You gotta have faith? Conclusion

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One of the reasons I had stayed in the NKT study program for a decade was a belief that I needed the structure of the twice-weekly classes in order to maintain my practice. There was a fear that I would lapse into complete spiritual lethargy without my regular infusions of dharma. Perhaps that was true for a period. I don’t know where the turning point was, I suspect it was sometime in the last year, but I no longer need that crutch of having my dharma spoon-fed and pre-digested for me.

With the loss of my teacher and my community, I found that I still craved the dharma. I still craved my practice. It was no longer an obligation, but something I loved. While we were always encouraged to find the dharma everywhere, now that there isn’t a physical space that is the focus of my spiritual life, I and try and see the dharma in everything. And I am surrounded by kind teachers! My elderly cat Alaska, once so robust and active now so skinny and subdued, reminds me each day of death and impermanence. Sasquatch, who lost his mind last month and sent me to the ER, reminds me to be patient and compassionate even with those who harm me. With Mr. Binkles, the hyperactive rabbit, I am constantly reminded to stay in the moment. With my friends and partner, I try to increase my love and decrease my attachment. And work is forever a practice in patience. The dharma is everywhere, like air. And like air, I have found it is essential to my life.

My future with the NKT is uncertain. I know too much now about its problems. And while no organization is perfect, I am disturbed by the expansionist policies that emphasize growth of the organization over the health and mental well-being of the individuals. I am disturbed by what seems to be a cover-up of the widespread sexual escapades of many of the senior teachers. I am tired of the dogma and the pressure to “gain merit” by giving ever-increasing amounts of time and money to the center.

Is the NKT a cult? I don’t know. It certainly displays some cultish qualities. Yet from my own experience, it only felt like a cult when I let down my healthy boundaries and let it take over my life. But, then again in those first nine years, because of my “faith issues”, I never fully jumped in, but rather stayed on the shore splashing about and it felt quite pleasant. There was no chance of drowning.

Where do I go from here? Explore more dharma. Read books, listen to teachings online, and try new dharma centers. And just continue to stumble along the path.

Excuse me, I need to go meditate now. Thank you for reading.

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14 responses »

  1. Hi LB

    [Deist bows head with hands in Anjali mudra]

    I’ve been meaning for some time to come by and read your space after you left a comment on one of my posts. How lucky for me to start reading you the day you finished your faith series.

    It was wonderful, resonated so much with me and reminds me a lot of what I’m going through in my UU church. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal part of your journey.

    Namasté
    Julian

  2. Wow!

    What an amazing tale/journey. You seem to have come full-circle in some respects. I’m the same way. I have some spirituality, but don’t need it “spoon-fed” to me, to use your phrase. I would rather thing and interpret on my own. If I met a teacher or mentor who would encourage that practice instead of following “the party line” perhaps I’d be more methodical.

    This was a wonderful chronicle that I’m certain was difficult to write at times. I congratulate you on a job well done.

  3. Forgive me if this comment is on the long side. As you know from my last comments a few weeks ago, I’ve been stumbling along much the same path you have, so it’s nice to bump into you here. I’ve been thinking a lot on impermanence, especially after my teacher and I parted ways so fractiously. Everyone knows Geshe-la (I’ve only recently been able to bring myself to call him this) will soon be leaving. He’s retiring in 2009. It took me a year and a half to see him as my Spritual Guide and not some suspect and possibly misguided cult figure. Now I have no doubts. I’ve had major faith issues, and now I have faith – it’s taken a lot of effort to cultivate it, especially as half the world’s buddhist community has been actively trying to destroy that faith. Now I think Geshe-las is one of the most resilient and remarkable creatures alive. The point is: I can already see the end on the horizon, certainly for Geshe-las’s continued involvement. The future of the NKT iteself seems uncertain. And I feel sad about that because it’s given me something I never had before – faith. It’s been 2 weeks since I logged into the New Kadamper Survivors. When I did there was something like 480 unopened emails in my inbox. Mind boggling. And everyone there seemed to want to help each other reaffirm that they had valid reasons to think they’dbeen mistreated, duped etc. I believe they have – most of them – had a real traumatic experience, because I had it too. They blame the NKT. Of course, that’s not very Buddhist, is it? It’s sad they haven’t yet gone beyond that, because I have. I don’t blame the NKT anymore – I’m more inclined to think I was the victim of a hate campaign against Geshe-la. Of course, as Buddhists, we should be taking responsibility for these things ourselves. It’s all just karma, cause and effect. Regardless, if we’re still here in 5 years time, we’ll look at all of this differently – that is certain. Geshe-la won’t be around. It’s possible the Dalai Lama won’t be around either. I will look at my encounter with the NKT as the single biggest event of my life, in spite of the various crises I’ve experienced. I’ve been singularly fortunate to be able to encounter the dharma in this guise. I do go to another centre (under the FPMT), but honestly it’s the NKT that have really changed my life. And the conditions that exist may not be around for much longer. Something worth pondering. Make the most of now.

  4. ‘sometimes you need to go a long way out of your way in order to come back a short way correctly’ = Jerry from “The Zoo Story” by Edward Albee – a play, as it turns out oddly enough, about faith

  5. This was all very interesting and thought-provoking. Your series here struck many a chord with me, as far as my deep, inherent mistrust of spiritual communities … and my feeling that my mistrust results from my somehow missing the point. People are terribly fallible, and yet, when they are in spiritual communities, I expect them to be perfect. That’s an unreasonable expectation, of course. Any community is a microcosm of the world, really.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I have a feeling I’ll be back to read about them again.

  6. Julian, Steve, David & Lili – thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you were able to get something out of it. Faith is a funny thing, so private, yet so universal. I used to think that only people who were demonstrative about it actually had it. Now, I tend to believe those very people are the ones who give faith a bad name. I’ve come to realize that faith is very quiet and a private experience (unless you blab about it on your blog) and is constantly open for questioning.

    Ron – I’m glad you’re feeling like you finally have some faith. But, it’s always important to check that it is not blind faith. One year and a half isn’t all that long to check out someone to find out if s/he is valid to be your spiritual guide. Some people spend their life checking out gurus until they find one to trust as their spiritual guide.

    The NKT Survivors list, though I am still subscribed, makes me sad. There is a lot of hurt and a lot of anger, and as you noted, a lot of unBuddhist-like behavior. I think some people are coming from wisdom and a good motivation, but many are still stuck in the hurt and disappointment and anger.

    I am incredibly grateful for my time in the NKT. I have met some amazing people (both teachers and friends) and encountered life-changing teachings. Those very expansionist tendencies that I now decry, actually made it possible for me to find the dharma by placing a beginning meditation class in a location that was accessible, safe and unintimidating. And I have much admiration and gratitude towards Geshe-la. One of the criticisms that is used against him is that he has broken away from the mainstream Tibetan Buddhist community. Actually, I find that a point in his favor that he is a rebel. After all, what is dharma but an inner rebellion against the tyranny of our compulsively negative minds? I love that he dropped all the antiquated nonsense about homosexuality being sexual misconduct that other Tibetan traditions still espouse. I appreciate that he is trying to keep the dharma seperate from the Free Tibet cause. I am grateful for the clarity of his teachings – even more so now that I’ve started reading other teachers.

    However, as I have stated above, I am still somewhat disturbed and questioning what is happening in the NKT. So, I’m taking a step back and letting my mind settle, and check out other centers, traditions. And I’m actually enjoying going to classes every now and again, now that I am free of all the obligations. I don’t know yet if I’ll go see him in England or Paris next year. We’ll see where I am at that time. But, Geshe-la will always have a place on my shrine and my eternal love and gratitude.

  7. Hi Lazybuddhist

    Thanks for your comments. I think its great you want to step back and look around. I think that’s healthy. Blind faith has never been a problem with me. I have the opposite problem. People who believe the NKT blindly are also going to have the tendence to believe blindly what the detractors of the NKT say.That’s what’s happening at New Kadampa Survivors. But I’ve been visiting eSangha for over a year and I know where all this is coming from. I know about the guy who has started this and I think I have compelling evidence that there are other agendas. No one wants to believe that buddhists are involved in a small-minded power stuggle for the hearts and minds of westerners, but this is what is happening. Anyway, it’s all too complicated to address here. You’re always welcome to contact me by email if you’re interested in clarifying anything. You’ll find me surprisingly well informed. Please don’t be fooled by the fact that I haven’t been involved for as long as you have. I have always been in the habit of thinking for myself. I grew up in Apartheid South Africa and know the score when it comes to manipulation and mind control. Keep well. I will keep an eye on your blog. I do like your dharma stories.

  8. I finally had a chance to finish reading your series on Faith today (I was waiting for some quiet time which was hard to find over the Thanksgiving holidays).

    What a journey you’ve been on! This was fascinating and so well written. I would imagine some of it was tough to write. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    I think one of the reasons I’ve always stayed away from anything of the organized variety is because of some of the reasons you mentioned/experienced. Yet I sometimes feel as though I’m missing out on the sense of community that comes with shared faith. Even so, I’m mostly happy with where I am on my spiritual path and, like you, have found that spirituality is right here, in my life, teaching me through others and experiences.

  9. Robin –

    Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Having a spiritual community is a wonderful thing. It wasn’t something that I was really looking for, but once I had it, I’ve found that my life has become so enriched by the friends I have made there. Even though I have pretty well dropped out of the NKT, my true friends remain. And for that, I will be forever grateful.

  10. ya know ~ it all seems to be about a form thing = an thatz sa posed to b m t rite?

    eye think ronz #3 purty mush covers the waterfront (with the notable exception of brando)

    the funny strangely purplexing and slightly amusing thing iz that eye m purty sure faith is wona the most (if not the) elusive mindz to correctly eye dent efy.

    blind faith aint eyether ~ itz not blind an itz knot faith eh?

    my faith has purty mush ko ag u lated into knowing that eye don’t no unless eye think i do n then eye know i dont fur sure.

    things is certainly uncertain and thatz for certain ~ like tryin to find an udder werd for analogy . . . or sin for that madder ?

  11. I really enjoyed reading your blog which I somehow stumbled upon. I am going through some very similar experiences right now – in the NKT but not completely comfortable with it. I am unable to work up the “proper” attitude towards Geshe-la and keep wondering if such adulation can be correct? Plus I really admire HHTDL and so feel very strange when it comes to DS practice…and yet my teachers are SO sincere and SO kind…who to believe? Feeling disloyal and like a wanker for complaining when so much good has come to me through my association with my centre. Loving it when I am there and getting cold feet when not. My plan is to be a bit like you – step away from it for a while – those endless tasks!!!! – and check out some different dharma centres. And meditate and pray and hpe for the best. I hope you and your cats do well and keep happy. Your writing is excellent!
    With love, Lynne.

  12. oar purr haps nowz the time fur an udder theatrical reference S specially since dharma and drama share so Men E Letterzin common ~ kinda like the NKT eh?

    “It’s not that way. It’s over here!,””It’s not that way. It’s over here!,””It’s not that way. It’s over here!,”

    “The Bald Soprano” by Eugène Ionesco

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