updated: July 15, 2010
One of the most important features to spread the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and to attract new members has been since some decades now to get the 22 books of Kelsang Gyatso “into every book shop in the world” (NKT magazine Full Moon No. 7 Spring 1993), and to give talks in bookshops to “inspire” potential new members to follow NKT’s “pure Dharma” and Kelsang Gyatso respectively and finally exclusively (up to the point where they will be completely separated from mainstream Buddhism and the true masters of Buddhism.)
NKT puts the way to hook people into the NKT by Kelsang Gyatso’s books and talks in bookstores that way:
Benefits to the person buying the book: in these talks we introduce shoppers to our Spiritual Guide—listening to teachings Geshe-la enters their heart, buying a book Geshe-la enters their home! The book will continually remind them of Kadam Dharma, and provide them with a source of refuge. Some people share stories of years elapsing between buying a book and coming to classes—and say that having the book in their home as a constant reminder was the decisive factor in making that happen. (see p. 7 in the NKT-document provided below)
To cast in that way for new—and often just ill informed—potential students appears to me as one of the most successful means of the New Kadampa Tradition to increase the number of their followers. Potential new recruits have usually (naive) faith in the good reputation of Buddhism and the Dalai Lama and might not even think about potential risks of following an unhealthy and highly controversial ‘Buddhist’ group. (The issues of the missionary drive and the growth and financing of NKT, which include the imperative of spreading Kelsang Gyatso’s books, have been explored already a bit in another article and in Kay’s research.)
In general, I think, it is correct to say that most people will abide in pseudo-security feelings that there is not any risk for them to attend those talks because they are just listening in a mainstream bookshop some explanations about Buddhism or meditation. What harm could there be? One can leave at any time the bookshop and it appears unlikely that there could be any harm in the future by participating those bookshop talks or buying the books of Kelsang Gyatso. But actually this is the way how many have been attracted into the NKT and were finally caught in the traps of powerful destructive dynamics of a very unhealthy group which circles exclusively around a single person who is totally isolated from the Buddhist community and genuine Buddhist masters.
Because the people are coming “innocently” to those bookshops and usually they have neither ideas about NKT’s controversial background, and that the NKT is seen by most as not abiding in the mainstream of Buddhism nor are most of them protected by having a good understanding of what Buddhism actually is all about, it might be helpful to shed some light on the present situation, and to pass on some information which allow to have more freedom of choice based on knowledge and proper background information using NKT’s own documents.
After campaigning for 2 years worldwide against the Dalai Lama via NKT’s front group Western Shugden Society, the NKT is launching now a huge campaign via the publisher Tharpa in USA and UK. Tharpa Publications is a property of the NKT and publishes exclusively the books of ‘Geshe’ Kelsang Gyatso and the educational material for the NKT organisation and NKT’s followers, including posters, postcards or propaganda material like Tibetan Situation. Since the books about Tibetan Buddhism by Kelsang Gyatso are usually written well, touching basic ideas of Buddhism often in an inspiring way, and the cultish structure of NKT shines through them only slightly, these books are of extreme benefit for NKT to attract new members who are open to Buddhism or who are interested to do something to improve their lives. So it comes to no surprise that after the loss of many followers—due to NKT’s internal sexual scandals and the protests against the Dalai Lama—NKT leadership decided to try hard to attract new members for the sake “to expand their empire”.
Of course the NKT leadership is telling their members that they are helping millions of millions of sentient beings by spreading “the pure Buddhadharma” (=NKT) in “these extremely impure times”. Followers of the NKT is told by the leadership they must serve the organisation because this is the only way “to accumulate merit” and to “attain realizations”. Them is also told that they would not be successful in retreats because of “lacking merits” and due “to the extremely impure times” their endeavour wouldn’t bring big results. But if they teach others the “pure Dharma” (=Kelsang Gyatso’s books or teachings) or work for the organisation as directors, teachers, education program coordinators and all the other needed tasks to run such a huge organisation, they would serve their own enlightenment the best.
What is for others “empire building” is for NKT a noble activity.
So to ‘expand the empire’ (critics) or to ‘spread the pure Kadam Dharma’ (NKT) NKT is launching via the own publisher Tharpa a huge bookshop campaign, cooperating with Waterstones and many small bookshops.
Waterstones themselves do not see any problems with this, arguing about “freedom of speech” makes them no problem to help NKTs further expansion. Tharpa will also work hard to make sure that the upcoming 23rd book of Kelsang Gyatso Modern Buddhism will become a best-seller. Internally the book is seen as “Geshe-la’s last teaching.”
A person from within NKT leaked recently a document Waterstones and other bookstore managers should try to read first before signing contracts with the NKT. Maybe they think twice after having read it about their collaboration with the NKT.
During the last official NKT festival at KMC-New York, there was a workshop on bookstore talks given by Kelsang Togden, the new US Director of Tharpa Publications. He provided a 14-page handout detailing the mechanics and strategies behind the Bookstore Talks.
The document goes into tremendous detail and even includes an introduction letter template designed to be sent to bookstore managers prior to making in-person contact. You can read this 14-page document below but be forewarned: reading it will require a strong stomach. For example:
“Make prayers for the people coming to the talk – and imagine or visualize that everyone in the audience will feel compelled to acquire the book at the end of the event.”
“Introduce yourself, the author (citing Geshe-la as your own Teacher), and the book – holding the book up for all to see. If other titles are available for sale in the bookstore, give a brief description of what they are.”
“Your motivation is to benefit them by helping get Dharma in their hands. If you really believe this, you can be upfront about your motivation: “I’m here tonight to help you understand the great benefits of taking this book home, reading it, and gradually integrating the instructions into your daily life.”
“Encourage people to acquire the book before they leave. This is the most important part of your talk as to whether people will pick up a book on their way out.”
“Point to where the books are located, preferably on their way out to make it easier for those who are timid.”
“Make yourself available and approachable. Invite people to the center or recommend other titles depending on their interests. Show that your happiness comes from cherishing them.”
However, some Waterstones managers seem to be naively enough to refute concerns by former members stating: “…the events in any case are purely a meditation exercise aimed at the general public and are not about religion or the New Kadampa Tradition.”
No, that is not true.
If you still have doubts, just read page 7 and 12-14 (Guidelines and Suggestions for Teachers on Bookstore Talks) of the document below.
The event is about the NKT gaining footing in a visible, mainstream venue in order to recruit new students.
And the stores have no idea…despite how much they research. And they can’t be blamed, either. They are taken in like many were or are blinded by their greed for profit.
Here is the document by Tharpa Publications:
- How to Organize a Successful Bookstore Talk (*.doc) – Handout Manual April 2010
The document above, which is the latest NKT information leaflet for people organising bookshop talks makes clean clear on pp. 7, 12-14 what NKT’s/Tharpa’s motivation for organising these talks is. This particular document applies specifically to the recent bookshop tours organised in UK shops.
What is good to look at is the deceptive packaging on the CDs—the New Kadampa Tradition promote the ‘Living Meditation’ CDs—which are all readings from Kelsang Gyatso’s books spoken using hypnotic techniques. One will see from this document that simple ‘meditation’ does not come without a backlog, an actual ‘author’, but these CDs do not name the author. In this context the problems going along with NKT’s presence at places of UK society’s most sensitive nerves (National Health Care, school kids education in religion and chaplaincy) should be reminded again! (see: http://www.nktinformation.com/ and this short comment) Also one should note the fact that NKT deliberately started to hide their name from advertisement for meditation classes, not mentioning any more that NKT are running them. (A hint to this new mode of behaviour by NKT was already given in Bluck’s research.)
May this information enable Waterstones, book shop managers, and Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike to look behind the NKT machine and to be more aware of the background of these “purely meditation exercises” (Waterstones) before organising NKT talks for the general public or even recommending NKT’s meditation classes to the sick. It is difficult even for the intelligent and informed to find out about these backgrounds, and this is even more difficult when products are ‘repackaged’ and hide their origins. It is difficult (but not impossible) to disconnect ‘Meditation’ from the ethos of the persons leading these meditations but on these CDs they do appear to be completely disconnected from ‘religion’, the NKT, or any particular agenda while aiming at the same time to “introduce shoppers to our Spiritual Guide – listening to teachings Geshe-la enters their heart, buying a book Geshe-la enters their home!” (Tharpa Handout, p. 12)
On the other hand ethical double standards and to tell people only half of the truth (if at all) has been ever since one of the signs of the so called “cults” or questionable companies with no ethical standards.
- Warning signs of destructive cults based on M. T. Singer’s research on cults
A last note to clarify another common confusion with respect to meditation
First of all there are many meditation practices, not all of them are helpful to everybody. In certain circumstances—dependent on the mind setting / situation of the practitioner and the meditation technique itself—meditation can also be harmful, e.g. teaching to a person suffering on depression “death and impermanence” or “the hell realms”. NKT teachers are even teaching high level practices, like “Tonglen”, to mentally sick people!
Research which found out that certain meditation practices are helpful refer to specific types of meditation which are seen by the NKT as less important (like breathing meditation) or they are not trained at all in these techniques (e.g. mindfulness on the body).
Many former members as well as Buddhist teachers outside of the NKT agree that NKT practices cause nervous illnesses. Usually NKT members are also under stress and have a lot of tensions and pressure and cannot relax at all. Riding on the wave of “research found out meditation to be beneficial” NKT expands their activity to attract those seeking mental or body relaxation without being properly qualified for this task and based on questionable or ambivalent motivations.
This does not exclude that people cannot have very good experiences, inspiration and feeling enthusiastic about what NKT is giving them. In fact most of the followers of NKT were attracted because they felt inspired in the beginning. But the point is that those bookshop talks and the promotion of the books are just a hook to get new people into the NKT and then they will undergo finally the powerful and destructive dynamics and subtle distortions of Buddhist teachings which will very likely harm them in a long term perspective.