It struck me that last year the British based independent charity INFORM – providing reliable and up-to-date information about cults, sects, new religious movements (NRMs) etc., founded in 1988 by Professor Eileen Barker with the support of the British Home Office and the mainstream Churches – received more inquiries regarding the New Kadampa Tradition than regarding Scientology. In the West, especially in North America, Scientology is famous for its front organizations that claim to represent causes such as “religious freedom” but in effect serve Scientology’s financial and missionary interests.
This piece will first examine the organizational similarities between the Church of Scientology and the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and then seek to explain how this impacts the flavour of the current International Shugden Community’s (ISC’s) hate campaign against the Dalai Lama.
Top Down Organizational Structure
Scientology claims to be a modern organization, calling its upper echelons a “system of international ecclesiastical management”. However, according to former church members such as Debbie Cook and Mike Rinder, the decision making power of these bodies is extremely limited. All decisions are made by David Miscavige, the “ecclesiastical leader”, and when members question his decisions they are immediately removed from the organization.
Likewise, the NKT claims to be a democratic body under the leadership of “elected spiritual directors and the education council”. This, however, is a smokescreen as all of the real power continues to lie with Kelsang Gyatso and one or two close attendants. KG, as is revealed in the letter where he fires Lucy James, makes all final decisions regarding the appointment and expulsion of resident teachers. This is very clear in the letter where he states “Since you don’t trust me, I cannot work with you. Therefore, I am appointing a new resident teacher.”
Closure of Branches that Do Not Follow the Franchise Rules
Scientology Centres (Orgs) have to offer exactly the same programs and toe the party line of the headquarters. Orgs that try to exert a degree of independence have their leaders immediately disciplined. Scientology attempts to shut them down, as is the case in the Org located in Isreal.
The New Kadampa Tradition has a similar structure. All centres must unquestioningly abide by the decisions of the leader, Kelsang Gyatso, and the Education council that he dominates. When members of the centre in Bexhill, UK tried to rally around a resident monk who was the most active teacher at their centre, as he was being fired for teaching impurely, NKT broke UK charity laws, appointed a completely new board, and locked the board members out of the centre. Repeated inquiries about why the resident monk was impure were met with silence. To this day the illegally ousted board members’ pleas for mediation have been ignored by the NKT’s central office and education council.
Censure of Independent Teachers
Scientology is jealously protective of its “religious technology” or teachings. Anyone who leaves scientology, no matter how experienced in its practice, is not allowed to use what they learned. When Marty Rathbun, a Scientology official with decades of experience, left the Church, he was harassed for “Squirreling” or presenting Scientology teachings outside of the organization. Scientology made every effort to prevent him from continuing to teach. (http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2011/07/scientologys_do.php)
The NKT is exactly the same. No one who leaves, even with decades of experience, is allowed to teach Buddhism according to their rules. In the case of Tenzin Peljor, he was told if he studied with other teachers he would automatically lose his monk’s ordination. Nick Gillespie, an NKT pioneer with decades of experience, was fired for reasons that were very unclear. When he tried to publish a book about Buddhism, even though it was laudatory of the NKT, he was banned and threatened with a lawsuit by Kelsang Gyatso. As punishment for daring to write his own book, Nick was banned forever from NKT. (https://web.archive.org/web/20150217050237/http://nktworld.org/nixed.html)
Scientology is not a developing or fluid philosophy. Only books by L. Ron Hubbard are deemed appropriate reading. Scientology’s who spent their lives in the system are not considered qualified writers. Similarly, in NKT only the books of Kelsang Gyatso are permitted to be sold and used at centres. Teachers who refer to other books or teachings, even of the Gelug founder Lama Tzongkhapa (the lineage Gyatso claims to represent), can be fired immediately.
Working for Free
Both the NKT and Scientology depend on members who work for free and have no qualms about kicking people out after years of service and leaving them with nothing. The Sea Org (Scientology’s clergy) makes no attempt to secure health plans, retirement options or housing once its members are no longer useful. Similarly, NKT takes no responsibility for its “monks and nuns” who often devote years of their lives to the organization when they become old or sick.
Harassment of Critics, Litigiousness
Both NKT and Scientology are highly litigious, seeking to harass and intimidate anyone who critiques their organizations. In the case of Scientology, critics are “fair gamed”- harassed and intimidated into silence. News organizations who report critically on Scientology are routinely threatened with legal action through Scientology lawyer Kendrick Moxon. (http://www.xenu-directory.net/practices/silencing.html)
NKT is equally litigious, and has threatened other Buddhist organizations, umbrella groups, internet discussion forums and private individuals. Of special note is Gary Beasley, who was about to publish an extensively researched book on the NKT and its involvement in the Shugden controversy. Gary was threatened with a lawsuit and was unable to incur the legal costs necessary to publish the book due to the United Kingdom’s archaic libel laws.
NKT also used Scientology’s “Fair Game” style tactics against several of its critics on the internet. In several cases, it alluded to psychological problems in an effort to assassinate the character of its critics. NKT members have mentioned finding out where the Dalai Lama’s friends live so they can picket them. Scientology has used exactly the same tactic in the past.
Unpaid Clergy Promise To Stay For Lifetimes
The Sea Org, Scientology’s “clergy” of dedicated members, are considered the elites of the organization. All work is without, and a number of religious vows and commitments are undertaken. When one is accepted into the Sea Org, one signs a “Billion Year Contract” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Org) promising to remain in the clergy for many future lifetimes. One can never leave even after one’s physical body has been left behind.
NKT’s monks and nuns, who are not ordained according to the Buddhist precepts of other orders, but instead a unique NKT formula, are also expected to return in future lifetimes. In an academically published memoir of her time in the NKT, Carol McQuire mentions her suprise when Kelsang Gyatso informed the new monks and nuns at her ordination that they should promise to “ordain again in future lifetimes”. Shocked at making a promise lifetimes long, McQuire was surprised that she seemed the only one in the group disturbed by this.
Concerted Efforts To Manipulate Wikipedia Entries
Scientology is famous for putting together organized groups of people to repeatedly delete and re-write any passages on Wikipedia critical of its beliefs or organization. Whenever the material re-appeared Scientology would immediately post someone to once again remove it, or begin the lengthy and painful Wikipedia arbitration process. The hope was basically to try and tire out any opposition so that Scientology’s version of the articles would be the only ones left. In the end, Wikipedia made the only decision it could- to block editing by confirmed members of the movement. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_Scientology_editing_on_Wikipedia)
The New Kadampa Tradition has also organized teams of members (often during its ‘festivals”) to edit and purge wikipedia articles critical of both Dorje Shugden and the NKT movement. Tenzin Peljor mentions on this blog how NKT posters to wikipedia fought tooth and nail against any academic or historic sources and passages not fitting their image of Shugden. They managed, in fact, to completely re-write the history of Shugden into that of a fully enlightened Buddha, and remove traces of even the most minor critical comments about the practice from Wikipedia articles. NKT was deeply dishonest in this campaign, using sockpuppets and dodgy sources to win the day.
Substandard Living Conditions Of Committed Members
Members of Scientology’s Sea Org often speak about the substandard living conditions they endured while serving the mission of Scientology. Rather than show concern for their Welfare, Scientology directs its money to “the mission”, establishing large and flashy churches called “Ideal Orgs” while ordinary members live in sub-standard conditions. (http://tonyortega.org/2014/03/23/three-weeks-out-of-scientology-fresh-information-from-a-blown-sea-org-member/)
In the New Kadampa Tradition, the health and comfort of residents comes second to the NKT’s missionary activities. Carol McQuire mentions enduring the smell of dead rats under the floorboards in her dharma centre. In online cartoons created about her experience in the NKT, a former nun mentions how when chronically ill and unable to work for the centre, she was shifted to a drafty room with insufficient insulation during the cold and damp English winter. Eventually she was simply kicked out.
While the ground troops of the mission suffer, NKT sends its funds to its own “Ideal Orgs”- the flashy International Temples with guilded shrines and hardwood floors.
Pressure To Donate And Dishonest Fundraising Tactics
Scientology is famous for its constant demands for the financial resources of its members. Big is never big enough and Scientology has no qualms about putting pressure on members for donations. Stature within the organization is determined by the generosity of one’s donations. Scientology asks for loans from its members, but often takes a very long time to pay them back or doesn’t pay them back at all. Wealthy members are targeted with special treatment and flattery, in an effort to secure their financial resources. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/scientology-official-criticizes-leader-for-obsessively-fundraising-1-billion-66266/)
The New Kadampa Tradition also has an insatiable appetite for funds. Like Scientology, it often begins fundraising efforts by asking members for “interest-free loans”. One former monk mentioned what happened when he asked for the return of the loan money, ironically so that he would be able to cover his rent costs in the NKT Centre’s flat!:
“I was asked to give a loan. I gave all my savings and when I asked later to get it back they said I should be patient. They gave me the feeling that I was addicted to my money and that it is inappropriate to ask to get it back.
Only one day after the date I had to pay my high rent they complained about my behaviour. They warned me about how much negative Karma I created by not paying my rent on time. They denied that it is possible to balance it with their debts to me, “This is something very different, you should not even think like this.” They suggested that I should ask my friends to help me and to give me money.” (http://www.newkadampatruths.org/?page_id=83)”
The NKT also uses benefit systems of countries such as the United Kingdom to cover the living expenses of volunteers and teachers within the organization. This reduces overhead and allows those funds to be channeled towards establishing new centres for the mission. This was well documented in the article “Shadow Boxing on the Path to Nirvana”:
“In some centres a substantial proportion of NKT resident members are on income support and housing benefit. Nuns and monks told former NKT members that they took off their traditional Tibetan robes to sign on at the local benefit office. “At the Tara Centre in Derbyshire, they told me that all 24 residents were on benefit except one Swiss nun,” says the ex-NKT member.” (http://www.tibet.ca/en/library/wtn/archive/old?y=1996&m=7&p=6_3)
No Questioning Of Decisions Allowed
While Scientology and the NKT try to promote an image that they are open, democratic organizations, this is not at all the case. Both institutions require unquestioning loyalty and the penalties for expressing opinions against those of the leadership are harsh and immediate.
In Scientology those critical of the leadership are immediately subjected to a strict disciplinary process and unless they recant can be subject to “excommunication”. Members of the clergy and staff working at the Orgs are subject to “sec-checks- security measures that make sure they are towing the party line. They are led to believe that “their eternity is at stake” and they will be set back thousands of lives of spiritual progress if they do not submit to the authority of the organization. (http://leavingscientology.wordpress.com/)
In the NKT spiritual authority lies solely with Kelsang Gyatso and his appointed “spiritual directors”. To question any decision, such as the protests against Dorje Shugden, leads to immediate expulsion as mentioned above. Members live in fear of displeasing the Guru and highly placed “resident teachers”. This is because they are taught that the karmic result of that is misery in future lives. Anything less than complete obedience is considered anti-Buddhist:
“Kelsang wrote to one follower after he left him: “You are going against my spiritual wishes and as you say … rebelling against my system, such a thing has never happened before in Buddhist history.” To a devout Buddhist, this was devastating.”
After taking tantric empowerments, which involve commitments to the preceptor of such initiations, members feel even more bound and fearful. Often, they have no idea the level of commitment these empowerments entail. Only after receiving them are they warned that now they must unquestioningly follow any instruction, lest they fall into Vajra Hell. This is stated by several former NKT members in the BBC documentary “Unholy Row”.
Scientology’s Citizens Commission for Human Rights and NKT’s International Shugden Community
All of us brings us to a discussion of the NKT’s current anti-Dalai Lama campaign and its striking similarity to various Scientology campaigns that also claim to fight for “human rights”.
The first thing to note is that Scientology and the NKT both use front organizations and try to deny any connection to the leadership of their “religious organizations”. In fact, both of these organizations are not about human rights at all, but methods to anonymously attack critics. And especially, to attack their enemies. In the case of Scientology, Psychiatry and various governments. In the case of the NKT, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
Both of these organizations make comparisons between their “enemies” and Nazism. Scientology has a traveling museum connecting the Psychiatric profession with the suffering that occurred in concentration camps. (http://www.xenu.net/archive/infopack/12.htm)
NKT members have on their facebook pages compared the Dalai Lama to Hitler for his opposition to the Shugden practice. They have tried to link walls that were constructed in monasteries with the isolation of Jews into ghettos in prior to the second world war. (Incidentally, this claim about the walls in Tibetan monasteries was easily disproven with photographic evidence).
When connections between the ISC and NKT are drawn, NKT members incredulously deny them, despite the fact that the most recent ISC meetings took place during the NKT’s Summer Festival in Cumbria, UK. The supposed separation between the NKT and ISC is crucial to posit as the NKT is supposed to function as a non-profit religious organization and could lose its tax breaks in the UK if it was shown to be involved in political activities.
It is hoped that the NKT will take a step back and recognize how its behaviour mirrors that of one of the world’s most notorious organizations, Scientology. Before being considered the “Scientology of Buddhism”, the NKT should take immediate steps to democratize its organization, and be more transparent about its involvement in the very political Shugden protests.
Rather than blaming the Dalai Lama for its various problems, the NKT would be wise to improve the way it treats its members. To be more transparent in the way it makes decisions, to allow alternate points of view, and to provide at least some security to those who have devoted their lives to the organization when they become old and sick.
They would be wise to stop their campaign of yelling and hatred against the Dalai Lama, as this takes away from the very critical organizational problems within the NKT that cause suffering to so many of its members. Please NKT, consider the truth of these words and change, for the benefit of the reputation of Buddhism in general and for the welfare of your members.
last updated on June 01, 2014 at 8:30 pm