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

December 31, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

18. Resources of NKT-IKBU Dharma Centres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New Kadampa Truth Website

April 13, 2009

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

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

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

As it says on the website:

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

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

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


New Kadampa Survivors (continuation of the ‘cult’ smear history)

March 25, 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
E-Sangha and “sect bashing” (continuation of the ‘cult’ smear history)

The New Kadampa Tradition is not different from other spiritual organizations in that it is not suited to everyone, and many people who try it out do not stay. As a non-proselytizing Buddhist tradition that is not trying to convert anyone, this has always been expected and it is not a problem.

Sadly, though, some of these people leave through disappointment or even irritation and anger; and some of these go onto become active critics of the NKT on the Internet. The bad reputation the NKT has received from the Dalai Lama’s words and actions has proved a rallying point for diverse criticism of the NKT. This can obscure or distort people’s genuine personal grievances by causing every difficulty or disappointment to be exaggerated by the supposition that the NKT must be a cult because the Dalai Lama says so. Instead of taking each disappointment on its merits and seeing it in the context of an organization that is basically sound with room for improvement, some have jumped to the conclusion that their own difficulty is part of a far larger pattern – and that, although they appreciated the NKT before, they have only just realized that they have always been part of an abusive spirit-worshipping sectarian cult 🙂

Learning from criticism

This is not to say that the NKT~IKBU has not made mistakes because of course it has. The NKT~IKBU is a groundbreaking movement and operates worldwide. The Kadam Dharma it offers is pure and has stood the test of time, but the organization itself is naturally made up of imperfect living beings. It would be strange if there were not some problems. As the NKT~IKBU has said, it accepts and is sorry for its mistakes and is trying its best to learn from these, hence the Internal Rules and its many edicts for ensuring harmony, democracy and pure behavior. A great number of improvements and adaptations have been made over the past 30 years.

Hopefully, improvements will continue to be made both by the organization and by its individuals – there is no reason why not. From this point of view, as an ancient Buddhist tradition strives to adapt to the modern world, criticism has proven to be a very helpful mirror in which the NKT~IKBU has been able to see its faults and strive to remove them. As the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! As Geshe Kelsang has advised on the subject of criticism: check whether what is said is true or not. If it is true, accept and learn from it gratefully. If the criticism is not true, it is still true that we have the basic fault of self-cherishing, so we can still appreciate that person for criticizing us and use it as a reminder to reduce self-cherishing.

Understanding the Status Quo

But as the NKT, despite resistance and resentment from Tibetans who wish to preserve the Tibetan status quo, moves ever more steadily away from Tibetan politics and the vortex of the Dalai Lama to become an increasingly autonomous, non-political and democratic Western Mahayana Buddhist organization, Kadampa students have also had to wisen up. During this transition, they are having to learn to distinguish the genuine mistakes they and others have made (and continue to make) from the politically motivated wild accusations and falsehoods perpetuated by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Government in Exile (TGIE), and various Tibetan Buddhist groups. Only then are they able to take responsibility for the former while ignoring or rebutting the latter.

New Kadampa Survivors

Both the mistakes and the wild accusations find their way onto the New Kadampa Survivors, which is an Internet chat group that serves as the main convergence for NKT dissent. From the point of view of learning from criticism, the NKT has benefited from the focus of the New Kadampa Survivors chat group. Certainly, it has no objection to it existing and, if it helps some people, that is also good. But it may also be clarifying to understand it from an historical and cultural perspective.

Understanding the context

The NKT wishes to divest itself of Tibetan cultural accretions and especially Tibetan politics. It is not under the autocracy of the Dalai Lama and TGIE, and this is not pleasing to them. In the broader context of the damaging perceptions of the NKT being a sectarian breakaway inauthentic spirit-worshipping cult engendered by the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan groups, it is easier to understand the arising of the survivors’ chat group in 2007, which spilt over from E-Sangha.

It is hard to imagine this group arising if the NKT had remained under the umbrella of Tibetan Buddhism and the authority of the Dalai Lama and kept his pictures on their walls. After all, other Tibetan groups and Lamas without “survivors” groups have had as many if not more disrobings and disaffected students. Moreover, their unquestioning worship of the Dalai Lama as a God King, and “overall leader of all Buddhist traditions on this earth”* can easily be construed as cult-like, as can alarming but all too common statements like this one from a TGIE MP on France 24 explaining why there was no need for a vote to ban Dorje Shugden: “We do not have any doubt about Dalai Lama’s decisions. We do not think he is a human being. He’s a supreme human being and he is god.” Or this one from the TGIE quoted in the New Internationalist: “Concepts like democracy and freedom of religion are empty when it comes to the well-being of the Dalai Lama and the common cause of Tibet.”

The NKT and Geshe Kelsang have never strayed into such murky waters but their opposition to the behavior of the singularly famous head of Tibet has provided a rallying cry and justification for diverse detractors, which is not possessed by Tibetan Buddhist groups under the Dalai Lama’s patronage.

Rules of the game

According to its founder, David Cutshaw: “It is a place for former members to come and openly discuss what it was like being part of this sectarian cult.” There are three rules on Survivors: “No NKT propaganda is allowed; no NKT members/followers/students are allowed; no debate of Dorje Shugden is allowed.” What this means is that no positive input is permitted about the NKT (or Dorje Shugden).

The intention of David Cutshaw may well have been to find an audience himself and provide support for others. Perhaps there has been some relief for certain members as they have been able to voice their grievances and find sympathy. But the overall atmosphere and group dynamic is one full of blame, where everything is blamed on Geshe Kelsang and the NKT. (The only personal responsibility members seem to take is for their own neediness or naivety in joining the cult.) Even when outright untruths are told and re-told, no one is permitted to come forward to confute these or restore some balance, for that amounts to “propaganda” and the message is censored.

This all means that those who were seeking answers or support invariably become more negative, and newcomers stumbling upon this group (finding it for example while searching NKT in Google) receive an entirely one-sided and distorted depiction of the NKT. If they do not take the trouble to question what they are reading, it is natural for them to believe it, become disillusioned, and resolve henceforth to avoid the NKT.

Vicious circle

From this point of view, the survivors group is not helpful to the development of the NKT (and nor do they wish to be!) The very existence of the survivors’ group (and the fact that members often foray onto other Internet sites to share their views) has also fuelled the prejudices of Tibetan Buddhists further into thinking that the NKT must indeed be a cult if there are ex-members who are prepared to say so; and this has created a vicious circle of criticism and negative views. This has been a damaging factor in the NKT’s reputation in the Buddhist community (but music to the survivors’ ears!)

Disinhibition

(As an interesting aside, Internet chat groups are known to have a “disinhibition effect”, which according to psychological reports is not always benign and can “lead to rude language, harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, and even threats”, or “simply a blind catharsis, an acting out of unsavory needs and wishes without any personal growth at all.”)

Reasons for joining

It seems that most people on Survivors joined in 2008 as they were disillusioned by the Western Shugden Society’s demonstrations against the Dalai Lama’s ban, and/or by Samden’s and/or Lodro’s disrobings. In the latter case, this disillusionment is quite understandable and since that time steps have been taken to avoid a repetition.

For one thing, since the disrobing of Samden Gyatso, the Internal Rules specify that the authority of the both the teacher and the managers in each Center is subject to checks and balances and more equally shared out.

Far fewer people are joining the chat group nowadays, and the vast majority are “lurkers” or non-active participants. The same few people make almost all the postings. Judging by conversations and reports, it would appear that about half the members are NKT practitioners who are or were curious to read what is being written about them or their teachers.

Agent provocateurs

There are also members of survivors who have clearly never been to an NKT Center. They come from other Tibetan Buddhist groups and are on the chat group solely to “do research” for their own anti-NKT agendas (particularly an individual calling himself VJ Kumara who went so far as to wish for Geshe Kelsang’s death), sow dissatisfaction and TGIE propaganda, or promote their own traditions and Gurus. (Sometimes the Survivors realize they are being used in this way, at which point they have protested to the moderators.)

Tenzin Peljor deserves a mention here since he was the first to appear on the group straight after Dave had posted his first messages in 2007, suggesting he made the group public so everyone could find it; and since then has been a frequent poster and self-appointed spiritual advisor to the survivors, painstakingly ensuring that no one forgets how dreadful the NKT is and how wonderful (non-Shugden) Tibetan teachers and groups are by contrast. As with Namdrol on E-Sangha, survivors looking for guidance tend to trust Tenzin because they believe him when he makes himself out to be an expert on the NKT (and now Tibetan Buddhism), even though he has not been near the NKT in over 10 years and had an atypical experience of it.

A sense of proportion

In December 2010 the Survivors celebrated their 1000th member. While it would be wonderful if there were no survivors at all because everyone continued to enjoy their experiences within the NKT, it is worth getting this figure into proportion.

  • On the Tampa Bay Florida Facebook page alone, servicing one of the NKT’s medium-sized Centers, there are 1000 followers.
  • Teachers in New York, Texas, Brazil, Mexico and other places each week have audiences of hundreds. It is impossible to say exactly how many students attend NKT Centers every week, but it is certainly thousands.
  • Each International Festival attracts thousands of attendees.
  • Dharma Celebrations worldwide each typically attract hundreds of attendees.
  • Several hundred members of the Survivors’ group are still Kadampa practitioners who are just checking what is being said about them.
  • The vast majority of Survivors never post anything.

Moral discipline guides

Genuine mistakes have been and continue to be thoroughly investigated. The NKT has no wish or intention to endorse any cult-like behavior. The vast majority of people in the NKT try to be kind, well intentioned and reasonable, which is why NKT Centers generally enjoy success and their communities worldwide are growing. Some managers or teachers in the NKT have engaged in inappropriate or over-bearing behavior due perhaps to delusions, worldly concerns, poor people skills, over-enthusiasm, or failing to put the essential teachings on cherishing others into practice. However, these all too human shortcomings are not institutionalized in the NKT, and this behavior is neither encouraged by nor acceptable to the organization.

Please know that if you have any concerns or complaints about the NKT~IKBU organization, teachers, or managers, you are invited to email info@kadampa.org, or call [+44] (0)1229-588-533 and ask for the Secretary or Deputy Secretary of the NKT~IKBU, who will address your concerns in accordance with the Internal Rules 4.8, 12.1 and 12.3. These NKT “moral discipline guides” are responsible for making sure that Centers and individuals are “caring for people with kindness”, “improving the qualifications of Dharma students so they become qualified Dharma practitioners and Teachers”, “maintaining the Centre as a pure, peaceful and harmonious society”, avoiding “any breach of moral discipline”, and so on. If these things are not happening at an NKT Center, and for any reason you are not comfortable discussing it with the teacher or managers, you are requested to write to the moral discipline guides straightaway.

It does not follow from the unskillful behavior of a few individuals that the NKT is a cult, nor that such behavior cannot be found in other traditions that have not been labelled cults. Each case needs to be taken on its merits.

Where the criticisms on the Survivors group are groundless, factual responses can be found on New Kadampa Truth.

Footnotes

*(as proclaimed in a recent political announcement from a meeting with the Dalai Lama, March 6-8 2009):

“As per the gist of the intention of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, International Genden council, and the resolutions of Three Great Seats regarding the evil spirit Dholgyal (Shugden), monasteries including the Three Great Seats are heading toward positive direction, cherishing one’s interest. However [we] will discuss what is the best to carry out concerning the activity on the whole and the impairment imposed by Dholgyal adherents to Tibetan religion and politics, as well as their various actions of defamation carried out against His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

For the sake of Tibetan religion and politics, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the overall head of all Buddhist Traditions on this earth, has given admonition not to worship the spirit Dholgyal. For the leaders who are High Lamas, Abbots, Tulkus, representatives, extend fully support on 10th meeting. Furthermore, through this meeting, they appreciate and praise the monks of Gelugpa monasteries for picking the vote-stick accorded the Vinaya and completely relinquishing the religious and material ties with Dholgyal worshippers.”


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.


The qualifications of NKT Teachers

December 18, 2008

Some people have accused the NKT of having inexperienced or unqualified teachers. This has been addressed on the New Kadampa Truth website. Here are some extracts.

“This complaint generally arises in the minds of those who feel that all Dharma teachers need to be Geshes who have studied for decades in monasteries, or the nearest Western equivalent. However, the NKT never claims that its teachers are already fully trained or perfect…

Some teachers in the NKT have been studying and practicing for decades and have a vast depth of knowledge and experience. Others have been studying and practicing for only a few years. However, although there are a variety of NKT teachers, all of them are the same and effective insofar as they are acting as spiritual friends, simply teaching pure Dharma to help students find a happy life in accordance with the tradition of Buddha Shakyamuni, Je Tsongkhapa and Atisha as presented in the West by Geshe Kelsang….

Geshe Kelsang has also said on several occasions that teachers and students can help each other to make progress and can learn from one another. He cites his own example of learning so much from his own Western disciples. From this point of view, the NKT is more democratic and adapted to Western society than most Tibetan Buddhist organizations, where the teacher is considered superior to the students, Tibetan teachers are favored over Western teachers, and monks and nuns are favored over lay people….”

There are also a couple of other current blogs on the subject:

Dharma Teachers in the New Kadampa Tradition

Everyone can teach Kadam Dharma

As the author of the first one has pointed out, Geshe Kelsang has said that we don’t need to be Dharma millionaires in order to teach. People in this world are poor in terms of Dharma, so whatever experience of Dharma we can give them will benefit them.

It is so true. You don’t have to be a millionaire to give something of benefit to a homeless person, you need only a few spare dollars and a loving heart. Same for Dharma. And Dharma is the gift that keeps on giving — the more we give, the more we get, and the more we have to give!

Someone new to Buddhism told me recently that they would feel just as comfortable, if not more comfortable, listening to weekly Dharma teachings from someone who was not too far advanced and too far ahead of them. They said they would feel less intimidated and under less pressure because, as they pointed out, they were not at this early stage necessarily interested in learning everything about Buddhism and meditation. They just wanted a kindly instructor who was a few steps ahead and could teach them some basic meditation techniques for e.g. overcoming their anger problem. That person could always point them in the right direction if they wanted to find out more later. Also, they could always attend Celebrations and Festivals occasionally to see the bigwigs in action.

This is what they told me, and it led me to an insight into Geshe Kelsang’s point about Dharma millionaires. I pondered this and realized that I have had the same thoughts in the past when it came to learning other things, like yoga. When I attended a yoga class, I remember feeling relieved when the instructor did not seem to have mastered every asana, but seemed to be just a few steps ahead of me — I even found myself feeling pretty relaxed, and closer to her as a person, when I saw her make a mistake and topple over! It didn’t make me want to stop and find another teacher. And, thinking about it, it did not in any way diminish my respect for her as she never pretended to be perfect in the first place.

I remember feeling that there was a real possibility that I could even catch up to her if I wanted to, and that she could teach me what I needed to know in a very direct, immediate, unpretentious way. I didn’t want to know everything about yoga, I just wanted enough to help me become a little more flexible. So she could teach me the downward dog, and that was enough to begin with! Then she could teach me a little more. And so on. She only needed to stay a few steps ahead. I also knew that she could always point me in the right direction if I happened to surpass her and needed further instruction.

People who come to NKT weekly introductory classes are very often seeking simple, practical advice to make their lives happier and more peaceful. Most of them are not Buddhist. Even someone who has a few years of experience in Kadam Dharma, some faith, and a compassionate intention is able to give them this practical advice for a happy life. If their students go on to surpass them in experience and understanding, that is wonderful — and those students can then be directed to other more experienced teachers as necessary. Moreover, there are plenty of opportunities in the NKT to receive teachings from very experienced teachers, just not necessarily weekly on your own doorstep.

On the other hand, if every potential student had to wait for every Buddhist teacher to be thoroughly realized and accomplished before they could receive any teachings, they might have to wait for a very long time — death could easily come first. Looking back, if I had had to find the most accomplished yoga instructor before I could get started on the downward dog, I would have given up before even reaching the starting post.

(Please feel free to make comments. Also, you are still most welcome to send accounts of your own experiences of the New Kadampa Tradition to our comments section on this blog entry: Kadampa Blogs and Questionnaires.)


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