Kadampas in everyday life

December 11, 2010

As it says on the homepage of our website, the aim of the NKTis to introduce practical methods that can help people of all backgrounds solve problems and find happiness. As Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, the Founder of the NKT, says:

“Our intention in teaching Dharma is not just to spread Buddhism. We are trying to help the people of this world by giving them special methods to solve their daily problems and to achieve the permanent happiness of liberation. In itself, the flourishing of Buddhadharma is not important unless it benefits others. This is the main purpose of Buddhism.”

Many thousands of people who visit NKT~IKBU Centers worldwide each year, receiving teachings and meeting practicing Kadampas, will attest to this.

There are also some short internet teachings that give a sense of the accessibility of Kadampa Buddhism available on the main Kadampa website.

There is a growing number of personal blogs by Kadampa Buddhist practitioners talking about how they integrate Kadampa Buddhism into their daily lives and use it to solve their own and others’ problems.

Also, on a few NKT Center websites you can find questionnaires of Kadampa students who talk about how they first got interested in Kadampa Buddhism and then answer some interesting questions. For example: Meditation in San Francisco Questionnaires (since 2006)

Interviews  on the main Kadampa site also give a sense of the range of Kadampas and how they use Kadampa Buddhism to transform their daily lives.

These internet teachings, blogs and so on* offer a small taste of a large variety of NKT students from all different walks of life. Tens of thousands of Kadampa Buddhists are scattered all around the world, East and West – some living in Centers, most living outside and working regular jobs – and all doing their best to integrate Buddha’s teachings into daily life to find inner peace, control their minds, and help others.

We hope to see many more representative Kadampa blogs, interviews and so on in the coming months and years.

If you have any helpful or inspiring experiences you’d like to share, please feel free to post them to the comments section of this article.

(*Please note that New Kadampa Truth does not take responsibility for the contents of unofficial blogs etc.)


Reply to Matt MacCurdy’s posting

November 20, 2010

November 19, 2010.

Dear Friends,

You may have recently read an email or posting from Matt MacCurdy about Kelsang Khyentse, the Building Manager of Manjushri KMC.

We know Khyentse very well. Khyentse himself has told people that before he met Dharma, he had angry behaviour. He has said that since he met Dharma and became a member of the NKT community, he has pacified his previous anger problem and has found a peaceful and meaningful life.

Khyentse helped to build the Temple at KMC New York for many years. There were no problems and people were happy with him. Then he worked on the building projects at KMC France, KMC Germany and KMC Spain for several years – again there weren’t any problems and people were happy with him. Normally as the Building Manager here at Manjushri KMC, Khyentse works with groups of people and again everyone is happy with him. So we understand that Khyentse is telling the truth when he says that through meeting Dharma, he has pacified his previous anger problem.

Unfortunately this year in Brazil, two things happened — Khyentse had very heavy responsibility for the Temple building project with tight completion deadlines and also some people caused him to become angry. Because of this, his previous angry behaviour returned. We are very sorry that this happened.

As NKT Managers we are now asking Khyentse to please maintain a peaceful mind, and we are also trying to prevent other people from causing his anger to return. In this way we believe that such problems can be avoided in the future.

I hope this information is helpful to you,

Warm regards,

Steve Cowing
NKT – IKBU General Secretary on behalf of NKT-IKBU


What is the relationship between the NKT and Tibetan Dorje Shugden practitioners?

August 3, 2010

Our relationship is one of mutual support, mutual respect and love. We are all disciples of Lama Tsongkhapa, we follow in the spiritual lineage of Gelugpa instructions passed down through the great Lamas Je Phabongkhapa and Trijang Dorjechang, and we do this with the help of our Dharma Protector, Dorje Shugden. NKT students have joined Tibetan monks and Tibetan lay people in the Western Shugden Society demonstrations requesting the Dalai Lama to give freedom to Dorje Shugden practitioners. Geshe Kelsang and a number of NKT students have also supported the new Gelugpa monasteries, Shar Gaden and Serpom Norling, not just morally but with generous financial aid. Shar Gaden acknowledge his courage on behalf of all Dorje Shugdan practitioners and his help in bringing these new monasteries into existence.

Inviting other teachers?
NKT individuals naturally have the freedom to go to other teachings given by other Lamas at different institutions if they wish. Representatives of the NKT, such as teachers and managers, are not however permitted to invite Lamas from different traditions to teach.

Recently, a visiting Tibetan Lama and Dorje Shugden practitioner, who is currently in the States to help highlight the situation with the Dalai Lama’s ban on Dorje Shugden practice, was invited by some NKT teachers to teach at a branch of one of the NKT centers. They were then requested not to do this because, as Geshe Kelsang has said, “We are different traditions.” Over the years, the NKT has consistently resisted inviting Tibetan teachers, including fellow Dorje Shugden practitioners, to teach at NKT centers and this is now in the Internal Rules. This article will help to explain why.

Different traditions
That we are different traditions is evident in several ways. For one thing, it is unlikely that the three NKT study programmes will ever be adopted at the Gelugpa monasteries in India (even though many Tibetans who speak English greatly admire Geshe Kelsang’s commentaries), or that Western NKT teachers, lay or ordained would ever be invited to teach Dharma at Gelugpa monasteries or centers. This is all well and good, as we are different traditions; we are a Western tradition, within Western culture for Western practitioners, and they are a Tibetan tradition, within Tibetan culture, teaching largely in a monastic context.

Here in the West, the majority of practitioners are lay and live in vastly different cultural circumstances from those found in Tibet and India. What works for Tibetans does not easily translate for Westerners and the presentation of the teachings, which has been carefully designed for Westerners, differs widely from the Geshe program taught in the monasteries. As it says in the Internal Rules:

15§1. The Education Programme of all NKT-IKBU Dharma Centres shall consist only of the three New Kadampa Tradition Study Programmes: the General Programme, Foundation Programme, and Teacher Training Programme.

15§2. These programmes form the very core of the NKT-IKBU, and are what distinguishes the New Kadampa Tradition from other traditions.

Other teachers from other traditions can of course be realized beings and qualified to teach holy Dharma in general. The NKT has never said that it has a monopoly on Dharma — that would be going directly against our understanding that Buddhas appear in different forms to help diverse living beings. But, logically enough, only those trained in the NKT study programmes are qualified to teach those programmes.

Geshe Kelsang has taken into account that most Westerners lead very busy and full lives and so the Dharma he presents has become more and more immediately practical. The circumstances are different to the monasteries, where the Geshe program takes twenty years to complete and is intellectually rigorous, involving huge amounts of memorization and formal debate. Some of the monks then go onto do retreats. This system has produced many qualified practitioners, including our own lineage Gurus! But the average Western Buddhist does not have the time or the inclination to complete a 20 year Geshe degree – only one has managed to do this. The NKT study programmes differ from the Geshe program in their very practical emphasis on Lamrim, Lojong and Mahamudra and the emphasis on meditation and retreat. And it is true to say that Geshe Kelsang has conveyed the priceless Ganden oral lineage in a clear, unique and precious way to his Western disciples, for which they are very grateful.

In the NKT the teachings emphasize how to integrate the practices into daily life with family, jobs, etc. Many of the sadhanas have become shorter, with more time for meditation. As it says in the Internal Rules:

16§1. All NKT-IKBU Dharma Centres shall follow the same tradition regarding rituals, retreats, pujas, and granting and receiving empowerments.

These rituals are in many ways far simpler (and shorter) than those in the monasteries. If we examine the life stories of those who grew up in the monasteries, they are utterly admirable, yet utterly unrepeatable for most people in the West. Shar Gaden and Serpom Norling however can recreate these conditions for Tibetan monastic practice in accordance with the changing needs of their own students. Other lay Lamas in the Tibetan tradition can also provide the conditions their own disciples might need.

Books
Even Geshe Kelsang’s detractors acknowledge that his books (which are the basis of the three study programmes) are written by an erudite Buddhist scholar, and no one has found mistakes or inaccuracies in any of them. Geshe Kelsang has not omitted or added anything to the meaning of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings. It is clear that Geshe Kelsang is an accomplished Yogi with great personal experience, and through his own experience and wisdom has found ways to help students access the profoundest aspects of Buddha’s teachings as elucidated by Je Tsongkhapa in a swift, achievable, and step-by-step way. His textbooks reveal in astonishing clarity and detail all the stages and practices necessary; a complete road map to attain the enlightened state of Buddhahood. What more can we ask? Our job as NKT practitioners is to put these perfect and detailed instructions into practice every day of our lives.

Language
Within the NKT, all the books, teachings and practices at the centers are given in the language of their country. This means that to engage in the study and practice of Buddhism, people do not have to learn the Tibetan language. Within the NKT Study Programmes, there are no linguistic barriers to the study of Buddhadharma.

Monks, nuns, lay men, lay women
Related to this, the moment Geshe Kelsang arrived in the West he set about training and empowering Westerners to teach Buddhism, based on their own sincere spiritual progress, so that they could teach people in their own languages and cultures. He said he wanted four types of teacher — monks, nuns, lay men, and lay women. Geshe Kelsang has ‘democratized’ Buddhism here in the West by appointing teachers in this way and has said repeatedly that one’s Spiritual Guide can be a monk, nun, lay woman or lay man. This is a vast departure from Tibetan ways. Geshe Kelsang also shows no discrimination based on race or sexual orientation, setting the tradition apart from the Tibetan hegemony of the FPMT and other Tibetan Buddhist centres and the 14th Dalai Lama’s condemnation of homosexuality.

No Tulku system
While to some, the practices of recognizing Tulkus and using oracles for divination may seem interesting and exotic, they are well outside Western cultural norms. With respect to the Tibetan Lama mentioned earlier, one NKT branch teacher recently told a relatively new student that “This Rinpoche is even higher than Geshe-la as he is a reincarnate Lama.” This reveals the danger of the Shangri-la syndrome, naively idealizing foreign cultures and grandiose titles as magically perfect and naturally superior to ours. The Tulku system is one of inherited power where reincarnate Lamas (almost always Tibetan boys, even these days) are discovered at a very early age and then groomed for their privileged status and authority. This system creates an unbreakable glass ceiling for Western practitioners. What is the place for lay Gelugpas in the Tulku system? What is the place for women, ordained or lay? This system worked in Tibet on many occasions, but it can and has also been misused by those with a bad motivation for worldly purposes.

The NKT has decided to elect its leaders instead. Indeed, not just one but two women have been appointed to the highest positions in the organization for a period of at least the next four years. This utter breaking with the Gelugpa monastic tradition makes perfect sense in a Western democracy but would not be appropriate for Shar Gaden, for example, which is a Gelugpa monastery. Nuns in the highest position in a Tibetan monastery would be as much of a cultural hurdle there as relying upon the Tulku system would be to the NKT.  It is also worth noting that Geshe Kelsang has not tried to interfere with how Shar Gaden or Serpom Norling are organized, even when his involvement was requested. He has never tried to interfere with any other Buddhist Center in the West either.

No teachers in the NKT have been recognized as a Tulku, most teach without fanfare or recognition. Inviting Tibetan Tulkus and Lamas to teach at NKT centers can undermine the teachers’ credibility simply because Western teachers appear more run of the mill and “like us” than an exotic Rinpoche.

No oracles or divination

The Internal Rules state:

16§2: To prevent Dharma being used for political aims or worldly achievement, no NKT-IKBU Dharma Centre shall follow any tradition of recognising and relying upon oracles, or follow any system of divination.

This is not saying that these systems are always misused or that they never work or should not be used by others. Within our lineage our own great Tibetan Lamas sometimes relied upon oracles and divination. Even Geshe Kelsang himself used divination to find the rebirth of his mother, as explained in the book Introduction to Buddhism. Early on in the NKT years, the oracle of Dorje Shugden came to a few NKT centers and Dorje Shugden composed a beautiful and inspiring long-life prayer for Geshe Kelsang. However, it is true that on occasion this system has been used in the service of political power and still remains open to abuse. Not to mention that an oracle’s possession can present a large cultural barrier to the average Westerner, seeming alien or superstitious. Acceptance of the validity of divinations and oracles, while firmly established within Tibetan culture, is outside of our own.

Ordination within the NKT
At the present time the NKT-IKBU has about 700 ordained people around the world. The way of granting ordination was designed by Geshe Kelsang following the ancient Kadampa tradition. It is very simple and very practical. A great deal has been explained about this on our website and blog.

Independent Buddhist Tradition
The Internal Rules state:

§3 The New Kadampa Tradition shall always be an entirely independent Buddhist tradition and the NKT-IKBU shall have no political affiliations.

Geshe Kelsang has worked hard for the last 30 years to create a modern tradition of Je Tsongkhapa’s Buddhism, one that can be transplanted into any country in the world because it is divested of Tibetan politics and culture. This has not been easy as it has challenged the Tibetan status quo, and over the years even some NKT students have sometimes questioned whether we really need to let go of the Tibetan language, customs and connections with the Tibetan establishment.

However, Geshe Kelsang has a far-reaching, compassionate vision and, as a direct result of his wisdom, skill and courage, hundreds of thousands of people (and millions of people potentially) who would never have met these Buddhist teachings now have access to them and are now practicing Je Tsongkhapa’s clear and powerful Buddha Dharma through the NKT every day. Many Western people in the NKT are making spiritual progress without abandoning their own Western lifestyles, by practicing in their own cultural milieu, and by transforming their own 21st century environments. They are able to do this without having to waste a great deal of precious time figuring out which Tibetan cultural customs and institutions are necessary for their practice and which on the contrary can get in the way of actual inner transformation.

A bridge between east and west, a bridge to the future
This article has outlined some of what has Geshe Kelsang removed and what he has kept. His epic achievement has been in transplanting Kadampa Buddhism from the snowy mountains of Tibet into an entirely alien Western soil so that it becomes a natural part of the landscape of our societies. This is a true bridge. NKT students need to know the nature of this achievement if they are to feel confident about protecting this legacy rather than defensive or out on a limb, or feeling the need to supplement their tradition by inviting other teachers. If we do begin to invite Tibetan Lamas to give teachings at our Centers — teachings that will naturally have subtle and not-so-subtle differences and even contradictions to the three study programmes — what does that say to others about the completeness and effectiveness of our own tradition? And what or whose teachings and path will we then follow?

So, NKT students are encouraged to keep our enthusiasm and respect for all traditions of Buddhism while relishing studying, practicing and realizing our own.

In Part Two of this article we will pursue some of these themes. If you would like to contribute to this discussion, please let us have your comments.


Bulletin: New NKT-IKBU Temple & KMC Development Director

June 13, 2010

Kelsang Pema has been asked to step down as NKT-IKBU Temple & KMC Development Director by the Directors of the Charity because she was no longer performing all the functions of her office in accordance with the Internal Rules.

New Kadampa Truth would like to thank Pema for her sincere work for the NKT-IKBU. We wish her every good health, happiness, and delight in her Dharma practice.

The Directors of the Charity have appointed Kelsang Rabchog, formerly administrative director of Manjushri KMC, to take her place.

Stephanie Atkinson, formerly director of Tharpa Publications UK, is the new administrative director for Manjushri KMC.

Peter Davis is the new director of Tharpa Publications UK.


The sale of Losang Dragpa Centre (Todmorden) and remortgaging of NKT properties

June 5, 2010

Here the NKT office replies to the questions raised in the comments to this article on 21 May 2010 by John Swainson. Thank you, John, for the opportunity to clarify.

(Q1)  Has the NKT used money from the sale of Losang Dragpa Centre (in Todmorden, West Yorkshire) for the development of centres abroad contrary to the Internal Rules?

No.

In accordance with Clause 9.1 of LDC’s Memorandum of Association and with section 17§5 of NKT-IKBU Internal Rules, the Spiritual Director of LDC (i.e. the General Spiritual Director of the New Kadampa Tradition~International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT-IKBU) advised that it would be most beneficial if LDC’s remaining assets could be given to Manjushri KMC, the original “Mother Centre” of the NKT-IKBU, for subsequent distribution to one (or more than one) other Member Centre of the NKT-IKBU.  This proposal was checked with the Charity Commission, explaining that Manjushri KMC is a part of the NKT-IKBU charity, and was then formally adopted by the directors and members of LDC.

In this way the requirements of LDC’s constitution and of the Internal Rules were met.

The receipts from the sale of Dobroyd Castle were donated by LDC to the NKT-IKBU charity in October 2008. They were then designated by NKT-IKBU to International Temple Project purposes, where the funds would bring most benefit. Some of the funds were used to buy a property for Hotel Kadampa Holland in January 2009, and the rest contributed to subsequent international developments, all to promote the Buddhist Faith of the New Kadampa Tradition around the world in accordance with the charitable objects of LDC and of the NKT-IKBU.

Losang Dragpa Centre (LDC) was closed only because no NKT Teacher was qualified to improve the Centre spiritually or materially, given the history of spiritual impurity at the Centre.

In general, the trustees of a charity are bound by law to strive to realize the current market value of any assets that their charity offers for sale.  This is what the directors of LDC did when selling Dobroyd Castle.  Professional valuations of Dobroyd Castle made in previous years were  not relevant.

(Q2)  Has the NKT raised money, through remortgaging properties, to finance the International Temples Project (ITP) when those properties were in need of funds for development, contrary to the Internal Rules?

No.

Section 18§1 of the present NKT-IKBU Internal Rules says:  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.

The purpose of this rule is twofold:  (1) to indicate to the directors of each Centre that annual profits should not merely be ‘hoarded’ by the Centre; and (2) to give clear guidance as to the most beneficial way to use surplus funds to promote the Buddhist Faith of the New Kadampa Tradition in accordance with the charitable objects of the Centre.

The rule does not otherwise limit the discretion of Centre directors as to how to use their existing Centre assets to promote the Buddhist Faith of the New Kadampa Tradition most effectively.


Bulletin: Changes of Spiritual Director in the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT)

April 14, 2010

There have been some recent changes to the Spiritual Directors of the New Kadampa Tradition ~ International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT-IKBU).  Gen-la Khyenrab has resigned as General Spiritual Director (GSD) due to poor health.  This is his letter to the managers of the NKT:

Dear Education Council Representatives and NKT Directors

It is with a heavy heart and regret that I tender my resignation as GSD.  I am unable at present to continue the duties of GSD due to poor health and I am therefore asking if you will accept this resignation.

with love and prayers
Gen-la Khyenrab

Gen-la Khyenrab’s resignation was accepted and he will be returning to his previous position (prior to becoming Deputy Spiritual Director) of Resident Teacher of Tara Kadampa Meditation Centre in Derby, UK.

We at New Kadampa Truth would like to express our deep gratitude to Gen-la Khyenrab for his kind spiritual guidance, sincerity, deep experience, and constant good humour during his years as Deputy Spiritual Director (DSD) and his eight-month tenure as GSD; and we are sad to see him go.  No doubt the students of Tara KMC will benefit greatly from his wisdom and experience, and we all look forward to receiving teachings from him again in the future. Those in North America do not have to wait long, as he is still teaching the US Festival at KMC New York at the end of this month. In accordance with Internal Rule 5.8, retired GSDs can be invited back to teach at Festivals.

In accordance with Internal Rule 5.9, the serving Deputy Spiritual Director (DSD), Gen-la Dekyong, has now automatically become the new GSD and vacated the office of DSD and of North American National Spiritual Director (NSD). Gen-la Dekyong has happily accepted this responsibility, even though it is earlier than she had anticipated. She will be moving to Manjushri KMC to begin this position immediately.

Due to the vacation of the office of DSD, in accordance with Internal Rule 5.10, the continuing Directors of the NKT-IKBU and the main executive officers of the Charity recommended Gen Kunsang of KMC Mexico to become the new DSD, and she was duly elected by a majority vote of all the members of the Education Council of the NKT. Gen-la Kunsang has the qualifications required for a DSD as stated in the Internal Rules.  She is a senior student of the NKT and has served as a very successful Resident Teacher in several countries. Prior to being elected as DSD, Gen Kunsang served as Resident Teacher of KMC Mexico and held the position of the NKT National Spiritual Director for Mexico. She is fluent in three languages — German, English, and Spanish.

Gen-la Dekyong, as GSD, will grant the empowerment of Enlightened Mother Arya Tara and give commentary to the practice at the NKT-IKBU International Spring Festival at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre at the end of May. Both Gen-la Dekyong and Gen-la Kunsang will be granting empowerments and giving teachings at the NKT-IKBU International Summer Festival in July. These are wonderful events that we can all look forward to.

Finally, the new NSD for North America (replacing Gen-la Dekyong) is Gen Jampa of KMC Texas. Gen Rigpa is the new RT at KMC California and Kelsang Norbu is the new teacher (replacing Gen Rigpa) at Drolma Center in Fort Lauderdale!

Let us know if you have any questions about any of these developments.


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.”


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


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