Are NKT monks and nuns authentic?

According to the Australian Sangha Association “for NKT members to represent themselves to the public as authentic Buddhist monks and nuns is wrong and misleading.”

According to the New Kadampa Tradition “Buddha Shakyamuni himself said that the Vinaya should be practiced in accordance with what is most acceptable for society. The NKT is following this advice from Buddha.”

Is the NKT claim correct?

Buddha Shakyamuni himself said that the Vinaya should be practiced in accordance with what is most acceptable for society.

This claim is wrong, its an invention, and it doesn’t make sense. The Buddha never said this. The NKT can’t provide any valid source for such a claim. This claims is illogical because if it were true that “Buddha Shakyamuni himself said that the Vinaya should be practiced in accordance with what is most acceptable for society”, it follows NKT monks and nuns should go shopping to increase the income of their country by being good consumers, they should enjoy relationships, have sex, found families, watch TV, enjoy in pleasure, serve the army, go for work to earn money, and from time to time they should go for wars against the country’s enemies, because this “is most acceptable for society”. But the monk’s and nun’s life is no householder life and it is distinct different from living in the society.

The Change of Vinaya Rules

The Buddha allowed the Assembly of the Sangha to change minor rules. However, by now no agreement could be found in the monastic Sangha what rules could be considered to be ‘minor rules’. That’s why the rules haven’t been changed in the three existing Vinaya lineages (Theravada, Mūlasarvāstivāda, Dhammaguptika). (see also History of the Vinaya Lineages and Sects and Sectarianism – The Origins of Buddhist Schools)

The claim of NKT, “NKT monks and nuns are authentic”, is incorrect in two ways:

  1. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, an expelled Bhikshu from Sera Mey, is not the Assembly of the Sangha who can change the Vinaya rules. “One bhikkhu cannot effect any changes since Vinaya-decisions are arrived at after the consultation of a Sangha” (see The Buddhist Monk’s Discipline) and “However, when the monks want to amend even certain minor precepts, they would have to do it with the sanction of a recognized Sangha Council. Individual monks are not at liberty to change any Vinaya rules according to their whims and fancies. Such a Council of Sangha members can also impose certain sanction against monks who have committed serious violations of the disciplinary code and whose behavior discredits the Sangha. The Buddha instituted the Council to help monks to prevent evil deeds and avoid temptation in a worldly life. The rules were guidelines rather than inviolable laws handed down by some divine authority.” (see What is Vinaya?)
  2. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has not changed ‘minor rules’. In fact Geshe Kelsang has removed the complete lineage of novice ordination and full ordination, including the three monastic activities, fortnightly Sojong (this can only be performed with at least four Bhikshus), the Rain Retreat, and the End of Rain Retreat. By this there is no Buddhist order active in NKT; the complete Vinaya is inactive. Without the complete Vinaya and the presence of the Four Assemblies the transmission of the Dharma is incomplete (see The Four Assemblies and the Foundation of the Order of Nuns). This is also clear from the Lam Rim teachings, because a Central Buddhist Country is only a country where all Four Assemblies are present, the order of monks and nuns together with laymen and laywomen. Because the monastic order and the proscribed rituals can only function with fully ordained ones, the presence of fully ordained persons is of vital importance for the existence and continuation of the monastic order. The presence of fully ordained monks and nuns is also of vital importance for the continuation of the Dharma, as the Buddha said himself in the Vinaya Sutra “As long as the complete Vinaya, the supreme treasure, abides, the Lamp of Dharma shall abide.” Due to these reasons His Holiness the Dalai Lama and many Buddhist monks and nuns are eager to revive the Bhikshuni order (the order of fully ordained nuns) in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

The Buddha

There is the case where a bhikkhu says this: ‘In the Blessed One’s presence have I heard this, in the Blessed One’s presence have I received this: This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.’ His statement is neither to be approved nor scorned. Without approval or scorn, take careful note of his words and make them stand against the Suttas and tally them against the Vinaya.

If, on making them stand against the Suttas and tallying them against the Vinaya, you find that they don’t stand with the Suttas or tally with the Vinaya, you may conclude: ‘This is not the word of the Blessed One; this bhikkhu has misunderstood it’ and you should reject it. But if… they stand with the Suttas and tally with the Vinaya, you may conclude: ‘This is the word of the Blessed One; this bhikkhu has understood it rightly.’ (see also ATI)

Although most quotes above are from the Theravada Vinaya, the Indo-Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivāda lineage is not very different from it. The views regarding the change of rules and the importance of the Vinaya, are the same. Until now not much of the commentary literature of the Indo-Tibetan Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya has been translated into English, therefore the reader who seeks clarity and can’t read Tibetan may use these Theravada Vinaya explanations in English.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s views on ordination contradict the Mahayana and Je Tsongkhapa[1]

Geshe Kelsang states in his ordination talk 1999:

Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhism follows the Vinaya Sutra, which belongs to the Hinayana tradition. Personally I find this strange. We are Mahayana Buddhists so why are we following the Vinaya – the Pratimoksha vows – of the Hinayana tradition?

Although, sadly, the commentary by Geshe Kelsang includes a lot of more inaccuracies and misleading claims, for the sake of simplicity I take just this claim  to show how it directly contradicts the Mahayana (the Bodhisattva vows) and Je Tsongkhapa’s own explanation whose tradition Geshe Kelsang claims to hold ‘purely’.

Je Tsongkhapa explains the Bodhisattva vow not to “Reject the Hearers [Hinayana] vehicle” based on Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi (in inverted commas) in the following way:

Rejecting the hearers vehicle

“To hold oneself, and espouse to others the view that ‘A bodhisattva does not listen to doctrine that is associated with the vehicle of the hearers; he should not guard the words and the sense of it, nor should he train himself sustainedly in it. There is no need to do these things’ – is a defiled fault.”

To hold the opinion that it is necessary for someone of the lesser vehicle to listen etc. to the hearers’ vehicle, but it is not necessary for the bodhisattva, does not constitute a fundamental rejection of the vehicle of the hearers. It looms especially large, however, as the seminal transgression of causing others to reject the pratimoksa.

“The reason that this results in transgression is that if the bodhisattva need apply himself even to tirthika treatises, what need to mention the exalted word of the Buddha?”

To maintain that those of little familiarity with doctrine, so long as they belong to the Greater Vehicle, need not train themselves in pratimoksa, is a great pitfall that accumulates obstacles whose karmic maturation is a paucity of doctrine. This precept is the best guideline for avoiding it.[2]

The Bodhisattva vow “Not training for the sake of others’ faith.” is explained by Asanga (in inverted commas) and commented by Je Tsongkhapa in the following manner:

Not training for the sake of others’ faith

“The bodhisattva trains himself as do the hearers [Hinayana] – not refusing to conform by distinguishing himself from them – according to what has been legislated by the Lord as trainings in the Pratimoksa, the source work, and in other vinaya texts such as the Vibhanga that are commentaries to it, to be reprehensible by precept (which means, those [rules] not reprehensible by nature), in order to guard the thought of others.” He renounces whatever the hearers renounce.

“In order that those previously without faith may have faith, and those previously faithful may develop it further,” there are precepts for not drinking alcohol, abstinence from eating at the wrong time and so forth, as well as [not] digging the soil, making a fire, etc. You must train yourself in these as do the hearers, for if you fail to do so, not only does a fault develop contradicting the pratimoksa – a misdeed also develops contradicting the bodhisattva vow.

“The reason for this is that the hearers, intent as they are upon their own welfare, train themselves in trainings that guard the minds of others. How much more so must the bodhisattvas, intent as they are upon the welfare of others!”[3]

The explanation of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso does not only contradict the Mahayana it also contradicts the Vinaya and Pratimoksha (as explained by the Buddha and Je Tsongkhapa), and it contradicts the approach of Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa who both strongly emphasized the Vinaya and the three set of vows (Vinaya, Mahayana and Vajrayana) and showed how they should be practised together and that there is no contradiction between these three set of vows.

The Lineages of Buddhist monks and Nuns and the Lineages of Buddhist Ordination[4]

Nowadays there are three existing lineages of ordination:

  • the Theravada lineage: mainly in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. They follow the Theravadin Vinaya, which has 227 rules for the bhikkhus (male monastics) and 311 for the bhikkhunis (female monastics).
  • the Dharmagupta lineage: mainly in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, which has 250 rules for the bhikkhus and 348 rules for the bhikkhunis. They follow the Dharmaguptaka Vinaya.
  • the Mūlasarvāstivāda lineage: mainly in Tibet and Mongolia, which has 253 rules for the bhikshus and 364 rules for bhikshunis. They follow the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya.

The Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya is that of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, and his teachers. The lineage is (roughly listed) from Buddha Shakyamuni -> Shariputra -> Rahula (Buddha’s son) -> Nagarjuna -> Bhavaviveka -> Shrigupta ->  Jnanagarbha -> Shantarakshita (who brought it to Tibet) -> Je Tsongkhapa -> to the present Vinaya holders. (Also Sakya Pandita was ordained in that lineage.)

There is nothing existent like a “Kadampa ordination according to Geshe Potowa” or a “Kadampa ordination derived from the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra“. Who claims this is incorrect and is deceiving people. Arya Nagarjuna explained 36 vows for a Buddhist novice monk or novice nun and 253 vows for a fully ordained monk and 364 vows for a fully ordained nun according to the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya.


Prātimokşa Sūtra of the Mūlasarvāstivādins:

  • Introduction to the Pratimoksha Sutra – Geshe Tekchok: Monastic Rites, London 1985
  • Mahāmahopādyāya Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana: So-sor-thar-pa : The Tibetan version of the Prātimokşa Sūtra of the Mūlasarvāstivādins
  • The Bhikshuni Pratimoksha Sutra of the Mulasarvastivadin School
  • Je Tsongkhapa: The Essence of the Vinaya Ocean
  • Prātimokşa Sūtra from the Gelong Sojong text of Sera Je monastery (bimonthly ritual of confession proscribed by the Buddha for Buddhist monks and nuns)
  • The Sutra on Being Endowed with Morality: Sila Samyukta Sutra

For those seeking authentic explanations about the Indo-Tibetan Mulasarvastivada Vinaya lineage, they may read these public available commentaries:

  • Essence of the Vinaya Ocean And The Namse Dengma Getsul Training by Lama Tsong Khapa; translated by Geshe Graham Woodhouse; ISBN: 8190236067[6]
  • Direct Instructions from Shakyamuni Buddha – A Gelong’s Training in Brief by H.H. the XIVth Dalai Lama; translated by Geshe Graham Woodhouse; ISBN: 8190236075[6]
  • Stanzas for a Novice Monk (Nagarjuna) & Essenz of the Ocean of Vinaya (Lama Tsongkhapa), Commentary by Lama Mipham Rinpoche, ISBN : 8186470158
  • Geshe Jampa Thegchok: Monastic Rites, Wisdom Books, ISBN : 0861712374
  • Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Taye: Buddhist Ethics (Treasury of Knowledge), ISBN cloth: 155939191X
  • The Complete Works of Atisha, translated by Sherburne, Commentary on the Lamp of the Path by Atisha, Chapter III: The Monastic Life, ISBN: 81-7742-022-4 (The chapter is based on the Mahasamghika Vinaya, but points out clearly Atisha’s position regarding monasticism.)

See Also

For more about monasticism see

[1] This paragraph was added February 8, 2009.
[2] Asanga’s Chapter on Ethics With the Commentary of Tsong-Kha-Pa: The Basic Path to Awakening, the Complete Bodhisattva, page 228, Edwin Mellen Press:1986, translated by Mark Tatz
[3] Asanga’s Chapter on Ethics With the Commentary of Tsong-Kha-Pa: The Basic Path to Awakening, the Complete Bodhisattva, page 208, Edwin Mellen Press:1986, translated by Mark Tatz
[4] This paragraph was added September 27, 2008.
[5] This paragraph was added April 01, 2009.
[6] This book was added October 17, 2009.


  Last edited by tenpel on March 01, 2017
(The DBO link was added.)