NKT's peak tantra fest has come and gone.
For 2 weeks in and around NKT's central mansion, in England, the majority of NKT faithful from around the world gathered to see their discredited patriarch one last time for his highly promoted last festival and last mass tantra empowerment.
Kelsang Gyatso's teachings mesmerized all and are perhaps distilled in his words...
"Our body is human body which is contaminated by the incurable disease of delusions we have to experience human suffering...our mind is human mind which is contaminated by delusions, disease of delusions, so we have to experience human suffering. So therefore our present body is very useful if we use for spiritual practice."
Unfortunately, half of his named heirs abused many in their pursuit of NKT-style tantra.
But this story hopefully will remain in the past. For this festival, reverence and fellowship captivated the festival's attendees, as did the opulence of Manjushri Center, its Temple and its grounds. Fine art was everywhere to be seen and hopefully purchased.
However, the worship of opulence at the festival is uncomfortable to ponder, as is NKT's assessment of some of those participating with NKT's tantra empowerment...
"It is wonderful to imagine that the children who attended this year’s Summer Festival will make up the next generation of the New Kadampa Tradition.
And little Kadampas certainly know their Dharma! Memorising mantras, connecting with a particular Buddha and recalling teachings on love and kindness, they embrace Dharma with open minds, limitless imagination and playful aspects.
It is also beautiful to see how their faces light up when hearing Geshe-la’s voice or seeing Geshe-la’s face. One mother said the first time their child giggled was looking at a picture of Geshe-la.
Over 200 children attended the 2009 Summer Festival."
Experience the festival's highlights here and NKT's exquisite Shugden statue collection here. Watch Kelsang Pema escort Kelsang Gyatso around Manjushri Center on day 9 of the festival for what appears to be a new or rare experience for this venerated man and for many of NKT's organizational and business office staff.
Clearly, there was a feel good atmosphere at this year's summer festival, far more pleasant and constructive than recruitment at previous festivals for NKT's protest parties which have thankfully subsided.
Notably, while NKT purports its protest rallies were the work of the Western Shugden Society (in reality, a PR arm of NKT), note that the society "does not necessarily endorse the views expressed" by the Western Shugden Society/NKT. The purported 'hundreds of Buddhists' were mostly NKTites called to arms from around the world against the Dalai Lama by Kelsang Gyatso.
More importantly, the role of the Dalai Lama in Tibetan spiritual and temporal affairs is irrelevant to NKT. Not only does NKT despise the Dalai Lama and Kelsang Gyatso envy the Dalai Lama, the Dalai Lama's influence extends far wider than NKT and addresses NKT trivially at most.
The Dalai Lama is recognized as a leading humanitarian (and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as such) and is respected by most countries, universities, Buddhists, media and more than a billion of the world's inhabitants. The Dalai Lama engages in dozens of charities, speaking tours, collaborations, celebrations, books, special religious and scientific events and more every year.
Kelsang Gyatso, in comparison, accomplishes little other than spreading turmoil, hate and deleterious and largely disrespected 'religious' practices. At his bidding, NKT has, in the past, insinuated itself into a historical Tibetan sectarian struggle by a small group seeking dominance over the majority, using a demonous 'spirit' named Shugden to threaten and perpetrate harm. The most boisterous political group against the Dalai Lama is NKT, even more so than the Chinese communist government that deposed the Dalai Lama from Tibet in the 1950s and that many NKTites support in its battle against the Dalai Lama.
NKT's future is questionable. With the retirement of Kelsang Gyatso, who was trained as a Tibetan Buddhist though ultimately abandoning his heritage, NKT will have no connection with Tibetan or any other form of Buddhism other than Kelsang Gyatso's books selecting aspects of Tibetan Buddhism to discuss and suggest ties to Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. On the other hand, NKT's real estate holdings and businesses may fuel NKT for a while.
Now that NKT may have abandoned its controversial practices and to the extent that it has, NKT can for the greater good focus on itself and those few around the world attracted to its theology, real estate and products. Why not, NKT has long been a beneficiary of religious freedom.
Maybe too, public confusion over NKT will someday pass, like BBC's assessment of NKT as a form of Tibetan Buddhism, which NKT proclaims it is not (click here for BBC's assessment).
Also on the wish list....that stories like this posted August 31, 2009, although sincere and thoughtful, from one who found the courage to leave NKT will decline as NKT's public vitriol has...
"I remember very clearly that one of the main things that attracted me to NKT was, as it appeared to me then, its ethical and moral core. From the very beginning I felt that while there was a powerful energy surrounding the centers which could provide intense spiritual experiences, these things were not the main goal of practice. They were not to be taken too seriously; the focus was on maintaining a high ethical standard in daily life and working towards the ultimate goal of enlightenment, following the humble example of Je Tsonkhapa who forbade the demonstration of miracle powers, instead emphasizing moral living and setting a good example. I had already realized that my previous mentor, for all his `spiritual’ abilities, was morally bankrupt and actually would have been better off with no spirituality at all. NKT, on the other hand, seemed to have its priorities straight. It seemed perfect. So I went in at the deep end, falling head-over-heels in love with the Kadam Dharma. Nobody mentioned the schism with the Dalai Lama which had come to a head in demonstrations just eighteen months before; by the time I found out about them I had already invested too much in NKT. While I was troubled by the conflict, by this time I needed NKT too much to turn back. Instead I managed to persuade myself that – against my intuition – the odd explanations that I was provided with by members of the organization were actually wise and just.
So. Fast forward a decade or so, and I’ve left the NKT. Looking back, I had a
lot of wonderful times during my period as a practitioner. The bliss of tantric practice is something that still moves me, as well as the Lam Rim and Mahamudra meditations. I formed deep and significant friendships and had a strong underlying sense that my life had acquired a greater meaning. Because of this, it is difficult sometimes for me to reconcile these memories with the fact that I have left it all behind, and not only that, I have become very critical of NKT. It is even more difficult to explain my reasons for leaving to someone who is still in love with the tradition. This evening, however, I was struck by the parallel between my old mentor and NKT, and I thought that’s a good way to express it; for all the extraordinary experiences that NKT can offer, ultimately a set of true moral principles is lacking throughout the organization and this renders all the positive aspects irrelevant.
This may seem a strange statement considering the great emphasis within NKT on moral discipline, cherishing others and so on. But it is clear to me that while NKT makes these sweeping altruistic gestures on the outside, at its core is something rather different. Under the highly-polished surface lies ingrained sectarianism and a disparaging view of all other forms of spirituality; an expansionist drive that uses the energy of new recruits to spread the message with no concern for their burnout; a cultish dependency on the word and approval of the leader and an abdication of critical thought that is actively encouraged; and a systematic, widespread rash of sexual, emotional and financial abuse practiced by those in positions of power. Ironically enough, it is the humble practitioners who are not involved in running the show that tend to be kinder, less judgmental and more open-minded. The further you travel to the heart of the NKT, the more you are twisted – in the name of enlightened principles – into the very opposite of what it is supposed to be about. And you don’t even realize it’s happening. Until it’s too late.
On reflection I do not feel that I was as badly afflicted as many. Although I had a reasonably senior standing in my center, I did not get ordained so never became a Resident Teacher or anything. This meant that although admittedly my moral life was tainted by the negativity of NKT culture to some extent, I didn’t undergo the full transformation that many good men and women are subjected to once they have given over their lives fully to the Guru. Perhaps that is why it took so long for the penny to drop. But when it did, I had no option but to leave.
Now, more than eighteen months since leaving NKT, I am still without a significant spiritual life. I find the notion of faith problematic. It seems to me that faith is tantamount to believing what has not been demonstrated to you, because someone you respect has said it. This, to me, seems to undercut one’s own powers of critical reflection and leaves one in a position which is extremely vulnerable to manipulation. I am, of course, open to the idea of developing respect for someone else to the extent that you take their views seriously. But that person has to earn your respect rather than be awarded it because they state they deserve it. And what is the point of actively developing faith when it grows naturally if someone wins your respect through their actual good qualities? I think that if someone is encouraging you to develop faith, the only reason can be that they are not truly worthy of that faith. Otherwise you would have it naturally in the first place and it would not need to be mentioned at all.
Moreover, given the powerful role of psychological drives in attracting me to and keeping me in NKT, I have a large question-mark in my mind with regard to the existence of any form of higher power and ‘hidden objects’. Doubtless I have experienced the power of the Buddhas and NKT practices; but could this not be a psychosomatic? In truth I do not know, this issue is very unresolved for me.
Finally, I think that the moral vows that NKT encouraged us to take upon ourselves all too often served to stunt our moral awareness rather than enhance it. After all, it is easy to adhere to a rigid code (for a certain length of time at least), but it is difficult to meet each situation with nothing but one’s own moral compass to rely on. And I think it is the latter that leads to spiritual development, however many mistakes one might make.
There is, of course, a lot more that could be said, and I hope we are able to exchange views on the subject. But for now I’m going to leave it there."
This report reveals a journey that many NKTites have yet to accomplish.