GUEST POST by Carol McQuire
The NKT-IKBU (International Kadampa Buddhist Union) is a controversial New Religious Movement – different from mainstream Buddhist groups – created by one Tibetan Buddhist monk called Kelsang Gyatso in 1992. There are no other Tibetans in the group, either as teachers or students, and there is no contact between the NKT and the rest of the Buddhist world. It can be called a ‘separatist’ organisation.
A UK-based research group dedicated to New Religious Movements that is partially government funded – INFORM at the LSE in London – received more enquiries about the New Kadampa Tradition than about any other group, including Scientology, in the last 5 years. Inform mentioned the NKT three times, along with Scientology and other radical groups, in their leaflet ‘Extremism on Campus’.
Due to the NKT’s promotional campaigns and expansion techniques – not used in traditional Tibetan Buddhism where the teacher generally only teaches when asked – the NKT is still expanding its international property portfolio. The NKT-IKBU has roughly 48 centers in the UK, 50 in the US including in Hollywood and the Hamptons, and more than 120 in the rest of the world, with roughly 600 venues temporarily rented for giving classes. ‘World Peace Temples’ are within Meditation Centers. There are 32 World Peace Cafes, one hotel and a children’s Primary School in England. Tharpa publishing company only publishes Kelsang Gyatso’s books, translated into many languages including Chinese.
Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings are described as ‘Modern Buddhism’ which claims to remove the ‘Tibetan’ from Tibetan Buddhism for western people. The NKT ordination, teachings, study program and volunteer work conditions are unlike those in other Tibetan Buddhist groups and are focused on maintaining the ‘purity’ of the NKT and the danger of ‘mixing’ with other traditions or the ‘meaninglessness’ of ‘ordinary’ life.
Dismissing orthodox doctrine, Kelsang Gyatso has made a ‘protector’ practice of ‘Shugden’ the central focus of his own tradition, using it to give an ‘NKT’ identity or ‘allegiance’ that can unify his students all over the world. It is the obligatory daily practice for every NKT centre and teacher. For NKT students, following Kelsang Gyatso’s instructions, their ‘Shugden’ has become an incomparable ‘Wisdom Buddha’ who can solve all their problems, and is completely bonded, psychologically, with Kelsang Gyatso as their unique ‘spiritual guide’.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has advised that his own students should not worship ‘Shugden’ as it increases sectarian conflict and is historically connected to violent disagreements in the Tibetan world, including the murder of his close associate and two other monks, 100 yards from the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala in 1997. Kelsang Gyatso has retired but still appears to actively promote his students engaging in a defamation campaign against His Holiness the Dalai Lama for making this doctrinal decision. NKT followers who disagree with the demonstrations have quickly been removed from their NKT teaching posts by Kelsang Gyatso. Investigations show that accusations of ‘abuse’, creating ‘apartheid’ and ‘lying’, etc that the NKT aim at His Holiness the Dalai Lama have no foundation in fact.
There are many documented cases where the NKT has threatened to sue using libel law to silence other Buddhist organisations, umbrella groups, internet forums and academics, authors and publishers. People inside the group can realistically fear social exclusion, illegal eviction or police arrest if they criticise policies. After initially pleasant experiences, survivors report being pushed by the group into serious commitments they did not wish to make. Followers leaving the group are told they will suffer in the ‘hell realms’ for leaving their ‘Guru’.
The NKT has been called a ‘cult’ by ex members due to the lack of democratic management and the group deliberately prioritising its own purposes over the well being of any individual. It is not known how many ‘NKT survivors’ there are, but an online support group has more than 1,200 members. Survivors have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and trauma. Many report confusion, a sense of betrayal and a deep distrust of others. Survivors experience problems integrating into ordinary society such as financial distress due to lost careers, housing problems and loss of contact with families as a result of their previous commitment to the NKT. Other psychological effects include intense fear, guilt, and disorientation relating to their identity and purpose in the world without the NKT.
Journalists drawn into the ‘Human Rights’ aspect of the NKT campaign may easily find themselves promoting the interests of the NKT.
Inform is an independent charity providing information that is as up-to-date and reliable as possible about what many call cults, sects, new religious movements (NRMs), non-conventional religions, alternative religions, spiritual or esoteric movements and/or self-religions based at the London School of Economics (LSE).
Information by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Declaration concerning the demonstrations by New Kadampa Survivors
Different issues the NKT claim as ‘abuses’ by the Dalai Lama are discussed here:
- Who is protesting against His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
- Dalai Lama & Dorje Shugden: Was this really the beginning of ‘religious persecution’?
- Kelsang Gyatso’s Tibetan Relations