Views on the NKT Internal Rules

I have just been looking at the New Kadampa Tradition Internal Rules. Has anyone else noticed the ‘new’ 4 year term for future Spiritual Directors. I say new, but it looks like this was introduced sometime over the last 12 months:

In the following extract GSD stands for General Spiritual Director (the main Spiritual Director), and DSD stands for the Deputy Spiritual Director,

 

5§8. The term of office of the GSD shall be four years. At the end of his or her term of office, a person serving as the GSD shall not be eligible for immediate re-election. The term of office of the DSD shall be four years.

5§9. At the end of his or her term of office, a retired GSD shall normally return to his or her previous Dharma Centre, to serve as the Resident Teacher there once again…

 

Please post me your reactions to this, as I would be really interested to hear the points of view of others. I think this makes a massive difference, that will have a fundamental effect. For starters there will be less pressure on the individual(s) who later become the Spiritual Director. Also there will be far less emphasis on who is the individual or figurehead of the tradition – since after four years they go back to being a Resident Teacher and cannot be immediately be re-elected. In this case the emphasis can go to what remains unchanged (so to speak) i.e. the teachings we are focused upon and trying to realise these. Individual practitioners will be able to focus principally on the meaning of the teachings and their origins in Je Tsongkhapa and Buddha Shakyamuni. In this way because Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has put in his books the essence of Je Tsongkhapa’s teachings – it will be Je Tsongkhapa (and through him Buddha) that we will be trying to rely upon, mainly by attempting to understand and then integrate the meaning of his teachings. For those practising in the New Kadampa Tradition, Geshe Kelsang’s books will be the principal means for accessing the meanings in Je Tsongkhapa’s mind, with assistance and support from the Sangha including the Spiritual Teachers at that time. 

This is just my opinion, but please let me know what you think, and I am especially interested in the point of view of those who feel critical of the NKT, and those who may have had disappointing or bad experiences with teachers in the past.

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Animal Suffering and a Kadampa Buddhist’s Musings

I noticed a few festivals ago that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso talked briefly about animal suffering in comparison to human suffering. He stated at that time that (dispelling) animal suffering was more important than human suffering. Prior to this I have thought about this subject and have thought that, other than my feeling instinctively a stronger wish to protect animals (than humans), dispelling their suffering is more important from the point of view of numbers. What I mean is that when working to dispell the suffering of animals or even praying for animlas to be free of suffering, one is at that time acting (or wishing) to dispel the suffering of unimaginably huge numbers of living beings. Whereas even when genuinly feeling cherishing towards all humans you are cherishing only a tiny number of beings (in comparison). Anyway, putting my own musings aside (for the time being), this was not the reason Geshe Kelsang gave at the teaching I referred to above. He said that alleviating the suffering of animals is more important (than that of humans) because when humans suffer they have some opportunity to do something with that suffering, for example to learn from it or transform it by increasing their endurance, or their compassion. In contrast, when animals suffer they do not have this opportunity and all they can do at that time is just suffer. This is a very clear reason and seems to me to be all about the over-ridding importance of protecting the protectorless.

       While I am on this subject, let me refer to a post on another blog – A Meat Eating  Buddhist – which I find hard to come up with reasons against thier argument. It reminded me of another thing Geshe Kelsang said on the subject more recently which was that humans abuse animals, and we talk about human rights but we abuse the rights of animals. He said that if they (the animals) had a lawyer then they could sue humans, yet almost no-one protects their rights except for a few small groups. I looked at some figures on animals killed for human consumption. The figures were nearly 60 Billion. Bear in mind that there is less then 7 Billion humans at present. So that means that in just over a month humans kill (just for food) a number of animals equal to the human population. So let me set up a scenario. If you convinced evryone in the world to just avoid killing animals for food for one month – This would be equal to an action of saving every single human being alive from being slaughtered. I find this a bit staggerring. I’ve got another scenario, Lets imagine if one country were to make war on all other countries and as a result enslave, imprison and then brutally kill every other human in the world one by one. This would be some feat, and take some time and I think everyone would agree that such a thing would be unimaginably horrific, and create untold amounts of negative karma. The collective negative actions of the country in my example however does not even equal the collection of negative actions that the animal trade (for human food) accrues in one year. It does not even get close. Why? – just look at the numbers.

Mixing Traditions -by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

There is much speculation on Geshe-la’s stance with respect to mixing traditions and sectarianism. I think this section summarizes Geshe Kelsang’s opinion very well.

In the chapter on effort in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life Shantideva advises us that before we commit ourself to engaging in a practice we should investigate it carefully to see whether it is suitable and whether we can sustain it; but once we have committed ourself to it we should never turn back but continue until we attain the final result. Switching from one practice to another unrelated practice not only prevents us from fulfilling our wishes in this life, but also makes it difficult for us to accomplish our goals in future lives. Moreover, it is often the cause of breaking our commitments and severing precious relationships, such as those that exist between Guru and disciple, and between spiritual friends.

We must be careful not to misunderstand the effort of non-satisfaction. Practicing this effort does not mean that we should become dissatisfied with our tradition or with our main practice, and try to follow many different traditions or mix together many different practices. Every Teacher and every tradition has a slightly different approach and employs different methods. The practices taught by one Teacher will differ from those taught by another, and if we try to combine them we shall become confused, develop doubts, and lose direction. If we try to create a synthesis of different traditions we shall destroy the special power of each and be left only with a mishmash of our own making that will be a source of confusion and doubt. Having chosen our tradition and our daily practices we should rely upon them single-pointedly, never allowing dissatisfaction to arise. At the same time as cherishing our own tradition we should respect all other traditions and the right of each individual to follow the tradition of their choosing. This approach leads to harmony and tolerance. It is mixing different religious traditions that causes sectarianism. This is why it is said that studying non-religious subjects is less of an obstacle to our spiritual progress than studying religions of different traditions.

Once we have decided which tradition to follow and which practices to do, we should engage in them wholeheartedly with a joyful mind. This is the power of joy. Whether we are listening to Dharma teachings, reading Dharma books, reciting prayers, contemplating, or meditating, we should do so with a light and happy mind, like a child at play. If we enjoy a practice we shall naturally have enthusiasm for it. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Understanding the Mind: an Explanation of the Nature and Functions of the Mindpp. 161-162, © 1993, 1997, 2002)

Evil Spirits, the NKT and what Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says,

 During a teaching in 1994 Geshe Kelsang Gyatso gave many references to a particular evil spirit, and its importance in relation to what a practitioner within the NKT should prioritise. So that the points can be understood clearly I will quote various sections of this teaching to provide the context. This was  a teaching that was open to everyone.

Geshe-la said:

“Although relatively speaking we are doing many good things, chanting prayers, studying, discussing or reading books, making offerings, and so forth, our intention or wish to practice Dharma purely is very weak. Sometimes for a few minutes it develops, but normally our main mind is completely filled with the intention to develop the things of this life. Our main intention is to obtain the happiness of this life. We want to experience worldly pleasures. We should meditate and check whether this is true or not.”

“Sometimes it looks as if we have read many Dharma books and listened to so many teachings and we are ready to teach, but on the other hand the intention or wish to establish samsaric development is so strong. This means that our Dharma practice is mixed with worldly concerns. Because of this it is difficult to achieve realisations, and our progress in Dharma practice is difficult.”

“.. even if we meet a qualified Spiritual Teacher and receive a very special and profound instruction we will be unable to use the instruction due to our lacking the pure intention or pure wish to practise Dharma purely. Because of this, although we receive many higher instructions, they are almost too difficult to use. From the practical point of view this is our problem. Maybe there are some exceptions. I am not saying that this applies to everybody, but I am speaking in general.”

later in the teaching Geshe-la goes on to say,

“The main point is that we have a mind that grasps at a permanent I. This mind prevents us from engaging in Dharma practice purely. This mind is urging, pushing and encouraging us to engage in samsaric activity. It is saying, “You need money, you need this and you need that.” Then when our wishes are unfulfilled we get angry. Normally this mind causes us to develop strong attachment to the things of this life. Because this attachment is so strong it blocks the development of the wish to practice Dharma purely. Because we lack this wish the door of Dharma remains closed for us. There is then no possibility to gain Dharma realisations. Therefore, the point is that we need a method to solve this problem, and this method is to contemplate and meditate on death. This is very important.”

He later continues,

“..as explained in Essence of Nectar Lamrim. Our life is like a candle flame moving in the winds of various conditions for death..”

“..Our life is very uncertain. Our life remains with countless conditions for death, which are like winds moving our life. If we check we will find this to be true. But still we think and act as if we will remain forever. Still we think we will remain tomorrow, and everyday we think, “I will not die today.”

“The mind grasping at a permanent I is a real evil spirit. We are held by this evil spirit, and this prevents us from engaging in the practice of holy Dharma. Although we may know clearly and very well everything about the spiritual path, because we are held by the evil spirit of grasping at a permanent I, we are following mundane paths. From a practical point of view our main aim actually is exactly the same as the wish of normal ordinary people who have not learned about the Dharma, who have never heard about the Dharma in the same way. This situation comes from possessing this evil spirit. We must remove this evil spirit from our mind by sincerely practising contemplation and meditation on death until we develop a spontaneous mind that thinks, “I may die today.” From the depths of our heart we must think, “I may die today,” day and night. Until this thought develops we need to contemplate and meditate on death, otherwise this evil spirit that grasps at the permanent I will prevent us from engaging in holy Dharma practice. Then our knowledge is useless, and we may even misuse our knowledge of the Dharma for the development of samsara, reputation, wealth, position. This will definitely happen.”

“We say we follow the New Kadampa Tradition, and that this is our main aim, so we must do this meditation on death. Up to now we have jumped a little forward. Before gaining realisation of death we jumped into Highest Yoga Tantra practice. This is O.K. In order to encourage people I did this. But now we need to go back and rebuild our house and make it more stable. First we went a little bit quickly and superficially so as to see everything. We have now seen what kind of things there are in Highest Yoga Tantra. To show this I first needed to quickly jump a little bit. now it is time to go back to the first meditation* of the stages of the Path and build the real foundation for the house of Highest Yoga Tantra realisations.”  

*In this context the first meditation of the stages of the Path is the meditation on Death and Impermenence, as Geshe-la explains in this same teaching that the meditation on Reliance upon a Spiritual Guide and Meditation on our Precious Human Life are preparations for this meditation.

Some experiences with Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Also on the internet there has been much criticism regarding Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (Geshe-la) and his intentions, so I wanted to put forward a few small encounters with Geshe-la of my own, which I at least know to be true. First of all although Geshe-la is very busy, whenever I have written and asked something of him I have always received a response. Most of these were questions about emphasising different practices and understanding various practical points to do with meditation. On a few occasions I have been in meetings with Geshe-la regarding issues surrounding Dharma centres, such as for change of location etc… however when I saw Geshe-la after I had been away on a retreat I did see a different aspect. When beginning to talk about the retreat, Geshe-la’s eyes absolutely lit up (in a way I had not seen in previous meetings) and he eagerly leaned forward and said “Tell me your experience”.  This meeting always stuck in my mind. It highlights for me what Geshe-la is really about (in my opinion) which is the actual practice of Dharma, practising the meaning of Dharma and nothing else. After all these years and with the NKT becoming a large organisation it still seems obvious that Geshe-la regards all the other things as merely a necessity – a necessary condition.

               On another occasion I remember privately giving Geshe-la a cheque for several thousand pounds on behalf of someone else. Geshe-la accepted this cheque, but then a few days later I received the cheque back, and crossed out – because Geshe-la wanted the money instead used to help the local Dharma Centre. Over the years everyone can see that the NKT has grown a huge amount, and yet Geshe-la remains as he always did, without accumulating possessions or houses or cars. It is very rare even amongst spiritual teachers for their organisation to become so widespread whilst themselves they remain with very little, as Geshe-la has done.

Newsflash- The NKT is not a Cult

The following post is from someone who wishes to share their experiences after having read other peoples:

Hi I wanted to write my experience on here in an attempt to give a broader view. Up to now I have been a student within the NKT in NYC for many years. The resident teacher at this Center (Chakrasambara Center) is Morten Clausen. I have also attended many of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings when work has allowed. When first starting at this center and since then over the years, I have heard and read of many people saying the NKT is a cult. From the beginning I have listened to Morten Clausen’s teaching with quite a critical ear. In my initial teachings I found Morten Clausen to rely heavily upon reason and daily experiences and the undertone of the teaching was one which asked of the listener to use and rely on their own reason and experience. This is not the method of a cult, however I realise that often a cult may begin speaking like this to draw people in and then later change approach completely. Since then over the years I have heard loads of teachings by Morten Clausen on various levels and in each one he has consistently asked the listener to apply their wisdom, to use their own reasoning and experience and so reach their own conclusions. You would think that if the resident teacher had an underlying cult-like approach then this would slip out. Yet years on I have never heard Morten push anyone with his speech or demand any leap of faith, quite the opposite, on every occasion. I believe this would be apparent for most Buddhist or non- Buddhist or non- religious persons attending.

Prior to NKT Buddhism I studied Buddhism academically and since coming to Chakrasambara Center I have received mainly Lamrim teachings and explanations of the practices relating to JeTsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden. I found these to be remarkable and found within them a very clear commentary to the various Sutras of Buddha which I had previously encountered.

Outside of the teachings at the Center I have never been pressurised for money or for my time at all. This to me would have been another tell-tale sign of a cult. Take into account that this is no tiny Dharma Center, for years now Chakrasambara has been one of the largest and most well attended NKT Centers in the world. Therefore it does seems scandalous to me when people start saying “The NKT is a cult”. My Center and Sangha group and resident teacher are a prominent part of the NKT and so we are included in this accusation. Yet as I believe can be witnessed by anyone coming to the Center, the teachings and culture surrounding this Center do not resemble those of a cult. Therefore I really must say that these people are wrong when they say “The NKT is a cult”. Of course I do not know what things certain people or “survivors” have experienced in their local Center or what the resident teacher there may be saying and doing (or have done). It may well be very bad, close-minded or cult-like. However these people should nonetheless recognise the limits of their experience as I do mine and simply say just their own Center is like this, or that particular resident teacher(s) or community act like this, at this time. Even if one of Geshe-la’s most well known English students ends up not practising the teachings and acting in completely the wrong way, how does this then make my Center and community a cult? Oh I know….. it doesn’t.

My other main experiences of the NKT are teachings at festivals from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Geshe-la himself seems to hold the use of and reliance upon logic and reasoning as of primary importance. He has repeated many times that we should not just accept the teachings but analyse them for ourselves as Buddha advised.

Other than these good experiences and teachings, I have attended a few teachings where the teacher did seem to have a method which appeared to be at odds with Geshe-la’s own way. There was a public talk by an NKT teacher not so long ago, in which  near the very start the teacher stated firmly “Everything I am going to say to you tonight is the truth, because my teacher is a Buddha.” Now while in my own mind I agree with what is said here, to me this came across as quite cult-like and in some ways at odds with Buddha’s way and indeed Geshe-la’s way. This is just my own impression, my opinion.

In contrast when K. Khyenrab came to NY he immediately taught about the four reliances which Buddha gave. The first one being – “Do not rely upon the person, but upon the Dharma”. This shows the side of the NKT that many of us experience most of the time.

My main point in giving these experiences is to provide a broader view of the NKT in light of the various sweeping statements going around.

Hate the NKT? … Love Geshe-la?

Give me a penny for every time I hear “ I love Geshe-la, but I’m not sure about the NKT”, along with many other similar often much stronger sentiments. In this way it seems as though an idea of the NKT has arisen as a soft target- object of blame whilst being able to avoid any overt criticism on the spiritual guide of the tradition. My own feeling in short is :-  I love Geshe-la; and many of the teachers I find excellent; whilst others seem ok and some appear to be downright bonkers; many of the organisers and workers within the NKT appear to be straightforward and charitable people; while others may show themselves to be neurotic power-mongers at times. Alongside all of this, I have to say I love the NKT, I love all the teachings, the temples and books, the good and skilful efforts of many of those involved and the precious internal rules. On the other hand I can’t bear it when teachers start making up their own version of the Dharma through their teachings and example and pushing their ideas worldly and spiritual on to others without acting at all in a genuinely humble and considerate manner, as in the Kadampa way of life. I can’t bear this because it undermines and devalues a wonderful tradition. 

The NKT is clearly Geshe-la’s dedication, coming out of his own practice. He would like the explanation of Kadam Buddhism to become available in every town, which of course would be wonderful. Now the tradition has been the subject of lots of criticism much of it on the internet however I believe it has also been damaged by many teachers and organisers in the past (and some now) not acting in accordance with the Kadampa way of life, or even close. I pray that now and in the future NKT teachers and organisers will act as simple calm practitioners whilst teaching and organising and may they quickly step down when they find that they cannot do this. In this way may this glorious tradition become available in every place in the world.  

Finally I hope that individual Buddhists will always be prepared to conscientiously and peacefully question and stand up to wrongs which they can help to correct, especially where others they know of are persecuted or oppressed.

Evangelical NKT Buddhist?

As I mentioned previously I work and have done for many years now with the elderly, in different locations. I have found in my experience over the years, that very few colleagues in my line of work are religious in any way, and certainly have little experience of Buddhism. My approach in my previous two jobs has been to begin work without announcing that I am a Buddhist, in fact without mentioning anything to anyone about my religion at all. I get on with my job quietly always remaining calm and patient. Then after one to two years at the earliest, when people have got to know me and my habits well and find them reliable, I then mention that I am a Kadampa Buddhist etc.. at this time colleagues then always seem to respond positively and naturally develop the regard that Buddhists are very calm and positive people

 Sometimes an opposite reaction seems to happen when starting a new job and folk know you are a devout Buddhist from the start. In this situation colleagues often seem to regard any calmness or patience as more pretence than something genuine. That you are just being like that because you are supposed to, as a Buddhist.

Bad Experiences

I can see from just a brief check on the internet that there are many people who for whatever reason have had bad experiences within the NKT. I would like to give my personal opinion regarding this. Sometimes I feel that this may be their own fault. Other times it is clear that they have encountered Resident Teachers who have behaved very strangely and often acted in close-minded and sectarian ways. Unfortunately there are (and have been) various Resident Teachers who do not follow Geshe-la’s approach – which is that of the logician who invites practical exploration and testing of the teachings. 

 

I pray and hope that all can find such Resident Teachers such as I have come across (see previous post on Faith, Reason and Doubt). If people do have such troubles with their Resident Teachers and if they are acting strangely or in ways that seem inconsistent with Geshe-la’s open and natural approach , I can only suggest:

1. Firstly try not to worry

2. If you feel able, then go and tell them how you feel and ask them to please stop acting strangely (this may well have no effect, but it is only fair)

3. If many people seem to be badly effected by their behaviour or teachings then write to the NKT secretary about it, explaining without being critical (anonymously if you wish)

4. But don’t rely on any change occurring. Instead rely on Geshe-la, his books and festival teachings and if possible go and find another Resident Teacher who is more sensible, either in person or by doing a correspondence study programme. 

Finally avoid dwelling on such problems – move on swiftly and focus instead on the beauty, wisdom and good sense found in the Dharma and its practice.

Faith, Reason and Doubt. 1

When I was listening to teachings in the second NKT centre I attended, I was lucky enough to listen to some teachings from quite a skilful resident teacher. During one particular General Programme class there was a quote made that stuck with me 

“ After a discourse the faithful student may have many doubts” 

 

I absolutely loved hearing that and they continued,

 

“A faithful student has many doubts and questions, such a student is not afraid to doubt or question, Why? because they have faith”

 

I really appreciated this and still find it fits with my experiences throughout my life. It became clear to me that following “should’s”, or “should nots” had little place. That as a student in the Kadampa tradition following Geshe Kelsang Gyatso one was meant to explore and delve relying upon one’s own guide of logic and reason as much as the Spiritual Guide.  This gave me a deep contented feeling of faith, one that still resides.

These days I still find that throughout Geshe-la’s own discourses I hear these sentiments echoed repeatedly.