There are many facets regarding NKT's campaign. Five recent analyses are worth considering. There is much more to NKT that the pretty face most see when they visit an NKT business center. Most remain unaware of NKT's 20-year political campaign.
This web site is not the distortion that NKT alleges.
Some quotes for those yet to find out about NKT's geopolitical place in the world.
Your dispute with the Dalai Lama over Dorjé Shugden, is one that, I believe, has arisen from a lack of information, a lack of investigation, and an unquestioning acceptance of misinformation, all of which makes it difficult to take a reasonable position.
You have probably heard of the Yellow Book, published in 1973 by Zemey Rinpoché, who was a disciple of Trijang Rinpoché. It contains oral accounts, given by Trijang Rinpoché, of the punishments and murder of several lamas and officials who had adopted some practices of the Nyingma tradition.
As an ex-member fo the NKT myself, 20 years back, I can attest to the insular, sectarian nature of the organisation. I'm afraid that the forms of delusion they express at the institutional level are example of the sort of cognitive biases we see in cults such as the Scientologists.
Kelsang Gyatso's rejection of the Yellow Book is problematic as it ignores the fact that the source of the book was Trijang Rinpoche, Kelsang Gyatso's 'root lama'. Trijang Rinpoche's other book on the subject, “Music Delighting an Ocean of Oath-Bound Protectors” (dam can rgya mtsho dges pa'i rol mo), is in exactly the same vein as the Yellow Book and is no less blood thirsty, actually it is probably worse in that it also recounts dogyal being responsible for the deaths of a number of Bonpo lamas and an attack on a Nyingma monastery, as well as the standard killing of eclectic Gelugpas. Trijang Rinpoche's book, coming directly from the hand of Kelsang Gyatso's root lama is an excellent example of glorifying sectarian violence and illustrates well why the tide turned on the Dogyal cult.
If NKT is not organising the protests, then how can you in a reasonable manner relate to the facts that when Kelsang Gyatso, the head of NKT, ordered to stop the protest in 1998, that they stopped. And when he decided to run the protests again in 2008, the protests started again, after Kelsang Gyatso wrote to his followers: "To stop this evil action, as the representative of the Western Shugden Society, I personally will organise demonstrations against the Dalai Lama directly. I requested Kelsang Pema and Kelsang Thubchen to do this job for me and they have accepted. Please help Pema and Thubchen with whatever they need. With much love and prayers, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso."
We are all ignorant: every single one of us. Some of us don’t like to acknowledge this fact, but that doesn’t change it from being one. Even the brightest among us is blind to most of what takes place in the world. Ignorance may be obligatory; an indiscriminate factor of the human condition, but persistent refusal to engage with reality is not, especially when institutionalised. I think of certain forms of entrenched belief as voluntary ignorance. A person or group chooses to ignore facts, refuses to engage with reality, and sticks to their beliefs in spite of all the evidence. This is a problem we see primarily emerging from religious and political organisations and it will be no surprise that when these two come together, the situation worsens.
Religion is the hotbed of voluntary ignorance and Buddhism makes its own contribution with three organisations standing out; the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), Sogyal Rinpoche’s Rigpa and Soka Gakkai International (SGI). Each of these organisations has received ongoing condemnation, accusations of abuse, as well as ex-members speaking out in similar tones over repressive behaviour, groupthink and cult-like behaviours. The NKT is the only one of the three to have a large number of dedicated websites from ex-members countering the organisation’s public image and to be involved in political activity targeting and defaming the Dalai Lama.
When speaking to NKT members, some of whom are old friends of mine, I have become aware of the sharp distinction between belief and reality visible in their claims, especially when discussing their political agenda. This is coupled with a lack of critical thinking. The sort of dialogue that NKT followers use is fairly consistent and as I wrote in my piece on Buddhist Bullshit last year, after leaving the organisation almost 20 years ago, I was genuinely surprised to find that the way members talk about their organisation and themselves has not evolved much at all; it is still infused with the same sort of self-referential groupspeak, blind faith and ignorance that motivated me to leave in the first place.
Justification is perhaps the most powerful impulse among those who feel the need to defend their irrational beliefs and it acts as a form of self-deception when it does so. Any time a person instinctively begins to justify their beliefs or actions without being able to listen or truly consider an opposing view, than they are identified with their beliefs. When this occurs, little meaningful discussion is possible as the door to reality has been closed.
Critical thinking requires effort, discipline and curiosity. Continuously defending and justifying religious belief requires the first two, but importantly, not the third. The incessant repetitive nature of the linguistic structures used to defend and justify irrational belief is a fundamental feature of religious organisations, in particular, minority organisations that feel threatened and/or that have an exaggerated opinion of themselves and view of their own importance. This certainly describes the NKT and SGI which have a tendency to exaggerate their member numbers.
Blind faith is a form of ignorance and violence. Faith instead, if worth a damn, should be strong enough, not to withstand critique, as in defend itself, but to absorb critique as an opportunity to evolve, mature and become wiser. It is worthwhile pointing out that wisdom has little to do with conforming one’s biases. I make this point as Manjushri, the iconic figure in the picture above, is the name of the NKT headquarters in the English Lake District.
Like the Scientologists, so much of what passes for normal in NKT circles is recognised as delusional elsewhere.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has claimed that he, and he alone, is capable of leading the ancient Kadampa tradition of Tsongkhapa “purely” into modern times. This is a tradition that has traditionally been carried by many great scholars and yogis, with great care taken to insure its accurate transmission. However, Geshe Kelsang has broken from that tradition and his students read only his own writings– the NKT claim that his books constitute the pure transmission of Tsongkhapa’s tradition in its entirety. Students are not required to read any of Tsongkhapa’s own major works. The Shugden community, led by NKT teachers, also claim that the Dalai Lama is threatening this tradition of Tsongkhapa and claim that he is an “enemy” of that tradition. (As an aside, I will point out that the Dalai Lama himself, though he has written many books, insists that his students read from all of the major texts that form the corpus of Tsongkhapa’s tradition. This includes all of Tsongkhapa’s writings.).
The drums and the insidious chant of the demonstrations certainly make me wonder if there isn’t some sort of hypnotic psychological ploy of mind control being used there. Sometimes I have witnessed a sort of hypnotic hilarity amongst protesters, sometimes a robotic monotony. For an outsider, the expressions on the protesters’ faces are very disturbing, making me wonder about the nature of Shugden practice itself. There is a teaching on line from a senior teacher stating that “faith in Shugden” is “ALL” that’s necessary to reach “enlightenment rapidly”. Such a claim sounds quite extraordinary to those of us in mainstream Buddhism, who have been taught that while faith can play an important role in practice, Buddhism is not a faith-based religion.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso claims essentially that the NKT is a pure form of Kadampa Buddhism and he has said on some occasions that this pure form is at risk because of the Dalai Lama (who they claim is an enemy of that pure form). Because his writings form the entirety of the NKT’s study program, he has therefore become something of a Messiah for the NKT’s mission of spreading “pure Kadampa Buddhism”. The mission is to save this Buddhist tradition.
This is a distinctive feature of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, placing him outside traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice. Even the most exalted Tibetan Buddhist teachers traditionally answer to others within their lineage and are accountable. Kelsang Gyatso was expelled from his mainstream monastery and now answers to no one for his actions or decisions.
I fear that there is a new set of ethical standards growing around the protests and within the NKT. I fear that protesters have become convinced that the end justifies the means and they are turning their backs on their own human decency and conscience.
On Feb. 5, roughly 100 people affiliated with the fringe sect of Buddhism that worships the spirit Dorje Shugden chanted slogans and waved signs denouncing the Dalai Lama outside the Hilton in downtown Washington, D.C. Inside the hotel, U.S. President Barack Obama was headlining the annual National Prayer Breakfast, and the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, was in attendance. One of the movement’s members handed me a flier; among other disparaging accusations, it claimed that the Dalai Lama is “the worst dictator in this modern day.” Another man, a 37-year-old Shugden follower from Washington state who declined to give his name, told me that the Dalai Lama might actually be a Muslim because he has not expressly claimed to be a Buddhist.
Dorje Shugden is an obscure trickster spirit, believed to have originated in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in the 17th century. And though the spirit’s followers in the Western world probably number only a few thousand, they’ve been surprisingly successful at generating attention for themselves and their campaign to discredit the Dalai Lama.
It’s unclear where the anti-Dalai Lama vitriol comes from, though it appears to have been a political move by Kelsang Gyatso, who saw it as a way to grow his influence.
Worshipping Dorje Shugden outside Tibet is a relatively new phenomenon, one that basically began in the early 1990s, when Kelsang Gyatso started the NKT. Inside Tibet, however, Dorje Shugden has long been a troublesome presence, almost like a Tibetan version of a mischievous trickster god — one whom some Tibetans have felt the need to propitiate. Dorje Shugden can be translated as “the powerful man with a thunderbolt.”
Besides protesting the Dalai Lama during his trips to the United States and Europe, Shugden followers produce websites filled with anti-Dalai Lama material and write and distribute pamphlets, articles, and books denouncing the Dalai Lama. Consider, for example, The False Dalai Lama: The Worst Dictator in the Modern World, published in October 2013.
The book describes its purpose as helping people to “understand the deceptive nature” of the Dalai Lama, who stands accused of “destroying pure Buddhism in this world.” If that weren’t enough, it depicts the Tibetan spiritual leader as a “Muslim” who is firmly in the grip of a “fascination with war and Nazism.”