Smear: NKT has no lineage after Geshe Kelsang

December 17, 2009

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.

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The qualifications of NKT Teachers

December 18, 2008

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.)


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