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.

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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


Has the NKT broken away from the mainstream?

December 7, 2008

Following on from the last article, Are NKT practitioners real Gelugpas?, there is another related allegation, which is that the NKT has broken away from the main Tibetan Buddhist traditions (including the Gelugpa).

Some critics see an apparent contradiction between claiming a pure Tibetan lineage and separating completely from contemporary Tibetan tradition. Some critics argue that the New Kadampa Tradition, as it is known today, is not part of the ancient Kadampa Tradition but a split from the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. Yet others have argued that the NKT is a so-called “NRM” (new religious movement) deriving from Tibetan Buddhism, and a controversial one at that!

These claims are not new — they were all made in the 1990’s — but they have found their way onto Wikipedia and various other websites. So here is an answer to them, which hopefully will be helpful in showing the differences but also the relationship between the NKT and Tibetan Buddhism. Your comments and questions are most welcome.

The NKT is a Mahayana Buddhist tradition with historical connections with Tibet, rather than a Tibetan tradition. The reason for this is that Geshe Kelsang wishes NKT practitioners always “to present Dharma in a way appropriate to their own culture and society without the need to adopt Tibetan language and customs”. For example, we do not recite prayers in Tibetan, practice reliance on oracles, recognize Tulkus (reincarnated teachers), do Lama dancing, or use prayer wheels, prayer flags, and so forth, which all come from Tibetan culture. Nor do we engage in any political activity whatsoever, including Tibetan politics such as the campaign to free Tibet.

When Buddhism moved from India to Tibet, was Tibetan Buddhism a ‘splinter group’ from the main Indian traditions? No, it was a new development of Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings in Tibet, and its practitioners were Tibetan (not Indian) Buddhists. In the same way, the NKT is a new development of Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings in the modern world and NKT practitioners are Buddhists of all nationalities (not Tibetans or Tibetan Buddhists).

The NKT follows the pure Gelug tradition that has been passed down from Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419 AD) and whose teachings can be traced back through a line of lineage teachers to Buddha Shakyamuni himself. Therefore, Kadampa Buddhism started in India, spent a period in Tibet, and is now flourishing in the West.

While there are Tibetans who are (and have been) Kadampas and Gelugpas, Kadampa and Gelugpa Buddhism are not uniquely or naturally Tibetan. Although Je Tsongkhapa was born in Tibet, it is not necessary to be a Tibetan Buddhist in order to be a Gelugpa. Je Tsongkhapa presented the timeless wisdom of Buddha Shakyamuni, which is independent of culture and nationality.

There is no contradiction between claiming a pure Tibetan lineage and separating completely from the contemporary Tibetan establishment and other Tibetan Buddhist groups, as some people have suggested. It is possible to be a Buddhist follower in Je Tsongkhapa’s lineage but not a Tibetan Buddhist, just as a child of Russian immigrants to America may consider themselves American but not Russian.

Everyone who practices Je Tsongkhapa’s special explanation of Buddha’s teachings purely without mixing is a Gelugpa, and so the NKT is definitely a Gelugpa tradition. However, the NKT is quite separate and different from the Tibetan Gelugpa tradition. Its prayers and teachings are not in Tibetan, it has no relationship with the Dalai Lama, it has no political affiliations, and the presentation of its teachings is Western. It is Gelugpa in terms of view, practice, and action, rather than in terms of being a member of the politically-influenced Tibetan Gelugpa organization.

The presentation of Kadampa Buddhism by Geshe Kelsang is a modern incarnation of this ancient tradition and its presentation is especially suitable for Western and other modern-day practitioners. Before he passed away, his root Guru Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche advised Geshe Kelsang to teach in accordance with the needs of his Western students. Therefore, this presentation has been designed by Geshe Kelsang with the permission and encouragement of Trijang Rinpoche. Judging by the increasing number of Kadampa students throughout the world, it is working very well.

As for the claim that the NKT is a controversial NRM deriving from Tibetan Buddhism, the NKT is not a  “new” movement in terms of doctrine but an ancient Mahayana tradition whose presentation has been adapted to the modern world. Paradoxically, the NKT is described as “traditionalist” and “orthodox” in its presentation of Buddha’s teachings, yet at the same time called an NRM for not compromising on tradition.

The NKT is not part of  Tibetan Buddhism as it has separated out from the Tibetan hierarchy to become an independent organization. This was done in order to not compromise pure Dharma by allowing it to become a theocratical mixture of religion and politics.

“Controversy” arose in Tibetan Buddhist circles due to the NKT’s vocal disagreement with the Dalai Lama in the 1990’s over his banning of their ancient religious practice in the Tibetan exile community in India. This disagreement arose from the intention to preserve the traditional Protector practice of Dorje Shugden, which has been passed down by great Gelug teachers for generations.

Finally, it is in many ways ironic to call the NKT a ‘breakaway’ tradition when in fact they closely follow the teachings of their Spiritual Guide, who in turn relied upon the teachings of his own Spiritual Guide, and so on.  One could argue that the real ‘break with tradition’ came with the Dalai Lama’s decision to abandon the teachings of Trijang Dorjechang, who was both his Guru and the main upholder of Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition in his generation.

We hope this helps. Please leave comments if you wish for further clarification.


What is the NKT~IKBU?

November 12, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Kadampa Blogs, Questionnaires and Videos

October 19, 2008

As it says on the homepage of our website, the aim of the NKT is 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.”

There are 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. For example: This Mountain, That Mountain and I Love Kadampa Buddhism.

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)

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

These 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 trying their best to integrate Buddha’s teachings into daily life to find inner peace, control their minds, and help others.

If you have any helpful 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 and so on.)


Answering those who disparage the NKT ordination, Part Two

October 1, 2008

The ten commitments of ordination as practiced in the NKT have been formulated by Geshe Kelsang. They are in keeping with Buddha Shakyamuni’s advice to his close disciple Ananda:

“If it is desired, Ananda, the Sangha may, when I am gone, abolish the lesser and minor rules.”

These rules have been abolished because most of the commitments explained in the Vinaya are rules for regulating verbal and physical behavior which are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to integrate into today’s society (as you can see from below.) However, their essential meaning has been maintained.

Following on from Part One yesterday, we will now look to see how the 253 vows of a Gelong are subsumed under the more broadly encompassing 10 vows of a Kadampa monk or nun. The Sramanera/Sramanerika Precepts will be used as the reference for the novice vows, and Advice from Buddha Shakyamuni will be used as the reference for the full ordination vows.

Novice Vows

1. Abandon Killing

1. One should avoid taking a human life
2. One should avoid killing an animal or insect
3. One should avoid for selfish reasons, doing an action which may kill an animal or insect and not caring about it; for example, using water that contains insects without straining it; digging a hole in the earth without considering the creatures that might die as a result; cutting grass; overburdening an animal, which causes its death
4. One should avoid while doing something for others, doing an action which may kill an animal or insect and not caring about it; for example, splashing water which has insects on a dry place

2. Abandon Stealing

6. One should avoid stealing, taking what has not been given. This includes borrowing things and not returning them, not paying fees and taxes one is required to

3. Abandon Sexual Activity

5. One should avoid sexual intercourse

4. Abandon Lying

7. One should avoid lying in which one claims to have spiritual realizations or powers that one does not have
8. One should avoid accusing a pure monk or nun of transgressing one of the four root precepts (parajika) when he or she has not
9. One should avoid insinuating that a pure monk or nun has transgressed one of the four root precepts when he or she has not
10. One should avoid causing disunity among the sangha community through untrue slander or taking sides in a disagreement
13. One should avoid telling others lies
14. One should avoid criticizing the storekeeper in the monastery of giving more to those who are near to him or her instead of sharing them with all, when this is not the case
15. One should avoid criticizing directly or by insinuation that the storekeeper in the monastery of not giving oneself a share of the food or other things equal to that given to other monastics, when this is not the case
16. One should avoid claiming that a monastic gave a teaching in return for a little food, which is not the case
17. One should avoid criticizing a monk or nun by saying that he or she transgressed a precept in the second group (sanghavasesa) when this is not the case

5. Abandon Taking Intoxicants

20. One should avoid taking intoxicants

6. Practice Contentment

19. One should avoid covering the vegetables with rice; covering the rice with vegetables
28. One should avoid sitting on an expensive throne
29. One should avoid sitting on an expensive bed
30. One should avoid sitting on a high throne
31. One should avoid sitting on a high bed
32. One should avoid eating after midday (Exceptions: if one is ill, if one is traveling, or if one cannot meditate properly without food.)
33. One should avoid touching gold, silver or precious jewels (includes money)

7. Reduce One’s Desire for Worldly Pleasures

24. One should avoid wearing ornaments
25. One should avoid wearing cosmetics
26. One should avoid wearing perfumes
27. One should avoid wearing the rosary like jewelry, wearing flower garlands
34. One should avoid wearing lay people’s clothing and ornaments; letting one’s hair grow long

8. Abandon Engaging in Meaningless Activities

21. One should avoid singing with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons
22. One should avoid dancing with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons
23. One should avoid playing music with self-attachment or for nonsensical reasons

9. Maintain the Commitments of Refuge

11. One should avoid supporting someone who is creating disunity in the sangha community, taking sides in the dispute
12. One should avoid doing actions which obliterate lay people’s faith in the sangha; for example complaining untruthfully to lay people that action brought by the sangha against oneself was unfair
36. One should avoid disrespecting or not following the guidance of one’s ordination master

10. Practise the Three Trainings of Pure Moral Discipline, Concentration, and Wisdom

18. One should avoid abandoning the training, for example, rejecting the good advice of a nun or monk; criticizing the Pratimoksha Sutra
35. One should avoid not wearing the robes of a Buddhist monastic

Full Ordination Vows

1. Abandon Killing

3. killing a human or a fetus
58. destroying viable seeds or a growing thing
66. harming living beings
88. knowingly consume water containing living beings
108. killing animals

2. Abandon Stealing

2. stealing
46. changing the dedication
63. evicting
115. using without confidence
121. staying too long as a guest

3. Abandon Sexual Activity

1. sexual activity
5. intentional emission of semen except during a dream
6. coming into bodily contact with a woman
7. using sexual language
8. recommending sexual services to oneself
9. acting as a gobetween
21. giving one’s robes to a nun for washing
22. accepting cloth from an unrelated nun
34. engaging an unrelated nun to clean wool
52. teaching Dharma to a laywoman
68. teaching the Dharma to nuns without having been appointed
69. teaching the Dharma to a nun until sunset
71. making a Dharma robe for an unrelated nun
72. giving a Dharma robe to an unrelated nun
73. walking along a road with a nun
74. entering a boat with a nun
75. sitting in a solitary place with a woman
76. standing in a solitary place with a nun
77. eating food which was caused to be made by a nun
89. sitting at a place of preparing for sex
90. standing in a place of preparing for sex
91. giving food to ascetics
101. sleeping for more than three nights in the same place as someone who is not fully ordained
112. sleeping with a woman
117. traveling on a road with a woman
124. leaving without informing the Sangha
127. going into town at improper times
129. going to a king’s palace at night
138. accepting food from a nun

4. Abandon Lying

4. lying about one’s attainments of superhuman Dharmas
12. groundless accusation
13. deprecating by insinuation
48. telling a lie
70. accusing of teaching the Dharma for the purpose of a little food
109. causing another monk to generate regrets by intentionally wrongly accusing him
116. groundlessly deprecating by accusing of having committed a remainder

5. Abandon Taking Intoxicants

126. drinking alcohol [i.e., intoxicating beverages, spirits, and liqours]

6. Practice Contentment

10. having a hut built for oneself which is not good for roaming about
11. having a community building built which is not good for roaming about
18. holding cloth for more than 10 days without having it blessed
20. holding a deficient piece of cloth for more than 30 days without having it blessed
23. begging cloth from a householder
24. not giving away the excess of a set of robes
25. obtaining through begging more than the householder had intended to give
26. obtaining through begging more than the male and female householders had intended to give
27. obtaining items after having begged for them more than six times
28. using a cotton mat
29. using a mat made only of black wool
30. having a mat of more than 50% black wool
31. replacing a not yet six-year-old mat
32. not patching a new mat by a handspan of the old mat
33. carrying wool too far on a journey
35. touching gold and silver
36. undertaking various activities in money
37. obtaining profit through business
38. holding an extra begging bowl for more than 10 days
39. seeking a begging bowl
40. engaging an unrelated weaver to weave cloth
41. extending the material of a robe
42. taking back what was given
43. early possession of rainy season offerings, etc.
45. obtaining 30 days too early, or holding more than 30 days late, the large rainy season cloth
47. storing medicine (i.e., clarified butter, oil, honey, and molasses) for more than 7 days
78. eating repeatedly
80. accepting more than two or three begging bowls full
81. eating the abandoned food
83. gathering and eating separately beyond the Sangha’s eating place
84. eating at an improper time
85. eating that which has been stored
86. eating without giving and taking
87. begging special food
105. wearing undyed cloth
131. making a needlecase made of bone or horn
132. making seat legs too long
133. leaving cotton lint upon the bedding of the Sangha
134. using more than the measure for a mat
135. using more than the measure for an itch bandage
136. using more than the measure for a large cloth
137. making Dharma robes to the measurements of the Sugata

7. Reduce One’s Desire for Worldly Pleasures

106. touching precious materials that do not belong to him
107. bathing more than one half of the body before one half month has passed
128. visiting families before or after a meal when the family which invited him for a meal is unawares

8. Abandon Engaging in Meaningless Activities

65. sitting down heavily upon a roof of a building owned by the Sangha
92. watching a war
93. staying in a place of war for more than three nights
110. tickling with the fingers
111. playing in water
113. frightening a monk
114. hiding a personal belonging of a monk or nun
120. digging the earth

9. Maintain the Commitments of Refuge

14. dividing the Sangha
15. not giving up supporting one who divides the Sangha
16. disturbing householders by deprecating the Sangha, causing them to lose faith
17. displeasure with instruction
53. teaching Dharma to a woman in excess of five or six words, except in the presence of a wise man
56. deprecating by belittling someone
59. abusively dismissing a monk who is serving the Sanhga
60. turning a deaf ear to advice or when asked a question
64. putting down a monk who had previously resided in the place owned by the Sangha
79. eating in the residence of extremists twice in one day
94. becoming involved in the branch of an army
95. raising one’s hand and striking another monk
96. threatening a blow with a weapon to a monk
97. concealing the grave offense of a monk
98. causing food to be cut off
100. later changing one’s consent
103. sharing Dharma and materials with a monk who has been expelled by the Sangha
104. sharing Dharma and materials with a novice who has been expelled by the Sangha
118. keeping company with thieves; proceeding with a caravan intending theft
119. giving ordination to someone under 20
122. abandoning closely given advice
125. disrespectful conduct
139. eating food without correcting a nun who asks to serve out of order
140. begging and eating food amongst families considered by formal declaration of the Sangha to be undergoing training
141. begging and eating food in forest dwellings considered by the Sangha to be dangerous

10. Practise the Three Trainings of Pure Moral Discipline, Concentration, and Wisdom

19. separation from one’s Dharma robes
44. separation from one’s retreat place for more than six days
49. speaking abouta ny act of another monk which is reputed to be a fault
50. speaking divisive words to a monk
51. reviving a quarrel
54. expressing faults of another monk to a person who is not fully ordained
55. speaking of one’s actual superhuman Dharmas
57. speaking to another monk words which despise the Vinaya
61. leaving without collecting the bedding, which then becomes damaged
62. leaving without putting away the mats
67. erecting more than three layers of bricks
82. feeding to one who has abandoned eating
99. touching fire without being mindful of the time
102. not giving up unwholesome views
123. eavesdropping
130. belittling the basis of one’s precepts of moral discipline

You Get the Idea…

142. for the lower robe, not wearing round
143. for the lower robe, too high
144. for the lower robe, too low
145. for the lower robe, covering the ankles
146. for the lower robe, one side hanging like an elephant’s trunk
147. for the lower robe, folding the upper portion below the navel
148. for the lower robe, gathered unevenly at the belt like tying the top of a sack of grain
149. for the upper garment, not wearing round
150. for the upper garment, too high
151. for the upper garment, too low
152. going to a layperson’s house without relying upon mindfulness and alertness
153. going without wearing one’s robes correctly
154. idle chatter while going
155. going with one’s eyes wandering in distraction
156. going with one’s eyes cast beyond a yoke’s distance
157. going while covering one’s head with cloth other than a hat
158. going with one’s Dharma robe lifted up
159. going with one’s Dharma robed draped over both shoulders
160. going with one’s hands clasped behind the nape of the neck
161. going with one’s hands tightly clasped
162. going by jumping
163. going by strutting
164. going stiffly erect
165. going on tiptoes with chest out
166. going with arms akimbo
167. going with the body twisted
168. going while swinging the hands
169. going while wagging the head
170. going with shoulders touching
171. going while joining the hands
172. sitting on a seat without being invited to do so by the householder
173. sitting without examining the seat
174. sitting heavily by dropping one’s weight down upon the seat
175. sitting with one foot upon the other
176. sitting with one thigh upon the other
177. sitting with one ankle upon the other
178. sitting on a throne etc. with one’s legs tucked under
179. sitting with one’s legs outstretched
180. sitting with one’s sexual organs exposed
181. not accepting food respectfully
182. accepting food only full to the brim of one’s begging bowl
183. accepting equal portions of main food (e.g., rice) and vegetables
184. not accepting food in order of ordination
185. accepting without paying attention to one’s alms bowl
186. holding out one’s begging bowl before the food comes
187. covering the main food (e.g., rice) with vegetables … with the intent of getting extra
188. holding one’s begging bowl over the food
189. not eating food in accordance with common etiquette
190. taking very small mouthfulls
191. taking very large mouthfulls
192. not eating in moderation
193. opening one’s mouth before bringing food to it
194. speaking when one’s mouth is full of food
195. eating while making sounds such as ‘tsuk tsuk’
196. eating while making sounds such as ‘chak chak’
197. eating while making sounds such as ‘hu hu’
198. eating while making sounds such as ‘pu pu’
199. poking out one’s tongue while eating
200. eating (rice, etc.) grain by grain
201. disparaging the food while eating
202. spilling the broth to the right and left while eating
203. making smacking sounds from the palate while eating
204. eating by dividing mouthfulls
205. licking food stuck to one’s hands
206. licking food stuck to the vessel as well as one’s hands
207. shaking off food stuck to one’s hands
208. eating while shaking one’s begging bowl
209. shaping the food like a stupa
210. abusing the begging bowl of another monk
211. touching the water container with food stuck to one’s hand
212. tossing the dishwater over another monk
213. throwing out the dishwater from washing one’s begging bowl, etc. whenever one pleases
214. putting the remaining food in one’s bowl
215. setting one’s bowl down without a base
216. similarly, placing the begging bowl on a cliff
217. placing the begging bowl on a steep slope
218. placing the begging bowl on a sill, etc.
219. washing one’s begging bowl while standing up
220. washing one’s begging bowl while on a cliff
221. washing one’s begging bowl while on a steep slope
222. washing one’s begging bowl while on a sill, etc.
223. taking water by holding one’s bowl against the current of a river
224. standing while teaching Dharma to a seated listener
225. teaching Dharma when seated to someone who is lying down
226. teaching Dharma when seated on a low and poor seat to someone on a high and rich seat
227. teaching Dharma to someone who is in front while walking behind them
228. teaching Dharma while going along the side of the road to someone going along the center
229. teaching Dharma to someone whose head is covered with cloth, etc.
230. teaching Dharma to someone with their robes pulled up
231. teaching Dharma to someone with their Dharma robes draped over both shoulders
232. teaching Dharma to someone with their hands clasped at the nape of the neck
233. teaching Dharma to someone with their hands tightly clasped
234. teaching Dharma to someone wearing a hairknot
235. teaching Dharma to someone wearing a hat
236. teaching Dharma to someone wearing a crown
237. teaching Dharma to someone wearing a garland
238. teaching Dharma to someone wearing a veil
239. teaching Dharma to someone mounted on an elephant
240. teaching Dharma to someone mounted on a horse
241. or other than these two mounts
242. teaching Dharma to someone seated on a palanquin
243. teaching Dharma to someone wearing shoes
244. teaching Dharma to anyone holding a staff or stick
245. teaching Dharma to anyone holding an umbrella or parasol
246. teaching Dharma to anyone holding a knife
247. teaching Dharma to anyone holding a sword
248. or other weapon
249. teaching Dharma to someone wearing armor
250. when one is not ill, to make excrement or urinate while standing
251. to throw excrement, urine, plhegm, snot, etc. into moving water
252. to throw excrement, urine, phlegm, snot, etc. on the ground covered with grass
253. purposely climbing in trees above a man’s height, unless there is a disaster


Answering those who disparage the NKT ordination, Part One

September 24, 2008

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

NKT ordination is not valid

and

NKT monks and nuns are not authentic

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

In The Ordination Handbook, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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