Kadampa Ordination – A Misguided Approach

Shugden won’t protect NKT monastics, NKT monastics have to study, observe and protect their vows themselves.

You can find below the content of The New Ordination Handbook of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT).

My claim is: With the information provided in The New Ordination Handbook the NKT and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso misguide and misinform their faithful students and those who want to become Buddhist monks and nuns within the NKT. Based on this misguidance NKT monks and nuns risk to break and to loose their vows being thereby spiritually harmed in grave ways. In my opinion, this new superficial, whitewashed, ambiguous version of monastic ordination also damages the transmission and understanding of Buddha’s teachings and the Vinaya in the west.

There is an Ordination Handbook from 1999 by Kelsang Gyatso which is different to the new one. It is also more complex in its distortions and inventions. In the Ordination Handbook from 1999 Kelsang Gyatso claims among others that the NKT ordination stems from the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras or that “If we can maintain the determination to keep our vows through the death process and into our next rebirth, we will still be ordained in our next life.” Both claims are not tenable if investigated properly using authentic Buddhist scriptures, existent commentaries, and reasoning.

Other forms of errors reagrding the 1999 Ordination Handbook and the so called “Kadampa Ordination” were discussed already in other posts here on the blog and recently also by Geshe Tashi Tsering on YouTube (see the Further Readings section at the end of this post). For a brief overview about the NKT ordination see here.

The very key problem with The New Ordination Handbook comes right at the beginning under the heading “What is the Ordination Vow”. It reads:

When we took our ordination in front of our Preceptor and the Assembly of Sangha we made the promise to practice the commitments of ordination. This promise is our ordination vow. For as long as we maintain this promise we are practising the ordination vow. If we give up this promise we break our ordination vow.

I regard this passage and The New Ordination Handbook as being highly problematic because in essence the explanations given here are 1) unclear, 2) not precise and 3) they include a fundamental twist that is not concordant with the Vinaya as laid down by the Buddha and as stressed by Je Tsongkhapa — whose “pure” heirs the NKT so diligently claims to be.

In the context of this New Ordination Handbook and the teachings given in general on ordination within the NKT it becomes clear to an investigative mind that Kelsang Gyatso has never taught properly at which point a vow is really broken — though the Vinaya and its commentaries are explicit about this. Instead of really helping NKT monks and nuns to understand the boundaries of their vows and how to maintain them, this New Ordination Handbook adds more clouds to the already existing confusion by claiming wrongly, that the ordination vow is a “promise to practice the commitments of ordination” and that this promise is kept “for as long as we maintain this promise”. According to Kelsang Gyatso, the ordination vow is broken only when “we give up this promise”.

The 10 vows of NKT ordination are explained in the following way:

There are ten commitments of ordination that we promised to practice. These are to abandon killing, stealing, lying, or cheating, sexual activity, taking intoxicants, and engaging in meaningless activities, and to practice contentment, to reduce our desire for worldly pleasures, to maintain the commitments of refuge and to practice the three higher trainings — training in higher moral discipline, concentration and wisdom. The tenth commitment, to practice the three higher trainings, is the actual method to attain permanent liberation from all suffering, which is our deepest wish and the real meaning of human life.

Now, for a monk or nun in the NKT, because of not setting the boundaries for breaking the vows clearly, the faithful monastic might truly wonder when his or her vow of not killing, not stealing, not lying, not having a sexual activity, not taking intoxicants etc. is broken.

Can you kill a mosquito or are you going to loose your vows when you do so? Can you kill an animal, like a rat, or do you loose your vows when you kill a rat? If you can kill a mosquito or a rat then can you also kill a human being without that your vows are being broken?

What about stealing or lying? Can you steal and lie as you please or as you feel needed — maybe even “for the benefit of all”? — or “for as long as [you] maintain this promise” to train in “the commitments of ordination”?

What about having no sexual activity? If you had a wed dream, did you break your vows? If you masturbated, have you broken your vows of ordination? If you have sex with another nun or monk is this ok “for as long as [you] maintain this promise” to train in “the commitments of ordination”?

I remember an NKT monk who abandoned the robes after he masturbated because he was thinking he had broken his vows. The amount of existing confusion within the NKT regarding the vow of celibacy can also be imagined based on a testimony by a former NKT monk, Peter Graham Dryburgh, that reads:

I made a decision to deliberately break my ‘ordination vows’ so that there was no way I could or would stay, and even that process wasn’t without challenges – I did nothing sinister, I simply masturbated to break my celibacy vow – thinking they would simply discard me for this – however, I was wrong, I was told to do the Sojong Practice and that was told it was a standard process, almost a ‘secret club’ that most monks would do this once a year, then renew their own vows at the ordination of others – I was even partnered with another monk who would talk to me about how ‘okay this was’ and told (and I quote) “we all do it”. The only thing that I had to change, was that I would have to do a month’s retreat and write a letter to GKG to apologise for doing this “without permission”.

So there is no celibacy in the NKT ordained community – and this is when my mind became so entrenched in absolute terror – but terror of remaining there – as I was assigned another monk to ‘help me’ in my celibacy – and this turned out to be that if I did not masturbate myself – it was okay, the expectation was to ‘help each other’ – not a comfortable concept – he now (K Cho) runs and manages a prominent centre in Rome, so my mind was made up!

There are also cases of sexual activities with nuns by former officially appointed monastic successors of Kelsang Gyatso, e.g. Gen la Gelong Thubten Gytaso (Neil Elliott) or Gen la Samden Gyatso (Steve Wass), and other famous NKT teachers like Gen Kelsang Lodrö (David Everard) of the Bodhisattva Centre in Brighton etc., which indicate that not only NKT monks and nuns but also the NKT leadership is in great confusion about when vows are broken and when not — or at least, even the NKT leadership seems to lack serious support and education for understanding and maintaining their monastic vows!

I remember a teaching about Vajrayogini (a hightest yoga tantric practice) given by Kelsang Gyatso where he said that as long as you maintain “divine pride” you can even act negatively without facing consequences … “divine pride”, so I remember, he said, turns even actions usually regarded as negative into positive deeds – as long as you “keep divine pride”. I wondered at that time, ‘If I have sex with another person while I imagine ‘I am Vajrayogini’ is this then permissible?’ Luckily, I dropped that thought as unacceptable.

The sexual misconduct within the leadership of NKT and among some NKT resident teachers relates back for me to Kelsang Gyatso who misses to teach his monks and nuns properly about the vows but prefers to give ambiguous, unclear and even misguided teachings that leave too much space for personal interpretations.

But in fact, according to Buddhism, when is the ordination of a Buddhist monk and nun really lost or broken? At what point are you no Buddhist monk or nun anymore? What are the boundaries you have to transgress to loose your ordination?

In general, someone who has committed a defeat, a root offence (pali: Parajika) — which is 1) having sexual intercourse with humans or animals, or 2) Stealing something of value, or 3) Killing humans, or 4) Lying about attainments — is defeated by that downfall and can’t be a member of the monastic order anymore. (For a more detailed and nuanced explanation see here.)

Je Tsongkhapa lists the following causes for loosing one’s ordination vows in The Essence of the Vinaya Ocean:

Causes of Loss
Causes of losing vows are two.

Common Causes
Giving back the training, death, two sexes appearing, changing thrice, and cutting one’s roots of virtue are common.

Special Causes
Learning one was not yet twenty, agreeing to serve, and the day’s elapsing are special to, respectively, bhikshus, probationer nuns, and fasters. Some assert the vows are lost if one commits a root offence or if the holy Dharma vanishes. Vaibhashikas of Kashmir assert one with vows with a root offence is like a rich man with a debt.

Geshe Rabten a yogi and scholar of the same school as Kelsang Gyatso, the Gelug school, respected to some degree even by the NKT because he practiced also Shugden, states in his commentary on the gelong vows about the four “root vows” (pali: Parajika) — which are the most important vows for any monastic:

The first classification of the precepts of a gelong are the heaviest; these are called pen pa, which means defeat. They are called defeats because they cut the strength of a gelong vow. They cause them to degenerate. The reason for calling these defeats is that if two people are fighting and one loses, he is defeated. And so in the same way if we should commit one of these defeats it is like the precepts defeat us and we are the defeated.


There are four defeats:

1. sexual intercourse
2. taking that which is not given
3. taking human life
4. a specific type of lying

(1) Sexual intercourse 

This defeat occurs when one has sexual intercourse with either a human or a non-human, e.g., an animal, The way the actual defeat occurs is: first there arises lust/attachment/desire in the mind to engage in the act, then it involves one of the three pathways of the opposite sex, this other being. These three pathways are, for a female, the mouth, the anus, and the sexual organ. So if one’s male organ enters any of these three pathways, then as soon as there arises the physical pleasure from just the motion or activation of the semen, this defeat is incurred.

During the time of the Buddha there were some bhikshus who thought a defeat would occur only if sexual intercourse was carried out with a human being, but that it would not if it were carried out with an animal. They acted upon that attitude and then the Buddha told them that they were committing a defeat by acting in this way. Also some other gelongs, not knowing exactly what was involved in this defeat, thought there would be no defeat if intercourse were carried out with a corpse. So they did this, with just half a corpse even. They wanted to keep the vinaya, they wanted to keep their vows, but they did not know how. So the Buddha explained that the vow included corpses, either half or whole, and that a defeat was incurred when any of the three pathways were entered.

(2) Taking that which is not given 

This excludes two cases:

  • the first is that if some person has said that this food is for you, and he then sets it out, and then you come along and take as much as you like, there is no downfall.
  • the second is taking that which others have discarded, that have been thrown away, not wanted anymore.

So these two do not constitute a downfall. But now for other things, things that are not one’s own and belong to another person. If there arises the motivation “I would like to steal that, I would like to take that for myself,” and then having this motivation one goes out and takes it or sends someone else to do it, then as soon as the thought or attitude arises, “Now it is mine, now I have got it,” this defeat takes place. So this defeat occurs whether one acts directly or indirectly. In order for this defeat to occur it does not mean you have to wear a mask, hold a revolver, and generally carry on like a thief, holding somebody up—like that. It also occurs if one should rob someone openly, to their face, snatching something from them by force perhaps. There is also a third way of stealing, and that is through deceit of trickery, lying or deceiving other people in order to get something from them. So in each of these three ways this defeat can occur.

(3) Killing 

This involves killing a person or one who is to become a person. A person is defined as one who has come from a womb—a human—or one who is still in the womb when the head and limbs have already formed—a human fetus. This is called a person, and this is what is created when the male and female elements come together and the consciousness enters that mixture. In either case of killing, one should have the motivation “I would like to put an end to, to cut the life of this being,” and with that motivation to commit the act, either oneself or causing someone else to do it. Like saying to another person, “Please give this person poison, please shoot this person.” In either case, if the individual dies before oneself, then this defeat occurs.

There are many ways in which one is able to kill someone, e.g. amongst those who think of themselves as practicing Dharma, there are some who use a certain kind of mantra, very violent mantras that can be used to kill a person. So one could apply these mantras and thus take the life of another being, and although one may have that the feeling that one is a great Tantric Master, what has occurred is simply a defeat.

Question: What happens if the person committing the act dies before the victim? Is the effect different or changed? And if this is so, then why is it?

Answer: There is a difference. For example, if one gives some slow-acting poison to someone else, obviously with the intent to kill him or her, and then in the meantime one dies, and later this other person dies, then if one asks, “What is the time that the person was killed and the defeat incurred?” it would obviously be at the time that the victim died. If the person doing the killing had already died and had taken birth as a bug, or something similar, then it cannot be said that that this bug killed that person because it certainly did not. So there would not be anyone who was responsible, because the person who set out to do the killing is no longer existent.

(4) Lying 

This refers only to a specific kind of lying. Not all kinds of lying result in this defeat. This defeat specifically refers to lying about one’s attainments. For example, if one should be lacking the attainments of Samadhi, Samatha, clairvoyance and one should tell otherwise. Or if one should claim to be the incarnation of this or that particular Lama when one obviously is not, as soon as such a false statement is made about one’s attainments and another person hears it, then this defeat occurs. This act of lying does not even have to be a verbal action; e.g. if one is a Guru and one’s disciples are saying “It really seems as though you have great clairvoyance,” and one does not say anything, one just sits there silently agreeing, giving the impression that one is agreeing, or just giving a knowing smile or laugh, then this defeat would occur. If one is just joking about one’s insight and others accept it as a joke, then the defeat does not occur; there still occurs a sort of downfall, however, but not a defeat.

However, if you are playing around and the other person is not aware of this, it would not be a defeat, but a downfall, which is only just below a defeat and therefore still very heavy. The only kind of results that come from a defeat are suffering, and so if you should try and describe the virtues of committing one of these defeats, there is really nothing to say.

There are two kinds of downfall. The first is called a natural, i.e. it is such that whoever commits it, whether with or without vows, whoever is engaging in it, when he does something that is unwholesome, that leaves an evil imprint on the mind. This is called a natural evil act.

Question: If someone borrows something with the intention of returning it when one has finished, but fails to ask the person for it if he is not around at the time one needs it, is that considered as stealing, having the intention to give it back, but not specifica1ly asking for it?

Answer: It would not be a defeat because one does not have the intention to keep it forever. However, a downfall would still occur although it would be one of the less heavy ones.

So Geshe is not teaching us this so that we can become learned, have great knowledge of the vinaya. This is entirely in order to be put into practice. For example other things like compassion, Bodhicitta: if we can put these into practice and meditate on them, then this is excellent, but if one cannot, then the result is not[sic] going to the lower realms. But now that we have the vinaya, the result of not practicing this … very difficult! So this is something that simply must be practiced; there is no way we can avoid practicing it. So the Buddha told the gelongs that they were to have few concerns, few activities and few desires. Which would leave them content with just a few things, clothing and so on. Whereas if they had a lot of desires they would always be getting this and that for themselves, acquiring many things. So Buddha said that there are thirteen things, specific articles to have, and these are sufficient.

This is quite in line with the Vinaya, the Pratimoskha, as it was taught by the Buddha, as it is been taught and practiced in the Pali Tradition, and as it is been taught and stressed by Je Tsongkhapa and the Gelug school from which the NKT derives.

However, sadly, these important and differentiated teachings about the Vinaya are totally absent in the NKT. Instead, Kelsang Gyatso blurs the whole Vinaya topic with his superficial, distorted and misleading explanations, leaving monastics in a state of confusion, uneducated and unguided. Shugden won’t protect NKT monastics, NKT monastics have to study, observe and protect their vows themselves.

I fear, this New Ordination Handbook — which is quite in the tradition of the common confusion found within the NKT about this subject — will lead NKT monastics even more into a wrong direction because these superficial explanations can be read and interpreted in ways, that you can do what ever you like as a Buddhist monk or nun in the NKT “for as long as [you] maintain this promise”, the “promise to practice the commitments of ordination”. According to The New Ordination Handbook, NKT monks and nuns only break their ordination vows when “we give up this promise”.

I would like to encourage and to urge every NKT monk or nun to really study the vows, its boundaries and to live according to the Vinaya and Pratimoksha as laid down by the Buddha and stressed also by Je Tsongkhapa. It will be only for your benefit and the benefit of others as well as Buddhism in general.
Thank you very much!
As a start you could read Geshe Rabten’s commentary or, if you like, you could contact me and I can give you a commentary on the vows by a respected Lharampa Geshe of the same school as Geshe Kelsang who taught the Vinaya and the monastic vows correctly to Western monks and nuns.

The New Ordination Handbook of the New Kadampa Tradition. Author: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

The New Ordination Handbook of the New Kadampa Tradition


The instructions given in this leaflet are a practice guide to a meaningful life. To avoid obstacles and to make progress in practising the ordination vows I would like to encourage those who are ordained to memorize The New Ordination Handbook of the New Kadampa Tradition and put its every meaning into practice. By doing this they will experience immeasurable meaning in this life and in their countless future lives. I guarantee this.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
Buddha’s Enlightenment Day
April 15th 2010 

The Practice of the Ordination Vow


When we took our ordination in front of our Preceptor and the Assembly of Sangha we made the promise to practice the commitments of ordination. This promise is our ordination vow. For as long as we maintain this promise we are practising the ordination vow. If we give up this promise we break our ordination vow.

There are ten commitments of ordination that we promised to practice. These are to abandon killing, stealing, lying, or cheating, sexual activity, taking intoxicants, and engaging in meaningless activities, and to practice contentment, to reduce our desire for worldly pleasures, to maintain the commitments of refuge and to practice the three higher trainings – training in higher moral discipline, concentration and wisdom. The tenth commitment, to practice the three higher trainings, is the actual method to attain permanent liberation from all suffering, which is our deepest wish and the real meaning of human life.

To avoid obstacles and to make progress in our practice of the three higher trainings we need to practice the other nine commitments, from abandoning killing to maintaining the commitments of refuge. Understanding that the happiness and freedom of each and every living being are equally important we should abandon performing actions that cause others to experience suffering and problems, including killing, stealing and lying or cheating. This is the basic foundation upon which all spiritual realizations will grow. If we check carefully we shall understand through our own experience that sexual activity, taking intoxicants and engaging in meaningless activities are serious obstacles to pure Dharma practice in general, and especially to our practice of pure moral discipline, concentration or meditation, and wisdom. Understanding this we should abandon sexual activity, taking intoxicants and engaging in meaningless activities. Through practising contentment and reducing our desire for worldly pleasures we shall be able to control our distractions, and thus easily make progress in our practice of the three higher trainings. Understanding this we should apply great effort to practising contentment and reducing our desire for worldly pleasures.

We should never give up the promise we made in front of our Preceptor – who is the representative of Buddha – which was to go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha throughout our life. This promise is our refuge now. Saying ‘I go for refuge to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha’ means that we will apply effort to receiving Buddha’s blessings, to putting Dharma into practice and to receiving help from Sangha, our pure spiritual friends including our Spiritual Teacher. This is the principal commitment of the refuge vow. Through maintaining and sincerely practising this principal commitment of refuge we can fulfil our final goal.



There are four main practices of the ordination vow: (1) the practice of renunciation. (2) the practice of higher moral discipline; (3) the practice of higher concentration and (4) the practice of higher wisdom.

The first is the gateway through which we enter the path to liberation – the supreme, permanent peace of mind known as ‘nirvana’. The remaining three, called the three higher trainings, are the actual path to liberation.

To develop the realization of renunciation we should deeply contemplate how in our countless future lives we will have to experience the unbearable sufferings of animals, hungry ghosts, hell beings, humans, demi-gods and gods. A deeper explanation of this contemplation is given in Modern Buddhismin the chapter The Path of a Person of Middling Scope. We should deeply contemplate this explanation continually until we develop intense fear of the unbearable sufferings of the endless cycle of impure life, samsara. This fear is renunciation and arises from our wisdom; it is not ordinary fear but is part of wisdom. We should therefore engage joyfully in the actual path to liberation – the three higher trainings.


In the practice of higher moral discipline we apply effort, motivated by renunciation, to abandon inappropriate actions in general and especially breaking our commitments of the ordination vow – the ten commitments already listed. When we train in higher moral discipline we are learning to be deeply familiar with the practice of moral discipline, motivated by renunciation – wanting to attain permanent liberation from the sufferings of countless future lives.

The nature of moral discipline is abandoning inappropriate actions, maintaining pure behaviour and performing every action correctly with a virtuous motivation. It functions as the basic foundation upon which all other spiritual realizations will grow, and it prevents future sufferings and problems for ourself and for others. If we check carefully we shall understand that most of our human problems arise because of our lacking the practice of moral discipline. We know that some intelligent animals can be trained to stop certain inappropriate actions, maintain pure behaviour and perform actions correctly but the difference between them and human beings is in their motivation; animals have no opportunity to develop renunciation. In Buddhism, renunciation necessarily arises from wisdom.


In the practice of higher concentration we sincerely learn, with the motivation of renunciation, to be deeply familiar with the concentrations or meditations presented in Lamrim teachings – meditations on the preciousness of our human life, death, renunciation and so forth. We should also apply effort to controlling our distractions; with distractions we cannot accomplish anything. When we are training in higher concentration we are learning to be deeply familiar with concentration or meditation, motivated by renunciation.

The nature of concentration is a single-pointed virtuous mind. For as long as we remain with this mind we shall experience mental peace, and thus we shall be happy. The function of concentration is to prevent subtle distractions; and we prevent gross distractions through sincerely practising moral discipline. Normally, distraction is the main obstacle to our Dharma practice. We can solve this problem through sincerely practising moral discipline and concentration; together they give rise to quick results in our Dharma practice.


In the practice of higher wisdom we sincerely learn, with the motivation of renunciation, to be deeply familiar with meditation on the emptiness of all phenomena – the mere absence of all phenomena that we normally see or perceive. When we do this we are training in higher wisdom. In this training we emphasize attaining tranquil abiding focused on emptiness. Through this we shall develop the wisdoms of superior seeing, the path of seeing and the path of meditation, and the wisdom that directly realizes and experiences nirvana, the supreme permanent peace of mind. A practical explanation of this development can be found in Modern Buddhism.

In general, wisdom is a virtuous, intelligent mind that functions to understand meaningful objects – the existence of past and future lives, karma, emptiness and so forth. These objects are meaningful because understanding them brings great meaning to this life and our countless future lives. We should apply great effort to developing the wisdom that recognises, reduces and finally abandons completely our self-grasping ignorance – the root of all our suffering and problems. We can accomplish this with careful study and strong practice of the teachings on emptiness given in Modern Buddhism in the chapter Training in Ultimate Bodhichitta.


In conclusion, when we took ordination following the instructions given by our Preceptor, we changed three things; our mind, our physical aspect and our name. We changed our mind from attachment to this life to renunciation, wanting to liberate ourself permanently from the sufferings of our countless future lives. We should maintain this change throughout our life. To do this, every day we should contemplate the instructions on death, the existence of future lives and renunciation presented in Modern Buddhism. 

We changed our physical aspect by wearing the three precious robes of ordination; the shamthab, zen and chogu, which indicate that our main practice in daily life is the three higher trainings, called ‘higher’ because they are motivated by renunciation; training in higher moral discipline, higher concentration and higher wisdom. We wear these special robes not to show that we are a special person, but to remind ourself that our daily practice is the three higher trainings. We should keep this recognition in our heart and put it into practice.

[Line drawing of the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden inserted.]

The three precious robes of ordination are very special clothes; the shamthab represents higher moral discipline; the zen represents higher concentration and the chogu represents higher wisdom. Another significant item of clothing of an ordained person, the dongkha, represents the abandoning of self-grasping ignorance.

In general there are three levels of trainings in moral discipline, concentration and wisdom, which correspond to the stages of the path of persons of initial scope, middling scope and great scope. The first level of these trainings is practising the path to higher rebirth that protects us from taking lower rebirth; the second level of these trainings is practising the path to liberation that protects us from taking rebirth in samsara; and the third level of these trainings is practising the path to full enlightenment. Since we need to protect ourself from lower rebirth and samsaric rebirth, and we need to attain the supreme happiness of enlightenment, it is definite that we need to practice the entire Kadam Lamrim from relying on our Spiritual Guide to training in superior seeing, as presented in Kadam Lamrim instructions such as Modern Buddhism. In this way, by sincerely putting Kadam Lamrim instructions into practice, we shall accomplish the ultimate goal of human life, the supreme happiness of full enlightenment.


By not transgressing the practice of moral discipline
Of the Pratimoksha, Bodhisattva and Tantric vows,
And by gathering virtuous Dharmas and accomplishing the welfare of sentient beings,
May we complete our heart practice, the perfection of moral discipline.

ColophonComposed by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche, April 2010
Copyright: New Kadampa Trdition –International Kadampa Buddhist Union 2010.


Buddhist Scriptures About (Monastic) Ethics

Further Readings


Last edited on April 28, 2016 at 11:32 am