a constitutional coup d’etat?Posted: March 20, 2012
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…