What is the NKT~IKBU?

November 12, 2008

(Please remember that you are still most welcome to send stories of your own experiences of the New Kadampa Tradition to our comments section on this blog entry: Kadampa Blogs and Questionnaires)

On a new page on the website, New Kadampa Truth, there is a clear explanation of the New Kadampa Tradition ~ International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT~IKBU). I am including it here as it gives a helpful background to the tradition for those who do not know much about it.

As of 2008, the New Kadampa Tradition ~ International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT~IKBU) is an international association of 1100 study and meditation Centers in over 40 countries throughout the world. One of the fastest-growing grass roots Buddhist traditions in the world, the New Kadampa Tradition aims to bring pure Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings to a modern-day audience, making them accessible and practical for new students as well as experienced practitioners.

Kadampa Buddhism was first established by Indian Buddhist master Atisha (982-1054 AD), who reintroduced Buddha’s pure teachings into 11th century Tibet at the request of the Tibetan King Jangchub O. ‘Ka’ refers to Buddha’s teachings of Sutra and Tantra, and ‘dam’ to Lamrim, Atisha’s special presentation of these teachings, known in English as ‘the stages of the path to enlightenment’. Kadampas are practitioners who take Buddha’s teachings as personal advice and put them into practice in their daily lives by following the instructions of Lamrim.

Introduced in the West by Tibetan-born (and now naturalized British and US citizen) meditation master Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, the NKT~IKBU follows the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism as taught by Atisha and Tibetan Buddhist master Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419 AD) The tradition was passed in an unbroken lineage (transmitted from realized teacher to student) from Je Tsongkhapa through the generations to Je Phabongkhapa (1878-1941 AD), and finally to Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche (1901-1981 AD), the teacher of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, and to Trijang Rinpoche’s close disciples, including Geshe Kelsang Gyatso himself.

The New Kadampa Tradition closely follows the original intention of Atisha’s presentation, and that of Je Tsongkhapa who revitalized the practice of Kadampa Buddhism in 13th century Tibet, further clarifying the presentation and setting a pure example of systematic study and moral discipline for his followers, who became known as ‘new Kadampas’ or ‘Gelugpas’ (the ‘Virtuous Tradition’).

The New Kadampa Tradition, as introduced by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, brings these instructions into a modern vernacular, aiming to integrate Buddha’s teachings into a cohesive system of study and practice designed for people with modern lives and fitting into their indigenous culture. With three distinct Study Programs (General Program, Foundation Program and Teacher Training Program) offered at Centers internationally, the New Kadampa Tradition offers classes at different levels, appealing to those seeking practical advice for daily living as well as to those wishing to deepen their experience of Buddhist practice through formal study and meditation.

The NKT~IKBU holds three International Dharma Festivals throughout the year, attracting thousands of visitors, with national and regional Festivals and Dharma Celebrations held in many countries. Almost 200 Resident Teachers from Centers throughout the world participate in the International Teacher Training Program (ITTP) each Summer. There are currently over 700 Buddhist monks and nuns in the NKT. The ITTP and TTP (Teacher Training Program) produce many ordained and lay Buddhist teachers to lead Centers and branch classes in their own communities.

The NKT~IKBU is an international non-profit organization registered in England as a charitable company. Through the International Temples Project, established in the early nineties, the NKT~IKBU has built Kadampa Buddhist Temples for World Peace in the UK, the United States, Canada, Brazil and Spain, with plans for additional Temples soon in Germany and Australia. The project is funded entirely by voluntary donations and by revenue from International Buddhist Festivals. Individual NKT~IKBU Centers operate many World Peace Cafes throughout the world. The NKT~IKBU operates a Hotel Kadampa in Southern Spain and another in the Italian region of Tuscany; and there are Kadampa International Retreat Centers in Scotland and Switzerland, with short- and long-term retreatants. Tharpa Publications has published 22 NKT Dharma books by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, now translated into several languages, including accessible books on meditation and Buddhist teachings as well as detailed commentaries to traditional Buddhist texts.

Most NKT~IKBU Centers and other facilities are operated primarily by volunteers, with a small group of sponsored employees receiving a stipend for their work. All Temples and NKT Centers are open to the public for individual and group visits, and many Centers work closely with their communities through school programs, branch classes, prison programs, hospice programs and other special outreach programs.

You are welcome to visit any NKT~IKBU Center any time you wish. Please see the official website www.kadampa.org for a list of Centers and other information.

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Answering those who disparage the NKT ordination, Part One

September 24, 2008

Please see the New Kadampa Truth website for the main refutations of the smears:

NKT ordination is not valid

and

NKT monks and nuns are not authentic

In the next three articles on this New Kadampa Truth blog, we will look more closely at the nature and function of NKT ordination and the authenticity of its lineage. We will be listing all 253 vows of a fully ordained monk and showing how they are not contradictory to the ten vows taken and kept by a monk or a nun in the New Kadampa Tradition.

In The Ordination Handbook, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says:

The verbal explanation of the Kadampa ordination is brief—there are just ten commitments—but their practice is very extensive. These ten commitments that you promise to keep are a condensation of the entire Lamrim teachings. Although we can finish a verbal explanation of these vows in a few hours, their practice is all embracing. You should do this—few words but always practice, practice extensively.

The purpose of the Vinaya (Tib. dulwa) is “to control [the mind]” through higher moral discipline, as this is the foundation for developing pure concentration (i.e. tranquil abiding), and in turn profound wisdom (i.e. superior seeing). While the first five Kadampa vows (“Throughout my life I will abandon killing, stealing, sexual activity, lying and taking intoxicants”) are common to all Vinaya lineages, the latter five (“I will practise contentment, reduce my desire for worldly pleasures, abandon engaging in meaningless activities, maintain the commitments of refuge, and practise the three trainings of pure moral discipline, concentration and wisdom”) are taken from the Mahayana Perfection of Wisdom Sutra and its commentaries such as Atisha’s Lamrim text Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, which references Arya Asanga’s The Bodhisattva Stages (Skt. Bodhisattvabhumi) listing the six ‘branches’ or necessary conditions for attaining tranquil abiding, including:

  1. little desire
  2. contentment
  3. no distracting activities
  4. pure moral discipline
  5. no distracting conceptions

These preparatory practices are methods of training the mind—methods of moral discipline. The very purpose of becoming ordained as a Buddhist monk or nun is to practice a moral discipline that enables one to achieve tranquil abiding. With tranquil abiding, one can attain superior seeing. With these three higher trainings—moral discipline, concentration and wisdom–one will attain liberation from samsara. In his text, Atisha says:

“One who neglects the branches of tranquil abiding will never attain concentration, even if he meditates with great effort for a thousand years.”

Yet some legalists still reject the latter five Kadampa ordination vows simply because they do not appear verbatim in the Vinaya or Pratimoksha Sutras. For example, they would say that, even though it is more succinct, the vow “to practice contentment” just isn’t to be found in traditional ordination texts.

The insistence that Kadampas should adhere strictly to the letter rather than the spirit of the vows is a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. For example, vow #31—to not get a new mat before six years are up—is obviously a particular instance of the more general principle to practice contentment. Recognizing and observing the ‘spirit’ or meaning of the individual precepts of the Vinaya is how the Kadampa ordination vows are to be understood and practiced.

When you read the 253 vows of a fully ordained monk (which we will post here next), you can ask yourself whether, in this modern age, it is actually possible to observe them to the letter? It is arguable whether there is one single monk on this planet who is even attempting to follow them all literally. (And full ordination for women in the Tibetan tradition died out centuries ago, rendering nuns as second class monastics.)

It is helpful to understand that the 253 Vinaya vows arose gradually, one by one, in dependence upon the needs of the emerging monastic community and the societal norms of Buddha Shakyamuni’s world 2500 years ago. However, it is possible to observe purely and sincerely the spiritual principles behind these vows and adapt these principles practically to our very different society. This can be done without losing any of the meaning and function of the full set of 253 vows, and in full accordance with the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni and all other great Buddhist Masters. This is what makes the Kadampa ordination so authentic, beautiful, meaningful, and suitable for our modern day world.

Another mistake made by legalists is to try and pigeonhole the 10 Kadampa ordination vows variously into the 5 vows of a lay woman or lay man (Tib. Genyenma/Genyenpa), the 8 vows of a reunciate (Tib. Rabjung), the 10 or 36 vows of a novice nun or monk (Tib. Getsulma/Getsulpa), or the 253 vows of a fully ordained monk (Tib. Gelong). However, the vows of Kadampa ordination are to be regarded as a practical condensation of the essential meaning of the ordained vows. As such, we should look to see how the 253 vows of a Gelong, for example, are subsumed under the more broadly encompassing 10 vows, rather than the other way around.

There are no doubt different ways of doing this, and many of the 253 vows will fall under more than one of the 10 Kadampa vows. Tomorrow we will show one example of how all the novice and full ordination vows are naturally included within the comprehensive yet succinct vows of Kadampa ordination. The Sramanera/Sramanerika Precepts will be used as the reference for the novice vows, and Buddhist Ethics will be used as the reference for the full ordination vows.


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