For those who were harmed by the New Kadampa Tradition (aka Kadampa Buddhism or Modern Buddhism), it is of grave concern that the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK as well as mindfulness organisations or mindfulness groups are either sending vulnerable people to meditation classes run by the NKT or collaborate with the NKT without any critical awareness of the controversial background of this group. The NKT movement has harmed the mental health of many of its followers causing among others complex trauma, PTSD, depression or suicidal thoughts. Those who survived the NKT refer to themselves as New Kadampa Survivors. For a brief overview about the controversies regarding the NKT and for some self-help groups of NKT Survivors see here.
Michelle Haslam (PhD, DClinPsych), a clinical psychologist who works in the field of safeguarding, wrote a 59 page report “My opinion on The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT-IKBU)” discussing the “Potential harm to mental and physical health based on my experience, observations, survivors’ testimonies and psychological theory” which can be dowloaded here (PDF). See also Michelle Haslam’s Blog at http://www.newkadampatraditionreport.org.
If you lack time to read Michelle Haslam’s report in full, you can read her summary (from page 47-48):
It is clear that the NKT have no understanding of mental health, but strongly believe that they are qualified to offer courses on overcoming anxiety, depression and stress. They believe that they completely understand the mind, which makes them a particularly dangerous group. The NKT are not qualified to teach mindfulness (in line with Western definitions of mindfulness), but still attempt to benefit financially and to draw people in through the‘mindfulness movement’. They do not teach mindfulness aside from a brief mindfulness of the breath practice at the beginning of classes which is designed to settle the mind prior to focusing on the doctrine. It is very important that health services and the general public understand this.
Myself and many other survivors believe the NKT to be a highly psychologically damaging and exploitative organisation that attracts people through their attachment trauma, depression and dissatisfaction with life. All of their practices could be potentially severely damaging to both mental and eventually to physical health, as well as to people’srelationships with outsiders. Despite this, involvement with this group can feel good in the short term, due to the sense of belonging, ‘love-bombing’ and flattery, trance states, group narcissism, and the short term benefits of spiritual bypassing in avoiding emotional pain.
Potential psychological damage whilst within the group includes:
- the increasing inability to trust one’s own perception and intuition
- dissociation from the body, derealisation and depersonalisation
- further repression of emotion and trauma through spiritual bypassing, thought-stopping and thought-control
- anxiety linked to fear of rebirth in a hell realm
- obsessive compulsive urges linked to ‘purification’ of negative minds
- further trauma due to experiences of abuse within the group which is enabled by the teachings and lack of safeguarding
- stress and burnout
- severe cognitive dissonance due to the gaslighting
- misplaced loyalty and trauma bonding to the guru and the group
- hallucinations due to the visualisation practices
- paranoia due to the magical thinking
In particular, this is likely to be highly damaging for those who came to the group with pre- existing acute trauma or complex attachment related trauma. For those with a mild to moderate learning disability who take the teachings very literally, following these teachings could lead to a severe anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder and trauma bonding. I would argue that longstanding members of the NKT who came to the group with mental health difficulties or learning disabilities could lack capacity to be able to make decisions regarding their own welfare.
The difficulties involved in leaving and recovering from the experience of being involved with this organisation are extensive. These could include symptoms of:
- The withdrawal effects of leaving a cult
- Narcissistic abuse syndrome
- Complex post-traumatic stress disorder
- Hallucinations and paranoia
- Severe social isolation
For those who try to speak up, risk of further abuse and resulting trauma is high. Recovery is likely to take many years for those who have been deeply involved in the group. Re- adjustment and rehabilitation is likely to be very challenging, and survivors may need intensive psychological support. Survivors would benefit from support from those with specialist knowledge and experience of both cult involvement, and the way in which this particular group operates. There is not currently enough training on cult involvement for mental health professionals.
Research is required to better understand the psychological damage and needs of survivors of this particular group, however the participation rate in any proposed study is likely to be low due to complex post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and fear of consequences.
Dr. Michelle Haslam runs a website: “Recovery from The New Kadampa Tradition – A Resource Centre: Liberation from indoctrination”. She also wrote an article that is general to Buddhist Cultic groups but mentions Triratna and NKT more than others: ‘McMindfulness’, The Happiness Trap, deception and hidden abuse: social factors that make us vulnerable to recruitment into Buddhist cultic groups.
Those who are looking for independent academic information could contact www.inform.ac for further details about the New Kadampa Tradition movement.
Last edited by Tenpel on October 10, 2019
- My written testimony: ‘Finding my way out of the empty black hole of spiritual narcissism’ – Michelle Haslam
- Episode 211: New Kadampa Tradition – On Belief: A Podcast About Cults by Karen Geier (Interview with Michelle Haslam)
- Dr Michelle Haslam & her psychological report on the controversial New Kadampa Tradition – Imperfect Buddha Podcast
- “Traumatisation by suffering damage within so-called Buddhist groups” – Miriam Anders (LMU)
- The One Pure Dharma: The New Kadampa Tradition is controversial—and growing. Why? By Judith Hertog (Tricycle)
- Realising the Guru’s Intention: Hungry Humans and Awkward Animals in a New Kadampa Tradition communtity by Carol McQuire
- Extremism on University Campuses – INFORM
- Buddhism Is Not A Cure For Mental Health Problems – Or Is It? – Tenzin Peljor
- Overview website on the NKT
- Handouts by former NKT monks and nuns:
- Testimonies of “NKT Survivors”