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The controversy around Dalai Lama banning NKT

I have just recently stumbled about the issue with The 14th Dalai Lama and find it a bit disturbing. To be frank I don’t know much about Tibet or Tibetan Buddhism at all.

The issue basically about a clash between two tradition within Tibetan Buddhism. One is the tradition governed by the Dalai Lama himself in Dharamsala, India known as the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). The other one is the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) which was headed by Kelsang Gyatso. Now, a clash within a tradition is of course nothing new and quite alright. But upon investigating the narrative being used by the Dalai Lama’s group was rather patchy and extreme.

The Dalai Lama himself since 1996 denounced NKT as a cult, because they worship Dorje Shugden. He thought that it is a fierce spirit and can bring many harm to the society, so should be abandoned. But not just a simple denouncement, he went too far by banning anyone who practice NKT out of the exiled Tibetan area in India, perhaps using violence in the process, and marginalized anyone worshiping Shugden ever since. Up to now this ban is still there in their official sites.

Apparently there were demonstration by the western NKT during Dalai Lama’s visit to the west (not sure on the correct date, it seems there were many demonstrations throughout U.S. and U.K.). The main objective of the demonstration is only to make Dalai Lama retract the ban because it is harmful to their society, but it has been totally ignored despite the Dalai Lama’s teaching on religious freedom. That’s why the main theme of the demonstration was about hypocrisy.



In one article it is said that after the banning, it appeared to be some sort of brutal exorcism murder towards several people under Dalai Lama. This of course made Dalai Lama to accuse NKT as the instigator. Thus validated his gruesome worry over the worship of Dorje Shugden.

Now the credibility of this article itself is very questionable!!! First, it was made in Feb 2020 and included the murder issue, while an article published by Tricycle in 2018 (which tried so hard smearing NKT) never mentioned the murder once. Second, the justification of the murder case is based on another article in Newsweek, guess what the article was made in 1997, was there internet back then? Third, the link of wanted notices by Interpol in 2007 just point to another website again, no real report. Fourth, the 2015 Reuters article try to blame China for the demonstrations that were happening without any real report too. Some passage from the article:

But a leaked internal Communist Party document shows that China is intervening in the dispute. The party document, issued to officials last year, said the Shugden issue is “an important front in our struggle with the Dalai clique”. …

“The Chinese are using them as a tool to make the Dalai Lama look fake, to achieve their own ends, to undermine Tibetan Buddhism and to fragment Tibetan society,” Tseta said in an interview.

Where is the leaked document then?

To depict the demonstration even worse, there is an article in Tricycle that racist-ly depicted the demonstration as “Angry White Buddhist”. So Tricycle is this kind of buddhist magazine? Wow! Also I noticed that every questionable articles in Tricycle are behind a paywall.

There is one prominent ex-NKT member that is being cited in various articles as the go to source about the condition inside NKT, which is Tenzin Peljor. He has a website dedicated to talk about NKT. Upon searching, there are already a major debunking about him. Certainly anyone should always be skeptical about a distorted view from ex-es.

I think all of these are deliberate attempts to discredit NKT throughout the western media to further marginalized them. Not to forget some of them are big mainstream media. A small tradition fighthing the mainstream media? That’s cruel. During my research, I was jumping here and there seeing no real concrete evidence. At best the claims were solely based on testimonies of people.

How about the story from NKT themselves then? There are two websites that try to present the truth from within NKT. One is perhaps an official sites (not sure) for combating the smear on them New Kadampa Truth, the other unofficial one contains a more political view towards the matter. One thing you directly notice is that the tone in the official one is totally different than the articles from the opposition. They simply try to clarify things. An interesting statement that I saw there about verification:

Here’s an interesting exercise for you. Go to an FPMT Center or another Tibetan Buddhist group that is loyal to the Dalai Lama. Even just run into them at a social gathering. Mention that you have been to an NKT Center or that your teacher is Geshe Kelsang. If the evidence of hundreds of testimonials is to be believed, you will be given horrified looks and either the people will step away from you hurriedly or they will give you extensive disinformation about the NKT, tell you that you are a spirit worshipper who harms others’ lives (even if you have never worshipped a spirit in your life and have dedicated your life to helping others), and strongly advise you never to return to the NKT Center. Now do the opposite – go to an NKT Center and say you have been to an FPMT Center. You will hear no criticism of FPMT or any other Buddhist tradition at the NKT Center.

Is NKT a cult? Looking at their main websites, I found the usual teaching about buddhism. Wisdom, good heart, and peace, nothing else.

On the contrary, back then I saw a video about The Yogis of Tibet with the Dalai Lama in it and wondered is this what they are practicing? :thinking:

Ah, politics… :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

A Reuters investigation has found that the religious sect behind the protests has the backing of the Communist Party. The group has emerged as an instrument in Beijing’s long campaign to undermine support for the Dalai Lama, a political exile who commands the loyalty of millions of Chinese citizens and whom Beijing accuses of plotting secession for Tibet.

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This is all a tragicomedy to me.

We don’t need to take sides to practice the eightfold path.

Tibetan Buddhism is just as famous as it is nowadays because it was and is involved with issues pertinent to very big picture geopolitics and interests: India vs. China, Capitalism vs. Communism, USA vs China, etc.

As result those who subscribe to Tibetan Buddhism became effectively a mass or group of people that is manipulated according to the interests of other, powerful groups.

:man_shrugging:

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China is causing disturbances on many fronts in its campaign to assert itself beyond its borders, something which has never happened historically, it being inherently an inward looking state. There has been a tightening of policy not only seen in external action, but within the country where a crackdown on religion has resulted in Buddhist statues destroyed. This results from the recent emergence of “Xi Jinpingism” where the thoughts of the leader are taken as political doctrine. This personality cult has been infiltrated into the politics of neighbouring Nepal, birthplace of the Buddha.

The global grab for power is destined to fail as China learns to face the reality that it is not yet mature enough to take the position of world leader, and that the global community does not idolize its philosophy or way of doing things in the same way the Chinese do. This is a process of reflection where through hard experience the Chinese learn what the outside world thinks about them, an adolescent growth and development issue. Meanwhile normal balanced global expansion continues:

Yeah. I think from my research on this matter I’m going to put Dalai Lama as political leader, not religious leader. Because it seems to me that he himself is very active politically. IMO religion and politic should definitely be separate.

Yesterday I talked about this with one of my friend and she actually have read Dalai Lama’s book. Her comment was that Dalai Lama does frequently talk about China and indirectly criticizing them throughout the book. Her question was why this so called spiritually mature person do this? Talking about the past and learn about it is one thing, but continuously having remorse is just not good.

Though I also wonder how does it feel to be the Dalai Lama. I mean he is literally born into this condition from a very young age. There must be so many people around him that has an agenda. What can you do in that kind of situation? Not much I guess :disappointed_relieved:

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Encyclopedia Britannica:-
The 14th Dalai Lama, Bstan-’dzin-rgya-mtsho (Tenzin Gyatso), was born Lhamo Thondup in 1935 in what is currently Tsinghai province, China, of Tibetan parentage. He was recognized as the incarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1937, enthroned in 1940, and vested with full powers as head of state in 1950. He fled to exile in India in 1959, the year of the unsuccessful revolt by Tibetans against communist Chinese forces that had occupied the country since 1950. The Dalai Lama set up a government-in-exile in Dharmsala, India, in the Himalayan Mountains.

Sri Lanka now following the Chinese model:

I can confirm that this is true. The Reuters report is correct.

Years ago, they tried to take over the Australian Sangha Association. We tried to listen to them and help them out, but they ended up trying to flood our membership, and yelling at our AGM. Fortunately their monks and nuns do not take a proper ordination and so are not eligible for membership.

Avoid.

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I myself have never been involved in such type of organization and also have never tried seriously to know about the tibetan version of buddhism; but unavoidably one has to dive in a bit when the big scandals in Rigpa and Shambala came up last years. So I found the information on Tenzin Peljor’s blog much interesting and his obviously inside knowledge of the organisation of NKT, which obviously installed a tradition of campaigns against the Dalai Lama. The german Tenzin Peljor has initially been in the NKT, but stepped out a couple of years ago and after that has been ordained as monk in a main tibetan line.
His blog is about “diffi:cult issues” and has plenty of detailed information, for instance on NKT at The story of a New Kadampa Tradition monk or How I got sucked into a cult – Tibetan Buddhism – Struggling With Diffi·Cult Issues and more of the blog’s subpages. The sheer connection of the terms “Dalai Lama” and “banning” especially in this context of the NKT (as far as taken from their presentations) seems to me to be simply intentious - and also wrong (Can the Dalai Lama “ban” at all? Does he try to “ban”? ) - but after all it’s not really my Loch to swim&dive&hide in … :slight_smile:

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NKT is a fascinating case study. The Dalai Lama basically banned their deity because it was associated with ideologies of malignant hegemonic Gelugpa supremacy and seeking to suppress other kinds of Buddhism practiced in Tibet. The Dalai Lama’s banning of this “angry god” was a big win for the ecumenical movement in Tibetan Buddhism.

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This topic is already of questionable merit, so please refrain from adding political discussion into the mix. Otherwise, the topic will be closed.
Thank you!

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majjhima, I am a former NKT follower, and what you write – the framing of the Dalai Lama as a politician who is not or cannot be a spiritual person (suggesting even he is an immature spiritual person!) – sounds exactly how the NKT “brainwashed” me and how they argue among their followers in order to put the Dalai Lama down – as a mere politician – while elevating themselves as morally higher than the Dalai Lama and truly “spiritual”.

The accusation of the Dalai Lama being “political” aims within the NKT to deny the fact that he is (or can be) a genuine spiritual person (a bodhisattva). It aims also to establish and nourish the narrative among NKT followers, that the NKT leader, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, is a “pure” spiritual person and that the NKT is a “pure”tradition because they (self-claimingly) say they don’t “mix Dharma with politics”. But in fact, Kelsang Gyatso and NKT are very political – their whole campaign against the Dalai Lama was extremely political and it was totally against the morality of Right Speech. (see here the ASA statement as a start)

If you check how the Dalai Lama speaks about China – which is not as frequent as you seem to suggest – he speaks in a manner that does not invoke any hate against Chinese men or women or the Chinese people (see for instance this interview with the Chinese Victor Chan in this booklet), however, the Dalai Lama criticises from time to time the extreme narrow minded thinking of Chinese cadres but he does that in an informed way without pointing fingers to any person specifically or invoking the image of an enemy.

If you follow that lines of reasoning you established here to deny the spiritual maturity of the Dalai Lama – which is ‘because the Dalai Lama acts political he cannot be spiritual’ – it follows because the Buddha criticised the Brahmins for their faith in certain rituals, or their claims to be of a higher class by birth, their animal sacrifices etc etc and because he also advised kings, the Buddha then is also not a “spiritually mature person”.

As a side note: I’ve witness so many times that NKT people appeared on forums and even personally at Buddhist centres and claimed they are non-NKT or “neutral observers” or “just asking” while in fact they aimed to convince people of their view or to manipulate the discussions, that based on what I have read and seen from you here and experienced in the past so many times myself, I find it hard to not doubt your story of that friend and also that you are not NKT (or a Tsem Tulku followers). BTW, what book was it your friend read?

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majjhima, I want to correct some of your claims because I find them – including the title of the thread – highly misleading and inaccurate.

  1. It is not true that the Dalai Lama accused the NKT to be the instigator of the cruel and brutal murder of these three monks – among them Gen Lobsang Gyatso, the director of the Institute of Dialectics and an outspoken Shugden critic. The Indian police issued three red wanted notices at Interpol against the murderers and (based on evidence like a bag and telephone calls) claimed it were Shugden followers who killed all three monks. The murders allegedly fled to China.
  2. The title of this thread is misleading. The Dalai Lama has never ever banned the NKT.
  3. The Dalai Lama has also never called the NKT a “cult”.
  4. Your link which aims to give evidence to a “ban” which “still is there” is no “official side”. The FPMT is basically a Western organisation but not an official site of the Dalai Lama or the “government” of the Tibetans in Exile.
  5. Indeed, the NKT claimed that “to make Dalai Lama retract the ban” were their aim – but in fact is was a slander campaign and it is still controversial if the term “ban” can be applied. (see Tibetologist Robert Barnett’s notes on that here) My own reasons are: 5.1) NKT called the Dalai Lama a “liar” because he sees Shugden as a spirit, but another view is not a lie; similarly he was compared with Hitler, called “the worst dictator of the 21st Century”, “evil and cruel”, he was depicted as a pig etc etc. It was in all ways first and foremost a character assassination campaign. 5.2) Shugden followers in India got land and places – including money and property – from the monasteries and TGIE to do their Shugden practice independently at their own places. The Dalai Lama has no power nor control over NKT; nor does he have much power over the Gelug monasteries. The Gelug monks in the three monastic main seats of the Gelug school decided against Shugden based on a majority vote. The Dalai Lama stressed, it is ok if people practice it privately. To call of these things a “ban” is not very nuanced nor differentiated. Its all a bit more complex.
  6. Since Shugden worship was historically bound to Gelug supremacy and the putting down of other (Tibetan) Buddhist Schools – like the Nyingma and Kaygue pas – this practice itself is and was described by many as in nature sectarian. The practice (famously praised by his proponents for killing opponents who “mix” “pure” Gelug teachings with non-Gelug teachings) itself restricted religious freedom (as it still does in the NKT). Therefore restrictions to a practice that restricts religious freedom can be seen as a restoring of religious freedom. In fact, I experienced this all myself because I was many years with Shugden lamas and understand where both sides are coming from.
  7. There are interviews with the Indian police about the brutal murdering as well as press articles. The red wanted notices by Interpol are a fact and have been reported by different media. Maybe some of it can only be accessed by the internet archive nowadays.
  8. Since I am the Tenzin – which you claim was “debunked” – I can honestly tell you (as a fully ordained monk) – that this article you link is not a "debunking"of myself. I am neither a Stasi trained spy nor an agent of the TGIE. But interesting to see your efforts to sow doubts about my integrity. The article which according to you “debunks” me was written by “IndyHack” who is an anonymous blogger (or group of bloggers) and infamous for inventing the Dalai Lama being terminally ill (cancer) etc. and for blackmailing NKT followers. Allegedly he or this team being NKT followers himself/themselves. Well, what a reputable source is that for “debunking”? Also the other article you link and praise is from an anonymous source – an NKT source just as IndyHack.
  9. The New Kadampa Truth site – also anonymous – basically spreads slander because it calls those who the NKT don’t like liars. This is a very heavy and grave accusation / insult. And it is also not true. There are no lies these people which they list under “Behind the lies” spread. Its the same character assassination attack as against the Dalai Lama.
  10. You seem to aim to portray the NKT as more reasonable than the Dalai Lama or those who see things differently than NKT. Maybe you watch on YouTube videos where Robert Thurman and Samdhong Rinpoche were depicted by NKT people as the devil or where the Dalai Lama was depicted as a pig (see the images on the t-shirts which protesting NKT nuns wore over their robes or displayed on posters or social media.) There is nothing good nor reasonable in that. It’s basically hate.

All in all, sorry, but your line of arguments and how you put this is far too familiar to me in how NKT followers try to lure in people into their thinking. Also, the discrediting of the Dalai Lama, the discrediting of NKT critics and the bringing in of anonymous sources for arguments is very much NKT style.

And then, your question: Is NKT a cult? Well, MANY ex-members, including me, say: yes, they are. There are many such voices.

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