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NKT's Legacy: Sociopathy

The unfortunate reach of NKT around the world has produced unfortunate distortion of Buddhism as a (bogus) psychotherapy wherein real problems, real people and truth do not exist. Buddha's teachings are reduced to futile sound bites, effectively dissociating practitioners from reality and intensifying psychological, social, family, emotional and medical problems.

Such assessment is increasingly being reviewed.

Dr. Michelle Haslam. "I myself heard many people (inside NKT) stating that ‘nothing matters’, that ‘nothing exists’. Many (inside NKT) believe they saw people acting in a way that suggested they believed that their actions no longer had consequences due to this belief. For those with narcissistic tendencies, who already struggle to take responsibility for their actions, this could lead to an exacerbation of these tendencies. For those who wish to speak up about abusive behaviour and safeguarding concerns, they are likely to be met with nihilistic responses and many survivors report that this was the case. Many survivors report witnessing people displaying disturbing behaviours which they believe indicated less empathy than in the general public. ‘Research suggests that areas of the brain that are key to emotional and physical sensations, such as the amygdala and the insula, appear to be less responsive in chronic depersonalisation sufferers. You might become less empathetic, your pain threshold might increase’ (Lofthouse, 2014, ‘Enlightenments evil twin’). Cults bring isolated people together and then isolate them further and engulf them. People with attachment difficulties are likely to suffer with a more disorganised attachment style after focusing on emptiness teachings whilst trying to connect with each other and form friendships. Kelsang Gyatso states: "All my appearances in dreams teach me That all my appearances when awake do not exist; Thus for me all my dream appearances Are the supreme instructions of my Guru." Many people report experiencing feelings of dissociation, derealisation and depersonalisation when contemplating these instructions. It could be argued that this is the intention of this practice. Irrespective of whether the individual considers their depersonalization as distressing or not, it would most likely lead the person to struggle with their daily activities and to relate to others, especially those outside of the NKT. To have empathy for others suffering we must be able to feel our own emotions, be connected to our body, and to connect with another person’s felt emotion. If we are cognitively straining to remember that this person in front of us does not exist, and that their feelings are empty, we are unlikely to be able to respond to their suffering with warmth. To be in authentic relationship with each other we must be able to connect with our emotions and the emotions of others. Humans need emotional and physical intimacy to survive and thrive. This is not something we can bypass by focusing on ‘ultimate truths’."

Engage (https://engagedharma.net/buddhist-spring-may-2020/). "Buddhist institutions in the West are failing us on a massive scale. Buddhist organizations exploit their members for money, sex and power. Sanghas are designed to isolate and disempower members and turn them into passive consumers, and worse—naive victims."

Shaun Bartone. "Sociopathic Buddhism: Contemporary Western Buddhism as a Moral Failure. I’m sick of practicing a restrictive Buddhism that rejects the world, that refuses to engage in culture and society as both participant and critic. I’m sick of a Buddhism that tries to escape the world by immersing itself in exotic cultures, obscure languages and obtuse philosophies, or by withdrawing into contemplative silence. I’m sick of a Buddhism that seals itself off within totalizing institutions that screen out real-world experiences, that perpetuates group think and cult behaviour. I’m sick of Buddhism as an escape from facing the complex realities of society. That kind of Buddhism is morally bankrupt. I can no longer accept a Buddhism that has no imperative to advocate for human rights, that cannot make moral judgements about social systems that oppress huge segments of the world’s population, systems that perpetuate racism, classism and misogyny, that exploit labour and natural resources, that perpetuate war, poverty, police brutality and violence. I cannot accept a Buddhism that will not take a position on climate change and the wholesale destruction of living environments. Buddhism is not a drug, but many people who practice Buddhism use it as a drug to anaesthetize themselves from the stress, anxiety and suffering of modern life. What’s worse, Buddhism is being taught as a drug, as a broad-based sedative to numb, calm and soothe the anxieties of the privileged classes. This kind of Buddhism shields people from feeling and reacting to both the passionate beauty and cold brutality of human life. My experience is that contemporary western Buddhists have no sense of connection, compassion, ethical or social responsibility to other people. The only people they care about are themselves, and people exactly like themselves: rich, white, and upper class, It ignores the suffering of others as the karmic result of their own individual failure to “awaken” to Buddhist truths of impermanence and emptiness. I’ve been told by some practitioners that “compassion” in Buddhism means “teaching people the correct view of emptiness.” If I had known that this was the case, I never would have gotten involved in this religion. Without ethics, without empathy, without a sense of personal responsibility for their actions, contemporary western Buddhism becomes sociopathic. This is typical of the sociopath; they are masters at skillfully cultivating a public image as good, ethical, and even spiritual persons amongst their own religious group, while internally they have no sense of empathy or personal responsibility for anyone they relate to. But I don’t think its contemporary Buddhadharma alone that produces the Buddhist sociopath. It’s the Buddhist who is shielded by wealth, power and privilege who becomes the Buddhist sociopath. The wealthy Buddhist is morally and emotionally disconnected by his wealth and power from any sense of obligation to the rest of the world. He is further isolated and numbed from any sense of social responsibility by the practice of an individualistic and escapist Buddhism. I am absolutely in revolt against a Buddhism that assiduously avoids pain and suffering and that teaches others to do the same. I am in revolt against a Buddhism that uses philosophical abstractions like emptiness to avoid engagement with complex social issues and diverse human experiences. I am in revolt against a Buddhism that teaches a sociopathic detachment from other human beings as the supposed “virtue” of non-grasping."

By selling complex, advanced, but reductionist tenets of Buddhism, bypassing years of preparation from qualified teachers, to market its feel-good psychotherapy business NKT is damaging all of us and distorting Buddhism into a sociopathy intensifying and causing distress, abuse and financial victimization AND redefining and repurposing Buddhism.

Unfortunate, futile, harmful NKT distortion