A New Kadampa Survivor Testimony
My name is Ivy Wallace and I am a former member of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT). Here is my story in case anyone is interested.
I was in the NKT for 5 years. My initial year there was incredible. Everyone was so kind and seemed so happy. I stayed on the outskirts for a while, only going to General Program (GP) classes once a week or a puja here or there. I was befriended on Facebook by practically everyone within a few weeks. Each time I went to the center I was bombarded with attention by nuns and starry-eyed students, which made me feel extremely welcome. Eventually one nun started asking me if I wanted to build merit by cleaning the bathrooms at the center once a week. It took me about a year to work my way into the “inner circle” of the center this way. I began volunteering for reception shifts, helping in the bookshop, doing flower offerings, cooking meals, assisting the teacher in his branch classes, and of course, cleaning the bathrooms. I became close friends with some of the more senior members of the center and soon began considering moving in to the center myself, and perhaps even ordaining.
I began noticing the way they coldly discard people once they’ve overworked them, how they spiritually abuse the elderly and sick by telling them to purify their negative karma, how they fabricated an extensive defamation campaign against the Dalai Lama, how they covered up sex scandals, how they indoctrinated children in the kid’s classes. So many things were wrong!
It took me years to come to grips with the fact that I was in a cult.
Over the course of several years, I collected empowerments like a child would collect baseball cards. I was asked to teach a branch class after only a year of Foundation Program (FP). I read Kelsang Gyatso’s (KG’s) books over and over and over. I remember in the early days asking the nun sitting next to me during Tsog who the spiritual guide was. She looked at me with shock on her face and said, “Geshela is your spiritual guide of course!” I never met him during my time in the NKT but somehow I was slowly brainwashed into worshiping him. I began believing he could hear my inner thoughts because he was a Buddha, and this was an encouraged belief by the students around me. Because of that I became obsessed with controlling my thoughts, feeling immensely guilty and full of self-loathing if anything negative ever crossed my mind. The same nun who got me to clean bathrooms eventually convinced me that my family didn’t understand me now that I was a Kadampa. She told me that the center was my true home where I could move along the path to enlightenment with my peers. All the NKT people I’d met were so happy (on the surface) and I figured that they must be doing something right — so I slowly phased out my family. I began spending holidays at the center with the Kadampas. I began spending all my money on traveling to festivals and going to empowerments. When I ran out of money and couldn’t fly to festival, I offered to stay and take care of the center while everyone else went. I was treated like a holy martyr, which I have to admit, I kind of enjoyed at the time, though now when I think back on it I am disgusted with myself.
Finally, after years of fanaticism, I began opening my eyes. It wasn’t a singular huge moment, but more like many small cracks that finally burst open the ceiling.
Over 5 years my life became intertwined with the NKT. My whole identity was Kadam dharma. I breathed it and lived it, and thus I lost a lot of friends and family. My co-workers thought I was crazy but I was too brainwashed to care. My NKT friends told me the outside world was never in my close karmic circle anyway and that I should pray that my old family and friends will someday overcome their delusions and find Kadam dharma themselves. I sincerely prayed for them, dedicated my merit for them, and tried to convince them of the beauty of the NKT at every chance. Finally, after years of fanaticism, I began opening my eyes. It wasn’t a singular huge moment, but more like many small cracks that finally burst open the ceiling. I began noticing the way they coldly discard people once they’ve overworked them, how they spiritually abuse the elderly and sick by telling them to purify their negative karma, how they fabricated an extensive defamation campaign against the Dalai Lama, how they covered up sex scandals, how they indoctrinated children in the kid’s classes. So many things were wrong! I tried addressing some of these issues with my teacher and our admin director but was told I didn’t have enough faith, that it wasn’t my place to question Geshela, and that if I talked about this stuff to anyone else I’d ruin their faith as well.
With a heavy heart, I quietly stopped going to the center. No one ever contacted me to see where I went or what happened, even though I’d been very close friends with them for 5 years. They all unfriended me from Facebook after I posted a picture of the Dalai Lama with a quote about kindness. It took me years to come to grips with the fact that I was in a cult. My entire life was built up and then shattered. I’ve been going to therapy ever since but I still am very distrustful of people, particularly dharma teachers. I haven’t been able to meditate because every time I sit my mind is flooded with memories. The NKT is an extremely dangerous organization that has ruined the lives of a lot of genuine spiritual practitioners. I hope that anyone reading my story will think twice about joining their ranks.
This testimony was originally posted on the New Kadampa Survivor Testimony Facebook page on December 1, 2014. All testimonies are protected by Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND. The author gives permission for this article to be posted elsewhere.
MORE NKT SURVIVORS’ TESTIMONIES
- FB Group: New Kadampa Survivor Testimonies
- NKT Survivor Testimonies on this blog
- For list of testimonies see: Experiences with the New Kadampa Tradition and Kelsang Gyatso 2011/01/07