NKT Ordination – Clarifying More Misunderstandings

Recently I received more explanations by Kelsang Gyatso which he gave to his followers with respect to the ordination women and men can receive in the New Kadampa Tradition (aka Kadampa Buddhism). I post them here together with some objections for the sake of dispelling the misunderstandings. At the end of this post there is an excerpt of a talk by Gen-la Samden to NKT monks and nuns.

Ordination ceremony July 28th 1999 at Manjushri

From the Ordination Handbook, p.20

As our renunciation deepens it will transform into bodhichitta, and our ordination vows will transform into Bodhisattva vows and finally into Tantric vows. In this way we can become a higher being able to maintain our ordination into our next life.

Objection: It is impossible that ordination vows can continue into the next life. The Vinaya and all commentaries on the Vinaya are clear about this. If the ordination vows could be carried into the next life then it follows very soon one would break one of the four root vows in the next life by just having sex through one of the three doors of the body, and since one has broken the root vows in one’s youth one cannot receive ordination in that very life again.

The ordination vows last for one life and cease with the death. Ordination vows cannot ‘transform into Bodhisattva vows and finally into Tantric vows”, if it were so then also all the ordained persons would receive the Bodhisattva vows and the Tantric vows by a miraculous way of transformation. The Bodhisattva vows and the Tantric vows as well as the ordination vows are conferred only by the proper ceremony as described in the scriptures, a qualified abbot/Sangha or master, and with a concious intention to receive them. Bodhichitta must be developed by applying the Mahayana teachings and renunciation supports that mind but does not transform into it otherwise if follows the Bodhisattvas who have attained uncontrived Bodhichitta have no renunciation because their renunciation would have transformed into Bodhichitta. What ‘higher being (is) able to maintain (the) ordination into our next life’? Please give an example and a scriptural source.

Ordination talk – Spring Festival 2000, Calistoga, California

In the Kadampa tradition we can carry our ordination with us from one life to the next. This is very different from the Hinayana tradition which nowadays Tibetan Buddhism is following. Western people need Kadam Dharma and it is particularly suited to them. Our Vinaya sutra is the Perfection of Wisdom sutra and Lamrim is its commentary. Our Vinaya is Lamrim. Through improving our Lamrim practice we improve our ordination. This is a different way of practising ordination from the Hinayana tradition, even different from the Mahayana tradition. Our ordination practices are very special and very clear, they are not complicated, so you should be happy with them.

Objection: In the ancient Kadampa tradition there exist no teaching that claims that the ordination would be carried to the next life. Atisha didn’t say that nor did any Kadampa master make such an assertion. Those in the Kadampa tradition, who were ordained, were ordained according to the Vinaya and especially about Atisha it is said that he had respected and followed the Vinaya in a perfect manner. Please give an example and an exact scriptural source where any of the old Kadampa master made such a claim. There is no one who has said this. According to the Vinaya the vows cease at the end of the life. The ordained Kadampas (e.g. Atisha) and the ordained Gelugpas (e.g. Je Tsongkhapa) as well as all the other ordained persons of the Tibetan schools of Buddhism follow the Vinaya. The explanation above is indeed ‘very different from the Hinayana tradition which nowadays Tibetan Buddhism is following.’ Statements like ‘Our Vinaya sutra is the Perfection of Wisdom sutra and Lamrim is its commentary. Our Vinaya is Lamrim.’ are twisted and wrong explanations. Neither the Perfection of Wisdom sutra nor Lamrim reveal or are texts that reveal how ordination vows are conferred and what the duties and rituals of monastic communities are. Though Lamrim practice supports an ordained person it cannot replace the Vinaya and the practice of the Vinaya. It is true what Kelsang Gyatso says: ‘This is a different way of practising ordination from the Hinayana tradition, even different from the Mahayana tradition.’ Yes, it is, it is self-made. I disagree with the conclusion of Kelsang Gyatso: ‘Our ordination practices are very special and very clear, they are not complicated, so you should be happy with them.’ This ordination has no support from any tradition, it is twisted, self-created and this wrong explanation shouldn’t be accepted. Actual it is really sad to read such twisted explanations.

However, still the NKT ordination can be considered to be valid insofar as it can be seen to be a so called “Rabjung ordination”. Such an ordination—usually given to Tibetan kids under the age of 18—does not confer actual ordination vows and the person is an “in-between” which means the person is neither a real lay person nor a real ordained person, such a Rabjung does also not belong to the Buddhist monastic order but is approaching to become a member of it by aspiring to become a novice or a fully ordained person.

‘Ordination handbook’. Ordination talk on July 29th 1999

He calls the vows ‘initial or basic ordination. The second level is called the Getsul – Getsulpa and Getsulma in Tibetan, or Shramanera and Shramanerika in Sanskrit… The third and highest level of ordination within the Pratimoksha is the Gelong ordination – Gelongpa and Gelongma in Tibetan, or Bhikkshu and Bhikkshuni in Sanskrit…’

He says he is following Geshe Potawa’s idea of ordination – that when he gained the realization of renunciation… ‘Only then did his basic ordained vows become actual Pratimoksha vows.’

There follows a discussion of how the New Kadampa ordination is Prasangika, following Khedrubje’s commentary to the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, and that the Vinaya Sutra ordination ‘can only be received from a highly qualified senior Teacher who has been ordained for at least ten years’ – so ‘superficially this was incorrect’ (Geshe Potawa saying that due to receiving Lamrim teachings from Dromtonpa he developed renunciation so his ‘ordaining master’ was Dromtonpa… but Kelsang Gyatso is following Geshe Potawa’s view of ordination.

The previous monastic vows follow ‘Madhyamika-Svantantrika’ commentaries due to the influence of powerful Madhyamika-Svantantrika Masters ‘materially and politically’ according to ‘my root Guru, Kyabje Trijang Dorejechang’.

Therefore when you ‘receive your ordinained vows (from KG) you do not have real renunciation, and your vows are artificial. However, later through the practice of Lamrim your artificial renunciation becomes actual renunciation and your vows become real ordained vows. As your renunciation deepens, and your wish to attain nirvana strengthens, your ordained vows transform into Getsul or Shramanera vows, and you become a Getsul or Getsulma. By continuing to improve your renunciation until it becomes spontaneous, your Getsul vows will transform into Gelong vows and you will become a Bhikkshu or Bhikkshuni.’


‘Nowadays the practice of Vinaya has almost died out. Not only the Vinaya but Buddhism in general is degenerating, including the Tibetan Gelug tradition… however here in the West we are very fortunate. For this is not a degenerate time but an increasing time…Since we are living in an increasing time we need to do everything very purely and correctly…If we followed the example of the tradition of a degenerate time, it would be impossible for us to make any progress….According to our Kadampa tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, you do not need to receive Gelong vows, full ordination, in a separate ritual ceremony.

As our renunciation deepens it will transform into bodhichitta, and our ordination vows will transform into Bodhisattva vows and finally into Tantric vows. In this way we can become a higher being able to maintain our ordination into our next life. This is the most profound way of understanding Kadampa ordination. The Dharma is the same but we are practising differently. We have a special presentation, which is simpler, more practical, and causes less confusion. This understanding is very important, otherwise in the future you may develop confusion about your ordination because we are practising very differently from Tibetans. So you need to know these things. This is a special method of practising Dharma and keeping ordination vows for the western practitioner.

Western people are well-educated; they do not have blind faith but immediately question and try to understand the truth. We cannot be like a fully ordained monk who has taken 253 vows but who is not keeping even one. We should never do this; we need to do everything correctly and purely. The Kadampa ordination solves all these problems. Practically speaking, all the 253 vows included in the Vinaya sutra are included within the ten commitments. The commitment ‘…abandon engaging in meaningless activities’ includes abandoning all meaningless activities – mental, verbal or physical. But whether we can abandon them all depends upon our practice of Lamrim.

The actual words of the Kadampa ordination are brief but the practice is very extensive. It is a condensation of the entire practice of Lamrim and includes all the meanings of the Perfection of Wisdom sutra. In the future we can say that our Vinaya Sutra is the Perfection of Wisdom sutra, and Lamrim is its commentary.

…we must be confident that our ordination is correct. If people say that you are doing wrong, you can tell them that we like our tradition, we are happy with it and for us it is enough.

Objection: Here the meaning of what Geshe Potowa said is confused. What Geshe Potowa wanted to emphasize is that due to the influence of Dromtöpa he developed renunciation and this realization made him really an renunciate not the ritual or the ordination. However, this does not imply that he did not receive the ordination vows by the proper Vinaya ceremony nor does this statement by Geshe Potowa imply that his vows were established by developing renunciation. The vows are not received by developing or not developing renunciation but by the proper Vinaya ceremony otherwise it follows that newly ordained people don’t receive the vows by the ceremony of ordination and if they haven’t received the vows they cannot break them, hence they can have sexual intercourse, they can kill human beings, lie about attainments or steal without breaking their vows—at least as long as they haven’t develop renunciation.

From the Ordination ceremony July 29th 1999

According to the Hinayana Vaibhasika school, ordination vows are subtle physical form and disappear at the time of death, but according to the Mahayana, vows are a type of mind and we do not necessarily lose our ordination when we die. If we can maintain the determination to keep our vows through the death process and into our next rebirth, we will still be ordained in our next life.

When most ordinary beings die they forget everything from their previous life. Their memory and mindfulness degenerates, and when they take their next rebirth they are unable to remember anything. If they were ordained they will again have to receive ordination from their Spiritual Guide. However, those practitioners who have gained profound realizations of moral discipline, which are powerful enough to withstand death, can carry their ordination with them into future lives. The Mahayana view is different from that of the Hinayana Vaibhashika tradition, and is more correct.

Objection: Here two different things are mixed up. The ordination is always based on the Vinaya which Tibetans relate to the Hinayana school. Though realised beings can carry Bodhisattva vows into the next life they cannot carry the ordination vows into the next life unless they are Bodhisattvas who have abandoned all delusions (on the 8th ground) because all Arhats are natural Bhikshus or Bhikshunis due to the purity of their mind.

I will add here some other explanations without commenting on them because those who have knowledge and understanding will be able to judge them for themselves.

Spring Festival 2000, Calistoga, California, Ordination talk – final draft prepared by Dekyi

We Kadampa Buddhists are trying to bring the Dharma into mainstream of human society and to help people integrate their daily activities with their practice of Dharma. Now we are beginning. I understand we have a very special opportunity here. No Buddhist has ever done this before.

Right now it is your responsibility to improve yourself. Sometimes people respect you and regard you as their Spiritual Guide, as a Holy being, or maybe like a Buddha. Even though we are not yet a Buddha it is right for us to teach the Holy Dharma because from the student’s side, whether his or her Teacher is a real Buddha or not depends upon the student’s faith, and view, not on the actual qualifications of the teacher.

But from our side we shouldn’t believe that we are anything special. If we come to believe that we are a Holy Being or a Buddha we are making a mistake.

We know that we are not a Buddha but we don’t need to say this to our students, because they have faith in us.

Some of you come to me and say, ‘Geshe-la, I am not being honest with my students, I have so many problems, delusions of anger, attachment, jealousy, many negative thoughts. I am just pretending to be a qualified Teacher, I am not being honest.’ Sometimes you might think like this because you are an educated westerner. You should never allow your delusions to make you discouraged, this is ridiculous!

I do appreciate that when some teachers get discouraged, that in reality they are being honest, but that is foolish. If you allow your students to see you unhappy they will lose faith, trust and confidence in you. Of course we have to judge ourselves, but when we find many faults we should not get discouraged but rather we have to encourage ourselves and make a strong determination to improve. This is very important.

We are not saying we are Buddhas, we are simply giving teachings with a good motivation. We are like a mother who cooks food for her children, while at the same time eating the food herself. We are striving to understand the Dharma while at the same time we are also teaching and encouraging others to practice, and practicing and improving ourselves. If faithful students see you as a Buddha, that is alright, you don’t need to say to them, ‘no, I am not a Buddha’. That is not necessary. At the same time you don’t need to say you are a Buddha. Just give people the freedom to believe whatever they want. If your students have pure view of you they will receive the blessings of the Buddhas through you.

You can understand from even the slightest experience that the Dharma works and can make you happy. But if you just read books on an intellectual level, understanding and thinking you know it without putting it into practice, you will have nothing. Only maybe increased pride, thinking that you are a Dharma teacher, and very special.

Sometimes we read our Kadampa books and see some contradictions. Maybe you think it is not clear or maybe you get discouraged. Using your wisdom you should contemplate the meaning and then come to your own conclusions. Or, the meaning may not be clear because your mind is not clear, this indicates that you don’t have much wisdom.

If you read and study the books carefully you will gain the confidence to teach others. It is not wrong to teach if your motivation is pure.

At the beginning don’t expect quick results. I am not saying you have to do everything at once, now we are just opening the door to practice. But do keep the intention to practice. If you give up this intention, then you have broken your vows. Some small damage or degeneration of your vows will happen but every month you can do Sojong and renew your vows and purify your downfalls.

After the third recitation I will click my fingers, this sound indicates that you have received the ordination vows. Generate a strong joyful feeling, a happy mind, thinking, ‘I have received the Dharma Jewel, actual refuge, within my mind and I am protected from samsara’s suffering’. So be happy, OK?

Ordination talk – Ven. Geshe-la, Spring Festival 2000, Calistoga, California, USA by Dekyi

I didn’t take classes on Highest Yoga Tantra myself. I spent most of my study years in debate. The focus in our monasteries was on debate, on philosophical subjects, Dharmakirti’s text alone took many years of study. I received Tantric initiations and some essential teachings from my root gurus, then I concentrated on my own reading of Lama Tsongkhapa’s teachings. I imagined he was talking to me. I would read one paragraph, and through re-reading and contemplating the meaning, eventually it really felt as if he was speaking to me directly. It was like a real oral transmission. The first time I read it I understood the meaning, the second time my understanding improved and by the third reading I had begun to have a deep understanding of the material. In this way I studied the Tantras on my own.

Actually in Tibet at that time there were no Tantric classes, I learnt mainly through reading books and listening carefully to my Teachers. You can do this, these books are your Teacher and your Spiritual Guide. Your Spiritual Guide cannot always be with you in person, but your Dharma books are always with you. If you read and study the books carefully you will gain the confidence to teach others.

Gen-la Samden Sojong April 1993, Toronto. Transcript by Kelsang Wangden


Very nice to see so many Kadampa monks and nuns here today. Or New Kadampa, New Kadampa monks and nuns. It’s quite important that we do regard ourselves as New Kadampa monks and nuns. It’s clear that since Geshe-la, Venerable Geshe-la arrived in the West that he has created many, many new things. Often within our tradition we feel that it is merely the presentation of Buddha’s teachings that is new. The presentation of Buddha’s teachings is new but there are many other new things that can be found within our tradition that previously didn’t exist. We know the instructions themselves, at least the presentation is new. We know, for example, with respect to the sutra instructions, twenty-one meditations, for example, you will not find the twenty-one meditations explained before. Even within the Tantric instructions there are many, many new presentations given to us by Geshe-la. The programs, entirely new. The communities – new types of communities. Mixed communities of monks, nuns, lay people, all together. This is new.

Also we have to understand that the presentation Geshe-la has given of the ordained way of life is new. Our vows are new, aren’t they? No one had these, specifically these vows before. I think this is something we have to think about very, very carefully, because, with respect to this last point, we are not monks and nuns living in monasteries. We’re monks and nuns living in towns and cities. We’re not merely monks and nuns studying and meditating. If only! We’re monks and nuns doing lots of other things as well: teaching, we’re distributing publicity, meeting lots and lots of people, bank managers, even. It’s unheard of. It’s entirely new. And we’re not living in single sex communities, are we? We’re mixing with all types. We live in Communities, monks, nuns, lay people, female and male, so I think it is important that we think carefully about what it is to be a Kadampa monk or nun.

We have to understand how the ordained way of life is still very much relevant or significant in today’s age, in today’s society. And feel confident, really confident, following that ordained way of life which is not going to be the same as the ordained way of life followed by a monk, for example, in a monastery, studying, meditating, no other goal, meeting no lay people, being able to focus on their practice. If we feel the ordained way of life is, should be, like that, then we’ll run into problems straightaway… We can enjoy our ordained way of life, thinking that for us it’s the best possible way of life.

[There follows an explanation of how to deal with attachment by developing love]

So we can be this monk or nun living with people, loving them, acting out of love, helping them in whatever way we can, being with them, having a nice time with them, enjoying their company. And we’re moving forward. …Geshe-la has said that great bliss, the mind of great bliss, is the supremely peaceful mind, It’s the greatest inner peace we can experience. Why did he say that? We’re moving towards the great bliss that is the inner peace of a Buddha. So again we use that opportunity, when we’re with others we can act in accordance with our Tantric vows, and we try to generate a blissful mind, because we have some control over our attachment, we can try to generate a blissful mind, and at that time we can say that we’re developing our inner peace….That’s what we want! We’re making that journey to the inner pure land of a Buddha, here. So we can start to feel blissful when we’re with others. And our mind becomes even more peaceful….

….We can be monks or nuns living in this kind of society and having so much fun. Seriously…we can be enjoying – personally I feel there is no greater way of enjoying ourselves. If we understand the importance of developing inner peace, practising contentment, with external and internal conditions, revealing that contentment, showing contentment, practising discipline. Especially just watching our mind…And eventually controlling.

We can be the perfect monk, the perfect nun. In our heart we’re loving others, we’re feeling compassion towards others, wherever we may be, whoever we may be with. Deepening, stabilising that inner peace. Further, in accordance with our Tantric discipline we can be feeling blissful when we’re with others. Seems to me, without those Bodhisattva, without the Pratimoksha discipline it’s difficult actually. ..Why do I want to generate bliss? It’s so finally I can experience the inner peace of nirvana, of enlightenment.

Personally I feel that the Kadampa way of following the ordained way of life is the best by a mile, by a hundred miles, by a million miles. Honestly I do, I really do. At these times, in this kind of society, it’s not just that we are able to make swift progress because we are monks and nuns, but we are able to help others in such an extraordinary way. I think if we do it properly, I really do feel that we can bring ourselves so much enjoyment…And we can bring others so much enjoyment. We can be the best example for everyone. Absolutely everybody. Trying, at least, to maintain peace of mind when in the presence of others. Because you know we are very busy, we’re living in a chaotic world…

It seems already, without, even experiencing the unchanging peace of nirvana, we can bring others even a little bit of peace in their lives. That peace we know is the foundation of freedom and happiness. So with that inner peace, we ourselves experience fewer problems. We’re a lot happier. So through this we can actually help others become free of their problems…

Shutting ourselves in our room, ignoring our attachment, or fighting with our attachment, we going to be really miserable. As well, just going out and indulging our attachment are two extremes…

So we’ve got to find that middle way, haven’t we, that is the Kadampa way, being able to live in this kind of society, in these kinds of communities, in these kinds of times, as a monk or a nun….So personally I feel that it is definately possible, if we get it right, I think it’s so relevant, so significant, I really feel that it’s still the best way to practice Dharma, it’s the best way to help others. If we’re still not sure about why that is, then we do need to think about it quite deeply, and we need to discuss it with others….So as I said earlier, then we can go out into this big, wide world with confidence, with real confidence. It’s never been done before, it’s new, which is fantastic. Geshe-la has given us this because he thinks it’s the best way, doesn’t he? Otherwise he wouldn’t have given us it. The best way. So we need to think, how is it the best way? How is it the best way for me, how is it the best way for others? Best way for the whole world.

I can only give an introduction. I haven’t had much time really to explain what is so special about the Kadampa ordained way of life. But we need to think about it, don’t we? It’s new. New Kadampa. We’re New Kadampa monks, we’re New Kadampa nuns, with new vows that no-one’s ever had before, doing what nobody’s ever done before. So fully discuss it with others, just make use of this opportunity we have to discuss with our many spiritual friends. Many Sangha Jewels within our communities. Use them.

See Also

Update Nov 03, 2015