BootsnAll Travel Network

An Unexpected Danger Of Volunteering Abroad:Falling In With A Cult

This is a very long entry….

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for awhile knows that the point of this almost 3 year journey around the world was to be of service, within the limits of what I have to offer, to people of other cultures.

Although this sounds very exciting, very giving, and very selfless way to travel..I, in fact, am the one who has usually ended up being on the receiving end of my volunteering efforts. I have learned more from the people that I went to help than they possibly could ever know.

I have learned much more than I ever could have expected from volunteering to work on a garden in England.

I answered an advertisement that was posted on, asking for volunteers to “come enjoy a working visit at our Buddhist monastery in Northern England”. I emailed them, and after several emails back and forth it was decided that I would come on a working holiday for about two months. While there, I would be doing miscellaneous tasks, such as gardening, housepainting, and cooking. I’d also get the chance to attend any classes they taught for free, including the nightly meditation classes.

Best of all, I wouldn’t have to pay a cent!

Sound to good to be true? I thought so as well, so I researched a few volunteerism sites where volunteers rate their experiences. I found seven reviews that were recent, all from the center I was going to, and all said they had had a good experience. Most people had only stayed 5 to 7 days, the average working visit stay. Although my stay was going to be longer, I figured it would just be 7 more weeks of a great experience.

Sound to good to be true? It was. Read on.

I arrived at the “Buddhist” center and was immediately taken in by the grounds and buildings. The grounds and gardens, although in obvious disrepair, were beautiful to behold, something like one sees out of a magazine on English gardening.

At one time a huge estate, it had gone through various changes in its 200 year lifetime, including a school, a home for “wayward” boys, and a hospital during the war for soldiers. It had been bought by this particular group of “Buddhists” only about 15 years ago.

My first interaction upon arrival was somewhat strained. The woman in charge of the place seemed to have a distinct lack of social skills and was very impolite. Perhaps I should leave, I thought. She gave me the creeps.  But, maybe I was just tired, and decided things would look better in the morning.

They did.

The following week, I happily cleaned bathrooms, gardened, painted, and did whatever was asked of me. I was tired from being on the road, and didn’t give much else much thought.

I did notice, though, that all of the monks and nuns were Western. There were no people walking around in yellow and red robes from any other places in the world..such as Tibet or Thailand. All of the monks and nuns were from England, Australia, and the United States. This seemed odd, in that it didn’t fit with my expectations of visiting a “Tibetan Buddhist monastery” in England-as it had been advertised-but then, what had matched my expectations so far on this crazy trip?

The first weekend I was there, they had an “Introduction to Buddhism” weekend, which I was “strongly urged” to attend.

I did not take well to being strongly urged to do anything-I never have, having been born as stubborn as an ox-but, I figured, why not go and check it out? That’s one of the reasons I was here, to discover more about Buddhism, right?

There were several other working visitors there, on one week visits, and we all decided to go to the workshops and lectures together.

The whole weekend was interesting to me, as I had no prior interest or experience in Buddhism. There were some things that seemed a bit strange, such an emphasis on praying to this particular group’s guru-but as I said, I had no prior experience with Buddhism, and figured that it was all normal.

One of the other guests,an American woman, attended the first class only, and then never returned.

I ran into her in the hallway, and she explained that she wouldn’t be going to the rest of the classes, as “this was not Buddhism, it was something else.” She was planning on leaving in a week, but when they found out she wasn’t finishing the course, they strongly urged her to leave a bit sooner. She disappeared the following Monday, and I got an email from her that she thought they were very strange.

I was beginning to see some strange things as well.

For example, one day I walked by another working visitor changing a light bulb. He needed someone to hold the ladder for him, and as I was nearby, I offered to do it. A nun walked by and severely reprimanded both of us. We felt small and diminished, and we were sent to the office like two very bad schoolchildren, where we were told that we had no right to make any decisions regarding our work for the day. We were told we had to ask for permission to do anything other than what we were assigned, even if it meant waiting for the person in charge of the center for an hour or more. We were made to feel very small and useless, and the man I was working with that day was very upset.All this just to change a single lightbulb!

Two hours later, we got permission for me to hold the ladder,”but nothing more.”

This struck me as very odd, and irritated me beyond belief. But, I thought perhaps it was just the person in charge making these arbitrary rules.Perhaps she was one of these strange women that perpetually have their panties in a bunch, if you know what I mean.

When I mentioned this incident in passing to another of the communities members, a monk, he told me that it was a Buddhist belief that it was good to give up all control of any decisions, and that it was good to have someone direct you even when you didn’t agree, so that you could practice the Eight Noble Truths-which are kind of like the Ten Commandments of Buddhism. Kind of like “suck up so you won’t be reborn as a worm”, or something like that. Then he told me the entire situation didn’t happen, that it was a delusion I had created.

I could see his point, or at least I was trying to. I had been reading two of the Guru’s books on Buddhism, and I was trying to apply what I had learned so far to the situation.

I tried to be open to the fact that I was delusional. In Buddhism, it is true that many things we experience day to day, are considered delusions..such as anger, and so on. Okay, I thought. I’ll be open to considering all of this one big delusion.

Was this Buddhism? No, but I had no idea at the time.

Still, I was depressed further, when later in the day a female working visitor was reduced to tears by a similar situation .

She left the next day, feeling depressed. She just made up some excuse and left.

I envied her, but thought, I can do this! (I don’t know if this response stemmed from total disregard to what I was really thinking, or if the mind control stuff was already taking over my tiny brain, or if I just wanted to try and find the good in the situation. It probably was some combination of all three.)

That day, I was given instructions to complete tasks which made no sense to me whatsoever. I was working with several other people, and they all agreed that the manner in which we were asked to do our particular job made no sense. We went to the center manager, but she cut us to the quick. We went back out to do our ridiculous task in the ridiculous manner, and when we were finished they made us do it again, twice, in two other different ways. I was so confused by the end of the day that my mind was blank.

I was invited to attend a meditation and teaching the following evening, and I thought it might cheer my spirits up and calm my mounting anxiety. I was exhausted from all the physical work, and tired off the stress from not being able to make any decisions for myself.

The meditation was strange. It was in a meditation room, with a Buddha shrine at center, am equally large shrine to their guru on the left, and a shrine to another god they worshiped, who was very fierce looking.

First, there was a meditation, sort of the normal sort, requiring breathing, relaxation techniques, and visualization.

But after this part, we were told to chant and sing. We did chants for the long life of their guru,   and then some chants for the fierce looking god. There were no chants for Buddha.

As a matter of fact, we were told that the guru was Buddha, and that we could be Buddha in this lifetime if we only chose to be enlightened. We were told that in order to do this, we must believe the guru to be Buddha and do whatever he asked. Complete obedience.

When the meditation was over, I went up to my room. I resident knocked on the door, and he asked to come in. In a low voice, he began telling me about his life, his experiences at this place, and how he wanted to leave, but he couldn’t. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not-I had no frame of reference, no experience with which to apply any decision making. I figured he was just having a bad day, or perhaps had a personal problem with the director of the place.

Over the next week, my work assignments became more and more impractical, leaving me exhausted. I kept going to the meditations, thinking that I was being judgemental of this faith and tradition, and trying to have an open mind. I kept thinking perhaps it was just the people in charge here that had created this strange environment, and that this was not the intention of the founder.

The meditations got stranger and stranger, and the same time..I noticed I did not have to even look in the prayer book to read along with the chants-I had somehow memorized them all already, in about five visits to the meditation class.

Actually, I found that I was humming them all the time. When I woke up, they were the first thing in my head, and I fell asleep to their lull, as my room was next to two other meditation rooms where people went and chanted often thruout the day. I found it hard to read anything, and I began to find concentration impossible. It began to be impossible to write my blog.

During this time, I began to be more familiar at the center, and befriended many of the residents. Some of the residents were quite forthcoming when I asked questions, but these were generally answered in hushed tones in the middle of the night.

I discovered that almost all of the residents (there were three types. Buddhists, who had taken orders and were monks and nuns. Lay Buddhists, who were living there and working as teachers, considering orders, or working outside but supporting the community. Non-Buddhists, who were living there and occasionally attending a class or two .)..had very low self esteem, were vulnerable, felt isolated, and were broke.

They were afraid to talk about any doubts they had about the center, and when they had raised concerns, they were told that the problems they were facing were due to their karma. In other words, they were feeling low because they were low-and they deserved this lowly status because of the terrible things they had done in their past lives.

Was this Buddhism? How was I to know. I had absolutely no experience with Buddhism at all, except for a few friends I  had in the USA , and they didn’t seem like these people.

Several residents were extremely open with me, and shared with me many of the “House Rules”, which included,

– No books or materials about Buddhism other than ones by their guru.

– No discussion or complaints about the center or its organization. No saying anything to cause disfavor to the organization or its leaders, either on the local level or worldwide. Punishment by banishment.

– A financial agreement upon moving in, to support the community financially with a sizeable chunk of money, and continued support thru the larger portion of ones earnings being given over to the group. This included giving of all of ones material goods except what was most practical as a way to practice unattachment to samsara.

– Mandatory work at the center and for the centers causes for no pay, up to 30 hours a week(this plus a full time job).

– Mandatory attendance at classes at the center, which were more and more expensive, with the expensive ones being the ones that would put one on the track to enlightenment.

– A request for no television, radio, games, music, or other influences on center grounds.

– A resident had to attend as many “Festivals” where the guru would be teaching at great cost to the goer-and be willing to bring in new people to attend. This meant that their jobs had to be of the lowest quality for their skills, so that they could quit at a moments notice to attend these festivals in far flung places. For example, an ex-bank president would be an aide for a nursing home. A mother of two worked at as an occasional maid, although she had been a professor.

What a strange place, I thought. Yet, in the middle of the zaniness, there were some very nice people, I told myself.

I didn’t want to believe it was a cult, although it so obviously was. I think..some of the practices there were already affecting my brain and how I thought of myself. I began to doubt my reactions to things more and more. I began to doubt questioning things more and more. This was heavily encouraged.

They knew I loved gardening, and so put me in charge of a large, beautiful English garden that was the stuff of gardeners dreams the world over. Although they seemed to have ridiculous expectations about what I could accomplish there in such a short time, I tried to meet their ridiculous expectations. I became more and more exhausted physically-to tired to even read.

I had been invited..or should I say, strongly urged, to attend the upcoming “Festival” where the guru was to be speaking. This was held in the Lakes district, near a bird sanctuary and a beach, and we could camp in a forest, too.

I thought it over and was on the fence. Still, being strongly urged does wonders to one’s common sense, and I found myself heading to the “festival” the following weekend with two other working visitors. I knew one of them quite well, and seemed to be a good guy, very down to earth. We talked it over and decided we’d go hear the guru and then make up our minds what in the world was going on here.

Besides, camping sounded fun, right? Amazingly, a tent was quickly found for me. Another resident loaned my a sleeping bag. It was all so easy, and they seemed to want me to go hear their guru very much.

Camping turned out to be a crowded affair, surrounded by way too many tents in a drizzle. Luckily, there was no time to dwell on this sorry state of affairs because we were too busy going to all the “teachings” and meditations to get us ready to hear the guru the following day.

The speakers all lectured in this enormous tent, which was attached to a huge temple, filled with gold and precious gems and paintings and sculptures.It was a dazzling affair, a feast for the senses.

There were thousands of people there, from all over the First World, of every age and description. Entire families were there with there very young children. Old ladies were there with their little dogs. Young couples in love squeezed hands and sat in reverence. Everyone, positively everyone, had these weird plastered expressions on their faces. They reminded us of the Stepford automatons.

While waiting for the lectures and so on to begin, conversations seemed to hover dangerously around the same topics-how many festivals one had been to, how many classes one had taken, who was getting ordained that one knew, how holy the guru was. The vocabulary of people was remarkably limited, and they all used the same kinds of catch phrases.

When people found out that I was on a working holiday with one of the centers, they were in ecstacy-I was going to be one of their own! When I told them that I was a practising Catholic, they all had the same response.

” Yes, but who is your Spiritual Guide?”

Gosh, I don’t know, I would say. Spiritual guide? Um..well..I guess..God?

” Oh, but God can’t be your Spiritual Guide.”

He can’t ? Oh, okay. How about Jesus? No? Okay, how about Mary? No? Okay. Who then?

“It’s obvious you need a stronger Spiritual Practice.”

I do? Gosh, you’re probably right. Don’t we all.

Just when the conversation was starting to get interesting, the assistants to the guru showed up, and everyone got quiet.

There were so many people that the only way I could see him was to watch him on one of the television screens, which had been set up all over the makeshift auditorium for this purpose.

And then everyone started to chant, or sing, or pray, or whatever it was.

And if you’ve never seen 2,000 people totally blissed out, chanting that there guru come out on to a stage, and that he’s a Buddha, and that he will live forever, I invite you to do so. After this they did other chants, which everyone seemed to have memorized, and these included chants to the angry looking warrior god up on the stage, and yet another wishing for death and destruction to come to all of their enemies(which included the Dalai Lama, by the way).

(Postscript: The prayer we prayed was to bring death and destruction to all of our enemies. Then , immediately after that, we prayed for the H.H. D. L. to end his delusions, which were causing the world to suffer. At this point, the man next to me whispered that the NKT believed the D.L. was their enemy. Additionally, we were all encouraged to go to Paris and protest the D.L. appearance, in the name of religious freedom. This is a complex belief of the NKT, and this sentence alone caused many comments.As I have said, I do not believe that adherents to the NKT doctrine really understand what they are agreeing to when they become NKT members. Please read response to comment at end of page for sources to backup this and other statements.)

It was one of the most unnerving experiences of my life.

My mouth open, but not a sound coming out, I looked around me at all the people staring at the televisions with glasy expressions, one enormous mind meld. Oh, they looked like normal people, like ones own family, neighbors, friends..but they weren’t. These people had had their brains completely messed with, of that I have no doubt. They were glazed over robots, praying for enlightenment and losing all common sense in the process.

That’s when it really hit me, that I was in the middle of some weird cult. I mean, it hit me so hard I thought I would lose control of my bodily functions.  I had been getting wrapped up into it myself, you see. They almost had me. But thank God, my parents instilled the importance a certain degree of self awareness coupled with a healthy dose of doubt of any organization, political or religious. I was ,at last, finally finding this early teaching in healthy cynicism useful. (Thanks Mom and Dad! Good job!)

The following day, the guru made his appearance. People went wild, like he was a god, which in their mind, he was.

“Can you feel it? “

No, I thought. I just feel sorry for all of these poor people who are giving all of their money and time and belief to this little man, for lack of anything better to do with themselves.

” Can you tell how enlightened he is?”

No, and quite frankly, how can you tell if someone is enlightened anyway? How could an enlightened person be sitting on such a wad of cash? If a person was enlightened, wouldn’t they have moved on, to the next level, rather than hanging out with us and asking us for our money, our mortgages, our children?

I ran into some odd people from California and was not surprised to see them. they had never made sense when I talked to them in the past..seemed spacey and out to lunch..and talked about their guru alot. I recalled suddenly, upon seeing them, that they had spent all of their money traveling to these “festivals” to hear their guru. Ah, I realized, talking to one perfectly nice woman from my past, as her eyes glasses over talking about enlightened beings, you’re one of them, too! That makes perfect sense, because I always thought you were out to lunch!

That night I snuck into the tent of my friend, a sweet guy who had told me he had some doubts about these people since he’d first arrived for his working visit a few weeks ago.

“These people are out to lunch. This is a cult. I have no doubt. And..I can’t get those chants out of my head. ..they make it impossible to think clearly.” , I said.

“Yes. You are right. I was watching them sing the songs..and it’s like some kind of mind control. It numbs their minds.”, He said.

I went back to my tent and spent a restless night trying to get the chants out of my head. Nothing was working until I started humming the entire Beatles’s “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack. How fitting.

I awoke exhausted. I decided not to go to the next mind meld, and instead go down to the beach. My friend offered to cover for me if anyone asked, saying he had seen me enter the tent.

I walked down to the beach, feeling curious stares from people coming up the path the other direction.

The beach turned out to be a quicksand beach. How appropriate.

I sat there trying to figure out what to do, and throwing rocks into the quicksand and watching them sink. I kind of felt like that, like those rocks. I came all this way, this whole way, to garden in England and I end up living with a bunch of sad, strange people. How depressing.

My morale low, I discovered one of the residents of the “Buddhist” center I was working at was heading back early. I headed back to the center with him and stared out the window while he chatted about his life, which had been very difficult.

When we got back, several of the residents who had stayed behind told me some very sad lifestories, and even sadder stories about their current state of mind. A few were suicidal.

I decided to stick it out a few more weeks-everyone was gone except me and a  few of these very depressed people, and perhaps I could cheer them up or convince them to leave.

I looked up a bunch of information on the group I was staying with, which was called ” New Kadampa Tradition Buddhism”, and found out that it was started in 1991 in England, and is considered a full fledged cult not only by people who specialize in that sort of thing, but in all of Buddhism. Other Buddhists do not consider it Buddhism, the consider it a sectarian cult.

You might be asking yourself , ” Well, why didn’t you look into this before you left?”

That’s a good question. Why didn’t I? Well, I suppose I thought Buddhism was pretty simple, pretty straightforward. If it had been some weird cult, wouldn’t I have heard about it on the news? Besides, if it was a cult, how could English people let them buy up so many beautiful old churches and estates and schools to live in?

This particular cult falls between the cracks. It does just enough to cause a bit of a gray area in people’s minds as to whether it’s a cult of not, and in spite of the fact that there are plenty of negative reports in the media-from National Public Radio to the BBC to newspapers to a New Kadampa Recovery Group on Yahoo Groups- this cult is slowly making its way into every city in England.

It’s goal, in fact, is to “.. bring it’s tradition of Buddhism to every town in the United Kingdom..”. And if that doesn’t freak you out, guess what? Not only are they accomplishing that goal in the UK-they are accomplishing it all over the Western world, from the United States to France to Australia. There’s going to be an NKT center near you soon, and people will go to their free, friendly meditations without even knowing the bigger organization they are getting involved with. Kind of like Scientology, but without all the hype.

I also discovered that many of the techniques used in cults, especially in the area of mind control, had been being used on me! I remember emailing people in my life about what I was going thru, and them suggesting..even to leave, and me telling them, no it was fine, it wasn’t affecting me, I was above it all.

I was wrong. There were some people there who were in such sad lonely states, I wanted to help them. But in doing this I didn’t realize how much the atmosphere and dogma of the place settled itself into my brain.

Mind control can be disguised in a variety of ways, some of which are

-Meditation, serving as a form of hypnosis.

-Chanting or Singing repetitively, with eliminates non cult ideas

-Encouraging blind acceptance of truth with out thinking. Thinking discouraged.

-Changing the distribution of power, by requiring child like obedience to do simple tasks.

-Implanting subliminal messages by stressing certain words and phrase over and over again.

-Creating disorientation and vulnerability by prolonged mental and physical activity

-Peer group pressure, isolation, and verbal abuse. (see a few entries ago to see some examples of this)

I realized I could help no one there, in spite of my good intentions. When I finally left, I was physically sick at the thought of doing so, and it took everything I had to just leave.

And, its important to remember, I had only been there for just over 3 weeks!

Logically, I knew I had to leave. But cults and cult psychology don’t play on the intellect, on one’s logic. They play on one’s emotions. Often times, the criticisms I heard of myself had some truth, as they were designed to. So emotionally, it was very hard to leave the place. I felt like a failure for doing so, which is exactly how they wanted me to feel so I would not leave.

Of course, I’m doing much better now..staying in France, relaxing, and taking a big time out before heading to Calcutta to work with the Sisters of Charity for about 4 months. I’m educating myself about what happened back in England,and trying to gain some perspective.

I think what attracted me initially about going there was that it looked so attractive, and it fit in so very nicely with my plan to volunteer around the world.

I had wanted to volunteer somewhere in Europe, and I was finding any positions hard to come by, and then this beautiful place showed up. The job they wanted me to do sounds delightful, and it fit in with another one of my goals, which to understand and be compassionate for all faiths. I thought this would be a great place to be of service and to understand a bit more about Buddhism before heading to India and Southeast Asia.

So, this entry shouldn’t discourage anyone from looking for volunteer opportunities..but if you show up, and your initial feeling isn’t the greatest..go with that. You’re probably right.

Or if it sounds to good to be true-well then, it probably is.

In the meantime, I’m still trying to understand Buddhism and Hinduism as well, having bought a few books on the subject I am busily trying to educate myself before heading to my next destination. Or, shall I say, re-educate myself, in the case of Buddhism!

I’m feeling somewhat-I guess the word would be-wounded, and my faith in people is slightly diminished somehow from the experience. But, given time, I’m sure that will bloom into something beautiful and amazing, as has every challenge on this trip.



34 responses to “An Unexpected Danger Of Volunteering Abroad:Falling In With A Cult”

  1. Josie says:

    I’m sorry, but what you have written is not true (so much for true life planet).

    I am sorry that you feel you have to bash the NKT. You might have had some of these experiences, but you definitely have lied regarding your comments about the Dalai Lama and anyone wanting to hurt him or anyone.

  2. Becky T says:

    You sound like your “old” self. Not meaning that you are old, BUT you have had a birthday. Just Kidding. I am glad that you are resting and preparing for your next leg of your journey. We are “rootin” for you.

    Becky T

  3. Kevin C says:

    Dear Gigi,

    I’m sorry you had such a bad experience at the Buddhist Center and Festival, but the organization you are describing is unrecognizable to me. I’ve been practicing Buddhism with the NKT for over ten years and none of the stuff you mention has ever happened to me. We never pray to Geshe Kelsang as Buddha, there are prayers to Buddha, people are not committed to give their earnings to a centre. There are many other things that don’t seem consistent with the organization either. I’m sorry you concluded that it was a cult, I don’t see any evidence of this through my own experience.

  4. Junglist says:

    Hi there,

    Wow – it sounds like you had a crazy experience!

    I have done ‘working visits’ at NKT centres in England and USA. I have also attended a couple of those fesitvals in the lake district. I also go to NKT classes.

    But my experience was nothing like yours!

    I think I’m a bit like you in that I like to ask questions and I like to understand what I’m doing and why…

    So I have always questioned everything – and I have always found the people in these centres to be forthcoming and honest, and up for a debate – I’ve never had to accept anything blindly.

    I remember the first time I visited an NKT centre, we were doing prayers – they were called ‘Prayers for Meditation’. I thought to myself ‘what’s this? it doesn’t make sense, I can’t come back here until I know what these prayers are all about’. Then at the end of the teaching, I cornered the principle teacher and proceeded to question her for nearly 2 hours on the meaning of the prayers. She very patiently answered every single question.

    A few weeks later, the centre was doing a vow ceremony and it was suggested that I go. I thought about it and decided it was a bit early for me so I declined – but I was never made to feel unwelcome as a result.

    I have been to lots of teachings and centres and while it is true that I have come across the odd ‘unusual’ person – these people have certainly been in the minority. In general, I have found these Buddhists to be friendly, caring and above all – have a fantastic sense of humour. I wonder if you just had an unfortunate experience in that place in England – maybe it was just that manager’s people skills that needed to be seriously improved because in general my experience has been a total contrast to yours.

    At the festivals, I just saw a lot of people who were genuinely happy. Nothing seemed weird at all to me. I have never once felt that any body was trying to brainwash me (although it must be said that my brain could do with a good wash! :)) My only complaint would be the queue for the showers – other than that I have had a really enjoyable time – and then gone back to my normal life, with something useful in my mind.

    I have also never felt that I had been mixed up with a cult – and like I say, I like to consider myself nobody’s fool – I have questioned and investigated and everything about the NKT seems above board to me.

    To finish I’d say the problems you encountered were probably more to do with deluded people than the NKT – people will always be people – some have got it together and some haven’t. You get both types in all religions and come to think of it… in all walks of life.

    Happy travels and best wishes,


    Oh, before I sign off – I’d be interested to know what they were asking you to do over and over again… just so I can avoid it 😉

  5. Junglist,
    I have received so many different kinds of responses to this blog entry. I kind of expected that, but..some of them were very upsetting.
    I am willing to put differing points of view on my blog, and your comment, will, in this case, speak for several pro/NKT comments.
    I am extremely cautious, however to get involved in any debate.
    I will say, however, that it does seem to be true from what you say that the NKT seems to have provided you with a totally different experience. It is also true that the “manager” of my center was obviously on some kind of powertrip. Even the nuns and monks told me this.
    However, separate from the experience one has from going to meditation classes every week, or working a working retreat/or even going to festival, where there is obviously going to be a feel good, family vibe-is that my perception of the NKT-and those who get more deeply involved with it-is a negative one. People who get more deeply involved with it seem very different than the people who remain on the edge of the NKT.
    This could be, as you point out, possibly due to the individuals involved at whatever center they are at-as the NKT does seem to give enormous power to the center managers. I was told at one point that the center manager has more power than the resident teacher.
    It certainly is possible that whatever intention Geshla had, it was different than this has all turned out.
    However, what I find particularly alarming about the NKT is that the people within the organization-and its participants, in occasional classes and so on-do not really seem to understand what they are agreeing to believe in. There is alot attached to the bottom line, and most participants seemed a bit naive and in the dark.
    I would suggest you read the wikipedia entry on New Kadampa Traditon. it is reasonably fair, and the comments and critisms section are enlightening.
    There also is a New Kadampa Recovery group, and these folks also have some interesting points of view.
    As you were the only politely worded email to respond to this entry in favor of the NKT, further conversation with you would be welcome.

  6. Junglist says:

    Hi again gigi,

    Thank you for allowing my comment on your blog, it’s very kind of you to let me offer my point of view.

    I am just a tad confused about the ‘agreeing to believe in’ bit. What I’m saying is, they will of course encourage you to go to pujas and what have you, but surely that’s because they believe it will ultimately lead to a happy mind. If one truly believes that, then it would almost be unfair not to share – I’m sure this is the case in all religions. As a teenager, I ended up at a church-run youth club and before I knew it I was in the church on sundays… it was weeks before I realized what was happening. I remember thinking to myself ‘How the hell (pardon the pun) did I end up here?’ Then I decided the church wasn’t for me and left.

    Whether we choose to be encouraged or not, to stay or not, is surely our choice? I have no intention to offend anybody, but I am incredibly surprised that those people you talked about choose to stay with the NKT, if they know in their heart that it’s not for them. I mean why on earth would you get ordained if you were not 100% sure about what you believe in – it doesn’t make sense. I sometimes wonder if some of the people who are so anti-NKT are just a bit upset with themself for going along with something they didn’t really want to go along with.

    An NKT teacher was once encouraging a fairly new person to start teaching. I heard the fairly new person say ‘I don’t want to rush my practice in case the wheels fall off’. The teacher then said, I completely understand – there will be no pressure from me. Both seemed very happy to me. It seemed to me that the student (who was only human) was strong enough to not put himself in a situation that he was uncomfortable with. And the teacher (who was also only human) respected that and so they had a very healthy relationship. Of course mistakes are made – I’ve seen mistakes, i’ve seen people get angry and upset in centres, that’s the nature of being human, but in my experience I just don’t see how the NKT is to blame for that.

    When I contemplate what Geshe-la is doing, you know with the books, centres and temples and stuff – it just blows my mind, it’s amazing – don’t you think? I am not saying I’m not a deluded being, coz I am, but I can’t help thinking that if these manager and depressed residents were to simply practice what Geshe-la is writing and talking about -maybe there wouldn’t be these problems.

    So finally I guess for me – I choose to take things at my own pace and try to solve my own problems… by practicing what essentially has been revealed to me by the NKT.

    Thanks again gigi and best wishes


  7. practitioner says:

    Dear Gigi,
    I am so sorry to hear of your negative experience at that NKT center. I like Junglist read your description and it sounds like the complete opposite of my own experience with the NKT.

    At the center I am at I have always been encouraged to think for myself and question the teachings as that is the key in developing authentic realizations. Early on at an NKT center I was taught the following quote from the book Clear Light of Bliss written by Geshe-la; he quotes Buddha as saying “Do not accept my teachings simply because I am called Buddha.” Geshe Kelsang’s commentary to this is as follows “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.”

    So as you can imagine I am shocked to hear of your account.

    I can say for sure that the people who treated you badly at that center were not practicing Geshe-la’s teachings when they made you feel small and pressured you to do things (and most of all when they made those crazy ‘House Rules’). Most of your negative experience seems to center around that and the herd-like mentality you observed in your compatriots. People are deluded and behave in foolish ways and that is no different in the NKT. But in my experience the NKT has been a trustworthy organization with many respectable practitioners constituting its base. I would suggest writing to the NKT office (anonymously if that helps) as I am sure they would like to know if there is unusual behavior at one of their centers.

    But I would also ask that you take some more responsibility when blogging because there are a few things I read in your blog that I know for a fact aren’t true and are misrepresenting the NKT. I know you only had 3 weeks experience with the NKT and I just ask that you be careful in coming to snap assessments especially after reading the anti-NKT vitriol on the web.

    1. Every NKT puja begins with a prayer to Buddha called the Liberating prayer so your comment that there was no mention of Buddha in the prayers is not correct (you might not have known who those praises were for at the beginning because you were new)

    2. There has never been a prayer wishing harm on anyone including the Dalai Lama. So that isn’t true.

    2. In all four of the major Buddhist lineages that came from India through Tibet it is standard practice to create a shrine for one’s Guru and make prayers for his long life. So this isn’t evidence of a cult, its evidence of a Mahayana Buddhist center. Read the life stories of any of the great Buddhist masters, Gampopa, Milarepa, Marpa, etc for myriad examples.

    3. There are no Tibetan monks or nuns in the NKT (other than Geshe-la) because it is a Western Buddhist organization and because of Geshe-la stance on the Dorje Shudgen issue many Tibetans stay away for fear of reprisal from pro-Dalai Lama Tibetans. You state that the NKT center advertised itself as a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and quite frankly I have never seen that to be the case.

    Gigi, thank you for being patient and reading my response. I hope you have a more positive experience with Buddhism in the future…warm regards.

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    This was interesting as I am browsing info on kadampa buddhism due to strange vibes I got from my experience. I have been to the Buddhist priory in the lake district a couple of times. I am from england about 40 mins drive from the lake district. I went in 2008 so around the same time as yourself. I went for a week working retreat with a friend. I found the building and grounds to be beautiful and on arrival the people were very friendly, esp the organiser of the work tasks. Her name was gail and she was a lovely friendly woman who would go out of her way to help us. I certainly didnt have your experience of rudeness by anybody and found them to be fairly easygoing regarding what work we wanted to do, and in fact my friend pretty much slept a lot and some days didnt go to work and stayed in our room and gail was fine about it and very understanding. So I cant understand or think who could have been so rude to you, maybe that person left before we came?
    I had dabbled a little in buddhism and was reading a book on it that I took with me. I thought all buddhism was the same and buddhism was buddhism when I arrived. Myself and my friend had befriended an ordained monk while we were there and whilst chatting in our room, the first alarm bells began to ring when I excitedly showed him my book on buddhism I had been reading. He was quite dismissive of it and this confused me a little, I realised later that they only read and promote the kadampa books that they produce mainly written by geshe la. Whilst I was there though I had quite an enjoyable time. The vegetarian food they provide I found delicious and I enjoyed taking my mug of herbal tea into the gardens to do the little jobs they asked you to do. I found the people overall to be very friendly, and to mean well. Although there was something about the ‘vibe’ of the place I found particularly ‘odd’. I just couldnt put my finger on what. I noticed that most of the people including the monks and nuns were some kind of social dropout, like they were just odd, socially retarded people or they had had problematic lives, and I felt they were clinging onto this ‘religion’ as a means of comfort. I didnt feel they were true buddhists at all and a very long way off from being enlightened. For example I would see some eating meat and using lots of sugar in thier tea? The first basic stage of enlightenment is a pure diet. I also found that I wasnt put under any pressure to attend teachings atall, in fact I would have to go and find people for the information of when and where to attend! I only attended a couple, I did one meditation where I fell asleep, and one singing prayers or chants where I left. I just made the most of my time there and relaxed, knowing that this wasnt for me and I would look elsewhere for buddhism when I got home. But I must say there is something about just the atmosphere of the place which one cant describe other than ‘odd’. Its not scary its a kind of ‘this doesnt sit right with me’ kind of odd.
    Anyway my monk friend invited us to one of their summer festivals in 2008 which I have a strong feeling is the same one you described. I went with my friend and we were due to stay in a tent in the grounds. However we werent getting along. I was walking amongst the people in the grounds looking to get some food, and I have never experienced such a feeling in my life! These people who surrounded me were like walking zombies, they were just utterly weird. They werent like normal people, it was as if a spaceship had landed and let out 500 zombies into the grounds. I am not just saying this, as at the time I had never heard any negativity towards kadampa or the word ‘cult’ mentioned before. But afterwards in hindsight it all came together and explained the strange behaviour of the people. There is just no way I can describe fully what I mean, but this time I became concerned and I recall going to look for my friend and saying ‘oh my god those people are freaks! Have you seen them theyre all weird, go and have a look, oh my god whats wrong with them what is this place?’ They werent laughing and joking and talking like normal people, they were walking around with dumb smiles, like you were the outsider. Just a very very odd vibe. Anyway I eventually went into the tent attached to the temple and listened to geshe la speak, apparently this was a great privelege. He is a little old oriental man and I couldnt hear or understand a word he was saying. So I left. I didnt hear anyone asking to pray for the destruction of the dalai lama, and I found it hard to believe they would do this. Overall I feel there is a lot of good, lost people studying NKT, I dont believe its a ‘cult’ as such, just a strain of buddhism that has been created. All religion is man made and all religion will create negative reactions. You could say that all religions are some form of cult to an extent. I certainly didnt find any of the more negative sides of NKT you describe, and I wouldnt necessarily believe they are trying to hypnotise people via chanting? (However, saying that I did feel kinda weird and woozy at times in that place.) Its just very difficult to describe the oddness of it all. I wouldnt choose to study NKT buddhism as its not what feels right for me, I prefer zen buddhism or similar. There are concerns I have with NKT particularly their dismissal for other buddhism traditions and other books in the building. But it has been said humans are not perfect and can even create problems in a buddhist centre! I would go back to the priory, but just to chill out and see the nice people again, not necessarily to study NKT.

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