Smear: NKT has a global empire of businesses from which it makes lots of money

December 31, 2009

One common smear from NKT detractors is that NKT is really a money making empire of book publishing, Dharma Festivals and Celebrations, Retreat Centers, hotels, cafes and spas, and that these activities and businesses make a lot of money.

Truth: As far as explicit business activities are concerned, there is Tharpa Publications (whose main purpose is to benefit others by distributing Buddha’s teachings in Geshe Kelsang’s books), and the Kadampa Hotels.

To get some perspective, only three of the NKT’s Kadampa Meditation Centers (KMCs) out of over one thousand Centers and branch classes are Kadampa hotels. These are situated in Malaga (Spain), Tuscany (Italy), and South Limburg (Holland) respectively.  The reason for the existence of these Hotels as KMCs is that when Geshe Kelsang and his students were looking for a suitable building for KMC Spain, the most suitable was a hotel in Malaga.  Unfortunately, the local authorities would not allow a change of use for this building, which had to remain as a hotel, so Geshe Kelsang’s idea was to buy the building and operate the hotel with the KMC inside it.

One of the main aims of the New Kadampa Tradition is to ‘exemplify Buddhist practice through public service’ and a hotel is a perfect medium to accomplish this.  Kadampa Buddhism has cherishing others at its heart, so the intention is for guests to enjoy a stay at a hotel where all the staff have this as their heart practice.  It seems so far that this attitude of the Kadampas who work in the three Kadampa Hotels is the reason for their popularity – the guests are treated with uncommon kindness and respect because the primary aim of the Hotels is to cherish others, not to make money. In any case, profits from these hotels are, as with all profits from Kadampa Buddhist Centers and Kadampa Meditation Centers, donated to the International Temples Project (ITP) for the building of Temples for World Peace.

NKT Dharma Centers, whether Kadampa Meditation Centers  (KMCs) or Kadampa Buddhist Centers (KBCs), often have World Peace Cafes associated with them. Some of these make a profit, but their main purpose is not financial. Their primary purpose is to exemplify Buddhist practice through public service and to act as a means by which the public can connect with Buddhism, or just find out more about Buddhism and the Kadampa Buddhist communities.  Profits from these World Peace Cafes are used to defray the running costs of a Center and to support Center development.  Any funds that are not required for this purpose are donated to the ITP.

No individual or Center can benefit from any profits from NKT activities because these profits are used solely to build Temples for World Peace. This is legally enshrined in the moral discipline guide of the New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union, the Internal Rules:

14§7. The profits from each Festival and Dharma Celebration shall be used only for the NKT-IKBU International Temples Project; except that profits from the annual International Festivals held in the UK may also be used as properly required for the running of the NKT-IKBU.

and

18. Resources of NKT-IKBU Dharma Centres

18§1. Since the purpose of opening NKT-IKBU Dharma Centres is to spread NKT Kadampa Buddhism, all the assets of these Dharma Centres shall be used only for this aim. The annual profits made by each local NKT-IKBU Kadampa Buddhist Centre shall be used for the development of that Centre, including improvements to accommodation and so forth, and any remaining profit shall be donated to the NKT-IKBU International Temples Project account of their respective country.

18§2. At the end of the financial year each local NKT-IKBU Kadampa Buddhist Centre shall send a copy of their annual financial report to their NSD, to the Secretary and to the Temple & KMC Development Director.

18§3. The Directors of the NKT Charity together with the Education Council Representatives shall have the authority to prevent the misuse of the assets of any NKT-IKBU Dharma Centre.

18§4. Annual profits made by the KMCs, international Retreat Centres, Tharpa Publications and Hotel Kadampas in each country throughout the world must be donated to an NKT-IKBU International Temples Project account.

18§5. At the end of each financial year the Administrative Director of each KMC and each international Retreat Centre, the Finance Director of each Tharpa Publications and the Managing Director of each Hotel Kadampa shall send a detailed financial report to the Secretary, the Temple & KMC Development Director and the Treasurer.

18§6. All the funds in the NKT-IKBU International Temples Project accounts throughout the world must only be used for the NKT-IKBU International Temples Project and cannot be used by individual Dharma Centres or for any other purpose.

With respect to the claim that the NKT makes ‘a lot of money’,  all profits are donated to building Temples for World Peace. The more money that is raised, the more people around the world are benefitted through having access to these Temples and the teachings of Buddha.

Some people have argued that business is necessarily bad or at least not compatible with Buddhism. But business, like any other activity, can be either good or bad depending upon the motivation with which we engage in it.  Resources are necessary for benefiting others.  For example Marpa (Spiritual Guide of the famous Buddhist saint Milarepa) would engage in business and use the money he made to travel to India so that he could obtain and bring back Buddhist texts for the benefit of the Tibetans.

One of the six perfections that are the main path to enlightenment is giving.  Through operating Kadampa Hotels, World Peace Cafes and other appropriate businesses, Kadampas have the chance to practice cherishing others, and the profits from these activities are given to others in the form of Kadampa Temples that are intended to create peace in the world. Those training on the path to enlightenment try to give up the wish to keep things for themselves and dedicate their activities and possessions to the benefit of others.  In the case of Kadampa businesses, everything is created for and donated to the benefit of all living beings.


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 Truth Website

April 13, 2009

We are happy to say that we have made the New Kadampa Truth website easier to navigate by adding sub-sections:

Tradition | Ordination | Finances | Organization | Teachers | Teachings | Other

There are also some additions and updates to the website in English, Deutsch, Español and Français.

As it says on the website:

Established in 2008, NewKadampaTruth.org (together with its associated blog) is the online service of a New Kadampa Tradition ~ International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT ~ IKBU) Public Relations team consisting mainly of experienced and knowledgeable teachers and administrators within the New Kadampa Tradition.

Its primary purpose is to provide in-depth, authoritative refutation of smears against the NKT ~ IKBU for those who have read or heard defamation of this time-honored Buddhist tradition. It also endeavors to increase transparency in the NKT ~ IKBU and pass on complaints. For this reason, it invites comments and questions. People can also write anonymously and know that their questions will be heard and respected and, if wished, addressed privately and discreetly. NewKadampaTruth.org has no physical office. It is associated with and endorsed by the NKT office at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre in the UK.

If you have any concerns or complaints about the NKT~IKBU, or if you would like to report a smear, please contact report@newkadampatruth.org to communicate with the NKT ~ IKBU PR team.


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

February 5, 2009

“Cult” can be an innocuous word, when for example it refers to “a particular system of religious worship” or “an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal or thing e.g. the physical fitness cult.” But in the case of some NKT detractors, the word “cult” is used to mean something along the lines of: “a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.” (All definitions taken from Random House dictionary).

As it says on the New Kadampa Truth website:

The NKT is not a cult but a Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Since the NKT follows only the Mahayana teachings of the great Buddhist Masters Atisha (982-1054 AD) and Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419 AD) , which are traced back to Buddha Shakyamuni himself (500 BC), it is neither false nor unorthodox.

Its Internal Rules – containing numerous checks and balances on the behavior, election and dismissal of the administrators, teachers, and spiritual directors – also guard against any extreme behavior and are legally binding.

Given the general public’s justified distaste for cults, proclaiming a tradition to be “a cult” is an easy, lazy way to induce doubt and fear in their minds. So we have decided to tackle the “cult” word more fully. Hopefully it’ll result in some thoughtful discussion about whether the NKT deserves this label or not.

Being accused of being a cult by someone who dislikes you is similar to being asked if you are still beating your wife every night. No matter what is said or not said in defence, the insinuation remains that you beat your wife. For simply addressing this topic, the NKT may be accused by the same detractors of being defensive (“they wouldn’t need to defend themselves if they weren’t in fact a cult!”); but we will take that risk. From the faultfinders’ point of view, we’re damned if we defend ourselves and damned if we don’t. Why not just ignore them? Because people surfing the Internet sometimes encounter the allegation that the NKT is a cult and then assume that the person who said this somehow knows something that they do not. They may then believe this and either stay away from the NKT or, if they are already in the NKT, anxiously ask themselves, “Oh no, am I in a cult?!”

In all cases, we ask that people judge based on their own experience of having met NKT teachers, teachings and communities rather than automatically believe what others might say on the Internet. We would also ask that people apply an equally healthy level of inquiry into the possible motives of NKT detractors, some of whom have an interest in seeing the NKT damaged or even destroyed. This can be seen in this article, which will explain the historical and political context in which the NKT originally got slapped with this misnomer.

The background to the conflict: Shugden Supporters’ Society vs. the Tibetan establishment

So where did the idea that the NKT is a cult originate? We need to go back to 1996 and an article in the UK newspaper The Guardian. This article was written by Madeleine Bunting about the storm brewing over the Dorje Shugden issue because the Dalai Lama had, that year, openly declared his opposition to the practice of the this Buddhist Protector Deity. The Dalai Lama’s hostility to the practice had been an open secret in Tibetan exile society since the 1970s, and especially since the death of his teacher and famous Dorje Shugden proponent Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche in 1981. However, it wasn’t until 1996 that the rest of the world became aware of the issue.

In March 1996, the Dalai Lama announced a ban against the worship of the Buddhist Deity Dorje Shugden, declaring that such worship posed a “danger to his life and the cause of Tibet.” The exile government then began to enforce this ban. Houses were searched, statues destroyed, and lay and ordained practitioners coerced into signing their name, agreeing to abandon all worship of this Deity. Those refusing to sign were openly declared to be enemies to the cause of Tibet and endangering the life of the Dalai Lama. The consequences were dire for those who stood by their faith: employees of the exile government were fired and children of Dorje Shugden practitioners were expelled from school. Even the constitution of the exile government was adapted to this change of policy: “The presiding judge of the Judiciary Commission … must not be a worshipper of Gyalchen Shugden …”

Many Tibetan Lamas fell in line with the Dalai Lama and many more felt powerless to take action because their lives or livelihoods would be jeopardized. There were a few notable exceptions, most prominently Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a sincere disciple of Trijang Rinpoche who had been resident and teaching in England since 1977. In 1991, he founded the New Kadampa Tradition, a Mahayana Buddhist tradition founded on the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa transmitted to him by his own Gelug tradition teachers. Upon hearing the news that the Dalai Lama had banned the practice of Dorje Shugden and that various kinds of religious oppression were being visited on sincere practitioners in India, as well as upon receiving direct requests from distraught practitioners in India to help with the issue, he formed an organization called the Shugden Supporters Community (SSC). The Dalai Lama visited England in 1996 to give public talks and, when several letters to him had failed to garner any response, Dorje Shugden supporters engaged in protests and prayer vigils against his ban with placards such as “Your Smiles Charm, Your Actions Harm”, requesting him to restore religious freedom to Shugden practitioners.

The Press (over) reacts

Geshe Kelsang and the SSC always made it clear that they had nothing against the Dalai Lama himself and were solely opposing his ban of Shugden practice. However, such an event as the conflict between the Shugden Supporter’s Community and the Dalai Lama had never occurred in the Western Buddhist community before. The Dalai Lama, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent opposition to the Chinese, was widely respected in the West and held to be a paragon of virtue, the most famous Buddhist on the planet, presiding over the beleaguered Shangri-la, Tibet. He had never been questioned before. His authority and opinions had never been challenged by Tibetans (or most Westerners) in 58 years of rule.
In this ‘David versus Goliath’ conflict, it is perhaps no wonder the bemused Western (and especially UK) press had difficulty in accepting the claims of the SSC and therefore researching those claims; and in those days there was far less possibility of offering evidence of persecution or balancing news out through the Internet. Buddhism was widely held to be a peace-loving religion where no one would ‘rock the boat’; and now large groups of saffron robed demonstrators were calling out the Dalai Lama in public, asking him to give religious freedom.

One journalist of a major English newspaper warned a Shugden Supporters’ spokesperson (who was a schoolfriend):

“No one will touch this or research it. It is taboo in the media to say anything less than saintly about the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandela.”

Given the Dalai Lama’s high, positive media profile, the London media’s reaction was perhaps not surprising – they turned against the protesters and wrote articles that spun the SSC and the NKT in a very bad light, and let the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile completely off the hook.

At the time, and looking back now, it is clear to anyone who knows about the situation how prejudiced UK newspaper reports of the dispute were, and how they failed to do any real research or ask questions of those suffering in India, preferring to rely only on the words of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile. It is also somewhat shocking that, in a free society, this didn’t raise any alarm bells at the time. If the guiding principles of journalism are equality and neutrality, two UK newspaper articles in particular fell very short. They were undisguisedly prejudiced in favor of the Dalai Lama and against Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, opinionated, and full of unsubstantiated gossip.

Madeleine Bunting has never hidden her own natural bias in favor of the Dalai Lama. As one example, in 1999 she said in a newspaper article called “Buddha’s Humble Servant”: “I booked tickets for myself, friends and relatives for Wembley [teachings with the Dalai Lama] months ago. …. I recognised him as holier than anyone I’d met before.” She is free to her own opinion but, unfortunately for the New Kadampa Tradition and journalistic integrity, she made no responsible effort to put her own opinions aside and offer a more neutral, factual point of view when writing about him and the worsening situation in India in 1996. She made the whole story about the New Kadampa Tradition.

It was Madeleine Bunting — in her article, Shadow Boxing on the Path to Nirvana of 9th July 1996 in The Guardian — who was the first person to mention the ‘cult’ word in relation to the NKT. From a conversation with an anonymous Buddhist teacher, Bunting quoted:

“A lot of young people go into the NKT from a drug-orientated life and find the emotional force of the cult is tremendously compelling.”

And there it began.

Part Two
Part Three
Part Four


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

January 14, 2009

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.


Kadampa Buddhism in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa

January 9, 2009

Buddhism is starting to take root in areas of the world that would have been impossible even a few years ago.

This is one of the advantages of Kadampa Buddhism. Because it is not tied to Tibetan culture and politics, it is able to adapt flexibly to different customs and lifestyles whilst providing the pure Dharma teachings of Buddha and Je Tsongkhapa.

And check out a photo story detailing an earlier trip.


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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