The claim that Geshe Kelsang was too ill to engage in extensive retreats before he came to the West is untrue. Geshe Kelsang was in solitary meditation retreat for many years and was a highly 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 he had graduated from decades earlier, which was quoted in 1996 in The Tibetan Review in Snow Lion Magazine.
When Geshe Kelsang was interviewed about this in November 1996, he replied:
I did a long retreat for many years in Nepal near the border of Tibet in the Himalayan region. The place is called Bangthog Damthang, and I was sponsored by my sister Dekyi, who is now living in Switzerland. Later, I did many long retreats in the Dalhousie mountains near Dharamsala.
In Mussourie, every winter for several months I did retreat. When I was not in retreat I was trying to help families by performing healing rituals and special pujas. Before I went to Mussourie I lived in Buxa and fell sick there with recurrent chest infections, but it was not serious. Later, in Mussourie the chest infections continued to recur, but I was never admitted to hospital. In this life, I have never spent even one night in hospital. My relatives in Mussourie were urging me to have a thorough check up so I was examined by three different doctors. Two of them said that I had no disease, but that I needed to build up my bodily strength, and one doctor said that maybe I had TB. In reality it was difficult to understand the real problem.
Later, when I was living in England, I experienced continual physical weakness until finally I went with two Western assistants to London for three weeks and was examined by two specialists. They took many X-rays and did many other tests. The final result was that both doctors said there was no disease, just lung weakness. They said I needed fresh air, sunshine, exercise and rest to build up my strength.”
Geshe Kelsang also did a three year retreat in Scotland from 1987 to 1990. Between his meditation sessions Geshe Kelsang continued to work on a number of books, and it was at this time that he completed Joyful Path of Good Fortune and Universal Compassion, and wrote The Meditation Handbook, Introduction to Buddhism and Guide to Dakini Land. It was also during this period that he designed the three spiritual programs that form the core of the New Kadampa Tradition.
Was Geshe Kelsang murdered?!
A related theory that keeps being repeated by some New Kadampa Tradition “Survivors” is that Geshe Kelsang was so ill that he was kept hidden from his students for decades. Another conspiracy theory is that he died, sometimes even that he was murdered, and that a sinister cabal of NKT managers spent years covering this up. None of this is true.