Firstly apologies about the title but I couldn’t stop myself, and please don’t judge me because I like the music of Eminem…. 

I read an article this morning on A New Kadampa Buddhist’s blog, titled “Is the Dalai Lama Authentic?….calling Reting Rinpoche” After reading this I hastily read the original article the writer was referring to, which is “Reting Lama, How he chose the fake Dalai Lama.” published on the Western Shugden Society (WSS) website. 

So having read this I have to admit firstly thinking … I wonder who the real Dalai Lama is? (or to be precise “Would the real Dalai Lama please stand up”) but after this initial thought I regained some sense and perspective. I looked at some other sources of information including those provided by A New Kadampa Buddhist. I have to say it is difficult to get clear answers about the facts and details. What is clear is how messy and corrupt large parts of Tibet’s own mixture of Politics and Religion are. We are all accustomed to discovering layers of deception, intrigue and corruption within political circles. By now most of us whatever continent we live on, have a fairly sceptical viewpoint of politics and the motivations of those in power. However what is disturbing is mixing this with Mahayana Buddhism – along with the claims of purity and sincerity that go along with it. The way the Tibetan ‘powers that be’ over the years appear to have used religion and mixed worldly motivation in with it, really does make a mockery of Mahayana Buddhism and the teachings of Je Tsongkhapa, Padmasambhava and Atisha.  

It sure makes me glad that Geshe Kelsang Gyatso has severed ties with all of this carry on. I am so grateful to him. Whatever anyone’s criticisms are of Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, anyone looking at his books and teachings can see undoubtedly that he has endeavoured to extract and pass on the teachings of Je Tsongkhapa and Atisha without the trappings of politics and worldly concerns. 

Again this is a place where I have to comment on those people suggesting that the New Kadampa Tradition is being political just because so many NKT members have also joined the WSS and taken part in demonstrations against the questionable Dalai Lama. My comment is clearly stated in my previous post but I will state it again here, the NKT and the WSS are different organisations, last time I checked it was ok for a person to belong to two organisations. Clearly many members of the NKT are openly active in WSS and engage in demonstrations, however it is not within the NKT’s mandate as established within the internal rules to become political as an organisation. There is nothing hidden here – and this is really very straightforward to understand. Many prominent and well known teachers in the NKT have attended WSS demonstrations, so clearly there is no attempt to conceal. What is so difficult to understand here – everything is open – two different organisations with different purposes, having many common members.

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In the commentary to Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, moral discipline is defined as the intention to abandon all faults, downfalls and non-virtue. I definitely want to abandon all the above so have become interested in moral discipline particularly in practising the moral discipline of restraint. In Joyful Path of Good Fortune (pg 455 The Moral Discipline of Restraint) Geshe Kelsang Gyatso says  “ This is the moral discipline of abstaining from non-virtue. To practice  this moral discipline we need to understand the dangers of committing negative actions, make a promise or vow to abandon them, and then keep that promise or vow. Thus we cannot be said to be practising the moral discipline of restraint if we unknowingly avoid committing negative actions, since even babies can do this.”

I like doing the practice of precepts (occasionally). I don’t do it as often as I would like, which is ridiculous really, but one reason for this is – I try to make my day special and meaningful when I have taken precepts. So I use the day to study and meditate to the best of my ability. As I don’t use my days in this way normally, it becomes much more special. I don’t take precepts on days when I have to go to work or engage in other things that would completely distract me. Is this right? or maybe I should be doing precepts more often and ensuring I transform my other activities? I don’t know…. I think I benefit more from keeping the days I do precepts free, although maybe I should be challenging myself and my ordinary life more. I worry that if I did take precepts on a work day all moral discipline would just be gradually lost to overly diluted practice.

In addition to the practice of precepts what I have started doing is being more aware of practising the Moral Discipline of Restraint on a daily basis. I have been doing this from time to time in the morning, by making a particular promise in front of my shrine to the Buddhas, promising to abandon a particular action for a specified period of time (generally a day). This totally helps me to remain mindful of the practise of moral discipline at times when I would almost definitely have not given it a second thought. I don’t promise the earth or anything (I am anything but hasty these days in my Dharma Practice, mores the pity!) …. things such as for the day not to be critical of others verbally or mentally. Or perhaps to give up something I am particularly attached to for the day. Again I know this is no mammoth act but this is working for me at the moment and helping to make me more aware of the practice of moral discipline and guarding alertness.

It is so great how many positive Buddhist blogs there are around at the moment, I have received some really nice supporting and encouraging comments from these bloggers and other people which I do appreciate. Its nice to read about other peoples’ experiences within the New Kadampa Tradition and other traditions, and I kind of like the fact that the majority of people are anonymous (well at least to me anyway). It means that I can read about the people and their Buddhist life and practice without getting entangled in anything too personal or specific.

I am of course delighted too that it seems the days of only negative stuff being written about the NKT are finally coming to an end. I mean I suppose it is good to have different experiences highlighted, as I have said before, in that it does make changes happen. There are people that are just dragging up the same old stuff time and time again, that… yes we know was bad, but things have changed now, so please move on. 

Anyway to all you lovely bloggers ( New Kadampa Buddhist, Making my Life Meaningful, Wisdom and Bliss, New Kadampa Truths) and all the others that are writing about your Dharma practices, experiences and other information, and through this definitely providing me with support and encouragement, I just want to say Thanks!

NKT Festivals

September 10, 2008

Well its been little over a month since the end of the summer festival, or there about and I can start to feel the enhanced motivation I had during and after the festival beginning to dwindle slightly. There are many things I love about NKT festivals, one of which is that I get to receive teachings from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, always a pleasure! another is the motivation and inspiration I get for my spiritual training. I have always tried to keep the time during festivals free from other things such as having to work or study at the same time. For me this has been beneficial because I do get very easily distracted by those other things and as I haven’t completely perfected the training of making everything part of my spiritual path, I am able to focus more on the teachings and retreat sessions. I feel fortunate that I am able to go to the three festivals each year that Geshe-la teaches at.

Another thing I love about festivals is simply the amount of people that frequent them and their motivation for doing so. People travel from so far away to listen to Geshe-la and I would imagine, to try practice what he teaches. Last festival I sat at the very back of the Temple and extended section and just looked at the rows of people, there were thousands of them. I think I actually genuinely rejoiced! I was thinking the other day about how my motivation does seem to slip, or at least not be as strong as it is during times of lots of teachings and practice. I think my plan to counteract this is to make myself a realistic daily schedule of practice. I don’t have this at the moment and any formal practice I do is quite sporadic. I think if I am able to implement this change  and stick to a routine hopefully my motivation to practice will remain more even overtime. So that’s my plan for now, a realistic daily schedule. 

I came across a section of one of Geshe-la’s books yesterday which I found extremely interesting and incredibly relevant to my previous post. So much so, I feel the need to share part of it! Shamefully I have to state it was the first time I had read the section, The following is taken from Clear Light of Bliss by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (pg 153 – 155)

“ The first Panchen Lama was a highly realized practitioner who always behaved in a very humble manner, but when writing about the need to refute mistaken and misleading teachings he was quite direct: 

As we cannot percieve the mindstream of others 

We should strive to appreciate the teachings of all;

But I cannot accept those who spread wrong views

And through these wrong views lead many astray.

What the Panchen Lama wrote several hundred years ago is particularly applicable today. If pure Dharma is to flourish in western countries it is essential that we examine our beliefs carefully to ensure that they are fully in accordance with the pure teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni. The ugly, unfortunate result of not understanding pure Dharma and of following misleading teachings that pretend tot be pure Dharma is sectarianism. This is one of the greatest hindrances to the flourishing of Dharma in the west. Anything that gives rise to such an evil, destructive mind should be eliminated as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. 

Nowadays there is a strong tendency to believe without the slightest hesitation every word spoken by someone of high reputation, whereas a humble practitioner giving perfect and accurate teachings is often neither appreciated nor believed. Buddha Shakyamuni cautioned his disciples against adopting such a mistaken attitude:

Do not accept my teachings simply because I am called Buddha.

Time and time again he reminded his disciples not to accept his teachings out of blind faith, but to test them as thoroughly as they would assay gold. It is only on the basis of valid reasons and personal experience that we should accept the teachings of anyone, including Buddha himself.

In the teachings on the four reliances Buddha gives further guidelines for arriving at an unmistaken understanding of the teachings. He says:

Do not rely upon the person, but upon the Dharma.

Do not rely upon the words, but upon the meaning.

Do not rely upon the interpretative meaning, but upon the definitive meaning.

Do not rely upon consciousness, but upon wisdom.

The meaning of these lines is as follows:

1. When deciding which doctrine to rely upon we should not be satisfied with the fame or reputation of a particular Teacher, but instead should examine what he or she teaches. If upon investigation we find the teachings reasonable and faultless, we should accept them, but if they lack these qualities we should reject them, no matter how famous or charismatic their expounder might be.

2. We should not be influenced merely by the poetic or rhetorical style of a particular teaching but should accept it only if the actual meaning of the words is reasonable.

3. We should not be satisfied merely with an interpretative meaning of conventional truth but should rely upon and accept the definitive meaning of the ultimate truth of emptiness. In other words, because the method teachings on Bodhichitta and the wisdom teachings on emptiness and so forth are companions, we should not be satisfied with only one or the other but should practise both together.

4. we should not be satisfied with impure, deceptive states of consciousness, but should place our reliance upon the wisdom of meditative equipoise of Superior beings.

If we understand these four reliances and use them to evaluate the truth of the teachings we receive, we will be following an unmistaken path. There will be no danger of our adopting false views or falling under the influence of misleading Teachers. We will be able to discriminate correctly between what is to be accepted and what is to be rejected, and we will thereby be protected against faults such as sectarianism”.

The above was taken from Clear Light of Bliss by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (pg 153 – 155).

Well that seems pretty clear to me and I think it makes Geshe-la’s viewpoint on sectarianism crystal clear too. I find this section so relevant to issues raised at this present time. 

 

NKT….Cult or Not??

August 23, 2008

The suggestion that the NKT is a cult is not a new thing, nor I’m sure will it be proven otherwise any time soon. Whenever I hear the word “cult” I associate it with a small group of people in a barn drinking cyanide or….. one of my favourite clothes shop’s. I certainly don’t associate the word with the New Kadampa Tradition.

In my helpful, over-large dictionary the definition of cult is – actually there are loads of definitions. Probably the most relevant to the type of cult I am discussing is “ A quasi-religious organisation using devious psychological techniques to gain and control adherents”. Ok, well, that is not my experience or view of the NKT, what I have been taught are Buddhist principles which focus around developing a recognition of impermanence and compassion.

As for cult like behaviour.. well yeah I think in the past there have been people who have behaved slightly cultish. I’m sure probably some of the time with good intention but just getting a bit lost along the way. I remember someone in one of the centres I lived in being over fond of starting their sentences with “Geshe-la says” I frequently replied “I wasn’t asking” I’m sure the person felt I was being down right rude, maybe I was, I don’t know, maybe partially annoyed at the person’s presumption that I have no idea what Geshe-la says in his books or have somehow forgotten at specific moments when I was not willing to engage in something someone else wanted. I do think this sort of behaviour needs to be pointed out and eradicated. However saying this I haven’t really experienced stuff like that in a long time. Thank Goodness!

The people who seem to be suggesting the NKT is a cult have written various stories and testimonies of those I have read there seems to be a few common threads, which I will mention. While I do sympathise with some of the people, I also have my own view and opinion from reading these. I’m sure now I am going to be labelled as the heartless Buddhist. Apparently certain people have been told not to read books by anyone other then Geshe-la and told to donate vast amounts of money to their centres etc etc.  I have to ask “ Why would you do this if it was something you didn’t want to do?” As these people went along with such actions, it seems to me like they are the ones acting very cult like indeed, having some fanatical view and allowing themselves to blindly follow. I have never experienced this sort of thing in my time in the NKT, I am not disputing that this has happened in the past, but I have to add, Had I experienced things similar to this I feel sure I would have simply said “No” if I felt uncomfortable or didn’t want to go along with what was being asked of me. Nowhere in any of Geshe-la’s books or teachings has he said we should blindly follow without questioning, in fact he explicitly says the opposite.

 I was thinking about this after reading the blog Faith, Reason and Doubt, on A New Kadampa Buddhist’s blog, I found this interesting as I don’t recall ever being scared to question anything within the tradition or teachings. I think it is fundamental to being able to develop a sincere practice. If I personally didn’t question the teachings I don’t think I would believe enough to practice them, I would think they were nice and made sense but that would be it, I think. I have to again point out that I don’t believe myself to be a pure and sincere practitioner as yet, but I am definitely trying!

Anyway aside from the above, a word that springs to mind is subjectivity. I am clearly not going to change the minds of people who have had bad experiences and subsequently have a bad view of the NKT and in the same way what those people write about the NKT is not going to change my positive view of the NKT. One thing I do hope though, is that if there are people new to Buddhism that want to visit NKT centres, I hope they are not put off by the experiences others have had. I hope they are able to go and find out for themselves if it is for them, or not.

Whenever I sit down to meditate it always takes me some time to get my mind to a relatively peaceful state. If I don’t try and somehow still my mind first, I am always unsuccessful in my meditation. I used to use breathing meditation as a method to accomplish some stillness, however these days I have been using the absorption of the cessation of gross minds, in other words, going like stone or wood. Geshe-la taught this in America in 2006 and mentioned it this last summer festival 2008. 

Geshe-la explained that with distraction we can’t accomplish anything: our listening, contemplating and meditating in general and training the mind in particular has no power. Until now many people have practised Dharma with distraction and so never gained familiarity. 

Geshe-la then explained how to meditate on the absorption of the cessation of gross minds. Absorption here means a single-pointed subtle mind absorbed on an object. The object is the cessation of our gross mind. To manifest our subtle mind we need to temporarily cease our gross mind. To develop or cultivate a cessation of our gross mind we use a simple method as follows: first stop paying attention to any object, do not think about anything, remain like a stone or a piece of wood, like an inanimate object without perceiving or experiencing anything. Remain in this state until our gross mind of distraction ceases. Then when we have accomplished this cessation of gross minds we remain in this state and hold this cessation. When our gross mind of distraction ceases then our subtle mind holds it single pointedly.

Geshe-la concluded we should practice this meditation continually until we gain deep familiarity. When we have great familiarity with this then whenever distractions develop we can stop them by remembering this meditation.

For me this way of stilling my mind before focusing on an object of meditation has been successful. I find my mind relaxes much quicker. This appeals to me because I first imagine how a stone or a piece wood is inanimate and as such has no thoughts, conceptions or feelings. Nothing arises from it and nothing dissolves into it. I recall these characteristics and then try and take them on for myself, becoming that which does not perceive or feel anything. It really works for me and I enjoy the experience it creates in my mind. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but definitely works for me and is my favourite for now.