a constitutional coup d’etat?

With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear that most of what has happened recently at Maitreya Buddhist Centre stems from a seminal document that was apparently sent out to all NKT centres in the UK  back in January of 2011. The document was a draft constitution  prepared by NKT head office and designed to replace Maitreya Centre’s own constitution. Actually, the document was sent only to the Resident Teachers, who were instructed to elicit comments from the Board of Trustees of their respective centres  about their views on the draft and then forward those comments back to head office.  The impression was that this was a genuine exercise in consultation, although the time given for such consultation was extremely short, and in the event all the questions and genuine concerns I and my fellow trustees had about the draft were never answered by head office at all. Which is a shame, but perhaps not surprising, as the draft proposed, in effect, the wholesale demolition of all autonomy and local control from individually registered charities like ours (for example, the draft states that the Admin Director (AD) of  a KMC – eg. Bodhisattva Centre – will be one of the trustees on the Board of the KBC – eg. Maitreya Buddhist Centre, and the decisions of the Board must be unanimous, meaning the KMC AD always has a power of veto over whatever the other trustees may agree on. Furthermore, the Board of Trustees will no longer appoint the AD. Only NKT head office will now appoint, or remove, the AD. Which begs the questions: why bother to be a trustee? Why bother to have an independently registered charity at all? Why not leave the running of the centre entirely to the RT and NKT head office?).

Well, that was the last I heard about the draft until a terse statement read out at last year’s Summer Festival Administrative Director’s Meeting in which it was announced that the new constitution would be rolled out to all centres very soon. Nothing was said about whether or not the draft had been altered or what the main provisions of the draft are, or why a new constitution is needed at all. Indeed, when the draft first surfaced in January 2011 there was no rationale given for a new constitution and no explanation of what was so wrong about the old constitution that it needed altering/replacing at all. I remember I and some of my colleagues feeling profoundly uneasy about the proposed new constitution even then, but hoping – naively – that somehow the NKT would listen to feedback and either alter, or drop, the draft constitution in the light of comments received during the consultation, such as it was.

This backdrop must be borne in mind when considering what happened when the new RT arrived at Maitreya Centre  a few months ago, with the full backing of NKT head office. From the outset there was no approach by him to the trustees as a group, nor any offer by him of consultation with them, nor any response to invitations from the trustees to have such consultation with him. Then began the attempts by the RT, in various ways, to put pressure upon the trustees to change the constitutional make-up of the Board of Trustees by allowing the AD of Bodhisattva KMC to become a trustee on the Board, even though we trustees are not allowed under our present constitution to permit this, and even though an RT has no legal authority under our constitution to demand that the nature of the Board to be altered in any way.  Now, this new Board structure the RT wanted is no less than the one proposed in the new constitution, the draft of which we first saw back in January 2011! Well, you might wonder, what is the hurry? Why not ask the trustees to call a meeting of all the members and ask them to vote through a new constitution using the procedures laid down in the centre’s constitution? Why try to bounce the trustees into doing something that will have to happen anyway once the new constitution has been formally  adopted by the members? But the NKT have a problem: it is clause 31 of our present constitution, the same constitution which was adopted by a democratic vote of us centre members plus all the UK Resident Teachers (RTs) back in 2006 at the explicit request of both NKT head office and Geshe-la himself (I have a letter from Geshe-la which confirms that he wanted this constitution adopted by our centre back  in 2006). This clause is:  “if a resolution is proposed which if passed would result in any amendment whatsoever to the Memorandum or the Articles or would result in the dissolution of the Charity, then this resolution shall be considered only if it has received the prior written agreement of all the Members” (note the emphasis on all).   Now presumably that clause would not have been put in or left in unless the NKT/Geshe-la wanted the constitution to be, to all intents and purposes, a definitive one.

The 2006 constitutional amendments were only passed with the help of the ‘block vote’ of the UK RTs, who are all members of Maitreya Buddhist Centre. Is it the case that now I, and my fellow trustees, or whichever trustees may eventually replace us, are expected to help the NKT use the block vote again, this time to overcome what that same block vote helped to achieve the first time round? I am expected to accept that Geshe-la himself wants me to help undo what he himself apparently wished to become the definitive constitution, back in 2006? This sounds a bit like the Duke of York marching his men up to the top of the hill, and marching them back down again! Except I have my doubts as to whether or not Geshe-la is really behind this. For all I know, there has been a ‘palace coup’ within the NKT and Geshe-la is no longer the main player. Given the total secrecy and lack of transparency about what happens at the top of the NKT, who can tell? Reading the official prognostications of the NKT is now a bit like trying to fathom the workings of a poliburo. The irony is that if the NKT had been upfront and honest in the first place about what it wanted and why this new constitution gives it what it wants, then I and my colleagues would have been able to simply decide whether to go along with it or not and then, if we did want to step aside, could have done so long ago and handed over amicably to new trustees. All the NKT had to say was that if I had any objections to the new constitution, then there is no place for me in the NKT. I can live with that, as the NKT organisation is not itself Dharma, is not identical with Geshe-la and his teachings, and is not the be all and end all of Buddhism. All I need for my practice is to continue relying on Geshe-la as my Spiritual Guide and put his teachings into practice; I don’t need the rest of the bureaucratic superstructure, especially if it just gets in the way of practice!

Instead, I and my fellow trustees got only political manoevres in the dark from our RT and the NKT, undermining us and the centre bit by bit, and then, when we resist such undermining, we get clobbered with breaking the Internal Rules and thereby get sucked into open dispute with the NKT (with no opportunity for mediation), which was never what we wanted in the first place!  I have no problems with people wanting to go with the NKT in the direction of greater autocracy and central control if that is what they want, and now I know finally that is, in fact, what the NKT wants then I am happy to leave and pursue my dharma study and practice elsewhere. I just wish the NKT had the courage and honesty to be open and transparent about all this from day one rather than hide their real intentions behind a smokescreen of alleged breaches of Internal Rules and alleged impurities of teachers! The NKT apparently assumes that any perceived opposition to the new constitution must be cleared out of the way first before they dare take the risky democratic step of submitting the new constitution to the centre members for a vote to adopt it (and the ‘opposition’ had been smoked out by the soliciting of comments on the draft constitution back in January 2011). Much easier to attain an unanimous consensus in adopting the new constitution, as required under clause 31 of the centre’s constitution, if you already have only ‘compliant’ trustees and ‘compliant’ members already in place! I might even have been compliant myself if the NKT had only bothered to explain why the new constitution matters so much and how it is expected to work! Perhaps there are some at NKT head office who don’t in fact have the confidence themselves to openly justify the new constitution? Perhaps in their hearts they themselves have doubts about it? But we shall probably never know, because the NKT apparently has its own version of omerta. Well, all that will soon be behind me as I start to enjoy the freedom of practising dharma outside of such political chicanery and gerrymandering. But first, there is the small matter of what the Charity Commission may say about all this…

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5 Comments on “a constitutional coup d’etat?”

  1. maitreyaeditor1 says:

    The last piece of paper purporting to be from Geshe-la stated that the Gen-la’s principle occupation should be to monitor fraud and to occasionally give an inspirational talk on the Intrenational Temples Project. There was a deliberate statement that the Gen-la should not engage with the daily management of Centres. It also stated that Resident Teachers should have no involvement in management of Centres, but instead study and prepare for teachings and improve their practice. Those Teachers involved in this latest debacle could remember that ‘instruction’ from Geshe-la and return to their study 🙂

  2. Jon says:

    theres no “like” button – so imagine i have pressed “like” 🙂

  3. Tenpel says:

    This sounds for me like the the usual power play as it is so common for NKT leadership …

    When our centre was still affiliated with the NKT, I was the EPC. We had indeed some strange developments at our side where I have to admit we made also a lot of faults. However, what was interesting how NKT tried by all means to get power over the centre and to push their ideas, policies without trying at all to talk with us or to have a honest and fair, or open discussion.

    Back then in 1999/2000. Our resident teacher had Kundeling Rinpoche (“a friend of mine”, as Geshe-la said himself) as one of supposed three other Lamas to recognize our RT as a “tulku”.

    First the NKT leadership, which included Geshe-la, said there are no problems, and that Geshe-la can see the good intentions behind it. Then Geshe-la said there could be problems due to the Chinese (!) and the Dalai Lama office (!). In a third attempt (an email sent by Geshe-la) he said actual there is a real problem because in NKT there are many who are jealous now, and this “tulku recognition” is against the Internal Rules of NKT. By then nobody of us has ever heard about the “Internal Rules of NKT”. So we asked him and NKT head office to send us the Internal Rules because we didn’t know or haven’t ever heard from them so far, and if we don’t know them we cannot know what we made wrong. Geshe-la replied: “Ven. Kelsang Kunsang, and Ven. Kelsang Dekyong will come and bring you the Internal Rules personally.”

    To make it short. They came, and made a secret poll (with thetaste of a Stasi-investigation): “Do you have faith in Geshe-la?” “Are you coming to the Summer Festival?” Of course we had faith, and of course we wanted to come to the summer festival. We loved Geshe-la and the NKT and we had faith in them. Neither Kunsang nor Dekyong have ever really tried to talk to us in an honest, open or fair communication rather they projected we were faithless, rebellious or misled students. After they couldn’t find any person who did not have “faith in Geshe-la”, they spread a paper signed by Geshe-la, that our RT is removed and replaced by Kunsang and Dekyong, and both of them announced that they will give on Friday a teaching about “How to properly rely on the Spiritual Guide”. But we trustees rejected that attempt, and argued, Buddhist teachings can only be given when asked for, they cannot be imposed onto a listener.

    Actual the situation was utter complex, and as I said already, it involved a lot of faults from our RT side, my side and others but also NKT leadership(!).

    The main point is, that Geshe-la always stressed during his teachings that the NKT centers are independent and that we ourselves have to take care for them. But when it comes to that NKT leadership fears to loose control over a centre, they run all methods to get back control what ever it may cost and no matter how much suffering it creates. Fair communication? Forget it.

    Finally, a RT from another NKT centre asked the police to remove us (the trustees who also lived there at the centre) from our centre and we had no choice than to show our passports and to ask the police to remove Dekyong and Kunsang, as well as this RT from another NKT centre.

    Finally, … to make it short … what a good luck, Geshe-la came himself.

    To that point I had still utter (naive) faith in him. I was thinking he will resolve the situation now according to the Dharma, and everything will work out nice.

    But what did he do? He said: “I am the NKT … I have done no faults, the NKT has done no faults … ” + his attendant and travel passengers from Manjushri Centre have done no faults + even we, the NKT students (including me 😉 ) have done no faults. And he said further “This is a very difficult situation. Who has created this difficult situation?” —- I relaxed, turned the head to a fellow monk and said: “now you see the true master, he will say “the delusions created this difficult situation.” and he said: “The RT alone has created that situation, she is guilty for it …” And he claimed that all of her vows, the ordination vows, the bodhisattva vows and also the trantric vows of her are lost and broken, that she cannot use any more the name He gave to her, cannot teach any more His books etc. … it was like a spiritual execution. It was a disgusting situation … but it was also an eye opener for me and some others.

    —-

    Again, wishing you and all the trustees from MC all the best, a good heard, clear discrimination, and the merit and luck to master your situation according to the Dharma.

    —-

    BTW, later it was Geshe-la who gave the secret order that only fully committed persons to him can become members of the local charity trusts. He feared that not fully committed persons will disagree with the ideas of setting up Kadampa hotels. Subsequently all of the less committed or slightly critical persons were stripped from charity membership.

    If one looks behind the pattern of all of this there is the policy: “either you are with us or you against us”. If one is put into the category of “being against” you are treated as a deluded, antagonistic person. All means to get rid of such a person will be applied.

    I think, the problem is that most NKT followers have no idea about the history and the powertrips within NKT. Most cling to a naive, unrealistic imagination. However, being in the midst of a power struggle, though very painful, it can also be an eye opener and it can lead to a new, fresh, and clean situation.

  4. Cindy Corey says:

    Tenpel, i am curious- where did this happen? what center?


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