The story of a New Kadampa Tradition monk or How I got sucked into a cult


My name is Tenzin Peljor / Michael Jäckel. I was 29 when I met the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) in December 1995. At that time the general public didn’t know about any controversy relating to the NKT or how people have been damaged by the NKT. No Buddhist informed or warned any person interested in Buddhism to carefully consider whether they should develop their interest in Buddhism by placing their faith in the NKT. Here is a summary of my story.

Enlightenment by 21 Lamrim meditations! – What a marketing!
Enlightenment by 21 Lamrim meditations! – What a marketing!

I wanted to become a Buddhist monk after reading about the Four Noble Truths. Even in my childhood I wished to become a monk (though back then, a Christian one). Looking for a place where I could become a Buddhist monk, I learned about the New Kadampa Tradition through Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s book, »The Meditation Handbook«, and the posters and advertisements of the NKT.

My NKT teacher, who was the NKT representative in my country, convinced me to move into the NKT center and to pay rent – about three times as much for a small room as I had paid for a whole apartment. When I complained, she said, “You should think about how much you value following this path.”

Moving into the NKT center, I had some Dharma books, including a Dzogchen book and one from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When the teacher saw me with these books she said, “We only study pure Dharma books here,” looking displeasingly on my two non-NKT Dharma books. Shortly after this episode, she showed me Geshe-la’s books, saying “These are pure Dharma books!” Then I heard about the dangers of mixing ‘pure Dharma’ with ‘impure Dharma’, as Geshe Kelsang puts it.

The ugly, unfortunate result of not understanding pure Dharma and of following misleading teachings that pretend to be pure Dharma is sectarianism. This is one of the greatest hindrances to the flourishing of Dharma, especially in the West. Anything that gives rise to such an evil, destructive mind should be eliminated as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. (Clear Light of Bliss, 1982, page 154).

Assuming this to be true I threw these and my other Dharma texts into the garbage because I now feared that I might destroy pure Dharma by mixing it and thereby ‘harming countless living beings’ – doing evil. Subsequently, I did not read any Dharma book other than Geshe-la’s because I feared polluting my mind and destroying “this pure tradition”.

Later, I learned that I needed faith, and that doubt is the opposite of faith and very bad. It was explained to me that there are three kinds of doubt, but it was especially made clear that doubting Geshe-la, his teachings or NKT teachers is “doubt going in the wrong direction.”

When I studied Geshe-la’s book »Understanding the Mind«, I became even more convinced that I had acted correctly in throwing my previous Dharma books in the garbage, because on pp. 166–167 Geshe-la states,

It is mixing different religious traditions that causes sectarianism … studying non-religious subjects is less of an obstacle to our spiritual progress than studying religions of different traditions … the practices taught by one teacher will differ from those taught by another, and if we try to combine them we will become confused, develop doubts, and lose direction.

I didn’t want to loose direction or get confused. He was the master, he knew. My NKT teacher told me that we all are deluded beings and our analyses, thoughts and perceptions are not reliable: “Buddha says, we are not only wrong, he says we are totally wrong”.

The next things I learned were: Geshe-la is a Buddha, Geshe-la is completely reliable and knows the three times (present, past and future), and my NKT teacher is no different from him. If I see faults in them this is due to my impure mind, because Buddhas – unlike myself who is a deluded being whose perception is not reliable – don’t see faults, they have “pure view”.

Three years after I left the NKT in 2000. Losang Tashi was my monks name at that time.
Three years after I left the NKT in 2000. Losang Tashi was my monk’s name at that time.

The next step for me was that I was asked to lend my computer to the NKT office. When I asked for it back (to do my final university exams), I was told that I had donated the computer and I must be confused about what I had said. My NKT teacher explained to me, “Sometimes we do not remember what we say, you know …” It was explained to me that this academic study is worldly and unnecessary, a distraction from pure Dharma. Eventually, my NKT teacher and her most devoted students convinced me of this and I gave up the idea of finishing my academic study by doing my final exams. There is no need for an academic degree I thought. When I worried about it they told me I should not think too much, saying “Leave the thinking to the horses, they have a bigger head.”

I was asked to give a loan. I gave them all my savings and later when I asked for it back they said I should be patient. They made me feel that I was addicted to my money and that it was inappropriate to ask for it back. Likewise, my cupboard and another person’s couch were also taken. This other person was told he were addicted to his couch; therefore, he may be reborn as a tiny insect in that couch in the future.

The NKT center was gradually “inspiring” me to do more and more unpaid work for them (in order to ‘accumulate merit which we need for our spiritual progress’) and at the same time complained that I was away too often from the NKT centre as I had a mundane job in a private school: “You are too samsaric”, they said. Nonetheless I was giving them about 90% of my earnings.

Due to the gradual shift to do more and more unpaid work for the NKT and doing lesser mundane work from which I could make a living I could no longer pay the high rent the NKT centre demanded from me. Only one day after the date I should have paid my high rent they complained about my behaviour. They warned me about how much negative Karma I had created by not paying my rent on time. They denied that it was 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. I did this; I asked a medical doctor who was a friend and she gave me the money. I didn’t get my savings back; so finally I decide to “donate” them.

I observed a similar pattern with all other NKT monks and nuns: finally, all of their savings, time and energy were taken over.

When I visited the NKT festivals in UK, we were told that we should have faith in our teachers, they are good teachers, and properly qualified. Later I found out that my NKT teacher had studied for only two years within NKT and that my NKT ordination was not an authentic monk’s ordination. A friend who complained about our NKT teacher to Geshe Kelsang was told, “If you would have Bodhichitta (a pure mind) you would see the Bodhichitta in your NKT teacher.” So of course my friend was wrong, he had no pure Bodhichitta, no pure mind, therefore he saw faults in his NKT teachers.

I didn’t want to receive the Highest Yoga Tantra initiation, but I had received so much pressure (manipulation) from my NKT teacher and the group that I took it. Afterwards, I was told that Geshe-la was now my root guru, and that if you leave your root guru you will be reborn in hell, all of your realizations will be lost and in all your future lives you will be without a qualified teacher.

Step by step, I was sucked into the system of NKT until I was quite brainwashed, deceiving myself and others. All of us were only worried about gaining “realizations” by being devoted to Geshe-la and doing what he says and giving our money, time and energy to the NKT to accumulate merit for ourselves (+ “inspiring” new followers of NKT to do it likewise), because without merit there would be no spiritual progress and no realizations.

This is me (Kelsang Tashi at that time) protesting against the Dalai Lama with the <a href="" target="_blank">New Kadampa Tradition</a> under the front group <a href="" target="_blank">Shugden Supporters Community</a> (SSC) in Berlin, Tempodrom, 6. August 1998. The Slogans were created by Kelsang Gyatso and state for instance "Dorje Shugden loves Nyingmapas. Please don’t lie." or "Dalai Lama please grand us religious freedom."
This is me (Kelsang Tashi at that time) protesting against the Dalai Lama with the New Kadampa Tradition under the front group Shugden Supporters Community (SSC) in Berlin, Tempodrom, 6. August 1998. The Slogans were created by Kelsang Gyatso and state for instance “Dorje Shugden loves Nyingmapas. Please don’t lie.” or “Dalai Lama, please grant us religious freedom.”

I learned also that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was possessed by a Mara (evil spirit) and was destroying the pure Buddhadharma and had broken with his root guru (implying that he will most certainly go to hell for this) and forcing others to do likewise. So, all of us, including myself, organized international protests against the Dalai Lama from 1996-1998. The NKT convinced me that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was so completely evil that I started to hate him and to also convince all the people I met how bad the Dalai Lama was. Another nun in deep despair, shedding tears confessed to me how much she hated His Holiness; another nun shredded her picture of the Dalai Lama. The protests became very aggressive and hostile; I felt very uncomfortable.

I learned that the last pure being on earth is Geshe-la and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is an evil oppressor of religious freedom. I learned in NKT that the Dalai Lama is merely a worldly politician and is destroying the pure tradition of his root guru, Trijang Rinpoche.

Finally, I woke up, realising how one-sided Geshe-la’s claims were when he pointed out that the reason for some wrong developments within NKT was another person. Geshe-la completely blamed this person alone while stating that he (Geshe-la) had not done anything wrong and that NKT had not done anything wrong. I realized that this is not the Dharma and that my teacher’s and Geshe-la’s approach was not consistent with Buddhist teachings (for example, the Four Noble Truths) because delusions are the cause of suffering and things are interdependent / dependent arising and appear due to many causes and conditions and not due to a single cause. It is impossible to blame a single person for a conflict. I finally realized that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is not a Buddhist master because he hasn’t understood even the basics (dependent arising, patience, kindness and modesty), and I became determined to leave him.

Later, I recognized that I was not the only person who had such experiences; they seemed to be symptomatic and systemic for people in the NKT.

My NKT experience was like eating a sweet but poisoned fruit. The taste was sweet in the beginning; there were good times and good things I learned. Later, the poison started to ruin me.

Art work by Carol McQuire – A NKT Survivor
Art work by Carol McQuire – NKT Survivor

I expect that NKT will use their common strategy to blame the monk reporting here as mentally unhealthy or emotionally unstable or something similar (e.g. “disgruntled ex-member”) – as they have done so often in the past.

Nevertheless, I wish to express my gratitude to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and NKT. I learned a lot and I do not want to forget my positive experiences. Actually, in the end, my negative experiences turned into something good by my learning from my faults and those of Geshe-la and NKT – a great teaching that I will treasure. However, I would be happy if others could avoid stepping into such a devastating situation, which I see as a spiritual trap.

May His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the one who really cares for the welfare of migrating beings, have a very long life and may all his prayers and holy deeds be fulfilled.

May Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and his students of past, present and future attain the state of full enlightenment, may they have faith in the Three Jewels, follow genuine teachers and rejoice in the ten virtuous actions.

Written around the year 2006 or at the time when the New Kadampa Survivors Forum was set up.


See also