The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) is traditional Buddhism that comes from a long lineage of realized Buddhist Masters, both Indian and Tibetan, dating back 2600 years to Buddha Shakyamuni himself, and which is presented for the modern world. It is not fundamentalist, however, as has sometimes been claimed. Nor is it exclusive — everybody is welcome to attend any NKT meditation classes regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs.
The definition of fundamentalism in Wikipedia is “deep and totalistic commitment” to a belief in, and strict adherence to a set of basic principles (often religious in nature), a reaction to perceived doctrinal compromises with modern social and political life.
Fundamentalism is therefore clinging to a set of principles in reaction to the perception that too much compromise of these principles has been made in the modern world. This does not apply to the NKT. As with all Buddhists, NKT practitioners try to practice Buddha’s teachings as they were traditionally transmitted to them without imposing their own interpretation or omitting anything; however, there is a flexibility at NKT Centres around the world to compromise with the norms of society and local culture as necessary to benefit others, which is the antithesis of fundamentalism. Here are some examples.
There is an expression in Kadampa Buddhism:
Remain natural while changing your aspiration.
One example of this flexibility is the NKT ordination. The ten commitments of NKT ordination provide the flexibility to function in the modern world — such as being able to support oneself by having a job, handling money, and freely meeting with people to help them — but they also provide the necessary restraint from inappropriate actions that Buddha taught in the Sutras to make progress on the spiritual path. The NKT ordination is therefore generally more suited to living in the modern world than the traditional ordination based on the Vinaya.
One could argue that it is critics of the NKT ordination who are being fundamentalist by clinging to a fixed idea of ordination that cannot change with the times. For them, NKT ordination offers too many compromises with modern life. However, because Geshe Kelsang understands the essential meaning of Buddha’s teachings, he is able to make changes in presentation where necessary without compromising what Buddha taught or the strength of monastic ordination.
There are other examples of flexibility and changes to the presentation of Buddhism introduced by the NKT, such as the training of Buddhist teachers of every nationality for every country, the training and promotion of lay women and men as teachers alongside monks and nuns, the translation of books and prayers into modern languages, new sadhanas compiled under the guidance of Geshe Kelsang, the use of new tunes and modern instruments in the music accompanying pujas, the composition of The Liberating Prayer (a praise to Buddha Shakyamuni) and other modern prayers, following the solar calendar familiar to the West as opposed to the lunar calendar followed by Tibetans and Western followers of Tibetan Buddhism. These and many other innovations distinguish the NKT from other traditions. However, the essential meaning of Buddha’s teachings remains unchanged. In this way, NKT is both flexible and traditional at the same time.