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.
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:
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.