New Kadampa Tradition (NKT)

Kadampa Buddhism –
International Kadampa Buddhist Union (IKBU)

The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is a global Buddhist organization and registered charitable company[1] founded by Kelsang Gyatso 1991 in England. In 2003, the words “International Kadampa Buddhist Union” (IKBU) were added to the name, making its official full name the New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT-IKBU). The name change became legal in 2007.

While the NKT-IKBU describes itself as Kadampa Buddhism and as a ‘time-honored’ tradition, stating that “Kadampa Buddhism is a Mahayana Buddhist school founded by the great Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (AD 982–1054),”[2] Peter Bernard Clarke, a theology professor at Oxford, has characterised the NKT as “deriving from Tibetan Buddhism” and as “one of the newest and most controversial buddhist movements.”[3][*2]

Table of Contents

Historical background of the formation of NKT

In 1976 the students of Lama Thubten Yeshe founded the Manjushri Institute, a registered charitable company[4] with Lama Yeshe as the Spiritual Director and purchased the assets of Conishead Priory, a sadly neglected Victorian mansion in Ulverston (Cumbria), England for the price of £70,000.[5][6] In the same year Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche visited Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in India and invited him over to teach at the Manjushri Institute, which was a part of their FPMT [Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition] network.[6]

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Kelsang Gyatso – seen as a source of inspiration by his followers.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, monk and scholar from the Gelug Tradition, is a contemporary of Lama Yeshe’s from the time they spent studying at Sera Monastery.[6]

According to researcher David N. Kay, Kelsang Gyatso was invited in 1976 by Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who sought the advice of HH the 14th Dalai Lama when choosing Kelsang Gyatso.[6] However, according to an NKT brochure, “Lama Yeshe requested Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche to ask Kelsang Gyatso to become Resident Teacher of Manjushri Institute. Kelsang Gyatso later recounted that Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche asked him to go to England, teach Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, Chandrakirti’s Guide to the Middle Way and Lamrim, and then check whether there was any meaning in his continuing to stay.”[7] 

Kelsang Gyatso was requested by Lama Yeshe to lead the “General Program” of Buddhist study. In 1979 Lama Yeshe installed another Geshe at Manjushri Institute, Geshe Jampa Tekchok, to teach a parallel twelve-year Geshe Studies Programme, which was recognized and validated by the Dalai Lama and which was modeled on the traditional Geshe degree.[6] From 1982 to 1990 this program was led by Geshe Konchog Tsewang.[8] According to a disciple of Lama Yeshe from this time, Lama Yeshe intended the institute “to become the central monastery of the FPMT … one of the early jewels of the FPMT crown” and “the pioneer among the western centers”.[6]

In the late 1970s, Kelsang Gyatso, without consulting Lama Yeshe, opened up a Buddhist Centre in York under his own spiritual direction. Kay sees this as the beginning of a conflict between Kelsang Gyatso and Lama Yeshe.[9] However, according to Kelsang Gyatso, “the opening of the Centre in York caused not one moment of confusion or disharmony”.[10] Kelsang Gyatso was asked to resign so that another Geshe, described by Kay as “more devoted to FPMT objectives”, could take over as a resident teacher of Manjushri Institute.[9] Many students of Kelsang Gyatso petitioned him to stay and teach them, and on this basis he decided to remain.[9] In the following years prior to 1990 Kelsang Gyatso established 15 centers under his own direction in Great Britain and Spain.[11]

Both David Kay and Daniel Cozort describe the management committee of Manjushri Institute from 1981 onwards as made up principally of Kelsang Gyatso’s closest students, also known as “the Priory Group”.[9][12] According to Kay, “The Priory Group became dissatisfied with the FPMT’s increasingly centralized organisation.”[9] Cozort states that different disagreements “led to a rift between Lama Yeshe and his students and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and his, and eventually the Manjushri Board of directors (comprised of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s students) severed the connection between Institute and FPMT.”[12] Lama Yeshe tried at different times to reassert his authority over the Institute, but his attempts were unsuccessful.[13] An open conflict of authority developed between the Priory Group and the FPMT administration in 1983.[9] In February 1984 the conflict was mediated by the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in London.[9] After the death of Lama Yeshe in March 1984, the FPMT lost interest because they saw it as a fruitless case.[13] Since that time, the Manjushri Institute developed mainly under the guidance of Kelsang Gyatso without further reference to the FPMT[9], but legally remained part of the FPMT until late 1990.[14]

According to Kay, of the two Geshes at Manjushri Institute, it was Kelsang Gyatso who had always taken the greater interest in the running and direction of the Institute, and most of the students there were closer to him.[15] The courses offered by both Geshes complemented each other, but as Kay remarked, they “differed in one important respect: only Geshe Kelsang’s General Programme included courses on Tantric Buddhism, and attendance upon these required the reception of a Tantric empowerment.”[16] Further, Kay argues that “Lama Yeshe’s and Geshe Kelsang’s different ideological perspectives provided the conditions for the organisational dispute between the Institute and the FPMT to escalate. Geshe Kelsang was already predisposed to support his students in their struggle with the FPMT administration because the organisation was inspired by a vision that he did not totally agree with.”[17]

Kay writes that, “the determination of Geshe Kelsang and the Priory Group to separate from the parent organisation was uncompromising, and this was a position that only hardened during the following years.” He goes on to describe the split from the Gelug school and FPMT as follows:

Geshe Kelsang’s perception of himself and his centres vis-á-vis the contemporary Gelug sect changed dramatically, and he came to believe that he could only uphold the tradition of Tsongkhapa purely by separating from the degenerate world of Tibetan, and specifically Gelug, Buddhism.[18]

Kuten Lama

Choyang Duldzin Kuten Lama – uncle of Kelsang Gyatso and an oracle of Dorje Shugden at Conishead Priory (Manjushri Institute), Ulverston. Kuten Lama did not study with Kelsang Gyatso. He joined Sera monastery at the age of 15. Kuten Lama stopped propitiating Shugden in 1995. At that time he met H.H. the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala and promised him that he was going to give up Shugden worship.

Kelsang Gyatso completed a 3-year retreat from 1987–1990 in Dumfries, Scotland and asked Geshe Losang Pende from Ganden Shartse monastery to lead the General Program in his absence, whilst Geshe Konchog Tsewang continued to teach the Geshe Studies Programme at Conishead Priory (Manjushri Institute).[19] Different Lamas, including Lama Zopa Rinpoche, were still invited.[19] In particular, the visit of Lama Zopa Rinpoche in 1988 “is significant, indicating the ongoing devotion of the students to this lama and their desire to leave the negativity of the schism with the FPMT in the past.”[19] In 1988 and 1990 the uncle of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Ven. Choyang Duldzin Kuten Lama – the oracle of Dorje Shugden – also visited Manjushri Institute.[19] Before that time Song Rinpoche, Geshe Lhundup Sopa, Geshe Rabten, as well as other lamas such as Ajahn Sumedho and Thich Nhat Hanh, taught at Manjushri Institute.[20]

During Kelsang Gyatso’s period of retreat he wrote some of his books and worked out the foundations of the NKT. Kay states: “The first major development that took place during Geshe Kelsang’s retreat was the introduction of the ‘Teacher Training Programme’ (TTP) at the Manjushri Institute.”[19] Kay comments on the developments at that time: “By giving his study programmes a textual basis, Geshe Kelsang not only provided accessible materials to enhance the focus and commitment of his students, but also laid down structures through which spiritual authority could later be concentrated exclusively on him.”[22]

According to Kay,

At this stage in the development of Geshe Kelsang’s network, students were not required to rely on him exclusively … His perspective had yet to harden further, and the decisive shift appears to have taken place shortly after he came out of retreat in 1990 when he began to introduce new and radically exclusive policies within his centres. He had come to believe by this time that he had a central role to play in the preservation of Tsongkhapa’s tradition in the modern age. The substance of the various reforms he implemented, therefore, was that the student within his centres were now to rely exclusively upon him for their spiritual inspiration and welfare.[23]

According to Kay, Kelsang Gyatso was gravely concerned that the purity of Tsongkhapa’s tradition was being undermined by the lingering inclusivism of his Western students. This was something he had been outspoken about for some years, “but he now acted more forcefully in his opposition to it by discouraging his students both from receiving guidance from teachers of other traditions and from reading their books.”[24] Another result of these “radically exclusive policies” was that after the foundation of NKT the Manjushri Institute Library, including over 3000 books,[25] was removed.[26] Kay describes these developments as follows:

this began with non-Gelug books being removed, but as Geshe Kelsang’s vision crystallised, even books by Gelug teachers became unacceptable to him and the library disappeared altogether. He thus became convinced that the Tibetan Gelug tradition as a whole no longer embodied Tsongkhapa’s pure teachings and that he and his disciples must therefore separate from it. From this point onwards, Tibetan Gelug lamas would no longer be invited to teach within his network. This perceived degeneration extended to include its highest-level lamas, and so even veneration for the Dalai Lama was now actively discouraged.[26]

The pictures of the Dalai Lama were removed from the gompas and shrines of Kelsang Gyatso’s centres.[26] In 1990 Kelsang Gyatso became also outspoken against the Geshe Studies Programme[24], and “made the pursuit of his new programmes compulsory.”[24] According to Kay “As it was no longer possible for students to follow the programmes of both Geshes, the basis of Geshe Konchog’s teaching programme at the Institute was undermined, and in 1991 he retired to Gyuto Monastery in Assam, India.”[24]

The foundation of the New Kadampa Tradition

Logo Kadampa Buddhism, Modern Buddhism

Revised New Kadampa Tradition / Kadampa Buddhism logotype. The first NKT logo had ‘New Kadampa Tradition’ between the lines where now is ‘Kadampa Buddhism.’[35a]

According to David Kay, “in 1991, through the successful exploitation of a legal loophole, the assets of Manjushri Institute finally fell under the sole control of the Priory Group” (the close disciples of Kelsang Gyatso).[14] In the Spring of that same year, Kelsang Gyatso announced the creation of the ‘New Kadampa Tradition’, an event which was celebrated in the NKT-Magazine Full Moon as “a wonderful development in the history of the Buddhadharma.”[14] In 1992, the Manjushri Institute developed a new constitution[27], which constituted the formal foundation of the NKT. The Manjushri Institute was renamed the Manjushri Mahayana Buddhist Center[9], and later the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre. Since then, it has remained Kelsang Gyatso’s home and the NKT’s flagship center.[28]

With the foundation of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, he established a new and independent religious movement[29] aiming to “principally follow the teachings and example of Je Tsongkhapa”.[7] This also gave a new identity to his followers. The many NKT centres which were built up rapidly by his followers could gather under the common auspices of the NKT and their spiritual guide, distinguishing and disassociating themselves from other Tibetan Buddhist traditions, especially the Gelug school from which Geshe Kelsang Gyatso originated. Kay argued that with these changes, Kelsang Gyatso provided a basis for the NKT to become a Western tradition whose “spiritual authority could later be concentrated exclusively on him.”[30] Cozort describes this as unusual in the Tibetan tradition.[31] The NKT described themselves as being “an entirely independent Buddhist tradition with no political affiliations[32] … that is appropriate to the needs and conditions of the modern world”[7]. David N. 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.[33]

The separation from the Gelug school and Tibetan Buddhism has been reaffirmed in 2010 by Steve Cowing, NKT-IKBU secretary, who advised and requested in a letter to all NKT-IKBU centres “that NKT Centres, teachers, managers and residents do not get involved with the activities of any Tibetan Buddhist groups, teachers or their students.” The reasons Cowing gave are “because of the potential for great spiritual confusion both now and in the future” and “to help NKT practitioners to avoid mixing spiritual traditions, while of course maintaining respect for other traditions. It will also avoid being drawn into the many difficult political problems associated with Tibetan Buddhism, caused by mixing Dharma and politics.”[*5]

The identity of the NKT

Kay observed

Multiple ‘histories’ exist on an individual and public group level both inside and outside the movement. As the pre-history of the group is rooted in conflict and schism the social organisation of memory and forgetfulness especially the group’s leadership is particularly striking. Accounts of current and former members either reinforce or contradict and compete with each other. They diverge widely over points of historical detail and often interpret the same events and processes in very different ways, reflecting a wide range of personal experience, depth of involvement, bias, opinion and loyalty. At the level of public discourse, the history and identity of the NKT has also, during the course of its development, undergone considerable realignment. Of course, such revision and reconfiguration of the past is commonplace within religious movements that are more concerned with issues of identity and ideology than with notions of historical veracity.[34]

The views of NKT about NKT

In the beginning, the NKT sought to clarify that they are “pure Gelugpas”:

In 1998 Kelsang Gyatso stated in an interview:

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.[35]

Later NKT tried to clarify what distinguish them from the Gelugpas:

According to an NKT brochure, written by James Belither while secretary of the NKT:

Geshe Kelsang first introduced the title ‘New Kadampa Tradition’ to give the centres under his spiritual direction a distinct identity within the wider Buddhist world. Although the Gelugpas were sometimes referred to as new Kadampas, the name New Kadampa Tradition had never been used previously in a formal sense. Nevertheless, by using this title Geshe Kelsang is making it clear that practitioners of this tradition are principally following the teachings and example of Je Tsongkhapa. The word ‘New’ is used not to imply that it is newly created, but is a fresh presentation of Buddhadharma in a form and manner that is appropriate to the needs and conditions of the modern world. Furthermore, by using the title ‘Kadampa’, Geshe Kelsang encourages his disciples to follow the perfect example of simplicity and purity of practice shown by the Kadampa Geshes.[7]

Sometime around 2000, in efforts to rebrand the NKT[35a] with a reputable name (NKT's reputation suffered badly after the Anti-Dalai Lama protests from 1996–98), the New Kadampa Tradition started to promote Kelsang Gyatso’s presentation of Buddhism to the West as Kadampa Buddhism with the following statement:

Kadampa Buddhism is a time-honored tradition that for centuries has made Buddha’s teachings and meditation practices available to people throughout the world.[36]

It is an association of Buddhist Centers and practitioners that derive their inspiration and guidance from the example of the ancient Kadampa Buddhist Masters and their teachings as presented by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is an international non-profit organization registered in England as a charitable company …, and was founded by Geshe Kelsang to provide a vehicle for promoting Kadampa Buddhism throughout the world.[37]

In trying to provide the rebranding with a solid base, the NKT presented themselves as the continuation of the old Kadampa tradition by calling the presentation of Buddhism by Kelsang Gyatso Kadampa Buddhism and equating Kadampa Buddhism with the historical Kadampa School of Atisha. The NKT claimed further, that Kadampa Buddhism was first introduced into the West by Kelsang Gyatso in 1977:

Kadampa Buddhism is a Mahayana Buddhist school founded by the great Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (AD 982–1054) … The great Kadampa Teachers are famous not only for being great scholars but also for being spiritual practitioners of immense purity and sincerity. The lineage of these teachings, both their oral transmission and blessings, was then passed from Teacher to disciple, spreading throughout much of Asia, and now to many countries throughout the Western world … Kadampa Buddhism was first introduced into the West in 1977 by the renowned Buddhist Master, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Since that time, he has worked tirelessly to spread Kadampa Buddhism throughout the world by giving extensive teachings, writing many profound texts on Kadampa Buddhism, and founding the New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union.[38]

Consequently followers of the NKT refer nowadays to themselves as Kadampa Buddhists, the Temples of the New Kadampa Tradition are referred to as Kadampa Buddhist Temples, and NKT teachers are named Kadampa Teachers. Additionally, the Dharma centers of the New Kadampa Tradition are called Kadampa Buddhist Centers[40] and the hotels Hotel Kadampas.[41] The official NKT website claims that “Through the actions of Geshe Kelsang Kadampa Buddhism has now become a truly global religion.”[134]

James Belither, the former secretary of the NKT, described the NKT as “a Mahayana Buddhist tradition with historical connections with Tibet”, rather than a Tibetan tradition, and explained that Geshe Kelsang wishes his followers always “to present Dharma in a way appropriate to their own culture and society without the need to adopt Tibetan culture and customs”.[42]

In 2009 the NKT adjusted their self-portrayal: “It is an international association of study and meditation centers that follow the pure tradition of Mahayana Buddhism derived from the Buddhist meditators and scholars Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa and introduced into the West by the Buddhist Teacher Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.”[*1]

During a campaign in 2011 the New Kadampa Tradition started to promote themselves under the label of “Modern Buddhism”, stating that NKT offer a “special presentation of modern Buddhism taught by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso”.[133] Since 2011 NKT centers are called Kadampa Meditation Centers (KMC). The campaign involved the aquisition of domains that start with "www.meditatein…” [London, Copenhagen, etc.]. Some of NKT’s websites refer to their teachers as “Teachers of Modern Kadampa Buddhism”[134] or just “Modern Teachers”.[135]

The marketing under the label “Modern Buddhism” has been further expanded in 2014 via Tharpa Publications, NKT’s publishing arm, “Distributing the Wisdom of Modern Buddhism” and announcing Geshe Kelsang Gyatso on Amazon as “a fully accomplished meditation master and internationally renowned teacher of Buddhism who has pioneered the introduction of modern Buddhism into contemporary society. He is the author of 22 highly acclaimed books that perfectly transmit the ancient wisdom of Buddhism to our modern world. …”[137]

In 2015 the NKT adjusted their presentation by advertising themselves with the motto of “Buddhism and meditation for the modern world”. Many of the world-wide domain names such as “www.meditate-in…” also run under this new slogan. In addition, with a stated intention “to prevent confusion between Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Kadampa Buddhism”, the NKT ran an advertisement in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle stating that it is “an independent Western Buddhist tradition” with “no connection whatsoever between this spiritual tradition and the Dalai Lama. According to its constitution, because the NKT is an independent tradition it cannot follow any other tradition. This clearly shows that the NKT is not Tibetan Buddhism but Western Buddhism.”


The views of others about NKT

Kay states that the NKT’s leadership tried to eradicate unwelcome memories of discontinuity, conflict and schism by promoting a simplified, continuous and sanitized group history. The literature produced by NKT concentrates mainly on the organisation’s post-1991 development, keeping discussion of its early history brief and in line with the current identity, whilst making no reference at all to the FPMT.[34]

Kay observed that “Current disciples of Geshe Kelsang whose association with him is relatively recent also tend to place the NKT’s emergence within a narrative of continuity that bypasses its actual historical development. These disciples, who usually have little or no awareness of the early history of the organisation, assume that since Geshe Kelsang is an ‘enlightened being’, the creation of the NKT had always been his intention. They tend to explain the years preceding 1991 as a period in which he carefully and deliberately planned, prepared and laid the foundations for the later organisation. This approach to the NKT’s historical development reflects the dominant narrative that has been publicly promoted by the leadership of the organisation. The ‘official’ version of the NKT’s history indicates reluctance to admit that Geshe Kelsang’s thought has undergone considerable development and change during his time in the West.”[43]

Whereas the NKT celebrate Kelsang Gyatso as the one who “is primarily responsible for the worldwide revival of Kadampa Buddhism in our time”[44], “critics have described The New Kadampa Tradition as a breakaway sect or cult and argue it is not part of the ancient Kadampa Tradition but a split from the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.”[45][*2] (for more see Controversies)

Bluck remarked that there remains an apparent contradiction between claiming a pure Tibetan lineage and separating completely from contemporary Tibetan tradition. While the NKT strongly emphasizes its unbroken ‘lineage’, it has no Tibetan followers and claims to stand outside current Tibetan Buddhism.[42]

Another obvious contradiction are claims to present the ‘pure lineage’ of Je Tsongkhapa and Atisha and to be their ‘pure’ heir while offering only three brief texts written by these authors:

Separation and isolation from mainstream Tibetan Buddhism

The NKT has no association with mainstream Tibetan Buddhist organizations around the globe. Inform is concerned that those joining the group are not always aware that by committing to the teachings of the NKT-IKBU they could become isolated from the majority of the Tibetan Buddhist community.

In an administrative letter by Steve Cowing, NKT-IKBU Secretary, to all NKT-IKBU Centres, the NKT leadership discouraged their members from having any contact with other Buddhist organizations. The administrative direction issued on August 5, 2010 reads,

Because of the potential for great spiritual confusion both now and in the future, we advise and request that NKT Centres, teachers, managers and residents do not get involved with the activities of any Tibetan Buddhist groups, teachers or their students.

If you receive any invitations or requests from a Tibetan Buddhist group, teacher or student, please politely decline them, and forward them to the Education Council Representatives for our information.

These approaches can be for support in some form (for example with donations, fundraising events, visa applications, hosting, transport, publicity, social events); or offers to give teachings, empowerments or informal talks, or to perform pujas, ceremonies, ritual demonstrations and so on.

The main reason for this request is to help NKT practitioners to avoid mixing spiritual traditions, while of course maintaining respect for other traditions. It will also avoid being drawn into the many difficult political problems associated with Tibetan Buddhism, caused by mixing Dharma and politics.

Please inform the teachers, managers and residents at your Centre of this advice and request.

Further information: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s separation from the Gelug school hierarchy.

Lineage of teachers

The New Kadampa Tradition traces its spiritual lineage through these main figures:

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

Successor to Kelsang Gyatso

Neil Elliott & Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Neil Elliott (aka Gen Thubten Gyatso) and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

From 1991 to 1995 Gelong Thubten Gyatso (a.k.a. Gen Thubten or Neil Elliott) was appointed as a ‘Gen-la’ and Resident Teacher of Madhyamaka Centre (Pocklington, York) and as Geshe Kelsang’s future successor.[47] He was described by NKT as “the first qualified English Tantric meditation master in Britain”.[48] He was known as the ‘heart-disciple’[47] of Kelsang Gyatso and Kelsang Gyatso himself wrote a prayer for his long life which was recited regularly at NKT centres.[49] The long life prayers were sung to Thubten Gyatso by all NKT followers at the NKT festivals while he was still the Kelsang Gyatso’s future successor. According to Madeleine Bunting “Gen Thubten […] is described by former members as having been the ‘power behind the throne’.”[49]

Neil Elliott & Lama Yeshe

Neil Elliott and Lama Yeshe

Bunting states further that “Former members understand that Gen Thubten was disrobed because of a breach of his monastic vows. He was deeply revered by the 3,000 NKT members for his knowledge of Buddhism and his charismatic teaching.”[47]

In 1995 Kelsang Gyatso 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. In 2005 Samden Gyatso became the Deputy Spiritual Director and successor to Kelsang Gyatso while Kelsang Dekyong was appointed as the US National Spiritual Director. From this time onwards, the Deputy Spiritual Director also holds the appointment of Resident Teacher at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre.[50]

Gen-la Samden Gyatso (Steve Wass)

Gen-la Samden Gyatso (Steve Wass)

In December 2006 Samden Gyatso (a.k.a. Steve Wass) disrobed and left the NKT under unexplained circumstances.[*6] By February 2007, Kelsang Khyenrab was appointed as his replacement. Khyenrab retired as the General Spiritual Director due to ill health in April 2010 and Kelsang Dekyong was appointed as the new General Spiritual Director. Her position as Deputy Spiritual Director was taken by Kelsang Kunsang.[51]

Neil Elliott Kadampa Spring Festival

Neil Elliott teaching at the ‘Kadampa Spring Festival 2015

With the installation of the Special Teacher Training Programme (STTP), Neil Elliot came officially back to office. He taught at the ‘Kadampa Spring Festival in 2015’ and, according to McQuire, he now teaches “most of the NKT’s Resident Teachers all over the world, including Kelsang Khyenrab, [who] follow this programme online.”[74a]

The NKT claims that “any ordained person in the NKT-IKBU [who] breaks their vows” … “cannot become an NKT Dharma Teacher.” NKT explains: “This rule has been adopted only to protect the purity of holy Dharma, to prevent ordination from being broken in the future, and to save people’s faith.”[89b] According to the Internal Rules of The New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union , 11§2., “if any ordained person breaks his or her ordination vows, then he … “cannot thereafter teach Dharma or participate in the NKT Teacher Training Programme, (even if he or she later takes ordination for a second time).” However, these rules obviously do not apply to Neil Elliott who is the head teacher of NKT’s “Special Teacher Training Program” and broke his monastic vows through sexual misconduct.[47]

In April 2017 Neil Elliott – aka ‘Kadam Neil’ – reordained within the NKT. He received the ordination name Kelsang Thubten and is now referred to as Gen-la Kelsang Thubten.

Kelsang Gyatso Neil Elliott Gen-la Kelsang Thubten

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso with Neil Elliott (Gen-la Kelsang Thubten)
Announced via Facebook, April 17, 2017 (1, 2)

Teachings, spiritual programs, teachers, heart commitment, and religious observance days


The New Kadampa Tradition has been developed exclusively[52] on the basis of Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings and published books, which follow a selection of Gelug Teachings of different Buddhist Mahayana and Vajrayana texts. The main practice in the NKT is Lamrim (Stages of the Path to Enlightenment), Lojong (Training the Mind), and Vajrayana Mahamudra (The practices of Highest Yoga Tantra), with a strong emphasis on Guru devotion and the tantric Guru-Yoga.

Kelsang Gyatso 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”.[7]

Cozort confirms the NKT view that the textbooks of Geshe Kelsang “are commentaries on Gelug works, especially those of its founder Tsongkhapa.”[53]

About the textbooks of Kelsang Gyatso, the NKT says: “This remarkable series of authoritative books represents the most complete and integrated presentation of the Buddhist path to enlightenment available in any western language. Originally written in English they are currently being translated into many of the world’s major languages.”[54]

Regarding Guru devotion, Kay has observed that:

Teachings on guru devotion and guru-yoga naturally form an important part of the texts composed by Geshe Kelsang, and his general presentation of this concept is rooted firmly within traditional Tibetan outlines of the guru-disciple relationship. His teachings on this subject have, nevertheless, changed and developed during his time in the West and they now incorporate a number of unusual features. The main shift in his thought occurred with the creation of the NKT. Discussions of the guru-disciple relationship appearing in his publications from this time reflect an exclusivism that did not characterise his earlier presentation and which is uncommon within traditional Tibetan contexts.[55]

Spiritual programs

At the heart of the NKT are its three study programs. Giving an overview of the purpose of the programs, the NKT says: “Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has designed three special spiritual programs for the systematic study and practice of Kadampa Buddhism that are especially suited to the modern world.”[56] It is believed by NKT followers that they embody the “pure lineage” in its entirety.[52]

Describing the introduction of these programs in 1990, Kelsang Gyatso said:

At present in our Centers we have a Foundation Program and a Teacher Training Program. This is not a new tradition. In the past there have been other programs specially designed for Dharma students according to their particular circumstances. All of these programs involved studying a certain number of texts, memorizing material, passing examinations, and being awarded a degree or certificate. For example, the ancient Kadampa Geshes had a program in which they studied six texts. Later Je Tsongkhapa introduced a program based on ten texts, and later still Tibetan Monasteries such as Ganden, Sera, and Drepung introduced a program based on five texts. I studied this program at Sera Monastery.[57]

The three spiritual programs are:

  1. The General Program, which provides an introduction to basic Buddhist ideas and meditation.
  2. The Foundation Program, which includes the study of six commentaries written by Kelsang Gyatso on the following classical texts:
    • Joyful Path of Good Fortune – Based on Pabongka Rinpoche’s teachings on Lamrim or The Stages of the Path to Enlightenment
    • Universal Compassion – A commentary on Bodhisattva 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 is intended for people who wish to train as NKT Dharma Teachers. All Resident Teachers of NKT Centers follow this program of study and practice. The program involves the study of 14 texts of Kelsang Gyatso, 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.
    • 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 (see Review by John Powers)
    • 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 Guides of Basi Chökyi Gyaltsen (1st 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

In 1990 Kelsang Gyatso said:

These programs … are real wishfulfilling jewels for Dharma practitioners. By participating in them we can improve our wisdom and Dharma experience and use Dharma to solve our daily problems. We can become our own protector by protecting ourselves from danger and suffering, and our own doctor by curing our mental pain with Dharma medicine. 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.[57]

Waterhouse has observed that a fundamental element within the NKT is “the notion of the purity of Geshe Kelsang’s lineage and the importance of maintaining that purity in practice”.[58] In his book Understanding the mind, Kelsang Gyatso states that “it is mixing different religious traditions that causes sectarianism”[59], and he discourages the reader against doing so, claiming that “studying non-religious subjects is less of an obstacle to our spiritual progress than studying religions of different traditions.”[59] He argues further that “the practices taught by one teacher will differ from those taught by another, and if we try to combine them we will become confused, develop doubts, and lose direction.”[60]

Regarding this view, Kay states that “in order to obtain spiritual realisations and to ensure that the pure tradition of Tsongkhapa remains in the world, NKT students are encouraged to ‘practise purely’. This means that they must not mix their spiritual practice – their study, meditation, or sadhana recitation and visualisation exercises – with worldly or political activities or with other, non-NKT spiritual teachings. The books and sadhanas prepared by Geshe Kelsang upon which all NKT practice is based, and the infrastructure of the NKT organisation itself, are considered to have placed a boundary around Tsongkhapas’s pure tradition, the survival of which depends entirely upon a widespread diligence in boundary maintenance. As part of the emphasis on pure practice, students within the NKT are discouraged from attending teachings or reading books by other Buddhist teachers and authors”.[61]

According to Kelsang Gyatso, “If we follow these spiritual programmes we will steadily progress towards enlightenment, but if we try to do everything ourselves and read many different books from many different traditions we will just get confused.”[62]

According to Bluck, these study programmes have been widely criticised as rote learning.[63]

In a 1992 manual, Notes on Teaching Skills, for the NKT Teacher-Training Programme, the students were encouraged to: “internalise Geshe-la’s books so that we can quote liberally from them, word for word.” Students were advised, “if it is found in the works of Geshe Kelsang it is completely reliable”, and further, “the more devotion we have to our Guru the more qualified we are as a Teacher. Every NKT Teacher must give exactly the same explanation, otherwise the NKT will disintegrate … Therefore this generation of Teachers must try very hard to come to complete consensus as to what is the correct interpretation of every single section of every one of Geshe-la’s books.”[67]

According to Bluck, interviewees described a very different picture, claiming that the manual was written without Kelsang Gyatso’s approval and was seldom used, being “unknown to most NKT students and teachers”.[68] Study programmes were said to adopt a critical approach, with students encouraged to ask questions and explore difficulties.[69]

However, discussion within the NKT doesn’t aim to improve critical thinking and questioning what is being taught – the latter would be considered “doubts going into the wrong direction” – but discussions aim mainly to understand clearly and without doubts the view of the NKT literature/Kelsang Gyatso which is considered to be faultless. The manual, Notes on Teaching Skills, states that the notes are based on advice given by Gen Thubten Gyatso in two Teaching Skill courses at NKT’s ‘mother centre’ Manjushri Mahayana Buddhist Centre and at Madhyamaka Centre. (p. 36) This indicates that the advice and methods explained in it were part of the official NKT teaching setting.

However, the internal Notes on Teaching Skills were considered ‘out of circulation’ after Gen Thubten Gyatso (Neil Elliott) disrobed – but the spirit and ‘methods’ explained by Neil Elliott, who has a post graduate qualification in education, are still the ones that all the senior NKT teachers use and NKT teachers are trained with. For example, advice from Notes on Teaching Skills were given in teachings on the NKT Teacher Training Programme by Gen Kelsang Lodro at Bodhisattva centre in Brighton (UK) at least until 2006. The phrases by Gen Thubten were used orally but his text was taboo. Later versions of an NKT teaching manual with excerpts from Notes on Teaching Skills don’t mention Neil Elliott by name – they are ‘authored’ by Kelsang Gyatso/NKT. The following people (amongst others) were trained/taught by Gen Thubten Gyatso (Neil Elliott) at Madhymaka Centre 1987–90 when Kelsang Gyatso was on retreat: Gen la Samden, Gen Kelsang Lodro, Gen Kelsang Lhamo, Genla Kelsang Khyenrab, Kelsang Chodzom (now Drolkyi), Genla Dekyong, Morten and Bjorn Clausen, Ani Wangchuk, Anila Chowang, Lucy James and Nick Gillespie. Some of these have disrobed/left the NKT but all of them were very senior teachers for more than a decade. Some are still at the top of the NKT now.

In 2004 James Belither explained that although only Geshe Kelsang’s books are studied at centres, there is “no rule against NKT students reading books from other traditions”, as this is a matter of personal choice.[70]

Examining the criticism that NKT training is too one-sided, Cozort says:

NKT students rely entirely upon the published works of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Kelsang Gyatso is a highly trained Geshe, and his teaching through these books is very much in the mainstream of his tradition, but it is still only one voice and one point of view. This is unusual in the Tibetan tradition. Although it is true enough that for Gelugpas, Tsongkhapa is considered virtually infallible, in general no source is considered immune from criticism.[31]

Special Teacher Training Programme (STTP)

In 2013 the New Kadampa Tradition announced and introduced a six month Special Teacher Training Programme (STTP) at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre for becoming “a qualified Teacher of Kadampa Buddhism”. The requirements to attend the programme are:

1. To have been a practitioner of Kadampa Buddhism for a number of years, but at least two.

2. To have the wish to become a qualified Kadampa Buddhist Teacher.

3. To be free to become a full time Kadampa Buddhist Resident Teacher after completing the course.

4. To be fluent in English.

According to the NKT “At the end of the course students who have successfully completed the programme will be offered a full time position as a Kadampa Buddhist Resident Teacher.” (see PDF) This six month STTP at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre was transformed into a residential teacher training programme. It is not clear if it is offered only occasionally or on a regular basis.

The term Special Teacher Training Programme (STTP) is now only used by the NKT when referring to a three year study programme with Kadam Neil Elliott (formerly known as Gelong Thubten Gyatso or Gen Thubten Gyatso). This three year STTP is offered at the Kadampa Meditation Centre London. (PDF) As of 2015, STTP students at the KMC London are still in the first STTP which started in May 2014. Discussion is not considered part of the programme. However, the teacher sometimes discusses briefly with students, for perhaps 3 minutes of an 80 minute session. Occasionally, students will ask a question spontaneously, perhaps, on average twice per session. Though questions can be asked via email, these may or may not be answered. In November 2015 – 1,5 years after the start of the first STTP at KMC London – students were asked to sign a far reaching legal agreement that makes it almost impossible for them to use what they have learned without prior permisson from the NKT-IKBU.

The Special Teacher Training Programme includes the study of six books written by Kelsang Gyatso:

  • How to Understand the Mind – A commentary and explanation of the mind
  • Modern Buddhism – The Path of Compassion and Wisdom – Mainly a compilation of different texts by Kelsang Gyatso
  • The New Heart of Wisdom – An Explanation of the Heart Sutra
  • Tantric Grounds and Paths – An explanation of the practice of the lower and upper classes of Tantra
  • Meaningful to Behold – A commentary on Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life
  • Ocean of Nectar – A commentary on Chandrakirti’s Guide to the Middle Way (see Review by John Powers)


Kelsang Gyatso expounded on the qualifications of NKT 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. If a Teacher lacks qualities such as wisdom, experience, faith, and pure motivation, it will be difficult for others to develop faith in them or their teachings, and there will be little benefit. Also, without proper training and preparation there is a danger of Teachers mixing worldly, samsaric activities with their teaching activities. Therefore we definitely need to train well if we wish to be a genuine benefit to others.[57]

Regarding the qualifications of NKT 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.”[71]

There has been some discussion about the qualification of NKT teachers. Waterhouse found that disciples in Bath were expected to memorize texts in full and were invited to teach through their “ability to function as a channel” for Kelsang Gyatso, rather than by the extent of their own knowledge.[64]

Kay found the role of the NKT teacher described as a ‘channel’ for transmitting Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings “without colouring them with their own personal ideas” and as “a talking book” where “Geshe Kelsang’s teaching come through your mouth”.[65] Another NKT teacher explained that an individual’s lack of experience or ‘realisations’ is not an obstacle because “all you need to become a teacher is to have faith in Geshe Kelsang and know your Dharma a little bit”.[66]

The NKT brochure Notes on Teaching Skills used for the Teacher Training Programme (TTP) suggests among others the following things to NKT teachers:

We have to do self-generation as a qualified Dharma teacher. By sitting in front of people and behaving like a qualified Dharma Teacher we can become a qualified Dharma Teacher … What does knowledge of all the scriptures mean? The entire Kangyur and Tengyur. Geshe-la has extracted the essence of these and presented it in the twelve texts of the TTP. If we study these texts we will take the entire Buddhadharma into our mind. We need Geshe-la’s blessings. When we say ‘You have knowledge of all the scriptures; please bless me to become just like you’, we are saying, ‘Your mind and these texts are the same nature. Please may I mix my mind with your mind so that your books come into my mind. May I become like a talking book.’ We should make this prayer to Geshe-la every day … We should strive to become completely pure beings, just like the Venerable Geshe himself. Gen Kelsang Thubten’s Notes On Teaching Skills, 1992, pp. 32-34.

Doubts by NKT teachers about their qualification were admitted and addressed by Kelsang Gyatso in an ordination talk during the Spring Festival in 2000: “Some of you come to me and say, ‘Geshe-la, I am not being honest with my students, I have so many problems, delusions of anger, attachment, jealousy, many negative thoughts. I am just pretending to be a qualified Teacher, I am not being honest.’ Sometimes you might think like this because you are an educated westerner. You should never allow your delusions to make you discouraged, this is ridiculous! I do appreciate that when some teachers get discouraged, that in reality they are being honest, but that is foolish. If you allow your students to see you unhappy they will lose faith, trust and confidence in you.”[132]

According to Bluck’s research:

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. After 4 years as a resident teacher, monastics take the title ‘Gen’ and lay teachers become ‘Kadam’ (Namgyal, 2004). Most resident teachers are ordained, with only a few centres having a lay teacher, though local branch classes are often taught by lay students.[72] Kay[73] 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]

The “Internal Rules” of NKT explain the consequences if any present or former NKT-IKBU Dharma Teacher separates from the NKT-IKBU “and establishes a spiritually independent organisation, or follows another spiritual tradition”. The Internal Rule 10§1 “Withdrawal of authorisations” says that such a person “can no longer hold the lineage and spiritual tradition of the New Kadampa Tradition.” and

In particular he or she cannot:

  • teach any of the three Study Programmes: General Programme, Foundation Programme, or Teacher Training Programme, that are related to the NKT tradition;
  • grant the empowerments of Lower or Highest Yoga Tantras that are related to the NKT tradition;
  • grant ordination vows that are related to the NKT tradition; and
  • use any spiritual name received from the NKT tradition, such as his or her ordination name or any special title such as ‘Gen-la’, ‘Gen’ or ‘Kadam’.”[130]

Heart commitment of NKT followers

In a commentary to the NKT Dorje Shugden sadhana, Kelsang Gyatso describes the “heart commitment” of “sincere practitioners of the Kadampa Buddhism of Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine” as follows:[74b]

Sincere practitioners of the Kadampa Buddhism of Je Tsongkhapa’s doctrine should undertake as their heart commitment to cherish the Kadam Dharma, the doctrine of Je Tsongkhapa, and to practise and teach this to others without mixing it with other traditions. We must take some responsibility to enable pure Buddhadharma to flourish throughout the world. If we make the commitment to accomplish this aim, then this is called our heart commitment. Keeping this heart commitment is the basic foundation for receiving Dorje Shugden’s protection, blessings, and special care continually. Because Dorje Shugdan is an enlightened being, he has compassion for all beings and is ready to giving his protection, blessings, and special care but from our side we also need some necessary conditions. These are to cherish Kadam Dharma, to practise Kadam Dharma purely without mixing it with other traditions, to teach Kadam Dharma without mixing it with other traditions, and to take some responsibility to help pure Dharma flourish throughout the world. Doing this as our commitment is the best.

By receiving these we will definitely be able to fulfill all our wishes, and all our daily and spiritual activities will be successful. Enlightened beings, or Deities, cannot work alone without our making certain, conditions from our side to receive their help. This is important to keep in mind.

These commitments should be kept freely from the practitioner’s own side and not insisted upon by the Teacher. In Dharma, especially the Kadam Dharma, people have a lot of choice; Teachers cannot force us saying, ‘You should do this, you should not do that’. When people receive extensive teachings on this subject they will naturally develop a wisdom that understands that gaining realisations of Kadam Dharma, the actual quick path to enlightenment, depends entirely on receiving Dorje Shugdan’s protection, blessings, and special care. They understand that to receive these depends on certain conditions they need to develop from their side, and they will therefore think, ‘I need to cherish Kadam Dharma, I need to, practise this purely, and I need to undertake some responsibility to help the pure Kadam Dharma to flourish.’

Religious observance days

From its inception until roughly 2003, all NKT centres follow strictly some of the traditionally Tibetan religious days.[75] These include the following:

  1. Tsog Days
  2. Tara Puja Days
  3. Protector Puja Days
  4. Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day
  5. 8 Mahayana Precepts Days
  6. Buddha’s Enlightenment Day
  7. Buddha’s Return from Heaven Day
  8. Je Tsongkhapa’s Day

However all these have now been changed to the respective days in the common calendar.[76] For example, Tsog Days were previously designated as the 10th and 25th days of each lunar month: “We should … make sure that we do not miss tsog offerings on these two days – ten days after the new moon and ten days after the full moon”.[77] This sentence has been deleted from the 2005 reprint.[78]

The 4th of June has been designated ‘Turning the Wheel of Dharma’ (a.k.a Dharmachakra) Day. Kelsang Gyatso’s birthday is on the same day.

There are 2 unique NKT religious observance days not found in other Buddhist traditions:

  1. International Temples Day[79]
  2. NKT Day[80]

The International Temples Day which is celebrated on the 1st of November is set up to remind its followers of the importance of building Kadampa Buddhist Temples throughout the world.

The NKT Day used to be celebrated on the 1st Sunday of April each year.

NKT ordination

NKT does not ordain fully ordained monks or nuns (Skt.: bhikshu, bhikshuni; Tib.: gelong, gelongma) or novice monks and nuns (Skt.: sramanera, srameneri; Tib.: gestul, getsulma) according to Buddha’s Vinaya or code of monastic discipline, the Pratimoksha. Kelsang Gyatso gives his followers an ordination based on five vows and five promises to keep for the rest of their life. The guiding principle of ordination in the NKT is the motivation of renunciation (Tib.: nge-jung). The five vows of the NKT’s ordination are to “abandon killing, stealing, sexual conduct, lying and taking intoxicants” and the five promises are to “practise contentment, reduce my desire for worldly pleasures, abandon engaging in meaningless activities, maintain the commitments of refuge, and practise the three trainings of pure moral discipline, concentration and wisdom.”[81] They are also expected to perform a Uposatha-like purification ceremony twice a month (tib. sojong). A monk or nun who breaks their vows will be expelled from the center for at least a year. He or she can ask later for permission to reordain.[82]

Unlike in the Tibetan tradition and Buddha’s Vinaya, there is no proper explanation or ritual in the NKT for disrobing.[82a]

Those who disrobed had to stay away for a year and could never teach in the NKT again. Leaving was seen as shameful and a person who left would rarely be mentioned. It was said that disrobing would make our ‘bad karma’ ripen as ‘hellish’ experiences. We were told we were following a ‘special, new’ ordination that ‘nobody has done before’ but even though our ordination was different, we looked like Tibetan monks and nuns.[82a]

There are also no formal instructions and guidelines for the behaviour of monks and nuns. Because the behaviour of monks and nuns is not clearly defined “each Resident Teacher developed his or her own way of ‘disciplining’ monks and nuns at their centres …”.[82a]

Except for the vow regarding sexual conduct, the first five rules of the NKT’s ordination are identical to the five Pratimoksha vows of a lay follower (Tib: Genyen). They can be found among the eight types of Pratimoksha vows (vows of individual liberation) as lay followers’ vows. The NKT’s ordination substitutes the lay precept against sexual misconduct with the vow of celibacy (Brahmacharya). As well as receiving these vows from Kelsang Gyatso, the ordaining master, the ordinee expresses the wish to not remain as a lay person but to become ordained, upon which they abandon the physical signs of a lay person by shaving their head and wearing maroon and yellow robes of the Tibetan lineage. 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.

Kelsang Gyatso refers to the ordination as a Rabjung ordination. Traditionally, in Tibetan Buddhism, a Rabjung is an “intermediate ordained one” which “refers to someone who is preparing to become a Getsul” (Novice).[83] Rubjungs “receive a Dharma name, shave their heads and wear robes, and act like monks and nuns but they do not yet possess the vows of an ordained person.”[83] Such a Rabjung is not a member of the ordained Sangha but on the way to becoming one. NKT ordination ceremonies seem to include some procedures of the Rabjung ceremony such as changing one’s mind, name, and physical aspect.

The additional five promises of the NKT ordination are not listed in the Vinaya. Kelsang Gyatso views them as a “practical condensation” of the 253 Vinaya vows of fully ordained monks. Kelsang Gyatso encourages his followers to remain within the ordination he has given to them and focus their effort on improving their renunciation instead of receiving Getsul or full ordination. He also describes it as being easier to integrate those five vows and five promises into today’s society.[84]

According to NKT, within the NKT community there are over 700 monks and nuns.[85] NKT-Ordination ceremonies are usually held twice a year in the main NKT-Temple at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre in Cumbria (UK), Ulverston.

Practitioners 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’s many Buddhist centers, but this is not a requirement. They are, in general, not financially provided for by the NKT. And, if they live in an NKT center, they still have to pay rent for their accommodation and pay for meals and the spiritual programs. To finance this, some go for housing benefit[86] and often they have part-time work.[87] 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.”[88] For doing so they wear ordinary clothes if this is more convenient.[89]

NKT ordination controversy

Some NKT monks and nuns who left the NKT reported that they were shocked [89a] to find out that their ordination was neither a valid novice nor a valid full ordination as laid down by the Buddha in the Vinaya (code of monastic discipline) and the Pratimoskha Sutra. (The Vinaya and the Pratimoksha are not taught or studied in the NKT.) After some of them made their complaints public the NKT officially agreed that the NKT ordination is something new – an “uncommon tradition” – “designed by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso following the ancient Kadampa tradition.”[89b]

The NKT claims that this “uncommon tradition” follows the ancient Kadampa Tradition – a “tradition of ordination explained by Geshe Potowa and other Kadampa Geshes”[89c] –, that it derives from the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, and that

a monk or a nun becomes ‘fully ordained’ (Gelong or Bhikshu (monk), Gelongma or Bhikshuni (nun)) by holding the ten vows of ordination and having developed the realization of renunciation … [89c]

While traditionally the ordination vows cease at the time of death (if the ordination is still intact), Kelsang Gyatso claims that the vows he gives continue “into our next rebirth, we will still be ordained in our next life.”[89d] Kelsang Gyatso rejects the traditional ordination for monks and nuns as belonging to the “Hinayana” – insinuating it to be inferior – stating[89d]:

We are Mahayana Buddhists so why are we following the Vinaya – the Pratimoksha vows – of the Hinayana tradition?

The NKT has been accused of misrepresenting the Vinaya and its code of monastic discipline.[89e] For instance, the NKT claims that

Buddha Shakyamuni himself said that the Vinaya should be practiced in accordance with what is most acceptable for society. … For example, according to the Vinaya, it is an offence for a monk to touch his mother out of affection.[89c]

But in fact, the Buddha never said this and the offence is “Touching a woman through (sexual) desire.”[89e]

In 2008 the Australian Sangha Association (ASA) wrote in a statement:

These precepts are said by their teacher Kelsang Gyatso to derive from the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra and he clearly states they are different from those found in the Vinaya. According to him a monk or a nun becomes a Bhikhu or Bhikhuni ‘merely by holding these ten vows of ordination and developing a strong realisation of renunciation that is ever present in the mind.’

This definition has nothing in common with the traditionally accepted understanding of ordination and confuses the notion of a Bhikhu or Bhikhuni in the spiritual and conventional sense. From earliest times a ‘true Bhikhu’ has been one who realised the Dharma. However all Buddhist traditions, while fully understanding this, have always insisted on the necessity for the conventional Sangha to hold Vinaya vows properly received in accordance with the prescribed rituals.

The opinion of the ASA is that for NKT members to represent themselves to the public as authentic Buddhist monks and nuns is wrong and misleading.

In 2014 the Deutsche Buddhistische Ordensgemeinschaft (DBO, German Buddhist Monastic Association) stated in a public statement:

The DBO emphasizes that the [ordained Anti-Dalai Lama] protesters belonging to the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) are no Buddhist monks and nuns according to the monastic rules of the Buddha and that their behaviour in public represents neither the Buddha nor his teachings (Dharma) nor the Buddhist community (Sangha).

Geshe Tashi Tsering challenged the authenticity of the NKT ordination in two YouTube videos, clarifying the traditional background and rites of ordination for Buddhist monks and nuns:

Religious activities

Throughout the year and in different places around the world, the NKT hosts a number of religious festivals. These feature teachings and empowerments from Kelsang Gyatso Gyatso and senior NKT teachers. The longest running of these are the Spring and Summer Festivals at Manjushri Centre in Ulverston, England.

Growth and financing

As of 2015 the New Kadampa Tradition claims the establishment of “1100 Kadampa Centers and branches in 40 countries around the world.”[85a] The great majority of these Kadampa Centers are groups at local places, such as rented rooms in libraries, local community centres, and members’ apartments.[85a] According to McQuire,

The NKT-IKBU has roughly 48 centers in the UK, 50 in the US including in Hollywood and the Hamptons, and more than 120 in the rest of the world, with roughly 600 venues temporarily rented for giving classes. ‘World Peace Temples’ are within Meditation Centers. There are 32 World Peace Cafes, one hotel and a children’s Primary School in England. Tharpa publishing company only publishes Kelsang Gyatso’s books, translated into many languages including Chinese.[85b]

In a 1996 newspaper article by The Guardian, Madeleine Bunting stated:

The method of expansion is that residential centres support branch centres, which are often no more than a group meeting in someone’s house; or a hall is rented to run the NKT courses. When the group has reached a size sufficient to sustain a centre, a property is bought. The NKT maintains that each centre is entirely autonomous and is only ‘spiritually joined’ to the NKT, although it admits that the two principal officers of each centre are NKT members. The aim is to establish a centre in every major UK town with the NKT as the biggest umbrella Buddhist organisation in the West.[90]

Regarding the financing of NKT centres, the NKT has different means. To finance new centres, the NKT has built up a New Centres Development Fund.[7] Further, Bluck notes that “Fees are charged for meetings, payable at the door or by a monthly ‘Centre Card’ covering all local classes.[91] The Manjushri Spring and Summer Festivals generate considerable income from the 2,000 or more lay and monastic guests. Like Samye Ling there are fixed charges for accommodation and courses, and a large shop and general stores sells Geshe Kelsang’s books, CDs of sadhanas and statues.”[74] Another important part of fund raising comes from brochures or bulletins which advise that “accumulating merit” is vital to “become an enlightened being” and that helping the Dharma Centers “flourish” is a great way to accumulate merit.[92]

According to Bunting, members are told that donations will “create enormous merits” in future lives and that possibly supporters are asked to give “interest-free loans” and given advice on how to include the NKT in their wills.[93] This has drawn criticism from former members.[93] Bluck, Bunting, and Lopez all mention the claim that some residents financed NKT centre mortgages with their housing benefit.[94] Lopez stated: “The benefit is paid as rent and used to service the large mortgages on properties.”[95] He mentioned former members who maintain that the Department of Social Security has unknowingly played a critical part in funding the NKT’s rapid expansion.[95] In July 1996, after the article in the Guardian newspaper, Chris Smith, then shadow Social Security spokesman, wrote to Government urging an immediate investigation into the NKT claiming that the organisation had been exploiting a loophole in the benefits system to fund the purchase of a series of substantial properties and that the Department of Social Security had effectively been subsidizing the NKT’s expansion to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.[96]

However, Bluck states that such claims of misusing housing benefit were vigorously denied by interviewees. Kelsang Namgyal explained to Bluck that using housing benefit to support mortgages is wholly legitimate and that monastics often have part-time work and may wear ordinary clothes if this is more convenient.[97] Belither replied to Bluck: While smaller centres may struggle financially, donations were always voluntary. Manjushri’s large community and popular courses make it financially secure, a few people are sponsored because of their NICT work but others are on ‘extended working visits’ or work locally, and some are legitimately on employment benefit.[98] However, Bluck remarks, “while individual rule-bending has never been sanctioned, it may sometimes have been knowingly ignored, at least in the past”.[74]

Another key feature of growth is to attract new followers. In 1992 Thubten Gyatso, successor to Kelsang Gyatso at that time, quoted Kelsang Gyatso’s motto “Show a lot of teeth”. Entering an NKT centre and participating in NKT classes for the first time is usually accompanied with receiving a lot of smiles[98b] in order to raise faith and to put newcomers at ease. All difficult topics like Dorje Shugden or the view of NKT on the Dalai Lama will usually be avoided in order to avoid putting newcomers off the NKT until they have “enough faith to learn the truth”. Thubten Gyatso (Neil Elliott) set the record straight in two Teaching Skills courses in 1992 – one at Manjushri Mahayana Buddhist Centre and the other at Madhyamaka Centre. The NKT published these Teaching Skills in a 36-page manual for the NKT teacher-training programme. Among the tips on attracting new recruits – which are still applied by NKT teachers –, it includes:

Be very careful not to give the impression it is a recruitment drive … We need to come over as really quite ordinary and quite matter-of-fact at the beginning … We should not worry about converting people at at the beginning. To start with we need to agree with people, to show that we understand where they are at, not to resist them or to argue with them. If we have a wild horse, the best way to tame it is to mount it, go with it. We need to build up a rapport. If we feel that the Teacher understands us and is sympathetic to us, we will naturally feel close to him or her, and keep coming back.[98c]

While NKT critics might argue that these teaching skills are part of NKT’s “empire building” and NKT followers might argue that all they do is solely “for the benefit of others,” Tibet scholar Robert Barnett described the “method of recruiting” in the following way in 2014:

… a religious organization with an unusually effective method of recruiting, where each convert who reaches a certain, relatively low level is encouraged to go out and start a separate centre, and in turn recruit more followers. This model, not often found among Tibetan Buddhist movements, produces large numbers of followers, and this creates potential access to funds too.

The NKT model of expansion was portrayed by as “the McDonaldization of Buddhism”.

NKT Kadampa Temple London

New London temple plans.

Another aspect of expansion is the building of Buddhist Temples, called Kadampa Temples for World Peace. The NKT has established a Kadampa Buddhist Temple in the United Kingdom (in Ulverston, Cumbria), as well as in Canada, the United States, and Spain. In 2008 the NKT planned to build a temple in Brazil and one in Germany too. The NKT states, “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.” (e.g. NKT festivals)[99] In 2015 NKT’s official website does not give an exact number of existing NKT temples. However, it lists renovated buildings like that of Schloss Sommerswalde in Schwante, near Berlin, and other purchased buildings in Toronto, Le Mans, Zurich, Texas, and Melbourne also as NKT temples.[99a] New plans include to build an NKT temple in London which “will be also the home of the Special Teacher Training Programm in Kadampa Buddhism, which is organised by KMC London”. (see image)

World Peace Cafes have been opened at some places in the UK, US, Canada and some other countries. In 2015 the official NKT website lists 32 of them.[99b] In 2005 the NKT opened their first World Peace Hotel, called Hotel Kadampa, a no-smoking, alcohol-free hotel in Southern Spain.[100] A second Hotel Kadampa has been bought in Italy. This place was announced to be also the home of the Kadampa Meditation Center Italy.[101] In 2015, NKT lists only one remaining hotel, Hotel Kadampa in Holland.[101a] In October 2016, Hotel Kadampa in Holland is up for sale.[138]

Kadampa Primary School, Derbyshire, 2012

A photograph from when the school first opened in 2012.

In August 2012, the first “International Kadampa Primary School” opened in Derbyshire (UK).[136] The Kadampa Primary School is housed within the Tara Kadampa Meditation Centre, in Ashe Hall, Etwall and has a curriculum that incorporates Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings on Buddhism. In March 2013 the school was rated “good” by inspectors and had 23 pupils. It charges a £3,900-a-year fees and is believed to have about 40 pupils in 2016. In October 2016 the governors of the Kadampa Primary School have suddenly announced without warning it will close permanently at half-term. “The governors decided to close the school due to having no confidence to run the school”, said the chair of the school’s governors, Bridget Heyes, who is the principal teacher at Nagarjuna Kadampa Meditation Centre, Kelmarsh, to The Derby Telegraph.[136a] The Ofsted School report 2016 found the Kadampa Primary School in Derbyshire “inadequate” in all categories. These were: the effectiveness of leadership and management, its quality of teaching, learning and assessment, personal development, behaviour and welfare and outcomes for pupils. The school was also found to be inadequate in its early years provision.[136b]

According to Bluck, the NKT has “widespread if selective publicity and an overt proselytizing.”[102] According to Kay, “NKT students in Britain who have encountered Geshe Kelsang’s ‘doctrine of good fortune’ have a responsibility to ‘help spread his precious teachings to every corner of the world’”[103], and he states that this is done “by establishing and teaching in centres overseas, by sponsoring and translating his books into non-English languages, or just by supporting the growth of new centres financially.”[104] Kay explains further that “according to NKT literature, whilst Buddha Sakyamuni, Tsong Khapa and Geshe Kelsang have all ‘introduced the same Dharma into the world’, the uncommon contribution of the latter has been ‘to lay down the structures to ensure that this precious Dharma will spread throughout the world’.”[105] The publishing activity of the organisation is regarded as another key mechanism of growth.[104] Since one of the most common ways in which people are attracted to the NKT is through reading Kelsang Gyatso’s books, it is considered imperative to publish them in every language and “get them into every book shop in the world”.[106][104] Kay saw this “missionary drive” as the main explanation for why the New Kadampa Tradition has expanded so rapidly.[104]

Waterhouse found that “casual attenders” were “encouraged in enthusiastic terms to attend further courses”, possibly representing an evangelical approach to Buddhism.[107] This attitude has drawn the reproach that the NKT is presenting a form of “evangelical Buddhism”.[108]

According to Kay, the NKT aims to spread worldwide, but it is sensitive to accusations of ‘empire-building’ and claims that expansion “stems from a pure motivation to help others”. Bluck found that interviewees also reflected this view: “In 1997 James Belither explained that all NKT centres ‘should have as their goal the establishing of new centres in order to help the people in that locality’ and in 2004 Belither confirmed that the movement’s aim was ‘simply to present the Buddhism of our tradition to as many people as possible who might be interested’.”[109] According to Bluck: “Interviewees claimed the movement’s expansion was led by local demand rather than central control, as more people start groups because of their faith in Geshe Kelsang and his teachings.”[110] As Kelsang Namgyal explained,[111] “we would like everyone to have inner peace … so we are trying to give it to as many people as possible.”[109]

Bell notes that the three largest Buddhist organizations in Britain – the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO – renamed Triratna Buddhist Order [TBO/FTBO]), and Soka Gakkai International (SGI-UK) – utilize the same organizational style:

closely bounded, hierarchical organizations with clearly delineated institutional structures and forms of membership and an undisguised commitment to recruitment and expansion.[131]

McQuire critisised “the NKT shift all responsibility onto the local level, sucking communities’ wealth and resources into the NKT ‘temple pot’”:[131a]

The centres were always set up as independent entities so that the NKT would never be liable. And all profits always went as ‘donations’ to the NKT and then to the ‘temple fund’ as soon as it was created. The NKT would pay for a teacher in a new country for two years until local sponsorship was found. There were teachers who were ‘sponsoring’ themselves in the UK so that a centre could keep going. It’s very arbitrary as to which new centre gets a building actually bought by the NKT – as the London temple centres were – and who just gets a ‘teacher’. It depends on how much the NKT thinks it needs to expand in a particular place. So, the overheads in maintaining a centre that is owned are appreciably less.

Each centre is financially responsible for its own debts there are no costs or financial risks for the NKT as a whole. If a centre is going financially bankrupt the local directors are responsible and have to pay for it. We know people who took a decade to pay off their debts incurred from being NKT centre directors. All remortgaging and any centre profit after costs goes straight to the NKT temple fund. While there is no responsibility or risk been taken by the NKT individuals have to carry the risks and debts. If a centre has to close all debts are locally attributed. All and any profit from a closure, however, goes to the NKT. This model enables the NKT to shift all responsibility onto the local level, sucking communities’ wealth and resources into the NKT ‘temple pot’.

Teachers try very hard – pride, etc – and push their followers to support the centres financially. They have to do this; as well as being obliged to increase the number of students. They get rewarded by the NKT with the ‘Gen’ title after they have kept a centre going for 4 years. (Nothing to do with study.)


Criticism of the NKT

David Barett has characterised the NKT-IKBU as “deriving from Tibetan Buddhism” and as “one of the newest and most controversial Buddhist movements.”[112] Bunting stated, that “The NKT is an entirely self-referential system. The total dependence on a single charismatic figure is unorthodox in Tibetan Buddhism.”[90] Some Buddhists who are critical of the NKT and some non-Buddhists see the NKT as a “cult”.[113]

New Kadampa Survivors Logo

New Kadampa Survivors & Supporters Logo

A former member of the NKT-IKBU, David Cutshaw, created a Yahoo group, called New Kadampa Survivors which aims to offer help to those previously involved as well as their families and friends.[114] Members of the group are lay persons, ex NKT teachers, nuns and monks. Testimonies of “NKT Survivors” have been posted on the buddhism-controversy-blog and the Facebook group New Kadampa Survivor Testimonies.

Art work by a ‘New Kadampa Survivor’
Carol McQuire: “Come out” (on Facebook: New Kadampa Survivor Activists)
  • Carol McQuire: “Come out” (on Facebook: New Kadampa Survivor Activists)
  • Carol McQuire: “Demons don’t dialogue, they demand and defame …”
  • Carol McQuire: “Transform Your Life”
  • Carol McQuire: “You can't see the Guru and you can’t read the book”
  • Kelsang Gyatso & Dorje Shugden: Two sides of the same person …
  • Kelsang Gyatso & Dorje Shugden: Two sides of the same person …
  • Kelsang Gyatso & Dorje Shugden: Two sides of the same person …
  • Carol McQuire: Protest in London 2014: Inform yourself before you join NKT …

The NKT attracted international media attention[115] and a lot of criticism for its public demonstrations “for religious freedom” in America, England, Switzerland and Germany (1996–1998) against the Dalai Lama who had advised publicly against Shugden practice which was made a central practice in the NKT. In a 1998 report, Donald S. Lopez, Jr. remarked on the media attention, the press criticism, and the cult allegation levied at the NKT:

In the summer of 1996, the disciples of Kelsang Gyatso denounced the Dalai Lama for impinging on their religious freedom, and picketed against him during his visit to Britain, accusing him of intolerance. The demonstrations made front-page news in the British press, which collectively rose to the Dalai Lama’s defense and in various reports depicted the New Kadampa Tradition as a fanatic, empire-building, demon-worshipping cult. The demonstrations were a public relations disaster for the NKT, not only because of its treatment by the press, but also because the media provided no historical context for the controversy and portrayed Shugden as a remnant of Tibet’s primitive pre-Buddhist past.[116]

In 1998, the NKT became a member of the British Network of Buddhist Organizations (NBO). Waterhouse notes[117] that when the NKT joined the British Network of Buddhist Organizations, about thirty percent of the other Buddhist groups identifying themselves with the Tibetan Buddhist tradition left the NBO.

The Deutsche Buddhistische Union (DBU) refused membership for the NKT main center in Germany and its 15 branch centers in 2000.[118] The Österreichische Buddhistische Religionsgesellschaft (ÖBR) gave a signal to the NKT that they will have no chance of becoming a member.[118]

On August 22, 1996 the monks of Sera Je monastery, issued a formal “Declaration of Expulsion”,[*3] expelling Kelsang Gyatso from his monastery.[119]

Also the NKT ordination – the status of NKT monks and nuns – has sparked controversy. (For details see NKT Ordination Controversy.)

The NKT’s continued emphasis on the Shugden practise is another source of criticism. There are respected Tibetan Gelug teachers who have taught the Dorje Shugden practice including Trijang Rinpoche, Song Rinpoche, Gonsar Rinpoche[120] and Dagom Rinpoche.[121] The reincarnation of Trijang Rinpoche, called Trijang Chogtrul Rinpoche, still continues to practice Shugden and was even recognised by a Shugden oracle[122] and H.H. the Dalai Lama. On the other hand, there are high-level Tibetan Buddhist teachers who have warned of its dangers. According to The Dolgyal Research Committee (set up by the Tibetan Government in Exile), prominent opponents include the 5th, 13th and current Dalai Lamas, the 5th and 8th Panchen Lamas, Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, the 14th and 16th Karmapas among others.[123] Also Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, a Dzogchen master, “has been insisting on the importance of failing to appreciate the danger inherent in such cults”.[124]

In 1998 Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT decided to disassociate themselves from their dispute with the Dalai Lama, stating:

… in October 1998 we decided to completely stop being involved in this Shugden issue because we realized that in reality this is a Tibetan political problem and not the problem of Buddhism in general or the NKT. We made our decision public at this time – everyone knows the NKT and myself completely stopped being involved in this Shugden issue at all levels.[125]

However, Kelsang Gyatso initiated new campaigns a decade later, one in April 2008 performed under the umbrella of the Western Shugden Society (WSS) and one in 2014 under the umbrella of the International Shugden Community (ISC).

Tibet scholar Robert Barnett found it worrying that the NKT, including the many Westerners who’ve joined up, became a training camp for bitter anti–Dalai Lama activists. “It’s not unusual that a new … quasi-Buddhist cult emerges and a lot of Westerners join it … but what is really worrying is that [Shugden followers] also take on the idea that they should become activists to take on the Dalai Lama.”[126]

Bunting reported on different troubles that some former NKT members had with the organization. She claimed that the NKT excluded a family for questioning “the total dependence on Kelsang”, expelled one member for praising the Dalai Lama and threatened another with legal action if he published his concerns about the movement. She concluded that the movement’s response to criticism is “to exonerate the organisation and throw the blame back on the dissenting individual”.[90] However, according to Bluck, “Again interviewees strenuously rejected such claims, which they saw as coming from disgruntled ex-disciples whose evidence is biased.”[127] Bluck comments: “This is certainly sometimes the case, but there is also a continued unwillingness to acknowledge that the movement itself may have made mistakes.”[127]

The “Sera Expulsion Letter” of Kelsang Gyatso’s own monastery, Sera Je, reported and commented:

Another former member wrote to Kelsang with a number of concerns about the NKT but in his reply, Kelsang rejected all criticism and threatened with legal action if any of the criticisms were ever published. He shot back a letter to the grieved follower saying “you are going against my spiritual wishes and as you say … rebelling against my system, such a thing has never happened in Buddhist history”. But when he himself rebels against the Dalai Lama that is altogether another matter according to this bigot. Complete subservience to the “third Buddha” was expected and dissent was met with severe indicment. Any activities by the members who questioned Kelsang’s integrity or the centre’s way of conducting things was shown the door. But this despotic person and these very intolerant people around him are making a hue and cry about alleged “religious persecution” of the Dalai Lama. Who is calling the kettle black?[127a]

In 1996 and 2007 there were internal power crises based on the sexual misconduct of senior students, more specifically, but not exclusively his successors at that time, Gen-la Thubten Gyatso (Neil Elliott) and Gen-la Samden Gyatso (Steve Wass). Ordained NKT monks and nuns did have active sexual relationships with each other as well as lay members and these relationships were not disciplined within the organisation. Members report that they complained to the NKT leadership and addressed requests for help to Kelsang Gyatso himself. But instead of doing something he threw the blame back and said those people reporting the events to him would destroy the pure tradition, and “harm the Buddhadharma and all sentient beings”. In this way the scandals were covered up for a very long time until they were made public via internet. When NKT followers started to disccuss these topics in the official NKT internet forum in 2007, Kelsang Gyatso ordered to close it, calling these discussions “meaningless activity” and recommending “If you wish, do meaningful discussion with senior Teachers or pure practitioners, or meaningful discussion with your Teacher.”[127b]

There is also an unpublished list of concerns by Dr. Edward Reiss about NKT. It is mentioned in Waterhouse’s 1997 Buddhism in Bath paper. The six-page document is organised into several sections:

  • 1. Cultism: Personality Cults,
  • 2. The Benefit of Buddhists: Milking the DSS (the residents on public benefit issue),
  • 3. Free to Leave? Insider and outsider doctrines,
  • 4. Deceptive Presentation,
  • 5. Mind Control: By-passing the critical facilities,
  • 6. Buddhist Fundamentalism? Dissent and independence.

This is followed by two pages of Recommendations and Questions to the NKT/Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. This list by Reiss uses extensive quotes from internal NKT documents – Full Moon magazine and the internal Notes on Teaching Skills document to justify its points. In June 1995, Geshe Kelsang wrote a 6-page response to the individual problems Reiss mentions and the NKT threatened Reiss, saying that if he publishes his list of concerns, they are going to sue him. Therefore, it was left unpublished.

In August 2014 former NKT followers posted a declaration in which they criticised the New Kadampa Tradition amongst others because they threatened “to sue using libel law and thus silenced other Buddhist organisations, umbrella groups, internet discussion forums and academics, authors and publishers.” Former NKT followers also claimed, “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 UK-based research group dedicated to New Religious Movements that is partially government funded – INFORM based at the London School of Economics (LSE) – received more enquiries about the New Kadampa Tradition than about any other group, including Scientology, from 2008–2013. (For newest data see Annual Reports). Inform mentioned the NKT three times, along with Scientology and other radical groups, in their leaflet Extremism on University Campuses.

In 2015 the NKT started to claim that the Four Kadampa Deities include Dorje Shugden – replacing the deity Achala (tib. Miyowa) with Dorje Shugden. Geshe Tashi Tsering rejected this claim and called it a “pure distortion”.

After having interviewed former followers of the NKT, Judith Hertog wrote a critical article on the NKT for the Buddhist magazine Tricycle in winter 2018, The One Pure Dharma: The New Kadampa Tradition is controversial—and growing. Why? Michelle Haslam (PhD), a clinical psychologist, wrote a Psychological Report on The New Kadampa Tradition in June 2019.

Kelsang Gyatso’s replies and views to some aspects of the controversies

In 1998 Kelsang Gyatso expressed his views in an interview with Donald S. Lopez, Jr.[128] as follows:

His reason for founding the New Kadampa Tradition:

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.

His view on Dorje Shugden and his view towards HH the 14th Dalai Lama:

We believe that Dorje Shugden is a Buddha who is also a dharmapala. Problems have arisen because of someone’s view [the Dalai Lama’s view]. So although we say the ‘Dorje Shugden problem’, in reality this is a human problem, not a Dorje Shugden problem. This is not a fault of Buddhadharma, not a fault of Tibetan Buddhism, or even a fault of Tibetan people in general. This is a particular person’s wrong view [the Dalai Lama’s wrong view]. He can keep this view, of course, but forcing other people to follow this is not right.

Kelsang Gyatso replied to Lopez’ question: “In your opinion, the Dalai Lama is not a Gelugpa, and therefore has no right to tell Gelugpas which dharmapala they can worship?” with “That’s right.” and Kelsang Gyatso continued: “It looks as if he humiliates the Gelugpas, as if he destroys the dharma of the Gelugpas. It’s not only about Dorje Shugden. If Dorje Shugden is bad, then all those Gelugpa lamas who engaged in the practice of Dorje Shugden are impure. Then, without doubt the Gelugpa dharma is impure. He publicly destroys the Gelugpa dharma, so how can he say he is a Gelugpa lama?”

Further Kelsang Gyatso denied that he can see the Dalai Lama as Avalokiteshvara, as many Tibetan masters and the Tibetans do, because the Dalai Lama is “causing the spiritual life of so many people to be destroyed.” Asked for the role of the Dalai Lama, Kelsang Gyatso replied that from his point of view, the Dalai Lama “is not the spiritual leader of Gelugpas” but rather that “He is the political leader of the Tibetans.”

Kelsang Gyatso’s view of the Ganden Tripa – the head of the Gelugpas at the time of the interview – who has also denounced the worship of Dorje Shugden:

He has to follow the Dalai Lama’s view, otherwise there is danger. He has no choice, no power. Even my uncle, who is the medium for the dharmapala Dorje Shugden, has to follow the Dalai Lama, otherwise there is danger. They cannot remain within Tibetan society.

About the demonstrations Kelsang Gyatso said:

Demonstrating was telling him [the Dalai Lama] that he made a mistake. Demonstrating should have been a teacher for him. Demonstrating was loving him, not disrespecting him, not harming him. But he never changed.

About the negative press NKT was confronted with, he said:

The New Kadampa Tradition suffered, our reputation was destroyed, and we lost many things. Yes, of course we are suffering, because people believe what the Dalai Lama says. Also many other groups and centers who practice worship of Dorje Shugden including those in Europe and America are also experiencing suffering. Many people are saying Dorje Shugden practitioners are bad, they are a cult or sectarian – they are using bad names because of what His Holiness the Dalai Lama says. In reality, we haven’t done anything wrong.

Asked about the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Kelsang Gyatso replied:

We believe that every Nyingma 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 Sakyupas, have a complete path to enlightenment. Many Nyingmapas and Kagyupas practice very sincerely and are not just studying intellectually. I think that some Gelugpa practitioners need to follow their practical example. But we don’t need to mix our traditions. Each tradition has its own uncommon good qualities, and it is important not to lose these. We should concentrate on our own tradition and maintain the good qualities of our tradition, but we should always keep good relations with each other and never argue or criticize each other. What I would like to request is that we should improve our traditions while maintaining good relations with each other.

Different views on NKT

Bluck offered a number of different angles from which the NKT may be viewed:

  • The NKT could be viewed from outside as a movement aiming at what Titmus (1999: 91) called ‘conversion and empire-building’, with a dogmatic and superior viewpoint, ‘narrow-minded claims to historical significance’, intolerance of other traditions and ‘strong identification with the leader or a book’.
  • A more scholarly external view might emphasize instead the enthusiasm, firm beliefs, urgent message and ‘charismatic leadership’ which Barker (1999: 20) saw as characteristic of many NRMs.
  • An alternative picture from inside the movement would include a wish to bring inner peace to more people, based on a pure lineage of teaching and practice, with faith and confidence in an authentic spiritual guide.

About the possible ways how to picture the NKT, Bluck said: “Our choice of interpretation may depend on how we engage with the other viewpoint, as well as the evidence itself, and until recently the NKT’s supporters and critics have largely ignored each other.”[129]  ■


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Official Kadampa Website, Kadampa Buddhism at [2]
  3. ^ Clarke, Peter Bernard. New Religions in Global Perspective, page 92, ISBN 0-415-25748-4, Routledge 2006
  4. ^ Kay page 56; The Manjushri Institute charity registration number: 271873, Trust Deed, July 1976, 1
  5. ^ Bluck 2006: 129
  6. ^ a b c d e f David N. Kay: Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation, London and New York, pages 55, 56
  7. ^ a b c d e f Modern Day Kadampas – published by the NKT [3]; (PDF)
  8. ^ Kay page 53 and 77
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kay pages 61,62,63,64
  10. ^ “Eradicating wrong views” a letter, dated October 27, 1983, written as a response to the FPMT report “A report on recent events at Manjushri Institute” (dated October 1, 1983); see Kay 2004: 61 & 232.
  11. ^ Daniel Cozort, The Making of Western Lama in “Buddhism in the Modern World”, ISBN 0-19-514698-0, page 230
  12. ^ a b Daniel Cozort, The Making of Western Lama in “Buddhism in the Modern World”, ISBN 0-19-514698-0, page 226, for the quote see footnote 12 page 245
  13. ^ a b Kay, page 63
  14. ^ a b c Kay page 78
  15. ^ Kay 2004 : 66
  16. ^ Kay 2004 : 56
  17. ^ Kay 2004 : 65
  18. ^ Kay page 59
  19. ^ a b c d Kay page 73
  20. ^ Kay page 68
  21. ^ Kay 2004 : 74
  22. ^ Kay 2004 : 75
  23. ^ Kay, page 76
  24. ^ a b c d Kay page 77
  25. ^ Kay page 67
  26. ^ a b c Kay page 76
  27. ^ The New Kadampa Tradition, charity registration number: 2758093, October 1992 designed to study and experience Geshe Kelsang’s presentation of Buddhism (see page 233 of Kay’s research)
  28. ^ Daniel Cozort, The Making of Western Lama in “Buddhism in the Modern World”, ISBN 0-19-514698-0, page 234
  29. ^ Kay page 89
  30. ^ Kay page 74
  31. ^ a b Daniel Cozort, The Making of Western Lama in “Buddhism in the Modern World”, ISBN 0-19-514698-0, page 240
  32. ^ NKT brochures before June 2006 and NKT-internet-sites (see [4],[5])
  33. ^ Kay pages 88,89
  34. ^ a b Kay : 2004, p82
  35. ^ An Interview With Geshe Kelsang Gyatso by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.; Geshe Kelsang Gyatso discusses Dorje Shugden as a benevolent protector god, Tricycle Magazine, Spring 1998, Vol. 7 No. 3
    [35a] The rebranding of the NKT under “Kadampa Buddhism” – which happened around the year 2000 – is reflected also by: 1) the change of NKT’s logo, in which the lettering “New Kadampa Tradition” was replaced with “Kadampa Buddhism”; 2) the change of the NKT’s official website’s domain name from to (see; and 3) the change of the book title of Kelsang Gyatso’s “Heart Jewel” – the ‘heart practice’ within NKT – from Heart Jewel: A Commentary to the Essential Practice of the New Kadampa Tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, in 1991, to Heart Jewel: The Essential Practices of Kadampa Buddhism, in 2006. The extension “International Kadampa Buddhist Union” (IKBU) which was added to “New Kadampa Tradition” in 2003 completed the rebranding, making NKT’s official full name the “New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union (NKT-IKBU)”.
  36. ^ Official Kadampa Website at [6]
  37. ^ Official Kadampa Website at [7]
  38. ^ Gyatso, Kelsang: Joyful Path of Good Fortune, p. 622
  39. ^ Gyatso, Kelsang: 2002; Clear Light of Bliss, p. 294
  40. ^ Official Kadampa Website at [8], [9]
  41. ^ Official Kadampa Website at [10], 12/02/08
  42. ^ Belither, 1997:7–8, see also Bluck
  43. ^ Kay : 2004, p.83
  44. ^ Official NKT website,[11]
  45. ^ BBC (, [12]; The New Kadampa Tradition (PDF) and The Dorje Shugden Conflict: An Interview with Tibetologist Thierry Dodin, May 8, 2014, retrieved May 12, 2014. “The NKT can be described typologically as a cult on the basis of its organisational form, its excessive group pressure and blind obedience to its founder.”
  46. ^ Bluck, Robert (2006). British Buddhism Teachings, Practice and Development. RoutledgeCurzon, ISBN 0-415-39515-1
  47. ^ a b c d Sect disrobes British monk, World Tibet Network News, Sunday, August 18, 1996, [13], PDF
  48. ^ Sect disrobes British monk, World Tibet Network News, Sunday, August 18, 1996, [14], PDF; see also NKT magazine Full Moon
  49. ^ Long Life Prayer for Gen-la Thubten Gyatso, 1991
  50. ^ Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab
  51. ^ Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab | The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and see also:
  52. ^ a b Kay page 86
  53. ^ Cozort page 232
  54. ^ Books on Buddhism and Meditation, [15]
  55. ^ Kay page 91
  56. ^ Special Spiritual Programs in Kadampa Buddhism, [16]
  57. ^ a b c Introduction to the Foundation Program, a transcript of a talk given by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso on the occasion of the inauguration of the Foundation Program at Tara Centre, October 1990, [17]
  58. ^ Waterhouse 1997: 151
  59. ^ a b Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Understanding the Mind, page 167, ISBN 81-208-1891-1
  60. ^ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Understanding the Mind, page 166, ISBN 81-208-1891-1
  61. ^ Kay page 93,94
  62. ^ Full Moon Magazine, Winter 1995, “Wisdom”
  63. ^ Bluck 2006 : 139
  64. ^ Waterhouse 1977 : 166
  65. ^ Kay 2004 : 94
  66. ^ Kay 2004 : 95
  67. ^ Bunting, Special Report – Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana, The Guardian, 1998, [18], PDF
  68. ^ Statement by Belither, James 2004 in Bluck 2006 : 139
  69. ^ Statement by Naymgyal 2004 in Bluck 2006 : 139
  70. ^ Bluck, British Buddhism Teachings, Practice and Development. [19]
  71. ^ Kay page 95
  72. ^ Prasad, 2004
  73. ^ Kay 2004: 85
  74. ^ a b c Bluck, Robert (2006). British Buddhism Teachings, Practice and Development. RoutledgeCurzon, page 146, ISBN 0-415-39515-1
    [74a] Retrieved 2015-03-06
    [74b] Talk 4, NKT Spring Festival, Monday May 29th [the year is not clear], pages 61 and 62
  75. ^ Published NKT calendars 2000-3
  76. ^ Published NKT calendars 2004-7 and the web calendar at
  77. ^ Geshe Kelsang, Guide to Dakini Land, page 191, 1st and 2nd editions, ISBN: 0948006-40-4
  78. ^ Geshe Kelsang, Guide to Dakini Land, 2005 reprint, page 191, ISBN: 978-0948006-40-1
  79. ^ NKT calendar 2004-7
  80. ^ NKT yearly calendars 2000 onwards
  81. ^ Waterhouse 1997: 174
  82. ^ Bluck Robert, British Buddhism - Teachings, Practice and Development, page 144, RoutledgeCurzon Press, ISBN 0-415-39515-1
    [82a] Realising the Guru’s Intention: Hungry Humans and Awkward Animals in a New Kadampa Tradition community by Carol McQuire, in Spiritual and Visionary Communities – Out to Save the World, Ashgate Publishing, 2013, pp. 72–73
  83. ^ Geshe Jampa Thekchok, “Monastic Rites”, Wisdom Publication, 1995, page 8
    The rabjung ordination does not confer actual vows. The ordainee makes promises that belong to the class of “non-revelatory form of virtuous and non-virtuous in-betweens”. Therefore, becoming a rabjung is a virtuous promise but it is not a vow. The advantage is that such an ordination generates habits that bring one closer to getting and holding an actual vow—like that of a novice monk or nun (tib. getsul, getsul ma) or a fully ordained monk (tib. gelong). These promises of a rabjung have neither positively nor negatively the impact of a full vow. (For details see Abhidharma-kośa [Tib. chos mngon pa mdzod] by Vasubandhu.)
  84. ^ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso – The Ordination Handbook
  85. ^ a b [20]
    [85a] retrieved from, 29.01.2015.
    In 2008, when the body of this article was written, there were according to the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre “almost 900 meditation centres in over 40 countries.”[6] After public criticism on Wikipedia’s NKT talk page about the manipulative nature of this number of 900 NKT centres – rented rooms in public community centres, in libraries or the private rooms of NKT followers are also counted as “meditation centres” – NKT editors added to Wikipedia “They divide into about 200 residential centres and 700 groups at local places, such as rented rooms in libraries, local community centres, and members’ apartments.” There is no reliable source that states the exact numbers and nature of NKT centres. NKT leadership in general tends toward to exaggerate numbers.

    [85b] What is the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT)? – Carol McQuire, October 23, 2014
  86. ^ Bluck interview with Namgyal, 2004, see Bluck:2006, Bunting:1996, Lopez 1998: 194
  87. ^ Bluck interview with Namgyal, 2004, see Bluck:2006
  88. ^ Bluck Interview with Belither 2004, see Bluck:2006
  89. ^ Bluck interview with Namgyal, 2004, see Bluck:2006, Bunting:1996
    89a. Realising the Guru’s Intention: Hungry Humans and Awkward Animals in a New Kadampa Tradition community by Carol McQuire, in Spiritual and Visionary Communities – Out to Save the World, Ashgate Publishing, 2013, pp. 69ff
    89b. “Modern Kadampa Buddhism – An Introduction”; official NKT brochure at (access date 12 Jan. 2015)
    89c. “Smear: NKT ordination is not valid” – New Kadampa Truth – Fighting the Smears: (access date 12 Jan. 2015)
    89d. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso – A Talk at the Ordination Ceremony By Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Kadampa Buddhist Temple, Manjushri Mahayana Buddhist Centre July 1999
    89e. See for instance Tenzin Peljor:
    Offering Back Buddhist Vows 2012/06/26
    NKT Ordination – Clarifying More Misunderstandings 2011/06/22
    Update: New Kadampa Tradition – Ordination 2011/04/18
    Are NKT monks and nuns authentic? July 27, 2008
    How important is the Vinaya? 2008/07/25
  90. ^ a b c Bunting, Special Report - Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana, The Guardian, 1998, [21], PDF
  91. ^Waterhouse, 1997: 144
  92. ^ Newsweek April 28 1997, see [22]; Ursache und Wirkung, Austria Buddhist Magazine July 2006
  93. ^ a b Bunting, Madeleine: The Guardian, London, 6 July 1996; Ursache und Wirkung, Austria Buddhist Magazine July 2006
  94. ^ Bunting, Madeleine: The Guardian, London, 6 July 1996, Lopez 1998:194, Bluck 2006
  95. ^ a b Lopez 1998:194
  96. ^ The Guardian, London: Saturday 13 July, 1996 (page 10), Call to close sect's benefit loophole (PDF)
  97. ^ Bluck interview with Namgyal, 2004
  98. ^ Bluck interview with Belither, James 2004
    [98b] See for instance Fiachra Gibbons in The Guardian article “The peace dividend”, 20 October 2001: “Shona made the meekest yet most dramatic of entrances, almost levitating into the lotus position in her saffron and purple nun’s robes atop a little padded stool before zapping us with the first of many blissful smiles. She was clearly on something – something pretty damn good, I guessed. She told us a little about the New Kadampa Tradition of Buddhism, brought to this country by the bespectacled 67-year-old Tibetan monk Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, now resident in Cumbria, while bestowing upon us wave after wave of those wonderful smiles so that we were soon all grinning back beatifically at her.”
    [98c] see Gen Kelsang Thubten’s Notes On Teaching Skills (1992): pp. 21, 24, 32 and Bunting 1998
  99. ^ Buddhist Temples for World Peace, [23]
    [99a] retrieved from, 29.01.2015
    [99b] retrieved from, 29.01.2015
  100. ^ Hotel Kadampa, “A place of Dreams”, [24]
  101. ^ Kadampa Meditation Center, [25]
    [101a] retrieved from, 29.01.2015
  102. ^ Bluck, Robert (2006). British Buddhism Teachings, Practice and Development. RoutledgeCurzon, page 151, ISBN 0-415-39515-1
  103. ^ NKT magazine Full Moon No. 8 Autumn 1993
  104. ^ a b c d Kay page 95
  105. ^ NKT magazine Full Moon No. 6 Winter 1992
  106. ^ NKT magazine Full Moon No. 7 Spring 1993
  107. ^ Waterhouse (1997: 143)
  108. ^ Bluck, page 151
  109. ^ a b Bluck, Robert. British Buddhism, 2006: 149
  110. ^ Bluck Robert, (Jenkins, 2004)
  111. ^ Bluck Robert, (Kelsang Namgyal, 2004)
  112. ^ The New Believers: A Survey of Sects, Cults and Alternative Religions, David Barett p.310
  113. ^ Kay pages 38,83; The Guardian, July 6, 1996 [26], Newsweek, April 28, 1997 [27], The Dorje Shugden Conflict: An Interview with Tibetologist Thierry Dodin, May 8, 2014 (retrieved May 12, 2014). “The NKT can be described typologically as a cult on the basis of its organisational form, its excessive group pressure and blind obedience to its founder.”
  114. ^ New Kadampa Survivors,
  115. ^ see CNN interactive, [28]
  116. ^ Two Sides of the Same God by Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Tricycle Magazine, Spring 1998
  117. ^ Waterhouse 2000, Oliver Freiberger, Department for the Study of Religion University of Bayreuth, Germany [29], Kay page 213
  118. ^ a b Buddhist Magazine “Ursache und Wirkung” No. 56, 2006, Austria
  119. ^ von Brück, Michael (1999). Religion und Politik im Tibetischen Buddhismus, page 159. München: Kösel Verlag. ISBN 3-466-20445-3 and Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Prisoners of Shangri-La, ISBN 0-226-49310-5, University of Chicago Press, page 195
  120. ^ Dagom Gaden Tensung Ling - Our Purpose (Dorje Shugden statement) [30]
  121. ^ Biography of Kyabje Dagom Rinpoche by Geshe Jangsem [31]
  122. ^ Interview with Trijang Rinpoche by Dario Tesoroni, in 2001 [32]
  123. ^ A Brief History Of Opposition To Shugden by The Dolgyal Research Committee, TGIE, [33]
  124. ^ A Spirit of the XVII Secolo, Raimondo Bultrini, Dzogchen Community published in Mirror, January 2006
  125. ^ Open letter from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso to Wesley Pruden, Editor in Chief, The Washington Times [34] (PDF)
  126. ^ The Followers of a Wrathful Buddhist Spirit Take on the Dalai Lama, Vice / Mark Hay, Feb 25, 2015
  127. ^ a b Bluck 2006 : 148
    [127a] Open Letter from Sera monastery, signed by different Khangtsens, undated. To Tibetan Buddhists around the World …
    [127b] This was posted in the German official NKT forum
    in 2007. The full message being posted is: “Some small group in our NKT society engage in meaningless activity on the internet, not only Sangha, some lay. This is incorrect. We are Kadampa practitioners, Kadampa Teachers. Why are we enjoying meaningless activity, discussion? We can have a meaningful discussion with pure practitioners or senior practitioners, Teachers. There is no meaning in talking about silly things publicly on the internet. Instead, make meaningful discussion with our pure practitioners, senior Teachers. Please give my message to the individuals of this group. Stop this kind of actions. Gen-la Khyenrab, give my message in email or writing. Stop meaningless discussion on the internet. If you wish, do meaningful discussion with senior Teachers or pure practitioners, or meaningful discussion with your Teacher. No meaning engaging in silly question and answers on the internet. Please Gen-la Khyenrab, pass my message. I am telling you for your purpose and our society’s purpose. In this way, keep individuals and society pure and show very good example.”
  128. ^ An Interview With Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso discusses Dorje Shugden as a benevolent protector god. Spring 1998. Tricycle
  129. ^ Bluck, Robert (2006). British Buddhism Teachings, Practice and Development. RoutledgeCurzon, page 150/151, ISBN 0-415-39515-1
  130. ^ Internal Rule No 10$1,
  131. ^ A Survey of Engaged Buddhism in Britain by Sandra Bell in Christopher S. Queen, ed. Engaged Buddhism in the West. Boston: Wisdom Publishing, 2000, p. 398; Reviewed by Mavis L. Fenn (PDF)
    [131a] Personal email communication with Carol McQuire, May 3, 2017 | See also: EASY COME, EASY GO: MODERN KADAMPA TEACHERS – THE NEW KADAMPA TRADITION by Carol McQuire
  132. ^ Spring Festival 2000, Calistoga, California, Ordination talk – final draft prepared by Dekyi see:…
  133. ^ Retrieved 2011-09-23
  134. ^ Retrieved 2011-09-23
  135. ^ Retrieved 2011-09-23
  136. ^ Retrieved 2012-10-10; for a critical discussion see: Kadampa Primary School Derbyshire - A Happiness Cult?
    136a. ^ Retrieved 2016-10-15, Parents shocked after Derbyshire primary school announces it will close – The Derby Telegraph
    136b. ^ Retrieved 2016-12-05, Ofsted School report 2016 – Kadampa Primary School Derbyshire, Ofsted School report | See also Derbyshire’s Kadampa Primary School found to be ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted – The Derby Telegraph
  137. ^ Retrieved 2014-10-07 from and Amazon
  138. ^ Retrieved 2016-10-15 from

Additional Notes

[*1] The official NKT website re-phrased the explanation of what NKT is by stating “It is an international association of study and meditation centers that follow the pure tradition of Mahayana Buddhism derived from the Buddhist meditators and scholars Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa and introduced into the West by the Buddhist Teacher Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.” October 2, 2009,

[*2] Mills describes the NKT as a “breakaway order of the Gelukpa”. In Mills, Martin (2003). Identity, Ritual and State in Tibetan Buddhism – The Foundations of Authority in Gelukpa Monasticism, p. 366, Routledge. Samuel describes the NKT as “a break-away from the FPMT”. In Samuel, Geoffrey (1996). Tibetan Buddhism as a World Religion: Global Networking and its Consequences,

[*3] see: Declaration of Expulsion and To Tibetan Buddhists around the World …

[*4] NIL

[*5] see: Letter to all NKT-IKBU Centres, 05 Aug. 2010

[*6] Samden Gyatso has been accused by NKT followers of maintaining sexual relationships with nuns and encouraging other monks to follow his example. Some NKT followers reported that their written complaints about Samden Gyatso's misconduct were either ignored by Kelsang Gyatso or that he in return accused them of harming the NKT, “the Buddhadharma and all sentient beings” by writing such complaints or requests to take actions to stop Samden Gyatso.

However, when the accusations against Samden Gyatso became public via internet, Kelsang Gyatso removed Samden Gyatso immediately from his position. Samden Gyatso's name and images were removed from all official NKT internet sites within twenty-four hours.

Later, Kelsang Gyatso acknowledged these accusations. He sent an email to Samden Gyatso, which was forwarded by the NKT leadership to NKT students:

Steven Wass,

I have received your email message. You have destroyed the NKTs reputation and the power of all NKT Resident Teachers. Through your actions so many ordained Teachers have disrobed following your view which is opposite to Buddhist view - you tried to spread a sexual lineage which you yourself created. Even in society a Teacher cannot have sex with students. After you left many people confessed to me that you had had sex with them. You had sex with so many students and through your deceptive actions one nun tried to commit suicide because of your sexual behaviour towards her.

Because the NKTs reputation and power of the Resident Teachers has been destroyed by your activities now the future development of the NKT will be difficult both materially and spiritually. However, I myself and all my students are working hard to recover the damage you made. We will never allow your sexual lineage to spread in this world.

I have no connection with you.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

The answer by Kelsang Gyatso seems to be a response to a mass email Samden sent to his students:

Dear Sangha,

After one year of silence, I would like out of fairness to those who know me, to write a few words. I have just spent two months caring for my mother. During this time, I heard and read many unusual reports about myself. I am surprised and disappointed that many practitioners appear to be holding incorrect beliefs, to have drawn wrong conclusions, and to have made harsh judgements in relation to my departure. I would like to make it clear that in February 2007, I made the decision to leave in order to prepare for and engage in long-term retreat. This decision was founded upon a pure intention, to maintain the lineage of Je Tsongkhapa, and become a perfect Teacher. I did not leave because I felt I had made mistakes; nor was I asked to do so for any such reason. I believe that a decision that I leave was already made by others - founded upon impure intention, ambition. My departure was already a 'fate' accompli - I could not have stayed. My reputation has since been deliberately sullied, even though Venerable Geshe-la in one of the last emails I received from him said "NKT will always respect you, I promise." This has been done to convince people of my apparent wrongdoings, and to wield more authority over them. Under the guise of service to the Spiritual Guide, the Tradition is being misdirected, even subverted. As senior practitioners continue to meet with a similar fate, it is being left in the hands of the ambitious, who abuse their authority. A crack has formed within our Tradition, weakening it. With only compliants allowed to assume or remain in any position, with priorities upside down, and with methods of management unacceptable in modern society, I dissociate myself with what will eventually become evident to all. I understand there is a difference between reliance and compliance, and the results they bring. I am still acting upon my original decision; my intention to uphold the Tradition of Je Tsongkhapa will not change. I no longer wear my robes,yet at no time have I thought of 'dis'robing; and in order to achieve my goal I am committing myself wholeheartedly to one whom I believe is qualified to help me do so. I remain committed to Venerable Geshe-la and to our Tradition. I have no wish to bring any harm through writing this.There will be no further communication from me. I wish everyone the very best in their spiritual training. With much love and appreciation for all the support you have shown me over the years May the doctrine of Conqueror Losang Dragpa flourish for evermore.


Earlier Samden had resigned, prompting this letter from Kelsang Gyatso to Samden in February 2007:

Dear Samden,

I have received your email in which you resign from being NKT Deputy Spiritual Director. The reason given for this resignation, that the duties and responsibilities of the NKT General Spiritual Director will be too heavy for you, is valid. Therefore, I accept your resignation.

I would like to suggest that the effectiveness of your resignation from being Deputy Spiritual Director should be from 1st May 2007. Until then please complete your commitments to teach at various Festivals and Dharma Celebrations.

With much love and prayers,
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

A list and the respective descriptions about the power politics within NKT would be quite long. Here just a few documented cases that give an initial idea how arbitrarily Kelsang Gyatso installs and removes his students from positions. A position can be kept only by people who are totally obedient and very useful for the spread of NKT, and who are not seen as a threat to the reputation of the NKT or the power of Kelsang Gyatso:

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  • Belither, James (year unknown). Modern Day Kadampas: The History and Development of the New Kadampa Tradition. New Kadampa Tradition. (PDF)
  • Bluck, Robert (2006). British Buddhism: Teachings, Practice and Development. RoutledgeCurzon, ISBN 0-415-39515-1
  • Bunting, Madeleine (1996). Shadow boxing on the path to Nirvana, The Guardian – London, (PDF)
  • Cozort, Daniel (2003). The Making of Western Lama in “Buddhism in the Modern World”, ISBN 0-19-514698-0
  • Clarke, Peter Bernard (2006). New Religions in Global Perspective, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-25748-4
  • Kay, David N. (1997). The New Kadampa Tradition and the Continuity of Tibetan Buddhism in Transition, Journal of Contemporary Religion 12(3) (October 1997), 277-293 (PDF)
  • Kay, David N. (2004). Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain: Transplantation, Development and Adaptation - The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), and the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives (OBC), London and New York, ISBN 0-415-29765-6 (PDF)
  • Gyatso, Kelsang (1991), Guide to Dakini Land, (1st and 2nd editions), ISBN: 0948006-40-4
  • Gyatso, Kelsang (2005), Guide to Dakini Land, (2005 reprint), ISBN: 978-0948006-40-1
  • Gyatso, Kelsang (1993), Understanding the Mind, ISBN 81-208-1891-1
  • Lopez Jr, Donald S. (1998). Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226493105
  • Prohl, Inken. Book Review of Kay (2004): “Tibetan and Zen Buddhism in Britain …”
  • Waterhouse, Helen (1997). Buddhism in Bath: Authority and Adaptation, Leeds: Community Religions Project Monograph Series, University of Leeds, ISBN 1-871363-05.

About the New Kadampa Tradition

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Critical of NKT


© Tenzin Peljor & Wikipedia

The basis of this article was taken from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (April-May 2008). Large parts of it were contributed and edited by T. Peljor.

Updated in May 2015.

Wikipedia and Tibet-related Issues

Some Tibetologists started to warn against using Wikipedia as a reliable source with respect to articles related to Tibet!¹

Though some Wikipedia articles are excellent, usually a lay person won’t be able to discriminate between the excellent and the incorrect articles. However, the articles by Wikipedia used for this website were edited, verified and chosen very carefully.

Nowadays NKT has its own Wikipedia editor team that changes the articles according to NKT leadership’s point of view.²

¹ e.g. Prof. Dr. Dieter Schuh, Tibetinstitut, Wikipedia und Tibet

² for details see Wikipedia: Dorje Shugden’s Enlightened Lineage or How to Make ‘History’

Academic Research

For a frequently updated list of research papers see: