His Holiness next met with members of a group who call themselves NKT Survivors, people who have left the new religious movement the New Kadampa Tradition. One of several reasons for their discomfort has been the involvement of NKT members in spiteful demonstrations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama in cities across the world. The focus of these protests is a difference of opinion about a controversial spirit known as Dolgyal or Shugden. His Holiness began:
“I think you know the story of this spirit is nearly four hundred years old. At one time I too propitiated it. My Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche, who gave me ordination, had nothing to do with it, but my Junior Tutor, Trijang Rinpoche did practise it. Having some doubt about it, in the early 70s I asked some scholars to research the matter. We discovered that the issue dated back to the time of the 5th Dalai Lama, who described Dolgyal as a perfidious spirit that had arisen as a result of distorted prayers.
“Later, during the time of the tutor of the 7th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Chokden, who also became Ganden Tripa, Throne-holder or leader of the Gelug tradition, several abbots propitiated this spirit and a shrine was built at Ganden Monastery. Ngawang Chokden, who was the first Reting Rinpoche, had this shrine demolished and restricted the propitiation. He stated that during the life of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelug tradition, a shrine even to his ‘birth deity’ was not allowed within the precincts of Ganden Monastery.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama with NKT Survivors during their meeting in Cambridge, UK on September 18, 2015. Photo/Jeremy Russell/OHHDL“Later still, the 13th Dalai Lama restricted practices concerning this spirit and wrote to Pabongka Rinpoche about it, saying that the way he related to it risked breaching his Buddhist refuge vows. I discovered that no Dalai Lama had any involvement with this spirit until I did. Perhaps if the 5th and 13th Dalai Lamas were to reappear now they’d send me back to Amdo!“Once I made a decision to stop the practice, I kept it to myself. Then Ganden Jangtse Monastery got in touch with me to say that they had been experiencing misfortunes and they had asked Trijang Rinpoche about it. He told them it was a result of displeasure on the part of their traditional protector Palden Lhamo. They asked me what to do about it. I conducted a ‘dough-ball divination’ asking first whether their problems were to do with Palden Lhamo’s displeasure. The answer was, “Yes”. Then I asked whether the displeasure was a result of their adopting a new protector and again the answer was “Yes”. I informed some senior Lamas from Ganden Monastery and asked them to decide what action to take.
“Gradually this advice became known. Inside Tibet some worshippers of Dolgyal said that the Dalai Lama was taking these steps because he was trying to favour the Nyingmas, so I had to explain things more publicly. Previously, even my Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche, who had nothing at all to do with this practice had been wary of my receiving Nyingma teachings because of Dolgyal’s reputation. Once I stopped propitiating it I gained personal religious freedom and was able to follow an ecumenical, non-sectarian approach to Buddhism like previous Dalai Lamas. I had confirmed this course of action through another divination before a renowned statue of Avalokiteshvara.
“As a consequence of all this, supporters of Dolgyal set themselves up as a group in Delhi. Then the murder of Gyen Lobsang Gyatso took place. The perpetrators, who had been identified by the Himachal Pradesh Police in their investigation, escaped back to Tibet, where they were welcomed by Chinese officials.
“When I explain about all this, I make clear that it’s my duty to do so. If people disagree and continue the practice, that’s their business. However, I’m concerned about their next lives. These demonstrators are angry with me. I try to cultivate the awakening mind of bodhichitta and an understanding of emptiness, being angry with me won’t do them any good. When I see them, I feel a lot of concern for them.
“As Buddhists we should follow authentic teachings, such as those of the 17 Nalanda masters. Depending on spirits like this is a degeneration of the practice of the Dharma.
“Because of tantric tradition we tend to emphasise ‘Guru Yoga’ and following the Guru’s word. However, even the Buddha advised his followers to examine what he said, to investigate whether it made sense, rather than accepting it just at face value. Read more widely. Study the works of Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti and Shantideva. Also read Je Tsongkhapa’s ‘Great Stages of the Path to Enlightenment’. Don’t worry about having made mistakes, the 14th Dalai Lama did too.
“Kelsang Gyatso’s commentary to Shantideva’s ‘Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life’ is good. Still, pay attention to the four reliances: depend not on the person, but on the teaching. Depend not on the words, but their meaning. Depend not on the provisional meaning, but the definitive meaning and finally depend not on a superficial understanding but on wisdom. Read books, gather your friends together and discuss what you’ve learned. Give each other confidence. I admire your courage. Believe in truth and the Buddha’s authentic teachings.“I know Kelsang Gyatso. He was not a Geshe, but a good scholar. When I was in Mussoorie he gave me a copy of Gungthang Rinpoche’s writings for which I was grateful to him. Lama Zopa invited him to teach in England, but later they quarrelled. I sent an official to try to mediate. In 1981, he came to Deer Park in Madison Wisconsin to receive the Kalachakra empowerment that I was giving at the request of his teacher Geshe Sopa. So although he has now taken against me, his own teacher, apparently he insists that his own students only follow him. You should continue to regard him with respect, even if you tell yourself that you are now trying to follow the authentic teachings of the Buddha and Je Tsongkhapa.”His Holiness told the group to feel happy and that he would remember them. He again told them not to worry if they feel they had made a mistake, they can remind themselves that he did too.
Today the New Kadampa Survivors group issued this official statement:
Declaration concerning the demonstrations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama
We, the undersigned, as former members of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), and ex-practitioners of Dorje Shugden, are appalled and saddened that those who were once our NKT sangha now demonstrate against and defame His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Inaccuracies and distortions of what we know to be the truth have been published as fact. The New Kadampa Tradition currently operates as the ‘International Shugden Community’ (ISC). Many allegations and insults are made against His Holiness which are completely unwarranted.
At demonstrations and on numerous web sites and Facebook pages, the NKT/ISC viciously attacks the reputation of His Holiness. We have tried to address inaccuracies with the group, but without success. We believe it is time to speak out with one voice. Here we highlight a few of the issues created by the New Kadampa Tradition, their leader Kelsang Gyatso, and his followers:
1) The NKT/WSS/ISC say that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a ‘liar’. A difference of opinion does not equate to lying. His Holiness holds a different opinion from Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT about the nature and history of Dolgyal Shugden and the effects of this practice upon the well-being of His Holiness, the Tibetan people and their cause. To call His Holiness a ‘liar’ because of this difference of opinion makes no sense.
2) The NKT/WSS/ISC claim that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has gone against all his teachers, broken his samaya and destroyed the lineage of Je Tsongkhapa by rejecting the practice of Dolgyal Shugden. His Holiness states that after conducting extensive research into the history and problems of Shugden practice, he consulted with his Junior Tutor Trijang Rinpoche and explained the reasons why it was his duty to reject this practice. The historical record shows that Shugden practice is often contentiously associated with sectarian views and ‘distorted aspiration’ and was viewed as problematic by His Holiness’ Senior Tutor, Ling Rinpoche. In fact, in this action His Holiness was actually following a course which, according to Buddhist scriptures and past masters, as Kelsang Gyatso himself states, is absolutely correct and appropriate.
In his book Clear Light of Bliss Kelsang Gyatso states: “When deciding which doctrine to rely upon, we should not be satisfied with the fame or reputation of a particular teacher, but instead should examine what he or she teaches. If, upon investigation, we find the teachings reasonable and faultless, we should accept them, but if they lack these qualities we should reject them, no matter how famous or charismatic their expounder might be.”
Kelsang Gyatso therefore contradicts his own advice when he asserts that His Holiness has broken his samaya with Trijang Rinpoche.
3) Kelsang Gyatso also claims that by rejecting one particular protector practice, this means that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is rejecting all Gelug teachings, the lineage of Je Tsongkhapa. His Holiness has not rejected all Gelug teachings and still holds his lineage gurus in the highest esteem. Kelsang Gyatso, however, is never seen in public with any teachers connected to the lineage he claims to represent. He is alone, without the influence of either peers or superiors. He created the NKT in 1992 after a schism with another Tibetan Buddhist group which invited him to the UK to teach in 1977 and whose property he then kept as the ‘mother centre’ of the NKT. In 1996 he was unanimously expelled from Sera Jey Tibetan Buddhist monastery, where he trained, for being a ‘holder of broken commitments and wrong view’. As he is the only Tibetan teacher in his own tradition of ‘Modern Buddhism’, with his own ‘new’ ordination and no study of the traditional Vinaya teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni, he also effectively isolates his own students from the wider Buddhist world.
4) In 1998 Kelsang Gyatso stated that the NKT would no longer be involved in any further demonstrations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He admitted that the Shugden issue was, in reality, an issue of Tibetan politics and promised that the NKT would not take part in any further inappropriate actions. Since then Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT have organised two further rounds of protests, one beginning in 2008, and the latest round currently being staged.
5) In 2008 Kelsang Gyatso wrote to all his dharma centres stating that he was personally organising the NKT’s participation in the protests. He also said the protests were being organised by a group called the Western Shugden Society (WSS). A simple check reveals that all the Directors of WSS were and are members of the New Kadampa Tradition. Yet the NKT often denies that they have any connection to the WSS. Kelsang Pema, Gyatso’s former assistant, informed journalists that the WSS had no leader.
6) Even if the NKT say that it is only an ‘individual decision’ for a student to support the protests, we know that at present the ISC directly and actively recruits protestors and fundraises for demonstrations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama inside NKT centres.
7) The 2014 NKT campaign is delivered by its latest front group, the International Shugden Community. Currently, the ISC has two registered groups. In Norway ISC records show the Executive Director and Chairman to be NKT teachers. The ISC US based non-profit company in California shares an address with a large health food company of which Len Foley, an ex NKT teacher, is CEO. His wife, Rebecca Gauthier, an NKT Resident Teacher, is also spokesperson for the ISC in the US.
The ISC front-man is a senior NKT monk named Kelsang Rabten. In his YouTube “News Broadcasts” Kelsang Rabten does not wear his monk’s robes and appears to be a professional journalist. He hides his status and biased position. One ISC video uses footage of young Burmese monks conducting traditional alms-rounds to fraudulently misrepresent the situation in India regarding the supposed ‘ostracism’ of Shugden followers. Techniques such as these are deceitful, designed only to exaggerate their claims against His Holiness.
8) The allegation that the Dalai Lama is engaging in repression of Freedom of Religion is, in fact, more relevant to the way the NKT itself operates. NKT Centres are dedicated to the exclusive devotion of Kelsang Gyatso. NKT centres and teachers are only permitted to teach from books written by Kelsang Gyatso. Teachers other than those trained by the NKT and appointed by Kelsang Gyatso are not allowed. Ordained NKT people and others are told they will be reborn in the hell realms and may not get enlightened if they leave the NKT.
9) With the backdrop of continued Human Rights abuses against the Tibetan people, who number little more than 6 million in total, and the mass slaughter of an unknown number of Tibetans due to the Chinese occupation and colonisation often quoted as being more than one million, claims made by the ISC such as that ‘4 million Dorje Shugden practitioners are suffering’ are obviously lies.
We acknowledge there may be some problems within the Tibetan community that need to be addressed but no established Human Rights group or court has ever confirmed any of the NKT/WSS or ISC’s claims of intentional Human Rights abuses by His Holiness the Dalai Lama or the Central Tibetan Administration. In 2010 the Indian High Court rejected a law suit by Shugden followers because of ‘vague averments’ and ‘absence of any specific instances of any such attacks’. We offer our support to the Tibetan people in their struggle to preserve their lives and their culture and question the intentions of those who use this culture but appear not to support this struggle.
Both in 1996-7 and in 2008 the demonstrations against His Holiness the Dalai Lama coincided with the public exposure on the internet of the alleged sexual misconduct of the Deputy Spiritual Directors of the NKT.
10) There are many documented cases where the NKT threatened to sue using libel law and thus silenced other Buddhist organisations, umbrella groups, internet discussion forums and academics, authors and publishers. People inside the group can realistically fear social exclusion, illegal eviction or police arrest if they criticise policies. In our experience, the NKT generally prioritises the expansion of the group over the welfare of individuals. The NKT Survivors internet group numbers over 1,200 subscribers. There is no Dalai Lama Survivor’s group.
In view of the consistently unkind behaviour of his own organisation, we feel that Kelsang Gyatso and his students can have no moral right for making such attempts to discredit and defame His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Those of us who once belonged to the New Kadampa Tradition are resolved to bring these inaccuracies, disinformation, and outright lies to light. Who better to reveal the truth than we who were once inside the organisation?
19th August 2014
Lyn G Farrell
Cynthia von Hendricks
Ashoka von Hendricks