The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 4

March 4, 2009

For previous installments:

The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 1
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 2
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 3

The Final Wave of Press Misinformation

It didn’t stop there. In 1998, Tricycle, a Buddhist periodical, printed an article on the Dorje Shugden issue entitled Dorje Shugden: Deity or Demon? The article contained interviews with Geshe Kelsang (representing the pro-Shugden side) and the Dalai Lama’s brother Thubten Jigme Norbu (representing the anti-Shugden side). During his interview, Thubten Jigme Norbu said:

“No, no, this worship of Shugden is not a religion. If I open my big mouth, I can say this is a cult.”

The next press reference was November 2002, when the journalist Umarah Jamali in New Delhi wrote an article called Buddhism’s ‘Taliban’ blamed for Dalai Lama death threats for the Sydney Morning Herald. The word “cult” is used four times in one short article. The newspaper makes a grave error in implying that the NKT was responsible for death threats against the Dalai Lama; yet the thoroughly unsubstantiated story was later published by the Washington Times in the US and the Ming Pao Daily News in China.

“Police suspect a Tibetan cult, Shugden, is behind the threats against the Dalai Lama”

“The cult worships a 350-year-old wrathful Tibetan deity, Dorje Shugden, often depicted wearing a necklace of 50 severed human heads and having four fangs.”

“The Dalai Lama says Shugdens pose a serious threat to Tibetan unity in exile. He has urged Tibetans not to worship Dorje Shugden, saying it fosters religious intolerance and turns Buddhism into a cult of spirit worship.”

“The chairman of the Tibetan parliament, Toma Jugney, said: “It’s a deliberate attempt to create differences, not just between Indians and Tibetans, but amongst Tibetans too.” However, he did not say the cult was behind the death threats.”

Geshe Kelsang wrote a letter ”on behalf of Buddhism in general and the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) in particular” to all three newspapers. In these he stated the facts, explained again that there is no such thing as a Buddhist Taliban (a highly inflammatory and inappropriate descriptor borrowed from Robert Thurman), and denied involvement in the death threats (which the BBC and World Tibet Network News had in any case traced to other groups).

The Washington Post published a retraction, and wrote to say that they “conducted a thorough investigation and concluded that the statements they had printed were incorrect.” The Ming Pao Daily News also printed a retraction. However, it is generally far easier to locate the original articles than the printed retractions; and the damage had been done.

Geshe Kelsang’s letters to:

Sydney Morning Herald

Washington Times:

Ming Pao Daily News

Retraction printed in The Washington Times:

Editor’s note: When published Nov. 23, 2002, this article incorrectly reported the relationship between a Tibetan sect in northern India and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, head of the London-based New Kadampa Tradition. Mr. Kelsang and his group announced in 1998 that they have abandoned their dispute with the Dalai Lama and they say their Western Buddhist community is completely independent from those groups in India and Nepal which are suspected of issuing the threats.

Retraction printed in the Ming Pao Daily News:

Clarification – New Kadampas are not related to terrorist activities

Our paper on 25th November quoted from the Washington Times that: During the past few weeks in the northern Indian city, where the Tibetan government-in-exile resides, many posters appeared declaring death threats to the Dalai Lama. The Indian police believed that the death threats originate from a Tibetan Buddhist sect “The Shugden Sect”. The followers of the Dalai Lama called the “Shugden Sect” – “The Taliban of Tibetan Buddhism”. Related to the Shugden Sect , an organization in England called the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is founded by exiled lama – Kelsang Gyatso in 1991.

Recently, we have received a letter from Mr. Kelsang Gyatso stating that the New Kadampa Tradition is a western Buddhist organization, which is completely unrelated to the Shugden Sects in India, Nepal and other countries. The NKT have absolutely no political affiliations; are not against the Dalai Lama and never have been, but previously they simply requested him to stop his ban of Dorje Shugden worship; this was a request for basic human right of religious freedom. Since October 1998 NKT has decided to completely stop being involved in the Shugden issue, because it is in reality a Tibetan political problem.

Kelsang Gyatso states that he guarantees that the NKT and himself have never performed inappropriate actions; and that they have absolutely no connection with the recent death threats made to the Dalai Lama and with the previous Dharamsala murders. He believes that there is no ” Taliban of Tibetan Buddhism”. The Washington Times’ report was mistaken, and later they admitted that , due to their lack of thorough investigation, their accusation of the New Kadampa Tradition is incorrect.

The editorial department of Ming Pao agreed to withdraw the 25th Nov article report, quoted from Washington Times, and sincerely apologize to the New Kadampa Tradition and Mr. Kelsang Gyatso.

The Editorial Dept.

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The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 3

February 13, 2009

For previous installments:

The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 1
The history of the New Kadampa Tradition’s ‘cult’ smear, Part 2

In 1997, the Dalai Lama himself, in a book published in the French language, openly called Geshe Kelsang a cult leader and improbably accused him of thirsting for power. From La Force du Bouddhisme by the Dalai Lama and Jean-Claude Carrière, pp 19-20:

Dalai Lama: …at the moment in England, a well-educated lama is behaving like a true cult leader.

Jean-Claude Carrière: A fundamentalist lama ?

DL : Whatever… he’s banned all my books, all contact with me, all images of the Dalai Lama. He accuses me of this and that. His faithful, a few thousand people, are only allowed to read his books, to display and venerate his photograph, and so on… But there you go, it’s only human. We are either all alike or all different. If our differences get the upper hand, then each individual can mark out their own territory of truth and cling to it with all their might.

J-CC Sometimes to the death…, their own or others’.

DL : Yes, that is the way we are made. On top of that there is the thirst for power, which is invariably corrupting.

(For a refutation of these allegations, which are the same as those in the Guardian and Independent articles, see:

Smear: NKT has no pictures of the Dalai Lama in their Centers
Smear: NKT sells only Geshe Kelsang’s books
Smear: Geshe Kelsang calls himself ‘the Third Buddha’ and seeks veneration from his students

In this book the Dalai Lama did not mention Geshe Kelsang by name, but this happened in an article called A Case to Study. Ostensibly authored by Tenzin Ragyal, the document was issued directly from the Office of the Dalai Lama in Dharamasala and it was understood that the Dalai Lama intended to have its contents promulgated.

The article is a crude propaganda attack on Je Phabongkhapa Dechen Nyingpo, accusing him and those in this lineage of being fanatically sectarian. (It is a shock when one first realizes that the Dalai Lama is actually publishing criticism of his own lineage Gurus.)

Here is the extract labelling Geshe Kelsang as a cult leader:

“It is in everybody’s interest to take a strong and appropriate stand and not to remain indifferent on the activities of Phabongkha’s followers and their cult groups and leaders like, e.g. NKT leader Geshe (self-styled) Kelsang Gyatso in England, Serkong Thritrul in Taiwan, Gangchen Lama in Italy, Drakgom Tulku in Nepal, Dema Gonsar in Tibet, Gonsar Rinpoche in Swiss and Dorje Shugden Society in India and Nepal etc.

The primary objective in providing this information is not to dig out what has happened in the past. It is to draw attention to the fact that even today, in this period of global religious harmony, some short-sighted and narrow-minded people and groups are actively adopting the path of fanaticism and religious intolerance. It is a task and responsibility of all of us to strongly discourage and act against such forms of religious intolerance and fanaticism.”

It is ironic that, in this call to arms, Tenzin Ragyal talks about “a period of global religious harmony” — considering that the purpose of the article is to destroy that harmony by defaming precious Gelugpa Lamas, accusing them of sectarianism and intolerance simply because they wish to practice within their own tradition. The supposed non-sectarianism of the accusers has become a source of self-justification and led to the actual closed off, fanatical, and intolerant attitudes towards so-called sectarians which we are seeing here.

Many Tibetan Buddhists have since heeded this call to arms, attempting to interfere with the development of the NKT and other groups who practice Dorje Shugden by defacing publicity, contacting locations where classes are being held in an attempt to get them canceled, and so on.

Cult Mystery? ~ The Newsweek Article

This propaganda was followed up by what, to this day, is one of the most damaging articles published in the press about the NKT and Dorje Shugden. Whereas only Tibetan Buddhists and interested parties were likely to see the Sera-Je Explusion letter from 1996, the Dalai Lama chose to attack Geshe Kelsang and the NKT using a very high profile and well respected weekly magazine.

On 28th April 1997, an article entitled Cult Mystery? by Tony Clifton was published in Newsweek. This was a stinging, unprovoked attack by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, seemingly in retaliation for the embarrassment that Geshe Kelsang had caused the Dalai Lama in the previous year.

The cult smear, while in the title, is also prevalent throughout the entire article. Here are the relevant quotes:

“In the last year the Dalai Lama has retaliated, denouncing one Shugden order in particular as a hostile and crass, commercial cult

“And in an interview with NEWSWEEK earlier this month, the Dalai Lama expressed his worries about the Dorje Shugden. “That cult is actually destroying the freedom of religious thought,” he said. “Say I want to practice Nyingma. They say this Protector will harm me. Now, that’s an obstacle to religious freedom. I am trying to promote the tradition of coexistence, but the Shugdens say you should not even touch a Red Hat document. That teaching totally contradicts my efforts.”

“The split grew angry early last year. The Dalai Lama issued a call to all Tibetan Buddhists to avoid the Shugdens. He warned against the cult’s extremism and against public worship of their idol. Soon after, the NKT in London claimed that the Dalai Lama’s remarks had inspired Tibetans to harass Shugden followers in Dharmsala.”

“It’s the fastest growing Buddhist sect in Britain, where it now has about 3,000 members, a thriving publishing business in London and mansions that double as “Dharma Centers” all over the country. It has also been denounced by the London press and the Dalai Lama as a cult that fleeces its own followers.”

“Shugden appeals to crazies by offering instant gratification,” says Thurman. “Once you get involved, you’re told you have to devote your lives to the cult, because the god gets very angry if you don’t attend to him every day. It’s really bad stuff, the way they’re draining money out of people.”

The article contains numerous smears on Dorje Shugden and the NKT. What is interesting is that it is unclear whether “cult” is supposed to refer to the NKT or to Shugden worship – but the effect of blurring the line is to condemn both.

The article also contains the notorious Thurman quote:

“It would not be unfair to call Shugdens the Taliban of Tibetan Buddhism.”

Robert Thurman has never been to an NKT Center nor spent time with an NKT practitioner. He invented bitter nonsense to defend the Dalai Lama, upon whom his own reputation and career depends.

Geshe Kelsang wrote a long factual response to Newsweek refuting the points of the article called False Accusations Against the Innocent. However, given the power of the Dalai Lama’s words and the fervour with which they are believed and upheld, not only in the Buddhist world but in the world in general, the damage was done. This combined with the Sera Expulsion Letter cemented in the minds of many Tibetan Buddhists the belief that the NKT was a cult. 1996 and 1997 were bad times for the NKT. Brave as they were to stand up to the Dalai Lama, their actions were misconstrued and the unfair smear of their being a cult began.


Why refute the Bodhisattva Centre smears?

September 22, 2008

Someone posted the comment below and and New Kadampa Truth posted the following reply. It has been posted here as an article in case other people are also wondering why New Kadampa Truth is going to the trouble of refuting obvious misinformation against the NKT.

Hi,

Once again, I wonder why so much effort is put into refuting the ‘bodhisattva centre smears’? Without meaning to sound harsh, who cares?! It seems to me very obvious that strong defensive responses create more of an opposition. If there are people with nothing better to do than to make up nonsense about the NKT because they obviously feel a need to defend their egos, point their fingers and cry like babies, lets let them. I do not believe they are powerful or convincing. If people fall prey to their allegations, this is unfortunate, but karma after all. Furthermore- and I say this being a happy Kadampa myself- there have been loads of ‘problems’ and unfortunate events taking place at Bodhisattva Centre and many others over the last 2-3 years. This is human nature, is it not? I see no need to defend the tradition or the centres in the way they are being defended. It will create more separation & opposition.

love, M.xx

From New Kadampa Truth:

Dear M,

Thanks for your comment, you’ve raised some interesting points. It’s certainly true that strong defensive responses create more of an opposition and we’ve seen this since the New Kadampa Truth website went live. This is a good thing – the New Kadampa Truth Team’s intention is to refute all smears against the NKT with the truth. If the more we reply, the more our critics try to find fault with the NKT, and we then reply to those criticisms, eventually we will have publicly answered all points with clear, logical and truthful responses for all to see. There won’t be any more criticism to be levelled at the NKT and then people can make up their own minds about it. The NKT is not afraid to be criticised because we can humbly accept if we have made mistakes – more valid criticism means greater improvement. However, for a variety of reasons there are those who simply want to harm NKT and we need to be uncompromising in rejecting their lies.

The points raised by Carol and other New Kadampa ’survivors’ in their information leaflet contained some misconceptions that needed to be addressed. This drew another response from them with more misconceptions and allegations that needed to be replied to.

Why did we take some much time to reply to the Bodhisattva Centre smears? There are two main reasons:

1. The New Kadampa Truth Team’s main concern is that if a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes accepted as the truth. For example, the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman have used the word ‘cult’ in relation to the NKT. Even though it is a lie, many people are using this term nowadays and believe it to be the truth even though there is no valid basis for its use. This is what happens when you don’t reply.

2. We’re here to help! Carol’s original document and responses contained misunderstandings about the Western Shugden Society, the NKT and the Shugden issue. If someone who used to be a member of the NKT has such misunderstandings, needless to say there are going to be many people more distant from the issues who lack clarity. Our intention is to shine the light of truth and reason into the dark corners of confusion on a variety of issues for the benefit of everyone. There is so much that needs clarification and we are grateful to Carol for giving us the opportunity to do so. Some of our readers have praised the clarity and comprehensiveness of our responses; we will leave no stone unturned in trying to help everyone to clearly understand the truth.

Best Wishes,
New Kadampa Truth Team


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