Smears of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Smear: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is a 'self-styled Geshe'

Truth: In the colophon to Geshe Kelsang's long life prayer written by Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche himself (available from Tharpa Publications free of charge), it says:

"This brief prayer for the long life of the Tsang-pa Geshe, Kelsang Gyatso, of Sera-Je Monastery, who is endowed with great learning and immaculate pure conduct, was composed by Yongdzin Trijang Dorjechang at the request of the community at Manjushri Centre, England."

In the foreword to Geshe Kelsang’s book Meaningful to Behold, Venerable Trijang Rinpoche says:

The excellent expounder, the great Spiritual Master Kelsang Gyatso, who studied myriad Buddhist scriptures at the famous Je College of the great monastic university of Sera Tegchen Ling, practised the meaning of the teachings he received, and became a wise, serious and realized Teacher.

Smear: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso stole Manjushri Institute from the FPMT

Truth: Geshe Kelsang was the first Resident Teacher at Manjushri Institute. He later accepted Lama Yeshe’s request for him to step down and had made plans to return to India and then to live at Madhyamaka Centre (which Geshe Kelsang founded independent of the FPMT) in York. However, the community at Manjushri all petitioned him to stay.

The community of Manjushri Institute wished to save their building, Conishead Priory, from being sold to make funds available for suspect business dealings in Hong Kong. This meant they needed to separate from the FPMT. On the other hand, they wished Lama Yeshe to stay as their Spiritual Director. After continual discussions on how to solve the problem, also involving two representatives from the Dalai Lama, the Institute’s managers – then called the ‘Priory Group’ – decided to take steps to separate Manjushri Institute from FPMT.

There were three main reasons for doing this:

1) FPMT managers had committed serious illegal actions, which was public knowledge among many people at Dharma centres;
2) FPMT managers wanted to sell Manjushri Institute’s building; and
3) Although, according to its constitution, legally everything at the centre belonged only to four people, in reality all the work of developing the centre was being done by the community, and not these four.

Eventually, a legally binding agreement was made, which was signed by the FPMT’s representatives, Geshe Kelsang, the Priory Group and the community representatives. One part of the agreement was to confirm that Lama Yeshe was the Spiritual Director of Manjushri Centre.

The whole detailed history of Manjushri Institute over these years has been chronicled by three reliable witnesses who were part of the proceedings.

Smear: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's books are written by his Western students

Truth: If this is true, then Geshe Kelsang's students must be geniuses!

Geshe Kelsang receives editorial help for expressing in Western languages the spiritual meanings contained within the texts he writes, but he writes the texts themselves. As anybody who has worked with Geshe Kelsang can attest, the process of converting the teachings into texts, and the texts into books is a very involved process, going back and forth many times with Geshe Kelsang to ensure that editorial changes do not distort in any way the spiritual meanings he intends to convey.

Smear: NKT practices the personality cult of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Truth: It is interesting how no one ever accuses the Dalai Lama’s followers of being involved in a personality cult, even though he receives far more veneration and adulation than Geshe Kelsang and does nothing to stop it. In fact, it could be argued that he has spent the last twenty years exploiting it.

In one of the latest movies about him, The Unwinking Gaze, the Dalai Lama says that many Tibetans will die when he does, and some will even commit suicide. It would be unthinkable for Geshe Kelsang to talk like this.

Robert Thurman’s latest book on the Dalai Lama, Why the Dalai Lama Matters, is an extraordinary example of the idolatry that the Dalai Lama inspires, including a picture of him as 1000-Armed Avalokiteshvara.

On the other hand, Geshe Kelsang has never promoted himself as a personality -- he is very humble and self-deprecating, attributing all the success of the NKT to his Spiritual Guide Trijang Rinpoche and the blessings of Je Tsongkhapa. He rarely mentions himself at all.

Smear: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has made mistakes in establishing the manner of his succession

Truth: Geshe Kelsang has shown great skill in establishing the manner of his succession. Since establishing the NKT in the West in 1991, Geshe Kelsang has explored a variety of ways to maintain the lineage and tradition for future generations, knowing that the Tibetan “tulku” or reincarnation system was prone to political abuse and would also never work in the modern world.

He first explored the idea of one elected successor who would succeed him as General Spiritual Director (GSD) of the tradition from his death until his successor's death (the Papal model); he then tried the idea of a committee of four elected elders who would share the responsibility equally for their lifetimes; and then he tried the idea of one successor elected for up to four terms of four years (sixteen in total).

Finally, based on these methods being tried and tested and all found to have drawbacks, he finally came to the decision that none of those models would work in the West.

Therefore, it was concluded that it is best to elect one new GSD every four years, for a fixed term of four years. After four years, they will return to their previous NKT Center as a Resident Teacher.

Smear: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso was expelled from his monastery

Truth: In 1996, Fifteen abbots and teachers from Sera Je Monastery wrote an open letter against Geshe Gyatso, excluded him from the community of the monastery and named him an “apostate”. The reason for this action was Geshe Kelsang's outspoken criticism against the Dalai Lama's ban of Dorje Shugden.

James Belither, who was NKT Secretary at that time, said:

“The campaign to discredit Geshe Kelsang is clearly an attempt to silence him and to act as a warning to others. As one Tibetan Lama living in America said to another Lama living in Germany who was planning to come out publicly against the Dalai Lama's ban 'No, you mustn't do that. They'll do to you what they've done to Geshe Kelsang.' “

What does it mean to be 'expelled' from an institution you used to study at? It doesn't take away your years of study and meditation or diminish your spiritual qualifications at all. From this we can see that the expulsion is merely a political action and an empty gesture.

Smear: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso calls himself 'the Third Buddha' and seeks veneration from his students

Truth: Geshe Kelsang has never used this term in relation to himself, in fact he is very humble and self-deprecating, attributing all the success of the NKT to Je Tsongkhapa. For example, in a teaching before a Je Tsongkhapa empowerment in 1995 he said:

“We can think, how is it possible that a foolish man like myself can write fifteen Dharma books? These are very different from other books. The NKT Dharma books that we are using as our subject of study and practice are not just a collection of lectures. They are complete with root text, commentary and outlines, made perfectly like Dharma scripture. How can a foolish man write these books? I can say that because Je Tsongkhapa's teachings are so profound, precious and clear, it gives Geshe Kelsang the opportunity to write these books. All the explanations of NKT Dharma books come from Je Tsongkhapa's teachings. Because these teachings are so special, even a humble practitioner and foolish man like me has the opportunity to present such beautiful books. Through this alone we can understand the pre-eminent qualities of Je Tsongkhapa.”

For more on this subject, see the article with the same title on the blog. See also Relying upon the Spiritual Guide in these degenerate times

Smear: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso suffered from chronic TB while living in Mussoorie, India, and did not do long retreat

Truth: This is not true. Geshe Kelsang was in solitary retreat for many years and is an accomplished meditator.

This and several other rumors come explicitly from the politically motivated and factually inaccurate letter sent to Geshe Kelsang by Sera Je Monastery in India, expelling him from the monastery, which was quoted in 1996 in The Tibetan Review and Snow Lion magazine.

Smear: NKT places over-reliance on one teacher

Truth: It is interesting how no one ever accuses the Dalai Lama’s followers of this kind of behaviour!

This may be a misrepresentation of the teachings on relying upon a Spiritual Guide, which is a teaching common to all Mahayana traditions. The NKT does not emphasize this any more than any other Tibetan Buddhist or indeed Mahayana Buddhist tradition. This meditation was taught originally by Buddha Shakyamuni and later by all Mahayana teachers, including Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa as part of the Lamrim (Stages of the Path).

In the NKT, Buddha Shakyamuni is always referred to as the founder of Buddhism, and is the only ultimate authority. Also, Geshe Kelsang, who is retiring in 2009, has put in a system of democratic succession involving an elected new General Spiritual Director (who will be in place for four years before the next person is elected) (See Internal Rule 5§8).

Smear: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso encourages his students to see him as an ultimate spiritual authority

Truth: Here's a challenge: try to find one instance in Geshe Kelsang's books or teachings where he says, “I am your Spiritual Guide” or “You must follow what I say”. Geshe Kelsang is very humble and has never claimed to be an ultimate spiritual authority. He also attributes all his qualities and success to the kindness of his Teacher, Trijang Rinpoche.

Smear: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has millions of pounds that have come from his disciples

Truth: This is not true. Geshe Kelsang lives very humbly in one room on a small stipend and gives everything he receives away to others, including the royalties to his books.

This and several other rumors come explicitly from the politically motivated and factually inaccurate letter sent to Geshe Kelsang by Sera Je Monastery in India, expelling him from the monastery, which was quoted in 1996 in The Tibetan Review and Snow Lion magazine.

Smear: Geshe Kelsang Gyatso is against the 14th Dalai Lama

Truth: It is true that Geshe Kelsang is an opponent of the Dalai Lama's ban of the practice of Buddha Dorje Shugden, but he is not against the Dalai Lama himself and has no interest or investment in Tibetan politics. He has also not broken any commitments to the Dalai Lama, as the Dalai Lama has never been his teacher.

Smear: NKT students worship Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Truth: This is not true. NKT detractors sometimes make unjustified claims about the NKT's supposed cultish devotion toward Geshe Kelsang. The trend was started in a 1996 article by Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian newspaper, where she said that NKT members "pray to and worship Geshe Kelsang".

Geshe Kelsang has never claimed to be an omniscient being or a Buddha. He rarely talks about himself at all. He is a very humble monk and renunciate. He spent sixteen years blissfully happily in strict retreat, only emerging to bring Dharma to the West because his Spiritual Guide Trijang Rinpoche asked it of him.