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Gyatso: a new Exposé

Published February 11, 2020 by Be Scofield. An examination of Gyatso's controversial and dangerous cult.

From Be Scofield's biography:

"Be Scofield is the most prominent journalist in the world exposing cults and abusive gurus. She has exposed extensive sexual abuse in the tantra community. Her articles have over 1 million views in the last 1.5 years alone. Be’s work has been covered on front page articles on The Guardian, CNN, The Daily Mail, the CBC and more. Coverage of her work has garnered millions of views worldwide."

Inside Kelsang Gyatso’s New Kadampa Tradition

Please view the full article. An excerpt:

"Inside Kelsang Gyatso’s New Kadampa Tradition: Former members are speaking out about psychological, financial and sexual abuses they’ve seen or experienced in the New Kadampa Tradition.

This was no ordinary meditation group. It was an international Buddhist sect called The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), which many believe to be a cult. It was founded in 1992 by the Dalai Lama’s most notorious arch-rival and prominent Shugden worshipper Kelsang Gyatso.

“This is a personality cult,” former member Tenzin Peljor told Tricycle magazine in their 2018 critical expose “One Pure Dharma” on Kelsang Gyatso. He is a “narcissistic personality who sees himself as the sole savior of pure Buddhism” Peljor said.

Many claim that Gyatso, who embraces the title of a living Buddha, only allows New Kadampa Tradition followers to read “pure” Buddhist texts written by himself. All Buddhist books written by other authors have been removed from their bookstores and centers. Ex-members report having been fearful of “polluting” the teachings with other books or being shunned for reading other texts. Followers believe that all other forms of Buddhism are “corrupt” and that Gyatso’s version is the last saving grace for Buddhism worldwide.

Gyatso has amplified and exploited a minor doctrinal issue to catalyze a cult following around him ex-members allege. He has labeled the Dalai Lama as a “ruthless dictator” and “evil” false teacher who is trying to destroy him and his NKT based Shugden movement. Experts say there is no validity to his claims. With a clearly defined enemy who is persecuting him, claims of Buddhahood and of teaching the “one pure Dharma,” Gyatso has a recipe for cult success.

He has also created a mystical godlike aura around himself.

Former members argue that NKT followers are being brainwashed to believe they are being persecuted and stripped of their religious freedom.

Due to his public actions and protests against the Dalai Lama, Gyatso was ex-communicated from his former academic institution Sera-Je monastery. In 1996 the leadership published an open letter called “A Declaration of Expulsion” denouncing Gyatso’s “ruthless smear campaign” against the Dalai Lama. It stated he was “banished” from the school, referring to him as a “cult leader” operating a “cult kingdom” with “fanatical supporters.” They requested the Tibetan people “completely sever any relationship with him.”

Gyatso’s first coup was to overthrow the Tibetan Buddhist Manjushri Institute in England. In 1977 he was invited by Lama Yeshe to be a resident teacher and soon garnered a large following. He then blackmailed the school, threatening to release a 100-page document that falsely alleged criminal drug dealing and more. Within a few years, he managed to take over the institution, ousting the Tibetan religious leadership by pushing out anyone who had the authority to keep his power in check. Tenzin Peljor states that Gyatso even bribed one teacher, paying them to leave. He then became the highest authority at the Institute. Today, Manjushri serves as the central headquarters of the New Kadampa Tradition.

Gyatso is “unaffiliated with any known form of Buddhism or any of the official schools of Tibetan Buddhism.” And he is the only Tibetan in his lineage.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Michelle Haslam who is a former resident of an NKT center left the group and spoke out. She wrote a document called “A Psychological Report on the New Kadampa Tradition” and created a website to warn others. As a result of her actions, she faced an online smear campaign which led to the loss of her job. A day after her report came out her superiors were emailed by a fake psychologist pretending to be concerned for her mental well being. An entire website was set up dedicated to her character assassination. Since then Dr. Haslam has become even more vocal, appearing on numerous podcasts and Youtube videos despite the ongoing resistance.

Additionally, former members have been smeared online by a character who identifies himself as an independent journalist named Indy Hack. Ex-members who have spoken out publicly have also received threats to ruin their reputations and livelihoods, including lawsuit threats.

One former member describes how those who left were spoken about inside the group. “Common terms used are ‘mentally ill,’ ‘strongly delusional,’ ‘damaged goods,’ and even maras [demons]. Ex-members that dare to speak out are literally demonized. We lose our humanity and become rabid dogs in their eyes.”

One senior teacher and supposedly celibate monk, Neil Elliot (Gen-la Thubten), was asked to leave over sexual indiscretions only to return to NKT to teach once again. “He was being exposed for having sexual relations under the guise of a spiritual practice with nuns, single students, students who were married and in long term relationships” describes a former member.

A former national spiritual director, Samden Gyatso, who was also a supposed celibate monk, was also involved with a scandal. An ex-member describes. “[He] had sexual relations with many women for a very long time (using tantra as an excuse), the only reason he ever disrobed is because one of the nuns tried to commit suicide after falling pregnant with his child; only then did Kelsang Gyatso do something about it.”

When NKT members began discussing the abuses of Samden online Kelsang Gyatso ordered all NKT internet chat rooms to be shut down they claim. Gyatso gave a statement ordering his members to stop. “There is no meaning in talking about silly things publicly on the internet. Instead, make meaningful discussion with our pure practitioners, senior Teachers…Stop this kind of actions.”

There is also heavy pressure to donate money, take out loans that were never repaid or give over their life savings to the group ex-members allege. One person who was asked to take out a loan, but never did, describes what happened to another member. “She gave my center a credit card under her name. After my center folded she was left with thousands of dollars to pay out of her pocket. Other people have given their life savings and even their homes to the NKT.”

Another former member explains more about the financial abuse. “It was customary to give ‘interest-free loans’, pay for building renovation, cars, statues, and even the resident teacher to attend ‘festivals and empowerments’ in foreign countries…Sadly the more I gave, the more it seemed never to be enough, there was always a need for something.”

NKT members are also regularly engaging in “benefit fraud” ex-followers allege. They are instructed to fraudulently sign up for disability and social service financial aid only to then funnel the money into the group.

Many of the classic elements of a cult are present in the New Kadampa Tradition: a charismatic teacher who is the object of worship, financial coercion, behavior control, brainwashing, controlling what members can read, the demonization of former members, suppressing dissent, psychological and sexual abuse and more.

One of the peculiar aspects of this story is the disappearance of NKT founder Kelsang Gyatso. He has not been seen since 2013. The senior members claim he is in writing retreat, however, some former members believe that the most recent books were actually ghostwritten by senior NKT. Former members believe that Gyatso is either gravely ill or has died. They say NKT is downplaying or hiding this information because it is harder to recruit students if your all-powerful guru is sick or dead, showing weakness. Essentially it’s not good for business, ex-members claim.

“They employ gas-lighting, gatekeeping, weaponization of confessions; every trick of psychological manipulation in the cult textbook, and all in Buddha’s name.” — Geoffrey Bonn

When I visited the NKT temple in Williams the director of education told me that Kelsang Gyatso was supposed to come to their recent large-scale gathering but his trip had to be canceled because they “couldn’t secure the perimeter of the forest.” She said they feared he’d be assassinated. I was surprised at such a declaration. She was very paranoid about him being killed, which seemed like an overreaction. When Kelsang Gyatso was still in attendance, security staff were instructed to wear bulletproof vests and to “take a bullet for their guru.”

NKT leadership could easily settle the mystery by posting evidence of him in a recent photo or video."

A well-done addition to prior assessment by the Buddhist community about Gyatso/NKT controversy, abuse and fraud.