GUEST POST – re-posted with prior permission from the author
I think it might be useful to post here the open letter I wrote back in 2012 in my attempt to try and summarise how an NKT Centre, Maitreya Buddhist Centre in Bexhill, England, became fatally undermined by the authoritarian tactics of an NKT monk sent in by NKT head office with a hidden agenda to make sweeping changes against the wishes or best interests of the centre’s members:
Message from one of the charity trustees of Maitreya Buddhist Centre
Dear members and supporters of Maitreya Centre,
I would like to present to you the reasons for the charity trustees of Maitreya Centre refusing to comply any further with the instructions of the NKT (New Kadampa Tradition) head office. This is our side of the story and undoubtedly different to the one presented by Kelsang Chodor, the Resident Teacher, who did not give us the courtesy of allowing us to present our case at the same time as he presented his case to the members.
When Kelsang Chodor first arrived at Maitreya Centre, he promised to work with everybody at the centre and to give everyone the chance to get involved if they wished to help move the centre forward. However, right from the beginning he did not wish to discuss any matters concerning the centre with the trustees collectively, and frequently ignored the considered advice of the Admin Director (AD) and Education Programme Co-ordinator (EPC), who became very frustrated that much of their hard work was being undone and undermined. He called a meeting of all the members in January without consultation with the trustees. January being the traditional month of retreat in NKT centres, just holding this meeting at that time was deeply disruptive of the retreat; indeed, some people coming to the meeting were expecting to be able to have a retreat meditation but were stuck in the meeting instead. Chodor then announced his wish that the centre move to residential accommodation in Hastings. The fact that many members at that meeting expressed their concerns about aspects of this proposal and that there was not sufficient momentum generated for such a move, together with the concern of many that Sonam should still have a place within the centre if it moved to Hastings, probably goes a long way to explain what happened next, because very soon afterwards Kelsang Sonam was banned by NKT head office from all teaching activities. No explanation for this decision was given by the NKT despite repeated requests by the trustees. Finally, after several weeks, a brief statement was issued by NKT head office stating that Sonam was ‘impure’, without giving any evidence whatsoever for that claim and failing to give Sonam or anyone an opportunity to challenge that claim. I have known Sonam for 20 years now and I can honestly say that the claim of ‘impurity’ is just ridiculous. He has taught Kadam Dharma faithfully for many years to many hundreds of people and led many of them into the path of the NKT and has shown great compassion and loving-kindness in his practice of moral discipline and in his behaviour towards others. He has shown great patience whenever he has been the victim of malicious gossip by others in the centre, and has always served Lam-ma faithfully when she was Resident Teacher, helping her massively to cope with the burden of her duties. His humility and good heart is obvious to all who take the trouble to meet him and get to know him. The loss of access to his teachings has been devastating for the people in Hastings who attended his classes and derived great benefit from them, and the arbitrary, sudden, and unjustified nature of that loss has significantly damaged the reputation and credibility of the NKT in that area. But, perhaps more importantly, from the centre’s point of view, he ran two branches in the Hastings area, one of which was very successful indeed and brought a lot of much-needed income into the centre, and his series of Saturday Meditation Workshops were always very well attended and also brought much needed income into the centre. All this was lost when Sonam was ordered to stop teaching, placing a massive strain upon the centre’s cash-flow at a time when economic conditions worsening in the general economy were beginning to affect the centre too. Chodor made no serious attempt to retain those branches and workshops and never discussed with the trustees how they could be retained.
Then Chodor asked me to stop teaching the Friday afternoon class, again with no explanation and no justification provided other than that the Internal Rules give him the power to do so. Again he did not offer to discuss this decision with me although I asked him to do so, as I had genuine concerns about how the decision would affect those attending the class, especially as Chodor was not offering to find another teacher or to keep the class going; bear in mind that one of the ladies attending that class is a 95 year old lady for whom that class is the only one she can attend given her frailty and for whom it is precious to her at her time of life (she has also been a devoted member of the centre ever since it started). I ask you: would you have had the heart to deny her that class? Furthermore, the class was also generating significant income for the centre, income that would be lost and making the financial strain on the centre even worse. For these reasons I therefore decided to refuse Chodor’s request to stand down as a teacher. My moral conscience and bodhisattva vow did not allow me to abandon both the people attending that class and to weaken the centre still further by denying it a source of income. This has of course allowed Chodor to claim that I have broken the Internal Rules, but if that is true, then so be it. Here I stand, I can do no other.
Then we come to the next significant action of Chodor which was to ask for one of the monks of Bodhisattva Centre to move into the centre’s flat. That would have meant asking one of the existing residents to leave to make way for that monk, even though there were no grounds for ending his tenancy, and also giving priority to that monk above those people already on the waiting list of applicants (all dharma practitioners) who wanted to move in whenever a vacancy occurred. No doubt this refusal of Chodor’s request by myself and my colleagues has undoubtedly contributed to his, and NKT head office’s, present determination to remove us completely from any role within the centre, even though, according to our constitution, the administration of the flat is purely an administrative matter for the AD and trustees to manage, and is not the final responsibility of the Resident Teacher. Again, the trustees invited Chodor to attend a trustees meeting in order to discuss why he made this request and how we might be able to help him, but again he refused. He has always refused to discuss anything with the trustees.
Now, under charity law the registered charity trustees of this centre have a legal responsibility to ensure that the administrative and financial affairs of the centre are maintained in good order. We now feel that we are legally obliged to step in and prevent Chodor from continuing further to undermine the centre financially and, more importantly, undermining people’s access to the dharma by arbitrarily shutting down classes and courses without due cause or explanation/justification, and without adequate consultation with anyone or respect for the advice of the AD and EPC.
It should be borne in mind that under section 12 of the very Internal Rules that Chodor and NKT head office like to quote so much, the centre is obliged to emphasise its development by, amongst other things, “increasing the number of students, through caring for people with kindness and by making good publicity” and “ maintaining the centre as a pure, peaceful and harmonious society” and “increasing the number of branches of the Centre”. I charge that Chodor, backed by NKT head office, has been guilty of breaking the Internal Rules himself because his actions have helped to decrease the number of students, has treated many of them with great unkindness, minimised good publicity (Chodor refused to authorise a new Centre brochure for 2012 despite one that had been painstakingly prepared in good time by the EPC), decreased the number of branches and classes, and has turned what was a peaceful and harmonious centre for 6 years under the loving guidance of Lam-ma into one now riven by discord and irreversibly split. If Chodor is a completely pure and reliable teacher as the NKT says he is, what does such chaos say about his style of management and motivation in the short time he has been here?
Therefore, I am totally unapologetic about the actions that I and my colleagues have taken at this time, and I am willing to discuss them in detail and answer any questions that members have and I totally concur with Mr R. B. in his letter when he says the trustees will abide by whatever the members want when ALL of them have had a chance to express their agreement/disagreement with the trustees decisions. People who know me know what I have done for the centre over the years and my devoted service to the NKT for 20 years; I would never have taken a decision to stand up to the NKT lightly. I and my colleagues are having to take this extreme stance because there is nowhere to go within the NKT for our legitimate concerns to be addressed or even listened to. I am perfectly happy to stand down if a majority of local members want me and the other trustees to stand down, but I am equally happy to carry on as trustee if the majority of members wish me to.
The latest attempt by Chodor to allow only his side of the argument to be presented before the trustees can do so is just typical of the divisive manoeuvrings he has been engaging in throughout. Bear in mind that none of the trustees or centre officers were invited to the meeting he called yesterday with the members to discuss the private letter the NKT sent to the centre trustees, a private letter that he deliberately leaked to as many members as possible BEFORE the trustees had had a chance to compose a reply to NKT head office. Also bear in mind that I and my colleagues are just volunteers, not paid employees of a corporation. We cannot be compelled to obey orders coming from a head office over 300 miles away if we feel that they are unjustified. We have given up much of our time and energy to help the centre flourish for 6 years. If we go, other members will have to be volunteers and generate a high level of commitment and hard work to keep the centre going; total obedience to orders, regardless of circumstances, is not, and should never be, the requirement or expectation of volunteers in this or any other organisation.
Thank you for reading this and best wishes for your health and happiness,
Chairman of the Board of Trustees,
Maitreya Buddhist Centre.
1st March 2012
- Power Games from The World of NKT 2012/04/29
Update Oct 18, 2015