The UK Charity Commission
An important body that has had a long relationship with the NKT is the UK Charity Commission. Like Inform, one of the fundamental tenets of the Charity Commission is neutrality. Unlike Inform, the NKT have a vested interest in maintaining a healthy relationship with the Commission since their charitable status as the registered charity ‘NKT-IKBU’ brings significant benefits, both in terms of funding and tax exemption.
After the demonstrations of 2008, a number of individuals wrote to the Commission to express their concerns about the NKT-IKBU’s infrastructure, assets and membership being utilised in the WSS’s highly political anti Dalai Lama campaign. Generally speaking, charities are advised not to engage directly in political activity. In a recent report on the activities of the League Against Cruel Sports, for instance, Andrew Hind, Chief Executive of the Charity Commission said:
“Charities must guard their independence very carefully, which means not engaging in any party political activity or leaving the charity open to the perception that they may be.”
Critics of the NKT would certainly suggest that the NKT, in the guise of the WSS, was engaged in just such activity. However, the Commission rejected this complaint stating:
“Our view, is that the charity is undertaking campaigning rather than political activity, (a view) based on the distinct definitions of these terms, derived from charity law. Political activity involves trying to secure support or oppose a change in the law or in the policy or decisions of a central government, local authority, or other public body whether in this country or abroad. Campaigning is about mobilising support and raising awareness about an issue, whether in the public domain generally or particularly among stakeholders or governments, or both.
In this case, the charity is campaigning against an edict or a resolution (I refer However, we do not think that this is a political campaign or political activity because the edict has not been pronounced by a functioning government or political leader. Neither is the edict capable of being legally enforced. Clearly, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile do pass resolutions, decisions and edicts which are followed by their supporters. However, these do not become laws or policies in Tibet, India or any other country, and their supporters have the choice of whether to comply or not.”
In other words, the campaign against the Dalai Lama is not a political one because the Dalai Lama is not a political leader and his edicts are not legally enforceable.
Supporters of the Dalai Lama’s position on the Shugden issue can be forgiven for perhaps perceiving this somewhat characteristically evasive and insipid response something of a disappointment. To suggest that the Dalai Lama is not a political leader simply because he is not currently the head of state or that his actions are not political simply because his edicts are not legally enforceable seems a very convenient way for the Charity Commission to, once again, refrain from acting when action is urgently needed. Even the NKT would disagree with them on both issues. After all, their central argument is that the Dalai Lama is a political figure and his edicts on Shugden are being enforced within the exiled Tibetan community.
Significantly more noteworthy however, is the repeated use of the phrase “the charity is …campaigning”. To whom exactly do the Commission refer when they speak of ‘the charity’ campaigning against the Dalai Lama’s edicts? Certainly, it is not the Western Shugden Society; the WSS have, at least until now, not registered as a UK charity. Moreover, the complaints that the Charity Commission received were not made against the WSS but rather, against the NKT-IKBU itself.
Thus, when the Commission refer to the non-political ‘campaigning’ activities of ‘the charity’, the charity are referring directly to the NKT. From the perspective of UK Charity Commission, the demonstrations against the Dalai Lama that were carried out in the deliberate guise of the WSS were in fact, the activity of registered charity 101504, the New Kadampa Tradition-International Kadampa Buddhist Union.
The Charity Commission’s response continues:
“…it would appear the charity believes its involvement in the issue to be political. We will therefore write to the trustees to explain the legal position that applies to charities taking part in political activity and campaigning, and the duties and responsibilities that must be complied with. As mentioned above, the reason for being involved in the campaign must be related to the charity’s purposes and trustees must be able to justify the resources applied….Our advice will also include trustees considering the methods used to campaign, such as taking part in demonstrations or associating with another organisation(s).”
This then, further confirms that it is the NKT-IKBU to which the Commission refer in their response. In fact, several phrases in the passage raise some very interesting questions. For instance, if “the charity believes its involvement in the issue to be political.” why does “the charity” publicly deny that it engages in any form of political activity? Again, why do the Commission believe the NKT-IKBU considers its “involvement in the issue to be political.”? Is it because they have consistently denied any association between their own activities and those of the WSS? Is such apparently deceptive behaviour acceptable for a charity in the eyes of the Commission?
According to the Commission’s response to the complaint that the NKT IKBU charity has bee engaging in political activities, charities can undertake such campaigning activity, “as long as they are only undertaken in the context of supporting the delivery of the charity’s purposes or aims, in this case the Dalai Lama’s edict against Shugden propitiation”.
The Charity Commission website states that the aims and purpose of the NKT-IKBU are the “Public promotion of Kadampa Buddhism throughout the world, by supporting the development of Kadampa Buddhist centres throughout the world, by publishing and distributing book on Kadampa Buddhism and training teachers in the same, and finally the maintenance of a year-round programme of Buddhist teachings and meditation at the charity’s home premises.”
Where in this statement of aims and purposes, does the NKT IKBU refer to its ‘religious freedom’ campaigns against the Dalai Lama? Is it not the case that, despite the fact that this has very clearly been one of the NKT IKBU’s most prominent activities of recent, such activities do not appear to link to any of the stated aims or purposes, either explicitly or indeed, implicitly? Why is it that the NKT-IKBU’s significant involvement in these activities is not made clear in the statement aims and purposes?
Surely, if this campaigning has become a significant aspect of the NKT-IKBU’s activities, this should be made clear in its statement of aims and purposes? If not, how are the general public or indeed non-governmental bodies such as English Heritage and the National Lottery to know whether they are contributing to a cause, the aims of which they agree with? Is this perhaps why the NKT have been so keen to hide the fact that, though they and the WSS are nominally distinct, they are in fact the same entity?
After the 2008 demonstrations by the NKT/WSS the Administrative Director of Kadampa Meditation Centre, Florida resigned, declaring:
“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.”
If more people were aware of this total dishonesty over the NKT’s thoroughly political nature, how long would it be before it was no longer one of the largest and fastest growing New Buddhist Movements in the West? How long would it be before the mortgage payments could no longer be met and its burgeoning property empire began to collapse inwards, like the proverbial sand castle slipping back into the sea?
Note: The synopsis of the NKT-Charity Commission case was provided by a third party source.
- Do New Kadampa Tradition abuse the Charity Status for Political Activities? 2009/21/12
- Benefits abuse by large wealthy organizations
- Charity Commission and the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) 2012/07/17
- 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