New Kadampa Tradition – Multiple ‘Histories’

The New Kadampa Tradition feels smeared by criticism they are faced with. As a response the NKT secretary set up an anonymous website, called New Kadampa Truth. The New Kadampa Truth site offers about 32 replies to ‘Smears’ and is attacking different Buddhist masters and Buddhists and the Buddhist organisation FPMT, placing them on the page Behind the Lies. The complete web site had been translated into Español & Français.

The History of NKT

Because the history of events is the vital point to understand controversies, the battle about the interpretation of history and the weight which is placed to certain events as well as the repression of certain events, the exaggeration or manipulation and rewriting of events is a main tool to establish a version of history which suits a preferred reading of a specific ‘history’ and its context.

As Coney puts it:

Most often, what is forgotten is forgotten because it no longer fits in with the current version of events, especially one constructed by an elite group. Sometimes, indeed, unwelcome memories are systematically destroyed by leaderships. (Coney 1997)

Kay states:

The NKT is a religious movement in which the dynamics of history construction, as outlined by Coney, are well exemplified. Multiple ‘histories’ exist on an individual and public group level both inside and outside the movement. As the pre-history of the group is rooted in conflict and schism the social organisation of memory and forgetfulness especially the group’s leadership is particularly striking. Accounts of current and former members either reinforce or contradict and compete with each other. They diverge widely over points of historical detail and often interpret the same events and processes in very different ways, reflecting a wide range of personal experience, depth of involvement, bias, opinion and loyalty. At the level of public discourse, the history and identity of the NKT has also, during the course of its development, undergone considerable realignment. Of course, such revision and reconfiguration of the past is commonplace within religious movements that are more concerned with issues of identity and ideology than with notions of historical veracity. (Kay 2004  : 82)

As the event of the taking over of the Manjushri Institute by the ‘Priory Group’ is very important to understand the emergence of NKT, NKT offers now their point of view on this subject of NKT history.

The persons who are reporting the NKT point of view, Charles ‘Chip’ Rodarmor, Roy Tyson and James Belither, are close followers of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Charles ‘Chip’ Rodarmor is the person  who delivered the so-called ‘blackmail tape‘ to Lama Yeshe. What they offer is the NKT point of view.

The “Sera Expulsion Letter” states that Geshe Kelsang “usurped the FPMT centre and made it his own NKT”.

It will be hard to find the truth without relying on neutral academic research. Kay, the only academic who researched the history of NKT (all other academic researches on NKT use and quote from his two scholarly papers), didn’t mention issues of drug abuse but he showed the dynamics of the split of Geshe Kelsang and his close followers from FPMT, stating, that it was Geshe Kelsang who had always taken the greater interest in the running and direction of the Institute, and most of the students there were closer to him (Kay 2004 : 66). He also made clear that Geshe Kelsang was just one of two Geshes there. Geshe Kelsang led the smaller General Buddhism program, while the other Geshe led the 12-year Geshe program. Kay states the courses offered by both Geshes complemented each other, but as Kay remarked, they “differed in one important respect: only Geshe Kelsang’s General Programme included courses on Tantric Buddhism, and attendance upon these required the reception of a Tantric empowerment.”

The latter point may offer a key for a better understanding of the schism. By these Tantric Empowerments and the way Geshe Kelsang interprets the teachings on ‘relying on a Guru’, he established himself as the sole spiritual authority of those disciples – known as the ‘Priory Group’ – who took empowerments by him. Critical students of that time portray this process:

These students often explain the emergence of the NKT in terms of the desire for power and prestige that, they believe, motivated Geshe Kelsang first to attempt to ‘seize control’ of the Institute and eventually to ‘steal’ it from its mother organisation. The origin of this drive for power is variously explained – as a result, for example, of the excessive devotion he received, upon arriving in England, from naive and undiscriminating Western practitioners; or as a product of his ‘Extreme envy’ of Lama Yeshe, who was formerly a junior student to him in Sera Je monastery but who had now become the key personality behind a growing worldwide network of centres. The emergence of the NKT is thus described as the growth of a ‘personality cult’, orchestrated by a ‘totally unscrupulous rogue geshe’ through the ‘cynical manipulation’ of students and the ‘transference of [their] loyalty and devotion’ via the practice of guru devotion. (Kay 2004 : 83)

After the establishment of a Tantric teacher-student-relationship and the one-sided views Geshe Kelsang holds to this subject it was easy to manipulate  – consciously or unconsciously – the own students and to establish his radical and narrow-minded policies; opposing Lama Yeshe, FPMT and finally the complete Gelug school, including its highest authorities, the Ganden Tripa (Head of the Gelugpas) and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Kay states that “in 1991, through the successful exploitation of a legal loophole, the assets of Manjushri Institute finally fell under the sole control of the Priory Group” (Kay 2004 : 78)

According to David N. Kay, NKT’s leadership tries to eradicate unwelcome memories of discontinuity, conflict and schism by promoting a simplified, continuous and sanitized group history. (Kay 2004 : 82)

Kay states further

Current disciples of Geshe Kelsang whose association with him is relatively recent also tend to place the NKT’s emergence within a narrative of continuity that bypasses its actual historical development. These disciples, who usually have little or no awareness of the early history of the organisation, assume that since Geshe Kelsang is an ‘enlightened being’, the creation of the NKT had always been his intention. They tend to explain the years preceding 1991 as a period in which he carefully and deliberately planned, prepared and laid the foundations for the later organisation. This approach to the NKT’s historical development reflects the dominant narrative that has been publicly promoted by the leadership of the organisation. The ‘official’ version of the NKT’s history has been reluctant to admit that Geshe Kelsang’s thought has undergone considerable development and change during his time in the West. (Kay 2004 : 83)

People will make up their own mind on these issues and the website New Kadampa Truth. Those who search independent information can read the research by Kay:

As a response to NKT’s New Kadampa Truth two other anonymous websites have been published:

The latter one was set up by a group of former NKT members as a response to NKT’s new smear fighting site.The About states: “We don’t feel there is anything wrong in the NKT putting up this site as it is their right. We do however feel that it is obviously a biased view. New Kadampa Truths therefore is an attempt to help create an honest and open platform from which peoples’ direct experience can be shared. We hope this might help members of the public in their decision making process about whether to get involved with the NKT or not. It might also help those who are currently having a bad experience with the NKT to realise that they are not alone and that other people have had similar experiences.”

See also