Smear: NKT has a lot of sexual scandals and cover-ups
Truth: Unlike many religious leaders, even within Tibetan Buddhism, Geshe Kelsang himself has never had any accusations of impropriety leveled against him in terms of his moral behavior and has always lived humbly, in one room at Manjushri Center, working voluntarily, giving his money away, and never abusing his power or authority. Unfortunately, his students have not always been so blameless, though the overwhelming majority of the 700 monks and nuns in the NKT do keep good moral discipline.
Despite a few widely publicized instances of misbehavior, and contrary to what has been posted on various forums, nothing is being covered up. As soon as an instance of misconduct has come to light and there is sufficient evidence, action has always been taken to remove those transgressing their commitments from their responsibilities in accordance with the ordination vow of celibacy and the Internal Rules 7, 8§3, 11§2, 12§3.
Each ordained person has responsibility for their own vows, but the NKT is also trying to help them by tightening up the Internal Rules and putting safeguards in place at Dharma Centers to reduce the possibility of inappropriate behavior occurring in the future.
Disrobing is not a strictly NKT issue, it is a big issue that besets any tradition with an ordained community. Disrobing is a universal phenomenon and there are a lot of famous Western Buddhists who have disrobed – Stephen Batchelor, Robert Thurman and so on. There is, sadly, a natural attrition in any ordained community that comes from the difficulty in keeping moral discipline and avoiding desirous attachment in this day and age.
The numbers given by the NKT Secretary show there were no more people who disrobed in 2006 and 2007 than in 2005 and earlier years. There are approximately 700 ordained monks and nuns as of June 2008. However, in the last two years, there have been a few very widely publicized instances of inappropriate sexual relationships in the NKT at senior levels and they have subsequently become notorious on the Internet through various Buddhist chat forums. As a result of this, there has been damage to practitioners' faith and trust in individuals and in the tradition.
To avoid dishonesty and cover-ups, the Internal Rules encourage members to speak up. Internal Rules 7§3, Removal of a General, Deputy or National Spiritual Director, gives the officers and members authority to dismiss him or her if they break their ordination vows (etc.):
“If the officers or Members of the Charity ignore these rules 7§1 and 7§2, particularly while understanding at any time that a General or Deputy Spiritual Director has performed any of the above inappropriate actions, then it will be recognised publicly that the NKT-IKBU is spiritually impure. Therefore to protect the NKT-IKBU society from such impurity the officers and Members of the Charity must apply effort to maintain these two rules.”
In accordance with the ordination vow of celibacy and the Internal Rules, any ordained person who engages in sexual conduct is asked to leave their position. There is not one who remains in any position of authority. Disrobed monks and nuns may return to NKT Centers, but they can never teach Kadampa Buddhism again. See the Internal Rules 11.2.
Moreover, failed moral conduct does not diminish the validity of Buddha’s teachings. According to the Bodhisattva vow, we need compassion for those concerned and not to judge them. However, we can reject their action as inappropriate.
Contrary to what has been posted on various forums, nothing is being covered up – as soon as an instance of abuse has come to light and there is sufficient evidence, action has always been taken to remove those transgressing their commitments from their responsibilities. Some have left voluntarily and most have expressed regret at damaging others' faith. No one is maliciously causing suffering to anyone; we can all be victims of human foibles.
We have never claimed to be perfect, of course, because we are not. But we are trying to learn from these incidents and prevent any inappropriate behavior from taking place in the future. One of the functions of the Internal Rules is to be a “moral discipline guide” and to explain what to do in such circumstances. The rules apply to everyone in the organization: the General Spiritual Director (7§1), the Deputy Spiritual Director (7§2), the National Spiritual Directors (7§4), Resident Teachers (8§3) and Administrative Directors of NKT Dharma Centers, as well as residents and students (11§1); everyone is accountable for their actions.
The NKT is a relatively young organization – teachers, monks and nuns breaking their vows, even senior ones, is not just a problem for the NKT; each tradition of Buddhism has its own sexual scandals because human beings are imperfect. In the Tibetan tradition, some famous and venerated Lamas have been publicly accused of sexual abuse. Even Buddha had to deal with this problem with some of his monks. The reason why there are so many vows for a fully ordained monk or nun is that when Buddha made a vow, monks found a way of getting around the vow to commit sexual misconduct, so Buddha had to introduce another vow to close that loophole. We are now trying to do the same with our own Internal Rules but no doubt it will take time.