Mixing traditions

When I was a part of the NKT I lived in three main centres. Manjushri centre (Conishead Priory) the then Losang Dragpa centre (Dobroyd Castle) and Madhyamaka centre (Kilnwick Percy Hall). I visited many smaller centres and attended the festivals I could. So I can say that I had a broad experience of the NKT’s way of dealing with things in different settings.

I found that the smaller centres had clear rules that the only ‘dharma’ they studied was Kelsang Gyatso’s own translations. However as their set up was more of a shared house/lucky to have lodgers who pay rent structure, the reading of the wider Buddhist spectrum was ignored. You did not have to be an NKT student to live in a satellite centre. I believe these rules are stricter these days.

At the festivals the focus was only Kelsang Gyatso’s teachings. There was no talk of other Buddhist teachers by most people. The only people who talked of other lamas were the long term ‘oldies’ that all seemed to have special status just from them being around for a long time.

In the three centres I lived in and especially as one of Gyatso’s nuns, it was expected that I would only have his books and no one else’s books. I would go as far as to say it was expected that I would only ever read his Buddhist translations.

The ‘rules’ or as it is given to you ‘advice’ comes from all sources. Your best friend, other ordained people, the teacher. Really, to best utilise your precious human life, become a ‘Pure Kadampa’ and get enlightened as quickly as you can you ‘should’ only read the ‘Pure Kadam Dharma’. The ‘Pure Dharma’ only comes through Kelsang Gyatso. Other Tibetan Lamas could be corrupt, confuse you and lead you down a wrong path. They have not been taught ‘Pure Kadam Dharma’ so they can not give you the correct and most powerful advice.

You could tell who was a career practitioner by how strictly they kept to these rules. They would have all of Gyatso’s books and sadhanas on their bookshelf. They shortened their hair, often wore maroon and yellow clothes and worked hard in the centre. They would often hold positions in the centre like EPC (Education co-ordinator) roles kept for the special and very dedicated.

If you are accused of mixing traditions you would have done something on this list:

Practiced spiritual healing – Reiki (this for some reason does not include alternative therapies)

Read another Lama’s books or own them. You were encouraged to get rid of these books.

Gone to another Lama’s teachings.

Have anything from a belief in the Dalai Lama to a picture of him.

Had a picture of a Lama outside of Gyatso’s approved list

Have thangka paintings by an artist not approved by Gyatso.

Used divination of any description unless you were given permission by Gyatso himself.

It was frowned upon if you:

Read non Buddhist books (whatever they maybe).

Had admiration for any person ‘outside’ of Buddhism eg. Maya Angelou for example.

If you drew pictures and art that was not ‘Buddhist’. If you were not painting Buddha or painting a statue you were wasting your time.

Kelsang Gyatso has his hair put into every statue filled in his dharma centres. This ensures that there are ‘qualified’ pure statues. So if you have a statue not filled in a centre then it is an ‘impure’ or as they say ‘unqualified’ statue. Although I do remember relics and other packages being put into the first statues I saw filled. I am not sure if that is still encouraged. You always had to be vigilant in case an ‘unqualified’ Dharma artifact slipped into your possession.

Possible text exceptions are Liberation in the Palm of your hand by Pabongka Rinpoche and texts by Trijang Rinpoche. I have to stress however these are not encouraged they are merely books you could argue a case for as they are by the Lineage gurus. No living Lama is allowed to be read in a centre.

Your widened spiritual path that brings you into contact with Buddha’s teaching is slowly shrunk until out of a kind of compassion and need to get enlightened, your world is shrunk. You are left no choice but to only read Gyatso’s version of the Buddha mind and experience. You do that or risk contaminating and slowing down your path in effect leaving millions of sentient beings languishing in samsara in horrendous suffering. Who wants to do that to suffering living beings?

If you are caught reading, owning or practicing things not specifically mentioned in his translations like mindfulness, you get labeled. You become regarded as a wildcard, a rebel. You would not be allowed to teach and you would be challenged in centre teachings. You would not be invited to join TTP (Teacher Training Programme). You would be treated with distrust. You would eventually be confronted and if you persisted in following other lama’s teachings or liking other sources of Dharma your life would be made uncomfortable and you would be asked to sharpen up or leave. You would be isolated, tolerated and eventually made to feel like leaving was your only option. You might even be evicted.

On a wider level the NKT have written instructions not to talk to any Tibetan groups or get caught up in any Tibetan causes. Yet they are caught up in the Dorje Shugden issue. They wear Tibetan Buddhist robes but they see Tibetan Buddhism as corrupt and dangerous to their practice. They claim to be a Gelugpa lineage but have nothing to do with the actual Gelug lineage.

So when the NKT shout about religious freedom you should remember this. None of them have freedom. They have had their freedom systematically removed from them. In their world talking to and taking teachings from the wider Buddhist community is a crime punishable by banishment. That crime is called ‘mixing traditions’. They see everything outside of their centres and teachers as impure and dangerous to their practice. These views are everything from completely deluded to fanatical. Compassion is necessary and really the only way you can help these people. Love will be the only thing that gets them to hear you.