Calling the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) a “cult” is completely misleading. Below we explain how the NKT got labelled as a cult by some people due to their opposition to the 14th Dalai Lama’s ban on Dorje Shugden in the 1990s.
The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is not a cult but an authentic Mahayana Buddhist tradition. The definition of cult (Chambers Dictionary) is an “unorthodox or false religion”. Since the NKT follows the Mahayana teachings of the great Buddhist Masters Atisha (982-1054 CE) and Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419 CE) , which are traced back to Buddha Shakyamuni himself (500 BCE), it is neither false nor unorthodox.
The overall tradition
There are hundreds of thousands of people who have had and are having very good experiences with the NKT. They see no reason for calling it a cult, and are often bewildered by that accusation. If you want to read any positive accounts, here are a few examples; and there has also been a great deal of good local press over the years. The best thing really is to go and talk to someone at a Center, or talk to lots of people at different Centers to get different points of view, if you’re worried by the criticism online.
In general, a good test as to whether something is a cult is to check: “Is what I’m hearing designed to control me or helping me control myself?” The former is a cult, the latter is a Buddhist tradition. In NKT Centers around the world, students learn how to gain mastery of their own minds and lives through reducing their negative states of mind (such as hatred, greed, and ignorance) and increasing their positive minds (such as love, compassion, and wisdom).
Although it is important not to generalize or stereotype entire Buddhist traditions or communities based on the actions of some individuals, there have been criticisms of inappropriate behavior over the years and we try to address these on this site. We are really sorry for any mistakes that have been made. We’re also grateful for the criticisms insofar as addressing the problems and teething problems that have come up has steadily made us a stronger, gentler, kinder, and more qualified organization.
Making mistakes and wanting to learn from them is why the A Moral Discipline Guide, The Internal Rules of The New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union came into existence, containing numerous checks and balances on the behavior, election, and, if necessary, removal of administrators, teachers, and spiritual directors — safeguarding against extreme or immoral behavior, and legally binding. The NKT is not afraid of criticism because everything is out in the open and the organization and individuals are constantly trying to improve.
How did the NKT come to be labelled a cult by some people?
Many NKT students joined Dorje Shugden practitioners in protesting the Dalai Lama for his ban of their spiritual practice, and as a result were branded as a breakaway cult — defamation that powerfully influences and colors other criticisms, especially the “cult” allegations. Dorje Shugden practitioners are considered by the 14th Dalai Lama’s most ardent followers to be spirit worshippers and cultists, especially as they opposed him in a bid for religious freedom; and the “cult” label has stuck, even though the Dalai Lama was wrong to try and destroy a much loved religious practice and has since rescinded the ban.
In the West, a project spearheaded and coordinated by Tenzin Peljor and Carol McQuire in the 1990s/early 2000s, asked followers of the 14th Dalai Lama in the UK to contact the organization INFORM and tell them the NKT was an NRM or cult. The claims were noted by INFORM, but INFORM simply includes the NKT amongst the other Buddhist traditions. However, to this day, this campaign set the tone for this label and the “cult” label to be used liberally when criticizing the NKT. It is very easy to throw the “cult” label around, just as it is easy to call people “fascists” or “socialists” when we don’t agree with them.
Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has said that whenever he was criticized, he would check to see if the criticism was valid and, if it was, he would feel grateful to the person criticizing because it gave him an opportunity to improve. If the criticism was not valid, he would also feel grateful because Buddhist practitioners always need to be working on removing the fault of self-cherishing. This is our intention and our hope.
If you have any concerns or complaints about the NKT~IKBU organization, teachers, managers, or students, please email [email protected]. If you prefer to speak to someone directly, ask to arrange a call with an Education Council representative.