Check For Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself, Lessons from NKT Controversy

This article is written by AB at @happyops.

I wanted to write this article as a reflection on a personal matter rather than our typical group article. This article is just from me.

Previously @happyops wrote the two articles:

To continue this short series, in this article I would like to reflect my own personal experiences with the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), Triratna Order (previously Friends of the Western Buddhist Order), and the Shambhala group. Despite the negative experiences that I refer to in this article, I am very grateful to these groups for getting me onto the Buddhist path so that I can progress forward in my spiritual journey. These are my own personal opinions and do not reflect the opinions of @happyops.

Why Western Groups Exist

There are a range of western Buddhist groups, but I just have experience with the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), Triratna Order (previously Friends of the Western Buddhist Order), and the Shambhala group. In my opinion, these western Buddhist groups typically form out of good intentions to spread the Dharma.

Buddhism has evolved over hundreds of years to suit the country’s character and outlook. Typically this means that the presentation of Buddhism in one country takes on that country’s cultural trappings, whether they are the features of Japan, Thailand, Tibet, or another country’s culture. But to an outsider these cultural trappings might not be palatable to their western tastes.

Western groups try to offer a vanilla version of Buddhism. The cultural trappings might be watered down or removed altogether from a western presentation of the Dharma. By doing this the western groups have the positive intention of cutting through to the core teachings of the Buddha. But the question is whether the western group threw the baby (the Buddha’s teachings) out with the bathwater (the Buddhist practices).

Good Intentions Aside

Despite these good intentions, it raises the question regarding the self-installed charismatic leader and their intentions. Are either self-serving in any way, or are they based entirely on tried and tested Buddhist beliefs? Are the students really getting a vanilla version of Buddhism, or is it mixed with some cult-like activities or fetishize some specific practice or belief?

In the case of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) they can write their own history. Often this history is only orally transmitted, without being written down and made the subject of liability. It doesn’t take many internet searches to find a much different history of the NKT.

Western Groups Challenging Traditional Groups

Kelsang Samden (Gen Samden) former senior teacher and General Spiritual Director of the New Kadampa Tradition had multiple allegations of sexual relationships and allegedly attempting to establish sexual lineage within the New Kadampa Tradition with both female and male students. In 2008 Kelsang Samden was disrobed.

In some cases, it is easy to think “maybe the organisation’s leader didn’t know what was happening within the organisation”. As with a CEO, the leader is ultimately responsible for the organisation and activities within the organisation. Personally speaking, I think it is very unlikely that the leader does not know what is happening when a western Buddhist group faces controversy. This includes the activities at the NKT.

Wishing you every happiness, AB and @happyops.