New Kadampa Tradition
The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) also known as the International Kadampa Buddhist Union (IKBU) is a global Buddhist organization founded by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in 1991.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is a Tibetan Teacher, Monk and Scholar, trained at the Gelugpa Sera Monastery. In 1977 Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was invited by Lama Thubten Yeshe to teach at Lama Yeshe’s FPMT-center Manjushri Institute in Ulverston, England. Geshe Kelsang remained there and took over the Manjushri Institute in 1983. Geshe Kelsang 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.
The Manjushri Institute is nowadays called Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre. It is the main seat of the New Kadampa Tradition.
NKT-IKBU was founded by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in order to be completely independent from Gelug School and Tibetan Buddhism. The New Kadampa Tradition is a Western Buddhist Tradition and not a part of Tibetan Buddhism or Gelug school. However, Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang and also his teacher, Pabongkha Rinpoche, are recognised lineage Gurus.
Lineage of Teachers
The NKT expresses its lineage of the teachings as follows:
- Shakyamuni Buddha
- Venerable Atisha
- Je Tsongkhapa
- Je Pabongkhapa
- Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang
- Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
The New Kadampa Tradition follows a selection of teachings of Venerable Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa as presented in the West by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
The New Kadampa Tradition was developed on the basis of Geshe Kelsang Gytaso’s teachings and later his published books. To date, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has written and published more than eighteen books on main topics of Sutra and Tantra, six of them being commentaries to root texts such as:
- Joyful Path of Good Fortune an explanation of the practice of Lamrim
- Training the Mind in Seven Points by Geshe Chekhawa,
- Eight Verses of Training the Mind by Geshe Langri Tangpa,
- Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva,
- Chandrakirti’s Guide to the Middle Way
- The Essence of Wisdom Sutra (the Heart Sutra).
These books are mainly based on the oral teachings given by Gelug Teachers to Kelsang Gytaso. The Dharma-presentation of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is nowadays named by NKT as Kadampa Buddhism. Only books written by Kelsang Gyatso are studied in his centres. After the takeover of The Manjushri Institute all books from their library were removed which were written by anyone else than Kelsang Gyatso. These books were accumulated when Lama Yeshe was spiritual guardian of the centre. It is claimed that many of the books were destroyed and some were rescued to be given by concerned students to Samye Ling monastery, in Scotland. However according to Kelsang Khyenrab, the NKT Director for England, “The books at Manjushri Centre’s library, as Dharma texts, were treated with respect; they were given to Centres and libraries which studied the particular traditions explained within them.”
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has designed three spiritual programs for the systematic study and practice: the General Program, the Foundation Program, and the Teacher Training Program. In all three study programs the students study his books on Buddhism.
The presentation of the Dharma focuses less upon Buddhist philosophy and more upon integrating spiritual practices into daily life. This assortment was made by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso so that the presentation by NKT is more suited to Westerners and has some difference from the modern Tibetan Gelugpa tradition from which it derives.
The formal spiritual programmes include Chandrakirti’s ‘Guide to the Middle Way’, ‘The Essence of Wisdom Sutra’ (the heart sutra) and ‘Lorig’, which is the nature and functions of the mind.
The main practice of New Kadampa Buddhists is Lamrim (Stages of the Path to Enlightenment), Lojong (Training the Mind) and Vajrayana Mahamudra (the quick path to enlightenment taught by Buddha Vajradhara) and it is these three subjects that are the essence of Geshe Kelsang’s study programmes.
The New Kadampa ordination is different to that followed by monks and nuns in the Tibetan tradition and this has caused some controversy. NKT monks and nuns receive 10 vows from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
NKT are honest about the fact that an ordained life is very different in the West because, according to the NKT, some of the Vinaya rules are not appropriate in Western society. The way of life of NKT monks and nuns is quite different to monks and nuns of other traditions because they live in mixed Dharma communities with lay people, and not in single sex monasteries and nunneries, and they also work in society to support themselves.
“If we accept that as religions move from culture to culture they will always be imbued with adaptations that suit the culture at hand, then we can see that sometimes there is a need to be flexible and to adopt new ways of behaviour.” It is with this conviction that the NKT has adopted a new code of vinaya. The ordination vows are taken with the motivation of renunciation and contain the commitment to practise the three higher training of moral discipline, concentration and wisdom. As the NKT ordination vows are rooted in the strength of one’s understanding of wisdom, renunciation and Bodhicitta, their substance is seen as deriving from the Mahayana Perfection of Wisdom Sutras and Lam Rim teachings rather than from the Vinaya.
The New Kadampa Tradition has expanded rapidly. As of 2005 they claim to have over 900 established centres and branch groups meeting worldwide, including Europe, Asia, East Asia, North, Central and South America and in South Africa. Some of these centres are residential communities, but most are branch groups that meet weekly in Quaker meeting houses and community centres. The NKT has built a Temple in the United Kingdom and has built NKT-Temples in Canada, the United States and is currently building Temples in Brazil and Australia.
Among Buddhists, the New Kadampa Tradition is considered to be controversial. The NKT is criticised for different reasons. Due to these controversies Kelsang Gytaso was expelled from the Sera Monastery, India. Also the German Buddhist Union have expelled one NKT center and refused another NKT center to become a member.
Critics of NKT say
- NKT is not the Kadampa Tradition or Kadampa Buddhism as they claim to be because this lineage was absorbed into Gelugschool and the other tibetan schools; there is no extra Kadampa lineage or Kadampa Tradition nowadays. NKT deceives people if they wrongly claim this in their advertisements or name their presentation of the Dharma as “Kadampa Buddhism” and wrongly state “.. is a Mahayana Buddhist school founded by the great Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (AD 982-1054)”. Sometimes Kelsang Gyatso said NKT is Gelug Tradition but then it follows that NKT is necessarily also a part of the Gelug school. They would therefore be obliged to follow the Ganden Tripa, the head of the Gelugpas – but they do not. Also the main tantric practice in Gelug Tradition is the union of the three tantras Guhyasamaja, Heruka and Yamantaka but these are not practiced by the NKT members. Also Buddha Shakyamuni, Je Tsongkhapa or Lord Atisha didn’t even mention Dorje Shugden, the main protector practice of NKT. Je Tsongkhpa taught Mahakala, Vaishravana and Kalarupa. From the main texts of studying in the Gelug and Kadampa School only one is taught and studied; no text of Tsongkhapa, Nagarjuna, Atisha or Asanga is studied. So NKT is neither Gelug nor Kadampa school, it is a complete new school for the west based on a variety of Gelug teachings.
- NKT claims to be a “pure tradition” and “complete lineage” but Geshe Kelsang does not pass the full range of Gelug teachings and the full range of the Vinaya vows for ordained monks and nuns in the traditional context and does not allow other fully ordained monks or nuns, Geshes, Masters or Lamas to teach in his centers – only NKT teachers can teach there.
- To clarify that topic: There are two Vinaya Ordination lineages in the Sanskrit Tradition of Buddhism on which the Mahayana is based: the Mahasanghika lineage and the Mulasarvastavadin lineage. Kelsang Gyatso belongs to the Mulasarvastavadin lineage and is bound to that lineage in which monks and nuns receive either 36 (novice monk/nun – tib. Getsul) or 253 (fully ordained monk – tib. Gelong, pali Bikkhu) vows. However Geshe Kelsang only gives 10 vows and grant an ordination which is not according to his own lineage. Also in the Mulasarvastavadin lineage there have to be minimum 5 full ordained monks which should be present when Ordination is granted but this is not the case because NKT has fewer than 5 fully ordained monks and invite no other full ordained monks for that.
- Conclusion: By creating an own Vinaya system NKT has given up the Vinaya – the root of the doctrine – as taught by the Buddha Shakyamuni. Especially Atisha and Tsongkhapa revived and emphasised the traditional monastic vows taught in the Vinaya of the Buddha very much. If NKT does not follow these teachings of the Vinaya how then they can claim to be a “complete path” following the “pure teachings” of Buddha Shakyamuni, Atisha and Tsongkhpa? This is seen as a contradiction.
- By creating a new ordination tradition and focusing merely on Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, his books and NKT-followers as their Buddhist Refuge NKT has split off and isolated themselves from the Buddhist Sangha Community. Through this NKT is not reachable anymore for the democratic system and sustaining rules of the Vinaya, taught by the Buddha which helps the ordained to correct and support each other, based on the Elder Sangha – the longtime full ordained ones, the really experienced Sangha members.
- Critics claim also that the takeover of the Manjushri Insititute by Kelsang Gyatso was made in a controversial manner and against Lama Yeshe’s wishes. Lama Yeshe requested the Dalai Lama to ask Kelsang Gyatso to leave his Manjushri Institute in Autumn of 1983 and repair to York. His Holiness did this by sending his brother, Thubten Jigma Norbu to Conishead Priory to discuss this with Kelsang Gyatso but he was not swayed by this emissary of the Dalai Lama. This controversy is also published in the which was signed by many monasteries.
Response made by NKT practitioners
Some of the statements New Kadampa Tradition followers gave to the controversies are:
- “The NKT reflects firm belief in reliance upon a qualified spiritual guide as taught by Atisha. This is the way a lineage retains its essential purity and meaning. This is also why they practice what taught by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche. Numerous Masters and Monks teach in NKT centres, following the classic teacher-student lineage.”
- “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.” Citation from Modern Day Kadampas – a brochure of the NKT.
- “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.” – Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in Tricycle Magazine, 1998
- For more see the discussion board.