Geshe Kelsang Calls Seattle Non-NKT Practitioners Dogs

Hello, my name is Frank Hopper. I became a disciple of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in July of 1990. I served briefly as the Administrative Director of Vajralama center in Seattle in the spring of 1995. I’m writing this story just for the record, so that the incident doesn’t get lost in time and to declare that I was a personal witness to its’ occurrence.

My aim isn’t to save or warn anyone. Geshe Kelsang has a huge, world-wide fishing net that scoops up unsuspecting spiritual searchers to feed his network of Dharma Centres. Nothing I could write would ever get to those poor people. They’ll be pulled in and sucked dry if they’re not strong enough to see the truth. There’s no hope for them, really. They’ll either become NKT Bliss Ninnies who pour all their disposable income into their local NKT center and into Geshe-la’s books, or they’ll become ex-practitioners like me who feel they must have done something wrong and avoid future contact with any Dharma tradition, no matter how benign. A terrible shame either way.

Geshe-la came to Seattle in 1990 as part of a North American tour to raise support and establish Dharma centers. I was attending an informal meditation group at the time run by a lovely man named Joel Levey and his wife Michelle. They organized every aspect of Geshe-la’s visit from securing a venue, producing promotional literature, handling financing, and preparing people for what to expect. It was a big deal, believe me.

Geshe-la came to Seattle and granted Vajrayogini empowerment. I was blown away by it all. He seemed so genuine, kind, and sincere. I made an appointment to see him and requested ordination. He said I should wait and study more first. He gave me a picture of Je Tsongkhapa and sent me on my way.

Later I heard that Geshe-la was opening a center here in Seattle to be called the Seattle Buddhist Institute with Joel slated to be the resident teacher. I was elated!

But then everything fell apart for some unknown reason. Plans for the new Dharma center dissolved and people stopped talking about it. When I asked Joel what happened he explained that he and Geshe Kelsang had a difference of opinion and that he had backed out.

It turns out Joel had plans to let teachers from other traditions speak at the new Dharma center. He knew a lot of them and wanted his students to be exposed to more than just Geshe Kelsang’s lineage. But Geshe-la wouldn’t have it. He was the one who shut down plans for the center in Seattle, not Joel. Joel simply took the heat so as not to offend the people who were loyal to Geshe-la.

I didn’t know any of this and remained loyal to Geshe-la. I wrote to him and kept requesting ordination. Six months later Geshe-la contacted me and said he was opening a Dharma Center in Mexico and if I still wished to receive ordination I could go there and he would ordain me.

So I dropped everything and went. When I arrived he was so pleased to see me. I was one of the few people in Seattle who remained loyal to him. I remember he sat me down and fed me soup because I’d just driven all the way from Seattle. “Eat!” he said.

The monk named Losang was there in the room with us and said that Seattle had been quite a disappointment for Geshe-la because so many people were loyal to Joel and not to Geshe-la.

Then Geshe-la’s face turned dark and he said, “Granting Vajrayogini empowerment in Seattle was like giving precious food to dogs.”

Dogs. That’s how he thought of all those people in Seattle to whom he had granted empowerment. If they weren’t willing to take him as their one and only guru, then they were dogs.

I needed a father figure so badly and I loved Geshe Kelsang so much that I blocked out my feelings about what he had said for years. I was in denial. I heard those words coming out of his mouth and I put them in a box deep down inside myself.

Geshe-la eventually opened an NKT center in Seattle that he called Vajralama Center after the Highest Yoga Tantra aspect of Green Tara. He chose a handsome NKT monk named Jangsem as resident teacher, an ambitious lad who knew where the power lay and who towed the party line flawlessly. Jangsem had been trained at Madhyamaka Centre in Pocklington under the supervision of Gen Thubten Gyatso (Neil Elliott), the hard-driving original “Heart Disciple” of Geshe Kelsang.

I met Gen Thubten when I went to England in 1995. He was charming and funny, but I actually trembled when I was near him. The power and celebrity just dripped off him and I felt as if I were meeting a rock star. He was the one who turned Geshe-la’s teachings into a business machine. He was a powerhouse narcissist whom Geshe-la later defrocked because of his sexual relationship with a female assistant, but not before Geshe-la used him to grow his empire. All the English people loved him but all the Americans were a bit leary. I personally was afraid of him. Now I’ve read he’s back at Manjushri centre as a lay practitioner. That’s scary and it speaks to Geshe-la’s willingness to make pacts with the devil if it serves his purposes.

In 1994 and 1995 I watched as Jangsem used the NKT business model designed by Gen Thubten to package up and market Geshe-la’s teachings the way McDonald’s markets hamburgers. I realized this wasn’t a religious tradition. It was big business with Geshe Kelsang and the NKT being promoted as a “brand” like Coca-Cola or Nike or Apple computers. I lost heart and eventually moved out.

But now I’m proud to count myself among the dogs. Woof, woof! Thanks for listening.