Easy Come, Easy Go: Modern Kadampa Teachers – The New Kadampa Tradition

Part One.

This conception of ‘friendship’ with the spiritual guide is completely missing in the NKT in relation to each follower’s interaction with Kelsang Gyatso. On the level of the ‘Resident Teacher’ considered to be ‘Kelsang Gyatso’s representative’ at each centre who should ‘reflect the purity of the Guru’ in their behaviour, there is more friendship and intimacy. But, in so many cases, NKT teachers are moved around from centre to centre, from country to country. I can only name a handful of teachers who have stayed in the same centre. Are these the ones who have never openly disagreed with NKT policies but also wouldn’t be good people for proselytising in a new country? Bridget Heyes, Kelsang Chonden, Kelsang Pagpa… for instance?

There are no specific qualifications required to be an NKT teacher. None. To be chosen you only have to ‘have faith’ and study TTP or FP and ‘be in the right place at the right time’ when a new teacher is needed. Resident Teachers and other ‘branch’ teachers from abroad should attend the Summer Festival TTP. You don’t have to have passed any particular exams or had any particular assessments. There are very few records. There will be no recorded interviews. And you will have very little supervision from ‘NKT Central’ once you have a post as a Resident Teacher. This is why there have been so many crises and so much ‘damage limitation’ has been necessary for the NKT. It seems to me that the measurement of a successful NKT teacher is simply, loyalty. And friendships are based on that. Not friendships producing loyalty, but loyalty producing friendship. Once you are ‘disloyal’ to the NKT, your ‘friendship’ will be dropped.

Now, this amount of control over NKT students who are Resident (and branch) Teachers is only possible precisely because of the lack of any structure of qualifications necessary to become an NKT Resident (or branch) Teacher. Firstly, the NKT has a wider pool of people to ‘choose’ from (on the basis of loyalty, which they call ‘faith’). Secondly, as everyone is a ‘volunteer’ with no contracts, etc, and only qualified by that ‘faith’, everyone fears losing their roles as NKT teachers! You keep people even closer to the NKT agenda by defining that ‘obedience to being happy to do anything the Guru wants me to do even if I don’t like it’ as the ‘Kadampa Path’, the ‘fast path, the ‘hardcore practitioner’ path! And this ‘Kadampa’ achievement – of doing what is unsavoury ‘for the Guru’ (like going on the protests against His Holiness the Dalai Lama even if you don’t agree with them) makes people into ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’, feeding back into that language of the NKT’s Heruka and Vajrayogini tantras. NKT followers felt they were practising the ‘purest’ form of Guru Yoga at the protests.

Each centre is financially responsible for its own debts there are no costs or financial risks for the NKT as a whole. If a centre is going financially bankrupt the local directors are responsible and have to pay for it. … All remortgaging and any centre profit after costs goes straight to the NKT temple fund. … If a centre has to close all debts are locally attributed. All and any profit from a closure, however, goes to the NKT. This model enables the NKT to shift all responsibility onto the local level, sucking communities’ wealth and resources into the NKT ‘temple pot’.McQuire

However, the delusion deepens even further, as people feel that this ‘giving up’ of having a personal view, personal integrity or personal judgement is actually the Buddhist path! It is a serious and deep mistake, confusing letting go of one’s own integrity and judgement as the letting go of the ego! And this is what creates the astonishing difficulties that so many people experience when trying to recover from NKT practice. This is the main confusion that we all have to understand and negotiate. When we ‘come into ourselves’ after being ‘out of ourselves’ in the NKT world, it is very confusing and painful as we have been taught to classify our own perceptions as mistaken, but it is precisely our own perceptions that we need to feel to become ‘normal’ again, and what we need to have as our ‘ground’ to be able to start any kind of healthy spiritual path. Our own ‘ground’ is what we need to develop trust in. In the NKT we learn to distrust it.

That is why ‘friendship’ between you and your spiritual guide seems so mistaken to an NKT person because strong friendship is only possible from the space of your own ground. What the NKT really don’t understand about the Dalai Lama is that his superb gift is to show that the path is about being human. As simple as that. And Kelsang Gyatso, in NKT terminology, is far ‘beyond human’, beyond contact for undeserving followers, who need to ‘purify their karma’ to be able to see him in a Pure Land somewhere … who need to ‘leave themselves behind’ to reach him.

So, so sad. ‘Beyond words and concepts’ is the essence of the path. To mistake this for needing to become ‘more than human’ is a tragedy. Human values have to be the core, the starting point, the end point. That is what the NKT and the NKT followers have lost sight of…

Part Two.

New administrative policies were introduced in 2010 after the ‘Samden show’ of sexual impropriety at the highest levels of the NKT. However, these changes did not alter the basic conditions of NKT teachers; the changes only tightened expenditure and made sure that no one could ‘keep’ an NKT centre for themselves – they all legally ‘revert’ to the NKT; a centre that closes will be sold and the money sent to the NKT’s International Temple’s Fund. This keeps the NKT itself quite secure. The fundamentally insecure situation of any NKT teacher is still in place.

The only ‘inspection’ of Bodhisattva Centre that occurred between 1999 and 2006 that I was aware of were visits from Neil Elliott in which he privately discussed policy with the Resident Teacher and these were ‘secret’ meetings. That was during the years that Neil supposedly had nothing to do with the NKT as most NKT followers think. Nowadays, the Spiritual Director of the NKT is supposed to visit centres all over the world. One person. World wide!

So, how are NKT teachers held within the NKT system so that no individual teacher goes ‘beyond’ the control of the NKT? As mentioned in Part One, NKT teachers have no formal qualifications. They can be fired, moved or ‘reproved’ at the complete will of the NKT as they are ‘volunteers’. If they are fired nothing will be said on either side, except perhaps the NKT may receive a few emails of complaint. This is highly unlikely however, as if an NKT teacher wants to ‘have another post’ within the NKT system they have to keep quiet and comply. They must not complain about being fired and they must make completely sure that no complaints are made by their most loyal students – who are the ones most likely to complain. And any loyal student will not want to harm their beloved Resident Teacher by complaining and thus sabotaging any possibility that their teacher might again be an NKT teacher. The ‘NKT’ or the ‘clique at Manjushri’ is blamed and the fact that the NKT has such complete power is not really noted – after all, that local Resident Teacher’s main commitment is to ‘Geshe-la’ and as ‘Geshe-la is the NKT’ they need to acquiesce with the NKT’s instructions (or demands) or they will never be allowed into ‘Geshe-la’s mandala’ again. There are constant fluctuations in the ‘connection’ and ‘disconnection’ people make in their minds between ‘Geshe-la’ and ‘the NKT’.

To cope with this harsh system of control the ‘Guru’ as kindness is seen to be controlled himself by the NKT ‘bureaucracy’, helpless behind what they do, as if he doesn’t know what they are doing. And simultaneously, Kelsang Gyatso is conceptualised as ‘all knowing’ and ‘omniscient’ and therefore this set up of NKT control is then again seen as a ‘test of faith’, an ‘impure appearance to mind’ for students with the minds of a ‘degenerate age’. If your teacher goes, you are the one who has to purify that ‘impure appearance’. The Dharma will be twisted into the shape it needs to take for each student to feel they still have a place in the NKT. Loyalty and love for their own local (now ex) NKT teacher forces them to go along with the bigger NKT system of control. At the same time, each student will feel they are ‘thinking it out for themselves’ and that their system for coping with this is personal and unique in some way as they will have very little open discussion with others about these issues. Again, the ‘secrecy’ element returns – it is shameful for your teacher to have been fired. Along with your personal sense of loss you have to ‘have a happy mind’. You have to quickly find a justification to keep happy.

Now, each teacher is also in a very difficult position, even without the stress of keeping their students happy when they have been removed from their posts. Changes are usually done as quickly as possible so that students don’t have time to complain. A teacher may leave secretly, overnight even. And that teacher is tied. No NKT teacher has any qualification that is transferable. They do not have the confidence that comes from having visible qualifications. They have nothing tangible to transfer elsewhere. The only ‘certificate’ they may possess is the NKT’s ‘authorisation’ to use their ordained name if they have one [‘authorisation is the word written on the newer ordination certificates] and a certificate of being a ‘Gen’ if they have been successful in staying as a Resident Teacher for 4 years. That really is the ‘success’ of an NKT teacher.

There is nothing else.

NKT teachers suffer greatly in the NKT. They make big sacrifices. This is why they feel it is so unfair that they come under criticism from outsiders. They do not see the need to ‘redo’ the NKT ethos; they have promised to ‘abide by the Internal Rules’ as part of their teacher’s commitment. They feel that the NKT justification for this lack of support – that if anything else is given to them by the NKT (better stipends, contracts, pensions, etc) that this is a personal risk of ‘bad karma’ if they ‘misuse’ funds – making it a ‘karmic risk’ to protest for more. [Only people who have been Spiritual Directors or Deputy Spiritual Directors will be looked after by the NKT in old age even if a person has given 40 years of their life to being an NKT teacher]. The longer they have been committed to the NKT life the less likely it is that they will be able, economically, spiritually and psychologically, to leave. They are trapped within this unkind world of the NKT that appears, on the surface to be so kind.

But what would the NKT be without its teachers? This is the bubble of the NKT that needs popping. How NKT teachers are treated is what the Tibetans label the ‘danger’ of Shugden – the desire to control. This is what the NKT needs to change. The ‘nice’ people there know this. They shrug their shoulders, knowing that they can’t control this, but that their love for the Dharma they have become controlled by will keep them there.

The cry that NKT teachers and followers make during the protests, ‘Dalai Lama give religious freedom’ is, in essence, a cry from the heart.

By Carol McQuire

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