Smear: In the NKT you can become a teacher very quickly, without experience or qualifications
Truth: This is not true. To be a teacher in the New Kadampa Tradition, one has to have some personal experience of the teachings and meditations in order to be most effective in helping others spiritually.
This complaint generally arises in the minds of those who feel that all Dharma teachers need to be Geshes who have studied for decades in monasteries, or the nearest Western equivalent. However, the NKT never claims that its teachers are already fully trained or perfect. They are students themselves. Until they attain enlightenment, NKT teachers are in training, making effort daily to improve their own moral discipline, concentration and wisdom, as well as their compassion and love for their students (which are also the minimum commitments for a Mahayana Spiritual Guide as explained in Lamrim, the stages of the path).
When most people go to local yoga classes, for instance, they do not insist on being taught only by those who have perfected every yoga asana over many years’ training. Their only expectation is for their teacher to know more than them, and to be a few steps ahead.
Some teachers in the NKT have been studying and practicing for decades and have a vast depth of knowledge and experience. Others have been studying and practicing for only a few years. However, although there are a variety of NKT teachers, all of them are the same and effective insofar as they are acting as spiritual friends, simply teaching pure Dharma to help students find a happy life in accordance with the tradition of Buddha Shakyamuni, Je Tsongkhapa and Atisha as presented in the West by Geshe Kelsang.
In A Wishfulfilling Dharma Jewel, an introduction to the study programs given in October 1990, Geshe Kelsang says:
“Buddhadharma is beneficial to others only if there are qualified teachers. Without teachers, Dharma texts alone are of little benefit. To become a qualified Dharma teacher requires special preparation and training. It is not easy to become a Dharma teacher because special qualities are needed: wisdom, correct view, faith, conviction, and pure conduct as an example to others. Also a teacher needs an inexhaustible reservoir of Dharma knowledge and experience to teach from, otherwise he or she will dry up after one or two years.
If a teacher lacks qualities such as wisdom, experience, faith, and pure motivation, it will be difficult for others to develop faith in them or their teachings, and there will be little benefit. Also, without proper training and preparation there is a danger of teachers mixing worldly, samsaric activities with their teaching activities. Therefore we definitely need to train well if we wish to be of genuine benefit to others.”
Geshe Kelsang has also said on several occasions that teachers and students can help each other to make progress and can learn from one another. He cites his own example of learning so much from his own Western disciples. From this point of view, the NKT is more democratic and adapted to Western society than most Tibetan Buddhist organizations, where the teacher is considered superior to the students, Tibetan teachers are favored over Western teachers, and monks and nuns are favored over lay people.
There are also different types of teacher in NKT Dharma Centers. Resident Teachers (RTs) generally teach all three study programs (the General Program (GP), Foundation Program (FP) and the Teacher Training Program (TTP). Other teachers can teach FP or GP at the Center or GP at branch classes (which meet in neutral locations such as health or community centers or churches.) Every NKT teacher is constantly improving their qualifications by studying and meditating systematically on the TTP or FP program. These programs are rigorously constructed and monitored, and require study, memorization, the passing of exams, meditation practice and (in the case of TTP) meditation retreat. RTs are enrolled on both regular weekly TTP and the annual International teacher Training Program (ITTP). The Internal Rules specify the Sutra and Tantra subjects studied, the criteria for completing the program, and so on.
The main practice of the NKT is Lamrim, the stages of the path to enlightenment. This is a very simple and practical Dharma teaching that definitely helps people to control their delusions or negative minds. It is concerned with knowing and controlling the mind in daily life. If someone without experience of Lamrim tries to teach it, they will find it very difficult. For example, many scholars may be skilled in philosophy and debate, but if they lack practical experience of Lamrim they will be unable to teach it, no matter how learned they are.