One criticism of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is that it has no lineage after the passing of its Founder, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. This is untrue. On the contrary, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has shown great skill in establishing the manner of his succession. Upon establishing the NKT in the West in 1991, Geshe Kelsang started to explore 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; 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 and Deputy Spiritual Director (DSD) every four years, each for a fixed term of four years, to stand for re-election once, eight years in total. If the office of GSD becomes vacant, the serving DSD automatically becomes the new GSD, and a new DSD is elected, and so forth. This is the system now in place. After four years, or two terms of four years, a retired-GSD will return to being a Resident Teacher, but will be invited to teach at NKT International Festivals.

For most practitioners in the NKT, this is a very comfortable way of proceeding for future generations because it ensures that each successive GSD will mainly function to guide and maintain this tradition for a short period of time. Thus, the emphasis of the tradition is on the Dharma that is being taught, not the individual who is acting as the temporary director. Even if Geshe Kelsang himself were in a future rebirth to become GSD, he (or she) would only be able to serve in that capacity for up to eight years, providing he or she fulfills all the necessary requirements, such as being ordained.

It is thanks to having experienced first-hand the limitations of the other methods of succession that NKT practitioners can appreciate the current system and realize its wisdom.