Smear: NKT places over-reliance on one teacher
Truth: It is interesting how no one ever accuses the Dalai Lama’s followers of this kind of behaviour!
This may be a misrepresentation of the teachings on relying upon a Spiritual Guide, which is a teaching common to all Mahayana traditions. The NKT does not emphasize this any more than any other Tibetan Buddhist or indeed Mahayana Buddhist tradition. This meditation was taught originally by Buddha Shakyamuni and later by all Mahayana teachers, including Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa as part of the Lamrim (Stages of the Path).
In the NKT, Buddha Shakyamuni is always referred to as the founder of Buddhism, and is the only ultimate authority. Also, Geshe Kelsang, who is retiring in 2009, has put in a system of democratic succession involving an elected new General Spiritual Director (who will be in place for four years before the next person is elected) (See Internal Rule 5§8).
The definition of a valid teacher is someone who knows fully and without error what objects are to be abandoned and what objects are to be practised, and who, out of compassion, reveals this knowledge to others. The supreme example of a valid teacher is Buddha himself. If we meet such a teacher we can place our trust unreservedly in him or her. They are our object of refuge.
This clearly worked well for Buddha's first disciples. The five disciples who listened to Buddha when he taught at the Deer Park at Sarnath were not considered over-reliant on one teacher. Through this reliance they attained permanent liberation from suffering in one lifetime.
Mahayana Buddhist history is replete with examples of faithful disciples who placed full trust in their teacher and attained enlightenment as a result: Sadaprarudita and Dharmodgata, Naropa and Tilopa, Dromtompa and Atisha, Khedrubje and Je Tsongkhapa, Milarepa and Marpa, to name but a few. These students, who attained the highest realizations through their faith, were not considered over-reliant on their teacher.
In Great Treasury of Merit, Geshe Kelsang explains how we need to rely upon one teacher and one tradition to attain results:
Experience shows that realizations come from deep, unchanging faith and that this faith comes from following one tradition purely – relying upon one teacher, practising only his teachings, and following his Dharma Protector. If we mix traditions many obstacles arise and it takes a long time for us to attain realizations.
This makes perfect sense because we only need one path to enlightenment. Buddhists believe that if we have one trusted guide who has made the spiritual journey him or herself, who can show us how to enter into, make progress along and complete that path from their own experience, why do we need another guide?