New Kadampa Survivors

I just stumbled across an interesting ‘support group’ of sorts, called New Kadampa Survivors.

For those who don’t know, the New Kadampa tradition is a split off of the Geluks, the Dalai Lama’s school of Tibetan Buddhism. I was first exposed to them in 2004-2005, when I studied in Bristol, UK for my MA in Buddhist Studies. A professor there told me to “be wary” of them, as there were many questionable, cultish activities going on in their midst. I wound up going to a couple meditations offered by one of their young nuns; a woman who had only studied/practiced Buddhism for a couple years and had been ordained and put in a teaching role. Her faith was obvious, if not a bit glassy-eyed, and she knew her basics well enough, but I found the whole thing a bit odd. We listened to how great the group and leader were, had a short talk on the basics of Buddhism, a sharing session, and listened to inspirational music. I can’t say it was bad, but definitely not my style.

I should note I also attended the local Geluk center in Bristol then too. For different reasons it too didn’t really suit me, so I quit going.

When I studied the Dorje Shugden affair, referred to below, I couldn’t help but agree with H.H. the Dalai Lama’s actions. Shugden is a patently divisive figure who maybe had a place in Geluk practice in the tumultuous days of medieval Tibet, but not today as far as I can tell. I’ve had some friends attend the NKT over the years as well. Only one, I think, ever stayed with it and she didn’t ever care much about Shugden; the others I’ve spoken with didn’t even seem to know about him. Here’s a bit of a story similar to those I’ve heard.

As to whether NKT is dangerous or “bad,” I don’t know. See my recent post on “True Buddhism” for why I’m hesitant to pass such judgments. I’ve heard from several good sources that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s work on Shantideva, Meaningful to Behold: The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, is excellent and well worth reading. But I’m also very put off to see members of the NKT noisily protesting against H.H. the Dalai Lama in 2008 in London (and Australia, an Australian Sangha Association statement on that event).

Like my professor 7 years ago, I’d probably recommend that anyone interested in the NKT approach them with some caution. That’s probably great advice for any religious group, but to be honest, I’m much less concerned with students diving in to the teachings of Joseph Goldstein or Thich Nhat Hanh (MUCH less). The NKT has a lot to offer in terms of  Dharma philosophy and practice. But their is also a lot of divisiveness surrounding them that threatens to swallow up or overshadow all the good intentions and devout practice of their followers. See below.

Some of the NK Survivors group rules are:

1. No NKT propaganda is allowed

Most of us are aware of what is taught in the NKT. As such we know longer wish to be exposed to it.

2. No NKT members/followers/students are allowed.

If you are happy with the NKT, and have no desire to leave, this group is not for you. If you join anyway trying to post and try to get Yahoo to delete this group, we can only assume you are a troll trying to cause disharmony. Such people will be banned and removed at once from the group.

3. No debate of Dorje Shugden is allowed.

Everyone who was a member of the cult is welcome here. Including those who are for and against Dorje Shugden. Wherever Shugden’s name is mentioned a schism is soon to follow. In order to keep the harmony of the group no debate of Shugden is allowed.

Some websites:

Fake Buddhist Monks hit San Francisco
Buddhist leaders: sign to raise awareness of the psychological, spiritual, and moral effects of climate change
Intersections of Gender, Identity, and Buddhism: an interview with LGBTIQ meditation teacher La Sarmiento
Mapping Buddhism in America
  • Sean Robsville

    If you want to check out what the NKT is about without having to attend any of their meetings, then Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has just released his teachings in ebook format. There's lots of material there so you can have a look through and form your own opinions.

  • Buddhist_philosopher

    Thanks, Sean, for stopping by and for the link. I agree and hope others will read and explore for themselves before forming opinions. All my best, Jw

  • LazyBuddhist

    From my own ten year experience in the NKT, (some of which you have linked above), and my four years exploring other sources of dharma, I have found nothing wrong with the actual writings of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The books are really quite clearly written and accord with everything I’ve read since. However, in my humble opinion, the organization may come off as culty due to the unchecked zealotry of some of the practitioners and the evangelical imperative towards spreading the “pure dharma”. Which is why you end up with very inexperienced teachers because the rate of growth of the organization outweighs the ability to bring up experienced teachers. Also, there is a high burn-out rate because a lot is asked of dedicated practitioners in terms of running the centers and trying to find new areas in which to grow. For myself, I got a lot out of the organization for many years by strictly restricting my involvement to just the study programs. Once I got involved in teaching and running the center, I was able to see clearly the problems that were present at not just my center, but seemed to be endemic in the organization. So yes, I would agree with your assessment above – approach with caution, and may I add, some very healthy boundaries.

    • Justin Whitaker

      Many thanks for sharing your experience. It seems to run down the ‘middle’ of reports I have heard over the years – others ranging from strongly enthusiastic support for all aspects of the NKT to utter condemnation. Wishing you and others well in your journeys – jw

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  • Genju

    I practised with the NKT for about a year and found them a bit off. Gheshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books were a good source and I was very confused about the controversy around NKT. A bit naive, I guess. They attract a lot of good press here and lead meditations etc in the hospitals. Mostly, people don’t know the difference and I try not to stir the pot since they aren’t allowed to proselytize in health centers anyway. The folks who went to the center didn’t strike me as cultish as much as defensive about their practice. The zen center I went to for about 9 months was far more cultish and scary – especially when they locked the doors on the inside after everyone was in the zendo!

  • Mick

    The level of harm one can received within NKT depends on many factors,
    mainly the level of involvement and how much one makes the inner group
    doctrine to one’s own belief. In my case I wanted to become a Buddhist
    monk and looked for a place where I could become a Buddhist monk and
    live as a monk. Due to the strong presence and advertisement of the NKT
    groups I bumped into them. I had no one who warned me to be cautious.

    For four and a half years of deep commitment to NKT I needed four hard
    years of hard inner work to recover from that experience. I spoke with
    people who had periods of 7 to 10 years of confusion and suffering due
    to their deep involvement in NKT or who gave up Buddhism completely.

    The level of harm is especially high for NKT ordained people who form an
    important part of the “inner NKT circle”, and who are financially,
    emotionally as well as spiritually abused to form Kelsang Gyatso’s NKT
    empire at the cost of their inner balance, health and practice. Nuns
    have been also sexually abused by Kelsang Gyatso’s official successors
    without that he did much when complaints were raised to him – in the
    last case he instead accused the persons reporting sexual abuse by his
    deputy Gen Samden / S. Wass of “destroying the pure tradition”.

    There are two accounts by two NKT nuns that shed some light on the not so visible background and subtleties of manipulation:

    the article by Carol McQuire in “Realizing the Guru’s Intention: Hungry
    Humans and Awkward Animals in a New Kadampa Tradition Community”, Spiritual and Visionary Communities: Out to Save the World, Edited by Timothy Miller, Ashgate: 65-82.

    - and the videos by XtranormalBuddhist (the site seems not to work at the moment)