I recently wrote a message to a friend and I decided to post it here. I don’t know if it will be of interest but I do think that it can be beneficial to read about where people who have left NKT are at. Anyway, so here it is.
Thanks for your message that you sent a while ago. I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier, it’s just that I didn’t really know how to put into words the way I feel about NKT and spirituality in general. But this evening, for some reason, a few ideas occurred to me of how I can describe my current position, so I thought I would take the time to write to you while it’s all fresh in my mind.
Before I got into NKT, as I may have told you, I spent a few years involved with Chi Kung and other sorts of alternative spirituality – chakras, chi, higher selves, spirits, healing, astral travelling, and so on. I followed (I suppose you could call it that) a mentor who was talented and charismatic yet also highly volatile. Under his influence, I spent several years with the attitude that spirituality involved gaining new extrasensory experiences, learning to see energy, heal people, and so on. But the mentor that I followed, while seemingly spiritually advanced in those terms, ultimately proved to be quite a nasty piece of work, prone to heavy drinking, fighting, using prostitutes and a quite insidious manipulation of those close to him. As it turned out his psychic abilities were bound up more with the fragility of his ego anything else, and the combination was a potent and dangerous cocktail. So the whole thing blew up in my face, my mentor and I parted ways (when he began to threaten to kill me), and I floated around for a while before encountering NKT. I was quite young, then, too, only nineteen.
I remember very clearly that one of the main things that attracted me to NKT was, as it appeared to me then, its ethical and moral core. From the very beginning I felt that while there was a powerful energy surrounding the centres which could provide intense spiritual experiences, these things were not the main goal of practice. They were not to be taken too seriously; the focus was on maintaining a high ethical standard in daily life and working towards the ultimate goal of enlightenment, following the humble example of Je Tsonkhapa who forbade the demonstration of miracle powers, instead emphasising moral living and setting a good example. I had already realised that my previous mentor, for all his `spiritual’ abilities, was morally bankrupt and actually would have been better off with no spirituality at all. NKT, on the other hand, seemed to have its priorities straight. It seemed perfect. So I went in at the deep end, falling head-over-heels in love with the Kadam Dharma. Nobody mentioned the schism with the Dalai Lama which had come to a head in demonstrations just eighteen months before; by the time I found out about them I had already invested too much in NKT. While I was troubled by the conflict, by this time I needed NKT too much to turn back. Instead I managed to persuade myself that – against my intuition – the odd explanations that I was provided with by members of the organisation were actually wise and just.
So. Fast forward a decade or so, and I’ve left the NKT. Looking back, I had a lot of wonderful times during my period as a practitioner. The bliss of tantric practice is something that still moves me, as well as the Lam Rim and Mahamudra meditations. I formed deep and significant friendships and had a strong underlying sense that my life had acquired a greater meaning. Because of this, it is difficult sometimes for me to reconcile these memories with the fact that I have left it all behind, and not only that, I have become very critical of NKT. It is even more difficult to explain my reasons for leaving to someone who is still in love with the tradition. This evening, however, I was struck by the parallel between my old mentor and NKT, and I thought that’s a good way to express it; for all the extraordinary experiences that NKT can offer, ultimately a set of true moral principles is lacking throughout the organisation and this renders all the positive aspects irrelevant.
This may seem a strange statement considering the great emphasis within NKT on moral discipline, cherishing others and so on. But it is clear to me that while NKT makes these sweeping altruistic gestures on the outside, at its core is something rather different. Under the highly-polished surface lies ingrained sectarianism and a disparaging view of all other forms of spirituality; an expansionist drive that uses the energy of new recruits to spread the message with no concern for their burnout; a cultish dependency on the word and approval of the leader and an abdication of critical thought that is actively encouraged; and a systematic, widespread rash of sexual, emotional and financial abuse practised by those in positions of power. Ironically enough, it is the humble practitioners who are not involved in running the show that tend to be kinder, less judgemental and more open-minded. The further you travel to the heart of the NKT, the more you are twisted – in the name of enlightened principles – into the very opposite of what it is supposed to be about. And you don’t even realise it’s happening. Until it’s too late.
On reflection I do not feel that I was as badly afflicted as many. Although I had a reasonably senior standing in my centre, I did not get ordained so never became a Resident Teacher or anything. This meant that although admittedly my moral life was tainted by the negativity of NKT culture to some extent, I didn’t undergo the full transformation that many good men and women are subjected to once they have given over their lives fully to the Guru. Perhaps that is why it took so long for the penny to drop. But when it did, I had no option but to leave.
Now, more than eighteen months since leaving NKT, I am still without a significant spiritual life. I find the notion of faith problematic. It seems to me that faith is tantamount to believing what has not been demonstrated to you, because someone you respect has said it. This, to me, seems to undercut one’s own powers of critical reflection and leaves one in a position which is extremely vulnerable to manipulation. I am, of course, open to the idea of developing respect for someone else to the extent that you take their views seriously. But that person has to earn your respect rather than be awarded it because they state they deserve it. And what is the point of actively developing faith when it grows naturally if someone wins your respect through their actual good qualities? I think that if someone is encouraging you to develop faith, the only reason can be that they are not truly worthy of that faith. Otherwise you would have it naturally in the first place and it would not need to be mentioned at all.
Moreover, given the powerful role of psychological drives in attracting me to and keeping me in NKT, I have a large question-mark in my mind with regard to the existence of any form of higher power and ‘hidden objects’. Doubtless I have experienced the power of the Buddhas and NKT practices; but could this not be a psychosomatic? In truth I do not know, this issue is very unresolved for me.
Finally, I think that the moral vows that NKT encouraged us to take upon ourselves all too often served to stunt our moral awareness rather than enhance it. After all, it is easy to adhere to a rigid code (for a certain length of time at least), but it is difficult to meet each situation with nothing but one’s own moral compass to rely on. And I think it is the latter that leads to spiritual development, however many mistakes one might make.
There is, of course, a lot more that could be said, and I hope we are able to exchange views on the subject. But for now I’m going to leave it there.
For More See
- Information about the New Kadampa Tradition 2008/09/18
- A Small Protest of former New Kadampa Tradition’s members 2008/09/08
- Bodhisattva Centre Open Day – Review and Reply 2008/09/11
- Experiences with the New Kadampa Tradition and Kelsang Gyatso
Written by a member of the New Kadampa Survivors. Posted with his kind permission.