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.


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: NKT students worship Geshe Kelsang

January 22, 2009

This is the final article exploring how Kadampa students rely upon the Spiritual Guide in these modern times. For the previous articles, click here:

Smear: Geshe Kelsang calls himself the third Buddha and seeks veneration from his students

Relying upon the Spiritual Guide in these modern times

NKT detractors sometimes make unjustified claims about the NKT’s supposed cultish devotion toward Geshe Kelsang. The trend was started in a 1996 article by Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian newspaper, where she said that NKT members “pray to and worship Geshe Kelsang”. One recent example of a public attack on a website (by someone called “Truthsquad”, who has never been to an NKT Center):

“Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, now 78 and worshiped by his devotees as a cult hero, as the greatest Shugden protector, and as a supreme omniscient being whose narcissistic visions, power goals, dharma interpretations, lineage anaysis and fundamentalist politics are infallible.”

There is never any evidence provided for attacks of this nature. Geshe Kelsang has never claimed to be an omniscient being or a Buddha. He rarely talks about himself at all. He is a very humble monk and renunciate. He spent sixteen years blissfully happily in strict retreat, only emerging to bring Dharma to the West because his Spiritual Guide Trijang Rinpoche asked it of him.

While he is in the UK over the summer period, Geshe Kelsang lives modestly and simply in one small room at Manjushri Centre, the same room he lived in when he first came to the UK, and never leaves his room except to teach. He possesses very little. He does not even own a car, having sold the one car that was offered to him in 1986 so that he could donate the proceeds to ‘Live Aid’. He does not own a house, having given away the one he was given for a retreat center. He gives everything that he is offered away, including the royalties on his books and all gifts of money, property, statues and so on.

When he is not at Manjushri Centre, he lives quietly in unknown locations with just one or two assistants, and rarely travels or even leaves the house. There he engages in meditation retreat and continues to work tirelessly to help others by writing beautiful and acclaimed Dharma books and helping to preserve and promote the Kadampa Buddhism of Je Tsongkhapa in accordance with his own Spiritual Guide’s wishes.

Geshe Kelsang does not have one single trapping of luxury, power or worldly success. Nor is he interested in or engaged in politics. Although he is in good health, in Summer 2009 he will voluntarily step down as General Spiritual Director of the NKT, in a democratic system of succession that he himself has established.

As mentioned in an earlier article, relying upon the Spiritual Guide, or “Guru devotion”, is a teaching common to all of Mahayana Buddhism. However, Geshe Kelsang has managed to introduce these teachings in a skilful way that is acceptable to our individualistic Western sensibilities. In the West, people are suspicious of religious systems that promote another person and demand unswerving allegiance (except, curiously enough, when that person is the Dalai Lama!)

In recent years in particular, Geshe Kelsang has been explaining a profound and skilful method to practice relying upon the Spiritual Guide, which enables students to regard their Spiritual Guide as an emanation of Buddha during teachings whilst also giving them the freedom to relate to them as a more ordinary person at other times. It seems that by following these instructions, Buddhist practitioners of the future will be able to continue to make progress toward enlightenment in dependence upon Buddha Shakyamuni’s instructions on relying sincerely upon a Spiritual Guide. However, they will be able to do this without having to adopt unskillful, extreme or societally unacceptable behavior, and without the potential danger of being “cheated” or betrayed by a worldly or badly motivated teacher. For example, in Paris 2008 Geshe Kelsang said:

“It is necessary to clarify what happens during teachings. For example, if I have a pure motivation giving teachings to people out of compassion, and the teaching itself is pure, then the wisdom being of Buddha will enter my body and remain in my heart. In particular, I mainly give teachings from Lama Tsongkhapa, and so I have deep faith in Lama Tsongkhapa. If my motivation, view and actions are pure, and the teaching is correct, then the wisdom being of Lama Tsongkhapa will enter my body, remain at my heart inseparable with my mind, and speak through me. At that time I am like CD player, but the real teachings are coming from Lama Tsongkhapa or Buddha Shakyamuni. This means that at that time, practically, I can be an emanation of Buddha or Lama Tsongkhapa. For as long as that wisdom being remains, I am an emanation of Buddha, an emanation of Je Tsongkhapa. I can say this. If my pure motivation, view, or actions change, then the wisdom being will disappear and I will not be an emanation, I will become ordinary.”

This applies of course not just to Geshe Kelsang but to all those giving correct Buddhist teachings out of faith and with pure motivation, view and actions. “Emanation of Buddha” can refer to those who have attained full enlightenment as well as to those who are temporary emanations, functioning as Buddhas through the force of their faith, motivation and so on. Students can receive Buddha’s blessings from these emanations.

“It is important to distinguish these kinds of things. An emanation of Buddha can have many meanings. One meaning of emanation of Buddha is a person who really is Buddha, but there are other people who are temporarily functioning as Buddhas through the wisdom being of Buddha entering and remaining at their heart when they give teachings. At that time they have the same function as Buddha, and are also an emanation of Buddha. When the wisdom being disappears, they are no longer an emanation. Therefore, at different times, different situations will arise. Sometimes I can be an emanation, sometimes maybe not necessarily.”

Hopefully these three articles have helped to clarify how relying upon the Spiritual Guide is practiced in the New Kadampa Tradition. Similar teachings on pure view, Guru devotion and so on can be found in Geshe Kelsang’s books. For example, in Mahamudra Tantra pps 28-9 he explains how we should not reveal our Tantric realizations as this could result in inappropriate behavior:

“Even if we have the realization that spontaneously believes that we are Buddha Heruka, we should never indicate or declare this to others, as such behavior is inappropriate in normal society. People will still see us as John and not Heruka, and we also know that John is not Heruka. The realizations of divine pride and clear appearance are inner experiences that have the power to control our delusions, and from which pure actions will naturally develop. There is therefore no basis for us to show inappropriate behavior; we must continue to engage in our daily activities and communicate with others as normal.”

Geshe Kelsang himself is a very good example of what he teaches as he never indicates or declares his realizations to others. He gives his students the freedom to develop whatever view they wish of him. They can view him as an ordinary Teacher, or as a kind person, or as a Bodhisattva, or even as a Buddha, as is their wish. But this is their choice and it is a private matter of the heart.

Let us know if you have any questions or comments.


Relying upon the Spiritual Guide in these modern times

January 19, 2009

This article is a continuation from Smear: Geshe Kelsang calls himself Third Buddha and seeks veneration from his students.

The only reason for having a Spiritual Guide is to receive guidance on a spiritual path. And the only reason to follow or rely upon that Spiritual Guide is to make progress on that spiritual path — never to gain worldly power or success.

Geshe Kelsang said in Paris in October 2008:

“To understand who our Spiritual Guide is, we should know what the spiritual path is. If we know this, then we can understand how someone can be our Spiritual Guide…. If we understand that the qualification or characteristic of the teacher is to sincerely lead his or her students to correct spiritual paths (principally the trainings in renunciation, universal compassion and the correct view of emptiness) through giving teachings and showing a good example, we don’t need to worry. He or she will never cheat us. Otherwise we may be cheated.”

We can be “cheated” by someone who abuses our reliance for worldly purposes, for example for power, reputation, prestige or wealth. However, we cannot be cheated by someone who is genuinely leading us along the spiritual path if we are relying upon them for our own spiritual development and not for their benefit.

As Geshe Kelsang says:

“The most important thing is that we are doing this for our own purpose, because faith is our spiritual life. Dharma and the normal aims of samsara should not be mixed. If we separate these there will no problems; if they are mixed then it is possible that some problems will arise because the teacher can misuse his or her higher position due to the students having so much devotion.”

This is similar to saying that religion and politics do not mix – if politics and worldly concerns are brought to bear on a relationship between a Spiritual Guide and a student, the relationship becomes a power struggle wherein the student is inevitably the loser. The teaching on Guru devotion means to develop and maintain deep faith in our Spiritual Guide and to put his or her teachings into practice. “Just this!” There is no need for further relationships, such as business or political relationships, which in fact will only give rise to problems.

(This has been shown, for example, in the situation over the last 30 years in the Tibetan exile community. The dual, conflicting role of the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader and political leader in charge of their lives and livelihoods has led to great suffering and confusion for many practitioners in the Gelugpa tradition because he used his worldly power against them.)

Pure, effective Guru devotion has in fact always worked independent of politics. There are classic examples we can follow, as Geshe Kelsang suggests:

“We can take examples from ancient times of how, for example, the Indian Buddhist Master Naropa relied upon Tilopa and how Atisha relied upon Serlingpa, and in Tibet how Dromtonpa relied upon Atisha and Milarepa relied upon Marpa.”

However, a note of caution:

“We should follow their example, but because both the teachers and the students were very simple, there were no problems. Now in the modern world it is not simple. Due to the huge development of material activities, people have developed many different aims. So be careful, keep Dharma purely and never allow extreme views. Teachers should never use Dharma for their position, and students should never use their teachers for their position. We should follow Guru devotion only according to the development of Dharma realizations. Because the modern world has developed so much, it is very easy to follow in an extreme way. We know that other religions have this extreme; teachers say something and their students immediately follow them, and this causes suffering to so many people. It is very necessary to prevent these kinds of things.”

In keeping with the Kadampa Geshes’ precept “to remain natural while changing your aspiration”, and the common sense wisdom tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, today’s Buddhists need to avoid zealous types of behavior that have no place in modern, democratic cultures. Our view of our Spiritual Guide must be kept inside the heart. We must avoid fanaticism mentally, verbally and physically — for example, telling the world that our teacher is an enlightened being, using epithets such as “Avalokiteshvara” or “Manjushri” etc.

“Teachers should never show ‘I am a holy being, I am Buddha’ and so forth, and also the students should never say, ‘My Teacher is a Buddha’. This is ridiculous. Saying ‘My Teacher is Heruka’ or ‘My Teacher is Vajrayogini’ is not correct conversation! We should speak and act exactly as normal. We should respect what people in society believe. Otherwise, if we behave and react in strange ways that society does not accept, we will become isolated. They will never appreciate us. Even faithful disciples never talk like this. For example, I have many faithful students, but they never say ‘Geshe Kelsang is Heruka’ or ‘He is Buddha’ or ‘He is Lama Tsongkhapa’. They never say this. … Modern people follow the truth as they see it, so if you say ‘He is Heruka’, ‘He is Buddha Shakyamuni’, people will see contradictions and not appreciate or believe you.”

This approach also has the potential to avert the disharmony that comes from comparing and contrasting one’s spiritual leaders.


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.


Letter from a senior FPMT monk

November 24, 2008

Below are some extracts from a letter written by Yeshe Sangye, a senior FPMT monk and close disciple of Lama Yeshe. The full letter can be found here. As he says himself at the end of his letter:

I hope all that read this would understand better.
That is my hope to write. As I have not said anything for over twenty years.

Why are we including his letter here? Because many times NKT-IKBU Centers and students have been at the receiving end of slander and disruption at the hands of FPMT Centers and students, ever since the Dalai Lama spoke out against Dorje Shugden and the FPMT decided to follow his lead. This is a fact, and it is backed up by Yeshe Sangye (below).

It is a serious matter to be involved in criticizing other Mahayana traditions (it’s a downfall of the Bodhisattva vows) and impeding the spreading of pure Buddhadharma is contributing to the suffering of others. This is a big world, big enough for NKT~IKBU and the FPMT and all other Buddhist traditions.  There are billions of suffering beings and these beings all have different karma.  While we rejoice in the FPMT’s work of spreading Buddha’s teachings, we do not rejoice in their political actions against the NKT because of following the Dalai Lama’s view.  Dharma mixed with politics is like delicious food mixed with poison – the only result will be suffering in the end.

As explained on the New Kadampa Truth website, FPMT members are regularly contributing to  Internet forums where they criticize the NKT and try to dissuade anyone reading their posts from attending NKT Centers.  The NKT has written to the FPMT asking them to desist from criticizing our tradition and specifically mentioning some individuals on the Geshe program (Tenzin Peljor); but nothing has improved. Quite apart from the fact that the FPMT de facto has an official policy of discrimination in place by not allowing Dorje Shugden practitioners to be teachers, to ordain in the FPMT tradition, or even to attend FPMT teachings, here are a few specific examples of the treatment the NKT has received from the FPMT:

  1. FPMT Mexico has officially criticized NKT on their website.
  2. One FPMT student claimed on an Amazon Buddhist discussion group that we are praying for the death of the Dalai Lama or FPMT Teachers such as Thubten Gonpo, one of our main critics.
  3. A personal story from an NKT Teacher: “A student of mine who was heading for Foundation Programme spent the summer in Nepal.  He took one of the 10 day Lamrim courses at Kopan and told one of the nuns, a Swedish nun called Ven Karen, that he was from Kingston and went to the NKT Centre there.  He said she then spent a long time trying to convince him that we were a cult and that he should not go there.  She brought up things like we worship an evil spirit, we’re all about money etc. He came back disillusioned about our Centre and Buddhism in general. He wasn’t impressed with the FPMT that much, but her words stuck and after a couple of meetings with him, he left, taking with him our core students from the University.”
  4. Another personal story from an NKT Teacher: “We had a student in Taiwan whose auntie became an FPMT nun and was banned from coming to our centre. His name is ***** and N**** is still in touch with him.”
  5. A story of discrimination from France: “Around 2004 Vivre Autrement alternative health fair in Paris. We were denied a stand at this very popular annual event which attracts 1000s. I had applied under the name of Editions Tharpa, mainly to offer books etc. FPMT people turned the organizers against us, as they wanted to have a stand, and we were refused.”
  6. According to one testimonial received from an NKT member in Boston:”We were constantly hearing feedback from General Program students about how they were told by the FPMTers that we who attended NKT centers were not Buddhists, we were a money making cult, we had no authority to teach, our ordinations were not real, Geshe Kelsang was an evil wizard leading us all into hell … you get the idea.”

These are just a few examples – we have many more examples of FPMT interference in the development of the NKT-IKBU, and this sad state of affairs is still continuing today.

Lama Yeshe of the FPMT was no spirit worshipper. His wish in establishing the FPMT was to spread Dharma in the West, a wish that the New Kadampa Tradition is fulfilling. There is no conflict between Lama Yeshe’s and Geshe Kelsang’s intentions, and they were close friends and peers who regularly engaged in Gelugpa spiritual practice together, including monthly Dorje Shugden pujas; so why is the FPMT attacking us? It can only be because FPMT members have become a political tool of the Dalai Lama’s to fulfill his wish to destroy this tradition. Is this any way to repay Lama Yeshe’s kindness?

Here are extracts from the letter:

“LAMA YESHE was the very symbol of skillful compassionate action in constant motion and he mentioned many times that Dorje Shugden made his works grow as far as it did during his life time. Lama stayed true to his root teachers such as H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, Geshe Rabten and H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche showing us what guru devotion is really meant to be free of political inclinations. In his practice of Dorje Shugden, Lama never hinted even slightly of sectarianism, or disregard for any form of religion never mind Buddhism.….Much simpler back then. Simpler that there was next to zero in lama-bashing, centre-bashing, lineage-bashing or siding up with H.H. the Dalai Lama for political reasons.
….If I must choose between the Dalai Lama and my root guru, Lama Yeshe, then I choose Lama Yeshe. He is the one that cared for me.

….I HOPE FPMT WILL NEVER CRITICIZE DORJE SHUGDEN WHICH IS LAMA’S PERSONAL DHARMA PROTECTOR. I HOPE THAT FPMT STUDENTS WILL RESPECT LAMA’S WISHES AND PRACTICE THE DHARMA. I HOPE THEY NEVER CRITICIZE STUDENTS, CENTRES AND GREAT LAMAS WHO WISH TO CONTINUE THIS PRACTICE OF DORJE SHUGDEN. I am very happy to see Lama Yeshe sacred picture in this website’s masters sections. Many people are afraid to say the truth to look politically wrong. But that is not what the dharma is about. We should let go of attachment of this sort and just do our practice. Ego-less state of mind is the goal of our practice as Lama would say.

….Also never to criticize Dorje Shugden and the practices Lama gave us SO THAT HIS CURRENT INCARNATION CAN MANIFEST AS A DHARMA TEACHER. The only way his unmistaken current incarnation can manifest as a great dharma teacher again, is if his students keep samaya clean free of politics and free of politically motivated actions in the name of dharma. Otherwise, it would be the responsibilities of the students if the current Lama Yeshe incarnation cannot perform the actions as he had set out to do. After all, if we as FPMT members criticize others who practice Dorje Shugden, then that will accumulate very heavy karma. Why? Because we destroy the faith of others in their gurus. Do we have the right to do that? Does Lama Zopa’s closeness with H.H. the Dalai Lama validate FPMT CENRES AND MEMBERS TO BE SOME KIND OF SPIRITUAL POLICE. That type of spiritual arrogance will be the downfall of any dharma organization. IT IS CONTRARY TO THE SPIRIT OF LAMA YESHE’S ASPIRATIONS. We should reflect Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa well, by never criticizing other sects, lamas, lineages, practices, Dorje Shugden, etc. Why because it contradicts Lama Yeshe’s Bodhicitta aspirations. We should not especially criticize lamas who are spiritual heirs of Sera, Gaden, Drepung or who are students of Pabongkha, Trijang, Zong Rinpoches. Why? Because they are OUR LINEAGE LAMAS ALSO AND THEY ALL PRACTICED DORJE SHUGDEN AS THEIR PRINCIPLE PROTECTOR.

….We cannot think of Lama’s work just expanding in our life time which it can due to Lama Zopa. But into future lifetimes. Future generations. So for that to happen, we need continuation of Lama’s successor. If we just follow along the current political tides, we may look clean and good, but simultaneously it becomes damaging to what lama’s previous incarnation practiced and that would not be very good. What’s the point if Lama’s centers and works grow now and after Lama Zopa’s passing, it stops, slows down or what not? Is spiritual attainments gained by flashing pictures we have taken together with the Dalai Lama to other centers and justifying our arrogant authoritarian ways with that? I don’t think so. I think if Dalai Lama is close to FPMT we should reflect that well by being even more humble, even more gentle, even more kind so we do not stain the name of H.H. the Dalai Lama. We cannot uplift his name or prove our guru devotion to him by putting down anything in regards to Dorje Shugden. That would be a heavy price to pay at the expense of our own Lama Yeshe’s heart protector. That is Dorje Shugden.

So when Lama was alive, we practice Dorje Shugden and Dorje shugden is ok and a Buddha.
Kopan had monthly ‘secret’ pujas to Dorje Shugden as with most of the centers. The FPMT centers that were fortunate to have a great lama/geshe living nearby would always invite them monthly to the centers to do the monthly Dorje Shugden pujas as instructed by both Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa. The young Kyabje Pabongkha Rinpoche who resides in Nepal was often invited to Kopan Monastery to perform incredible pujas. Even before the current new Kopan Prayer Hall was built, many preliminary pujas had to be done on the land before the foundation was set. Kopan invited Kyabje Pabongkha Rinpoche to perform them. Then when Dharamsala started stepping up on their anti-Shugden campaign, Kopan cut their ties with Pabongkha Rinpoche. It remains so till this day amazingly and he is the reincarnation of our lineage master!!! I was amazed when I heard that from very reliable sources. In fact, Kopan wanted to look good, that the monk administrators influenced some Taiwanese sponsors against Pabongkha Rinpoche. Rinpoche was promised by them to build a Pabongkha Monastery in Nepal, and the Taiwanese had promised to sponsor it. In order to get on Dharamsala’s good side and to get the sponsorship for themselves, Kopan administrative monks told the Taiwanese Sponsors (which I will withhold name from here) that Pabongkha Rinpoche is not following Dalai Lama’s instructions to abandon Shugden practice and that they should not support Pabongkha’s Rinpoche’s intent on building the Monastery in Nepal. Consequently it worked and unfortunately for Kopan’s karma. My question is, who put Kopan as the spiritual police in Nepal and so daringly create schism between their lineage guru’s sponsors??

Example the Delhi FPMT Branch centre in the past on monthly basis would invite the great Rongtha Gyabgon Rinpoche who lived in Ladakh Budh Vihar, New Delhi to perform the pujas at their centre every month. Dorje Shugden full puja was done at FPMT centre in Delhi monthly with great offerings. It was advised by Lama Zopa. In fact, Lama Zopa used to perform the Dorje Shugden pujas in both Kopan and Delhi himself on many occasions!! Himalayan Yogic Institute in Katmandu had a Dorje Shugden statue in their side shrine room in a box with offerings, it would be opened from time to time as did the Delhi centre.

So Kopan is now very great, how did Dorje Shugden damage Kopan?? What was the wrong results manifesting now due to the decades that Lama Yeshe practiced Dorje Shugden and had Kopan do pujas monthly?? So if a friend helped us in the past, and we get a new friend, we simply abandon the old friend? Is that ethical or dharmic?

Then Lama dies and we don’t practice because H.H. the Dalai Lama says not to. And HH has reasons beyond our ordinary minds can conceive. Then one unfortunate day, H.H. Dalai Lama passes away (very sad time) and Lama Yeshe is back and then we again practice Dorje Shugden?? I mean that is a strange scenario. Back and forth that is.

It is very sad, because many of the FPMT centers now go on spiritual witch-hunts condemning other centers in their same cities. Using Dorje Shugden practice as negative as their ‘pure’ reasoning to take students away from their respective centers to join the nearby FPMT centers. But in fact they are just as I see it, trying to increase their own memberships. I have witnessed this. Many, many, many of the older Lama Yeshe students have gone underground with their practices of Dorje Shugden. Some like me do not really go to the centers here in the USA anymore. They will not abandon their practice of Dorje Shugden because of their great devotion to Lama Yeshe and are somewhat flabbergasted at the direction that some new FPMT centers’ are going with their arrogant witch hunts. What is important to remember is JUST BECAUSE YOU ATTEND THE DALAI LAMA’S TEACHINGS, OR HAVE TAKEN PHOTOS WITH HH DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY VALIDATE YOU AS A SPIRITUAL POLICEMAN AND GO ON WITCH-HUNTS. We must practice the essence of what HH teaches as did Lama Yeshe, which are tolerance, compassion, forgiveness and not ever slandering any lama, dharma, lineage or practice. As the karmic retributions will fall onto us. We should never mislead new FPMT students toward this line of thought. We are destroying our organization slowly if we do so.
FPMT centers citing so and so practice Dorje Shugden and so therefore they are not pure. That is so hypocritical and political because Lama Yeshe practiced and Lama Zopa was recognized as a tulku by Dorje Shugden himself. In Dorje Shugden is a ghost, then Lama Zopa’s recognition becomes nil. In fact some of the FPMT centers’ committees are in direct competition to attach students to their OWN centers for fundraising, attendance, membership, etc. So they use the heinous method of condemning Dorje Shugden to scare other centre members into joining FPMT. In fact when they do that, it is a disgrace. Older/senior FPMT students should speak up to new and younger ones who have not had the great fortune to meet our founder, Lama Yeshe.

Lama Yeshe’s main protector practice was Dorje Shugden till the end. He didn’t take an unfortunate rebirth. Dorje Shugden didn’t harm him? IF LAMA YESHE WAS PRAYING TO A GHOST, THEN WHY DIDN’T HE TAKE REBIRTH IN THE THREE LOWER REALMS??


We must think clearly and not be swept away by convenient political tides in order to fill our dharma centers with membership so it gives it a successful appearance. If that was done, what would be the cost?  It would affect Lama Osel’s current incarnation in not being able to manifest as a dharma teacher. We destroy other people’s faith in their lama, and help them break their samaya with their lama, that karma would return back to us PERSONALLY AND AS A GROUP.

We as FPMT should respect our founder’s wishes and not ever criticize Dorje Shugden, his practitioners, his lineage, his followers in anyway because our founder, Lama Yeshe was one of them. We shouldn’t practice or not practice what the current political situation pressures us to or not to. We should do what our lama says. So during Lama’s life Dorje Shugden is good and now Lama is dead, so Dorje Shugden is bad??? Wouldn’t that infer that lama was wrong, had bad degenerate practices, lacking in wisdom, had no refuge, had no attainments and wasted his life praying to a spirit?? So if lama gave us Heruka initiation and practice, then it had no blessings because lama’s refuge degenerated due to his practice of Dorje Shugden?? Since Dorje Shugden is a spirit and Lama kept up his ‘sogtae’ (Dorje Shugden’s initiation) or life entrustment practices his whole life, then all of the other practices lama did was degenerated and ineffective when passed to us.
So any practices Lama Zopa received from Lama Yeshe and passes it to others would logically be degenerate also??? Wouldn’t it?

The implications are quite big if we choose to believe that way….So that would mean many of the practices that Lama Zopa does now and gives others that are directly from Lama Yeshe are degenerated because Lama Yeshe was degenerated?? Of course not. Very dangerous line of thought. Very ruinous direction we are heading toward. I watched Lama Zopa get brow-beaten into ‘giving’ up his Dorje Shugden practices. And Lama has to be degenerated because H.H. Kyabje Trijang and Zong Rinpoches were degenerated we have to falsely assume. Both these lamas practiced Dorje Shugden till they entered parinirvana (deaths)…Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche entered into 12 days of clear light meditations in Dharamsala and Kyabje Zong Rinpoche, three days. And their unmistaken incarnations are back recognized by both H.H. the Dalai Lama and Dorje Shugden via his oracle again. How come they didn’t go to the Three Lower Realms since they worshipped Dorje Shugden the ‘spirit’ their whole lives in fact in all their previous many incarnations they worshipped also.

They didn’t descend into the lower realms from a lifetime of practicing and propagating a Dorje Shugden. Since these great lamas have ‘degenerated’ their refuge by the practice of Dorje Shugden which implies they have zero attainments in the first place to choose a spirit to worship, then their other practices naturally became defiled. Do we choose to believe that way of thought?? I and many others clearly don’t. It doesn’t make sense. Many teachers and thousands of their disciples around the world today are committed and practice Dorje Shugden today. Because they have been given this practice by H.H. Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and H.H. Kyabje Zong Rinpoche. They are following the commands of their root gurus, so what are they doing wrong? We switch gurus like status symbols?? These are both the root gurus of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa. So we should not criticize other centers, lamas, students that practice Dorje Shugden. Be true to your dharma practice.

Even if hypothetically lama had given up his Dorje Shugden practices during his life, which he did not, his gurus didn’t give it up. So if his gurus did not give it up, then the practices received by Lama Yeshe would have been degenerated since his lamas are degenerated. Lama Yeshe was inviting H.H. kyabje Zong Rinpoche up till his death in the early 80’s to his centers giving teachings, initiations, transmissions and commentaries. And Dorje Shugden life empowerments to hundreds. So however you want to look at it, then many of the practice graciously conferred by lama Zopa today are in one way or another defiled or at least contaminated. Could that be so? I don’t want to go that direction.

So however many photos lama Zopa takes together with H.H. the Dalai Lama and advertised (as today, affiliations with Dalai Lama in any way would hint at authenticity/genuine practice whether you are or not) or whoever many events of H.H. are sponsored by Lama Zopa, it still cannot wash away the inner degenerate practices received from Lama Yeshe. Is that what we choose to believe? Even if Lama Zopa truly gave up his Dorje Shugden practices to be ‘absolved’, then he would have to give up all the practices that Lama Yeshe gave him also or at least don’t pass it to others. Then we have to believe the founder of our FPMT Lama Yeshe WAS WRONG.


In order to be truly clean? Just giving up Dorje Shugden wouldn’t be enough as his root lama, Lama Yeshe would have to be thought of as WRONG IN LAMA ZOPA’S DAILY MEDITATIONS. I also don’t think so. So I again request everyone to think of the implications….

Yeshe Sangye”

The full letter can be found here.


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