Kadampa Primary School Derbyshire – A Happiness Cult?

The controversial New Kadamapa Tradition (aka Kadampa Buddhism, NKT) is going to run a Primary School in Derbyshire (UK) – “the first in the world to follow the works of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a meditation master and internationally renowned teacher of Buddhism who established the new Kadampa tradition”.

Well, since they are already in the NHS, chaplaincy work etc. why not getting even kids from the age of 3 to 11 into the NKT? The earlier they are introduced into the group doctrine the better followers they might become, and NKT can grow even further.

Some suggested parents should be alarmed about this development, and I agree with them.

The New Kadampa Tradition is outside of mainstream Buddhism and is accused by former members as well as by critics to be a rather destructive cult (for details see Controversies). Former members of this organisation support each other at the New Kadampa Survivors Forum with presently 1110 members. Someone from this self-help forum compiled the main concerns that former members share:

What should ring the alarm bells for concerned parents?

Be happy, all of the time

The main motto of the school is a classical “happiness cult” issue which is rather common in controversial NRMs or cults:

“Everyone can be happy, all of the time.  Sounds unbelievable?  It’s true!

What is the problem with such an ethos at the heart of the Kadampa Primary School? It’s just unrealistic. Only enlightened beings can be happy all the time. Contrary to what the Buddha has taught (that life is pervaded by the three types of suffering) the NKT is promoting a happiness cult which suggest instead that one can be happy “all of the time”. Through such an attitude the kids might be urged to “be happy” “to behave happy” and they are either directly or indirectly blamed it would be their own fault if they are unhappy, thereby installing feelings of guilt and shame in them. The children might then gradually repress their negative feelings (like anger) to conform with the ethos and they might urge themselves to show happiness even when they are unhappy. Which leads to many kinds of problems. This type of happiness cult and the repression of negative feelings or the denial of them can be found within the NKT (spiritual bypassing). It goes along with a pressure to show happiness to the outside world as a sign of a good (“pure”) Dharma practice. And this happiness cult produces feelings of guilt if one is not happy because this is seen as a sign of a bad Dharma practice – of having failed. This happiness cult culture is already very present within NKT, and the NKT teachers will transfer this culture to the kids with the respective psychological damage. Such a “happiness cult” is extremely unhealthy because it goes along with feelings of guilt, the suppression of feelings and a dissimulation of happiness which is enforced by the group dynamics. It would be by far better to help the children to understand that they cannot be happy all of the time and how to deal in a healthy way with feelings of jealousy, anger, hate, unhappiness, pain and suffering etc., and to accept those feelings as a part of our human life and human nature. Negative emotions must be first accepted as a part of our life and based on this acceptance they can only gradually be diminished, and only an Arhat or Buddha is completely free of them and “happy all of the time”.

Contradictions in the presentation

The “Dharma Scheme of Work Policy”(see Dharma-Policy) states

Dharma Scheme of Work Policy

2012 – 2013

‘The International Kadampa Schools will be the gateway through which children of the modern world can enter the great treasury of wisdom and compassion that is known as Kadam Dharma. I would like to encourage every child to enter this treasury so that they will find a meaningful and happy life’. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

The Dharma Scheme of Work at the Kadampa Primary School Derbyshire is offered as an optional subject and is entirely dependent on parent and pupil choice.  There is one KS2 class weekly and one KS1/FS class weekly.  It’s aims are to provide pupils with the opportunity to begin the process of fulfilling their full spiritual potential.  The essential aspects of how to lead a happier and more meaningful way of life will be taught in a practical ways to ensure the pupils have the necessary skills to deal with all the challenges of life.

We see the Dharma Scheme of Work as an integral part of the education experience as a whole.

Objectives for the children
Children should aspire to be able to:

  • Enjoy the Dharma Scheme of Work.
  • Develop their good qualities by putting Dharma into practice in their lives.
  • Reduce their negative qualities by putting Dharma into practice in their lives.
  • Benefit others by putting Dharma into practice in their lives.
  • Wish to continue practising Dharma throughout their life to benefit both themselves and others.

What are the problems here?

The announcement makes the strategy of the NKT visible. On the one hand it is claimed that the Dharma Scheme of Work would be optional but then it is clearly stated to be an integral part and one should aspire to enjoy the Dharma Scheme of Work. Through this it becomes clear that what was announced in the beginning as optional is finally becoming  compulsory and one is potentially pressured to joyfully submit oneself to this work. This is exactly how NKT is operating: in the beginning rookies are told they don’t need to worry, e.g. they don’t need to be anxious about the HYT commitments and finally after they have received the HYT empowerment (or just some teachings) them is told (directly or indirectly) that “Geshe-la” is now their “root guru” and leaving the root guru will lead one to the hells.

There is another potential danger. The statement above and the influence of the NKT teachers on the kids will make sure that the encounter with the NKT teachings of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and his Western devotees will issue forth a life long commitment to the NKT, Geshe Kelsang Gyatos and his books. The rather innocent appearing point Wish to continue practising Dharma throughout their life means in the context of NKT (and the Kadampa Primary School will be “pure” NKT) that the kids must wish to practice the NKT teachings throughout their life (which is only possible by binding oneself to the NKT). So, the kids must finally (in the deepest sense of the context and meaning) wish and aspire to read and to study exclusively the books about Buddhism written by ‘Geshe’ Kelsang Gyatso, and to rely totally on him, his protector (Shugden), his NKT tradition, his NKT teachers, his NKT ordination, his NKT study programmes, his NKT temples, his NKT centres, his NKT cafes, his NKT hotels … and now also his NKT schools throughout their life. Why? This is the real understanding the NKT teachers will infuse into the minds of the kids. This understanding was well expressed by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso himself in his “bible” on “Guru devotion”:

“Experience shows that realizations come from deep, unchanging faith, and that this faith comes as a result of following one tradition purely – relying upon one Teacher, practising only his teachings, and following his Dharma Protector. If we mix traditions many obstacles arise and it takes a long time for us to attain realizations.” (Kelsang Gyatso: Great Treasury of Merit: A Commentary to the Practice of Offering to the Spiritual Guide, 1992, p. 31)

Separate from all government influence and control

And if these hints aren’t sufficient to alert concerned parents maybe this statement by the official Kadampa Primary School Derbyshire website rings some alarm bells:

” … it was decided to create a school separate from all government influence and control”


Update 15 October 2016

Update December 2016

Last edited by tenpel on Dec 07, 2016