New Kadampa Tradition, Shugden and the Dangers of an Exclusivist Attitude

GUEST POST by Joanne Clark

Recently, I sat for long hours throughout the night and day beside my mother’s bed as she lay dying. I sang her hymns. I read her verses from the bible. My mala was around my wrist, ready, but it remained mostly unused. Instead, I entered my mother’s devout Christian world in order to better help her. Not only did this give her comfort, it comforted me as well to know that she could be helped. I felt a strong gratitude towards Christianity for that fact.

Unfortunately, this was not the case eleven years before, when I sat beside my father’s deathbed. All I could do then was recite mantra. I lacked the courage and insight to see what he might find comforting and what his unique needs were. I dared not enter his theistic world to better help him die and provide him comfort—because I was Buddhist. I was exclusively Buddhist, “pure” Buddhist, born-again, Kagyu Buddhist. I had taken a vow to help all sentient beings, down to the smallest insect, until every one is totally helped—yet I lacked a perspective broad enough to help my own father.

I was also psychologically damaged at that time, a cult-follower. I dressed, acted, decorated my house and spoke in ways that divorced me from my family and friends. I thought in ways that divorced me from my greater intelligence. My life had become narrowed to a single, totalistic view of the world, a simplistic menu of mantra, devotion and puja practice—nothing like the vast expanse of the Buddha’s wisdom—of Nagarjuna and Tsongkhapa’s teachings. I did not read or commune with any views outside of my single Tibetan Buddhist lineage of the time. I was a nice person, but I was unprepared for reality, unable to help a soul. This is what I call cultism—and sectarianism—at their very worst.

When I turned away from my last Dharma center and decided to study and practice in exile, through the guidance of HH Dalai Lama, it took me many years to break free of that exclusivist, narrow outlook. I wanted one practice, one thought, one “pure tradition” that would help me get better. Instead, I found myself in a nuanced, multi-dimensional, contextual, complex reality—the Buddha’s reality. There was this approach to a bad day—and that approach—and yet another approach still. I kept my vows and commitments strictly, but I discovered that they also were vast and inclusive of many realities and approaches. This new outlook became the source of my mental health and my ability finally to sit beside my mother’s deathbed and provide some small assistance in her greatest time of need.

In this context, whenever I hear protestors accusing the Dalai Lama of limiting their religious freedom, I am always shocked. That is very far from my own experience! The Dalai Lama’s approach to dharma gave me back my religious freedom—it freed me from deep biases and exclusivism. In those dark, early days of my recovery, the words that penetrated most deeply were his instructions to “read more books,” to “become a 21st century Buddhist,” to “know the reality” and “study, study, study.” By this, he did not mean his own books—he meant the texts by the Nalanda scholars and Buddha himself and many other great Buddhist scholars, such as Kamalashila and Tsongkhapa. He also meant books by scientists and leaders of other religions. He meant that we live in a world of mass communication and interdependence and it is no longer appropriate or wise or compassionate to hide away and practice in a narrow, exclusive reality.

Recently, my courage in this regard was challenged when I found myself engaged in debate with bloggers on the website Dialogue Ireland. The comments there were full of vitriol and venom towards my teacher, the Dalai Lama, accusing him of deceit and evil intentions, of being the mastermind of a great conspiracy to take over the minds of millions of human beings. They called him a “lamaist cult leader.” Despite the fact that their comments were mostly silly, illogical and childish, they seemed to have a momentum and power and so I took upon myself the job of checking on their allegations to see if they contained any truth.

I read widely. I read Tibetan history according to legitimate mainstream scholars—and also according to biased reports such as the Trimondis, Chinese propaganda and Dalai Lama devotees. I read from the Dalai Lama’s autobiographies. I read from the websites that were quoted on Dialogue Ireland. I discovered that their allegations were all either complete fabrications, statements and facts taken out of context, or flagrant exaggerations.

Later, I discovered that there was a strong possibility these commenters had some connection to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso—because he was the only Tibetan Buddhist lama they refused to criticize. So I started reading his books as well. I have been surprised to find within them an exclusivist approach to the Dharma that is very different from the approach of my own teacher. So today I am asking how far that exclusivism goes? I ask if those protestors shouting themselves hoarse outside a Dalai Lama teaching would allow themselves the freedom to do as I am doing? Would they read the Dalai Lama’s two autobiographies? Would they read his Buddhist teachings and books on secular topics? Would they attend his conferences with scientists and religious leaders? Would they read histories of Tibet by peer-reviewed scholars? If not, how can they give themselves the right to shout?

Last October, I attended a teaching with the Dalai Lama in New York city. While waiting in line, I was subjected to a small band of protestors, shouting over and over “Dalai Lama go home.” I smiled to myself, thinking how silly that sounded, thinking to myself, “The Dalai Lama would love to go home.” But then I noticed the elderly Tibetan woman in front of me. She looked hurt and bewildered by the shouting. I wondered about her life in Tibet before leaving, whether she had suffered badly. I wondered whether she had family still in Tibet whom she worried about.

I write this only to remind Shugden protestors that reality is much bigger than their one narrow view, that there are suffering human beings involved and so, it is their duty to read widely and objectively—to know all the details and complexities of the reality they are claiming to know.

In this context, I question the exclusivist approach to dharma being taken within the NKT study program. I question its potential danger to students and to others. I question whether it is realistic—or does it limit students’ ability to help others and honor their bodhisattva vows? With only one teacher interpreting the entire Buddhist canon, with very few exceptions, I believe that the NKT study program risks being biased and dangerously limited. In his commentary on Lamrim, Geshe Kelsang writes:

If possible, we should study Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way and Chandrakirti’s Guide to the Middle Way together with their commentaries, especially the commentaries by Je Tsongkhapa. A commentary to the Guide to the Middle Way can be found in the book Ocean of Nectar [by Geshe Kelsang himself]. The texts by Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti are like doors that open the meaning of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, and Je Tsongkhapa’s texts are like keys to those doors. However, if we cannot study so extensively we should study and practice according to the following Lamrim instructions because they contain the essential meaning of all the other great texts. (p. 518)

Given that “the following Lamrim instructions” are Geshe Kelsang’s own interpretation of Lamrim, and given that he lists another of his commentaries in the list of important texts students should read, it would seem that he is telling students that his teachings are sufficient and all that they need to read in order to tread on the Buddhist path.

I have never read such a statement from any teacher before. One trouble with this statement is that it might easily feed laziness and wrong views in a practitioner. For example, we in the West are prone to searching for that quick fix, that pill, that easy, cheap, fast path to enlightenment. If someone says we don’t need to work as hard as Milarepa or other great masters of the past, we might not want to argue!

I have learned from hard experience myself that the greatest, most precious of freedoms is the freedom to be informed. The first step in any totalitarian effort, whether of governments or cults, is to limit access to information. This can be blatant or very subtle—externally imposed or internally imposed. Robert Lifton (1986), who is still quoted today in discussions about cultic characteristics in groups, listed “milieu control” as the first of eight such characteristics:

  1. Milieu Control.  This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

Ex-NKT students claim that milieu control exists in the NKT culture. They say that it is subtle in the early years of students’ involvement, but by the time a student becomes a teacher, the milieu control is blatant and rigid. They claim that teachers are not allowed to study from texts other than Geshe Kelsang’s prescribed texts—and are expelled if they bring texts from outside into NKT premises. Is that true?  I cannot judge myself, but I think NKT students need to ask it—again and again.

Recently, I read a comment by an NKT student on this website which alarmed me:

… the Heart Commitment of Dorje Shugden is to follow one tradition purely without mixing while respecting everyone else’s spiritual path as appropriate for them. So individually, we choose to not mix, but externally we respect everyone’s freedom to practice as they wish.

Is this true? What does it mean to make this “Heart Commitment” (with capital letters) and not mix? I would ask Shugden worshippers if this heart commitment means any of the following:

  • Not reading the texts or scriptures from other religious traditions.
  • Not singing hymns or chanting from another tradition in order to provide comfort to another human being or bring a spirit of religious tolerance within one’s community.
  • Not finding out about other Buddhist traditions, such as other Tibetan Buddhist lineages, Zen, Theravada etc., in order to deepen one’s own understanding and ability to help others.
  • Not investigating the words of one’s teacher and being prepared to question them if necessary.
  • Not doing any of these things because of fear. Not reading a Nyingma text or a text by the Dalai Lama because the thought of doing so brings fear.

If Shugden supporters answer yes, would that be milieu control? Is the NKT approach to dharma exclusive and sectarian? Here is another passage from Geshe Kelsang’s commentary on Lamrim, that demonstrates his perspective on this:

If we know how to practice the whole Lamrim, we shall know how to practice all other scriptures. Whenever we receive any other teaching, we shall know where to place it within Lamrim. In this way, each new instruction we receive will amplify and reinforce those we have already learnt. Suppose someone is given a handful of rice that he or she cannot use immediately.  If that person has nowhere to store the rice he will not be able to put it to good use and will have to throw it away, but if he has built a storeroom to hold bags of different cereals he will be able to put the rice in the appropriate bag and increase his store. When the time is right he will be able to put the rice to good use. Lamrim is like such a storeroom.  For example, Hinayana teachings can be stored amongst the stages of the path of a person of intermediate scope. Mahayana teachings can be stored amongst the stages of the path of a person of great scope, Vajrayana teachings can be stored amongst the stages of Secret Mantra within Lamrim, teachings on dependent relationship and the middle way can be stored within the stage of superior seeing, and so forth. Without studying the entire Lamrim we may receive many different instructions and still be wondering what to do, like a person standing with a handful of rice wondering where to put it. If we are like this, we shall waste most of the instructions we receive.

Indeed, this simile lays a broad outline for Lamrim, one that could easily incorporate a non-sectarian and inclusive approach to dharma practice and study. However, in the next paragraph, Geshe Kelsang narrows this perspective down dramatically:

While the great Tibetan Master Kyabje Phabongkha was living in Kham in eastern Tibet, a Geshe arrived there from one of the great Gelug monasteries and went to receive practical instructions from a Nyingma Lama. The local people concluded that the Gelugpas had no practice since such a great Geshe needed to go looking for one. When Kyabje Phabongkha heard of this he said that it was a great shame that this Geshe had wasted so many years of instruction by failing to realize that all his previous study was to be put into practice. It was possible for the Geshe to lose so much time because he had not built the storeroom of Lamrim within his own mind. (p. 21)

Would Tsongkhapa agree with such a sectarian division carved into Lamrim? Though he was often critical of unethical practices within other lineages, he himself studied and received vows from teachers of different Tibetan Buddhist lineages. In fact, Atisha’s lineage of Lamrim spread throughout Tibet and not only to the Gelug lineage. HH Dalai Lama states in his commentary on Lamrim Chenmo:

Following Atisha’s arrival in Tibet and composition of the Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, each of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism in some way adopted the pattern and structure of the stages of the path teachings. For example, in the Nyingma tradition, Longchenpa’s Mind at Ease presents the path in a way that follows the basic structure of Atisha’s approach. The same is true of Sakya Pandita’s Clear Elucidation of the Buddha’s Intent, which could be seen as a fusion of the stages of the path teachings with mind-training (lojong) teachings. Similarly, in the Kagyu tradition, Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation presents the basic structure of the path in a manner just like what Atisha lays out. Sometimes, slightly different sequences are adopted, but basically in all of these traditions the stages of the path are very similar. For example, the Jewel Ornament of Liberation speaks of turning one’s mind away from four things.  If you look at these four turnings of the mind, they echo teachings in the stages of the path tradition. (p.20)

Historically, it has been a tradition among Tibetan masters to study and also to practice all the lineages—Sakya, Kagyu, Gelug, Nyingma—and Jonang as well. This is an excellent model. We should adopt a nonsectarian approach, not just studying all of these lineages but also putting all of their teachings into practice. (p. 24)

Why couldn’t the great, inclusive “storehouse” of Lamrim that Geshe Kelsang describes be used to store “grains” from other religious traditions? Why does he use the simile to exclude? Here is what Tsongkhapa says in Lamrim Chenmo about how inclusive students need to be in their practice:

Bodhisattvas make it their goal to accomplish the good of the world [all living beings]. Since bodhisattvas must take care of students who are followers of all three lineages [those of sravakas, pratyekabuddhas, and bodhisattvas], they must train in the paths of these lineages…

By stating, ‘Those benefactors of beings who accomplish the good of the world through the knowledge of paths…’ Ajita indicates in the Ornament for Clear Knowledge that knowing the paths of the three vehicles is the method for bodhisattvas to achieve the goal they have set. Also the Mother of Conquerors [The Eighteen-Thousand-Verse Perfection of Wisdom Sutra] says:

Bodhisattvas should produce all paths—whatever is the path of a sravaka, a pratyekabuddha,or a Buddha—and should know all paths. They should also perform the deeds of these paths and bring all of them to completion. (Vol. 1: pp. 46-47)

This is in line with the words of HH Dalai Lama, who states,

… Tsong-kha-pa cites many texts, including the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, where the Buddha states that a practitioner must study, understand and actually practice all aspects of the path. If you really aspire to help many billions of living beings with diverse mental dispositions, then you have to understand and practice many diverse teachings and approaches. This is what prepares you.

Later in his commentary on Tsongkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo, His Holiness furthers his inclusive and pluralistic viewpoint by quoting from the Buddha:

For example, in Lankavatara sutra, (Descending Into Lanka sutra), there is a statement where the Buddha identifies various types of vehicles and he calls them the vehicles of the celestial beings, vehicles of the humans, and vehicles of the disciples, vehicles of the bodhisattvas and so on– and where the point is made that as long as there would exist, among the sentient beings, tremendous diversity of mental dispositions and spiritual inclinations, there will evolve tremendously diverse forms of vehicles, spiritual vehicles. So in this sutra, the spirit of pluralism is very clearly presented. (Day Four am: HH Dalai Lama; Teaching on Tsongkhapa’s Great Treatises on the Stages of the Path; 2008, Pennsylvania, USA

The Dalai Lama bases his nonsectarian, inclusive approach on quotes from the Buddha and Tsongkhapa. Where are the scriptural sources for the heart commitment of Shugden? Where are the scriptural sources for the claim that Shugden is a Buddha and not a mundane spirit? If one looks at the bibliographies provided in the three volumes of Tsongkhapa’s great text on Lamrim, one will find pages and pages, listing a great number of sources. However, if one looks at the bibliography of Geshe Kelsang’s commentary on Lamrim, one will find only book titles from Tharpa Publications—only books (with one exception) that are authored by Geshe Kelsang himself! Is this a subtle milieu control?

HH Dalai Lama’s main objection to the worship of Shugden is that it promotes sectarianism. NKT claim that they are not sectarian, that they practice “one tradition purely” while respecting others’ rights to practice as they please. Sectarianism is a big term, one that includes many meanings, such as partisanship, exclusivism and prejudice. Here, I have primarily focused on its meaning of exclusivism, in order to start addressing the issue in meaningful ways. I suggest that respecting others’ rights to practice as they please is limited if it does not include the freedom to share, understand and learn about others’ traditions. When you don’t permit yourself to better understand and experience another person’s reality, then it is difficult to do anything but lip service to the idea of respecting his/her religion. It is also difficult to benefit that being!

Ignorance in our world is clearly the source of intolerance, sectarian violence and hatred. Without full access to knowledge about other religions and cultures, intolerance and sectarianism cannot be combatted. This is my belief, gained through hard experience. By all means, it is important for us to embrace our own religious traditions fully and single-pointedly. However, doing this cannot be done in a narrow chamber. It cannot be done at the expense of broad knowledge and understanding. Otherwise, over time, prejudice and bias creep in and real trouble starts.

So my question to NKT students is finally this: If your mother was a devoted Nyingma practitioner, would you be able to help her if she needed you? Would your heart commitment to Dorje Shugden allow you to step into the role of a true bodhisattva and chant her Nyingma mantras and prayers?

The Dalai Lama Responds to the Protests: Sectarianism and Shugden Worship

With respect to virtue, act in accord with the gurus’ words, but do not act in accord with the gurus’ words with respect to nonvirtue. – Buddha¹

Through taking sides the mind is distressed, Whereby you will never know peace. – Bhavaviveka²

If you are partisan, you will be obstructed by your bias and will not recognize good qualities. Because of this, you will not discover the meaning of good teachings. – Tsongkhapa³

The following extract has been taken from the Dalai Lama’s commentary on Tsonkhapa’s Lamrim Chenmo:

Avoiding the Error of Rejecting Buddha’s Teachings

“Tsong-kha-pa (I: 53-54) identifies the final greatness of the stages of the path approach as its preventing the grave error of rejecting the Buddha’s teachings, rejecting the Dharma. Here, Tsong-kha-pa cites many texts, including the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, where the Buddha states that a practitioner must study, understand and actually practice all aspects of the path. If you really aspire to help many billions of living beings with diverse mental dispositions, then you have to understand and practice many diverse teachings and approaches. This is what prepares you.

“Historically it has been the tradition among Tibetan masters to study and also to practice all the lineages—Sakya, Gagyu, Geluk, Nyingma—and Jonang as well. This is an excellent model. We should adopt a nonsectarian approach, not just studying all of these lineages but also putting their teachings into practice.

“Question: Your Holiness, I feel agitated to see and hear the Shugden protestors outside the building here. How do I help myself? Please address this issue as many are uninformed about this.

“Answer: We have had this problem for 370 years. It started during the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama. And from 1951 until the 1970’s, I myself worshipped this spirit. I used to be one of the practitioners!

“One of my reasons for abandoning Shugden worship is that much of my efforts are directed toward promoting nonsectarianism—especially within Tibetan Buddhism. I always encourage people to receive teachings from the teachers of diverse traditions. This is like the Fifth Dalai Lama and many other great lamas, who received teachings within many traditions.  Since the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, down to today, I have been practicing this way myself.

“A Nyingma teacher, Khunu Lama Rinpoche, initially gave me teachings on Shantideva’s texts. This lama was very nonsectarian, having received innumerable teachings from many different traditions. After this, I wanted to receive from this great lama a certain teaching distinct to the Nyingma tradition. I asked my tutor, Ling Rinpoche, pointing out that I had already received some teachings from this lama, but I now wanted to receive teachings on an important Nyingma tantric text.

“Ling Rinpoche was a little bit cautious about this because of Shugden. He never worshipped the spirit but he was cautious about it. (My other tutor, Trijang Rinpoche, was very close to this spirit practice.) The rumor that was circulating was that if a Geluk lama takes teachings in the Nyingma tradition, Shugden would destroy him. Ling Rinpoche was a bit frightened for me and he really warned me to be careful. The Shugden worshippers have a tradition that one must be extremely strict about one’s own distinctive Geluk tradition.

“Actually, I think this standpoint deprives people of religious freedom, preventing them from taking other teachings. In practice, discouraging a standpoint that deprives people of the freedom to choose is actually an affirmation of religious freedom. A double negation is an affirmation.

“Around 1970, I was reading the life stories of many great lamas, mainly of the Geluk tradition. I had the idea that if Shugden is truly reliable, then most of the great lamas who tutored the Dalai Lamas must have practiced Shugden worship. It turns out that this is not the case. So I developed some doubt and the more I investigated, the clearer it became.

“For example, the Fifth Dalai Lama very explicitly explains his position vis-à-vis the worship of this spirit [Two sources are cited here, from autobiographical works of the Fifth Dalai Lama—see below]. He explains what it is and he explains the causes and conditions that gave rise to it. He describes the destructive functions of this particular spirit. He says that it arose from misguided motivation and that as a spirit it manifests as a violator of a pledge. According to the Fifth Dalai Lama, its function is to harm both the Buddhist doctrine and living beings.

“Once I realized these things, it was my moral responsibility to make the facts clear. Whether you listen to me is entirely up to you as an individual. From the outset, I told both Tibetans and some of our other friends what I had come to understand. They are free to listen to my advice or not. It is an individual right to accept religion or not to accept it. Accepting this religion or that religion is entirely up to the individual.

“My opinion is that Shugden worship is actually not a genuine practice of Dharma; it is simply worship of a worldly spirit. This is another aspect of the problem: from what I have taught, I think you can see that Tibetan Buddhism is a continuation of the pure lineage of the Nalanda tradition, which relies on reasoning, not blind belief. So it is very sad that certain Tibetan practices could cause this profound and rich tradition to become a sort of spirit worship.

“Both the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Thirteenth Dalai Lama were gravely critical toward this spirit. Since I am considered the reincarnation of these Dalai Lamas, it is only logical that my life should follow theirs. One could say that it proves that I am a true reincarnation!

“It seems that these people outside are really fond of worshipping this spirit. OK, it is their life; I have no problem if that is what they want to do. When I taught in Germany a group of Shugden followers shouted for at least three or four hours.  Eventually I felt great concern about how their throats would be affected by so much shouting.” (pp. 24-26)


¹ Buddha in Cloud of Jewels Sutra/ Ratna-megha-sutra, as quoted by Lama Tsongkhapa in Lamrim Chenmo, English translation, p. 82

² Madhyamaka-hrdaya, quoted in Lam Rim Chen Mo by Tsongkhapa

³ Tsongkhapa in Lam Rim Chen Mo


Dalai Lama, (Translated and edited by Guy Newland); 2012; From Here to Enlightenment: An Introduction to Tsong-kha-pa’s Classic Text, The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment; Snowlion Publications; Boston, MA.

Fifth Dalai Lama, Collected Works, vol. Ha, pp. 423-424, as well as the Fifth’s autobiography.

Tsong-kha-pa, (Translated by The Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee) 2000; The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment: Lamrim Chenmo; Snowlion Publications, Ithaca, NY.

GUEST POST by Joanne Clark
two quotes from Lam Rim Chen Mo added by tenpel

Tibet & Wikipedia

You might have noticed that this blog demonstrated already how Wikipedia articles are manipulated. But the post touched only the specific case of Dorje Shugden.

There is by far more to say about this. Also Chinese editors manipulate Wikipedia, especially with respect to Tibet related articles and they try to bring them in line with Chinese propaganda. The Tibetologist, Prof. Dr. Dieter Schuh, from the International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies GmbH, tried to improve articles about Tibet in the German Wikipedia but he gave finally up, not without stating on his website that Wikipedia should have a warning on the first page:

Much of the information in Wikipedia are wrong and need improvements. Your use so at your own risk!

Based on my own experiences of manipulations in Wikipedia I wrote recently an article about “Wikipedia & Tibet” for a German Buddhist magazine, Tibet und Buddhismus, which became one of their featured articles. (The online version is here.) So far I have not seen anything written in English about this topic, that’s why I am happy to share with you the following information and call which was spread via an email list. The writer is an Injie teacher of web development in McLeod Ganj and he gave permission to post it here.

line-gothicDear Tibetans and Tibet supporters:

This morning i went looking on Wikipedia for an article to summarize the Tibet uprising, to add to “related info” section for a Tibet Sun story. I was unable to find an objective, factual article there. PRC minions have been busy — and more careful, less blatant.

I used to do editing on Wikipedia, and try to counter this stuff, but i am not expert enough on Tibetan affairs to qualify for doing this kind of editing. Also, thanks to the Great Leap Forward of Tibetans here in tech level and needs, i have had to confine myself to my core mandate: teach tech.

How often is Wikipedia your first stop when you want to find out about something? Well then, it is often other people’s first stop when they want to know about Tibet. And what they are often getting is the viewpoint of the PRC.

How important is this? It seems to be important enough to the PRC side, for them to put a lot of effort into it, and probably money also. If you think it is important too, and you want help learning how to edit Wikipedia, i will repeat my yearly offer: I am exotically happy to teach anyone how to edit Wikipedia; to act as technical advisor during edits — whatever is needed on the technical, “how to” end.

Here is one collection of resources for those “how-tos”:

I have made this offer in the past, received enthusiastic responses … and each time the whole thing faded away. I don’t mind, there are many other ways to learn Wikipedia. But since the Tibet articles continue to deteriorate, i think noone (except the PRC) is doing it at all. I feel like the chicken in that story: “Who wants some fresh-baked bread?” Well, everyone does until they find out they have to plant wheat, feed cow, mix, knead, and bake.

Yes, editing Wikipedia is hard. It takes a lot of time and attention. (Ooo, do you hear that faint humming in the background? It is my tiny little violin playing a sad song for you! ) Can we who are blessed with a little more health, time, and resources, match the efforts of those inside Tibet?

thank you

  Last edited by tenpel on March 13, 2014 at 3:58 pm

The NKT and Its Relationship With Truth: Should People in Glass Houses Throw Stones?

GUEST POST by Joanne Clark

Several months ago, I posted an article on this blog revealing significant flaws in the Tharpa Publications’ translation of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva. I gave examples of verses in which the Tharpa translation not only differs significantly from other translations, but also is at odds with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s own commentary on that text. In fact, I found forty-eight such verses! In another ten verses I found discrepancies between the Tharpa translation and other translations that were not at odds with Geshe Kelsang. In the comment section following my post, no one seemed particularly concerned about this trouble—and it appears that NKT students and establishment are not concerned either. So in the interests of bringing high quality Dharma to the West, I would like to bring this subject up once more!

Shortly after I posted the article, I wrote to Tharpa Publications myself and told them of these problems. I have received no response from this email and at this moment, months later (8:27 AM, March 12, 2014), Tharpa still proudly displays this statement on their website, advertising their own (seriously flawed) translation of the text:

Composed in the 8th century by the famous Indian Buddhist master Shantideva, this new translation, made under the guidance of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, conveys the great lucidity and poetic beauty of the original, while preserving its full impact and spiritual insight. Reading these verses slowly, while contemplating their meaning, has a profoundly liberating effect on the mind. The poem invokes special positive states of mind, moves us from suffering and conflict to happiness and peace, and gradually introduces us to the entire Mahayana Buddhist path to enlightenment. (see here)

In case NKT readers doubt the accuracy of my own research, I have provided a verse-by-verse examination below. Perhaps this will save Tharpa translators some trouble and they can get started on the important work of fixing the text! That was my initial motivation in contacting them. Now I also want to inquire why they show so little concern for the truth? Why they proudly advertise the authenticity of a text that might have flaws?

The silence of Tharpa reminds me forcibly of conversations I have had on the website Dialogue Ireland with individuals who have been maliciously maligning the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan Buddhist lamas—in fact, they are maligning all lamas except for Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Their vitriol and anger reminds me of what I see reflected on the faces of those NKT and Shugden protestors outside of Dalai Lama events.  When I first read the DI comments, they were written with such force and conviction that I was a little frightened they might be true. It challenged my faith. However, I forced myself to investigate. I forced myself to stay true to myself and not let fear govern my actions. I read peer-reviewed histories of Tibet. I read biased histories of Tibet. I read the writings of the Trimondis. I read Communist Chinese propaganda. I also happen to know quite a bit about the activities of HH Dalai Lama myself because he is my teacher and I study from him daily— but I read more of his books and his autobiographies. I listened to Mind and Life Conferences.

The result of my investigation did not particularly surprise me. I discovered that every malicious allegation made by commenters on DI that I investigated was either an outright falsehood, a careless error, an exaggeration, a mis-translation, a complete fabrication, or a quote or fact taken totally out of context.  What’s more, whenever I exposed a falsity or fabrication, I was called a “lamaist cult follower” and the truth of my statement was completely ignored.  This was my first direct experience of this anti-Dalai Lama machine, being initiated by Chinese and Shugden propaganda—and carried forward, it seems, by NKT students.

It seems that my comment to Tharpa was received in the same manner—it was simply disregarded as non-important, probably on the basis of my identity as a devotee of the Dalai Lama—and they simply continued business as usual. This surprised me. Even in the context of simple, proper business conduct, such allegations are usually investigated. I believe that any other publisher would at least reply to my email and investigate the trouble. Further, as a Buddhist practitioner, I find Tharpa’s disregard for the accuracy of their translation of this most sacred of texts to be disturbing at best.

Perhaps this is like translating a Tibetan word with no clear, exact English equivalent into one evocative word—BAN—and writing it on posters and placards to insight protest. These protestors are the same students who are given a flawed translation of an ancient Buddhist scripture and told that it “conveys the great lucidity and poetic beauty of the original, while preserving its full impact and spiritual insight.” Is this deception?

Recently, I have been reading commentaries by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and comparing them to those by my own teacher, HH Dalai Lama. This exercise has been very beneficial to my practice and has deepened my own understanding of Dharma. It has also deepened my faith in the Dalai Lama, whose approach to the Dharma is truly quite remarkable. Is there an NKT student anywhere who would do the same, who would study from HH Dalai Lama in order to investigate how his approach differs from and coincides with the approach being taken by their own lama? Would they ever challenge their faith—in order to make it firm? If not, how can NKT students justify their actions outside Dalai Lama teachings?

Recently, I read a news article from San Francisco in which protestors told the media that they were protesting against the Dalai Lama’s “lavish lifestyle.” I wondered if someone had decided that the Shugden issue wouldn’t sit as well with Western media as this familiar Western issue of “lavish lifestyles of the rich and famous”. Of course, I cannot know what formed the basis of that new idea. But I ask the NKT protestors who spoke to the media if they have ever actually investigated the Dalai Lama’s lifestyle? Are they aware that he accepts no money for teaching? Are they aware of how much he donates to charities? Have they walked through his modest home in India? Are they aware that he wakes at 3:30 am to practice and meditate and study and eats little if any dinner?

When I first began commenting on this website, I discovered an error in a post written by Tenzin, the website owner. In my first comment, I exposed this error. Tenzin’s response was immediate. He investigated, apologized and revised his post. I believe that this does not simply demonstrate Tenzin’s good and honest character—it also demonstrates that he is a sincere practitioner of Dharma. In my little understanding of Buddhist study and practice, students learn to challenge their own beliefs and attitudes constantly in order to deepen their understanding and remain true to themselves.  Is this lacking in the approaches being taken within NKT? Why is Tharpa silent?  It seems that until they can clean up their own house, until they can have the courage to acknowledge and then fix their own errors, they have no right to sit in judgment on the Dalai Lama. They have no right to call him a liar.

Last October, I attended a teaching on the Heart Sutra by HH Dalai Lama in New York City. While I was waiting in line outside Beacon Theater, there was a small band of protestors shouting “Dalai Lama go home!”

I remember smiling to myself and thinking how silly that sounded and thinking, “The Dalai Lama would love to go home!” But then I looked at the face of the elderly Tibetan woman in front of me. She looked hurt and confused. I wondered about the life of that woman, whether she had suffered much in Tibet and whether she had family there still whom she worried over. And then I looked at the red-faced protestors and wondered if they ever gave a thought to Tibetans being human beings. If they ever wondered about the suffering Tibetans had endured in Tibet. Did they ever stop to understand how important the Dalai Lama is to Tibetans, how he inspires them and helps them to maintain hope in the face of terrible tragedy?

I believe that most NKT students are caring, decent Dharma practitioners who would never intentionally harm others. In this context, I simply want to call on them to investigate before their next protest.  Find out where truth lies. Find out if Tibetans have suffered badly at the hands of Chinese. Find out if they deserve to be maligned and abused any further.  Find out if the Dalai Lama is a horrible demon—or simply a religious leader who takes his responsibilities seriously and has made a controversial decision based on information and reasons.  Investigate, investigate. And please, fix the Shantideva translation! Clean your own house before you throw stones at another!

Verses About Which GKG Concords With Padmarkara Translation Group and Not Neil Elliott

(49 Verses)

Some of these discrepancies might seem minor and insignificant to Western eyes. Some are clearly large and important. However, I cannot possibly presume myself capable of distinguishing between which words of Shantideva’s are important enough to be translated exactly and which are not really very important. I can only hope that the translations being made into modern English stay as close as they possibly can to the original intention of Shantideva—and leave it to the great masters to make commentaries on the entire meanings.

Sometimes it has seemed to me as if Neil Elliott is interpreting based on what he believes to be Shantideva’s intended meaning—instead of translating the actual Tibetan or Sanskrit words. This is most probably what accounts for the important discrepancy in Verse 2 in Chapter One. Sometimes, Neil Elliott even decides to add some poetic flourishes of his own, adding his own simile or descriptive phrase.  This I find disturbing.

I did my best to copy these verses exactly as I have found them. However, I am bound to have made typos and errors and for these I apologize.

Chapter One:

Verse 2:


“…My reason for writing this is to benefit others…” (p. 5)

Padmakara Translation Group (PTG):

“I thereby have no thought that this might be of benefit to others…” (p.33).

GKG’s commentary: “Also, since he has no skill in the art of rhetoric or poetry, he has no intention of benefitting others who have already understood the teachings of Buddha.” (p. 14)

Chapter Two:

Verse 34-35


“…I have committed many kinds of evil action
With respect to my friends and others.”
And yet my friends will become nothing
And others will also become nothing…” (p.20)


“… for the sake of friend and foe alike,
Provoked and brought about so many evils.”
“My enemies at length will cease to be;
My friends and I myself
Will cease to be…” (p. 44)


“… Out of my ignorance, I committed much non-virtue for the sake of my relatives and friends, and did much evil trying to destroy my foes… I understand now that my enemies, my relatives and friends, and even myself will all eventually pass away and become as nothing… ” (p.80)

Chapter Five: Many errors by Tharpa

Verse 35:


“… But always with a resolute mind,
Be mindful of my gaze.” (p.52)


“…But rather with a focused mind
Will always go with eyes cast down.” (p. 67)


…”We should cast our eyes downwards and look at the ground on which we are about to tread…” (186)

Verse 37:


“To avoid dangers or accidents on the path,
I should occasionally look in all directions,
And prevent my mind from being distracted
By relying upon conscientiousness.” (p. 53)


“And yet, to spy the dangers on the road,
I’ll scrutinize the four directions one by one.
And when I stop to rest, I’ll turn my head
And look behind me, back along my path.” (p.67)


“[37] As we continue walking, we should occasionally look in the four directions to be certain there are no dangers or obstacles.” (p. 186)

Verse 45:

Tharpa: “Whenever I listen to any sort of talk
Whether pleasant or unpleasant
Or observe attractive or unattractive people,
I should prevent attachment or hatred towards them.” (p. 54)

PTG: “And if by chance you must take part
In lengthy conversations worthlessly
Of if you come upon sensational events,
Then cast aside delight and taste for them.” (p. 68)

GKG commentary: “…when we are associating with people engaged in senseless chatter or when we are watching a spectacle or a drama, we should keep our mind free from all attachment.” (p. 190)

Verse 46

Tharpa: “If for no reason I begin to perform actions
That cause damage to the environment
I should recall Buddha’s advice
And, out of respect, stop straightaway. (p. 54)

PTG: “If you find you’re grubbing in the soil
Of pulling up the grass or tracing idle patterns on the ground,
Remembering the teachings of the Blissful One
In fear, restrain yourself at once.” (p.68)

GKG: [46] Unless there is some purpose for our doing so, we should not dig the earth, cut the grass, draw patterns on the ground or engage in any other meaningless activity. We should recall the advice of the enlightened beings, bring to mind the heavy consequences of mindlessness and refrain from all senseless actions.” (p. 190)

Verse 59: The setting in this and following verses is a Charnal ground—and there are references to vultures and jackals eating the flesh as a means to diminishing attachment to the body. The Tharpa translation misses the references to Charnal grounds completely—whereas both GKG and PTG keep that context.

Tharpa: “If mind, you are concerned
About death taking this body from you
And its being burned or buried beneath the ground,
Why do you cherish it so now?” (p. 56)

PTG: ‘When vultures with their love of flesh
Are tugging at this body all around
Small will be the joy you get from it, O mind!
Why are you so besotted with it now?” (p. 70)

GKG commentary: “Why do I cherish this body so strongly? Why do I guard it and think that it is mine? When death separates us from our physical form, we shall depart alone without friends. Who will guard our body then? …Who will inherit our body once we have died? In some countries the discarded body becomes a banquet for vultures and jackals…” (p.198)

Verse 60: I see no reference in any translation of the body being “borrowed from others” and don’t know what it means—is it an addition from Elliott?

Tharpa: “Why, mind, do you hold this body as mine
And grasp it with such affection?
It is only borrowed from others
And will soon be taken from you.” (p.57)

PTG: “Why, O mind, do you protect this body,
Claiming it as though it were yourself?
You and it are each a separate entity,
However can it be of use to you?” (p. 70)

GKG: “We are not the same as our body and soon we shall be separated from it. Therefore, is there any meaning or purpose in protecting and being attached to it?” (p. 199)

Verse 66: And once again, Elliott misses the reference to charnal grounds:

Tharpa: “It is suitable to protect it and care for it
Only for attaining spiritual goals—
This body of a human being
Should be used just for practicing Dharma.” (p. 57)

PTG: As second best, it may indeed be kept
As food to feed the vulture and the fox.
The value of this human form
Lies only in the way that it is used. (p. 71)

Stephen Batchelor: “At second best it is only fit to be guarded
In order to feed the vultures and jackals.
(Truly) this body of a human being
Should only be employed (in the practice of virtue). (p.45)

GKG: “…Perhaps the only reason we are guarding our body is to be able to feed it to the vultures and jackals later on. The only reason for us to be protective of our bodies is if we are going to use it for the practice of virtue.” (p.200)

Verse 67:

Tharpa: “But if you guard it for other purposes
What will you be able to do
When the merciless Lord of Death seizes it
And reduces it to a pile of ashes?” (p.58)

PTG: “Whatever you may do to guard and keep it
What will you do when
The Lord of Death, the ruthless, unrelenting,
Steals and throws it to the birds and dogs?” (p. 71)

GKG: “…Otherwise, we are doing nothing more than preparing food for jackals.” (p. 200)

Verse 69: In this verse, Elliott adds his own piece of advice about not grasping and ignorance, words and meaning I cannot find in any other translation—or in GKG’s commentary.

Tharpa: “In exchange for paying my body its wages,
I will employ it to create virtue for myself and others;
But I should not grasp it as “mine”
Because such grasping is a form of ignorance.” (p. 58)

PTG: “So pay this body due remuneration,
But then be sure to make it work for you.
But do not lavish everything
On what will not bring perfect benefit.” (p. 72)

Stephen Batchelor: “Now having paid my body its wages,
I shall engage it in making my life meaningful.
However, if my body is of no benefit,
Then I shall not give it anything.” (p.45)

GKG: “We should be glad to pay it its proper wages if it helped us to engage in the practice of Dharma for our own and others’ benefit, but critical and strict whenever we discovered that it was not benefitting anyone.” (p. 200)

Verse 81: Elliott’s meaning is much less clear than the other two translations, which also lend themselves very well to GKG’s commentary.

Tharpa: “With either a cultivated motivation
Or one that arises spontaneously
I should always sow seeds of great virtue
In the fields of holy beings and living beings.” (p.60)

PTG: “Always fired by highest aspiration,
Laboring to implement the antidotes,
You will gather virtues in the fields
Of qualities, of benefits, of sorrow.” (p. 73)

Stephen Batchelor: “Always being motivated by great aspiration,
Or being motivated by the remedial forces,
If I work in the fields of excellence, benefit and misery,
Great virtues will come about.” (p.47)

GKG: “Whenever we think to engage in a particular practice we should first contemplate its benefits and thereby develop a strong aspiration for what we are about to do… Shantideva now mentions three groups of objects to which our virtuous activities can be directed. These he refers to as the ‘field of excellence,’ the ‘field of benefit’ and the ‘field of suffering.’” (pp. 203-204)

Verses 88-91: These verses make one wonder if Elliott is reading the same text as everyone else, including his own teacher!

Tharpa: “I should listen to Dharma
With respect and a good heart,
Recognizing it as the supreme medicine
For curing the pains of anger and attachment.

“I should teach the vast and profound Dharma with a pure intention
Free from any wish to acquire wealth or reputation;
And I should always maintain a pure motivation of bodhicitta
And make great effort to put Dharma in practice.

“I should explain Dharma to release those who are listening
From samsara, the cycle of suffering,
And to lead them to the ultimate goal—
The attainment of full enlightenment.

I should keep places clean and not throw litter
But dispose of it correctly.
Moreover, I should not defile
Water or land used by others.” (p. 61)

PTG (consonant with others) translate as follows:

PTG: “Do not teach to those without respect
To those who like the sick wear cloths around their heads,
To those who proudly carry weapons, staffs or parasols,
And those who keep their hats upon their heads.
Do not teach the vast and deep to those
Upon the lower paths, nor, as a monk,
To women unescorted. Teach with equal honor
Low and high according to their path.

Those suited to the teachings vast and deep,
Should not be introduced to lesser paths.
But basic practice you should not forsake,
Confused by talk of sutras and of mantras.

Your spittle and your toothbrushes,
When thrown away, should be concealed.
And it is wrong to foul with urine
Public thoroughfares and water springs.” (pp. 74-75)

GKG: “[88] Dharma should never be taught to someone who lacks respect either for us or for Dharma itself. Teaching such a person will not benefit him or her and will only create downfalls, or obstacles, for ourself… Shantideva next gives a detailed account of the circumstances in which it is improper to teach Dharma. Because teaching should only be given to those who have the proper attitude we should never teach anyone whose dress, manner or bearing demonstrates disrespect. This would include those who cover their heads though they are not sick, those who have not put down their umbrellas…

“[89] When trying to discriminate between proper and improper teaching situations we should take into account the general expectations and preconceptions of the society in which we live. For example, in many societies it is considered shameful for a man to remain alone with an unaccompanied woman unless that woman is somehow related to him. In such societies, therefore, it would bring great disrespect to Dharma for a male teacher to give Dharma to an unaccompanied woman… As far as the contents of our teachings are concerned, we should try to determine the capacity and inclination of our listener’s mind. If a student has a small disposition, we should not force the profound and vast teachings of Mahayana upon him… [90] we should not lead someone into the Hinayana path if he or she has a strong desire to receive Mahayana teachings. And, of course, under no condition should we ever forsake the Bodhisattva way of life…

[91] It is also important to observe good hygiene. We should not spit wherever we like, or throw our cleaning implements, such as the sticks used in India for cleaning teeth, on the ground without covering them up. Neither should we defecate or urinate on the banks of rivers, near water or in any place frequented by others. (pp. 209-210)

Chapter Six

Verse 32:

Tharpa: “If all things were like illusions, who would restrain what?
Surely any restraint would be inappropriate.”
On the contrary, it is precisely because things lack inherent existence
That it is possible to assert the continuum of suffering can be cut.” (p.74)

PTG: “Resistance,” you may say, “is out of place,
For what will be opposed by whom?”
The stream of suffering is cut through by patience;
There’s nothing inappropriate in wanting that!” (p. 82)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: Sanskrit: “[Qualm] ‘Averting anger is inappropriate, for who averts what?’
“[Response] That is appropriate, because it is a state of Dependent Origination and is considered to be the cessation of suffering.”
Tibetan: “[Qualm] ‘What counteracts what? Isn’t even the counteracting inappropriate?’
[Response] ‘There is nothing inappropriate in asserting that miseries are brought to an end in dependence on that.’” (p. 65)

Stephen Batchelor: “–(If everything is unreal like an apparition) then who is there to restrain what (anger)?
Surely (in this case), restraint would be inappropriate—
It would not be inappropriate, because (conventionally) I must maintain
That in dependence upon restraining (anger) the stream of suffering is severed.” (p.58)

GKG: “It might be argued that if everything is like an illusion, who is there who should restrain what anger? Surely all such restraint would be inappropriate in a world of illusions. But this objection is not correct. Although all things are like illusions in that they lack self-existence, suffering is still experienced. Severing this stream of suffering depends upon the efforts we exert in restraining such delusions as our anger. Although things lack independent existence—in fact, because they lack independent existence—cause and effect operate to bring suffering results from non-virtuous actions and beneficial results from virtuous ones. “(p233)

Verse 84: In this verse, Elliott has translated a meaning markedly different from other translators and his own teacher.

Tharpa: “People become angry when someone benefits their enemy,
But whether their enemy receives benefit or not,
It is the enemy’s own anger that urges him to attack;
So it is that anger which is to blame, not the benefactor.” (p. 83)

PTG:  “If someone else receives a gift,
Or that gift stays in the benefactor’s house,
In neither case will it be yours—
So given or withheld, why is it your concern? (p. 90)

GKG: “[84] Suppose someone gives our rival some money. The jealousy and unhappiness we feel about this will not do anything to change the situation. Whether that person gives money to our rival or not, there is no way in which we are going to receive that money. So why should we be jealous?” (p. 247)

Verse 87: Here, Elliott gives a nice verse, but it is doubtful that it is what Shantideva wrote!

Tharpa: “The thought that wishes for our enemy to suffer
Harms only us, through creating non-virtue.
Understanding this, we should not develop harmful thoughts
Toward anyone, including our enemy.” (p. 83)

PTG: “If unhappiness befalls your enemy,
Why should this be a cause for rejoicing?
The wishes of your mind alone,
Will not in fact contrive his injury.” (p. 90)

GKG: “[87] There is no reason to be happy and joyful when our enemy meets with suffering. How does such a jealous reaction hurt our enemy or benefit ourselves?” (p. 247)

Verse 90-91: Elliott is consonant with others in Verse 90, but then construes his own conclusion to that verse, which differs from other interpretations, including that of his own teacher.

Tharpa: “Praise, fame and good reputation
Will not increase my merit or extend my life,
Nor will they give me strength, freedom from illness,
Or any form of physical pleasure.

Transient pleasures, such as drinking and playing meaningless games,
Are deceptive.
If I understand the real meaning of a human life,
Such things will have no value for me.” (p. 84)

PTG: “The rigmarole of praise and fame
Serves not to increase merit or one’s span of life,
Bestowing neither health nor strength
And nothing for the body’s ease.

If I am wise in what is good for me,
I’ll ask what benefit these bring.
If it’s entertainment I desire,
I might as well resort to alcohol and cards!” (p. 91)

Stephen Batchelor: “The honor of praise and fame
Will not turn into merit or life;
It will give me neither strength nor freedom from sickness,
And will not provide any physical happiness.
If I were aware of what held meaning for me,

What value would I find in these things?
If all I want is (a little) mental happiness,
I should devote myself to gambling, drinking and so forth.”


GKG: “[90] To answer this doubt we have to examine the value of fame, reputation, praise and the like. How do these benefit us? Will others’ opinions help us to develop our minds, ensure our long life or prevent us from becoming sick?… [91] If our only interest is in obtaining the transient pleasures of a good reputation, wealth and sense gratification, there is no fault in behaving the same heedless way we have always done and continuing to neglect our spiritual training…” (p. 248)

Verse 123: Here, Elliott simply provides his own poetic image, a nice one, but not likely the one that Shantideva intended!

Tharpa: “If we harm a child,
There is no way to please its mother.
In the same way, if we harm any living being,
There is no way to please the compassionate Buddhas.” (p. 89)

PTG: “Just as when a man who’s tortured in a fire,
Remains unmoved by little favors done to him,
There’s no way to delight the great compassionate buddhas,
While we ourselves are causes of another’s pain.” (p. 95)

GKG: “[123] someone who is ablaze with fire finds no pleasure in receiving food and delicacies. Similarly, if we harm sentient beings and then offer elaborate gifts to the compassionate Buddha, these offerings will never please him.” (p. 254)

Chapter Seven

Verse 20: Once again, Elliott seems to miss Shantideva’s essential point.

Tharpa: “Some people might be discouraged out of fear
Of having to sacrifice their flesh,
But this is due to not understanding
What we should give, or when.” (p. 98)

PTG: “’That I must give away my life and limbs
Alarms and frightens me’—if so you say,
Your terror is misplaced. Confused,
You fail to see what’s hard and what is easy.” (p. 101)

GKG: “[20] When we hear about the great sacrifices that the great Bodhisattvas in the past have made while traveling the path we may become discouraged. The thought of giving up our flesh as they did fills us with great fear and we do not even want to contemplate such a ghastly experience. This fear, however, only arises because we are unable to discriminate between great and small suffering.” (p. 269)

Chapter Eight:

Verse 21: Here, Elliott has provided his own simile, with a meaning not consonant with any other translator or his own teacher. Unfortunately, according to my teachers, this verse is an important one, with an important meaning.

Tharpa: “Why am I unhappy when someone criticizes me
And happy when I am praised?
Both criticism and praise are just empty words,
Like echoes in an empty cave.” (p. 116)

PTG: “Why should I be pleased when people praise me?
Others there will be who scorn and criticize.
And why despondent when I’m blamed,
Since there will be others who think well of me?” (p. 113)

Stephen Batchelor: “If there is someone who despises me,
What pleasure can I have in being praised?
And if there is another who praises me,
What displeasure can I have in being despised?” (p. 92)

GKG: “Moreover, [21] there will always be some people who praise us and others who will despise us. So what pleasure can there be in being praised, and what displeasure from being despised?” (p. 296)

Verse 43: The setting for this verse is a traditional Indian wedding—Elliott appears to provide his own commentary instead of translating the actual scene as described by other translators.

Tharpa: “When we are very attached to someone
We want to see their face again and again;
But whether we see their face or not,
The real face always remains covered with skin.” (p. 120)

PTG:  “Oh what pains you went through just to draw the veil,
And lift the face that modestly looked down.
That face which, looked upon or not,
Was always carefully concealed.” (p. 116)

GKG: “[43] In ancient India, whenever a man encountered a woman, her face was hidden by a veil. Even at the marriage ceremony, her face would be covered and she would be very bashful….” (p. 305)

Verse 44: Elliott once again misses the meaning completely, once again missing the setting of a charnel ground.

Tharpa: “If we were to remove that skin,
We would realize that they are not an object of desire
But an object of aversion;
So why do we develop attachment for others’ bodies?” (p. 120)

PTG: “That face for which you languished so…
Well, here it is, now nakedly exposed.
The crows have done their work for you to see
What’s this? You run away so soon?” (p. 116)

GKG: “If this unveiling of a woman’s face can have such a magnetic effect on a man, [44] why is he not similarly attracted when, after death, her face is uncovered by vultures? Why does he not want to copulate with her then? Her body is still there but the man only wants to run away from it.” (p. 305).

Verse 45: And Elliott continues to miss the charnel ground setting in the following verses.

Tharpa: “Although we jealously guard our lover from others’ advances,
The Lord of Death will take him from us
And his body will be burned or buried in the ground;
So what is the point of our jealousy and attachment?” (p. 120)

PTG: “That body that you guarded jealously
And shielded from the eyes of other men,
What, miser that you are, you don’t protect it,
Now that it’s the food of graveyard birds?” (p. 116)

Stephen Batchelor: “(Previously) I completely protected (her body)
When others cast their eyes upon it.
Why, miser, do you not protect it now,
While it is being devoured by these birds?” (p. 96)

GKG: “[45] Lecherous men cherish a woman’s body so much that if another man were merely to look at her, great jealousy would arise. If this is the case, why do we not protect her when the vultures are tearing her to pieces with their beaks?..” (p. 306).

Verse 46: Once again, Elliott misses the charnel ground setting.

Tharpa: “Others’ bodies to which we are very attached
Are just collections of flesh and bone.
At any moment, they could be destroyed by the Lord of Death;
So why develop attachment to them?” (p. 120)

PTG: “Look, this mass of human flesh,
Soon to be the fare of carrion beasts,
You deck with flowers, sandalwood, and jewels,
And yet it is the provender of others!” (p. 116)

Stephen Batchelor: “Since vultures and others are eating
This pile of meat that I behold,
Why did I offer flower garlands, sandalwood and ornaments
To that which is now the food of others?” (p. 96)

GKG: “[46] Why go to the trouble of offering flower garlands, sandalwood and ornaments of gold and silver to something that will shortly be devoured by others?” (p. 306).

Verse 48: Because Elliott has missed the context of the wedding and the charnel ground, his translation here is rendered meaningless.

Tharpa: “Since both dead bodies and living bodies
Are mere collections of flesh and bone,
Why am I attracted to living bodies but not to dead ones?
Thinking in this way, I should stop attachment to others’ bodies.” (p. 121)

PTG: “You loved them once, when clothed and draped they were.
Well, now they’re naked, why do you not want them?
Ah, you say, your lust is no more there,
But why did you embrace them, all bedecked and covered?” (p.117)

GKG: [48] It is also strange that we are attached to her body when it is covered with skin and clothed, but repulsed by it when it lies exposed on the charnel ground.” (p. 306)

Verse 49: Here, it seems that Elliott has translated a word meaning “excrement” to mean “urine.” Also, he translates “food” to mean “fluids.”

Tharpa: “Both saliva and urine come from the same source—
The intake of fluids into the body—
So why is it that we like saliva when kissing
But have no desire for urine?” (p. 121)

PTG: “From food, a single source, come equally
Their body’s filth, the honey-nectar of their mouths.
So why are you delighted by saliva,
And yet revolted by excrement?” (p. 117)

Stephen Batchelor: “Since both excrement and saliva
Arise solely from food,
Why do I dislike excrement
And find joy in saliva?” (p. 49)

GKG: “[49] When we kiss a woman we drink the saliva from her mouth. Why is it that we like this spit that arises solely from the food she has eaten but not her urine and excrement, which arise from the same source?” (p. 306)

Verse 51: Here, Elliott simply misses the meaning.
Tharpa: “Just as we sometimes get angry at other people,
Why don’t we also get angry at pillows?
For although they too are soft to touch,
We cannot copulate with them!” (p. 121)

PTG: “Lustful ones, befuddled by desire,
Because you cannot copulate with them,
You angrily find fault with pillows,
Even though they’re smooth and soft to touch!” (p. 117)

Stephen Batchelor: “Thinking that they cannot sleep with this cotton,
Although it is soft to the touch,
Confused, negative and lustful people
Become angry towards it instead.” (p. 97)

GKG: “[51] But we are so confused that we cannot tell the difference between what is clean and what is unclean. If we find our pillow uncomfortable one night we are liable to get angry with it, but we never become upset with the discomfort of sleeping next to the impure body of a woman.” (p. 306)

Verse 58: Once again, Elliott does not translate excrement as do other translators.

Tharpa: “If you do not want to touch a place
Covered with impurities such as vomit…” (p. 122)

PTG: “And since you’re disinclined to touch
A place or object grimed with excrement…” (p.118)

Stephen Batchelor: “Since I do not wish to touch
A place that is smeared with excrement…” (p. 98)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “If you do not desire to touch soil and the like because it is smeared with excrement…” (p. 96)

GKG: “If you do not want to touch a place that has been defiled by excrement or vomit….” (p. 307)

Verse 69: Elliott translates the last line in this verse with a meaning different from other translations and his own teacher.

Tharpa: “Putting so much effort into beautifying it
Is just like polishing a sword that will be used to harm you.
It seems the whole world is pervaded by this madness
Because people believe beauty is only external.” (p. 124)

PTG: “Why go to such excess to clean and polish
What is but a weapon that will injure us?
The cares that people squander on themselves in ignorance
Convulse the universe with madness.” (p. 120)

Alan & Vesna Wallace: “Why do you meticulously polish it like a weapon for suicide? The earth is crowded with insane people, diligent in deluding themselves.” (p. 97)

GKG: “[69] this is like polishing and sharpening a weapon that will eventually kill us. There is no reason to engage in activities that will do nothing but harm us, yet this is precisely what people all over the world are constantly doing. They are deeply confused about what is virtuous and non-virtuous, what is clean and unclean.” (p. 309)

Verse 71:

Tharpa: “Furthermore, we do not come to enjoy others’ bodies
Without acquiring material possessions.
We exhaust ourself in non-virtuous activity to gather these
Only to experience suffering in this life and the lower realms
In the next.

PTG:  What’s more, possession of another’s filth
Is not to be acquired free of charge
All is at a price: exhaustion in this life,
And in the next, the sufferings of hell!

GKG: “[71] Furthermore, its basically impure nature is not the only disadvantage of the desirable body of others. We should realize that in order to engage in the sexual act, we tie ourselves ever tighter to the unsatisfactory aspect of samsara. As stated before, we forfeit our wealth, act non-virtuously and work with great difficulty merely to possess the object of our desire. Because of all this we encounter many problems during this lifetime and create the cause to descend to the lower realms where we shall experience even more suffering.” (p. 309)

Verses 97-98: Once again, Elliott misses the meaning—completely in both verses.  I have intentionally highlighted the “not” in Verse 98 and the “is” in GKG’s commentary to show the discrepancy.

Tharpa: “But why should I protect others
If their suffering does me no harm?
If we cherish only others, we find their suffering hard to bear;
So we definitely need to protect them.

It is not a wrong conception to think
That it will be I who experience the future suffering,
Because it will not be another person who dies
And yet another who is reborn.” (p. 129)

PTG:  “Since pains of others do no harm to me
What reason do I have to shield myself?
But why to guard against “my” future pain which
Does no harm to this, my present “me”?

To think that “I will have to suffer it”
In fact is but a false conception—
In the present moment, “I” will perish;
At another time, another will be born.” (p. 124)

GKG: “ As I said before, there is no reason for me to protect others from their misery. It causes me no harm. Then why do we work to eliminate the sicknesses of old age coming in the future or even the discomforts of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow? These future sufferings will do us no harm today. But if such misery is not prevented now I shall experience it in the future. This is a misconception. The self of this life will not experience the suffering of future lives.” (p.335).

Verse 100: Once again, Elliott’s meaning is different from others.

Tharpa: “We alleviate the suffering of the foot with the hand
Because it is a specific method to relieve this pain.
It is also incorrect to grasp at an independent self and others—
Such grasping should be completely abandoned.” (p.129)

PTG: “’This may be irrational,’ you’ll say.
‘It happens simply through the force of ego clinging.’
But that which is illogical for both of us
Should be refuted and dispensed with utterly!” (p. 124)

Stephen Batchelor: “—Although this may not be justified
It is done because of grasping at a self—
Yet surely whatever is not justified for myself or others
Should at all costs be rejected.” (p. 105)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “If one argues that even though it is inappropriate, it happens because of grasping onto a self, our response is: With all one’s might, one should avoid that which is inappropriate, whether it belongs to oneself or to another.” (p. 102)

GKG: “[100] It is inappropriate to relieve the suffering of our foot and of our future lives because we grasp on to these as ‘my foot’s suffering’ and ‘my future life’s suffering.’

It is completely unjustified to cling to the independent existence of the self and the independent existence of others. It is important to stop this grasping at independent existence because this has been the root cause of our floundering in the swamp of samsaric suffering since beginningless time.” (p. 336)

Verse 118:

Tharpa: “Out of his great compassion,
Arya Avalokiteshvara even blessed his own name
To relieve living beings from the fear of self-cherishing;
So I should recite his name mantra to receive his blessings.” (p. 132)

PTG: “This is why the Lord Avalokita
Out of great compassion blessed his name,
That those caught in the midst of multitudes
Might be released and freed from every fear.” (p. 127)

Vesna & Alan Wallace (Sanskrit): “Therefore the protector Avalokita empowered his own name to remove even one’s fear arising from timidity in front of an audience.” (p. 104)

GKG: “[118] The superior bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, out of his great compassion, sought to alleviate peoples’ fears by blessing his own name. He proclaimed, ‘If frightened sentient beings recite my name three times they will be free from all their fears…’” (p. 343)

Verse 181: Once again, Elliott misses the charnel ground analogy.

Tharpa: “Whether I care for it in the way that I do
Or allow it to be harmed by others,
The body itself develops neither attachment nor anger;
So why do I feel so attached to it?” (p. 143)

PTG: “Whether I protect and pamper it,
Or whether it is torn by beaks of carrion birds,
This body feels no pleasure, no aversion—
Why then do I cherish it so much?” (p. 136)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “Whether it is nurtured by me or eaten by vultures, it feels neither affection nor aversion, so why am I fond of it?” (p. 112)

GKG: “[181] Although we spend a lifetime caring for this body and guarding it strongly, in due time, it will be eaten by vultures.” (p. 361)

Chapter Nine

Verse 8: GKG’s commentary clearly comments on the PTG translation and not Elliott’s.

Tharpa: “No, there is no fault, because things exist by conventional, valid cognizers.
From the point of view of worldly people, seeing things is seeing reality;
But worldly people never actually see reality
Because the real nature of things is their emptiness.” (p. 149)

PTG: “Then know that there’s no fault. For momentariness
Is relative for meditators, but for the worldly, absolute.
Were it otherwise, the common view
Could fault our certain insight into corporal impurity.” (p. 138)

GKG: [8] Thus there is no contradiction between the Yogis’ understanding and our statement that things exist merely conventionally… In the world, the body is regarded as something pure and clean but in reality it is not. If it were, then the view of the worldly people would harm the Yogi’s realization that the nature of the bodies of ordinary men and women is impure.” (p. 381)

Verses 41 – 44 in the Tharpa translation are clumped together and so it is not certain exactly which verse is which. However, the GKG commentary follows the translation by PTG, up until Verse 43—and follows Stephen Batchelor’s translation up until verse 44. The overall meaning of Elliott’s translation of those verses misses the point. I have done my best to demonstrate this.

Verse 41:

Tharpa: “‘Because we do not believe in the Mahayana, your
Quoting from Mahayana scriptures is pointless.’
We both believe that the Hinayana scriptures are valid;
So you should apply your reasons for believing the Hinayana equally to the Mahayana.
Thus we understand that both are the holy Dharma taught by Buddha
Himself.” (p. 156)

PTG: “You say the Mahayana has no certainty.
But how do you substantiate your own tradition?
‘Because it is accepted by both parties,’ you will say.
But at the outset, you yourself lacked proof!” (p. 143)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “[Hinayanist:] The Madyamaka is certainly not authenticated.
[Madyamaka:] How is your scripture authenticated?
[Hinayanist:] Because it is authenticated by both of us.
[Madyamaka:] Then it is not authenticated by you from the beginning.” (p. 120)

GKG: “Hinayanist: The citations you are using to establish your point are from the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, which are Mahayana texts. [41] But we do not except that the Mahayana scriptures are the word of Buddha, so it is of no avail to try to prove your points on the basis of their authority…”

Prasangika: For that matter, how are your own scriptures established as the word of Buddha?

Hinayanist: Our Sutras are clearly the word of Buddha because both of us accept them as such.

Prasangika: Nevertheless, those Sutras were not established as the word of Buddha for you before you accepted the validity of your tradition.” (p. 397)

Verse 42: Here, it almost seems to me as if Elliott is providing his own commentary, missing Shantideva’s point completely.

Tharpa: “Because they do not understand its profundity,
The Vaibashika schools deny the Mahayana;
And because they do not believe in nirvana,
Some non-Buddhist schools deny the Hinayana.” (p. 156)

PTG: “The reasons why you trust in your tradition
May likewise be applied to Mahayana.
Moreover, if accord between two parties shows the truth,
The Vedas and rest are also true.” (p. 143)

GKG: “[42] These reasons are equally able to establish the Mahayana Sutras as the word of Buddha. Also, just because two people accept something as true, this is no real proof. If it were, then since many people believe the Vedic scriptures to be true, it would follow that they are true.” (p. 397)

Verses 43-44:

Tharpa: “Buddha’s purpose in teaching both the Mahayana and the Hinayana
Was to lead living beings to permanent liberation from the cycle of Suffering.
Focusing on this ultimate aim, practitioners of both the Mahayana and the Hinayana
Emphasize the three higher trainings of moral discipline, concentration and Wisdom.” (p. 156)

PTG: “’Mahayana is at fault,’ you say, ‘because it is contested.’
But by non-Buddhists are your scriptures also questioned,
While other Buddhist schools impugn and spurn them.
Therefore, your tradition you must now abandon.”

“The true monk is the very root of Dharma,
But difficult it is to be a monk indeed.
And hard it is for minds enmeshed in thoughts
To pass beyond the bonds of suffering.” (p. 143)

Stephen Batchelor: “Vaibhashika: (43) The Mahayana scriptures are not credible because they are disputed.

Madyamaka: However, since all your scriptures are disputed by the non-Buddhist and some by other Buddhist schools, you should reject your own scriptures, too. (44) You accept any teachings which can be classified into the three scriptural categories (Tripitaka) as the word of the Buddha, according to whether it discusses the higher training of moral discipline, concentration or wisdom. If this is so, since these three trainings are taught in most Mahayana scriptures, such as the ‘Samdhinirmochana Sutra,’ they are therefore similar to your scriptures. Why then do you not accept them as the word of the Buddha?” (p. 131)

GKG: “Hinayanist: [43] There is much dispute about the Mahayana scriptures; thus their credibility is put into question.

Prasangika: The Hinayana scriptures are greatly disputed by the followers of the non-Buddhist schools yet you do not question their credibility… Therefore if you can reject the validity of the Mahayana Sutras on the grounds that they are under dispute, you should equally reject the validity of your own scriptures.

[44] For you the criterion for a sutra being considered as the word of the Buddha is if it can be included within the Tripitaka: the three sets of scripture. Most of the Mahayana Sutras teach all of the three higher trainings; therefore they too can be included in the Tripitaka. If you accept the teachings of the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma as the word of Buddha, why do you not accept the teachings of the second and third turnings as well?” (p. 397)

Verse 47:

Tharpa: “The principle holders of Buddhadharma were said to be those who have
Attained Nirvana, the Arhats;
But the Arhats that you proponents of things assert
Cannot be real Arhats because, according to your view,
Their minds still grasp at truly existent things.” (p. 157)

PTG: (as in verse 44): “The true monk is the very root of Dharma
But difficult it is to be a monk indeed.
And hard it is for minds enmeshed in thoughts
To pass beyond the bonds of suffering.” (p. 143)

GKG: “[47] After Buddha’s passing away, the monk Arhats were those who upheld and were responsible for the propagation of the Buddha’s teachings. They became like the root of the teachings. However if, as you maintain, they had not understood that all phenomena are devoid of true existence, it would be extremely difficult to maintain that they were actual Arhats. It is impossible for there to be an Arhat, a being liberated from samsara, who still clings to true existence.” (p. 398)

Verse 65: Elliott renders a different meaning here to other translators, as well as his own teacher.

Tharpa: “’It’s like an actor changing roles and being seen in different aspects.’
Well, if the I changes in this way, it cannot be permanent!
Although the aspects change, its nature remains one and the same.’
But you cannot establish an unchangeable nature of the I, because you
Deny the ultimate nature of I, the lack of a truly existent I.” (p. 161)

PTG: “’But like an actor,’ you will say, ‘it takes on different roles.’
If so, this consciousness is not a changeless thing.
‘It’s one thing,’ you will say, ‘with different modes.’
That’s unity indeed and never seen before!” (p. 146)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “If it is the same thing taking another guise, like an actor, he too is not permanent. If he has different natures, then this unity of his is unprecedented.” (p. 123)

GKG: “Samkya: [65] The self is like an actor who is constantly forsaking one role and assuming another. When the conscious self apprehends visual form, it ceases to apprehend sound.

Prasangika: In that case, it would follow that the self is impermanent because, just like an actor, it changes its role and aspect.”

Samkya: There is no mistake because although the aspects change its nature remains one and the same. Hence, the apprehender of sound has the same nature as the apprehender of visual form.

Prasangika: So you assert that two unrelated phenomena—the apprehenders of sound and of visual form—can be of one nature. But such a proposition has never been heard of before.” (p. 410)

Verse 125: Elliott’s translation here definitely lacks the clarity of the other translations.

Tharpa: “If effects such as suffering are produced without Ishvara’s wishing for them,
It follows that they are produced through the power of something other than him.
You say that all effects are produced according to Ishvara’s wishes,
But those wishes have no power to produce all things, so how can Ishvara
Be the creator of everything?” (p. 174)

PTG: “If Almighty God does not intend,
But yet creates, another thing has forced him.
If he wishes to create, he’s swayed by his desire.
Even though Creator, then, what comes of his Omnipotence?” (p. 155)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “If Ishvara creates without desiring to do so, it would follow that he is dependent on something other than himself. Even if he desires to create, he is dependent on that desire. Whence is the supremacy of that creator?” (p.130).

GKG: [125] The god Ishvara can have no wish to produce the effect of suffering; this is something produced by our own actions. But if this is so you can no longer maintain that Ishvara is the creator of all possible effects. Alternatively, you would have to maintain that he is responsible for the unsought sufferings of the beings he created.

“Moreover, if all effects were wished for by Ishvara, it would follow that creation depends upon the wishes of Ishvara. These wishes are impermanent whereas Ishvara is permanent; now it seems that creation is not produced by the permanent Ishvara but by impermanent wishes. Therefore, how can you say that Ishvara is the cause of everything?” (p. 439)


(10 verses)

Chapter 5, Verse 77: PTG and Stephen Batchelor interpret this verse to be in reference to finding happiness in rejoicing over the good qualities of others, whereas both Elliott and GKG simply see it as acting for others’ happiness. Given the context of the verses preceding it, I would expect that PTG and Batchelor’s meanings were more likely correct.

Tharpa: “I should perform all actions for others’ happiness.
This good quality is precious and rare,
And through it, I shall enjoy the pure happiness and joy
That arises from actions that benefit others. (p.59)

PTG: ‘The goal of every act is happiness itself,
Though even with great wealth, it’s rarely found.
So take your pleasure in the qualities of others.
Let them be a heartfelt joy to you.” (p.73)

Stephen Batchelor: “All deeds (of others) are the source of a joy
That would be rare even if it could be bought with money.
Therefore, I should be happy in finding this joy
In the good things that are done by others.” (p. 46)

GKG: “In brief, we should let all our actions of body, speech and mind be directed towards the happiness of others. Such beneficial conduct is rarely found in the world…” (p. 202)

Chapter 6, Verse 4:

Tharpa: “Overcome by a fit of anger,
I might even kill a benefactor
Upon whose kindness I depend
For my wealth or reputation.” (p.69)

PTG: “Noble chieftans full of hate
Will be attacked and slain
By even those who look to them
For honors and possessions. (p.78)

Stephen Batchelor: “A master who has hatred
Is in danger of being killed
Even by those who, for their wealth and happiness,
Depend upon the master’s kindness.” (p. 53)

GKG: “[4] Wishing to retaliate against those who have harmed us, we expose ourselves to great physical danger merely to exact our petty revenge. .. Sometimes this blind rage is even directed at our loved ones and benefactors.” (p. 217)

Chapter 7, Verse 13: Here, the difference of interpretation has to do with the question of whether someone is dying and “crying out like the gods” or whether we wish to “remain like a long-life god while living in the jaws of death.”

Tharpa: “I wish for higher attainments without having to make any effort,
Permanent freedom without having patiently to endure any pain,
And to remain like a long-life god while living in the jaws of death.
How foolish I am! When death comes, I shall be overwhelmed by suffering!” (p. 97)

PTG: “Much harm will come to those with small forbearance,
Who wish to have the fruit without endeavor.
Seized by death, they’ll cry out like the gods:
‘Alas I fall, by pain and sorrow crushed.’” (p. 100)

Stephen Batchelor: “Much harm befalls those with little forbearance
And those who want results without making any effort.
While clasped by death, they shall cry like the gods,
‘Oh no, I am overcome by misery.’” (p. 78)

GKG: “[13] We want to gain swift enlightenment without having to apply any effort, and we want to be happy without having to create virtuous causes. Furthermore, unwilling to endure the slightest discomfort we wish to vanquish all suffering, and while living in the mouth of the Lord of Death we wish to remain like a long-life god…” (p. 266)

Chapter 7, Verse 38: Here, the difference is between whether I have only accomplished my own discomfort in my mother’s womb—or her discomfort.

Tharpa: “Do I give help to those in danger?
Or relief to those who are suffering?
No! All I have done is experience the discomforts
Of being in my mother’s womb, and all the subsequent sufferings.” (p. 101)

PTG: “The frightened I have not encouraged
And to the weary I have given no rest,
My mother’s birth pangs and her womb’s discomfort,
These alone are my accomplishments!” (p. 103)

Stephen Batchelor: “I have not granted fearlessness to the frightened
And I have not given happiness to the weak.
All I have given rise to is
The agonies in the mother’s womb and to suffering.” (p. 82)

Vesna & B. Alan Wallace: “I have not granted fearlessness to the frightened, nor have
I comforted the distressed. I became a spear in the womb just for my mother to suffer.” (p. 81)

Kate Crosby & Andrew Skilton: “I have not given fearlessness to the fearful, nor have
I comforted the afflicted. I became a barb in the womb solely to my mother’s suffering.” (p. 70)

GKG: “[37-38]…Have I granted fearlessness to people who are frightened by those in authority, robbers, adversaries, wild animals and so forth? Have I confessed all my non-virtues and accumulated a wealth of virtue? No I have done none of these things.

“We should take a good look at how our life has been spent. Since the agonies of our birth we have encountered the sufferings of sickness, ageing, not getting what we want and receiving what we do not want.” (p. 274)

Chapter 8, Verse 60: Did Shantideva himself actually write “thirty-six different kinds of impurity”?

Tharpa: “You have no desire for the body of an insect, however small,
That emerges from a pile of dung;
So why do you desire a gross, impure body
That is produced from thirty-six impure substances?” (p. 123)

PTG: “The fetid worms that live in filth—
You have no love for them, even little ones.
And yet you’re lusting for a human form,
From filth arisen, and replete with it!” (p. 119)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “You do not desire a dirty worm originating from filth because it is small, but you desire a body that consists of much filth and is also born from filth.” (p. 96)

Stephen Batchelor: “I have no wish for a small, dirty maggot
That has come from a pile of filth,
So why do I desire this body, which by nature is grossly unclean,
For it too was produced by filth?” (p. 99)

GKG: “[60] Not even a particle of desire arises in us for the small insect that arises from a pile of dung. Why then are we so attached to a body, made up of thirty-six different kinds of impurity?” (p. 307-308)

Chapter 8, Verse 104:

Tharpa: “But such compassion will bring me suffering
So why should I strive to develop it?
How can compassion bring suffering?
It is the very nature of a peaceful mind!” (p. 130)

PTG: “’The sorrow felt in pity aggravates,’ you say
‘The pain already felt. So why engender it?’
But can the sting of pity be compared
With all that other beings have to suffer?” (p. 125)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “[Qualm]: Much suffering comes from compassion, so why should one force it to arise?

[Response]: After seeing the suffering of the world, how can this suffering from compassion be considered great?” (p. 102)

GKG: “[104-105] It is too much of a burden to cherish others as we do ourself. These others have limitless suffering. Why should I want to take on more suffering than I already have? If a bodhisattva had to experience more suffering in the course of helping other sentient beings overcome their misery, he or she would gladly endure it… But do not be concerned that such a being will have more suffering from his practices. When he sees someone in misery, his own great compassion protects him from experiencing any problems or suffering…” (p. 337)

Chapter 8, Verse 152: This is a clear difference of interpretation. Whose hair pores are tingling? In this verse, it seems that the entire purpose of this particular visualization practice has been missed by GKG and Elliott.

Tharpa: “When others hear of my good qualities
As they are proclaimed to the world
May they experience so much delight
That their hair pores tingle with excitement.” (p. 138)

PTG: “Just to hear them talk about my qualities,
My reputation on the lips of all,
The thrill of it sends shivers down my spine,
The pleasure that I bask and revel in!” (p. 131)

Vesna & Alan Wallace (Sanskrit): “Hearing my own good qualities being praised everywhere in this way, thrilled, with my hair standing on end, I shall enjoy the delight of happiness.” (p. 108)

GKG: “… May my superior qualities and realizations be known to all beings and, as a result, may they develop such bliss that their hair pores tingle with delight!…” (p. 355)

Chapter 9, Verse 3: GKG and Elliott later run into trouble with their interpretation of this verse.

Tharpa: “Of those who assert the two truths, two types of person can be distinguished:
Madyamika-Prasangika yogis and proponents of things.
The views held by the proponents of things, who assert that things are truly existent
Are refuted by the logical reasonings of the Prasangika Yogis.” (p. 148)

PTG: “Two kinds of people are to be distinguished:
Meditative thinkers and ordinary folk;
The common views of ordinary people
Are superseded by the views of meditators.” (p. 137)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: “In light of this, people are seen to be of two types: the contemplative and the ordinary person. The ordinary folks are superseded by the contemplative.” (p. 116)

GKG: “The views of the common Yogis who assert that all things are inherently existent are refuted by the logical reasonings presented by the Yogis who hold the Prasangika viewpoint, such as Shantideva.” (p. 370)

Chapter 9, Verse 4: GKG demonstrates the trouble with his and Elliott’s interpretation. In one line he interprets this verse as referring to the many levels of insight of the Prasangika. In the next line, he says that Shantideva’s purpose in mentioning the different levels of understanding of yogis is to point out that “the Prasangika the he represents is superior to and cannot be contradicted by any of the other philosophical schools.” It seems he is contradicting himself and would have done better to have interpreted both verses as did PTG.

Tharpa: “Moreover, among the Prasangika Yogis, there are different levels of insight-
Those with greater understanding surpassing those with lesser understanding.
All establish their view through valid, analytical reasons.
Giving and so forth are practiced without investigation for the sake of achieving resultant Buddhahood.” (p. 148)

PTG:  “And within the ranks of meditators,
The lower, in degrees of insight, are confuted by the higher.
For all employ the same comparisons,
And the goal, if left unanalyzed, they all accept.” (p. 137)

GKG: “[4] Furthermore, yogis holding the Prasangika view include those with many levels of insight; therefore, those with higher levels of understanding surpass and go beyond those with lesser degrees of realization. (It should be noted that a Yogi is someone who has achieved the concentration of the union of tranquil abiding and superior seeing.) But why is it necessary for Shantideva to mention the different levels of understanding of Yogis? He does so in order to point out that the Prasangika that he represents is superior to and cannot be contradicted by any of the other philosophical schools.” (p. 370)

Chapter 9, Verse 49: Because I have a lot of trouble getting my mind around the idea of a “non-deluded confusion”, I’m afraid I prefer the PTG translation, which makes sense to me. I’ll leave this debate up to those wiser than myself!

Tharpa; “The abandonment that Arhats achieve is not temporary.
They definitely do not take rebirth in samsara again.
But just as you say that they have non-deluded confusion,
Why not also say they have non-deluded craving?” (p. 157)

GKG (agrees): “Proponent of things: [49] The abandonment of delusions that we attain through meditating on the sixteen characteristics of the four noble truths is not temporary but final, and it includes the abandonment of all impurities as well. Such Arhats are free from craving, the principle cause for being born in samsara; thus there is no chance of their being born in samsara again.”

Prasangika: For you there are two kinds of confusion: deluded and non-deluded confusion. If you can talk of a non-deluded confusion then why not of a non-deluded craving? Such a craving would then have to be possessed by your so-called Arhats. Although temporarily they may not have the craving derived from grasping at a self-supporting, substantially existent self, they will still have the craving derived from grasping at a truly existent self.” (p. 399)

PTG: (as in Verse 46): “’Only for a while,’ you say. ‘For it is certain
That the cause of rebirth, craving, is exhausted.’
They have no craving, granted, through defiled emotion.
But how could they avoid the craving linked with ignorance?” (p. 143)

Vesna & Alan Wallace: (as in Verse 46): “If you think that as long as there is no craving there is no grasping onto rebirth, why could their craving, even though free of mental afflictions, not exist as delusion?”

Footnote: “The Pranjika p. 208: ‘As the lack of knowledge (ajnana) that is free of mental afflictions.’ The point here is that according to the Abhidharmakosha, there are two types of delusion: afflictive and non-afflictive. Thus, Shantideva is suggesting that there may similarly be both afflictive and non-afflictive craving and that Sravaka Arhats may be subject to non-afflictive craving.” (p. 121)

Stephen Batchelor: “Vaibhashikas: Although they (49) temporarily are not freed from suffering, as soon as they abandon their disturbing conceptions, they will be freed when they leave their bodies because they definitely do not have any craving for the aggregates of body and mind, which is a principle condition for conditioned existence.

Madyamaka: Yet while they still have a form of craving that is a completely undisturbing state of confusion, why would they not take rebirth with aggregates contaminated by actions and disturbing conceptions?

And footnote on the term “completely undisturbing state of confusion” : “Nyon-mongs ma-yin pa’I rmongs-pa According to the Hinayanists, the subtle confusion existent in the mind of an Arhat that distinguishes that state of realization from that of a Buddha.”

Sources Cited

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, 2007, Meaningful to Behold, Tharpa Publications, Glen Spey, N.Y.

Shantideva, (Padmakara Translation Group translator) 2003, The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambhala Publications, Boston, MA.

Shantideva (Neil Elliott translator) 2002, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Tharpa Publications, Glen Spey, NY.

Shantideva (Stephen Batchelor translator) 2010, A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, India.

Shantideva (Vesna A Wallace & B. Alan Wallace translators) 1997, A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY.

The Dangers of Meditation. Advice for Meditators. An interview with Leigh Brasington by Willoughby Britton.

You might have heard that there are people who did retreat but came back rather insane than sane? Then there are people for whom meditation works very well, they become more grounded. Why is this? And if you do meditation or intensive retreat isn’t there a chance to also get deeply confused and disturbed? Yes, there is. In the following video Leigh Brasington – who studied under Ayya Khema specializing in concentration practices and Jhanas, and who led more than 91 residential Jhana retreats – speaks about the dangers of meditation and gives advice how to deal with upcoming problems. (IMO, there is no danger with meditation, the danger is rather the ignorance that doesn’t know that you might face problems which you are not prepared for or that you cannot resolve on your own.)

Leigh Brasington says in the following interview that it is not uncommon that unresolved psychological issues (like trauma or bad parenting) will probably show up if you are getting more tranquil because they don’t come to the surface due to the daily distractions and because the energy was used so far to keep them down. Though for Asians, because they have another way to raise up their children, meditation might sort out also their psychological issues, for Westerners highly likely meditation cannot resolve all the psychological stuff and there is the risk of spiritual bypassing and other problems you can face.

See also

Leigh Brasington – What are Jhanas?

David Treleaven – Meditation and Trauma

Dr. Willoughby Britton – Progress or Pathology


Thank you Carol, for pointing this material out!

Too much wind energy (lung problems)


  Last edited by tenpel on March 11, 2014 at 12:56 am

The NKT/WSS/ISC Campaign Against the Dalai Lama’s ‘Ban’ of Shugden Worship


… they use the word “ban.” I never use that. – The 14th Dalai Lama¹

Over the past two decades and, more recently during his tour of the US, the International Shugden Community (the latest New Kadampa Traditionfront organization‘ and its political wing) have protested against the Dalai Lama’s decision to ‘ban’ the worship of the gyalpo Shugden.

When asked to provide explicit evidence of such a ban, supporters of the deity frequently point to the following statement, purportedly from the Dalai Lama, which appears at YouTube (see 2:53 onwards):

I began this ban to continue the Fifth Dalai Lama’s legacy, I started this by myself and I have to continue, and carry it to the end.

The word “ban” has Western, ecclesiastic connotations and refers to a practice whereby a Church authority can prohibit any member of the congregation or denomination from doing something on pain of excommunication from the Church.

The YouTube video the NKT/ISC claim as ‘evidence’ that the Dalai Lama used that word—and thus invoked their demand for redress—uses clips from a  speech in Tibetan by the Dalai Lama to Tibetan monks. The  text of the English translation and voice-over are supplied by supporters of the deity and it is they who use the word ‘ban’.

In fact, as any Tibetan speaker will confirm, the Dalai Lama uses a Tibetan word translatable as ‘disapprove’, or even stronger, ‘condemnation’, in the sense of to ‘consider it unworthy of doing’ in the video. The Shugden devotees however translate this as “ban,” in their subtitles, clearly with the deceptive intent that English speaking persons, opponents, neutrals and even their own followers, will assume that the Dalai Lama actually said it [which he did not], and  thus invoke horrifying images of the Catholicism of the Inquisition, with its connotations of burning at the stake, direct descent into hell, and so forth.

This is not the first instance of such cynical  manipulation of the truth. In 2010, Shugden devotees (this time in the guise of ‘The Dorjee Shugden Devotees’ Charitable and Religious Society-the Indian office of the ISC, with close links to Chinese Government officials) went to the High Court in Delhi with allegations of ‘violence and harassment’. When the issue was not resolved in their favour, it was claimed that the Court had been ‘unable to reach a conclusive decision’.

Examining Court documents however, we learn that the case was actually thrown out of Court, even before the proceedings commenced, with the presiding judge stating that ‘the allegations of violence and harassment were ‘vague averments’ and that the raised issues ‘do not partake of any public law character and therefore are not justiciable in proceedings under Article 226 of the Constitution.’

Citing the ‘absence of any specific instances of any such attacks’ on Shugden practitioners, the Court noted the counter affidavit submitted by the respondents,referring to ‘an understanding reached whereby it was left to the monks to decide whether they would want to be associated with the practices of Dorjee Shugden.’ (ie the practice had not been ‘banned’)

Closing the doors on the possibility of similar complaints in the future, Justice Muralidhar concluded that the ‘matters of religion and the differences among groups concerning propitiation of religion, cannot be adjudicated upon by a High Court in exercise of its writ jurisdiction.’ (See

It is difficult to understand how this can be construed as the Court being ‘unable to reach a conclusive decision’. Indeed the decision to close the doors on similar complaints in the future, because the allegations were ‘vague’ and there was an ‘absence of any specific instances of any such attacks’ seems quite final. One can only assume that, as with the translation of the term ‘ban’ in the YouTube video, the decision to publicly misconstrue the truth was a cynical propagandist manipulation of fact in order to provide ‘evidence’ to support the ongoing divisive activities of Shugden devotees in the East and West.

Yeshe Dorje

¹ see The Dalai Lama on Sectarianism, Religious Freedom and the Shugden Issue, spoken during a teaching in Madison, Wisconsin, 2008


See also

Academic Research about Shugden

Overview about Shugden

  • Dorje Shugden – An overview article mainly based on academic papers

Dorje Shugden and Wikipedia

The Dalai Lama on Sectarianism, Religious Freedom and the Shugden Issue

So in fact, restricting a form of practice that restricts others’ religious freedom is actually a protection of religious freedom. So in other words, negation of a negation is an affirmation.

Spoken During a Teaching in Madison, Wisconsin, 2008

This particular spirit, called Shugden … start[ed] during Fifth Dalai Lama, so now over 370 years. Since fifth Dalai Lama, almost I think, 300 years, this spirit, this deity, [has] always remain[ed] very very controversial. Only last 70 years, after 13th Dalai Lama’s death, then this spirit became more prominent in some area, in Lhasa area. That also, I think, almost like reaction to 13th Dalai Lama’s restriction.

… Since ’51 to early ’70, I myself [was] also a sincere worshipper of this spirit. I made [a] great mistake with [the] Dalai Lama’s name to worship this, due to my junior tutor. So eventually, I notice[d] this [was] something wrong, as a result of reading the autobiography of the fifth Dalai Lama and then many reliable, well known Gelugpa masters’ biographies. Then it became clear, this is wrong. This is evil spirit. So, Fifth Dalai Lama {translator}“clearly wrote and identified this spirit to be a spirit that has arisen on the basis of a distorted aspiration and its nature is that of destructive[ness] and its consequence is also harmful to the Buddha dharma and sentient beings in general.

So therefore, eventually I noticed that and then I dropped my practice. And then eventually [I] made [this] known to those monasteries , to those scholars or monks. Then they also [were] fully convinced because [there were] sufficient reasons or facts there. And 13th Dalai Lama also put restrictions.

Then [there are several reasons that] I feel [this]. Number one: Tibetan Buddhism [is] Nalanda tradition, such a profound tradition … Some Tibetans now not only [worship] this deity, but also some [other] spirits—Tibetans sometimes [put] too much emphasis on the importance of these spirits, rather than Buddha—or Nagarjuna—that’s a disgrace. So there’s real danger, such profound Nalanda tradition eventually degenerate [and] become something [like] spirit worship. It is [a] pity. Number one.

Of course, we can offer [to] those local spirit[s], or something like [asking] someone, please do some help, like that, then ok. But worship, or something very important, it is totally a mistake. {Translator} “In fact, the 13th Dalai Lama has actually made this statement to Gyabje Phabonkha Rinpoche, very clearly that if someone worships Shugden with such devotion, there is a danger that it could conflict with one’s precepts of taking refuge in the Three Jewels.”

So that is one factor, one reason. Second reason [is] I think part of [the] first reason … The second reason is: As you know, I [am] fully committed [to] non-sectarian principle. As fifth Dalai Lama and Second Dalai Lama, First Dalai Lama, Third Dalai Lama, all these previous masters, previous Dalai Lamas, as well as many great masters from all sects, Gelug, Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, Chonang, and many sects, many great masters, well known masters, [follow] according to non-sectarian principle. So worshipper of this spirit, they are very sectarian …

So therefore, I [am] fully committed to [the] promotion of nonsectarian principle. So therefore, this Shugden spirit—There are reliable stories [which] mention, according to my Junior tutor’s verbal accounts, [that] some of the Gelugpa lamas, as well as high officials, who practice Nyingma tradition, because of that, this deity destroyed [them], killed [them]. It’s recorded. About 13 cases mentioned in that story. So very sectarian.

So therefore, these two reasons. Then third, because the fifth Dalai Lama consider this [to be an] evil spirit, I have the name of 14th Dalai Lama, so therefore, I have to follow the principle of previous Dalai Lamas, fifth Dalai Lama and 13th Dalai Lama. So, I am trying to follow their example.

Then … religious freedom. Now here, firstly, spirit worship is not, I think, genuine religious practice. Certainly, this is not genuine Buddhist religion. But aside [from that], … now, my own story. In late 60’s, as I mentioned … this morning, 1967, I received teaching [from] Shantideva’s book from late Khunu Lama Rinpoche. Then, [I] received many other teachings from him, very rare teachings, which [were] not available from my two tutors.

Then later, I developed one desire to receive some text according to Nyingma tradition. I asked Ling Rinpoche, my senior tutor, [that] I have that kind of desire to receive one important Nyingma text, that I very much want to receive oral transmission from late Khunu Lama Rinpoche. {Translator} “Guhyagarbha Tantra”. Then, although Ling Rinpoche himself was very cautious about this spirit [Shugden], … he also you see, heard that if Gelugpa lama touch Nyingma tradition, then this spirit will harm them. So Ling Rinpoche [was] a little cautious. Then, [he] advised me, “Be cautious, not good [to] receive Nyingma tradition from him.”

Although I already [had] received many texts, many teachings from [Khunu Lama Rinpoche] already, but [about receiving] this particular Nyingma text, Ling Rinpoche [was] very very cautious. So then I stopped. {Translator} “So at that time, it seems I did not get my own religious freedom.”

Because [of] fear, exaggerated fear, I lost genuine religious freedom. Because I dropped this practice, then I got religious freedom. I received teachings from Nyingma tradition, from Sakya tradition, from Kagyu tradition, from various reliable lamas, I received teachings. Now, I think I can say, with a little pride, I think I have some knowledge of all these traditions. So it is very useful.

Another sort of sad story. In the late 60s, one old Kuno (?) monk, I think age around—I still remember his face—age around 60, like that. Physically also quite small. He came to see me and ask me for some Nyingma teachings. Then I [had] no knowledge of that teaching. So I asked him, “That subject I do not know. Please go to Varanasi or Bodhgaya”– and Khunu Lama Rinpoche still alive, so—“approach Khunu Lama Rinpoche and ask him. I have no [knowledge about] that teaching.”

So later, I found, “Oh I’m Buddhist.” {Translator} “For example, the Buddha states in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra that the bodhisattva should cultivate the knowledge of all the paths, the paths of the disciples, the paths of the self-enlightened ones and the paths of the bodhisattvas. So the bodhisattvas may be able to fulfill the needs of all people who aspire for teachings that are appropriate to their own mental faculties.”

So at that time, I really felt very sad … I failed to fulfill the wishes of that poor monk. Still I feel like that.

Now today, suppose that person come, then I proudly explain …

So also, past Tibetan history. Unnecessary conflict in the name of religion also happen, frankly speaking. Sometimes we call Sarma—“So sometimes when two monasteries clash with each other, it’s called the yellow war.” Very sad. Really sad.

Actually, after 13th Dalai Lama passed away, due to this deity, this spirit, some small Nyingma monastery or temple in some cases actually destroyed—because of the sectarian conflict. These things I later came to know. So therefore, religious freedom: {Translator} “So in fact, restricting a form of practice that restricts others’ religious freedom is actually a protection of religious freedom. So in other words, negation of a negation is an affirmation.”

So, now some of their accusations, including Chinese officials also accuse me—the Dalai Lama … sort of violated religious freedom because of Shugden worshipper. Now Chinese officially accuse me. So therefore, they use the word “ban.” I never use that. I am fully committed about freedom of speech, freedom of expression. So, right from the beginning, I made it very clear. It is my moral responsibility to make clear what is wrong, what is right. But whether listen or not, it’s up to them, [up to each] individual. I have no power to impose.

So I am happy these people enjoy their freedom of speech, freedom of expression, very good. So the other day, in Germany, [during] my recent visit, again a group [of protestors] shouting. I hear their voice, particularly one lady’s, I think one nun maybe, so quite strong. So I think at least three or four hours shouting. Then I got real sort of worry, “oh her throat may suffer.”

Madison, Wisconsin, July, 2008

See also

Academic Research about Shugden

Overview about Shugden

  • Dorje Shugden – An overview article mainly based on academic papers

Dorje Shugden and Wikipedia

Founder of Tibet’s Communist Party makes a final plea for Dalai Lama’s return

The founder of Tibet’s Communist Party has pleaded with the Chinese central government to allow the return of Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to his homeland in an autobiography soon to be published in Hong Kong.

… the 92-year-old, also known as Phunwang, asks the Beijing government to compromise with Tibet’s exile government in Dharamsala, India, and allow the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet.

Phunwang appealed to former President Hu Jintao and several members of the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee to “allow the hundreds of thousands of exiled Tibetan compatriots headed by the Dalai Lama to return home, live and work in peace,” he wrote in the book, adding that his advice has been ignored.

Details see here.

There is a funny and wise response by the Dalai Lama with respect to the approach of the Chinese communist party to demand to be in charge of recognizing the next Dalai Lama, which the PRC could not respond to so far: The Dalai Lama said, if they want to recognize the next incarnation of him, they should first do their jobs and recognize the incarnations of their founders, Mao Tse-tung and Deng Xiaoping ;-)

Women monastics are indispensible

We need to understand that the situation now with Bhikshunis is an important issue. Some people think that there have been some foreign nuns who’ve come over and started making an issue out of it and it’s only then that the Bhikshuni issue has become an important question, and that before it wasn’t important. But that is absolutely not the case. The fact that it was not an important issue for us before is our fault. It’s our problem, and it’s us not living up to our own responsibility. And this is for monks and nuns both—we have both let this slide, so it is all of our responsibility. – HH the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

There is a teaching by HH the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, during the 1st Arya Kshema Nuns’ Gathering – Why Bhikshuni Ordination is Important:

You find it a written summery here:

H.H. the 17th Karmapa will come to Germany and Berlin from the 28 May to the 9th June 2014. Details here.

More about Bhikshuni Ordination

Dalai Lama fake quotes

This week I got twice the “18 Rules for Living” attributed to the Dalai Lama. The first time I received it via a Powerpoint presentation attached to an email asking me to share it within 96 hours with many people, claiming tremendous benefit I would receive by spreading it. The second time I received it today via a Newsletter of a respected Buddhist organization, included in the Losar New Years’ greetings of a most wonderful, kind and wise teacher. There it was said:

Let us all remember The Dalai Lama’s 18 Rules for Living:

  1. Take into account that great love & great achievements involve great risk.
  2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
  3. Follow the three Rs: – Respect for self – Respect for others – Responsibility for all your actions.
  4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
  5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
  6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
  7. When you realize you have made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
  8. Spend some time alone every day.
  9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
  10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
  11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older & think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
  12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
  13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
  14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.
  15. Be gentle with the earth.
  16. Once a year, go someplace you have never been before.
  17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
  18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

Now, look more closely on those rules: is this the way the Dalai Lama expresses himself? Is this his way he puts things or is it the Dalai Lama’s style of phrasing things? Does he have an attitude or a tendency to render things in such slogans? Would he really say: “Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly”? – a man, who always lists among the good qualities a human being should cultivate self-discipline?

I replied to both persons, that I think these 18 rules are a fake. To the Buddhist teacher I expressed my doubts and added some reasons why I believe that this is not from the Dalai Lama. After I sent the email I checked on the internet if these 18 rules are by the Dalai Lama, and, indeed they are a fake: Not again! The Dalai Lama’s 18 Rules for Living: Another fake

But there are more Dalai Lama fake quotes and recordings.

Did you ever stumble upon “The Paradox of Our Time” by the Dalai Lama?

The paradox of our time.

We have bigger houses but smaller families.

We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgements;
more experts but more problems;
more medicines, but less healthiness.

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but we have trouble crossing the street
to meet the new neighbour.

We build more computers
to hold more information,
to produce more copies than ever,
but we have less communication.

We have become long on quantity
but short on quality.

These are times of fast foods,
but slow digestion;
tall man, but short character;
steep profits, but shallow relationships.

It is time when there is much in the window
but nothing in the room.

Dalai Lama

You can apply the same analysis: is this the way the Dalai Lama renders things? Would he say this? I doubted that always, and I always saw it as a fake. In Italy, at Istituto Lama Tsong Khapa, where I studied they sell it even in the shop to people.

The attribution of “The Paradox of Our Time” to the Dalai Lama is also wrong:

The reason why I became more cautious in these matters is that I was fooled in the past by a mantra that was given to me by prisoners some years ago on a CD that claimed that “This is a recording of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his entourage chanting prayers at the sickbed of his dear friend Vaclav Havel.” I believed it naively to be true and posted it on New Kadampa Survivors. You can find it here on YouTube:

Later a member of the New Kadampa Survivor forum found out that it is simply a Hindu Mantra called the Gayatri Mantra: Details of the recording’s origin can be found here:

Realize how you are fooled believing what the video claims:

This is a recording of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his entourage chanting prayers at the sickbed of his dear friend Vaclav Havel.

It was recorded on a battery powered hand-held tape recorder. His Holiness gave his permission to for it to be reproduced and given as a non-commercial FREE gift.

Why do I think it matters to be careful in this regard?

Some yeas ago in Germany, the Dalai Lama was nastily attacked by an online newspaper article for his “naive sayings” but when I checked what they claimed the Dalai Lama said, I found out, that it was not from the Dalai Lama but an anonymous website full of such sayings. So they attacked him as being naive and foolish for things he never said, and a lot of people believed this online newspaper article.

I think this is not a good development and I wish people are more careful. In the long run it distorts the real message of His Holiness the Dalai Lama which is by far profounder than many of those superficial sayings that sound nice but don’t have much of a substance. The Dalai Lama has a special way of expressing himself and how he renders things, with some carefulness you can prevent to spread things the Dalai Lama never said. And I would like to invite you also to be more careful. Thank you.

See also

Kelsang’s monks and nuns protest again, accusing the Dalai Lama of religious persecution and human rights abuses

His Holiness the Dalai Lama just met US President Barack Obama and the American people, while a Western Shugden group launched via the newly founded International Shugden Community (ISC) a PR Campaign to attack him.

Here is some background information about this Shugden group and a response to the group’s Feb. 19, 2014 PRWEB attack, and the subsequent street protests staged in San Francisco by Prof. Robert Thurman – posted with kind permission.

The Background of the Shugden Group

Behind these protests is a controversial UK-based New Religious Movement called the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), founded in 1991 by the Tibetan Kelsang Gyatso. Ex members harmed by the group have founded a self-help support group, New Kadampa Survivors, a group which currently has 1224 members. In recent years, Inform, an independent charity providing information about what many refer to as ‘cults’, sects, New Religious Movements (NRMs), non-conventional religions etc. and which is based at the London School of Economics and was founded by Professor Eileen Barker, received more inquiries about NKT than about Scientology. Indeed the NKT was explicitly mentioned in their leaflet “Extremism on University Campuses”.

It is not the first wave of protests that was initiated and conducted by Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT under the guise of a front organization. It’s already the third world wide media campaign of that group against the Dalai Lama. Unlike the first campaign in  1996-98¹ the last two campaigns (2008-ca. 2013) and the new campaign in 2014 demonstrate a severe inability and a thorough lack of investigation of the international media in their reports about who the protesters are and what their background is. So far I have not seen any newspaper article, TV news or video that provides proper background information about the protesters.


NKT’s first world wide campaign from 1996–98 under the name Shugden Supporters Community (SSC). Here Germany, Berlin 1998

The NKT launched the first campaign against the Dalai Lama – according to NKT’s Newspeak a “ruthless dictator” and “oppressor of religious freedom” – under a front group with the name Shugden Supporters Community (SSC) in 1996-98.¹ In 1998 Kelsang Gyatso wrote in an Open Letter to the Washington Times that “in October 1998 we decided to completely stop being involved in this Shugden issue because we realized that in reality this is a Tibetan political problem and not the problem of Buddhism in general or the NKT. We made our decision public at this time — everyone knows the NKT and myself completely stopped being involved in this Shugden issue at all levels.”

Loud is the noise that ordinary men make. Nobody thinks himself a fool, when divisions arise in the Sangha, nor do they ever value another person higher than themselves. – The Buddha, Mahavagga


Kelsang Pema (Helen Gladwell), personal assistant of Kelsang Gyatso and spokes person of the Western Shugden Society (WSS), speaks to the press

However, some years later he changed his mind and asked (or better pressurized) his students² by writing to them “To stop this evil action, as the representative of the Western Shugden Society, I personally will organize 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”. Kelsang Pema, a NKT nun, was at this time his personal assistant. With Kelsang Pema as the spokes person a second campaign was launched under a new front group, the Western Shugden Society (WSS), from 2008–ca.2013.³ The Dalai Lama was depicted by the NKT/WSS/Kelsang Gyatso as a “21st Century Buddhist Dictator”, a “liar”, “the saffron robed Muslim”, a man whose “real nature is cruel and very evil”. Pema was later stripped form power by Kelsang Gyatso due to unexplained reasons.


NKT resident teacher Rebecca Gauthier and spokes person of the International Shugden Community (ISC) speaking to the press in San Francisco

For the campaigning from 2014 onwards the NKT founded again another front group, the International Shugden Community (ISC), whose spokes person is Rebecca Foley / Rebecca Gauthier, NKT Resident Teacher at the Tushita Kadampa Buddhist Centre near Los Angeles and co-author of “The Celibate – Sex. Lies. Salvation.” (She seems to have married Len Foley, the other author of that book.) Len Foley has been mentioned in different press articles as another spokes person of the protesters.

NKT now runs the common PR strategy:

Hundreds of Buddhists⁴ Protest, Accusing the Dalai Lama of Religious Persecution and Human Rights Abuses


NKT resident teacher Gen Kelsang Rabten (left) protesting with other NKT followers under the second front group NKT founded, Western Shugden Society (WSS)
[Image & caption added by blog owner]

Impassioned protests against the Dalai Lama will be staged this week during his speaking engagements in California by the International Shugden Community. Demonstrators are accusing the Dalai Lama of using his political power to ban a mainstream religious practice and create a religious apartheid, segregation, and system of persecution in the Tibetan exile community, including refusal of medical treatment, violent attacks on citizens and making hundreds of monks homeless.

Len Foley, NKT teacher, co-author of “The Celibate – Sex. Lies. Salvation.” and inventor of the “bionic burger” goes in this video even so far as to mention the holocaust (0:57):

With respect to the claims the group makes Tibet scholar Robert Barnett from Columbia University said already to the editors of Time Magazine in the past:

I also made it clear that the Western Shugden group’s allegations are problematic: they are akin to attacking the Pope because some lay Catholics somewhere abuse non-believers or heretics. The Western Shugden Group is severely lacking in credibility, since its form of spirit-worship is heterodox, provocative and highly sectarian in Buddhist terms and so more than likely to be banned from mainstream monasteries – while its claimed concerns about cases of discrimination in India should be addressed by working within the Tibetan community instead of opportunistically attacking the Dalai Lama in order to provoke misinformed publicity for their sect.


A Response by Robert Thurman, President, Tibet House US

Ever since 1997, when, according to detailed Indian police investigations, pseudo- monks who infiltrated to Dharamsala from China murdered the Venerable Lobsang Gyatso, a noted lama close to the Dalai Lama, and his two young disciples, the cult of the Dolgyal-Shugden spirit has been on the attack. The well-evidenced culprits were not tried as they escaped back into Tibet and China, but the cult continued its campaign at the behest of, and with substantial funding from, the United Front department of the People’s Republic of China, the agency handling relations with non-Chinese “minority nationalities.” The futile effort of the cult backed by the agency seeks to alienate Tibetans from the Dalai Lama, their beloved leader and even to turn world public opinion against the acclaimed Nobel Laureate and Gandhi heir. The final aim is to disrupt the Dalai Lama’s fifty-year-long nonviolent “truth and justice” campaign, to free the six million Tibetan people to be themselves in the special autonomous minority region offered them by the Chinese constitution, so far only on paper.

The cult and agency attack campaign is futile since its main claims are so easy to refute:

1) The worship of their chosen deity was not “banned” by the Dalai Lama, since he has no authority to “ban” what Tibetan Buddhists practice. “Banning” and “excommunicating” are not Tibetan Buddhist procedures.

Although they are Buddhists who should focus on emulating the Buddha, members of the cult are free to worship their chosen “protector deity,” whom they call Dorje Shugden, as much as they like. The young Dalai Lama himself did propitiate it as a minor worldly spirit or angel, until he studied the history of its cult and decided it was not a protector at all, but instead a mischievous “king” spirit known as Dolgyal (“king demon from Dol”). Once his historical studies brought him to that conclusion, he recommended that other lamas in his school cease their relationship, or at least keep it to themselves, since its liturgy contains condemnation of the minority sects of Tibetan Buddhism and of non-Buddhist religions. In the late 80s’, when certain individual lamas began to proselytize its cult, inducting even Western practitioners new to Buddhism, especially in England, he took the step of asking such persons to refrain from attending his initiations and associated advanced teachings, on the grounds that they were not following his advice and so should not take him as their teacher. They then went on the attack, claiming they had been “banned” and “excommunicated,” etc., when in fact the Dalai Lama was exercising his religious freedom by not accepting students who reject his advice, and actually go so far as to condemn him!

2) The cult of Dolgyal Shugden is that of a minor angel or demon, and never has been mainstream, To claim that “four million” people belong to it, or even “millions,” is untrue.

3) The members of the cult do not come from numerous Tibetan sects, but exclusively from the super-orthodox fundamentalists of the majority Gelukpa sect or order.

4) The Dalai Lama has never asked anyone to persecute anyone, and members of the cult who mind their own business and do not attack the Dalai Lama are not bothered by other Tibetans. Those who do attack the Dalai Lama with outrageous name-calling—”dictator,” “false lama,” even “demon,” and “liar,” etc., naturally do provoke the vast majority of Tibetans, who adore their Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama himself has never approved of either the provocations or any harsh responses, and remains steadfast in his adherence to nonviolence in principle and practice.

5) The whole fuss would have died down long ago except for the fact that the “hard-line” operatives of the “United Front Work Department” of the People’s Republic of China, the agency in charge of dealing with China’s “minority nationalities,” sees the cult as a potential wedge they hope to drive between the Dalai Lama and his people and between him and world opinion. They therefore fund the leaders of the cult in Tibet, Mongolia, India and the West, and provide them the means to carry on their expensive propaganda campaigns. Evidence for this is very plain on the surface. For example, the so-called “Panchen Lama” reincarnation, whom the Communist party chiefs appointed after abducting and disappearing the five year old boy properly chosen in the traditional way by a committee of his monastery with approval of the Dalai Lama, is shown on the internet in various photographs sitting in front of a large icon of Dolgyal Shugden, as a sign of aggressive defiance of the Dalai Lama. The obvious fact is that the clearly stated purpose of the cult and the United Front agency of the PRC is to try to prove to the world that the Dalai Lama is not as nice as we all think, but is a bad, even “evil,” person.

Whatever one believes about the reality of fierce angels or demons, it is clear that the leaders of the Dolgyal Shugden  cult have done nothing over the last 30 years but cause trouble, both to their own followers and to the unity of the Tibetan people, both in exile and in Tibet. It has benefited no one except those misguided operatives in the Chinese government who wish to destroy Tibetan Buddhist culture, in order to assimilate systematically deracinated Tibetans into becoming second class Chinese citizens, and thus, through such a policy of crushing the identities and even lives of the “minority nationality” Tibetans, to secure forever their claim to the vast territories and resources of the Tibetan plateau. But as we have seen all over the world—and as aware persons can attest here in America with our still very much present First Americans—history never does end, people do not give up their distinctive identities, and truth and justice inevitably arise from the ashes of even genocidal flames.

Those who would like to read a thorough study of the Dolgyal Shugden cult by a distinguished professional journalist, can download a kindle copy of R. Bultrini, The Dalai Lama and the King Demon, published by Tibet House US.

Robert A. F Thurman

President, Tibet House US


Update March 3rd, 2014


¹ See some press articles from the UK like “Battle of the Buddhists” by The Independent, The Guardian’s Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana, or the BBC documentary »An Unholy Row« (1998) about the New Kadampa Tradition and the Dorje Shugden Controversy. For a summery of this first campaign see here.

² Kelsang Gyatso for instance removed the NKT resident teacher and editor of his books, Lucy James, immediately from her positions and power when she dared to remind him of what he said in 1998, that the protests are political and that NKT (also according to the UK charity laws) should not engage in political actions. This set an example for all NKT people that those who object the protests will be removed from their positions and status.

³ From 2008 onwards the campaigning by the NKT students of Kelsang Gyatso included the manipulation of Wikipedia articles.

⁴ Those protesters who dress themselves in the Tibetan robes of Buddhist monks and nuns are not members of the monastic order of the Buddha, they are not even novice monks or nuns, and therefore they cannot act on behalf of those who are full members or partial members of the Buddhist monastic order, fully ordained monks and nuns or novice monks and nuns. However, they have of course freedom of speech but if slander is “freedom of speech” or an unethical or illegal act everybody has to check and judge for themselves.

  Last edited by tenpel on March 16, 2014 at 1:16 pm
(the Shugden/Panchen Lama image was removed,
new images were added,
Len Foley information and video were added,
a better introduction, a quote by Robbie Barnett  and two headlines were added,
added information about NKS & Inform,
added link to Bob Thurman article, Huffington Post
added Mahavagga quote from Buddha)

The greater the light, the greater the shadow – One has to learn from it all, even from misdirected gurus

A friend sent me a link to a very useful article about the traps of unhealthy relationships between Westerners and their gurus or Buddhist teachers.

Here an excerpt:

Many Westerners who turn to the new religions — Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age cults, etc. — are of course very vulnerable. The mainstream Western re­ligious traditions, long es­tranged from the wellsprings of true inspiration, have signally failed to provide them with satisfactory spiritual support and guidance. It has moreover been persuasively argued by the American commentator Ken Wilber (in his book Up from Eden) that contemporary so­ciety does not provide the conditions necessary for proper psychological and spiritual de­velopment.

So vulnerable people quite naturally turn to where what is deficient seems to be on offer-In the short-term the guru and the cult may offer support, guidance and conducive con­ditions for healing and auth­entic spiritual development. In the long-term, however, there is sometimes a very high price to pay. There is in short usually an initial giving, but later a subtle withholding is brought into play. This of course is the basic mechanism of addiction.

An authentic teacher, like the Buddha himself (see The Kalama Sutta), will always seek to put his spiritual charges in touch with their own internal spiritual centre — with the Buddha within. While some of our modern gurus purport to be doing this, they often fail to confer the sacred talisman that bestows self-reliance. Perhaps this is not really so surprising. To allow their followers to become free would after all be to risk depleting the willing labour force that creates and runs their centres and publicity machines, and which also prov­ides that intoxicating adulation to which some gurus become so addicted.

It’s worth to read all of it:

See also

The followers of the New Kadampa Tradition revive their protests against the Dalai Lama

It seems to me it becomes more obvious why the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) / Western Shugden Society (WSS) use Google ads to defame the Dalai Lama, they revived their protests against him and undermine his activities in the United States now:


Followers of Kelsang Gyatso/NKT protest in San Francisco

Norden Kelsang – a 38-year-old nun of the New Kadampa Tradition and a Shugden adherent, who practices in New York – at Saturday’s rally said the demonstrators want religious freedom. But she doesn’t seem to see that this wish contradicts her own statement (and reality) when she says: “We don’t need the Dalai Lama to practice our religion or for us to practice his”.

Everybody in NKT can practice Shugden, none has to respect the Dalai Lama (images of him are not welcomed in NKT as it is in Tibet under Chinese occupation), and though there is a certain amount of dependent arising trouble in India, the Tibetans in India who practice Shugden have their own monasteries and can practice Shugden there …

It is also somewhat strange to me, that Norden Kelsang sees Shugden practice as a religion and seems to believe that her religion (Tibetan Buddhism, Gelug order) would be another religion than that of the Dalai Lama …

The Dalai Lama said during the speech in San Francisco, California, USA, 22 February 2014, the following things about the protesters and Shudgen practice in general (excerpt taken from a summery of the speech by the American Himalayan Foundation):

At this point His Holiness digressed to speak about the worshippers of the perfidious spirit Dolgyal or Shugden who had been demonstrating in the street outside the hall as he arrived. They were shouting and waving banners, their faces contorted in aggressive expressions. It was people like these who murdered a good monk and his students as they worked to translate a scripture into Chinese one night in 1997 near His Holiness’s residence in Dharamsala, he said. Today, their slogan was ‘Stop lying’, but the question is who really is lying.

Turning back once more to the topic of Shugden he declared that he had once worshipped the spirit himself. Gradually, however, he came to realise that there was something wrong with it, particularly in the context of the Buddhist tradition. He looked into its history and discovered that it had come about during the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, who had referred to it as a malevolent spirit arisen from distorted prayers that harms the Dharma and sentient beings. He suggested the protestors complain to the 5th Dalai Lama.

As His Holiness left his hotel, some nuns told him that it was a matter of religious freedom, but he sees it the other way. Worship of this spirit goes hand in hand with sectarianism and restrictions on religious freedom. He recalled wanting to receive transmission of a Nyingma teaching from Khunu Lama Rinpoche, and consulting his main tutor Ling Rinpoche. Despite having no connection at all with the worship of this spirit, Ling Rinpoche cautioned him against receiving the transmission for fear of the harm the spirit might do. He cited this as an example of his own religious freedom being constrained. He declared that it was only when he stopped worshipping Dolgyal that he was really able to enjoy religious freedom. The audience broke into applause.

“Due to ignorance and distorted information, the followers of this practice are completely confused. In India, they have their own monasteries where they can do what they want. Kelsang Gyatso, one of their teachers once told a reporter in England that the 14th Dalai Lama had done nothing beneficial for the cause of Tibet. Isn’t this something of a lie?”

New Kadampa Tradition uses Google ads to defame the Dalai Lama

I was thinking that the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and their front organisation, Western Shugden Society (WSS), settled their Character assassination attack against the Dalai Lama. It’s not so.


Today someone sent me an email, that lists an ad to the NKT/WSS site when you type in the search word “Dalai Lama”. The site claims to “expose” “the dark side of the Dalai Lama”. It is anonymously (as always in NKT’s front organisations’ contexts) and it is hosted by

The site promotes NKT’s renamed booklet – previously promoted under the title “A Great Deception” (which indeed was a fair title for the content of the booklet) – with the new title “The False Dalai Lama”. An anonymous review at GoodReads hits the nail on its head regarding its content and style:

Childishly written (“we wrote to the Dalai Lama for his side and he didn’t respond, so that proves he’s guilty” a paraphrase true to the book’s spirit), and mostly unsubstantiated “facts” (sometimes citations for works also produced by the same group as the book – notice the book doesn’t actually have an author.) I don’t think it is likely that EVERYTHING in the book is just made up, but it certainly can’t all be true either (the Dalai Lama, nor anyone else, could not possibly be Muslim, Communist AND Fascist as this volume breathlessly claims.)

I wish Kelsang Gyatso and NKT peace of mind: Learn to love your enemy. This approach brings you the best spiritual benefits. If you are looking for spiritual benefits, to love your enemy is the way:

All things have the nature of mind. Mind is the chief and takes the lead. If the mind is clear, whatever you do or say will bring happiness that will follow you like your shadow.

All things have the nature of mind. Mind is the chief and takes the lead. If the mind is polluted, whatever you do or say leads to suffering which will follow you, as a cart trails a horse.

“They would harm me. They would embarrass me. They would rob me. They would defeat me.” Those who think in such a way will never be released from their hatred.

“They would harm me. They would embarrass me. They would rob me. They would defeat me.” Those who do not think in such a way will be released from their hatred.

Your enemies will never make peace in the face of hatred – it is the absence of hatred that leads to peace. This is an eternal truth.

We are but guests visiting this world, though most do not know this. Those who see the real situation, no longer feel inclined to quarrel.

See also

Forgiveness is something to consider after the trauma has occurred

I want to share with you the deeply wise words of a woman who has just been interviewed on Reddit about forgiveness. Her name is Eva Mozes Kor.

Dr Mengele, a cruel, infamous German SS medical doctor, made barbaric experiments on her and her sister and many other twins. What she has to say about forgiveness is true and beyond religion. It’s just wise and deeply inspiring. What a teaching!

I think letting go, but more than that. My concept is more empowering than just “letting go.” It means what was done to me by anybody that hurt me means I am not going to let that stop me from being the person I want to be. If that benefits the perpetrator, if they feel liberator by that, that may be good because then they may take responsibility for their actions. But I am not a law enforcement agency, and hanging them or putting them in jail has never stopped any wars. I think if we could make some way of people to take responsibility for their actions, that would be much more helpful. But what I am concerned about, rather than the perpetrator, are the victims. I do not want them to be victims for the rest of their lives. If we focused half as much energy on helping the victims rather than what we should do with the perpetrators, the world would be better off, because victims have a tendency to pass on their pain and anger to their children and grandchildren, and they want to take revenge against the children and grandchildren of the perpetrators. It becomes and endless, vicious cycle. People who forgive are at peace with themselves and peace with the world. That is the hope that I have – that most victims will be able to accomplish that, or at least we teach them that it is an option available to them. I cannot do forgiveness for anyone but myself, so everyone has that choice, and that choice is very important to have.

Here is what I wrote about forgiveness – what I mean and don’t mean:

Forgiveness is a way of healing oneself from pain, trauma, and/or tragedy. It is a means of self-liberation and self-empowerment.

Forgiving is not forgetting. It is in many cases impossible to forget events that deeply affect us. They shape our lives for better or worse. In the case of the Holocaust, it is important to remember and educate so it cannot happen again.

Forgiving does not mean that we condone the evil deeds of the Nazis and/or other perpetrators, nor does it mean we wish them to be granted amnesty or political asylum. The question of justice is separate from the issue of forgiveness.

This concept of forgiveness has little or nothing to do with the perpetrators. It has everything to do with the need of victims to be free from the pain inflicted upon them.

This concept of forgiveness has nothing to do with any religion. All people yearn to live free of the pain and burden of the past. If it is confined to one religion, or any religion, then some people will not be able to access it.

Each person can forgive only in his or her own name. One cannot forgive in the name of all Holocaust survivors, nor can one forgive someone for something he or she did to someone else. One can only forgive for what was done to him or her. It is a personal act.

Forgiveness is not a way to counteract violence, to provide safety in the midst of violence or to advocate non-violence necessarily. When we feel our lives are in danger, most people will do everything they can to maintain their lives. Forgiveness is something to consider after the trauma has occurred.

Forgiveness is more than “letting go.” It is proactive rather than passive. We become victims involuntarily, when a person or entity with power takes away our power to use our mind and body in the way we choose. Something was done to us that put us in a position of feeling powerless. Thus the conscious choice to forgive provides healing, liberation, and reclamation of this power.

Is the NKT a Pure Lineage of Tsongkhapa? The Problem With Root Texts Within the NKT Study Program

GUEST POST by Joanne Clark

Online statements change frequently and I know that organizations, such as the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) evolve and change. However, at the time of this writing, (Dec. 8, 2013) these claims still appear on a NKT website as part of their statement of purpose. As stated by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (GKG) in 1998, they write:

We are pure Gelugpas. The name Gelugpa doesn’t matter, but we believe we are following the pure tradition of Je Tsongkhapa. We are studying and practicing Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings and taking as our example what the ancient Kadampa Lamas and Geshes did. All the books that I have written are commentaries to Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings. We try our best to follow the example of the ancient Kadampa tradition and use the name Kadampa to remind people to practice purely.

Later in that same web page is stated:

The NKT exclusively teaches Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine

All of Geshe Kelsang’s books, which are the core of the three NKT study programs, are based on Je Tsongkhapa’s commentaries to the teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, Buddha Vajradhara, and other great Buddhist Masters.”[1]

The Nkt’s choice of the word “pure” in regard to their statement of purpose, is in itself problematic. However, that discussion is not my purpose here. Readers may view an examination of that topic here.

For my purposes here, I will be using the term “purity” to refer to a meaning of authenticity or correctness—and address NKT’s claim in that regard.

Even in that context, even without knowing anything about the NKT, such claims seem to be extraordinary. Anyone who knows anything at all about Tibetan history and has read any of the biographies of the Kadamapa masters, will be aware that Tsongkhapa’s lineage is a compilation of different lineages (Kagyue, Sakya, Kadampa) and emerged through the efforts of many translators, many scholars, and many extraordinary and realized meditators. The emergence of the Gelugpa was a joint effort of cooperation between different lamas, lineages and translators over hundreds of years. In light of this, GKG’s claim that he alone, with no assistance from Gelug practitioners, scholars or translators outside of NKT, is capable of bringing a pure tradition of Tsongkhapa to the West is quite remarkable!

For example, here is what is missing in the NKT study program from Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition:

  • there is no tradition of the Vinaya as practiced by Tsongkhapa (Vinaya constitutes the rules and commentaries for the ethics of monks and nuns)
  • there are no English translations of the 18 volumes of Je Tsongkhapa’s work in the NKT study program.
  • there are only two texts by Je Tsongkhapa himself in the NKT, the Three Principle of the Paths (two pages) and a lamrim prayer (one page)
  • there are none of the five Maitreya texts which form an important corpus in traditional Gelug study programs.
  • the study and practice of the combination of the three Highest Yoga Tantras, Guhyasamaja, Heruka and Yamantaka do not exist in NKT. These are central to the Gelug lineage and there is a good translation of Tsonkhapa’s commentary on Guhyasamaja available.

I believe that NKT students tread a difficult path. The NKT organization has placed itself well outside of mainstream Tibetan Buddhism—and yet NKT study programs are positioned in the center of mainstream Tibetan Buddhist study. Students are taught to revere Buddha, Nagarjuna, Atisha, Tsongkhapa and Shantideva, the same Buddhist masters that we in mainstream Tibetan Buddhist circles revere. They study from those masters. We also study from those masters. Yet oddly, students are lead to believe that NKT is somehow different, that NKT is “pure”.

Resulting from this is a likely inference that Gelug/Kadam study and practice outside of NKT is not “pure.”—not authentic. This inference results also from the fact that no texts by Tsongkhapa, Atisha, the Buddha, Shantideva, Nargajuna or any other teacher, translated outside of Tharpa Publications, is integrated into NKT study programs or even sold in NKT centers—and no commentaries by teachers other than GKG are studied within the study program. In that way NKT student are totally dependent on Kelsang Gyatso’s texts and if there are any faults in them, or if they miss important points of the path, they cannot go beyond these limitations or correct their misunderstandings derived from it. Therefore it is possible that this inside/outside path (pure/impure dichotomy) could place students at risk for some confusion!

In fact, so little attention is paid to the study of root texts in the NKT study program that the one translation of a major root text available to NKT students contains many errors. Moreover, these errors have not been noticed or corrected in the ten years that the book has been in circulation! This text is the Tharpa Publications translation of Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara. Last I counted, there were over 40 verses rendering a different meaning to that given in four other translations that I possess!  Worse still, many of these errors do not appear in GKG’s commentary on the text. Despite Tharpa’s claims that the translation was done “under the compassionate guidance of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso,” he seems unaware of the many errors that it contains!

Here are some stark examples. In the second verse of the text, Shantideva makes a gesture of humility as part of his statement of purpose in composing the text. He writes, as translated by the Padmakara translation Group (and consonant with other translations), “

I thereby have no thought that this might be of benefit to others…” (p.33).

However, the translator from NKT reads this line quite differently and writes,

“My reason for writing this is to benefit others…” (p. 3)

GKG commentary favors the mainstream translation:

“Also, since he has no skill in the art of rhetoric or poetry, he has no intention of benefitting others who have already understood the teachings of Buddha.” (p. 14)

So it appears that GKG is probably reading from the Tibetan and is unaware that his translators have a different rendition! (Of course, GKG does not see this statement as an expression of humility as do other commentators, but that discussion is not my purpose here.)

In Chapter Five, verses 88-91, the Tharpa translation gives a dramatically different rendition to that of other translations, making one wonder if they were reading a different text! Here is an example:

In Verse 88, the Tharpa translation reads:

I should listen to Dharma
With respect and a good heart,
Recognizing it as the supreme medicine
For curing the pains of anger and attachment. (p. 61)

The Padmakara Translation Group (and others) translate as follows:

Do not teach to those without respect
To those who like the sick wear cloths around their heads,
To those who proudly carry weapons, staffs or parasols,
And those who keep their hats upon their heads. (p.74)

How on earth could two such completely different renditions occur?

GKG’s commentary on verse 88 reads:

“Dharma should never be taught to someone who lacks respect either for us or for Dharma itself. Teaching such a person will not benefit him or her and will only create downfalls, or obstacles, for oneself … Shantideva next gives a detailed account of the circumstances in which it is improper to teach Dharma. Because teaching should only be given to those who have the proper attitude we should never teach anyone whose dress, manner or bearing demonstrates disrespect. This would include those who cover their heads though they are not sick, those who have not put down their umbrellas … “ (p. 14)

So GKG is clearly addressing the translation as given by the Padmakara Translation Group (and three other translators), unaware that the Tharpa translation renders his commentary meaningless! Translation by Tharpa of the three verses following, 89-91, have exactly the same trouble, rendering inexplicable meanings that do not accord with any other translations or even GKG’s commentary.

And this is not the only occurrence of such discrepancies. They happen numerous times throughout the text (I’ve lost count!). In Chapter Eight, there are six verses on just two pages alone that render an entirely different meaning to all other translations!

Here is an example of two of these verses:

In verses 43-44, the Tharpa translation reads:

43. When we are very attached to someone
We want to see their face again and again;
But whether we see their face or not,
The real face always remains covered with skin.

44. If we were to remove that skin,
We would realize that they are not an object of desire
But an object of aversion;
So why do we develop attachment for others’ bodies?

The Padmakara Translation Group and GKG both read these verses differently, placing the context in a charnal ground and also in a traditional Indian wedding:

43. Oh what pains you went through just to draw the veil,
And lift the face that modestly looked down.
The face which, looked upon or not,
Was always carefully concealed.

44. That face for which you languished so …
Well here it is, now nakedly exposed.
The crows have done their work for you to see.
What’s this? You run away so soon?

GKG’s commentary reads:

“[43] In ancient India, whenever a man encountered a woman, her face was hidden by a veil. Even at the marriage ceremony, her face would be covered and she would be very bashful … [44] why is he not similarly attracted when, after death, her face is uncovered by vultures? Why does he not want to copulate with her then? Her body is still there but the man only wants to run away from it.” (p. 305).

Then later in Chapter Eight, there is this discrepancy involving two important verses:

In verses 97-98, the Tharpa translation reads as follows:

97. But why should I protect others
If their suffering does me no harm?
If we cherish only others, we find their suffering hard to bear;
So we definitely need to protect them.

98. It is not a wrong conception to think
That it will be I who experience the future suffering,
Because it will not be another person who dies
And yet another who is reborn. (p. 129)

This is another very strange translation that misses Shantideva’s meaning completely. The Padmakara Translation Group (and all others, including GKG) provide an opposing meaning:

97. Since pains of others do no harm to me
What reason do I have to shield myself?
But why to guard against “my” future pain which
Does no harm to this, my present “me”?

98. To think that “I will have to suffer it”
In fact is but a false conception—
In the present moment, “I” will perish;
At another time, another will be born. (p. 124)

GKG writes, ignoring the Tharpa translation: “As I said before, there is no reason for me to protect others from their misery. It causes me no harm. Then why do we work to eliminate the sicknesses of old age coming in the future or even the discomforts of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow? These future sufferings will do us no harm today. But if such misery is not prevented now I shall experience it in the future. This is a misconception. The self of this life will not experience the suffering of future lives.” (p.335).

Here is another example of Tharpa’s translation troubles:

In Chapter Six, Verse 123, the Tharpa translation reads:

If we harm a child
There is no way to please its mother.
In the same way, if we harm any living being,
There is no way to please the compassionate Buddha. (p.89)

This is a very nice translation and does convey a meaning very close to what Shantideva intended. However, I don’t believe that it is what Shantideva actually wrote! Here is the translation from Padmakara Translation Group:

Just as when a man who’s tortured in a fire,
Remains unmoved by little favors done to him,
There’s no way to delight the great compassionate Buddhas,
While we ourselves are causes of another’s pain. (p.95)

And GKG’s commentary on this reads:

“someone who is ablaze with fire finds no pleasure in receiving food and delicacies. Similarly, if we harm sentient beings and then offer elaborate gifts to the Buddha, these offerings will never please him.” (p. 254).

Once again, he clearly favors the translation done by the Padmakara Translation Group!

These are a few examples of the errors I found in the Tharpa translation of the Bodhicharyavatara made “under the compassionate guidance of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.” Indeed, translators (and lamas) are only human and errors will happen. I myself study this text using four different translations because I know that there will be discrepancies. However, the errors in the Tharpa translation are more pervasive and significant than I have seen anywhere else, and they could render the entire translation flawed. That in itself is not alarming, because there are probably other flawed translations out there. Nor is it my intention to nit-pick. However, GKG has made an extraordinary claim by saying that he alone, without assistance from other translators or commentaries, is capable of bringing the Kadampa/Gelug tradition “purely” to the West. And my question is: How can he claim purity with errors such as these? With errors such as these, he can only claim to be human and to need more help from others!

I also wonder why no student of NKT has ever questioned this confusion—this text was published over ten years ago! Have they become so confused that they don’t even recognize confusion when it appears? Or perhaps they simply have never cultivated the habit of critically reading a root text in conjunction with a commentary.

Thousands of hours of work has been done to translate into English the Kangyur and Tengyur—to translate the great works of Tibetan scholars such as Tsongkhapa—to translate the works of the great scholars of ancient India. Much more work is still to be done. This work is being done because authentic Buddhism cannot be brought to the West without the root texts. That is the robust tradition that Tsongkhapa followed. If the NKT is sincere in “studying and practicing Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings and taking as [their] example what the ancient Kadampa Lamas and Geshes did,” then surely they would follow the tradition of diverse and extensive study of the many root texts upon which the Kadampa tradition relies? Surely they would put much emphasis on providing students with (accurate!) translations of these texts? Perhaps instead of seeking to follow a “pure” lineage of Tsongkhapa, they would do better to follow a robust lineage of Tsongkhapa, one that questions and investigates and makes cross-references—and isn’t afraid to read texts that come outside of their one, narrow view?

GKG writes in Understanding the Mind:

“it is mixing different religious traditions that causes sectarianism … studying non-religious subjects is less of an obstacle to our spiritual progress than studying religions of different traditions … the practices taught by one teacher will differ from those taught by another, and if we try to combine them we will become confused, develop doubts, and lose direction.”  (pp. 166-167).

Is that true? Or is there greater risk for confusion when students are not given opportunity to question and cross-reference many sources and texts, when they are denied full access to their critical faculty?

As the Buddha said,

Bhikshus and the wise should examine my teachings like goldsmiths analyze gold, by cutting, rubbing and scorching it. Examine my teachings in the same way and then put them into practice. Do not practice Dharma on the strength of blind faith alone.[2]

Contrary to this robust advice by the Buddha, the diet within the NKT study program could be called pre-digested, because all the study is interpreted by one individual alone. The root texts are almost exclusively provided to students through the one lens of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Pre-digested is the diet of invalids and babies. Does Geshe Kelsang believe that Westerners are incapable of digesting the rich diet of the ancient texts themselves? Incapable of receiving a full and nutritious diet?

Here is an example. In Lamrim Chenmo, Tsongkhapa writes extensively on the qualities necessary in a spiritual teacher. He quotes from authors such as Maitreya and advises students on how to show respect for the teacher, while still maintaining their ability to judge the teacher and critically analyze his/her teachings. He tells the story of Atisha and Serlingpa:

“The great Elder [Atisha] held the Madyamaka view and Ser-ling-ba held the view of a ‘true aspectarian’ Cittamatrin [Mind Only School]. Therefore, Atisha’s view was superior to that of Ser-ling-ba. Still, Atisha upheld Ser-ling-ba as the guru who was unrivaled amongst his gurus, because Atisha had obtained the spirit of enlightenment and a general presentation of the stages of the Mahayana path in dependence upon him.” (p. 82)

So yes, Atisha held Serlingpa in high esteem—however, he also refuted Serlingpa’s main philosophical standpoint. He did not allow reverence for Serlingpa to dull his own critical faculty. In the two major texts by GKG that I have viewed, Joyful Path of Good Fortune and Meaningful to Behold, there is no mention of Atisha’s philosophical differences with Serlingpa , though GKG does speak of Atisha’s great devotion for Serlingpa.

In addition, if one compares GKG’s main commentary on Lamrim, Joyful Path of Good Fortune with Tsongkhapa’s major commentary on Lamrim, Lamrim Chenmo, it appears that overall, GKG’s instructions on guru reliance are weighted towards blind faith, while Tsongkhapa’s are not. GKG advises us to view the lama as a Buddha, with the reasoning that the faults we see in our lama are actually faults in ourselves and our own faulty perceptions. In fact, I found no teaching whatsoever coming from GKG about how we are to act when the lama advises us to do something that is not in accord with the Dharma, no acknowledgement anywhere that lamas will have faults. He does not provide students with that important dimension to proper reliance on a spiritual teacher—nor does he allow them to believe their own eyes if they see faults.

On the other hand, Tsongkhapa acknowledges that lamas will have faults, saying “if you rely on nonvirtuous teachers and bad friends, your qualities will slowly diminish …” (p.90). He also quotes from several sources about what to do if the lama advises us wrongly: “… the Cloud of Jewels Sutra says, ‘With respect to virtue, act in accord with the guru’s words, but do not act in accord with the guru’s words with respect to nonvirtue.’” (86). Even in the context of the instruction “seeing the guru as Buddha,” Tsongkhapa’s advice is grounded in sound reason, steering students well away from blind faith. He reasons that focusing on the good qualities of our lamas, while ignoring their faults, will help us better cultivate those good qualities in ourselves. Unlike GKG, Tsongkhapa does not stress that it is our own misperception when we see faults in our lamas! He does not put blinkers on our eyes! Faults are faults—not seeing them is blindness. Not focusing on them is a useful training of the mind.

At least, that is my small understanding of Tsongkhapa’s instructions and how they differ from GKG’s. I don’t pretend that it is necessarily correct! I am simply trying to start a conversation, trying to demonstrate how studying commentaries beside the root texts can begin investigations that deepen our understanding and critical faculty. No one denies that NKT’s approach is one-sided. And I particularly don’t deny that GKG appears to be a very intelligent lama. However, I am asking if his approach is safe? Understanding the full diversity of Tsongkhapa’s advice to following a spiritual teacher—an approach that is similar to that taken by HH Dalai Lama in regard to Trijang Rinpoche, for example—is vital for Western students and it appears to be missing from the NKT study program. Students have no access to the extraordinary means—provided by Tsongkhapa himself—by which they can judge GKG’s commentaries—except those means provided by GKG!

There will be many who claim that I am attempting to “smear” the NKT. However, anyone who knows me will know that I also question practices within other Western Tibetan Buddhist organizations, such as Rigpa. I myself study and practice outside of mainstream Tibetan Buddhist communities because of some of the problems I have encountered. These troubles are not exclusive to the NKT, though I believe that the NKT has brought them to new and potentially very dangerous levels.

I believe that Westerners need to be having these conversations and asking these sorts of hard questions. Every Western Buddhist center that is reliant on a powerful, charismatic leader must be prepared to answer hard questions about the Buddhism being taught. If that Buddhism is weighted heavily towards the teachings and texts written by the powerful, charismatic leader, at the expense of the root texts of past masters, then questions need to be asked. Then students are at risk. Students are not being given the whole truth and then we can start talking about cults.

The NKT claims to be a “pure lineage” of Tsongkhapa—and yet they fail to provide students with a full study of Tsongkhapa’s teachings, one that includes the extraordinary breadth of his actual writings and thinking, as evident in those many root texts that have already been translated into English. They claim to provide a study of the Bodhicharyavatara—and yet the translation of the root text they study from is seriously flawed. I could be wrong, but I can see only two directions open to NKT. One is to simply use the translations of the root texts that are available (despite the fact that most have been done by mainstream Tibetan Buddhists and some are dedicated to HH Dalai Lama) and thereby create a fuller study program of Tsongkhapa’s lineage. The other option is simply to bite the bullet and admit that they are not pure Gelug, not pure Kadam, not pure Tsongkhapa nor Shantideva, but pure Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

Sources Used:

Tsonkhapa, (translated, 2000) The Great Treatise On The Stages of the Path; Volume One; Translated by The Lamrim Chenmo Translation Committee; Snow Lion Publications; Ithaca, NY.

Shantideva, (translated 2003) Bodhicharyavatara; Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group; Shambhala Publishing; Boston, MA.

Shantideva (updated translation 2006); Bodhicharyavatara; Translated by the Padmakara  Translation Group; Shambhala Publishing; Boston, MA.

Shantideva (translated 1979); Bodhicharyavatara; Translated by Stephen Batchelor; Tibetan Works and Archives; New Delhi, India.

Shantideva (translated 1997); Bodhicharyavatara; Translated by Vesna A. Wallace and B. Alan Wallace;  Snow Lion; Ithaca, NY.

Shantideva, (translated 2002); Bodhicharyavatara; Translated by Neil Elliott “under the compassionate guidance of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso”; Tharpa Publications; Glen Spey, NY.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso; (revised 2007); Meaningful to Behold; Tharpa Publications; Glen Spey, NY.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso; (revised 1995); Joyful Path of Good Fortune; Tharpa Publications; Glen Spey, NY.

Gesehe Kelsang Gyatso (2002); Understanding the Mind: The Nature and Power of the Mind; Tharpa Publications; Glen Spey, NY.

The New Kadampa Traditon – Purity Troubles

If you ever encounter or are/were affiliated with the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) (aka “Kadampa Buddhism”) you will meet and learn four important concepts:

  1. the term purity,
  2. that “Geshe-la is a Buddha” [or it would be good to see the founder of NKT, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, that way. And if you don’t see him (your guru) as a Buddha you won’t attain “any realization” …],
  3. that your perceptions and judgements are not reliable and
  4. that Geshe-la knows, while you don’t know, that’s why you need deep and pure faith [in him and his texts].

I think it is save to say that this fourfold belief system forms something like “the root” of the NKT ideology that ties spiritual seekers to NKT. This fourfold belief system is also extremely dangerous because it forms the basis for religious extremism. I will support my claims based on Lifton’s work about Shoko Asahara / AUM cult and by examining the term and traps of the concept of purity as it is been applied within the NKT. (All this is far from being perfect, I wrote it down quickly based on a discussion by email.)

Each of the four points just mentioned are important to be checked and examined and it is crucial to develop a deeper understanding about their meanings and contexts, otherwise you will highly likely be trapped into a religious extremist belief system with far reaching destructive consequences.

Let’s start with the first point, the term purity. (For a discussion of the meaning of “faith” see here, for a discussion of the misleading explanations by Kelsang Gyatso about faith see here. The dangers of seeing the Guru as unfailing see here.)

The term “purity” is very present in NKT. The term is combined with different other words including such claims as “if you come to the [NKT] festival you will meet many pure practitioners” or “we are pure Gelugpas”, “the pure tradition of Je Tsongkhapa”, “pure lineage”, “pure mind”, “pure world, “pure faith”, “pure moral discipline”, “pure concentration”, “pure compassion” etc., and – very important to note and to question that concept – NKT speaks a lot of “pure Dharma”, attaching this phrase to their own presentation and understanding of Buddhism, which suggests ‘the NKT is pure, the NKT teaches pure Dharma!’.

The term purity in the context of indo-Tibetan Buddhism has different meanings in different contexts. Pure can mean “free from the adventitious stains” (no afflictions like anger, attachment, envy etc.); “seeing all appearances as deities, all sounds as mantras …” – in the context of tantric practice; “being free from the conception of inherent existence”; “being free from all afflictions and knowledge obscurations together with their seeds” etc. …

Kelsang Gyatso, NKT’s controversial founder, defines in his book The Joyful Path of Good Fortune “Pure Buddhist instructions” as follows:

Pure Buddhist instructions are only those that have been received through a pure, unbroken lineage from Buddha Shakyamuni. (p.22)

If you just pick up this claim and use it to investigate if NKT meets their own standards (to be a pure tradition, that teaches only pure Dharma) you are trapped quickly in some amazing – and for NKT unwanted – consequences:
The NKT’s “ordination lineage” is not from Buddha Shakyamuni, it follows the NKT ordination is not a pure Buddhist instruction. It follows NKT monks and nuns do not have a “pure lineage”. This is easily established by following Kelsang Gyatso’s own definition and the explanation of his previous successor, Gen Kelsang Samten:

Also we have to understand that the presentation Geshe-la has given of the ordained way of life is new. Our vows are new, aren’t they? No one had these, specifically these vows before.

A lineage that doesn’t stem from Buddha Shakyamuni and is therefore no “pure Buddhist instruction” …

However, my main focus in this post are the dangers and misconceptions going along with the phrase “pure Dharma”.

Pure Dharma

In my opinion it is highly problematic to attach the term “purity” to the Dharma and to postulate a concept of “pure Dharma” from a spiritual/dharmic perspective and also from a mundane perspective.

The dharmic perspective

“The Dharma is without defilement”[1] – and therefore “pure” according to Maitreya’s Uttaratantrashastra (a text not existent nor studied in NKT[2]) – and there is no such thing as “impure Dharma”. If you add the term “pure” to Dharma you claim also that there must be something that is impure Dharma.

Dharma in the broadest sense is what overcomes the defilements of the mind[3] and in that sense all Dharmas are pure. If something is not an antidote to the defilements or a protection from a rebirth in the lower realms it is non-Dharma. So either phenomena are Dharma or they are non-Dharma. A third category, that discriminates between pure Dharma and impure Dharma, is not needed (except for sectarian purposes) nor is a discrimination between pure and impure Dharma stressed by any of the great Indian Buddhist pandits, the Buddha or Je Tsongkhapa! But all of them stress that a student must be able to discriminate between what is Dharma and what is non-Dharma!

The mundane perspective

From a mundane point of view the term “pure” is also highly questionable. The following descriptions by Robert J. Lifton in his Destroying the World to Save It: Aum Shinrikyo, Apocalyptic Violence, and the New Global Terrorism I found to be equally applicable to NKT:

There is a loading of the language, in which words become limited to those that affirm the prevailing ideological claims (Aum “truth” versus outside “defilement”). At the same time a principle of doctrine over person requires all private perceptions to be subordinated to those ideological claims. In Aum, that meant that doubts of any kind about the guru, or about his or Aum’s beliefs or actions, were attributed to a disciple’s residual defilement.

In such a closed world, there is often a demand for purity, an insistence upon an absolute separation of the pure and the impure, good and evil, in the world in general and inside each person. In Aum, only the guru could be said to be completely pure. Disciples, even the highest ones, engaged in a perpetual, Sisyphean struggle for purity, their guilt and shame mechanisms taken over by the cult if not by the guru himself.

There was also in wartime Japan a rigidly hierarchical system of absolute obedience that ran from the lowest-ranking soldier or mobilized civilian right up to the emperor. In the military it meant obedience to one’s immediate superior, whose orders, after all, represented the emperor’s. The principle became so extreme that at war’s end some Japanese soldiers refused to accept the emperor’s surrender speech because they had not received orders from their immediate superiors to stop fighting.

In Aum, too, orders from immediate superiors represented the omniscient will of the guru and were therefore sacrosanct. Both systems promoted the ideal of absolute purity—as represented by emperor or guru—and the inability to realize that ideal became a matter of personal and group failure.

In both, a totalized ideal of purification infused everything and, because it was unachievable, created a constant anxiety stemming from an ever-present sense of defilement.

What is not yet present in NKT is

As these belief systems broke down, enormous conflicts arose, occasioned by doubts about the infallibility of immediate superiors and, ultimately, about the divinity of the emperor or the guru. Final outbursts of violence reflected the dissolution of each system and its need to reassert its death-power.

The use of the term purity brings in an awareness of that there must be impure Dharma. This impure Dharma must be outside of the NKT because the NKT Dharma, “Geshe-la’s Dharma”, “is pure”. Kelsang Gyatso and NKT stress that it is of utter importance to “keep the Dharma pure”, “not mixing it” [with impure Dharma]. This leads to a close mental bondage to the imagined and believed purity of the NKT and a fear to the outside world where there is the potential “impure Dharma” or just [threatening] impurity. Such fears are nourished by Kelsang Gyatso in statements such as these:

Buddhism in general is degenerating, including the Tibetan Gelug tradition … Every year it is degenerating and becoming weaker, while political activities are increasing. This is very sad. However here in the west we are very fortunate. For us this is not a degenerate but an increasing time. During an increasing time the Dharma is flourishing, it is very easy to gain realizations, and there are many pure practitioners and realized beings. When Buddhadharma first began to flourish there were many realized beings, both Yogis and Yoginis. Then gradually they became less and less common, until now it is very rare to find a pure practitioner. (see Ordination Talk 1999, .doc)

If you think about this and if you have some experience with NKT, looking from a critical, distanced perspective, you might recognize that the concept of purity is used within NKT as Lifton portrayed it for the AUM cult: in the NKT there is purity (or the truth) outside of NKT there is degeneration (or defilement).

Besides the demands for purity in NKT, other parts quoted above of Lifton’s analysis of the AUM cult are also present in the NKT: an extreme tendency to guru obedience, the concept of the need to surrender to the guru (which is not mainstream Buddhism), the unfailing omniscient guru versus the fallible disciple that blames himself for everything (the guru can never be wrong), an ever increasing mental attitude – the longer one is committed to NKT the stronger it becomes – to feel guilty (of not having enough faith, of having too many negative emotions, of not working hard enough for the spread of NKT etc.). If things don’t work well for you, you must purify yourself, because it is your fault, your “impure view” etc.

Of course, so far, the NKT has not been involved in any murder or crime as Asahara did, still there are fundamentalist tendencies that I think are important to consider and to be aware of. When I left the NKT and read the following Interview by Shainberg with Robert Jay Lifton (that is only recently fully available online) I found a lot of similarities between NKT and the AUM cult from the point of view of structure, concepts and tendencies.

See also:

[1] »The Dharma is neither non-existent nor existent. It is not both existent and non-existent, nor is it other than existent and non-existent. It is inaccessible to such investigation and cannot be defined. It is self-aware and peace. The Dharma is without defilement. Holding the brilliant light rays of primordial wisdom, it fully defeats attachment, aversion, and dull indifference with regard to all objects of perception. I bow down to this sun of the sacred Dharma.

Inconceivable, free from the two [veils] and from thought, being pure, clear, and playing the part of an antidote, it is free from attachment and frees from attachment.

This is the Dharma with its features of the two truths.«

[2] None of the five treatises by Maitreya/Asanga is studied or even existent in NKT.

[3] »What is the difference between Dharma and non-Dharma?« the teacher Drom[tönpa] was asked by Potowa.
»If something is in opposition to fettering passions, it is Dharma. If it is not, it is not Dharma. If it does not accord with worldly people, it is Dharma. If it does accord, it is not Dharma. If it accords with the teachings of Buddha, it is Dharma. If it does not accord, it is not Dharma. If good follows, it is Dharma. If bad follows, it is not Dharma.« – Tsunba Jegom, Precepts Collected from Here and There (Kadam Thorbu)

Interview with the Dalai Lama about ethics in the teacher-student relationship & Two papers about mindfulness

Since 2002 I collect information about the teacher student relationship in the context of Tibetan Buddhism and try to get information about approaches if one has taken on a misleading guru, or a guru who abuses his or her students.

Recently we had a brief discussion about this topic in the Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Italy in the context of our tantra studies. After this discussion a Bhikshuni sent two files to the students, one contained an interview with HH the Dalai Lama about this topic in 1993 and the other file contained an interview with Geshe Sönam Rinchen about “Guru devotion”. Both texts have not been available online by now.

I asked the Bhikshuni if I could post the interview with HH the Dalai Lama on my website, and she clarified the copyrights/editor permission and just some minutes ago I posted it. I think in this interview with HH the Dalai Lama, he gives clear, very good and straight forward advice what to do if Gurus misbehave or abuse their students:

… if someone is supposed to propagate the Dharma and their behavior is harmful, it is our responsibility to criticize this with a good motivation. This is constructive criticism, and you do not need to feel uncomfortable doing it. In “The Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattvas’ Vows,” it says that there is no fault in whatever action you engage in with pure motivation. Buddhist teachers who abuse sex, power, money, alcohol, or drugs, and who, when faced with legitimate complaints from their own students, do not correct their behavior, should be criticized openly and by name. This may embarrass them and cause them to regret and stop their abusive behavior. Exposing the negative allows space for the positive side to increase. When publicizing such misconduct, it should be made clear that such teachers have disregarded the Buddha’s advice. However, when making public the ethical misconduct of a Buddhist teacher, it is only fair to mention their good qualities as well.

For more read:

We had also some discussion on the blog and in Italy during our study review of the Abhidharmakosha about mindfulness and its modern use e.g. within the context of MBSR (Jon Kabat-Zinn), Psychology etc. There are two excellent papers by Georges Dreyfus and Jay Garfield that discuss this topic in detail, showing that modern interpretations of mindfulness do not really touch its deeper meaning as meant in Buddhist practice – which doesn’t mean that modern interpretations of mindfulness and practice don’t have an impact on the practitioners or don’t have a value. However, there is a danger to water down the more profound and deeper meanings of mindfulness as it is meant within Buddhism and as it is crucial to really transform the mind and not just to find some relaxation in stressful times. If you are interested, enjoy to read these two papers:

Geshe Michael Roach – The Sad Case of a Gifted Man

Sorry, I don’t want to add more on this. There has been said enough already. I just want to make you aware of two recent articles about Michael Roach, one in Rolling Stone and one by Scott Carney (in Playboy). You find more material and links at the end of the article by Scott Carney.

When I read the Interview with Geshe Michael Roach & Christie McNally (PDF) in 2003 and especially the passage where Roach tries to defend himself, skillfully avoiding to answer the question what his teacher, Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, says about his (strange) behavior, I realized that Michael Roach has created an own inner world where voices can only reach him if they suit his own views. Since there are still some people who think it might be worth to follow Mr. Roach or that he might be a genuine Buddhist teacher, I added the article by Scott Carney on my website. Food for Thought! I am grateful that Alexander Berzin warned me personally to be careful with Roach – though at that time, I was not pleased to hear it because I placed my spiritual hopes already in Michael Roach …

During a tantric teaching the teacher of Roach, Khen Rinpoche, was asked about Roach, and he clearly distanced himself from Roach. Sadly, so far I was not able to get the recording but it exists. That this explicitly alienation by Roach’s teacher exists was told to me by a person I trust who listened to these teachings by Khen Rinpoche.

Last and least, Robert Thurman about Roach in the RollingStone interview:

Robert Thurman, a Columbia University religion professor and a leading expert on Eastern religions, calls Roach’s version of Tibetan Buddhism “an American pop-religion knockoff.”  …

The office of the Dalai Lama issued a rebuke, and Roach’s associates urged him to remove his robes to indicate that he was not celibate. When he refused, Robert Thurman, a former ordained monk, tried to reason with him. “I asked him to meet,” says Thurman, who is married and long ago resigned his robes. “He finally came with his consort to Columbia. I told him to go back to being a lay minister, to take off the robes. Bottom line is, he said he wouldn’t give up the robes. He said, ‘I have never consorted with a human female,’ and I said to Christie, ‘Are you human?’ And she didn’t say yes or no. She said, ‘He said it, I didn’t.’”

Thurman felt McNally was young and naive and being manipulated by Roach, but McNally felt empowered. According to her, the retreat had altered their dynamic. She had gone into it as Roach’s lesser, emerging as his equal. “The roles in the play now had changed from teacher and student to ‘partners,’” she says, and goes on to say that since Roach was interested in embracing his feminine side, “normal sexual relations between two married partners were absent from this relationship.”

Instead of waiting for new acolytes to come to them, Roach and McNally began holding classes at popular New York yoga studios like Jivamukti, whose clientele included Wall Street bankers, fashionistas like Donna Karan and celebrities such as Sting, Russell Simmons and Madonna. He had translated the Yoga Sutra from Sanskrit and spoke of how yoga could lead to enlightenment. “His teaching was the missing link in the writings on the Yoga Sutra,” says Morris. “Nobody had accomplished what was described in there, and here was somebody who had. I was moved. He was a good, holy, honest man then.”

Buddhist-Muslim Commitment to Action and the Dusit Declaration

Monks in Burma

Buddhist and Muslim leaders from South and South East Asian countries including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, have gathered in Bangkok, Thailand to address escalating tensions between two communities and potential spread of hatred across the region. The consultation was co-organized by the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), and Religions for Peace (RfP).

Read more …

See also


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