Bullying & Intimidation: The New Face of Buddhism in the West
What do you make of a Buddhist group that threatens to sue anyone who dares to say anything critical about it? Enter, the New Kadampa Tradition
In July 1996, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that “One former member wrote to Kelsang with a number of concerns about the NKT. In his reply, Kelsang rejected all the criticism and threatened legal action if any of the criticisms were ever published. In June, the NKT wrote to an Internet user, referring to legal action because he had disputed the history and origins of Dorje Shugden”
Sound a little odd? Well, it looks like it didn’t start there.
Dr Edward Reiss
the Washington Times & Sydney Morning Herald
In November 2002, Kelsang sent the editor of the Washington Times with the following message
“1. You can publicly apologize and withdraw your false statements and accusations and print an article which must be based on my above letter on the front page of your newspaper “ and “2. If you do not accept to publicly apologize and withdraw your false statements and accusations, and to print an article based on my letter as detailed in point (1), then I have no choice but to engage in legal action.”
A letter expressing the same threat of legal action was sent to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of days later
Lama Thubten Yeshe
This was not the first time the NKT leader and his followers had issued threats. In the period preceeding the NKTs birth, in 1983, Kelsang sent his disciple Chip Rodamor and translator to put pressure on Lama Yeshe to release Conishead Priory to Kelsang and the board of trustees, whom Kelsang had talked into supporting him. When Lama Yeshe chose not to meet with Kelsangs messengers, Rodamor sent him a tape containing the following message
“Now at present, the Charities Commission holds a type-written report numbering close to 100 pages which not only summarise a number of civil and criminal illegalities with respect to the conduct of the management of Manjushri Institute but also contains supporting evidence. Please also appreciate that our attorney in London, who is an expert in Charity Law, also holds details of the most serious criminal illegalities conducted by some of the trustees and others and supporting evidence. Now, the immediate consequence of not signing the agreement that we presented to you a few days ago is that our attorney in London will turn over the details of the most serious criminal illegalities to the Solicitor General’s Office. The consequence of this will be a police investigation of the trustees of the Manjushri Institute in addition to the conduct of the FPMT organisation. In addition to this the Charities Commission will start a full investigation of the civil and criminal illegalities….. If we are unable to return to England with your signature…… then please know, Lama, without doubt that civil and legal actions will commence next week.”
What the tape didn’t do was thank Lama Yeshe for inviting Kelsang to teach at Manjushri, nor did it acknowledge that the “civil and criminal illegalities” Rodamor spoke of had taken place while Kelsang was in charge! (No charges were ever brought, something which, as we shall see, is a recurrent theme in the NKT’s legal policy)
In true Buddhist spirit. Lama Yeshe accepted defeat and offered the victory to Kelsang and the Priory became the physical nucleus of the NKT. What Buddhist principles lay behind the bullying and power games that gave the Priory to Kelsang as yet, remain unclear.
The UK Network of Buddhist Organisations
In 2009, Kelsang personally organised worldwide demonstrations against the Dalai Lama, this after publicly promising that he would never do such a thing again, after having organised similar demonstrations during a previous visit by the same.
In response to this news, the Chair of the UK Network of Buddhist Organisations wrote to the NKT, suggesting:
“…….if the NKT leadership want to enhance the reputation of their organisation they should distance themselves and their organisation from any potential demonstration and make it clear in writing that if anyone does protest, this is unofficial. We would further suggest that NKT supporters are asked by the leadership not to undertake any protest at all.”
Interestingly, when the NKT first joined the NBO, it was on the basis of a promise made by NKT senior Jim Belither that the group would refrain from such protests in the future. As a result of their joining, 3/4 of the NBOs Tibetan membership left.
In light of the storm of controversy the protests caused, the NBO formulated a code of conduct for all its members to sign before their annual membership renewal. One of the most significant clauses was that members should refrain from public conflict and to express any grievances privately, behind closed doors.
"Earlier this year, in the letter sent by the NBO Treasurer, you invited the NKT to renew its NBO membership with the condition that the NKT must accept the new rule that you have created for members. On 2ih January 2009 we replied explaining that the NKT should continue always to be a member of the NBO, but that we would not accept the new rule you are making which directly violates democratic rights of free speech and action. The NKT asked you not to create such an unfair rule."
*Because we are Buddhists, we need to solve our problems and misunderstandings through peaceful methods, with a good heart and an open mind........(however,) If we fail to resolve this problem through peaceful methods there is no doubt that we will therefore need to engage in legal action to clarify the issue of the position of the members of the NBO and to achieve a final resolution. In conclusion, the NKT asks that the NKT always remains a member of the NBO but, the NKT cannot accept the new rule that you haveundemocratically created. And we ask: do you accept this? We need your reply before the 10th April 2009. If we do not receive your reply by that date, we will regard that you have not accepted."
The NKT did not renew its membership.
Coinicidentally, two of Kelsang's majordomos, Kadam Lucy James and Bjorn Clausen, who had been actively involved in organizing previous demonstrations but who had expressed concerns about potential repercussions of repeating the same mistake, were immediately removed from their positions
In response, James allegedly wrote:
"Since the beginning of our involvement with the NKT we have been repeatedly told that the NKT was not involved in politics. Now that the NKT has opened up with its political position and begun demonstrating I can no longer be a part of the organization. This complete lack of honesty about the NKT's involvement in Tibetan politics is the reason for my departure."
Inform is an independent academic body funded by the UK Government’s Home Office and based at London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), one of the UK's leading academic institutions.
As the NKT gained increasing prominence, so to did the complaints about its activities In 2008,inquiries received more enquiries about the NKT than any other British New Religious Movement, as also was the case for the following few years.
In response to these increasing inquiries, Inform produced an information leaflet on the NKT, charting its history and development as well as some, though not all, of the controversies surrounding it.
As academics involved in the study of New Religious Movements, Inform provides the organizations it comments on with draft copies of anything it writes so that they have the chance to comment before publication. However, when Inform provided the NKT with what they intended to publish, the NKT responded, characteristically, by threatening legal action and the publication was adjusted.
Gary Beesley, Author of 'A Cuckoo in the Peacock Palace'
Perhaps the most infamous and controversial legal threat issued by the NKT came in 2010, in the run-up to the publication of 'A Cuckoo in the Peacock Palace: The Decline of Tradition in 21st Century Western Buddhism and the Rise of the New Kadampa Tradition'
The publicity for the book read:
"Many visitors to the Dalai Lama's teachings across Europe and the USA in 2008 were surprised to come across groups of Chinese and Western protesters, many dressed in Tibetan Buddhist robes and with shaven heads, chanting anti Dalai Lama slogans, accusing him of being 'a liar', a 'hypocrite', and a denier of the basic human right to religious freedom”
"A Cuckoo in the Peacock Palace" charts the gradual development of the deity cult lying at the very beginning of the long running dispute that gave rise to these protests, from its bloody and controversial birth in the mid 1600s, down to its continuing bloody and controversial existence in the present day”
"Since the overwhelming majority of protesters outside the Dalai Lama's teachings internationally were members of the Western, Neo-Buddhist Movement, the New Kadampa Tradition, and since it was they who provided the logistical framework and manpower behind them, 'Cuckoo' analyses the history of the NKT and asks to what extent the group have become puppets of the Chinese propaganda machine in its ongoing war with the Dalai Lama of Tibet”.
Two weeks before the book was due to be published, both Beesley and his publisher received letters stating:
“In the title and subtitle of this book you are deliberately and directly implying that the development of the New Kadampa Tradition has caused the Gelug Buddhist Tradition to decline. This is entirely false and misleading, and very negative and extremely harmful ...This will of course cause great damage to the public moral and financial standing of all these Centres, now and far into the future".
"Because we are Buddhists it is always important to try to solve our problems by peaceful means. For this reason, the NKT would like with this letter to propose to you that you completely remove all the negative information about the New Kadampa Tradition, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and Dorje Shugden from your forthcoming book. If you sincerely agree to do this, then the 1,200 Buddhist Centres of the New Kadampa Tradition will patiently accept the immense harm that you have already done to their reputation by spreading this false information on the Internet."
"If you accept this proposal, we request you to you give us the opportunity to read and consider the book before it is published so that any false or defamatory statements or implications can be clarified with you. If you do not accept this proposal, then the NKT will have no choice but to engage in legal action against you and your publisher to protect all the Buddhist Centres of the New Kadampa Tradition. The NKT would sue for compensation for the further great damage to its moral and financial standing that the book would cause.”
Unable to meet the substantial legal costs involved in fighting the NKT in the UK courts, Beesley was forced to withdraw the book, despite its contents being thoroughly evidenced.
The incident caused uproar across the web and confirmed the NKTs reputation as the most Draconian and litigious of all of Britains most controversial Buddhist, New Religious Movements
For further background information, as well as an explanation of more sinister reasons behind the withdrawal of Beesley's book, see
Kadam Nick Gillespie
|Gillespie at the London demos in 2008|
In April 2012, the NKT expelled Nick Gillespie, probably one of the biggest cogs in the organization's business machine. For many years, Gillespie had been the main person responsible for developing the NKT's centres and increasing membership: he helped set up the Madhyamaka Centre near York in 1986.He had also been spokesperson for the NKT front group, the Shugden Supporters in the West He was the man behind the bulhorn at the earliest demonstrations outside London's Office of Tibet in 1996.
Then, in his obvious enthusiasm, Nick decided to write a book on Buddhism. Here is the NKT response to his decision to share his wisdom
Because we are very worried that your actions will cause people confusion and to follow in a different direction and in this way NKT quickly will be destroyed. So to prevent these dangers the Members of the weekly meeting of the Education Council made the decision and are asking the Admin Directors of all the NKT Dharma Centres including in particular KMC New York City to cease the connection between the Centre and yourself Nick Gillespie. This ban will be effective on the 29th April 2012."
|"What goes around, comes around"|
The Trustees of the NKTs Maitreya Buddhist Centre
NKT faithful trustees helped set up and successfully run their Maitreya Centre near Hastings for five years; the centre was regularly attended by around 50 devotees (who obviously dont read the papers or surf the web!) All went well until, without explanation or warning, Head Office sacked the popular, long term resident teacher and put in place a new teacher who didnt see eye to eye with the trustees. When one trustee complained, he too was 'sacked', without further explanation.
This caused what one person described as “a traumatic and bitter dispute” leading to NKT Head Office komandants, who clearly rule with an iron fist in their quest to ensure obedience and uniformity of product, issuing a number of legal threats, with Obersturmführer Mcbretney, who spends much of his time signing legal threat letters to all and sundry, as well as several to politicans, condemning the 'demonic' Dalai Lama (see an example here)
and making false allegations and disngenuous claims of representative status to the police ( or what some call 'lying'), in a vain attempt to get them to throw the legal occupants of the centre out of the premises. The website of the centre was even hijacked so as to paint a picture of everything being just fine and dandy: the page describes the centre as "a special place of tranquility, rest, reflection and friendship". Honest, It really is.(Ed. Urm, thats lying too, isnt it?)
You can read about what the "special place of tranquility, rest, reflection and friendship" is really like at:
Unfortunately for Head Office, All NKT centres are legally autonomous charities,which has numerous benefits, including microscopic tax bills for a political organization, sorry, 'religious charity' ( Wooops, I did it again, 'group of charities') with a massive, multi-million pound annual turnover (something ordinary, non-celestial beings call 'tax avoidance'). So it was that, when the trustees at Maitreya decided they didnt like being told what to do by the autocratic and authoritarian bully boys at Head Office, they refused to comply with their edicts, as is their legal right under the charity's constitution.
The situation is now at an impasse, with the Charity Commission advising both sides to enter into conciliatory mediation. The trustees, in true Buddhist fashion, have publicly stated their willingness to do so. NKT Head Office remain silent.
So this is how the NKT treats those who have tirelessly worked hard for them for years, giving up much of their free time and energy to promote 'Kadam Dharma'. Coming soon to a town near you. Fancy it?
"When their sandcastles collapse, children howl in despair"
Shantideva, 8th century CE
"And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually."
Jimi Hendrix, 20th century CE
Jimi Hendrix, 20th century CE
|The Clenched Fist-the NKT mudra|