Do New Kadampa Tradition abuse the Charity Status for Political Activities?

The UK charity laws do not allow political activities.*

When I stumbled today again over Helen Gradwell’s (Kelsang Pema’s) URGENT REQUEST FOR HELP TO GAIN FREEDOM FROM RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION sent to the UK parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, I wondered how much evidence is needed to show that NKT may actually abuse the UK charity status for political activities?

Having thought shortly about it I wondered what evidence there is to show that the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT-IKBU) may have violated the UK charity laws? Let’s have a look on this in two steps. First examining NKT leadership’s own views on this, and then examining who performs the activities – be they political or not.

I. Are these protests political activities or not?

Reply: They are political, because they were declared to be political by Geshe Kelsang himself, at least in the past.

1. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, founder and Spiritual Guide of NKT, said in his Open Letter to the Editor in Chief of the Washington Times in 2002:

However 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. I can guarantee that the NKT and myself have never performed inappropriate actions and will never do so in the future, this is our determination.

and further he said in a self-published interview on Google Groups with his student Yvonne Nilles in 1996:

… At the beginning I completely ignored this and I thought I would never involve myself in this Tibetan political problem…. On the other hand, I thought that if I became involved in these politics I would be criticized by many people and that even my life may be at risk, but finally I said to myself that I must stop self-cherishing and work for the welfare of these people. First, we organized to publish all the information we had received from India through many different newspapers in the United Kingdom, but no-one would print it… After the third demonstration, I strongly requested the members of the Shugden Supporters Community to stop all political activity immediately…I requested the people in Dharma Centers to forget all these politics and concentrate solely on their Dharma practice. In this way our activity lasted from May until July, only three months. This was my first experience of politics in this life. I pray that this will never happen again in the future.

From these statements one can clearly see, that Geshe Kelsang regards the conflict and his own involvement in it as being political actions. Because the NKT protests (1996-98) via the front group Shugden Supporters Community (SSC) were finally stopped by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso with the reason that NKT don’t wish to engage further in politics, all members also understood it to be a political problem and to be political actions. Hence, based on this understanding one can understand Lucy James’s hesitation to encourage students to organize new protests in April 2008 because Geshe Kelsang said and announced it in the public that NKT won’t engage any more in political activities and, according to him, Shugden is a Tibetan political problem and not the problem of Buddhism. Also, engaging in political activities while being a UK charity trust is not permitted in the UK, it is against the charity law.

2. In preparation of the protests 2008-?? which started at Colgate University (USA) in April 08 via a new front group, the Western Shugden Society, Geshe Kelsang removed Lucy James from her position as a resident teacher claiming now that he and his students have no political aim and that Lucy James directly told him: that the NKT was involving in political activities and that this was against the NKT and Dharma Centre constitutions. Obviously Geshe Kelsang neglected or forgot what he said himself in the past and what was clear to every follower. Geshe Kelsang put a spin on the facts now claiming that such a view, correctly understood by Lucy James, would be completely untrue; and he concluded Because you do not trust me I cannot work with you therefore my conclusion is that you should resign from being an NKT Resident Teacher. From 1st May 2008 you will no longer be an NKT Resident Teacher. I will prepare a new Resident Teacher for KMC Florida and Parbawatiya Center. Of course this type of arbitrary, and in a way irrational, response warned every NKT teacher not to behave like Lucy James otherwise he would have to experience the same treatment. Since Lucy James is an editor of his books and a respected long-term student of Geshe Kelsang nobody expected such a quick and easy “fall from grace” but now everybody was warned by this action to support the protests and at no costs to question them. To “clarify” the doubts, Geshe Kelsang just declared the protests to be apolitical stating I myself and my students have not done anything wrong. We have no political aim and we are not involved in any political issue but are simply trying to prevent the pure lineage of Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine from being destroyed by the Dalai Lama and we are trying to prevent future problems and dangers for Shugden practitioners throughout the world. Obviously not only Lucy James had a different opinion, because the same email states that the Admin Director of KMC Florida has resigned saying:

Since the beginning of our involvement with the NKT we have been repeatedly told that the NKT was not involved in politics. Now that the NKT has opened up with its political position and begun demonstrating I can no longer be a part of the organization. This complete lack of honesty about the NKT’s involvement in Tibetan politics is the reason for my departure.

This raises some qualms:

When the protests and the campaign were different times declared to be political by the leadership, Geshe Kelsang, and there was a clean clear understanding that these protests are political, how then can one man, Geshe Kelsang, change this arbitrary by saying this is untrue (opposing his own former views)?  And another doubt raises: no matter what Geshe Kelsang claims, actually, from a neutral perspective, can these protests be judged to be political or not?

To find an answer to the latter qualm:

Helen Gradwell (Kelsang Pema), personal assistant of Geshe Kelsang and official press speaker of the Western Shugden Society, asked in her parliament letter to the Committee on Foreign Affairs to “please help us achieve our religious freedom from the Dalai Lama” and claimed “In the UK alone there are thousands of Shugden practitioners who are suffering both materially and spiritually due to the Dalai Lama’s negative policies. We are seeking help from each permanent member of the United Nations Council: the UK Prime Minister, US president, French President, Russian President and Chinese President.”

Is this not political engagement?

II. Who is behind the Western Shugden Society (WSS)?

Once again this question can be asked. In the beginning NKT tried everything to avoid to acknowledge that WSS was set up by the NKT. As it is known to New Kadampa Survivors members, Geshe Kelsang wrote in an email to his followers I personally will organise demonstrations against the Dalai Lama directly. I requested Kelsang Pema and Kelsang Thubchen to do this job for me and they have accepted. It is clean clear that the structure of the Charity Trust New Kadampa Tradition was used to set up the campaign. When a former NKT member investigated he found out that some media data in the files refer to “Tharpa”, a NKT enterprise, which publishes only Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s books, and to a translator of Kelsang Gyatso’s books in Spain. If one investigates the multitude of images and videos of WSS one can see that the leaders and chant masters of the protests are almost in all cases NKT representatives from the respective countries where the protests took place. On the Colgate video the chant masters are Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab, Deputy Spiritual Director of the NKT, and Gen Kelsang Dekyong – National Spiritual Director of NKT USA. It was also due to former members of the NKT, who passed the information in the New Kadampa Survivors, that it became known, that the NKT summer festival 2008 was used to win more and more members for the protests and to organize the campaign:

I went to the festival or should I say political extremism gone mad. There were posters everywhere you looked, recruiting for the French demo against His Holiness. They were on all doors 2 a time inside and out. In all rooms, hallways. On mobile cooking points, walls and outbuildings. Even on the temple wall. The chapel was used as a meeting point. Even more posters! The walls were covered as were the doors and tables! Mein Gott! K.G. called it a Spiritual holiday to practise dharma. It felt like a BNP political rally. Not National Front.[..] (see extract of three reports)

III. Open Question

From my dilettante perspective on this specific issue, I wonder:

Based on having noticed and checked I. and II., and using the mass of self-published material of NKT/WSS, how can it not be that it can be said, that NKT actually are performing political actions? And if so, when is the point of no return reached where it can be said that NKT has bent the UK laws in a non-tolerable way?

Appendix

Another official document by the Bodhisattva Centre in Brighton indicates also that WSS and NKT are actually of the same entity:

Resident Teacher Gen Kelsang Nyingpo wrote to the members:

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
6th September 2008

Welcome to Bodhisattva Centre

You may be interested to visit the following websites for further
information about our Centre, our tradition – the New Kadampa
Tradition (NKT) the WSS:

Bodhisattva Buddhist Centre Website: http://www.meditateinbrighton.com
NKT website: http://www.kadampa.org
Western Shugden Society website: http://www.westernshugdensociety.org
And http://www.newkadampatruth.org for information about the NKT and
our side of the story!!

If you would like to speak about any of this, or if you have any concerns
you are very welcome to contact me on 01273 732917
Kind regards,
Kelsang Nyingpo (Resident Teacher)
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Note Dec 22, 09

*This was said to me different times. A short glance on the OXFAM-Inquiry seems to approve this.

Note July 4, 2010

See also: The NKT and the UK Charity Commission – Part II 2010/03/07

Note July 17, 2012

See also: Charity Commission and the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) 2012/07/17

Note Dec 04, 2013

Charity Commission ‘not fit for purpose’, says Margaret Hodge
Highly critical report warns commission’s failure to investigate fraud and abuse was undermining public faith in good causes – The Guardian