Smears of The New Kadampa Tradition

Smear: NKT is a cult

Truth: The NKT is not a cult but a Mahayana Buddhist tradition. The definition of cult in the Chambers Dictionary is an “unorthodox or false religion”. 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.

Smear: NKT is sectarian

Truth: The NKT is not sectarian because we respect all religions and the right of others to choose what they want to practice, while we ourselves practice the teachings of our Mahayana tradition.

The NKT-IKBU studies and practices its own tradition purely but sincerely respects other spiritual traditions – this point is included in the NKT Internal Rule 8§3.

Smear: NKT worships a spirit

Truth: Not one single person in the NKT worships a spirit. It is superstitious, uninformed and offensive to suggest that they do.

Some people suggest that NKT students and teachers are so stupid that they don’t even know they are worshipping a spirit but think they are relying upon a Buddha. This is both patronizing and ignorant.

As with all Buddhist traditions, the objects of refuge for NKT practitioners are Buddha, the Dharma he taught, and the Sangha (spiritual community) following those teachings. At the beginning of all teaching and meditation sessions we recite Liberating Prayer, which is a praise to Buddha Shakyamuni written by Geshe Kelsang. As Buddhists, we never go for refuge to an object other than the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

Smear: NKT has split away from the Dalai Lama

Truth: Some people say that the NKT has split from the Dalai Lama, but the Dalai Lama is the political leader of Tibetans in exile and not the head of any of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism nor of Mahayana Buddhism in general, so there is nothing to split from. Although he is considered the embodiment of religion and politics as a God King for many Tibetan natives, he is not the spiritual leader for all Tibetans, for all Mahayana Buddhists, nor for the NKT.

Also, an essential tenet of all Mahayana Buddhism is that practitioners are free to choose their Spiritual Guide or spiritual leader. There is no Pope of Buddhism.

Smear: NKT practitioners are not real Gelugpas

Truth: The truth is that NKT practitioners are actual Gelugpas. Those who exclusively follow Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings are called ‘Gelugpas’. The NKT is a pure Gelugpa tradition because (1) it exclusively teaches Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine, (2) its lineage Gurus from Je Tsongkhapa onwards are exclusively Gelugpas, and (3) Geshe Kelsang’s spiritual education and root Guru (Trijang Rinpoche) are within the Gelugpa tradition.

In 1998 Geshe Kelsang stated in an interview:

“We are pure Gelugpas. The name Gelugpa doesn't matter, but we believe we are following the pure tradition of Je Tsongkhapa. We are studying and practicing Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings and taking as our example what the ancient Kadampa Lamas and Geshes did. All the books that I have written are commentaries to Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings. We try our best to follow the example of the ancient Kadampa tradition and use the name Kadampa to remind people to practice purely.”

Smear: NKT has broken away from the main Tibetan Buddhist traditions, including the Gelugpa

Truth: 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.

Smear: NKT is not accepted by many other Buddhist groups

Truth: This is the truth. In the past ten years NKT students and Centers have experienced thousands of incidents of criticism and discrimination from other Buddhist groups, especially Tibetan, in the real world and on the Internet.

NKT students and teachers have been accused of being evil spirit worshippers and cultists, even murderers and nazis. They have been heckled, shouted and spat at on the street, denied entry into other Tibetan Buddhist organizations, deterred from attending or returning to NKT Centers, threatened face to face and over the phone, had branch classes cancelled, had Centers vandalized, had publicity torn down or defaced. They have been barred entry to online Buddhist forums such as E-Sangha.

Smear: NKT is a degeneration of Buddhism

Truth: The NKT is not a degeneration of Buddhism. Since the NKT entirely follows the Mahayana Buddhist 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, nor a degeneration.

Smear: NKT is exclusive and not inclusive

Truth: The NKT promotes a traditional path rather than an “exclusive” one – we never say that our tradition is the only pure tradition or that it is better than any other.

Geshe Kelsang said in June 2008:

“In the NKT we promote the view of respecting all other Buddhist traditions as well as other religions, and we rejoice in their virtuous and beneficial activities, but we do not emphasize studying all of them, in the same way that at a science college religious studies are not emphasized, or at a medical school architecture is not part of their curriculum. Nevertheless, we place emphasis in respecting all other religions, and if people wish they can also study them.”

Smear: NKT is fundamentalist

Truth: This is not true. The definition of fundamentalism in Wikipedia is "deep and totalistic commitment" to a belief in, and strict adherence to a set of basic principles (often religious in nature), a reaction to perceived doctrinal compromises with modern social and political life.

Fundamentalism is therefore clinging to a set of principles in reaction to the perception that too much compromise of these principles has been made in the modern world. This does not apply to the NKT. As with all Buddhists, NKT practitioners try to practise Buddha's teachings as they were traditionally transmitted to them without imposing their own interpretation or omitting anything; however there is a flexibility at NKT Centres around the world to compromise with the norms of society as necessary to benefit others, which is the antithesis of fundamentalism.

Smear: NKT is opposed to Rime

Truth: "Rime" is the "non-sectarian" movement within Tibetan Buddhism. The NKT is also non-sectarian. The real meaning of non-sectarian, which the NKT follows, is to respect other traditions and to refrain from criticizing them.

The Dalai Lama says that to be non-sectarian one has to receive and practice teachings from all traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Because the NKT does not do this, it is often incorrectly criticized as "sectarian" and as opposed to Rime.

As explained above, the NKT believes that the most effective method to gain spiritual realizations is to practice one tradition purely without mixing. Just as others have the right to mix traditions if they wish, and should not be criticized for doing this, so do we have the right to practice just one tradition without being criticized.

Smear: NKT says that it is the only tradition of pure Dharma

Truth: This is not true. Geshe Kelsang has said that the Dharma practiced in the NKT is pure because it comes from Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings. However, this is not the same as saying that the NKT is the only pure tradition of Buddhism or that other traditions do not have pure Dharma.

What is pure Dharma? According to the tradition of Nalanda: “The Dharma is pure if it reveals the entire path that leads to enlightenment, presents each point unmistakenly, and has been handed down in an unbroken lineage from Buddha Shakyamuni.”

Any tradition of Buddhism whose teachings possess these characteristics has pure Dharma, not just the NKT.

Smear: NKT is wrong to demonstrate against the Dalai Lama

Truth: It is the Western Shugden Society (WSS) that has organized demonstrations against the Dalai Lama, not the NKT. The WSS is an ad hoc coalition of Dorje Shugden practitioners from many different countries, including more Tibetans than Westerners.

Smear: NKT received bad press from many major publications in the 1990s

Truth: This is true and it caused terrible damage to the NKT's reputation. However, even mainstream media can be prejudiced and inaccurate in their reporting. Virtually all of the bad press came from false accusations spread by the Dalai Lama or his followers in retaliation for the NKT's continued practice of Dorje Shugden and its courage to stand in opposition to the Dalai Lama's ban of this practice.

The articles in the Guardian, Independent and Newsweek that appeared at around the same time were all embarrassingly prejudiced in favor of the Dalai Lama and Tibet House, badly researched, and full of the same hurtful allegations based on the untested assumption that the Dalai Lama must be telling the truth. They were also point for point refuted at the time. These refutations and letters to the editor (and the lawyers) however appear only rarely on the Internet, whereas the articles have been repeated ad infinitum by NKT detractors, given the cloak of respectability by the good name of these publications.

Please find some background to these three articles here:

The Guardian ~ Shadow Boxing on the Path to Nirvana 9th July 1996 by Madeleine Bunting

The Independent ~ Battle of the Buddhists 15 July 1996 by Andrew Bunting

Newsweek ~ Cult Mystery? 28 April 1997 by Tony Clifton.

Smear: NKT wishes to harm and destroy the Dalai Lama

Truth: This is not true. The Dalai Lama is not our enemy. Harming other living beings goes against the teachings of Buddha and every precept in the Kadampa tradition. Our only enemies are the delusions in our minds, such as ignorance, anger and attachment. Dorje Shugden practitioners like those in the NKT are simply asking the Dalai Lama to stop harming himself and others by suppressing religious freedom. We have never expressed a single malicious intent toward him. We only ask of him that he practice what he preaches (tolerance, respect for differences, unity in diversity, etc.) by lifting his ban on the practice of Dorje Shugden.

On the other hand, Geshe Kelsang has received many abusive letters and death threats from Tibetan organizations and individuals since the 1990s. Here is an example of a letter asking for the Tibetan government in exile to use their authority to stop these, as it appears they were indirectly responsible for organizing them. 

Smear: NKT has no pictures of the Dalai Lama in their Centers

Truth: This is true, but there is nothing wrong with it. We do not have pictures of the Dalai Lama on our shrines because we are not Tibetan Buddhists and the Dalai Lama is not our spiritual leader. We also do not have pictures of him in entrance halls and so on because he is not our political leader.

Smear: NKT asks its students to reject the Dalai Lama (and other traditions)

Truth: This is not true. No NKT Teacher has ever asked their students to reject the Dalai Lama or to reject other traditions. We do not reject the Dalai Lama; he has rejected us! He heavily criticized us in a Newsweek article ten years ago and has also said “no Shugden practitioner can be my friend”. He does not allow Dorje Shugden practitioners to attend his teachings.

Geshe Kelsang often says that everyone has choice as to what they believe and practice. However, once we have chosen our tradition and our Spiritual Guide, he advises us to rely upon these, while continuing always to respect and appreciate other Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions.

Smear: Dorje Shugden is the main practice of the NKT

Truth: This is not true. As with all Buddhist traditions, the main practice of the NKT is going for refuge to the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. As with all Mahayana Buddhist traditions, the main practice of the NKT is also generating bodhichitta.  Because NKT practitioners also practice the Tantric path according to the instructions of Je Tsongkhapa, we rely on the Guru (Spiritual Guide), Yidam (Tantric personal Deity) and Protector in order to fulfil our bodhichitta wish to attain enlightenment. These are manifestations of the Three Jewels, as explained by Je Tsongkhapa.

Our main Dharma Protector is the Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden. We also rely on other Dharma Protectors such as Palden Lhamo, Mahakala, Kinkara and Kalarupa.

While relying upon Dorje Shugden is very important to those who are trying to uphold Je Tsongkhapa's pure tradition, and especially the Ganden oral lineage, it is not the main practice of the NKT.

Smear: NKT is an offshoot of the FPMT

Truth: The NKT is not an off-shoot of the FPMT. Geshe Kelsang was not asked by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa but by his (and Lama Yeshe’s) Teacher, Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, to become resident teacher of Manjushri Institute in 1977.

This has been said in public by both Geshe Kelsang and Lama Zopa. The latter said that he and Lama Yeshe both wanted Geshe Kelsang to be the Teacher but Lama Yeshe felt that a request would be successful only if it came from Trijang Rinpoche. Geshe Kelsang later said that at the time he never even knew of the existence of FPMT and was responding to a request from his Teacher.

Smear: NKT is isolated from the wider Tibetan Buddhist community

Truth: This is true. The reason NKT students are not welcomed by the Tibetan Buddhist community is because they are Dorje Shugden practitioners and the Dalai Lama said:

“Those who practice Dholgyal (Shugden) cannot be my friends”.

Following the Dalai Lama's view, Tibetan Buddhist groups such as the FPMT and various Kagyu and Nyingma groups have ostracized the NKT for the past ten years. See the FPMT's latest segregation policy. It is the Dalai Lama who does not want to have anything to do with the NKT, not the NKT who does not wish to be friends with the wider Tibetan Buddhist community.

Smear: NKT voluntarily maintains a distance from other Buddhist traditions

Truth: This is not true. It is true however that some other Buddhist traditions and unions have rejected the NKT.

Following the Dalai Lama's view, other Buddhist groups associated with Tibet have ostracized us for the past ten years. It is the Dalai Lama who does not want to have anything to do with us, not the NKT who does not wish to be friends with the Tibetan Buddhist community.

For example, as a result of the recent legal and peaceful demonstrations against the Dalai Lama's ban of Dorje Shugden by the Western Shugden Society (WSS), the UK based Network of Buddhist Organizations (NBO) has threatened to expel the NKT from their union simply because there are NKT members in the WSS.

Smear: NKT thinks that all other Buddhist traditions want to harm them

Truth: This is not true. In general we have fine relations with other Buddhists who are not influenced by the politics of the Dalai Lama and who do not view him as their political and religious leader e.g. Theravadin Buddhists, the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, and so on.

However, there is substantial evidence of other Tibetan Buddhist traditions who, following the Dalai Lama’s politics and words, have actually set out to defame the NKT and harm its growth. We have hundreds of testimonies from NKT teachers and practitioners whose Centers and activities have been interfered with by, for example, the FPMT.

One of the top five international anti-defamation law firms recently investigated the NKT and all the libel against us on the Internet and concluded: “The NKT is a respectable international organization whose reputation has been severely defamed.”

It should also be noted that not all Tibetan Buddhist groups are opposed to us, by any means. There are many Tibetan Buddhists relying upon Je Tsongkhapa’s and Trijang Rinpoche’s lineage teachings and Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden in India, Tibet and the West who greatly appreciate the NKT. There are also various Tibetan Buddhist groups who have their own problems with the Dalai Lama, and so who do not jump on the bandwagon of condemning the NKT for continuing to rely on Dorje Shugden and speak up for Dorje Shugden practitioners in defiance of the Dalai Lama’s ban.


Taking Down the Smears

What is a Kadampa?

A Kadampa is someone who integrates their knowledge of all Buddha's teachings into their everyday lives. Find out more in the booklet Modern Kadampa Buddhism

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