But the teachings work don't they?
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.