We must learn from our past or it is wasted. We must have the courage to go forward with hope, and some new wisdom with any luck.
I have always deep down known I was meant to be a Buddhist, it has been in the background of my life for so long. Everytime I saw a picture of Lord Buddha I would be drawn to it and felt some comfort, I could never let a bad experience with the NKT lead me away from something I know to have so many answers, if practised in the right way of course.
So now I was finally completly free from the clutches of this unhealthy organisation I knew I had to keep searching and now of course I could read any book I liked without fear of mixing Dharma and poluting a pure tradition (chuckle,chuckle.)
I was hungry to read other Buddhist books and one author that a few people recomended to me was Pema Chodron, so hers was the first books I tackled and I was pleasantly surprised to find her so different from Kelsang Gyatso's books. Her books felt so human, so warm and as a westerner she understood the difficulties we can face on a Buddhist path.
I was so inspired from reading her books I found out about a local Shambala Buddhist group, not wanting to make the same mistake twice I did my research this time to see if there were any skeletons in the closet. I got mixed results, in some cases it wasn't even clear if Shambala could be said to be Pema Chodron's tradition more a newish cast off, but I did notice a lot of the criticsm towards the group was about it's more advanced Tantric practises rather than it's basic mindfulness meditations that I was interested in; to be honest after the NKT I really didn't want to go near Tantra again, plus I wanted a simple practise, when I was in the NKT I felt we had way too many teachings and practises to realistically be able to do with a busy western life, now I was looking for something much more basic and down to earth, a small practise I could handle.
I went to the class on a wednesday night and what first impressed me was the fact they were free, the NKT centre I worked in the first thing to greet you as you enter is a till, this I think says it all, in this case it was a smiling lady who welcomed me and on finding out it was my first time suggest we go to a room alone so she could teach me a basic mindfulness meditation. She asked me if I had any experience with meditation, I explained I had been part of a Buddhist tradition for 10 years but that we didn't really learn mindfulness meditation, she looked very surprised and asked about my tradition. I told her it was the NKT and I told her we did do breathing meditation but only as a prilimanary and that it was pretty much dismissed as a main practise again she looked very shocked but said nothing.
She sat me down and told me that the type of mindfulness meditation we were going to do was simply focusing on our breath but only our out breath not our in breath, this was different but I gave it a try, she said if thoughts arise in your mind just label them thinking but do not follow them or turn them away just let them happen. We meditated in silence for 30 mins, afterwards I felt very peaceful and I really enjoyed the experience. She then taught me how to do walking meditation which I must confess I didn't really enjoy I just felt silly walking very slowly round a room. When we were finished she led me to the others in the group and we sat for over an hour listening to a recorded teaching by Pema Chodron on some of Shantideva's verses, this I found very interesting as I had studied Kelsang Gyatso's interpretation of these verses I was curious how another softer teacher would define his meanings. The difference surprised me, Pema's teaching was much more open and much more attuned to modern life, she was funny and warm and very insightful and funnily enough she was much more gentle in the way we should practise, mainly observing our minds responses than jumping in and changing them too soon. I couldn't say one interpretation was right and one was wrong just that Pema's felt more realistic in regards westerners being able to actually do it. In the NKT I always laughed at Shantideva as it felt some times so harsh as to be amusing but not really something I could practise without being a right hitler, but I saw and met plenty of teachers who did like to emulate Shatideva and weren't they cheerful little peeps.(not!)
When I left the group I can say I had a nice night with some good people but I also knew it wasn't what I was searching for, one thing that put me off straight away was the shrine with pictures of two teachers on it, I felt it would be a long time before I could trust another teacher, and definately before I could bow down to one if I ever could again.
I also felt I would never want to do more than the basics in the group and some how that felt wrong, I couldn't see me being able to progress more but most of all I had a gut feeling it wasn't right for me and I am now putting most of my faith in my gut where prehaps it should have been before.
I wasn't dishearted by the failing of my first search, I was actually a little proud of myself for not jumping straight in to another group, which is something I think my husband was terrified I would do.
To be honest I do not think right now I could ever want to practise full time in any group or ever devote myself to a group in the way I did with the NKT, I have a family now and a good life, I want spirituality to be a big part of that life but I want it to blend in with my day to day life not over take it. I still though believe as much wisdom and help we can get from books we do need some guidance from experienced practitioners and some Sangha support, it is very easy to go astray for a long time and not realise it.
I am still open to guidance despite my bad situations with past teachers, I know there are good teachers out there as well as bad, I know there are good teachings too and I hope to find them. I also realise that the way to ensure I am not badly burnt again and that is to make sure I am cautious about my choice and I do not try to see that person as anything more than a human who has some more wisdom than me because it is to easy to let pure view rule everything and ignore our own instincts. This time all I want is a teacher that will guide me without judgment and without their own selfish intention but with a real wish to put the welfare of their students first. Before when I had doubts I dismissed them by twisting the Dharma to suit my desperate need to have complete trust in someone, this time I'll just trust myself because at the end of the day no matter how many teachers you have it is yourself that you can really rely on, that we must truly trust.
The title of this blog is one of the two most popular things that are said within NKT circles to defend any bad behaviour or problems within the Tradtition, the other most popular is but Geshe-la says.
A few people who I spoke to about my doubts and issue's with the NKT said this very phrase to me,' The teachings work so I'm sticking with the NKT.' the first thing that struck me about this statement is how selfish it sounded to me, never mind that you've been hurt, the teachings work for me, never mind the Guru let you down, the teachings work for me, I'm happy so screw you is what it sounded like to me, but maybe I'm over sensitive I've been told this is true of me.
So what does it really mean to say the teachings work?
The main promise made by Geshe Kelsang gyatso and the New Kadampa Tradition is that you will find happiness, that if you practise the teachings sincerly then you will find happiness. Well in truth I can only look at this from my point of view, regardless of the unhapiness I have witnessed in other's over the year's I can not tell for any real certainty how happy or unhappy someone else is, an upside down smile is a good indicator but as I'm trying to play by NKT rules looking at this as objectively as I can, I have to say that I can't know if other's are happy or not I can only talk for myself.
As I've already stated, my first year in the NKT was a happy one, but on reflection I believe that is mainly because I went from being a rather lonely introvert to being part of a large family overnight this in itself caused me much happiness, and many of the people I knew in the NKT were kind, lovely people.
If I am though following the NKT logic I have been taught my happiness should have increased as I spent more time within in the NKT and as my practise increased and I grew in knowledge. It unfortunately to say did not. Now if you tell a teacher you are unhappy they will tell you their is something wrong with your practise, your unlikely to get any clear answer as to what, just like the dungeon master all you will get is some obscure idea that you should do more and in a different way.
And so I would plow on, doing as much formal practise as my busy work scedule in a NKT Dharma centre would allow, but I also I realise had to learn to intergrate my practise into my daily life, and I did really try to do this, for this I was sure was the secret to any happy success I was likely to get. The first problem I encountered was that there was so much to do, so many teachings that knowing what to pull out of the Dharma bag in any given situation was a nightmare. The other problem I became aware of was that I was simply trying to ram my mind with positive thoughts during a time when I had a lot of negativity.
It is only since leaving the NKT and reading other teachers that I see clearly what was missing, just the other day I was reading a short Zen book on the basics of the practise, and the author began by saying that "the one thing that unites all Buddhist traditions are two main practises, firstly mindfulness and secondly acceptance of ourselves. The curious thing is that despite the hundreds of teachings presented by GKG, these are the very two he doesn't look at in any real detail. Mindfulness I have been told can be included in his Mahamudra teachings but these are nothing to do with the very simple presentation I have found in the 6 other books I've already read since leaving the NKT, not just Zen but many other traditions, and although breathing meditation is taught in the NKT it is taught as a basic preparation practise not as a mindfulness practise in itself There is sprinkled throughout GKG's books references to mindfulness, to observing our mind, but it is very sketchy to say the least not presented in any complete way. Also teachings on self acceptance, self love or anything that is likely to empower people to have faith in themselves and to develop their own wisdom is very absent. This is not the case with many other teachers, so I have to ask why out of all the teachings GKG thought to write about why so little on these two subjects which most other traditions seem to feel is very important.
Stephen Bachelor the well known Buddhist writter has stated in one interview that when Tibetans came to the west they had very little understanding as to where we were coming from, and many it seems made little effort to understand. GKG is a fine example of this, he has done nothing to tailor his teachings to the western mind if he had then self acceptance and mindfulness would have been far further up the list. All he has done is print the books in English and with this he had a lot of help(wink wink nudge nudge if you know what I mean).
One example of this lack of understanding is the teachings on all living beings being our kind mothers, this is used as a method for developing love for all beings by understanding that because we have all had countless rebirths we have at one time or another all been each others mother and that as each others mothers we have shown great kindness. The problem with this idea? In the west more rather than fewer of us have a negative relationship with our mother's. When I first encountered these teachings I myself had had very little to do with my own Mother for two year's yet here I was being asked to not only see all living beings as my Mother but also to understand the kindness of them because of this. Now all of this is very logical,yes I can understand all living beings have been my Mother and yes as such they would have held me in their womb for 9 months, loved and cared for me, sacrificed for me assuming they were a good loving Mother that is. But the problem in practise if I am struggling to see the kindness of my Mother in this life how can I see the kindness of all Mother's over countless life times? This shows a fundamental lack of understanding on GKG's part of western psychology, and in no way is it addressed even though I have over the year's heard many students talk of their problem with this teaching. I did because of these teachings try my best to repair my broken relationship with my Mother which of course is a good thing but I never dealt with my underlying issues and so over the course of many year's I was eaten up by guilt that only functioned to feed my anger towards my Mother.
This is just one example of a Tibetan Buddhist teaching that although correct and logical is not in any way tailored to take into account the problem westerners have with their parents. As western psychology is seen as fundamentally flawed by GKG and the NKT, I believe myself and many other's were allowed to use the teachings to feed deep psychological issue's and I do not believe this was even noticed by other's let alone addressed.
Rob Preece writes a brilliant book called "The wisdom of imperfection:The challenge of individuation in Buddhist life." this book addresses these issue's but also points out how certain Tibetan teachings do not encourage us to develop as individuals, I believe this is very true of the NKT, infact the individual is ignored, we are told time and time again how little wisdom we have, how ignorant we are, how only our Guru has the insight to know the truth. For those of us in the west with already very low self esteem we eat up this information with relish and use it to continue beating ourselves. Suddenly we know nothing and the Guru knows all, we are faulty, the Guru faultless. And the only light at the end of the tunnel? We will one day be a Buddha like him! Great just countless life times of ignorance and misery and maybe by some miracle one day we will become Buddha's, but how? I do not for the life of me understand how we can even hope to emulate these great, perfect beings if all we relate to in ourselves is our deluded, dark mind. I can not believe Buddha ment for us to see ourselves in such a negative light. How can we hope to love and accept other's if we can not love and accept ourselves? We mirror what is happening within our own mind, if what is happening is self abuse, fear and hatred, where is the light and love to come from. Pema Chodron's books speak the opposite of this dark view, she says we must face our emotions wothout label or judgement, we must learn to see the good within, not some mystical idea of Buddha nature, but the actual light we all possess, the Guru within which we all hold and that has nothing to do with a man on a throne. In GKG's world, the Guru(him) is always right and we are always wrong. This mean's something very dark and twisted, he promises us happiness if we practise what he teaches but if we are not happy we have no one to blame but ourselves, (sorry our self cherishing mind, but for us there is little difference). I even believe using the words self cherishing to be very dangerous because it suggests the root of all evil is self love and nothing could be further from the truth. It is an old saying but I believe it holds much wisdom, we can not learn to love other's until we learn to love ourselves.
I practised in the NKT for 10 years and in all that time I truly tried to change, I tried very hard to become a better person but now I realise my time would have been better spent if I had tried harder to accept who I was to begin with. Because in the end my low self esteem hurtled to devastating lows, my understanding of myself was nil, all I understood was what one monk said, I hadn't travelled on a personnel journey of spiritual discovery I had travelled on Kelsang Gyatso's path and my part in it was nothing.
I did not get a peaceful mind, I did not become happier, and I now know I practised very unskillfully for many year's yet no one pointed this out, no one noticed, why? Because most people I believe within the NKT are doing the same, their is a real shortage of teachers with their own wisdom and confidence, and so their is very little guidance, it is very easy to practise unskillfully for a long time without anyone to correct us and the main cause is GKG's obsession with spreading his empire this is what comes first rather than care and love of the students he already has, he only cares about getting more. It is all quantity over quality and because of this I can not see this tradition outlasting it's founder and of that part of me will be glad but I will also be very sad because for so many it will be a great loss. Buddha's teachings have such a potential to heal but in the wrong hands they are worse than useless they are also harmful.
So when people say that the teachings work all I can say in return is if the Guru who teaches them has not found the peace and happiness he talks of, if he is so distressed by what other's say of him that he is happy to sue and threaten. If his disciples are scared of him because of his reputation for having a terrible temper, if he himself is not a shining example of what he teaches can they really work. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that NKT teachings did not give me anything even resembling a peaceful mind, I accept for my part I practised unskillfully a lot of the time, but why was that? why did no one notice or help me to practise in the right way? Why is it a book by Rob Preece who wasn't even part of NKT has more insight into the mistakes being made than most teachers within the NKT? The job of most people within the NKT it seems is to cover up and defend the tradition but if these problems were addressed then their would be no need to do this. As Buddhist practitioners we are told to watch our minds and address any faults we find so why can this not be done within the NKT itself?
Because I say I was unhappy and the Tradition did not help me I am labelled deluded and cast aside like old socks, where even people I held as friends can not speak with me in fear they may catch something, but if happy with your path why would you fear those who are not?
If no one wants to help me, if those with anger or who speak out are to be stayed away from then who is to be helped? I'll tell you. Those within the NKT who say the right thing who do the right thing it's a case of for the sake of all living beings but not for you, teachings work do they? OK what ever you say.
I would just like to finally say that I do know some within the NKT who seem to be happy, those who seem to have wisdom and their are some who have been kind enough to keep a dialogue with me and talk through my issue's not to try to bring me back but out of Compassion and a wish to understand, how these people have succeded where I have failed I do not know maybe they started off with a better Mind than I and many other's do, I am unsure, but they show me that a path that can seem so wrong for so many can be right for a few. The Nkt is not the only Buddhist group with issues, with the research I have done I can see many Buddhist groups have had difficulties crossing cultures, but the NKT seems to be the one with the most unhappy ex practitioners and if this is continued to be ignored by the NKT then I fear it will go on harming other's even if this has never been it's intention.
- It is all too easy to blame one organisation for all our problems, just like we would love to say our parents are at fault for all our bad character traits. I am as tempted to leave the blame at Nkt' s door as easily as the milkman leaves the silver top, but as a Buddhist I cannot in all conscious do this I have to accept my share of responsibility and I do wish to give as balanced a view as possible as to this organisations triumphs and failings.
A old friend of mine told me they felt the Nkt was a benevolent cult if it was to be named a cult. I can only say to this that the Nkt certainly believes itself to be benevolent and all those involved have this same view. I myself had this view for nearly 10 years and for someone desperate to find some good to do in the world it was not hard for me to maintain such a position regardless of some of the things I witnessed and rumours I heard over we the years. I was a very lonely damaged individual when I found the NKT and at only 26 I had walked out on my first marriage and over night Lost family I had grown to
I was also recovering from a long hospital stay so was weak and not fit for any physical work but I received nothing but understanding about this, the one thing I could never deny was the kindness I recieved in my first year by the strange mix of people that took shelter in the Buddhist centre, I say took shelter for this is how it felt, a place for some of the damaged and eccentric people to hide away for a while. The different mix of people was extraordinary, myself I suppose included, most people I think felt they didn't quite fit somewhere else, or were hiding from some aspect of their life too painful to face and for this purpose the centre could not have been more perfect.
It was not only the people that attracted me though, it was the clear and precise nature of the teachings that seemed so logical to me and so easy to understand, I felt I had found the reasons for all of my suffering and the solution indeed the centre's ethos,'Find Happiness from a different source' Well for me any happiness would do.
At first glance the book's by GKG are amazing,clear presentations of Buddha's teachings,I say this but to be honest I' d read very little other Buddhist texts. I wasn't one to judge I joined the foundation study program very early on once I'd moved in and I loved studying. I meditated everyday did regular prayers and tried to the best of my ability to practice the teachings on a daily basis. After 6 months I took on my own class to teach which felt too soon but as I' 've said this was an honour I couldn't refuse. I loved teaching, despite my initial nerves it made me feel special. After each class though I couldn' t help wondering what help I Could possibly be to others. By now I was in awe of it all and I brought into the whole illusion of Geshe- la. Some were very open about him being a Buddha others held back their opinion. Trying though to be a member of the NKT and not be in love or involved with GKG was almost impossible,he was everywhere, I Mean everything had come from him,the books,the study programmes,his pictures were everywhere he even told you how to set up your own shrine. Nothing was left to chance,in part this was comfortable you could almost flick the off switch on your mind,it felt easy,a relief. For a long time I felt a sense of security but slowly as the years passed I began to feel stuck. There were so many teachings it was tough to know what to practise from day to day, I felt my old anger and resentments still there. Basically I felt I wasn't making any progress.I wasn't getting any happier.
When I Ordained as a Buddhist nun after just a year in the Tradition I had the same feeling running through me that had been present at my first wedding, I was running away again but this time it felt to something good something pure.
I wanted so badly to change and herein lies the problem,the whole focus of NKT was to change, this idea we were all contaminated and only kadam Dharma could clean us, it felt very Catholic, very original sin. Ordination made me feel even more pressure,people looked at me in a different light I felt I had to live up to others expectations and they were often grossly exajerated. After 10 years I felt I had got no where I felt as lost and unhappy as day one so what was the point? and deep down I knew I wanted a family a normal life. I had tried hard to change myself but without success so I knew something was very wrong but I couldn't figure it out. Once I left it started to be more clear my inability to relate to non NKT people, my lack of wisdom and my black and white view of the world. Basically for 10 years I'd been told how to think,what was the right way to think and feel, even what doubts were ok and which were not. I had my opinions spoon fed to me, I hadn't developed at all I just had a mind full of NKT information and nothing that belonged to me. I had stopped listening to myself, I had stopped trusting my instincts. Well why would I, as my teacher once told me your nothing and no one. For a girl who had been brought up with this issue of low self esteem having it confirmed for me was hardly likely to boast my confidence.
I suppose I thought the robes were a great place to hide and for a while they were but everyday I wore them was another day I felt a fraud. I didn't feel positive change occurring I Just felt my insecurities feeding away at me and my old patterns of wanting attention and love emerged and were time and time crushed by an insensitive teacher who was too much of a loner to be able to relate to or help anyone. The more I looked around me the more I realised I wasn't alone in my centre there were so many lost people. Those with Matrydom issues using the teachings to beat themselves up, low self esteem.depression. women in abusive relationships. The list of unhappy people went on, if you asked them they would tell you they had never been happier because we all do, whether it's an abusive relationship or an abusive tradition none of us want to admit the truth that we made a mistake and must keep searching.
SO in conclusion is the New Kadampa Tradition a cult or not. I have read a lot of definitions of cults over the last month according to some it is to others it is not but I realised writting this that cult or not isn't the real question to be asked. The more important question is, is it harmful or not? I had both good and bad experiences in the nkt but spiritually I cannot say in all honesty that I developed. I found a place to hide from the world for 10 years and for that I can be grateful but it was not what I needed. The Nkt ethos is happiness from another source and that I do not believe they can provide even if they wanted to because their leader does not understand the western psychology enough to shape the teachings for us and if I'm honest I don't think he wishes too. He has his empire and I think he has his happiness and that for him I believe is enough. For Geshe Kelsang GYatso the only thing that really matters is the spreading of his brand of Kadam Dharma this he and his minions are good at and as long as you tow the party line,don't ask the wrong questions and spread the word it's all fine but cross GKG and you"'ll see a very different Side to the humble monk. It is odd is it not how much we were asked to give to a small tibetan monk we would never be likely to meet. I have always found it easier to understand those who big up themselves up rather than those who self deappreciate.And the unfairest part of all, the NKT promise you happiness but if you do not get what has been put on offer the only one to blame it seems is yourself,the NKT never have and I suspect never will be prepared to even share some of the blame with it's unhappy members present and old. My old instincts pre Nkt would have smelt a humble rat maybe I should have listened to them, but unfortunately I was very lonely and vulnerable when I first found this tradition, I wish I had though because after all no Guru is a match for female intuition if we learn to listen to it that indeed is the only Guru we truly need to develop and bow down to not a stranger with a funny hat who has put himself on a self appointed throne very humble!
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I think it only right I begin this journey by telling you about my own.
I was raised by two non religious parents yet I myself have always been drawn to religion, I went with my ageing Nan to the Salvation Army when I was just a small child, and what the hall lacked in warmth and appeal was more than made up for by the lovely,kind people who attended. I loved the lively music, the excitment of the other visitors and me at just 9 years being allowed to bang my ribbon adorned tamboreen until the sun went down. I completly understood why my Nan attended, this was a far cry from the local church I started visiting when I was 13 years old. It was Cof E and it's attendees were as damp and cold as the building it's surmon's were held in. I went I suppose because I was desperate for some hope, some explanation for all the pain in my young life. At 14 I was confirmed, I wanted answers and the only way I could see to get them was to confirm and have bible lessons,then, I thought I'll find out all the secrets, I'll be free to ask whatever I like but also I was so in love with Jesus I wanted to make a commitment to him.
After my confirmation on the day of my first Bible class, I wasted little time before asking the long list of questions that had weighed down on my young fragile mind, I saw so many contridictions in the bible, the old and new testament just didn't seem to work together and to be honest I felt that anything before Jesus was a waste of time.I also failed to understand why I suffered so much, the original sin idea felt cold and cruel. My hopes were dashed as to every question asked came the same steely response,"You must have faith Fiona" basically I thought after an hour of this,"You don't have a clue" On the way home I pondered how can a man in his 50's who has devoted his life to the church and God still have no answers, after that day I never went to church again.
I lost hope for a long time and drink and drugs took the place of any deity I could kneel or pray to. I still though had a searching mind and I read a lot of spiritual books, anything from the celestine prophecy to wicca for beginners. I was open to all yet shut to so much. It was a strange thing though, through out my teenage years and into my twenties people kept giving me Buddha's, pictures,statues,cards you name it, I never got why. I had a brief encounter with the Sokkai Gaka in my late teens but it never sat well with me, apart from that I had never shown an interest. During my first marriage my husband one day brought me a book by the Dalai Lama,'The art of happiness' it was the first Buddhist book I ever read and it really hit me, it was so beautiful, full of hope and kindness, I loved it. Up to that point I felt like a dark,hopeless person with little to give the world, this book was the opposite to how I viewed myself and the world in which I lived.
About 2 years later my marriage ended and the first thing I did once I had found a new home was to find a Tibetan Buddhist group in my area, I knew nothing about it I just knew the Dalai Lama was Tibetan and a Buddhist, that is when I stumbled across the NKT(New Kadampa Tradition). I found out they held meditation classes in my town and so at the first oppotunity I went to one.
I was greeted by a red haired women who was all smiles and kindness, her teaching was on how everyone was our kind mother,it was so inspiring to me after a painful divorce and a life of so much unhappiness and insecurity I was wide open for something good in my life. I went home that night with a book by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso who I was told was a meditation master from Tibet, no one at the group mentioned the Dalai Lama and I was too embarrassed to ask.
I read the book which was so clear to understand and felt like something quite special, I continued to go to classes for a year until I decided I needed more and I moved to Bristol so I could move into one of the Traditions centre's. I loved it there, I lived in a house with 21 other people, all from very different walks of life, I had gone from quite a lonely existance to suddenly belonging to a family even though it was obvious from day one it was alittle disfunctional it still felt loving and good. I was unwell when I first moved in but everyone was so kind to me, doing my washing and shopping and being so helpful. That first year in the house was one of the best of my life and I can still say that today even after everything that has happened. I lived in a mansion, in a beautiful area, surrounded by lots of friends it felt good. I was a lost little girl desperate to belong and there I did. I so fell in love after just a year I got ordained into the tradition and became Kelsang Drime. It was shortly after this that things began to change, firstly we moved to a new building as the house we occupied was being sold and we couldn't afford the price to buy. So we downsized and many people decided not to move with us. Our new house was much smaller and now we only had 15 residents including our teacher a male Monk. I became assistant Admin Director too and was teaching, infact I was teaching before I even got ordained after less than a year in the centre, this was a shock to me and now when I look back realise it was crazy but I was very low on self esteem and to be asked to teach by my teacher whom I was so in awe of was too big an honour to refuse,plus we were told it wasn't experience that mattered we just had to have read the book first.
In the new centre the smaller number of people ment a lot more work for us and the pressure mounted especially as some worked more than other's, I then started to get sick again, I had been diagnosed with Chrones Disease and it became a real problem for me, I was plagued by pain in my stomach and joints,tiredness,diarreah and vomitting yet I still worked, no one suggest I didn't and sickness was treated as a problem with your mind rather than your body. I would still go out to teach, sometimes I would be in so much pain it was hard to get through and now I don't know how I did it, I must have been mad.I recall one day when I was so ill I got half way to my university class that I taught that I had to phone one of my students and ask him to pick me up and drive me to the class, he tried to persuade me to go back to the centre and not teach that night but my teacher had no sympathy at all for sickness and when previously I had tried to not teach because I felt ill he not very subtly suggested I was being selfish. My resident teacher made it pretty clear that he had no time or sympathy for sick people so I pushed on. Then came one hospital admission after another, I lost alot of weight and became very depressed. I even got hooked on pain killers.I became very depressed but I hid this as best I could, all that ever seemed to matter was spreading the teachings how exhausted we all got doing this was irelivant and I saw much sicker people than myself work just as hard. Then the centre was due to move again, we had this time found a place to buy instead of just rent, it was a large place but needed alot of work to make it a suitable Dharma centre. Of course I was ill at the time so I did paper work instead of going to the other building to help. Then one day as I sat at my desk and just before everyone was due to drive to the other building to start on a day of painting etc my teacher came up to me and said,'isn't it time you helped your well enough now' I was a little better but I was still very weak and tired but as he asked me directly I felt I couldn't say no so I went and started painting with the other's. I was in pain,I was so tired it was hard to stand up I did 2 hours and then couldn't do any more so I got a friend to take me home to the other centre, when I got there I went to my room and cried, I felt so unloved and uncared for, I felt I was letting everyone down. This was not the first or the last time I was made to feel bad for being sick. One day my teacher told me if I jogged I would be ok, another day he acused me of acting. This hurt me so much, this was someone I looked up to and I felt belittled by him. Then came the protests, one day we were told that we(the NKT) were being asked by Geshe-la to go on protests against the Dalai Lama because he had banned Dorje Shugden practise. Since entering the NKT I never heard anyone mention the Dalai Lama and most of us never read any books but Geshe-la's as it was discouraged so all of this was a surprise to us. I by now was so in the grip of Geshe-la that I had completly forgotten it was the Dala Lama's book that had inspired me to find a Buddhist Tradition. I also before coming to the NKT knew nothing about Tibetan Buddhism I just did what I was told to do, I thought what I was told to think. When I heard about the protests and why we were doing it, it all seemed so unreal, I could hardly believe it, the Dalai Lama doing something wrong but by now I was so brainwashed by GKG that I just took it all on face value so off I went around the country even to Germany to shout Liar at the man who had led me to Dharma in the first place but the irony didn't even enter my mind at the time that's how brain dead I had become.
I did spend a lot of the protests skiving with my friends who were slight rebels and mainly drank coffee rather than shouting, maybe somewhere in my deep conciousness I knew what we were doing was insane, I mean he's a nobel peace prize winner, what the heck were we doing!Even if the Dalai Lama's actions were wrong, Buddhists disturbing other's mind's, I never even asked myself how I would feel if people shouted at my spiritual guide while he was teaching me. I now feel so ashamed of my actions back then.
Not long after the protests doubts began to fill my mind, I was so unhappy it was unbearable, I was sick,tired,full of guilt and at this time I started to look around me at the others in the centre. I guess the vaneer had sullied because suddenly I saw a lot of sick,mentally unwell people desperately trying to appear happy. Infact the NKT seemed full of sick monks and Nuns and damaged lay people. The happiness we were selling wasn't there, noone I knew was any happier than the average person on the street yet the teachings we were given about how our path was the best, only and right path made us look at those outside NKT with a sort of sickly pity a million miles from the empathy Buddha teaches. I started to realise most of us seemed devoid of real emotion, we had become like logical robots but many including myself seemed unable to relate to how people outside the NKT felt.
So I disrobed and moved to Cornwall for a year,it was one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do,I was leaving my family behind, but it was this act that really started to open my eyes to the issues around the NKT. After just a few months back in the outside world I realised I found it so hard to relate to people, I never knew what to talk about, no one spoke NKT language, I felt so lost and alone a lot of my NKT friends were told not to contact me, doubt is seen as a disease in NKT world that must be avoided, not looked at or dicussed but just treated like an incurable disease that will make your arm fall off.I'm glad to say some friends ignored the advise and still called me but I think this is because I still had faith In the NKT at that point, I spoke to no one about my real doubts and feelings. I went from a packed life full of friends to nothing over night and the lonliness was the worst of my life. It was during this time I started to notice how difficult it was for me to relate and bond with other's, even old friends I had long before the NKT, I thought about the people I knew in the centre, especially the one's who had been living in a centre for year's and I realised most if not all of them were unwell in one way or another. Those with physical sickness worked themselves to near death, many had mental issues that were not addressed, other's seemed to suffer from crippling low self esteem, yet here we all were telling other's how to be happy, it was a joke.
After a year I came back to Bristol, found a place to live and started going to my centre again,(after disrobing in the NKT you are banned from all NKT centres and classes for a year, this is so isolating) I just wanted to be part of my family again but it was never the same again,I guess it just couldn't be.
It wasn't long till I met someone, this person turned my life around and we quickly got married and had a child, my husband was not at all involved in the NKT and for this I will be ever grateful.It was my husband who helped me to see how strange things were within the NKT,he noticed the difference between how some acted in the centre and how they did outside,part of the ethos especially for teachers is to hide your faults from others this can put a tremendous strain on people a pressure to act very differently from who you are I believe this harmed many and put their position as a teacher in question.In the NKT everything is taken to the extreme and so many take the teachings completly literally without the adition of their own wisdom, this mean's common sense is sacrificed on the altar of purity. Over the years in the NKT I saw a lot of people lose it and for some it was the amount of work, for others it was the strain of having to pretend to be something they were not. There was very little acceptance of ourselves in NKT world no self respect, self love, no mindfulness teachings which are based in learning to observe your mind without judgement. Infact there was so much in the NKT that reminded me of old testament teachings. So little joy, so much matrydom. I was slowly with the help of my husband trying to pull away but it was hard for me to drop my faith in Geshe-la, I felt all the issues were simply with the way people practised not with him, I guess I really wanted to see him as pure, some thing to hold on to. I can not I am sad to say give you all of the details of what happened next as it affected some friends of mine and they wish to stay silent on the matter but enough evidence was presented to me of the dubious nature of Kelsang Gyatso and the lengths he will go to in order to protect his empire.
I had over the year's heard many stories similar to this but I had never personally known the people involved and as in this case I did I was convinced that whatever good intention Kelsang Gyatso began with he had devinately lost it along the way.
I now knew that all that mattered to Kelsang Gyatso was furthering his empire, the people within it didn't mean anything, once you left or became no longer useful you were thrown to the wolves, is this the way a kind benevolant Buddha behaves?
Since then I have heard so many stories, read alot of different ex nkters accounts and collected alot of history of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and Dorje Shugden to know I wouldn't touch the NKT with some else's barge pole. Since leaving I have lost friends, I have lost a family but I have gained so much. Now I listen to my instincts I don't ignore them as you are trained to in the NKT, I trust my heart, I listen to other's no matter what their faith or lack of it. I am finally learning to be human again and my son has helped me so much with that. In the NKT I lost myself, I lost my self esteem,my self worth and most importantly my self love, now I am learning to question again, learning to search again and learning to follow what I believe Buddha's real intention was my own inner Guru. Finally would I ever tell people not to go near the NKT? For me is a hard one to answer, my first year in NKT was an amazing experience,I met some amazing people, travelled around the world for festivals,and a scared, angry little girl found a safe place to hide for a while. What I did not find was a place to change, to grow , to develop or even to get to know myself all the things I believe are vital to the spiritual path. So if someone asked me whether they should go to an NKT meditation class I would probably say no, I would like to say, sure go, listen but don't get sucked in too deep, don't stop asking questions, don't move into a centre and don't stop trusting yourself, the thing is if I said all that and they went to a GP and they met the smiley friendly teacher who never pressurizes them, and they read the books that are clear and make sense, then they will remember my warning and they will shrug their shoulders and think I'm a crack pot. You have to have gotten deep into the NKT to really appreciate what I've said and then you have to have gotten out to believe it.The trouble is by the time you see the faults of this organisation it can be far too late. So for the sake of not wanting them to end up hurt like me I would have to say no even if I didn't want to.
I do not believe Geshe Kelsang has done anything to adapt his teachings to western psychology, he has just put them in our language but fundamentely they are the same teachings he received when he was 8 years old. Instead of teaching us to get to know our mind which I believe was Buddha's main intention GKG has just handed out a list of good qualities to try and smear over the western psychological mess that is already there.
Is the NKT an evil cult? I don't know. The man at the top I believe has gone mad and the others either haven't noticed or choose not to see it. There are alot of kind well meaning people in the NKT, many have good intentions but most of these people are so completly brain washed they will do what ever Geshe-la asks of them. They don't know they've been brain washed it wasn't until I got out that I noticed the teenager who questioned her vicar to death about the holes she saw in the bible, the 20 year old who had a million questions and was so cynical about the world yet hopeful there was something better she had been killed and replaced with someone who had one view and she never questioned it and she never gave the time of day to anyone who had a different view. I lost so much of myself in the NKT but without that journey I don't think I would be where I am now, in a place where I will always trust my instincts, will always be open to myself but most importantly I will always be open to others now too. The purpose of this website is not to harm other's or start a one women campaign against an evil cult because I'm not even convinced that is what the NKT is, unhealthy devinately, mixed up and polluted for sure but evil I don't know. I simply want to be able to talk through the experiences I have had and to share the one's to come with like minded people. I am very aware now how hard this will be, so many other's who have been hurt are choosing silence, I understand why and I don't blame them, most just want to move on with their lives after a bad experience, for me keeping my mouth shut has never been my strong point. Other's silence does make me feel rather alone in this and at times like I am just a bitter ex unable to let go. But now I know for sure my instincts were right, now I know the pain and suffering the wrong path can cause I have to at least speak out to act as some kind of warning or at least information point for others who may be now where I was 6 years ago or who may just be pondering that new meditation class. To me the more information that is out there the more well informed a choice someone can make, and although supporters of the NKT will say mine is just one view point, there are a lot of people like me out there who have shared a similar experience, this can not be said for the majority of Tibetan Buddhist Traditions. For me the old addage stands true. There's rarely this much smoke without a little fire.
If any of you out there have had any similar experiences to me I'd love to hear about them. Please share here you will never be judged.