as the NKT, despite resistance and resentment from Tibetans who wish to preserve the Tibetan status quo, moves ever more steadily away from Tibetan politics and the vortex of the Dalai Lama to become an increasingly autonomous, non-political and democratic Western Mahayana Buddhist organization, Kadampa students have also had to wisen up. During this transition, they are having to learn to distinguish the genuine mistakes they and others have made (and continue to make) from the politically motivated wild accusations and falsehoods perpetuated by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE), and various Tibetan Buddhist groups. Only then are they able to take responsibility for the former while ignoring or rebutting the latter.

New Kadampa Survivors

Both the mistakes and the wild accusations find their way onto the New Kadampa Survivors, which is an Internet chat group that serves as the main convergence for NKT dissent. From the point of view of learning from criticism, the NKT has benefited from the focus of the New Kadampa Survivors chat group. Certainly, it has no objection to it existing and, if it helps some people, that is also good. But it may also be clarifying to understand it from an historical and cultural perspective.

Understanding the context

The NKT wishes to divest itself of Tibetan cultural accretions and especially Tibetan politics. It is not under the autocracy of the Dalai Lama and TGIE, and this is not pleasing to them. In the broader context of the damaging perceptions of the NKT being a sectarian breakaway inauthentic spirit-worshipping cult engendered by the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan groups, it is easier to understand the arising of the survivors’ chat group in 2007, which spilt over from E-Sangha.

It is hard to imagine this group arising if the NKT had remained under the umbrella of Tibetan Buddhism and the authority of the Dalai Lama and kept his pictures on their walls. After all, other Tibetan groups and Lamas without “survivors” groups have had as many if not more disrobings and disaffected students. Moreover, their unquestioning worship of the Dalai Lama as a God King, and “overall leader of all Buddhist traditions on this earth”* can easily be construed as cult-like, as can alarming but all too common statements like this one from a TGIE MP on France 24 explaining why there was no need for a vote to ban Dorje Shugden: “We do not have any doubt about Dalai Lama’s decisions. We do not think he is a human being. He’s a supreme human being and he is god.” Or this one from the TGIE quoted in the New Internationalist: “Concepts like democracy and freedom of religion are empty when it comes to the well-being of the Dalai Lama and the common cause of Tibet.”

The NKT and Geshe Kelsang have never strayed into such murky waters but their opposition to the behavior of the singularly famous head of Tibet has provided a rallying cry and justification for diverse detractors, which is not possessed by Tibetan Buddhist groups under the Dalai Lama’s patronage.

Rules of the game

According to its founder, David Cutshaw: “It is a place for former members to come and openly discuss what it was like being part of this sectarian cult.” There are three rules on Survivors: “No NKT propaganda is allowed; no NKT members/followers/students are allowed; no debate of Dorje Shugden is allowed.” What this means is that no positive input is permitted about the NKT (or Dorje Shugden).

The intention of David Cutshaw may well have been to find an audience himself and provide support for others. Perhaps there has been some relief for certain members as they have been able to voice their grievances and find sympathy. But the overall atmosphere and group dynamic is one full of blame, where everything is blamed on Geshe Kelsang and the NKT. (The only personal responsibility members seem to take is for their own neediness or naivety in joining the cult.) Even when outright untruths are told and re-told, no one is permitted to come forward to confute these or restore some balance, for that amounts to “propaganda” and the message is censored.

This all means that those who were seeking answers or support invariably become more negative, and newcomers stumbling upon this group (finding it for example while searching NKT in Google) receive an entirely one-sided and distorted depiction of the NKT. If they do not take the trouble to question what they are reading, it is natural for them to believe it, become disillusioned, and resolve henceforth to avoid the NKT.

Vicious circle

From this point of view, the survivors group is not helpful to the development of the NKT (and nor do they wish to be!) The very existence of the survivors’ group (and the fact that members often foray onto other Internet sites to share their views) has also fuelled the prejudices of Tibetan Buddhists further into thinking that the NKT must indeed be a cult if there are ex-members who are prepared to say so; and this has created a vicious circle of criticism and negative views. This has been a damaging factor in the NKT’s reputation in the Buddhist community (but music to the survivors’ ears!)

Disinhibition

(As an interesting aside, Internet chat groups are known to have a “disinhibition effect”, which according to psychological reports is not always benign and can “lead to rude language, harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, and even threats”, or “simply a blind catharsis, an acting out of unsavory needs and wishes without any personal growth at all.”)

Reasons for joining

It seems that most people on Survivors joined in 2008 as they were disillusioned by the Western Shugden Society’s demonstrations against the Dalai Lama’s ban, and/or by Samden’s and/or Lodro’s disrobings. In the latter case, this disillusionment is quite understandable and since that time steps have been taken to avoid a repetition.

For one thing, since the disrobing of Samden Gyatso, the Internal Rules specify that the authority of the both the teacher and the managers in each Center is subject to checks and balances and more equally shared out.

Far fewer people are joining the chat group nowadays, and the vast majority are “lurkers” or non-active participants. The same few people make almost all the postings. Judging by conversations and reports, it would appear that about half the members are NKT practitioners who are or were curious to read what is being written about them or their teachers.

Agent provocateurs

There are also members of survivors who have clearly never been to an NKT Center. They come from other Tibetan Buddhist groups and are on the chat group solely to “do research” for their own anti-NKT agendas (particularly an individual calling himself VJ Kumara who went so far as to wish for Geshe Kelsang’s death), sow dissatisfaction and TGIE propaganda, or promote their own traditions and Gurus. (Sometimes the Survivors realize they are being used in this way, at which point they have protested to the moderators.)

Tenzin Peljor deserves a mention here since he was the first to appear on the group straight after Dave had posted his first messages in 2007, suggesting he made the group public so everyone could find it; and since then has been a frequent poster and self-appointed spiritual advisor to the survivors, painstakingly ensuring that no one forgets how dreadful the NKT is and how wonderful (non-Shugden) Tibetan teachers and groups are by contrast. As with Namdrol on E-Sangha, survivors looking for guidance tend to trust Tenzin because they believe him when he makes himself out to be an expert on the NKT (and now Tibetan Buddhism), even though he has not been near the NKT in over 10 years and had an atypical experience of it.

A sense of proportion

In December 2010 the Survivors celebrated their 1000th member. While it would be wonderful if there were no survivors at all because everyone continued to enjoy their experiences within the NKT, it is worth getting this figure into proportion.

  • On the Tampa Bay Florida Facebook page alone, servicing one of the NKT’s medium-sized Centers, there are 1000 followers.
  • Teachers in New York, Texas, Brazil, Mexico and other places each week have audiences of hundreds. It is impossible to say exactly how many students attend NKT Centers every week, but it is certainly thousands.
  • Each International Festival attracts thousands of attendees.
  • Dharma Celebrations worldwide each typically attract hundreds of attendees.
  • Several hundred members of the Survivors’ group are still Kadampa practitioners who are just checking what is being said about them.
  • The vast majority of Survivors never post anything.

Moral discipline guides

Genuine mistakes have been and continue to be thoroughly investigated. The NKT has no wish or intention to endorse any cult-like behavior. The vast majority of people in the NKT try to be kind, well intentioned and reasonable, which is why NKT Centers generally enjoy success and their communities worldwide are growing. Some managers or teachers in the NKT have engaged in inappropriate or over-bearing behavior due perhaps to delusions, worldly concerns, poor people skills, over-enthusiasm, or failing to put the essential teachings on cherishing others into practice. However, these all too human shortcomings are not institutionalized in the NKT, and this behavior is neither encouraged by nor acceptable to the organization.

Please know that if you have any concerns or complaints about the NKT~IKBU organization, teachers, or managers, you are invited to email info@kadampa.org, or call [+44] (0)1229-588-533 and ask for the Secretary or Deputy Secretary of the NKT~IKBU, who will address your concerns in accordance with the Internal Rules 4.8, 12.1 and 12.3. These NKT “moral discipline guides” are responsible for making sure that Centers and individuals are “caring for people with kindness”, “improving the qualifications of Dharma students so they become qualified Dharma practitioners and Teachers”, “maintaining the Centre as a pure, peaceful and harmonious society”, avoiding “any breach of moral discipline”, and so on. If these things are not happening at an NKT Center, and for any reason you are not comfortable discussing it with the teacher or managers, you are requested to write to the moral discipline guides straightaway.

It does not follow from the unskillful behavior of a few individuals that the NKT is a cult, nor that such behavior cannot be found in other traditions that have not been labelled cults. Each case needs to be taken on its merits.

Where the criticisms on the Survivors group are groundless, factual responses can be found on New Kadampa Truth.

Footnotes

*(as proclaimed in a recent political announcement from a meeting with the Dalai Lama, March 6-8 2009):

“As per the gist of the intention of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, International Genden council, and the resolutions of Three Great Seats regarding the evil spirit Dholgyal (Shugden), monasteries including the Three Great Seats are heading toward positive direction, cherishing one’s interest. However [we] will discuss what is the best to carry out concerning the activity on the whole and the impairment imposed by Dholgyal adherents to Tibetan religion and politics, as well as their various actions of defamation carried out against His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

For the sake of Tibetan religion and politics, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the overall head of all Buddhist Traditions on this earth, has given admonition not to worship the spirit Dholgyal. For the leaders who are High Lamas, Abbots, Tulkus, representatives, extend fully support on 10th meeting. Furthermore, through this meeting, they appreciate and praise the monks of Gelugpa monasteries for picking the vote-stick accorded the Vinaya and completely relinquishing the religious and material ties with Dholgyal worshippers.”


E-Sangha and “sect bashing” (continuation of the ‘cult’ smear history)

March 5, 2009

For previous installments:

The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 1
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 2
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 3
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 4

The Rise of Sectarianism in Buddhist Discussion Forums

In the late 1990s, the cult smear against the NKT was spread mainly by the Tibetan government in exile and official Dalai Lama websites, on alt.religion newsgroup discussions, and by word of mouth in Tibetan Buddhist Centers loyal to the Dalai Lama. However, in the years that followed, during the 2000’s, a fully-fledged Internet attack on Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT began to take place on certain Buddhist discussion boards such as E-Sangha, Buddhanet, Beliefnet, and Phayul by Tibetan and Western supporters of the Dalai Lama.

The normal pattern in such discussion forums was that a “newbie” would post a question along the lines of: “There’s this Buddhist group near me called the NKT, I’m thinking of going to some of their classes, what do people think? Do you have any information about them?” This innocent question would result in a flood of negative posts, denouncing the NKT as a cult, claiming they weren’t Buddhist but spirit-worshipping murderers, etc, and recommending the questioner try “a genuine Buddhist group”.

These posters who were so vehemently opposed to the NKT were Tibetan Buddhists from various sects although, more recently, they were joined by a few disaffected ex-NKT members who jumped on the bandwagon with prolific posts.

E-Sangha

The most egregious of these discussion forums is E-Sangha, which has also recently been receiving a slew of complaints from other Buddhist groups and individuals for its intolerance and censorship. As it says on the E-Sangha Watch website:

E-SANGHA WATCH has been created with the support, guidance and encouragement of concerned Buddhist clergy and lay-persons of several schools wishing to firmly yet constructively oppose, publicize, correct and explain to the unwary the current state of intra-Buddhist sectarian bias, misinformation, religious intolerance and ‘sect bashing’ which unfortunately exists under the present policies and administration of the ‘E-Sangha’ Buddhism Portal website.

(More examples of E-Sangha’s bias, misinformation, intolerance and sect-bashing are  also collected here and here. Laura Busch also wrote a doctoral thesis on E-Sangha available here.)

Many NKT practitioners and others have been shocked over the years to find that the New Kadampa Tradition is actually banned on this supposedly open Buddhist forum, the largest Buddhist chat group on the Internet! The board regulations state in black and white:

“These few “Buddhist” schools of thoughts are not recognized by E-sangha. No links to their websites, their books, or their followers’ websites are allowed: New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and all other proponents of Dolgyal/Shugden”

However, a reading of the background to this ban and who instigated and maintains it will hopefully reassure people that the reasons behind it were completely capricious and unjustified.

E-Sangha is a Buddhist forum that started in 2003. In September 2003, E-Sangha administrators conducted a poll of its members to decide if the NKT section that had been started on the board should be removed. This poll was requested by Global Moderator Henry Chia, also known as Ngawang Gelek, a Sakya practitioner from Singapore who had posted actively against the NKT on the alt.religion newsgroup discussions during the Dorje Shugden controversy in 1996/97.

Labeling the NKT as non-Buddhist for its reliance on Dorje Shugden, Henry cut and pasted every single negative article regarding the NKT and Dorje Shugden taken from the TGIE and Dalai Lama official websites and then advised the members “to make up their own minds”. As one member pointed out: “Thanks to Henry, plenty of information is now available for folks to make an informed vote.” There was no information, however, posted from the side of the NKT or any other Shugden practitioner.

There never was a vote. By the middle of September 2003, “Teyes”, the E-Sangha founder, had decided:

“I have read through almost every word that Henry had written, clicking on almost every link. The messages are exhaustive and I tried hard to digest the vast amount of information. I am not an expert in Buddhism, although raised in a Buddhist family, thus all members help are required, especially in issues like this. I appreciate Henry’s frankness in raising this point and I agreed with Henry that:

1) There will be no links to NKT website as from today.
2) There will be no seperate listings of them as a unique group within our database.
3) All NKT’s folks can participate in all our discussion.
Thanks everyone for their help, especially Henry. (So members, you can disregard the votes about NKT). Have a nice day!”

And he followed this with another posting later:

“Dear members,
I have considered all the pros and cons when NKT section was removed. After examining, I am rather worried that newbies in Buddhism might be misled. That’s my main fear, especially E-Sangha has been growing steadily over the last 2 months, and is right now, the most active board on Buddhism. I hope that we will put this issue behind us. Thanks.”

With no knowledge of the NKT other than what he had heard from Henry, and despite the fact that the NKT had hundreds of Centers and thousands of students all over the world who were happily and sincerely practicing Mahayana Buddhism, the owner of E-Sangha condemned the NKT as dangerous for “newbies”, a theme that was continued in all subsequent discussions.

Another E-Sangha global moderator called Namdrol (Malcolm Smith) joined in the discussion and over a period of many months provided E-Sangha members with a huge amount of astounding, sometimes laughable, and (according to one psychiatrist who responded) clinically delusional misinformation. For example, those who rely upon Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden (called here “Dolgyal”) are responsible for the invasion of Tibet, Mad Cow disease, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

“Gyalpos also cause strife and cattle diseases. The outbreak of Mad Cow disease in Northern England a couple of years ago has been attributed to the strong presence of Shugden practitioners in Northern England.”

“I don’t hate Pabhongkha; I don’t hate Dolgyal. But I think that Dolgyal is harmful and that because of him, the Tibetan Goverment fell, the Chinese were able to easily invade, and these sorts of things are predicted in many texts.

It may be hard for you to beleive, but the strong presence of Dolgyal practitioners in Northern England led to the Mad Cow disease outbreak; the burning of the millions of bovine corpses incited the anger of the Mamos, and they in turn caused these wars in which we are now ensconced– so this is no joke–really!”

 

Most recently, Namdrol incited forum members to more intolerance (on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s being admitted to hospital for kidney stones):

“We can all thank the Shugden people for HHDL’s present state of ill health.”

However, because he is an “old-timer” and a global moderator, his words astonishingly enough have carried weight and adversely influenced many people. For example:

“Namdrol’s point’s should be well taken, he really knows his stuff when it comes to Tibetan Buddhism. He has practiced for a long time and personally knows many very high lama’s, and Rinpoche’s”.

Namdrol has devoted many postings to slandering the Gelugpa tradition in general that was passed down through Je Phabongkhapa, Trijang Rinpoche and their disciples, even casting aspersions on Lama Zopa and the FPMT (who have the Dalai Lama as their patron). Umpteen people have been banned from E-Sangha for questioning the moderators or not toeing the party line, but not once has another moderator asked Namdrol to stop his divisive, intolerant and sectarian speech.

Here is an example of the intolerance toward the NKT on E-Sangha that was enshrined as policy in 2003 and continues to this day, from a recent thread concerning the opening of an NKT World Peace Cafe:

“The NKT is not a legitimate Buddhist organization in my opinion. For this reason, I would certainly avoid the cafe. I would also spend an hour or two emailing leads to local media about the controversy surrounding the cult.”

“the NKT is dangerous and the spirit they worship is too. how can they propose to open a world peace cafe when the biggest part of their organization is the worship of a malicious spirit?”

“As we all know, this cult have done and still doing so much damaging to the public”

“To them Dharma is a business opportunity to fund the growth of their sect and kelsang gyatso’s empire.”

“You could always be an infiltrator, share some other views. Would be interesting to go in there and say you know, a lot of people consider the NKT to be a cult.”

(For the smear that Geshe Kelsang has profited from the growth of the NKT, see Smear: Geshe Kelsang has millions of pounds that have come from his disciples.)

It is clear that some E-Sangha members are sufficiently militant to take action against the NKT by contacting venues where classes are being held to get them cancelled, defacing publicity, and vandalizing Geshe Kelsang’s books in bookstores so that they won’t sell. Some members have openly boasted about engaging in such activities, and the existence and effects of these behaviors are one reason the New Kadampa Truth website was compiled.

E-Sangha’s mission statement reads: “E-Sangha’s intent is to keep the tradition alive and flourishing, and to help bring peace, harmony and happiness into everyones lives.” Yet they have been the source of destroying peace, harmony and happiness between Buddhist groups and practitioners since they began in 2003. The clique of moderators have frequently broken their own detailed board guidelines on adhering to right intention, right speech, and right action.

Any reference to the ‘NKT’ on a web forum or discussion board these days will almost inevitably draw a barrage of ‘cult’ allegations as surely as a magnet attracts iron.

Sadly, we can see that the Dalai Lama’s unjustified condemnations have been effective in associating ‘NKT’ and ‘cult’ in the minds of his followers and many other Tibetan Buddhists.


The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 4

March 4, 2009

For previous installments:

The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 1
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 2
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 3

The Final Wave of Press Misinformation

It didn’t stop there. In 1998, Tricycle, a Buddhist periodical, printed an article on the Dorje Shugden issue entitled Dorje Shugden: Deity or Demon? The article contained interviews with Geshe Kelsang (representing the pro-Shugden side) and the Dalai Lama’s brother Thubten Jigme Norbu (representing the anti-Shugden side). During his interview, Thubten Jigme Norbu said:

“No, no, this worship of Shugden is not a religion. If I open my big mouth, I can say this is a cult.”

The next press reference was November 2002, when the journalist Umarah Jamali in New Delhi wrote an article called Buddhism’s ‘Taliban’ blamed for Dalai Lama death threats for the Sydney Morning Herald. The word “cult” is used four times in one short article. The newspaper makes a grave error in implying that the NKT was responsible for death threats against the Dalai Lama; yet the thoroughly unsubstantiated story was later published by the Washington Times in the US and the Ming Pao Daily News in China.

“Police suspect a Tibetan cult, Shugden, is behind the threats against the Dalai Lama”

“The cult worships a 350-year-old wrathful Tibetan deity, Dorje Shugden, often depicted wearing a necklace of 50 severed human heads and having four fangs.”

“The Dalai Lama says Shugdens pose a serious threat to Tibetan unity in exile. He has urged Tibetans not to worship Dorje Shugden, saying it fosters religious intolerance and turns Buddhism into a cult of spirit worship.”

“The chairman of the Tibetan parliament, Toma Jugney, said: “It’s a deliberate attempt to create differences, not just between Indians and Tibetans, but amongst Tibetans too.” However, he did not say the cult was behind the death threats.”

Geshe Kelsang wrote a letter ”on behalf of Buddhism in general and the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) in particular” to all three newspapers. In these he stated the facts, explained again that there is no such thing as a Buddhist Taliban (a highly inflammatory and inappropriate descriptor borrowed from Robert Thurman), and denied involvement in the death threats (which the BBC and World Tibet Network News had in any case traced to other groups).

The Washington Post published a retraction, and wrote to say that they “conducted a thorough investigation and concluded that the statements they had printed were incorrect.” The Ming Pao Daily News also printed a retraction. However, it is generally far easier to locate the original articles than the printed retractions; and the damage had been done.

Geshe Kelsang’s letters to:

Sydney Morning Herald

Washington Times:

Ming Pao Daily News

Retraction printed in The Washington Times:

Editor’s note: When published Nov. 23, 2002, this article incorrectly reported the relationship between a Tibetan sect in northern India and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, head of the London-based New Kadampa Tradition. Mr. Kelsang and his group announced in 1998 that they have abandoned their dispute with the Dalai Lama and they say their Western Buddhist community is completely independent from those groups in India and Nepal which are suspected of issuing the threats.

Retraction printed in the Ming Pao Daily News:

Clarification – New Kadampas are not related to terrorist activities

Our paper on 25th November quoted from the Washington Times that: During the past few weeks in the northern Indian city, where the Tibetan government-in-exile resides, many posters appeared declaring death threats to the Dalai Lama. The Indian police believed that the death threats originate from a Tibetan Buddhist sect “The Shugden Sect”. The followers of the Dalai Lama called the “Shugden Sect” – “The Taliban of Tibetan Buddhism”. Related to the Shugden Sect , an organization in England called the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is founded by exiled lama – Kelsang Gyatso in 1991.

Recently, we have received a letter from Mr. Kelsang Gyatso stating that the New Kadampa Tradition is a western Buddhist organization, which is completely unrelated to the Shugden Sects in India, Nepal and other countries. The NKT have absolutely no political affiliations; are not against the Dalai Lama and never have been, but previously they simply requested him to stop his ban of Dorje Shugden worship; this was a request for basic human right of religious freedom. Since October 1998 NKT has decided to completely stop being involved in the Shugden issue, because it is in reality a Tibetan political problem.

Kelsang Gyatso states that he guarantees that the NKT and himself have never performed inappropriate actions; and that they have absolutely no connection with the recent death threats made to the Dalai Lama and with the previous Dharamsala murders. He believes that there is no ” Taliban of Tibetan Buddhism”. The Washington Times’ report was mistaken, and later they admitted that , due to their lack of thorough investigation, their accusation of the New Kadampa Tradition is incorrect.

The editorial department of Ming Pao agreed to withdraw the 25th Nov article report, quoted from Washington Times, and sincerely apologize to the New Kadampa Tradition and Mr. Kelsang Gyatso.

The Editorial Dept.


The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 3

February 13, 2009

For previous installments:

The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 1
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 2

In 1997, the Dalai Lama himself, in a book published in the French language, openly called Geshe Kelsang a cult leader and improbably accused him of thirsting for power. From La Force du Bouddhisme by the Dalai Lama and Jean-Claude Carrière, pp 19-20:

Dalai Lama: …at the moment in England, a well-educated lama is behaving like a true cult leader.

Jean-Claude Carrière: A fundamentalist lama ?

DL : Whatever… he’s banned all my books, all contact with me, all images of the Dalai Lama. He accuses me of this and that. His faithful, a few thousand people, are only allowed to read his books, to display and venerate his photograph, and so on… But there you go, it’s only human. We are either all alike or all different. If our differences get the upper hand, then each individual can mark out their own territory of truth and cling to it with all their might.

J-CC Sometimes to the death…, their own or others’.

DL : Yes, that is the way we are made. On top of that there is the thirst for power, which is invariably corrupting.

(For a refutation of these allegations, which are the same as those in the Guardian and Independent articles, see:

Smear: NKT has no pictures of the Dalai Lama in their Centers
Smear: NKT sells only Geshe Kelsang’s books
Smear: Geshe Kelsang calls himself ‘the Third Buddha’ and seeks veneration from his students

In this book the Dalai Lama did not mention Geshe Kelsang by name, but this happened in an article called A Case to Study. Ostensibly authored by Tenzin Ragyal, the document was issued directly from the Office of the Dalai Lama in Dharamasala and it was understood that the Dalai Lama intended to have its contents promulgated.

The article is a crude propaganda attack on Je Phabongkhapa Dechen Nyingpo, accusing him and those in this lineage of being fanatically sectarian. (It is a shock when one first realizes that the Dalai Lama is actually publishing criticism of his own lineage Gurus.)

Here is the extract labelling Geshe Kelsang as a cult leader:

“It is in everybody’s interest to take a strong and appropriate stand and not to remain indifferent on the activities of Phabongkha’s followers and their cult groups and leaders like, e.g. NKT leader Geshe (self-styled) Kelsang Gyatso in England, Serkong Thritrul in Taiwan, Gangchen Lama in Italy, Drakgom Tulku in Nepal, Dema Gonsar in Tibet, Gonsar Rinpoche in Swiss and Dorje Shugden Society in India and Nepal etc.

The primary objective in providing this information is not to dig out what has happened in the past. It is to draw attention to the fact that even today, in this period of global religious harmony, some short-sighted and narrow-minded people and groups are actively adopting the path of fanaticism and religious intolerance. It is a task and responsibility of all of us to strongly discourage and act against such forms of religious intolerance and fanaticism.”

It is ironic that, in this call to arms, Tenzin Ragyal talks about “a period of global religious harmony” — considering that the purpose of the article is to destroy that harmony by defaming precious Gelugpa Lamas, accusing them of sectarianism and intolerance simply because they wish to practice within their own tradition. The supposed non-sectarianism of the accusers has become a source of self-justification and led to the actual closed off, fanatical, and intolerant attitudes towards so-called sectarians which we are seeing here.

Many Tibetan Buddhists have since heeded this call to arms, attempting to interfere with the development of the NKT and other groups who practice Dorje Shugden by defacing publicity, contacting locations where classes are being held in an attempt to get them canceled, and so on.

Cult Mystery? ~ The Newsweek Article

This propaganda was followed up by what, to this day, is one of the most damaging articles published in the press about the NKT and Dorje Shugden. Whereas only Tibetan Buddhists and interested parties were likely to see the Sera-Je Explusion letter from 1996, the Dalai Lama chose to attack Geshe Kelsang and the NKT using a very high profile and well respected weekly magazine.

On 28th April 1997, an article entitled Cult Mystery? by Tony Clifton was published in Newsweek. This was a stinging, unprovoked attack by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, seemingly in retaliation for the embarrassment that Geshe Kelsang had caused the Dalai Lama in the previous year.

The cult smear, while in the title, is also prevalent throughout the entire article. Here are the relevant quotes:

“In the last year the Dalai Lama has retaliated, denouncing one Shugden order in particular as a hostile and crass, commercial cult

“And in an interview with NEWSWEEK earlier this month, the Dalai Lama expressed his worries about the Dorje Shugden. “That cult is actually destroying the freedom of religious thought,” he said. “Say I want to practice Nyingma. They say this Protector will harm me. Now, that’s an obstacle to religious freedom. I am trying to promote the tradition of coexistence, but the Shugdens say you should not even touch a Red Hat document. That teaching totally contradicts my efforts.”

“The split grew angry early last year. The Dalai Lama issued a call to all Tibetan Buddhists to avoid the Shugdens. He warned against the cult’s extremism and against public worship of their idol. Soon after, the NKT in London claimed that the Dalai Lama’s remarks had inspired Tibetans to harass Shugden followers in Dharmsala.”

“It’s the fastest growing Buddhist sect in Britain, where it now has about 3,000 members, a thriving publishing business in London and mansions that double as “Dharma Centers” all over the country. It has also been denounced by the London press and the Dalai Lama as a cult that fleeces its own followers.”

“Shugden appeals to crazies by offering instant gratification,” says Thurman. “Once you get involved, you’re told you have to devote your lives to the cult, because the god gets very angry if you don’t attend to him every day. It’s really bad stuff, the way they’re draining money out of people.”

The article contains numerous smears on Dorje Shugden and the NKT. What is interesting is that it is unclear whether “cult” is supposed to refer to the NKT or to Shugden worship – but the effect of blurring the line is to condemn both.

The article also contains the notorious Thurman quote:

“It would not be unfair to call Shugdens the Taliban of Tibetan Buddhism.”

Robert Thurman has never been to an NKT Center nor spent time with an NKT practitioner. He invented bitter nonsense to defend the Dalai Lama, upon whom his own reputation and career depends.

Geshe Kelsang wrote a long factual response to Newsweek refuting the points of the article called False Accusations Against the Innocent. However, given the power of the Dalai Lama’s words and the fervour with which they are believed and upheld, not only in the Buddhist world but in the world in general, the damage was done. This combined with the Sera Expulsion Letter cemented in the minds of many Tibetan Buddhists the belief that the NKT was a cult. 1996 and 1997 were bad times for the NKT. Brave as they were to stand up to the Dalai Lama, their actions were misconstrued and the unfair smear of their being a cult began.


The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 2

February 8, 2009

This article continues to explain the historical and political context in which the NKT got the label “cult” from its critics. For Part 1, click here.

Battle of the Buddhists

A week after Madeline Bunting’s Guardian article, Andrew Brown’s “Battle of the Buddhists” appeared in The Independent (15 July 1996). Both these articles quickly made it onto the official Government of Tibet in Exile website, where they remain to this day as a well consulted source of misinformation – misinformation that has clearly prejudiced both Tibetans and Westerners against the New Kadampa Tradition and made its way onto any number of websites and blogs.

In Brown’s article, the term ‘cult of Shugden’ is used three times, all in factually challenged claims:

“Only monks can be initiated into the cult of Shugden, and only a minority of those actually are”

“To be initiated into the cult of Shugden involves a contractual relationship with this terrifying deity.”

“In arguing against the cult, and trying to suppress it within his monasteries, the Dalai Lama is not just making a theological point, but a political one.”

As one recent academic puts it in his paper, talking about the so-called “cult of Shugden”:

“It should be noted that the word ‘cult’ has a different connotation among academic circles than it does in contemporary parlance. Colloquially, cult is commonly used in a derogatory fashion to denote a religious group that is considered to be unorthodox, extreme, or false compared to conventional society. In the language of religious studies, cult is a neutral term that refers to a locus of religious practice in the form of liturgies and ceremonies; it is the system of rites and activities that are directed at a specific object. In this sense, one could refer to a cult of Avalokiteshvara, a cult of the book, and the goddess’s cult. In the case of Dorje Shugden, this is an important distinction to make because practitioners of this deity have been accused of being part of a cult in the popular negative sense of the word. This is not a sentiment that I share, so it is necessary to clarify that my use of the word cult is strictly academic in meaning.”

However, Brown’s article unabashedly and without any evidence used the term “cult” in its derogatory sense, and this set the tone for others to start calling Shugden practitioners and, by extension, NKT practitioners members of a “cult”. Brown’s article was likewise openly disbelieving and disparaging of the Shugden Supporters Community, the New Kadampa Tradition, and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The tone of the article was considered by many to be condescending and scornful. According to a Shugden Supporters’ Spokesperson who was present at Brown’s interview with Geshe Kelsang, Brown was patronizing and distrustful from the outset and barely made a pretence of listening to Geshe Kelsang’s answers. He also mentioned that he was a close colleague of Madeline Bunting and that he found her findings to be fair.

(Even as recently as April 2006 Madeleine Bunting bought up the subject again, talking about how Easter “has prompted Andrew Brown and myself to want to examine why it is that after stints as religious affairs reporters in the 1990s, both of us still find ourselves drawn to writing about the subject.“ Referring to that time, she says:

“… even gentle Buddhism managed to generate its own scandal: a fierce break away cult of Tibetan Buddhism campaigning against the Dalai Lama. That led to long and bewildering explanations from His Holiness involving oracles, dreams, divination from dough balls and I think even some headless chickens – or was that one of our jokes?”

However, any bewilderment at the Dalai Lama’s explanations felt at the time by Madeleine Bunting or Andrew Brown did not make it into print.)

The Establishment Strikes Back

So far in these proceedings, the Dalai Lama, who after all was the subject of the SSC’s campaign, was silent about the New Kadampa Tradition itself. This did not last long. The Dalai Lama’s retribution was swift and came from an unexpected quarter. In Autumn 1996, out of the blue, appeared the “Sera Expulsion Letter” signed by fifteen abbots wherein Geshe Kelsang was ‘expelled’ from his old monastery, Sera-Je. This letter came after a series of death threats and other warnings had been issued against Geshe Kelsang.

The rhetoric of the letter is hostile and an attempt to ‘punish’ Geshe Kelsang. There are also echoes of Bunting’s and Brown’s misstatements throughout. Some extracts from this letter:

“We sincerely hope that the cult leader and his fanatical supporters go through this and think twice before their vitriolic outpourings on the holy person of the Dalai Lama. We believe you would trust the Chinese version more than ours and because of this we took the liberty to quote from the Chinese communist periodical. It would be even better if you would care to go through the whole article and you will be surprised that even the Chinese communists have far greater respect for the Dalai Lama than cult leader Kelsang Gyatso and his cultists in Cumbria, England!!!”

…all these years he has been stashing away the millions of pounds extracted from his credulous disciples for his own insatiable greed. He has only recently renewed his contact with his house (Sera Jhe, Tsangpa House) and asked young monk’s photos to be sent. But most of the monks from the Tsangpa Khangtsen already knew the sacrilege he was committing by banning the photos of the Dalai Lama and even the utterance of his name in the premises of his cult kingdom.

The motivation behind this act was, he was now planning to wean away innocent, unsuspecting, young minds towards his cultist school called the “New Kadampa Tradition” which imposes a ban on Tibet’s Spiritual and Temporal leader the Dalai Lama and thus undermine his authority even in the exile community.

But of course all those are forgotten as a bad dream by cult leader Kelsang as he is now basking in the glory of the “third Buddha”.

But with Kalsang anything goes, after all he is the “third buddha” in the British Isles. What’s more, if any one disagrees with his “pure” cult, he gets the boot.

(All these accusations are addressed in New Kadampa Truth website.)

It seems clear from this letter that the Tibetan Government in Exile’s intention is to identify Geshe Kelsang as being a cult leader and the New Kadampa Tradition as being a cult. Nothing happens in Tibetan society without the Dalai Lama’s orders or permission. Either the Dalai Lama was behind this letter or the Sera Je Abbots were currying favor with him by attacking his “enemy”.

Part Three can be found here.


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