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The New Kadampa Tradition ~ International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT—IKBU) is a global Buddhist organisation founded by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in England in 1991. In 2003 the words "International Kadampa Buddhist Union" (IKBU) were added to the original name "New Kadampa Tradition". The NKT-IKBU is an international organization registered in England as a charitable, or non-profit, company.[1][2] It currently lists more than 200 centres and around 900 branch classes/study groups in 40 countries.[3]

The NKT-IKBU is a Mahayana form of Buddhism, which has been developed from the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.[4] The NKT-IKBU states that it follows the tradition of Kadampa Buddhism derived from the Buddhist meditators and scholars Atisha (AD 982-1054) and Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419 AD), as taught by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.[5] The New Kadampa Tradition "offers standard Gelugpa teachings based on Geshe Kelsang's books, which present a systematic path to enlightenment."[6]

David V. Barrett has characterized the NKT-IKBU as "one of the newest and most controversial Buddhist movements," mainly due to the Dorje Shugden controversy in the Tibetan community.[7] The NKT-IKBU answers various allegations against it on its New Kadampa Truth website.

Mission statement

The New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT-IKBU) is an international association of Mahayana Buddhist study and meditation centres that follow the Kadampa Buddhist tradition founded by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.... The purpose of the NKT-IKBU is to preserve and promote the essence of Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings in a form that is suited to the modern world and way of life.[8]

The Internal Rules of the NKT-IKBU states that it "shall always be an entirely independent Buddhist tradition" and "shall have no political affiliations."[9] The NKT-IKBU was founded as an "autonomous Gelukpa group."[10]

Meaning of the word Kadampa

The name Geshe Kelsang chose for the newly founded organization in 1991 refers to the Kadampa tradition which was founded by Atisha in the 11th century[11] and reformed by Je Tsongkhapa in the 14th century to become what is today known as the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Explaining the etymology of the term kadampa (Tib., bKa' gdams pa; Skt. "the sutra-upadesha-ones"),[12] David Barrett says: "The name 'Kadampa' comes from ka, meaning 'word', or the Buddha’s teachings, dam, referring to Atisha's special Lamrim instructions, known as the 'Stages of the Path', and pa, a school or tradition."[13][14] Taken together, the word kadampa means "those who put all of Buddha's teachings into practice through practising the instructions on Lamrim (Stages of the Path)."[15] This means that Kadampas take all of Buddha's instructions as personal advice to be put into practice:

Je Rinpoche asked Rinchen Pel, a great scholar, for the meaning of the word Kadam [literally “scripture-instruction”]. Rinchen Pel’s reply was, “To have even a single letter n from the word of the Victorious one appear to you as an instruction not to be ignored.”[16]

The practitioners of the NKT-IKBU refer to themselves as "Kadampa Buddhists," and similarly the Teachers, Dharma Centers and Temples are referred to as "Kadampa Teachers," "Kadampa Buddhist Centers" and "Kadampa Buddhist Temples," respectively.

Whether there exists any ideological significance of the choice of the name 'New Kadampa Tradition' in the context of the NKT-IKBU's dissociation from the present-day Tibetan Gelugpa establishment, is discussed below under New Kadampa Tradition and Gelugpa Tradition.

Spiritual activities

Teachings and books

Bluck lists the specific traditional teachings that are seen as important in the NKT-IKBU: "the nature of the mind, karma and reincarnation, the preciousness of human life, the role of meditation, death, and the commitments of going for refuge," as well as "understanding the Four Noble Truths, developing renunciation, and the training of moral discipline, concentration and wisdom," followed by "becoming a compassionate bodhisattva (by developing bodhicitta and the six perfections), understanding the ultimate truth of emptiness and finally attaining Buddhahood."[17]

The NKT-IKBU's teachings are based exclusively on the teachings and published works of Geshe Kelsang,[18] which in turn are commentaries on Gelug works, especially those of its founder Je Tsongkhapa's texts.[19] According to Helen Waterhouse, Geshe Kelsang follows the Tibetan Buddhist custom of studying texts through the teacher's commentaries. With respect to the contents of the teachings she states that "NKT doctrine is not different from that of mainline Gelugpa," with a Prasangika Madhyamaka philosophical orientation, and emphasizing the teachings on dependent arising and emptiness.[20] The main practice in the NKT-IKBU is Lamrim (the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment), Lojong (Training the Mind), and Vajrayana Mahamudra (the practices of Highest Yoga Tantra). The books studied in the NKT are published by the Buddhist publishing house Tharpa Publications.

Geshe Kelsang regards all his books as "coming from Je Tsongkhapa, with himself as being like a cassette recorder into which the Wisdom Buddha, the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden, has placed the cassette of Je Tsongkhapa's teachings". In the preface of his extensive commentary to Lamrim, Geshe Kelsang states, "I have received these teachings from my Spiritual Guide, Trijang Dorjechang, who was an emanation of Atisha; thus the explanations given in this book, Joyful Path of Good Fortune, actually come from him and not from myself."

Study programs

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explained his reason for founding the NKT-IKBU: "I wanted to encourage people to practice purely. Just having a lot of dharma knowledge, studying a lot intellectually but not practicing, is a serious problem. This was my experience in Tibet. Intellectual knowledge alone does not give peace."[21]

At the heart of the NKT-IKBU are its three study programs:[22] "the open and introductory General Programme, the Foundation Programme for more committed practitioners, and the demanding Teacher Training Programme."[23] The study programs of the NKT-IKBU are what distinguishes it from all other Buddhist traditions.[24][25] Giving an overview of the purpose of the programs, the NKT-IKBU says: "Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has designed three special Study Programs for the systematic study and practice of Kadampa Buddhism that are especially suited to the modern world."[26] It is believed by NKT-IKBU followers that the teachings transmit the pure lineage of Je Tsongkhapa in its entirety.[27]

Commenting on the content of the NKT-IKBU's study program, Cozort said they "respond to the desires of Western Dharma students, who feel that Buddhism is mainly about meditation, who want their philosophy mixed with practice, and who want to progress as quickly as possible toward the higher tantric teachings."[28]

The three spiritual programs are:

  1. The General Program (GP), which provides an introduction to basic Buddhist ideas and meditation. Cozort explains that GP classes are "simply the ongoing general instructure for all comers at NKT Centers or wherever NKT teachers find a venue for teaching."[29]
  2. The Foundation Program (FP), which includes the study of six commentaries written by Geshe Kelsang on the following classical texts. Cozort remarks that the format of study resembles that of a British or American University, "with textbooks, lectures, small and large group discussion, and examinations."[29]
    • Joyful Path of Good Fortune - based on Atisha's teachings on Lamrim or The Stages of the Path to Enlightenment
    • Universal Compassion - a commentary on Bodhisattva Geshe Chekhawa's Training the Mind in Seven Points
    • Eight Steps to Happiness - a commentary on Bodhisattva Langri Tangpa's Eight Verses of Training the Mind
    • Heart of Wisdom - a commentary on the Heart Sutra
    • Meaningful to Behold - a commentary on Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life
    • Understanding the Mind - a commentary and detailed explanation of the mind based on the works of the Buddhist scholars Dharmakirti and Dignaga
  3. The Teacher Training Program (TTP) is, according to Cozort, the "NKT's most ambitious undertaking,"[30] intended for people who wish to train as NKT-IKBU Dharma Teachers who, in turn, will teach Buddhism to newcomers as well as serve as tantric gurus.[30] All Resident Teachers of NKT-IKBU Centers follow this program of study and practice. The program involves the study of 14 texts of Geshe Kelsang, including all of those in the Foundation Program, and the additional 8 listed below. This program also includes commitments concerning one's lifestyle, based on the 5 lay vows of the Pratimoksha, and the completion of specific meditation retreats "on each of the preliminary practices (sngon 'gro)."[31] There is also a "teaching skills" class every month.[32]
    • The Bodhisattva Vow - a commentary on Mahayana moral discipline and the practice of the six perfections
    • Ocean of Nectar - a commentary on Chandrakirti's Guide to the Middle Way
    • Clear Light of Bliss - a commentary on meditations of Highest Yoga Tantra
    • Great Treasury of Merit - a commentary on the puja Offering to the Spiritual Guide by the First Panchen Lama
    • Mahamudra Tantra - meditation on the nature of mind according to Tantra
    • Guide to Dakini Land - a commentary on the Highest Yoga Tantra practice of Vajrayogini
    • Tantric Grounds and Paths - an explanation of the practice of the lower and upper classes of Tantra
    • Essence of Vajrayana - a commentary on the Highest Yoga Tantra practice of Heruka

Speaking to future teachers enrolled in the Foundation and Teacher Training Programs, Geshe Kelsang said, "We shall be able to set a good example for others to follow and help others by giving teachings and advice. Eventually we will be able to give extensive teachings and benefit others in many ways by organizing special programs and so forth. In this way we will make both our own and others' human lives extremely meaningful."[33]

Religious practices

Bluck reported that NKT-IKBU meditation practices include traditional Lamrim subjects such as "precious human life, death and rebirth, karma and samsara, taking refuge, the development of equanimity, kindness and compassion towards all beings, bodhicitta, understanding emptiness, and relying on a spiritual guide."[34]

According to Bluck, chanted prayers follow "a traditional Tibetan format":[35]

  • going for refuge,
  • generating bodhicitta and the ‘four immeasurables’ of boundless love, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity,
  • imagining the Buddhas and bodhisattvas as physically present,
  • a seven-limbed prayer of prostration, offerings, confession, rejoicing in virtue, asking holy beings to remain, requesting Dharma teachings and dedicating merit,
  • offering the mandala (seeing the universe as a Pure Land of happiness),
  • asking for and receiving blessings (becoming filled with ‘rays of light and nectar’ from the Buddha’s heart),
  • following specific meditation instructions, and
  • dedicating the accumulated merit for the happiness of all beings.

While the Je Tsongkhapa and Dorje Shugden practices are recited daily, NKT-IKBU practitioners also regularly perform a number of other ritual practices, including Avalokiteshvara, Heruka, Vajrayogini, Tara, Manjushri, Amitayus and the Medicine Buddha. Bluck notes that "All these sādhanas have either been 'compiled from traditional sources' by Geshe Kelsang or translated under his supervision."[36]

Religious observances

From its inception, NKT-IKBU Dharma centres followed a common calendar for religious observances, including some of the traditional Buddhist religious days. These include the following:

Monthly observances of Buddha Tara, Je Tsongkhapa, Eight Mahayana Precepts, and Dorje Shugden practices:

  • Tara Day (8th of each month)
  • Tsog Day (10th and 25th of each month)
  • Precepts Day (15th of each month)
  • Protector Day (29th of each month)

Annual holidays common to other Buddhist traditions:[15]

  • Buddha's Enlightenment Day (April 15)
  • Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day (June 4 [49 days after Buddha's Enlightenment Day, and also Geshe Kelsang's birthday])
  • Buddha's Return from Heaven Day (September 22)
  • Je Tsongkhapa Day (October 25)

Annual holidays unique to the NKT-IKBU:

  • NKT Day (the first Saturday in April)
  • International Temples Day (the first Saturday in November)

In 2004, the dates of lunar month observances were changed to the respective days in the common calendar.

NKT Day commemorates the founding of the NKT-IKBU,[37] while International Temples Day is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of building Kadampa Buddhist Temples throughout the world.[38]

International Buddhist Festivals

Three annual Buddhist NKT Festivals are held each year: (1) The Spring Festival – held at Manjushri KMC in UK; (2) The Summer Festival – held at Manjushri KMC in UK; (3) The Fall Festival – held at various locations outside the UK. These are taught by the General Spiritual Director of the New Kadampa Tradition, currently Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab,[39] and include teachings and empowerments from the Spiritual Director, reviews and meditations led by senior NKT Teachers, chanted meditations and offering ceremonies, and meditation retreats. They are attended by between 2000 and 6000 people from around the world.

Ordination

Within the NKT-IKBU community there are over 700 monks and nuns.[40] Ordination ceremonies are usually held twice a year in the main NKT Temple at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Center in Cumbria (UK), Ulverston. To ordain, one must ask Geshe Kelsang's permission, and also the permission of his or her parents.[41]

Buddha established both lay and ordained Pratimoksha vows, and established several levels of ordination vows.[42] Traditionally, the different levels of ordination are distinguished by the specific number of vows taken, and by the ceremony in which they were received. In the NKT-IKBU, Geshe Kelsang established a simplified tradition of ordination with ten vows that summarize the entire Vinaya,[43] and a single ordination ceremony.

The 10 vows of the NKT's ordination as a monk or nun are to:[44]

  1. abandon killing
  2. abandon stealing
  3. abandon sexual activity
  4. abandon lying
  5. abandon taking intoxicants
  6. practice contentment
  7. reduce one’s desire for worldly pleasures
  8. abandon engaging in meaningless activities
  9. maintain the commitments of refuge
  10. practise the three trainings of pure moral discipline, concentration, and wisdom

In The Ordination Handbook, Geshe Kelsang describes these vows as being easier to integrate into today's society, saying:

The verbal explanation of the Kadampa ordination is brief - there are just ten commitments - but their practice is very extensive. These ten commitments that you promise to keep are the condensation of the entire lamrim teachings. Although we can finish a verbal explanation of these vows in a few hours, their practice is all-embracing. You should do like this - saying few words but always practising extensively.[45]

He also says:

Western people are well educated; they do not have blind faith but immediately question and try to understand the truth. I cannot pretend with you. We cannot be like a fully ordained monk who has taken 253 vows, but who is not even keeping one. We should never do like this; we need to do everything correctly and purely. The Kadampa ordination solves all these problems. Practically speaking, all the 253 vows explained in the Vinaya Sutra are included within the ten commitments.[46]

The ordination tradition of the NKT-IKBU differs from that of other Buddhist groups in that it is based on the Mahayana Perfection of Wisdom Sutras[47] instead of the Hinayana Vinaya Sutras. According to Geshe Kelsang, "The Perfection of Wisdom Sutras are our Vinaya and Lamrim is its commentary."[47] Robert Bluck observed that in the NKT-IKBU a Vinaya Sutras-based "full ordination is not available, and those who do ordain remain as novices, though again this is common in Tibet."[48] Instead, the NKT-IKBU emphasizes renunciation as a spiritual transformation over time. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso explains that when a person is first ordained they receive a Rabjung (preliminary) ordination; when their renunciation improves and deepens, their ordination naturally transforms into a Getsul (sramanera) ordination; and when their renunciation becomes "a spontaneous wish to attain nirvana," their ordination naturally transforms into a Gelong (bhikkhu) ordination.[49] For this reason, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso does not require a separate ritual ordination ceremony.[50]

Monks and nuns in the NKT-IKBU abandon the physical signs of a lay person by shaving their head and wearing the maroon and yellow robes of an ordained person. They are given a new name which starts with "Kelsang," since it is traditional for ordinees to receive part of the ordaining master's name (in this case, Kelsang Gyatso). They also engage in a Sojong ceremony twice a month to purify and restore their vows.

Monastics who break their ordination vows must leave their Centre for a year, with the exception of attending various bigger courses, Celebrations and Festivals. After that year, "with some conditions" they can return but cannot teach or participate in the Teacher Training Program.

Practitioners who wish to ordain approach their Buddhist teacher when they feel ready, and request formal permission once they have their teacher's consent. They may decide to live in one of the NKT-IKBU's many Buddhist centers, but this is not a requirement. They are, in general, not financially provided for by the NKT-IKBU. And, if they live in an NKT-IKBU Dharma center, they still have to pay rent for their accommodation and pay for meals and the spiritual programs. To finance this, some have part-time or full time work.[51] According to Belither, "a few people are sponsored because of their NKT work but others are on 'extended working visits' or work locally, and some are legitimately on employment benefit."[52] When working, they may "wear ordinary clothes if this is more convenient."[51]

Teachers

Lineage of teachers

Tsongkhapa

Je Tsongkhapa (Tsong-kha-pa), founder of the Gelug school, in the fifth vision of Khedrub Jey (Mkhas-'grub)

The NKT-IKBU traces its spiritual lineage through these main Buddhist figures:[53][54][55][56]

  1. Buddha Shakyamuni
  2. Vajradhara
  3. Manjushri
  4. Atisha
  5. Je Tsongkhapa
  6. Pabongka Rinpoche
  7. Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang
  8. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

After leaving Tibet in 1959, Geshe Kelsang taught and engaged in retreat in India for 18 years.[1] Trijang Rinpoche, the root Guru of Geshe Kelsang,[57] asked him to be the resident teacher at Manjushri Institute (now known as Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre) in England.[58] Geshe Kelsang taught the General Program at Manjushri from 1976 to 1987.[59]

In 1987, Geshe Kelsang entered a 3-year retreat at Tharpaland in Dumfries, Scotland. During his retreat, he wrote five books and established the foundations of the NKT-IKBU.[27] Since that time, the NKT-IKBU has grown to comprise over 1,100 Centres and groups throughout 40 countries.[60]

After completing his retreat in the spring of 1991, Geshe Kelsang announced the creation of the NKT-IKBU, an event which was celebrated by his students in the NKT-IKBU magazine Full Moon as "a wonderful development in the history of the Buddhadharma."[61]

In 1992, the NKT-IKBU was legally incorporated under English law,[62] which constituted the formal foundation of the NKT-IKBU. The many Dharma Centres that were following Geshe Kelsang's spiritual direction were gathered under the common auspices of the NKT-IKBU, with him as their General Spiritual Director (GSD). He remained GSD until August 2009 when he retired and was replaced by his successor, Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab. Each of the individual Centers is legally and financially independent.[63]

Successor to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

From 1991 to 1995 Gelong Thubten Gyatso was designated as Geshe Kelsang's future successor. He disrobed in 1995,[64] and Geshe Kelsang provisionally appointed 4 'Gen-las', i.e. Losang Kelsang, Kelsang Jangsem, Kelsang Dekyong and Samden Gyatso. After about a year, the former two resigned as Gen-las and were re-appointed as Resident Teachers. Samden Gyatso became the Deputy Spiritual Director and successor to Geshe Kelsang while Kelsang Dekyong was appointed as the US National Spiritual Director. From this time onwards, the Deputy Spiritual Director also held the appointment of Resident Teacher at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre.

In February 2007 Samden Gyatso resigned as Deputy Spiritual Director. Kelsang Khyenrab was appointed as Deputy Spiritual Director and remains so to this day.

In August 2001, Geshe Kelsang established a system of democratic succession for the General Spiritual Director of the NKT- IKBU. The Internal Rules state:

5§8. The term of office of the GSD shall be four years. At the end of his or her term of office, a person serving as the GSD shall not be eligible for immediate re-election. The term of office of the DSD shall be four years.[65]

In 2008, Gen-la Khyenrab became Acting General Spiritual Director, under Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's supervision, and assumed the post of General Spiritual Director in August 2009 for a four-year term. Gen-la Dekyong, the National Spiritual Director of the United States of America, has in turn assumed the post of Deputy Spiritual Director,[66] while retaining her post as US National Spiritual Director in accordance with the Internal Rules.[67]

Other teachers

Alongside Geshe Kelsang, who as founder and former spiritual director was the main teacher of the NKT-IKBU and his successors, all teachings (i.e. the three study programs) are held by Western students; lay persons and ordained alike. Qualification as an NKT-IKBU Dharma teacher is generally achieved by attending the NKT-IKBU's own Teacher Training Program,[68] which Geshe Kelsang regards as "a western equivalent to the traditional Tibetan Geshe degree."[69]

Cozort has noted that "Several of the most prominent Tibetan teachers have long recognized themselves the need to train Westerners as Dharma teachers."[70] Geshe Kelsang explained the importance of Western Dharma teachers to the flourishing of Dharma in the world, saying that one fully qualified teacher is worth a thousand enlightened students.[71] He expounded on the qualifications of NKT-IKBU teachers in 1990:

Buddhadharma is beneficial to others only if there are qualified Teachers. Without Teachers, Dharma texts alone are of little benefit. To become a qualified Dharma Teacher requires special preparation and training. It is not easy to become a Dharma Teacher because special qualities are needed: wisdom, correct view, faith, conviction, and pure conduct as an example to others. Also a Teacher needs an inexhaustible reservoir of Dharma knowledge and experience to teach from, otherwise he or she will dry up after one or two years.[33]

Regarding the qualifications of NKT-IKBU teachers, Kay observed that "Whilst personal experience of the teachings is considered important, the dominant view within the NKT is that the main qualification of a teacher is their purity of faith and discipleship."[72]

According to Robert Bluck, "Most teachers are appointed to centres by Geshe Kelsang before they have completed the Teaching Training Programme and continue studying by correspondence, with an intensive study programme at Manjushri each summer."[51] Daniel Cozort explained that this is "rather like graduate students who teach undergraduate courses while pursuing their own Ph.D.'s."[73]

"Kay found that lay people were almost as likely as monastics to be given teaching and leadership roles; and he sees this as an important Western adaptation of Gelug Buddhism, again because this includes tantric practices which Tsongkhapa restricted to those with 'a solid grounding of academic study and celibate monastic discipline'."[74]

Geshe Kelsang has said that monks, nuns, lay men and lay women can all become Spiritual Guides if they have the necessary experience, qualities and training.[75] All NKT-IKBU teachers, lay and ordained, study on the same study and retreat programmes. The Internal Rules specify the criteria for completing the programme:[65]

15§6. A practitioner shall be deemed to have completed the Teacher Training Programme if he or she:

  • Has attended the classes related to each of the twelve subjects;
  • Has memorised all the required materials;
  • Has passed examinations in all twelve subjects and received a certificate to that effect; and
  • Has completed the required meditation retreats

In addition to the TTP commitment, all Resident Teachers have to attend International Teacher Training Program each year, taught in repeated rotation according to a sixteen-year study scheme.

Ordained and lay Resident Teachers who have taught successfully for four years are given the titles 'Gen' and 'Kadam', respectively.[76]

Organisation and development

Internal Rules

The legal document A Moral Discipline Guide: The Internal Rules of The New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union explains that the NKT-IKBU

is defined as the union of Kadampa Buddhist Centres, the international association of study and meditation centres that follow the pure tradition of Mahayana Buddhism derived from the Buddhist meditators and scholars Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa, introduced into the West by the Buddhist teacher Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, the Founder of the New Kadampa Tradition - International Kadampa Buddhist Union; and that follow the three New Kadampa Tradition Study Programmes; and that are guided by the code of moral discipline called The Internal Rules of the New Kadampa Tradition - International Kadampa Buddhist Union set out in this document.[77]
The New Kadampa Truth website explains: "Its Internal Rules – containing numerous checks and balances on the behavior, election and dismissal of the administrators, teachers, and spiritual directors – also guard against any extreme behavior and are legally binding."[78] An NBO member describes them:
Such guidelines are essential for maintaining the integrity of any organisation (and are also to be found in great detail in the Vinaya). Reading the booklet later in my room I found that it outlined processes for dealing with possible misdeeds of senior members who may, for example, have misappropriated funds, broke their vows, left the NKT tradition, or disseminated non-NKT teachings.[79]

Growth

The NKT-IKBU currently lists more than 200 centres and around 900 branch classes/study groups in 40 countries,[3] with an estimated 8,000 members.[23] The centres are independent charitable corporations, and the groups are branches off an established center which meet weekly in places such as Quaker meeting houses and community centres.[80]

Ken Jones, a Zen Buddhist and founder of the UK Network of Engaged Buddhists, says that the NKT-IKBU provides "sound and well advertised introductions to Buddhism for many who would not otherwise have such ready access."On this basis, Jones contrasts the NKT-IKBU's resultant growth with other traditional Buddhist groups in the UK. The latter's modest publicity tend to make for more introverted, self-contained groups of practitioners. Newcomers must make a "persistent effort" to find them, and there is often a high fallout rate.[81]

In comparison, Waterhouse says the NKT-IKBU "is very good at marketing its product," with Centers and branches producing leaflets that advertise local NKT-IKBU groups in their respective towns,[82] a level of publicity that according to Jones is comparatively more "forceful and extroverted" with regard to other Buddhist groups, and has helped the NKT-IKBU to achieve "a phenomenal increase in membership and centres."[81] Another attraction is the high level of activity at an NKT-IKBU Dharma center, where it is often possible to be taking part at the center every day of the week, in contrast to other groups "which meet on a weekly basis but provide little other support or activity."[83]

Bluck attributes NKT-IKBU's rapid growth to "a wish to share the Dharma rather than ‘conversion and empire-building’."[84] Kay says that the NKT-IKBU is sensitive to criticism on the subject of expansion and cites Geshe Kelsang's response to any criticisms about its outreach efforts, stating that "every organization 'tries to attract more people with appropriate publicity.'"[85] With respect to the underlying intentions of those efforts Geshe Kelsang states:

Our intention in teaching Dharma is not just to spread Buddhism. We are trying to help the people of this world by giving them special methods to solve their daily problems and to achieve the permanent happiness of liberation. In itself, the flourishing of Buddhadharma is not important unless it benefits others. This is the main purpose of Buddhism.[86]

New Dharma centers are expected to be self-supporting,[87] as neither Geshe Kelsang nor the NKT-IKBU owns the centers.[88]

Kadampa Meditation Centers

A Kadampa Meditation Centre (KMC) is a Kadampa Dharma Center that serves the local, national, and international communities. A KMC is generally more centrally organized than regular Kadampa Buddhist Centers. Besides having a program of courses for the local community, KMCs host major gatherings such as Dharma Celebrations, National Festivals, and International Festivals. They are also home to the International Kadampa Temples. KMCs are non-profit organizations and all their annual profits are donated to the International Temples Project. There are currently 18 KMCs around the world, with several in the US.

Temples for World Peace, World Peace Cafés, and Hotel Kadampas

The NKT-IKBU has established a Kadampa Buddhist Temple in the United Kingdom, as well as in Canada, the United States, and Spain; and it is currently developing a Temple in Brazil, with plans to build one in Germany too.[89] The NKT-IKBU states in its publicity that:

The International Temples Project was established by Venerable Geshe Kelsang in the early nineties. The vision is to build a Kadampa Temple for World Peace in every major city in the world. The project is funded entirely by voluntary donations and revenue from International Buddhist Festivals.

"World Peace Cafés" have opened at some NKT Centers, starting in Ulverston, UK and now in other countries e.g. Atlanta, Georgia.

In 2005 the NKT-IKBU opened their first "World Peace Hotel," called "Hotel Kadampa": a no-smoking, alcohol-free hotel in Southern Spain.[90] A second Hotel Kadampa has opened in Montecatini in Tuscany, Italy. These "function as a normal hotel but with the benefit of a shrine room and meditation teaching. The absence of alcohol and loud entertainment attracts those who appreciated a quiet and peaceful atmosphere."[79]

International Retreat Centers

International Retreat Centers (IRCs) are centers that offer facilities for those wishing to do both long-term and short-term meditation retreats. Tharpaland International Retreat Centre was founded by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in 1985, when he began a three-year retreat there, and has since hosted thousands of people. Kailash International Retreat Center was founded in Switzerland in 2007.

Separation from contemporary Tibetan Buddhism

The NKT-IKBU is one of the largest Buddhist movements in the UK, which describes itself as "a new organization making an ancient tradition accessible to all," by combining Tibetan tradition with western adaptation.[91] Oxford professor Peter Clarke sees a paradox here, and has characterised the NKT-IKBU as a "controversial Tibetan Buddhist NRM,"[92] not because of any moral failings but because of the NKT-IKBU's separation from contemporary Tibetan Buddhism. Madeleine Bunting writes:

The NKT is a fascinating, entirely new chapter in the history of Eastern spirituality in the West. There are no salacious sex scandals here, nor any suggestion of material corruption - there are no fleets of Bhagwan-style Rolls Royces. The spiritual naivety of Westerners has not been exploited for spiritual or material gain, but they have become foot soldiers in a Tibetan feud.[93]

New Kadampa Tradition and Gelugpa Tradition

According to the NKT-IKBU, it is Tibetan in its antecedents and follows the teachings of the historic, "Old" Kadampa and the "New Kadam" Tradition of Je Tsongkhapa, the latter of which became the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.[94]

Critics on the other hand characterize the NKT-IKBU as "a breakaway movement and argue that the New Kadampa Tradition, as it is known today, is not part of the ancient Kadampa Tradition but a split from the [contemporary] Gelug school."[95]

The founder of the Gelug school, Je Tsongkhapa, and his disciples were popularly known as the "new school of Kadam."[96] Je Tsongkhapa himself referred to his monastic order as "the New Kadam"[1] (Tib. Kadam Sarpa).[21] The term Gelug came into use only after his death.[97] Je Tsongkhapa's apparent eclecticism was actually "an attempt to determine which teachings and practices should be considered normative."[10] In creating a new synthesis of Buddhist doctrine, ethics and practice, Je Tsongkhapa endeavored "to rid Tibetan [Buddhism] of its pre-Buddhist shamanic elements,"[15] and the NKT-IKBU sees itself as continuing to keep Tsongkhapa's unique form of Buddhism free of non-Buddhist teachings and practices.[98] In this regard, Kelsang Gyatso explains:

It is the tradition of both Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa to base all their teachings on the word of Buddha and never to teach anything that contradicts Buddha's teachings. According to these two great Teachers, unless an instruction is referred to in either the Sutras or the Tantras it cannot be regarded as an authentic Buddhist teaching, even if it is a so-called 'terma', or 'hidden treasure text'. Whenever they gave teachings or composed texts, both Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa quoted liberally from both the Sutras and the Tantras. In this way they showed their great respect for Buddha’s original teachings and emphasized the importance of being able to trace instructions back to them.[99]

In short, Waterhouse says that "the early Gelugpa legacy is one which the NKT wishes to emulate" and that the name of the organization itself makes a statement about its "perceived roots within the 'pure' transmission of [Atisha's] Indian Buddhism into Tibet."[100] According to Lopez, "For Kelsang Gyatso to call his group the New Kadampa Tradition, therefore, is ideologically charged, implying as it does that he and his followers represent the tradition of the founder, Tsong kha pa, more authentically than the Geluk establishment and the Dalai Lama himself."[97] Kay comments:

In defining the movement in this way, the organisation is not simply maintaining that it represents Buddhism adapted for westerners; it is also striving to underline its separation from the Tibetan Gelug sect and emphasise the point that the West - via the NKT - is now the guardian and custodian of the pure tradition of Tsongkhapa in the modern world. From an NKT viewpoint, Geshe Kelsang has played a unique role in the transmission of Tsongkhapa's pure teachings, and the organisation and study structures he has created in the West are now believed to protect and preserve a tradition that is all but lost in its indigenous Eastern context.[101]

Geshe Kelsang uses the terms New Kadampa and Gelugpa synonymously, in accordance with his lineage gurus[102][103] as well as the current Dalai Lama,[104][105] who explained: "So we call the teachings of both Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa the Kadampa tradition, and then slowly this becomes the New Kadampa and then finally it is known as the Gelugpa."[106] Geshe Kelsang refers to NKT-IKBU practitioners as Gelugpas,[107] defining Gelug as:

The tradition established by Je Tsongkhapa. The name 'Gelug' means 'Virtuous Tradition'. A Gelugpa is a practitioner who follows this tradition. The Gelugpas are sometimes referred to as the 'new Kadampas'.[108][109]

When asked about the relationship between the NKT-IKBU and the Gelug tradition, Geshe Kelsang again self-identified as a Gelugpa:

We are pure Gelugpas. The name Gelugpa doesn't matter, but we believe we are following the pure tradition of Je Tsongkhapa. We are studying and practicing Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings and taking as our example what the ancient Kadampa lamas and geshes did. All the books that I have written are commentaries on Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings. We try our best to follow the example of the ancient Kadampa Tradition and use the name Kadampa to remind people to practice purely.[21]

The closing prayers of all NKT-IKBU spiritual practices include two dedication prayers for the flourishing of the 'Virtuous Tradition' (i.e., the Gelugpas), these being "recited every day after teachings and pujas at all Gelugpa monasteries and Dharma Centres."[110]

Of the words, "New Kadampa Tradition," James Belither (NKT Secretary for 20 years) states that the "word 'New' is used not to imply that it is newly created, but that it is a fresh presentation of Buddhadharma in a form and manner that is appropriate to the needs and conditions of the modern world."[94]

Kadampa Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism

According to Waterhouse, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso "has broken away from the school’s representatives in India and Tibet."[111] Cozort confirms that the NKT-IKBU "is not subordinate to Tibetan authorities other than Geshe Gyatso himself."[112] James Belither explained that the NKT-IKBU "does not accept the Dalai Lama's authority 'simply because there is no political or ecclesiastical reason for doing so.'"[113]

Instead of presenting itself as a Tibetan tradition, James Belither has said that the NKT-IKBU is "a Mahayana Buddhist tradition with historical connections with Tibet," saying it wishes "to present Dharma in a way appropriate to their own culture and society without the need to adopt Tibetan culture and customs."[114] Bluck sees an "an apparent contradiction between claiming a pure Tibetan lineage and complete separation from contemporary Tibetan religion, culture and politics."[115] The NKT-IKBU disagrees that there is a contradiction, saying "It is possible to be a follower of Je Tsongkhapa's lineage but not a Tibetan Buddhist, just as a child of Russian immigrants to America may consider themselves American but not Russian."[116]

Despite the NKT-IKBU's separation from contemporary Tibetan Buddhism, the commitments undertaken by its members also include maintaining "a deep respect" for all Dharma teachings and other Buddhist traditions.[117] When asked about sectarianism between the Gelugpas and other schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Geshe Kelsang replied:

Of course we believe that every Nyingmapa and Kagyupa have their complete path. Not only Gelugpa. I believe that Nyingmapas have a complete path. Of course, Kagyupas are very special. We very much appreciate the example of Marpa and Milarepa [in the Kagyu lineage]. Milarepa showed the best example of guru devotion. Of course the Kagyupas as well as the Nyingmapas and the Sakyapas, have a complete path to enlightenment.[118]

Dorje Shugden controversy

Alongside the Guru yoga of Je Tsongkhapa, one of the NKT-IKBU's two "essential practices" is of the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden,[119] as taught by Geshe Kelsang's and the Dalai Lama's root Guru, Trijang Rinpoche.[120] For NKT-IKBU practitioners, "Shugden is, like Tsongkhapa, an emanation of Manjushri, and equal in status."[121] It is no wonder, then, that controversy arose due to the Dalai Lama's "suppression" of the Dorje Shugden practice within the Tibetan exile community.[122] Acting from of a sense of "spiritual solidarity" for Dorje Shugden practitioners in India,[13][123] hundreds of members of the NKT-IKBU joined in the Western Shugden Society in publicly demonstrating against the Dalai Lama's "explicit ban"[98][124] which resulted in Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's expulsion from his alma mater, Sera Je monastery.[125] Geshe Kelsang Gyatso considered the "political" ban[126] to be "unwarranted meddling in a legitimate spiritual practice,"[112] with many of his students regarding the Dalai Lama's "accusations against Dorje Shugden practice absurd" and continuing with it unabated.[127]

Reacting to the media's portrayal of the NKT-IKBU as a 'controversial organization' because of its involvement in the Dorje Shugden controversy, Robert Bluck said, "Again a balanced approach is needed here: the practitioner's confident belief may appear as dogmatism to an unsympathetic observer."[128]

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External links

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Favorable views of the NKT-IKBU

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