The Clear Light of Kelsang Gyatso

Guest Post by Carol McQuire

A reliable witness has confirmed that Kelsang Gyatso died on September 17th 2022 and was cremated on September 27th 2022 at Barrow Crematorium, Cumbria. There was no service. Only close family members were in attendance to watch the coffin as it was taken through to be cremated.

This article is exclusively the personal opinion of the author. If the NKT dislikes what I say, they are welcome to add their story. And if they wish to silence me, so be it. I have nothing to lose except my non-sectarian Buddhist library. Perhaps they would enjoy it – hundreds of books, one of which, a Kagyu book, was previously part of the library at the NKT’s Madhyamaka Centre. I found it in a charity shop in York.

Traces. There are always traces.

I would be delighted if any academics wish to correct my fanciful musings. These topics need discussion, for the integrity of the Dharma and for the safety of us all.

Everyone involved with the New Kadampa Tradition as an insider knows that everything and everyone has to prioritise the organisation, not the individual. This need is also what dominated Kelsang Gyatso’s life, and death. And who decided what was best for the organisation wasn’t often decided by Kelsang Gyatso. I can’t prove these statements, can I? But what I can share, breaking through the swamp of silencing, is what I have understood from my 12 years within and then years outside the NKT, interacting with the consequences it has in the world – provoking the hundreds of painful stories that have been entrusted to me[1] – and from the right I have as a very sincere disciple of Kelsang Gyatso, with whom I took many Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments and whose personal advice I followed, when I was fortunate enough to receive it, several times by letter.

I wish to close the door gently on the person who was my first Dharma teacher. I wish to respect what he was able to give, to clarify by wading through the weed beds that have grown around the delicate topic NKT practices, what he means to me and what I see as his ‘Fortunate One’. [2]Gentle rumours from NKT circles have said I had ‘good ideas’ about what to do about the NKT, but suffer from ‘pride’. It is a ‘pride’ to have your own view in the NKT, so I shall exploit my status as ex NKT and be proud. I refuse to be that woman in the Shugden memes launched on social media with my name on them, on the floor with the scarf thrust in her mouth unable to speak; her eyes squealing distress. [3]

As I am sad at the manner of his death – anonymous and silent – I write both as homage and farewell; to mourn what might have been possible, to share a little of what I think was lost, to acknowledge the why of such complicated reactions as there are around his death.

It’s a curious feeling to mourn without funeral, without the public display of the body in the container. Kelsang Gyatso’s death was officially announced on social media just before the Queen’s funeral on September 19th 2022 as follows:

‘On September 17 our most precious Spiritual Guide Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche showed the manner of passing peacefully into the clear light.’

I was simultaneously sad and angry. Sad, because I don’t think Kelsang Gyatso’s life was as happy as it could have been, and angry because it was such a ‘designed’ announcement – he had supposedly died two days before and the announcement could have been made at any time.

Many of us know that the NKT has some brilliant minds designing its trajectory, its image and its structure. The ‘teacher’ in the NKT isn’t really ‘Kelsang Gyatso’ – it’s the organisation. I heard Kelsang Gyatso say ‘I am the NKT’ in ‘meat’[4] life and the method of ‘taking the book as the teacher’ is brought up over and over again, particularly in this week since his official death. As the NKT holds a tight copyright over all the text in their books, the equation teacher=NKT=book is the triumvirate that rules and in practice it’s ‘the NKT’ that manages the image of ‘the teacher’ and controls the books and the teachings and the festivals.[5]

It was obligatory as an NKT teacher (I was trained and functioned as one) to always ‘show the book’, to read from it and to make sure your audience wishes to come closer to what those books offer. It was a book that was my trail of sweets in the dark forest of samsara towards the gingerbread house of NKT commitment. Managing ‘practice’ in the NKT means prioritising what creates the most cohesiveness within the group of ‘students and followers’ and the continuation of the NKT itself. (I have never seen the phrase ‘Friends of the NKT’.) Policies are made according to the internal needs of the organisation, not to what they would wish outsiders to think, or best supporting any individual’s practice.

How to co-opt a national funeral? It’s brilliant! Kelsang Gyatso would state that the British Queen ‘was Vajrayogini’ and of course, as he was Heruka,[6] then their passing had to be on the same wavelength. [7]The UK’s national holiday for mourning the Queen was immediately followed by two days of official mourning in every NKT centre, including with online streaming. Prayers to Kelsang Gyatso would be recited for two days. Not a powa – a transference of consciousness, nothing about the bardo, about the teacher reincarnating and wishing him to appear as a teacher again – it was all about Kelsang Gyatso being ‘in clear light’ and nothing about his ‘quick return’[8].

Kelsang Gyatso, when I was in the NKT, stated first that he would ‘be reborn as an English child’ and then ‘as an English boy’ but this isn’t common knowledge for current NKT students. I do wonder whether NKT followers will be making babies or not now – in the NKT’s earlier days it was something people talked about wishing to do once he died. Kelsang Gyatso had recognised one child as his mother. But, the NKT constitution says that reincarnation is not within its statutes and Kelsang Gyatso also said he would ‘study all the NKT books and become a teacher again’. So, as there is no one ‘authorised’ to recognise Kelsang Gyatso as a baby, then what is needed is for the study programmes to continue. You do not need to study and pass ‘all your exams’ on Kelsang Gyatso’s books to become an NKT teacher. The full list of books on the NKT’s Teacher Training Programme are rarely even taught – the fast tracked ‘Special Teacher Training Programme’ in which followers can become an NKT ‘Resident Teacher’ in six months, has a much reduced study requirement. But if Kelsang Gyatso is going to return, that’s where he’ll be found in a few years – a little English boy studying NKT Dharma.[9] The NKT’s Dharma for children may flourish with an interesting new sexist element.

A few weeks ago I was writing about the Summer Festival this year – with teachings on the book Clear Light of Bliss. I had thought then it was a brilliant move to bring this book back into the live teachings. It was an obvious gap in transferring Kelsang Gyatso’s heritage. Seeing how ‘Clear Light’ is being used by the NKT to connect students to his memory, I think it even more brilliant now. The management of the NKT preserves its brilliance well, so well. They knew he was dying. Or they had arrived at a way to manage his death well, whenever it had happened. Either conjecture fits. ‘Clear Light’ had to be brought back as a concept to ‘manage’ his death.

It doesn’t seem to matter that he told us, Kelsang Gyatso, over and over again, that the teachings in Clear Light of Bliss were ‘the common lineage’ and that these teachings weren’t important for us, as NKT practice was based on the ‘uncommon lineage’ of tantric mahamudra in his Tantric Grounds and Paths and the Vajrayogini and Heruka books; the faster and more effective ‘Ensa whispered lineage’ that he was exclusively preserving.

I wonder how this ‘common’ aspect was managed during the actual teachings this year. Of course, all teachings can be declared provisional, can’t they?

As far as I know[10] Kelsang Gyatso had not taught the practices in Clear Light of Bliss since the book was published. It was the book that made his career as a Dharma teacher[11], along with his Meaningful to Behold, teachings on Shantideva’s Bodhisattva Way of Life, both published by Wisdom Publications, and both reedited and published again by Tharpa Publications, the NKT’s own publication company. Clear Light of Bliss is now in its Third Edition. The genius of NKT editing is in the making of the franchise; excluding the Tibetan heritage and language – skills in translation aren’t needed – subtler meanings within ‘translation’ are lost and focused into a simpler, faith based belief system that is easier for ‘sincere’ students to follow. I have noted that several brief discussions of alternative viewpoints, which Kelsang Gyatso included in his first editions, have been removed.[12]

I feel the editing of the books is a parallel to what happened to Kelsang Gyatso himself – cut down, reduced, origins deleted; to become a pristine human ‘beyond the human’, unrelated and without roots. A result of the tragedy of going against the reality of interdependence, of debt to others, the deletion of heritage and lineage as proposed by the NKT’s smooth ‘modern’ control. To create the NKT Kelsang Gyatso had to mute himself, had to be muted; who he is, how he arose[13].

Would it have been pleasant to him to hide his association to Geshe Lhundup Sopa[14], his main sponsor during his Tibetan monastic training and still very much alive when the NKT was officially founded in 1992, so that the NKT’s students could be prevented from going elsewhere? Would he have liked to publicly validate the origins of the NKT’s Heruka Body Mandala teachings, which, it seems, were given to a small group of current senior NKT teachers, amongst other attendees, by Zemey Rinpoche, in India, with an illustrious Tibetan translating into English? Kelsang Gyatso’s Tibetan connections have been reduced to the handful of Shugden monasteries in India and Nepal and Malaysia who have, ironically, engaged in practices such as Guhyasamaja for his death – Kelsang Gyatso deleted both Vajrabhairava and Guhyasamaja, two of Je Tsongkhapa’s core tantric practices for full enlightenment, in favour of only part of the third – the Heruka Chakrasamvara – within the NKT. Simpler becoming the simplistic and the simple, a ‘tradition’ that is easier to ‘own’, easier to ‘train teachers’ in if there are only a few practices? Cultural appropriation isn’t a concept that the NKT yet recognise. Or textual appropriation. Tibetan texts aren’t copyrighted, they are attributed to a particular teacher and lineage, and only in translation copyrighted by a particular translator. [15]But perhaps we should call the NKT’s style a cultural disapprobation?

Can we really attribute Kelsang Gyatso’s constant need to hide from his students to ‘the Shugden effect’, claiming that ‘Tibetans’ supporting HH the Dalai Lama sought to murder him, as the NKT said for years? [16] Hiding who his own teachers really were, did he also hide himself too, like an echo? To make the NKT a more powerful organisation, capable of reproducing systematised teachings all over the world, access to ‘Kelsang Gyatso’ for ‘personal advice’ was minimised and controlled by the remarkably unaccountable individuals around him. Moneyed international students, however, could be prioritised for visiting, surely through that ambition to have an NKT Temple in every city in the world.

One tale has it that Kelsang Gyatso said he was ‘ruined’ because, just after the NKT was officially created, HH the Dalai Lama announced further restrictions on Shugden practice for those who see him as their tantric guru. Why did this matter so much to Kelsang Gyatso if he didn’t see His Holiness as his own tantric guru too? Did he crave the Dalai Lama’s approval? Why did Kelsang Gyatso continue to build up Shugden as the core NKT practice, rather than leaving him as one of a group of minor protectors? Why did his need to ‘protect’ Shugden become so intense and allow that afflictive, unbalanced, craving essence for power, which is the real demon, to dominate what the NKT became – a temple franchise, his own, the NKT’s,[17] but telling students it is all for them? He should have cut Shugden down to size – instead, Shugden ‘authorised’ Kelsang Gyatso – but as ‘author’ he has also been ‘cut down’, reduced, made more perfect, pure, and in that, like a sad, unspeakable spirit himself, he too became silent, silenced and absent.

Dear teacher,

Perhaps, it is said by Tibetan sources, you became like Zemey Rinpoche, the other Tibetan lama known for supporting Shugden, both of you becoming muted shadows for your last years, and both of you too unwell and unfit for a public death. A public death which so, so many Tibetan masters gift their students.

As the source – the core, the founder, a Kelsang Gyatso with many added honorifics – you were silent for so many years. Speechless.

And I find it sad that you rarely visibly wore your robes, as if you disappeared inside your craving to be warm.

An elderly man in a woolly hat, an unremarkable red fleece over what should be your robes and ‘official’ pictures without robes too, over and over again you are dressed so insignificantly – or what did your own apparent disrespect towards your robes mean? What illustrious teachers, some of which were yours, would ever be photographed without pride in their best robes, tidy and smart in that confidence in the vows the robes represent? [18] When Trijang Rinpoche was in his last days he was asked to post for a photographic portrait. He said that unfortunately he could not be photographed at all as his robes were not in sufficiently good condition for public presentation.

Every Buddhist monastic I have seen outside the NKT also lifts up the back of their large yellow patchwork robe – the chokgyu – before they sit down so that they do not ‘sit on the wisdom’ it represents whilst giving or receiving teachings. Did you forget to tell your monastics that? I did not see you do this yourself. As your ordained, we competed to be smart robed all the time, unlike you, but we never wore zens in everyday life as do others who wear those same robes elsewhere. Like you, we were usually fleeced.

The karmic result of attachment is separation, they told me in the NKT. And so many of your students left you; so many NKT ‘monastics’ ran or were pushed away. ‘I do not want to hear this’ you cried out and increased your threats of karmic punishment – that we would ‘never get enlightened’ if we left you. We could not take any teachings elsewhere. Choose or leave – no other teacher but ‘Kelsang Gyatso’. Your students, gently attracted like the dutiful bees they are, to the various other hives that have the sweet honey of Dharma, to other Queens – you could not bear this. We had to be yours.

We left anyway. We had to. Not to look for other teachers, but to preserve our integrity.

It is not right that the Dharma should be such honey laden upon a knife of fear.

Causes, causes! Why did you not look at the causes for our flights? Did you ignore us, deafened by the muttering of power in your ears?

It is rare for teachers to hide[19]; few as well as Kelsang Gyatso.[20]

NKT ‘spiritual’ training encourages a giving free from any expectation or condition for the disciple’s generosity – for a disciple to demand any return, even a proper gratitude, is ‘selfish’ and ‘egoistic’. [21] Outside interests are labelled ‘meaningless’. It would be natural to expect love and compassion from a spiritual guide who professes to ‘care’ for you. [22]But this is not ‘ordinary’ care. Kelsang Gyatso removed himself and left ‘the NKT’ in his place; a Dharma organisation that gives nothing to the ordinary student except paid classes and commitments, and nothing to its ‘Resident’ Teachers except a basic maintenance depending on obedience. All NKT teachers are ‘volunteers’ without contracts. Trauma surges on seeing a chasm in between what you expect and what you receive and if you disagree publicly with ‘the NKT’, however long you have served it, trauma comes in that shock when ‘the NKT’ acts to protect itself and you find your well-being, even your sense of justice and ethics that you learnt from your practice, treated as a nothing.

This is the echo of the ‘nothing’ that Kelsang Gyatso became in his last eight years – a trickle down of written messages in his quaint and repetitive style and a few edited books. The Mirror of Dharma With Additions, released in 2018, is the NKT’s ‘Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka’ practice potted in neatly, bonsai style with an extremely condensed Lamrim, the Hundreds of Deities of the Joyful Land mixed in with Heruka, and Lama Chopa with Tsog Offering, all for beginners, beginners who can immediately receive the ‘blessings’ of Heruka and Vajrayogini in an NKT Festival within days of ‘meeting’ Kelsang Gyatso through his books. [23] The Dharma chopped up as ‘Kelsang Gyatso’ was chopped up into tiny digestible pieces for ‘modern’ students.

A taste of the differences:

Here is a translation of the Migtsema Prayer, a traditional Gelug prayer to Je Tsongkhapa; [24]

Avalokiteshvara, great treasure of non-objectifying compassion,
Manjushri, master of stainless wisdom,
Tsongkhapa, crown ornament of the land of the snows,
To Losang Dragpa, at your feet I make requests.

And here is the NKT’s ‘Migstema’;

O Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka[26], Synthesis of all Buddhas in one,
I request you, please dispel all outer and inner obstacles,
Ripen my mental continuum, liberate me from all dualistic appearance,
And bless me so that I will benefit all living beings.

I have no problem with any teacher adapting any prayers as they so wish, of course. I do have a problem with an organisation saying that a tenuous derivation is ‘traditional’. The text continues,

‘Traditionally we should collect 100,000 of this Migtsema request prayer’.

0n my first NKT retreat in the UK, at Madhyamaka Centre around 1995, I played the gyaling (Tibetan horn) in my first big group puja and we sang the (original) Migstema in Tibetan. What a long way the NKT has come with its imaginary permutations into ‘modernism’ all the while keeping the robes, looking like His Holiness the Dalai Lama and implicitly being trusted because of His good will. [28] If they had another uniform would anyone take them as seriously? Kelsang Gyatso insisted on keeping the Tibetan ordination robes when the NKT rose away from its origins.

If his silencing was necessary to increase NKT power – the individual does not matter – then, of course, in the same pattern, NKT disciples have to silence themselves; followers as well as ex followers, following the changes. And shaping ‘the view’ by silencing has become the NKT’s greatest skill. No one should ask where Kelsang Gyatso’s human body is, after his death. He’s ‘clear light’. Nothing else… Any other thought or question is ‘worldly’ and well beneath the spiritual heights of NKT faith. [29]

Kelsang Gyatso, it saddens me that your death is as anonymous as your birth. [30]

If the guru’s voice is within the book then this year’s choice for the Summer Festival teachings was astute. Clear Light of Bliss. What Geshe-la was preparing for…[31] Death.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama mentioned, in person, to a group of ex NKT who he met in 2015, in Cambridge, UK, that the first two books of Kelsang Gyatso’s published by Wisdom Publications, were ‘good’ and that Kelsang Gyatso ‘was a good scholar’. This was during the most spectacular of the protests the NKT had organised to defame His Holiness wherever he went to teach outside Asia. The two books the Dalai Lama praised were Meaningful to Behold – View, Meditation and Action in Mahayana Buddhism (An oral commentary to Shantideva’s A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life – Bodhisattvacharyavatara), (1980) and Clear Light of Bliss – Mahamudra in Vajrayana Buddhism (1982). Both were translated by Tenzin Norbu and edited by Jonathan Landaw, with Chris Kolb helping for the latter as well as illustrations by Andy Weber.

Meaningful to Behold has a Foreword by Yongdzin Trijang Rinpoche praising Kelsang Gyatso and the Dedication is ‘to the long life of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’. Praises for the team of persons involved are no longer in current editions so I reproduce them below. [32] These people may well wish to hide their previous connections to Kelsang Gyatso and could perhaps have asked for their names to be deleted from subsequent editions but as all of them are missing in later editions I doubt this to be so.

I have a First Edition of Clear Light of Bliss that I bought online last year, which, surprisingly, arrived with a dedication written in Kelsang Gyatso’s spidery and tremulous writing. I shall make sure this original is sent to Kelsang Rabten for the NKT archive after I die – few NKT students have ever seen his signature. When I was in the NKT Kelsang Gyatso didn’t even sign the Meditation Handbook we were given when I ordained. There were no queues after teachings to speak with him as he would leave in a body-guarded rush. Were there too many of us? Greater Masters give personal public interactions to thousands. [33]

Meanwhile it is a precious personal reminder of what Kelsang Gyatso wished – translated it reads:

‘May you actualize Buddhahood through study, reflection and meditation. With love and compassion, K. Gyatso’.

No pretention. No extra names. A simple message. That’s how K.Gyatso started. The ‘humble monk’ they still mention.

The Foreword to Clear Light of Bliss is also written by Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche, named as the senior Tutor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and praises Kelsang Gyatso’s ‘lengthy secret mantra teachings based on the Protector Manjushri Je Tsongkhapa’s great treatises and other authentic commentaries on mahamudra, including the root text of the First Panchen Lama’ originally given ‘at Manjushri Institute in England’. This time Kelsang Gyatso dedicates the book to the ‘quick’ reincarnation of Yongdzin Trijang Dorjechang [34].

This last ‘Summer Festival’, in August 2022, took place at the ‘Mother Centre’- Manjushri Mahayana Meditation Centre outside Ulverston, in the stunning but dangerous environment of Morecambe Bay, whose tides have sadly taken NKT followers as well as cockle pickers to untimely deaths.[35] The tranquility of those waters is deceptive.

This was the first Summer Festival with Kelsang Gyatso ‘in residence’ since 2014, when he was filmed opening a temple in Portugal before going to Dallas and then to unknown locations. It was announced that he had returned to Manjushri a few months ago but his ‘live’ presence was limited to a few photographs greeting his sister and nephew (their faces were not shown) and sitting in a typical old person’s chair near to shelves that seemed to be those he had in his room years before. There was still no video, no interview, no podcast, no speech, as in the last six years. But he was ‘back’.

Then a few more photographs were released online within the more formal context of the upcoming Summer Festival teachings. There was one glimpse of a synthetic yellow patterned silk undershirt but over this, only a maroon fleece. No zen. In one image Kelsang Gyatso is holding a book in Tibetan – we are led to suppose that this is a Dharma book – but resting this on a bed blanket, not, as traditionally expected, on a pristine cloth that would show respect for the Dharma.

Then, a few months after Kelsang Gyatso arrived, Clear Light of Bliss was taught. The last book to be ‘transmitted’ while he was hidden but ‘in residence’! By cutting out so much from the books, to make it easier and faster to train up teachers, what was glorious, over edited, tends to become, tragically, quite boring. [36]Bringing in teachings that hadn’t been heard was absolute genius! The last edition[37] is acceptable in the current NKT world. It has the added title ‘Tantric Meditation Manual’ printed delicately on the pale blue seascape cover instead of ‘Mahamudra in Vajrayana Buddhism’ (1982) or ‘A commentary to the practice of Mahamudra in Vajrayana Buddhism’ in 1992.

So, what has been deleted?

Firstly, the credits, the names, the translator. Gone.

The original dedication has been moved to the back of the book, and underneath a verse of dedication to fulfil our tantric bodhichitta[38] is the following paragraph.

‘This book, Clear Light of Bliss, is the teachings of Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche. These teachings were recorded and transcribed, and then edited principally by him and some of his senior students.’[39]

In the Acknowledgements in the beginning there is only the phrase ‘We wish to thank all the dedicated, senior Dharma students who assisted the author with the rendering of the English and then prepared the final manuscript for publication’. You know who you are.

Tibetan translators now are treasured professionals, some well-known and even famed for their particular and well prized skills. [40] But not in the NKT.

Yongdzin Ling Rinpoche has only his name underneath the Foreword, not his title as ‘Tutor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’ or the phrase that previously mentions he is the ‘Ninety-seventh Holder of the Throne of Ganden’. Kelsang Gyatso held the ‘pure’ Ganden lineage – no one else should be noticed.

Also deleted from the wonderful ‘List of illustrations’ in the 1982 edition[41] is the statement ‘Along with Long-chen Rab-jam-pa (1308) and the Sakya Pandita (1182-1251), Tsongkhapa is considered to be an emanation of Manjushri himself’. The majesty of this sentence alone gives me great sadness seeing how even the names of great Tibetan masters are deleted from a prominent place in NKT publications. [42]But this ‘spread’ of Manjushri into other Tibetan lineages, Nyingma and Kagyu, is absolute heresy for the NKT that reveres Kelsang Gyatso as Manjushri, as Je Tsongkhapa’s only pure lineage holder of this world.

Ten lineage masters listed on page 11 of the 1982 edition are deleted by 1992. Ling Rinpoche, even though his Foreword has been kept, is no longer in the Mahamudra lineage guru prayers although he is described as being ‘a holder of this mahamudra lineage’ in the 1982 edition. The Dedication of the 1982 edition also says; ‘May the reincarnation of the most holy guru, Yong-dzin Tri-Jang, appear quickly for the sake of buddha-dharma and sentient beings’.

I can find no credits for the illustrations of the 2019 edition although they seem identical to the 1992 edition in which Ani Kelsang Wangmo is named, Andy Weber as the cover artist showing Vajradhara. The deletion of credits for this publication is impressive.

It would be another long essay to present and analyse how the NKT have edited the Heruka Body Mandala practices, added to the Clear Light of Bliss 2019 edition in a shortened ten page version as ‘The Yoga of Buddha Heruka’. The 1992 edition of Clear Light of Bliss has a shortened Heruka Five Deities practice included, the 1982 edition has neither. Why add Heruka to a book that teaches yogic practices that require less ritual and prayer according to Lama Yeshe who taught these practices towards the end of his life. [43]

I would like to present though, a longer quote from the 1982 edition of Clear Light of Bliss, to pay my respects to Tenzin Norbu and others; to show what was done for Kelsang Gyatso after he taught in Tibetan and translated orally by Tenzin Norbu.

‘The teachings here were originally delivered in 1980 as lectures at Manjushri Institute in Ulverston, England. They were compiled by the kind and persistent efforts of Chris Kolb who produced the initial draft of the manuscript upon which this present volume is based. This draft version was then translated back into Tibetan by Tenzin Norbu, at which time the author extensively revised his original presentation with the view of making it more accessible to the reading public. This revised manuscript was edited for final publication for Jonathan Landaw. This final version was rechecked and revised with the assistance of Sharon Gross.

‘At various stages the task of typing the manuscript was undertaken by Truus Philipsen, Aleca Moraites and Wendy Chatfield in addition to the above-mention compilers. The final draft was completely retyped by Susan Horne and the entire presentation was designed by Robina Courtin. To all of these dedicated students and to everyone else involved in taping, translation, editing, design and production the author wishes to convey his heartfelt appreciate and thanks.’

And a ‘Note’ from page 243 of the 1982 edition:

‘Chapter Three 11 The wording of the following explanation has been adapted from the discussion found in Lati Rinpoche and Hopkins, pp. 38-41’

Suggestions in the bibliography also include books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Gampopa, Geshe Rabten, Brian Beresford, Alan Wallace, J. Wilson, Glen Mullin, H.V. Guenther and L.S. Kawamura, W.Y. Evans-Wentz and E. Conze’s translation of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, still not even read within the NKT. There is a list of the Tibetan texts.

So, what happened to this graceful and kind beginning, with gratitude, clear references and attributions where even text from other books was adapted with proper credit given? What exactly is the NKT’s ‘copyright’, devoid of its true origins, laying claim to? There is a complete silencing of gratitude.

My dear teacher!

It was your speech that started this ‘NKT’ production – books that so many others helped you to create. You started to disrespect the source of what you were given – both Buddha’s heritage and the Tibetan heritage – and denied these to your students. [44] Your publicity exaggerates your NKT’s successes. Did you never consider whether what your 200 or so centres do really benefits ‘sincere Dharma practitioners’ and the wider communities surrounding them? [45] Your teachers need far more than skills in earnestly reading your books to students to be able to run Dharma centres safely and your organisation will not survive unless it learns otherwise. We do not ‘only need’ Dharma for a Good Life, denigrating our families that may truly need us when you did not leave yours behind, except when you disappeared for eight years.[46]

A ‘Je Tsongkhapa’ tradition in which only your texts are read, never Je Tsongkhapa’s? Je Tsongkhapa’s rich learning experience makes the NKT limitations seem laughable. You may as well have deleted all mention of other books within yours. You started to silence so much. You made it your path, and your student’s path. And you made them try to silence His Holiness the Dalai Lama too, for which you will not easily be forgotten. They may well, ironically, remember shouting at him and shouting his name more than yours. Is that the heritage you really wished to have?

My kind teacher.

‘The NKT’ is nothing. Nothing in itself without its real heritage – in the efforts and love of all those who have created your publications and worked in your centres and the masters whose works you edited. And edited. And then edited so much that you edited yourself into your new practices [47]as Shugden moved into higher and higher places [48]on your shrines too. I do not think that your students can reach their own Clear Light of Bliss without releasing the grasp your NKT has on them, releasing the tyranny of that attachment and deconstructing what has been constructed. You may as well have deleted all mention of other books within yours. Your student’s desperation for ‘Kelsang Gyatso’ to survive within temples and books will destroy their own survival – books and temples are not a path; spiritual nourishment turned into solid cold gold.

Without a Clear Light of lineage.

Dear Teacher…

I know you longed for lineage. In those days when I was trying to understand what I had studied, with criteria from Tibetan Buddhist groups that asked where and when and from whom you had received particular teachings,[49] facts that are given as a norm elsewhere to place a particular transmission lineage, I trawled through all your books to see what you had said. [50]There were no dates or places mentioned in your introductions. Some books attributed sources in personal contact. Others just mentioned texts. And, looking for comments throughout, all I could see was a yearning – the statement that ‘lineage’ is so important runs continuously through all your books. As if you were talking to yourself. Yearning for what you had lost. What you denied yourself, so that you could stay with your ‘protector’ unhindered, giving it to your students in hidden ways that your own culture would not have dared to use, tying your students to you with commitments they little understood. [51]

I still imagine the NKT as a world wide Geshe programme – for lay and ordained (not NKT ordination, clearer ones[52]) . Non sectarian. Open hearted centres of study – Tibetan language, Sanskrit, translation and practice, supporting retreats, with extensive, clear advice at every stage available for any students.[53] A Clear Light of study. A blissful, cooperative chain of temples (that are already built!), city Dharma meeting places where silencing isn’t a habit and a necessity to maintain the programme’s ‘reputation’… Where again, your books, amongst many others, have extensive bibliographies and are laden with gratitude. Where the ‘Tibetan’ is respected and sutras are read. Where there is happy, unfettered joy.

Where people can be committed to Dharma. Without additions. Given without using tantric commitments as a method of control – it isn’t just a ‘support’ for practice to add, first, Heruka Five Deities and then a miniature Heruka Body Mandala to Clear Light of Bliss – it’s symbolic of ‘Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche’ as your ‘spiritual guide, always there, watching – and that you will ‘betray’ this tiny, fragile, mute Tibetan man if you leave the NKT; you will leave identity-less, leaving as dying, as breaking vows, as losing your own name and your only source of pure Dharma.

With that, the NKT owned us.

I have not broken any commitments by ‘leaving’ your group. I was pushed out and forced to measure my ethics through loyalty. [54]That is not ‘guru yoga’. Nor is it practice. It is the badge-wearing group dynamics of power. A teacher should not own the minds of their students nor their ordination names. You know that the real commitment a practitioner has is to the truth and wisdom of their own path. Not to an organization that threatens hell if it is abandoned. We all deserve better. As do you.

Perhaps you forgot this truth – of gratitude – when your mind became cluttered and lost to the demands of ‘being the Wisdom Buddha’ for the NKT. You labelled all of us who left as being filled with selfishness instead.

Again, I say – it is not right that the Dharma should be such honey laden upon a knife of fear.

My dear teacher.

Now that you are ‘gone’ the NKT will not change until your remarkably unaccountable inheritors change. As your teachers even practice having the same teaching ‘voice’ change may be slow from below. Your constitution says that nothing can be changed in your original books but so much has been changed already. You ‘locked up’ Tibetan Dharma up as your own. And the NKT ‘locks up’ your followers, made to think that the NKT was given to us by you, made to be constantly grateful, when we made your NKT with our efforts and our lives.

Isolated, your NKT is just a false dance on the tomb of a spirit that dominates and silences and will drive attachment and greed into loss and powerlessness. The speaking that needs to be done is one of gratitude. And the listening – the grief and loss and distress of all those harmed by the NKT has to be listened to. Silencing is not a path; creating books and temples is not a path. Silencing won’t invent you a future. Or a past. Your disrespect – of your sources and your students – will drive your name into silence.

To find a Clear Light of lineage is to undo your fierce but subtle training (we do not notice it happening) that makes whatever HH the Dalai Lama teaches[55] or says meaningless to us before it’s too late and we are swirled into another Shugden life of control, coercive, but seeing and feeling it as benign, and what we love even though it silences and traps us, as it did you. It is said that sickness and Shugden and fear go hand in hand; it is a false lineage that has not done you well. However ‘modern’ your NKT seems to be, it lacks a deeper, kinder heart.

Just as no-one can escape human compassion – we could not be alive without being given this after we are born – so it is that lineage is compassion within Dharma and without it we cannot flourish. It’s the transference of Dharma as love between generations and thrives on gratitude.

My dear teacher.

I think I am, after all, deeply disappointed in what your NKT has become. If I am silenced, yet again, that will say it all.

May I be free of your silencing and may I enjoy the fruits of what you did give me that was precious, before it was contained within something else.

‘May you actualise Buddhahood.’ With a Clear Light of lineage.

My dear teacher.

[1] If NKT teachers feel they have the right to glorify the separation of families for its ‘cause’ of ‘enlightenment for all’ then those who suffer that loss also have the right to express their pain as well as countless ex NKT followers. Leaving the NKT is rarely easy, especially after years of commitment.

[2] The ‘ordination’ name Kelsang Gyatso gave me was Kelsang Shraddha – Fortunate One of Great Faith was stated as its meaning.

[3] After I organised a ‘Declaration’ concerning the NKT signed with 30 other people, to indicate that the NKT followers protesting against HH the Dalai Lama might be doing this for reasons more connected to their own internal crises than to His Holiness’s supposed defects, I was harassed in many extraordinary ways both online and offline by Shugden followers from both within and outside the NKT. NKT followers may say they aren’t responsible for these memes, but Shugden followers were in contact with each other and NKT teachers shared these memes on their personal Twitter accounts.

[4] Newer NKT followers, even monastics, will say they have ‘met’ Kelsang Gyatso even if they have never seen him except in videos online. Reading his books is explicitly considered to be ‘meeting’ him.

[5] I was in meetings where ‘managing’ people and designing policies were discussed – though there are many who insist that NKT centres ‘don’t work like that’ as if the NKT isn’t a construct with political effects.

[6] Heruka Chakrasambhava and Vajrayogini are the Highest Yoga Tantra practices used in the NKT. They are considered to be male and female practices that are closely connected. (This is grossly simplified but this is not the place to clarify this extensively.)

[7] The NKT owes its rise to the Queen’s British benefit system policies that allowed us to claim Housing Benefit while volunteering to renovate the dilapidated buildings we were living in. Local councils had a shortage of small sized tenancies. The value of these properties increased radically – my centre was able to remortgage in the 21st century and send £480,000 to the Temple Fund. My contribution of work is in that.

[8] Only Shugden monasteries in India and Nepal and a centre in Malaysia are publicly praying for his ‘quick return’. I do not know about monasteries within Tibet.

[9] My youngest daughter was actually studying the NKT’s Foundation Programme under the age of 8.

[10] I have printed records of NKT Festivals from 1994 to 2006 and have not seen Clear Light of Bliss teachings announced online since until this year. I may be mistaken.

[11] Kelsang Gyatso was not known as a teacher in Tibet – he was a monk who specialised in Medicine Buddha rituals when not studying in a monastery.

[12] I may write about which sections of Kelsang Gyatso’s other books have been removed to increase the ‘modern’ student’s understanding by removing topics where there is dispute.

[13] There is no published biography or autobiography of Kelsang Gyatso. There is very little data about him. I gave up trying to do one – though there are reported accounts of his life in Tibet not mentioned here.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s Tibetan Relations

[14] See Geshe Lhundup Sopa, Like a Waking Dream, Wisdom Publications, 2012 in which he describes Kelsang Gyatso as one of his best students.

[15] Many Tibetan Buddhist teachers have ‘close’ lineages where practices are given to small groups of students under strict samaya (promises) not to share outside that group. The NKT’s books are based on traditional texts that had been in general circulation in partial translation for many years between western devotees of Tibetan Buddhism and some published academically. However, Guide to Dakini Land (1992), based on teachings given by Kelsang Gyatso in 1981 and Essence of Vajrayana – Heruka Body Mandala, (1997), text based, were unusually accessible and Ocean of Nectar (Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara), (1995) appears to have been its first full translation into English in one volume. None of these editions credit any translator.

[16] Where it comes to talking about Shugden and online threats – these are halls of mirrors. But there is no police data on actual threats against Kelsang Gyatso in any country.

[17] Even a brief look at the NKT financial and legal structure shows that all debts are kept at a local level – each NKT centre is an independent legal entity – and all profits go ‘up’ to the NKT World Peace Temple Fund.

[18] The NKT ‘ordination’ is the only ‘Buddhist’ ordination in the world that does not allow ordainees to keep their names if they leave the NKT and their ordination. Their name belongs to the NKT and has to be ‘authorised’ by them for a person to be able to use that name. I have come to the conclusion that there is no ‘vow returning’ ceremony – as exists in all orthodox Buddhist ordinations – as there aren’t actually any ordination vows being taken by NKT ordained. Refuge, Bodhichitta and Tantric Vows are NKT style, edited. .

[19] Good teachers do not hide – they teach!

[20] An NKT monk told me that one reason for them ordaining was so that they would be able to hear Kelsang Gyatso teach for another few hours a year. Teachings were available from him at the Spring and Summer Festivals, mornings only and occasionally at a new Temple opening.

[21] Outside the NKT, I have been constantly thanked for what I freely and easily gave by other incredible teachers and by their sanghas. For just a day or so of transcription I was sent two beautiful objects for my shrine, for instance. In 12 years in the NKT volunteering as admin, teacher, etc, I was gifted a small Avalokiteshvara statue for volunteering at an NKT Festival (not at Manjushri). At Manjushri I was once given a wire bound notebook with a photo stuck to the front for having run the festival child care for two weeks. At my own NKT centre I once won a raffle – a series of NKT videos – which was promptly taken from me as’ the teacher’ wanted them ‘for the centre’ and I never saw them again. There are no discounts for low income.

[22] How whistleblowers or complaints are dealt with shows the integrity (or lack of) within an organization.

[23] What the NKT have designed in The Mirror of Dharma With Additions requires an article in itself. In other Tibetan Buddhist organisations careful mental preparation is usually given before Highest Yoga Tantra initiations so that the mind will not be destabilised or the teachings misunderstood.

[24] This prayer is actually on p. 16 of the Mirror of Dharma (2019) but is not called the Migtsema.

[25] Essential Buddhist Prayers, Vol 1. Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), 2006, p.37

[26] Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka is Kelsang Gyatso as Je Tsongkapa with Buddha Shakyamuni at his heart and Heruka (BM) at Shakyamuni’s heart. Not known outside the NKT as far as I understand. Mirror of Dharma p. 327.

[27] Mirror of Dharma With Additions, Tharpa Publications, 2019, pp. 291.

[28] At beginner’s teachings, NKT teachers will say that Kelsang Gyatso’s teacher was HH the Dalai Lama’s tutor.

[29] ‘Ordinary’ questions are consistently deleted from the NKT’s official Facebook page threads.

[30] This is the situation on September 26th 2022. Of course, there may be a secret funeral, cremation or other ceremonies taking place with selected NKT teachers and these may be made public at a later date if seen as convenient. This does not change the basic lack of information about Kelsang Gyatso’s whereabouts, health and well-being since he left or was removed from the public eye in 2014.

[31] The mind of clear light is considered the deepest meditative experience that is also naturally reached through the death process although most of us will be unaware and insensitive to that experience.

[32] Thanks and praise for Meaningful to Behold (Wisdom, 1980) are given to Jon Marshall for the ‘transcript and initial draft’ and ‘special thanks’ to Jennifer Abbott, Carole Wallace-Mitchell, Lyndy Gilbert, Gwyneth Walker, Sangye Khadro, Mary Tighe, Thubten Tsultrim, Truus Philipsen, Thubten Dargye and Corinne Hurst. To Robina Courtin for organizing production and planning the design; Sharon Gross for suggestions and Stephen Batchelor for ‘retranslating the entirety of the ninth chapter…’with Geshe Kelsang. There is much praise for the translator Tenzin Norbu.

[33] In 2008, I asked if I could ask a question of a well-known Kagyu teacher, expecting to be told where to write or email. I was taken to a room and the lama shortly came in, sat down in front of me, on the same kind of chair as I sat on, and asked ‘How can I help you?’ I was so astonished that for a few minutes I could not speak. That a Tibetan Dharma teacher could respond in this open, caring way was entirely unexpected for me.

[34] The NKT has made ‘reincarnation’ of a teacher ‘unofficial’ or ‘unauthorised’ and is not part of its constitution. In 2018 Kelsang Gyatso disputed the reincarnation of Trijang Rinpoche long recognized by HH the 14th Dalai Lama, creating conflict with Tibetan Shugden followers who had taken Trijang Choktrul Rinpoche as their lineage holder. Kelsang Gyatso has not named who the ‘real’ incarnation is, but it was said he is in Tibet. However, Kelsang Gyatso continued to support various Tibetan Shugden monasteries financially.

[35] A young surfer, not British, inspired by the Vajrayogini initiations he had just taken, ‘empowered by his Guru’s blessings’ and against the warnings on the beach, swam naked at night in that bay and drowned. His family contacted me saying that he had changed character completely since joining the NKT.

[36] Like the renewed excitement with NKT study when Neil Elliott started teaching again after his long public absence due to misconduct (allegedly sexual). NKT teachers are not supposed to teach again after disrobing, according to their constitution, but many ‘special’ teachers do. He later ordained again as Gen Thubten, again.

[37] Clear Light of Bliss, Tharpa Publications, 2019

[38] Bodhichitta is the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all. Tantra is a ‘quick’ method to do so.

[39] Clear Light of Bliss, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Tharpa Publications, 2019 pp. 275

[40] One of the Tibetan translators who told me he had been working at Manjushri MBC for many years said that they were paid well under the standard translation rate and living conditions were so poor that eventually he left for better paid employment elsewhere. That there is an archive of translated documents held by the NKT. I myself have seen stores of Tibetan pechas at Manjushri and Madyamaka Centre. The newer NKT shrines only have a special edition of Kelsang Gyatso’s books, not the Tibetan Kangyur and Tengyur which is still on view at Manjushri and at other older centres.

[41] Photocopies of these pages can be uploaded if readers wish to see them.

[42] I always found it heart wrenching that Kelsang Gyatso would mention texts such as ‘Je Tsongkhapa’s Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path of Secret Mantra’ and ‘Khedrubje’s Ocean of Attainments’ (p. 14, 2019) as when I would go to my teacher it would be said, as usual, that as the NKT hadn’t translated them, we could have no access. Accessing ‘other’ translations would make us ‘confused’.

[44] I always found it heart wrenching that Kelsang Gyatso would mention texts such as ‘Je Tsongkhapa’s Great Exposition of the Stages of the Path of Secret Mantra’ and ‘Khedrubje’s Ocean of Attainments’ (p. 14, 2019) as when I would go to my teacher it would be said, as usual, that as the NKT hadn’t translated them, we could have no access. Accessing ‘other’ translations would make us ‘confused’.

[45] The ‘1,200 centres’ mentioned in NKT publicity includes small rooms rented for weekly classes as ‘centres’.

[46] Kelsang Gyatso’s sister and nephew lived at and near Manjushri MMBC. I know of so many families who separated after one member became utterly attached to the NKT’s ‘enlightenment’ scam of ‘three years, three months and three days, etc’ of dedication being of more benefit for your family than being with them would.

[47] See the relatively recent ‘Guru Sumati Buddha Heruka’ practice, Note 26.

[48] In relation to Je Tsongkhapa and his two sons, Shugden and Kelsang Gyatso statues have changed their relative size and placing on NKT shrines over time – another interesting subject!

[49] Without this information it was difficult to clarify if you were giving us transmissions that could be followed on from with other teachers.

[50] See for a description of what I found.

[51] The Shugden ‘Sogtae’ or ‘life entrustment’ I understand was given only to monks (not to nuns) who were highly trained in tantra and in small groups by request. In the NKT, a ‘life commitment’ to Shugden is integrated into the ‘empowerment’ and not explained beforehand and a more explicit explanation of what this means is only found in the introduction to the Kangso, a monthly ritual practice dedicated to NKT protectors.

[52] The NKT ‘ordination’ is the only ‘Buddhist’ ordination in the world that does not allow ordainees to keep their names if they leave the NKT and their ordination. Their name belongs to the NKT and has to be ‘authorised’ by them for a person to be able to use that name. I have come to the conclusion that there is no ‘vow returning’ ceremony – as exists in all orthodox Buddhist ordinations – as there aren’t actually any ordination vows being taken by NKT ordained. Just Refuge and Bodhichitta and Tantric Vows.

[53] Free for those on low income, effective in safeguarding; free from sexism, gender bias and racism. Disability and neurodiversity aware, and so on. What would a ‘decolonialised’ NKT look like?

[54] I did not get ordained to help a teacher avoid paying tax or to cover up a serious assault – which I had tried to warn about but was blamed on me. When I tried to explain the issues to a higher authority within the NKT I was stonewalled and promptly made homeless illegally. Later I was harassed through the National Health Service, etc. And so on.

[55] And what other non NKT teachers teach too.