NKT wrote this essay explaining — in NKT's mind — why NKT is called a cult.
"Cult" can be an innocuous word, when for example it refers to "a particular system of religious worship" or "an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal or thing e.g. the physical fitness cult." But in the case of some NKT detractors, the word "cult" is used to mean something along the lines of: "a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader." (All definitions taken from Random House dictionary).
Being accused of being a cult by someone who dislikes you is similar to being asked if you are still beating your wife every night.
Because people surfing the Internet sometimes encounter the allegation that the NKT is a cult and then assume that the person who said this somehow knows something that they do not. They may then believe this and either stay away from the NKT or, if they are already in the NKT, anxiously ask themselves, "Oh no, am I in a cult?!"
In all cases, we ask that people judge based on their own experience of having met NKT teachers, teachings and communities rather than automatically believe what others might say on the Internet.
So where did the idea that the NKT is a cult originate? We need to go back to 1996 and an article in the UK newspaper The Guardian. This article was written by Madeleine Bunting about the storm brewing over the Dorje Shugden issue because the Dalai Lama had, that year, openly declared his opposition to the practice of the this Buddhist Protector Deity. The Dalai Lama's hostility to the practice had been an open secret in Tibetan exile society since the 1970s, and especially since the death of his teacher and famous Dorje Shugden proponent Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche in 1981. However, it wasn't until 1996 that the rest of the world became aware of the issue.
In March 1996, the Dalai Lama announced a ban against the worship of the Buddhist Deity Dorje Shugden, declaring that such worship posed a "danger to his life and the cause of Tibet."
Many Tibetan Lamas fell in line with the Dalai Lama and many more felt powerless to take action because their lives or livelihoods would be jeopardized. There were a few notable exceptions, most prominently Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a sincere disciple of Trijang Rinpoche who had been resident and teaching in England since 1977.
Such an event as the conflict between the Shugden Supporter's Community and the Dalai Lama had never occurred in the Western Buddhist community before. The Dalai Lama, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent opposition to the Chinese, was widely respected in the West and held to be a paragon of virtue, the most famous Buddhist on the planet, presiding over the beleaguered Shangri-la, Tibet. He had never been questioned before. His authority and opinions had never been challenged by Tibetans (or most Westerners) in 58 years of rule.
Given the Dalai Lama's high, positive media profile, the London media's reaction was perhaps not surprising – they turned against the protesters and wrote articles that spun the SSC and the NKT in a very bad light, and let the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile completely off the hook.
At the time, and looking back now, it is clear to anyone who knows about the situation how prejudiced UK newspaper reports of the dispute were, and how they failed to do any real research or ask questions of those suffering in India, preferring to rely only on the words of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile. It is also somewhat shocking that, in a free society, this didn't raise any alarm bells at the time. If the guiding principles of journalism are equality and neutrality, two UK newspaper articles in particular fell very short. They were undisguisedly prejudiced in favor of the Dalai Lama and against Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, opinionated, and full of unsubstantiated gossip.
Madeleine Bunting has never hidden her own natural bias in favor of the Dalai Lama.
She is free to her own opinion but, unfortunately for the New Kadampa Tradition and journalistic integrity, she made no responsible effort to put her own opinions aside and offer a more neutral, factual point of view when writing about him and the worsening situation in India in 1996. She made the whole story about the New Kadampa Tradition.
It was Madeleine Bunting — in her article, Shadow Boxing on the Path to Nirvana of 9th July 1996 in The Guardian — who was the first person to mention the 'cult' word in relation to the NKT. From a conversation with an anonymous Buddhist teacher, Bunting quoted: "A lot of young people go into the NKT from a drug-orientated life and find the emotional force of the cult is tremendously compelling."
And there it began.
Many have taken NKT's advice, and made up their own minds about NKT
"that people judge based on their own experience of having met NKT teachers, teachings and communities rather than automatically believe what others might say on the Internet."
We agree with them that NKT is a cult, according to NKT's definition of a cult...
"the word "cult" is used to mean something along the lines of: "a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader."
In the view of most, no one should consider NKT's defense that it is not a cult as true.
We disagree with NKT's characterization of Madeleine Bunting as irresponsible and that she was the first to see NKT as a cult. NKT supporters even call her a liar, as we all are in NKT minds who do not worship NKT's Shugden.
Funny how NKT says that the Dalai Lama's findings about Shugden was an open secret going back to the 1970s but that NKT's founder Kelsang Gyatso did nothing until 1996 (20 year delay).