Even though I have not attended any classes or been affiliated with any New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) center for almost a year now, I find that the NKT is still something I end up talking about quite a bit whether on this blog or with my friends. There were many reasons that I left, none of which had to do with the quality of people I met there. Many, if not most of my good friends are people I met in the NKT. Some are, like myself, completely out of the organization, and others are still in but most definitely questioning their involvement, particularly in light of the recent protests against the Dalai Lama.
For the most part, my feeling about my former Buddhist tradition is “thank god, I’m out.” Plain and simple. No regrets. My current path, that of practicing the teachings of Anam Thubten Rimpoche, seems to be the natural progression. The NKT gave me a good grounding in the dharma, but I found that there was a lot of attachment to their view that their way was the pure way, and people fell very easily into a kind of fundamentalism. And there was a lot to do. Lots and lots of doing. The dharma that Rimpoche teaches strips away all the nonsense, all the ritual, and boils it all down to a single-pointed quest to realize our ultimate nature. Basically there are two elements: listen to the truth and get your ass on you cushion and meditate. It makes sense to me on a deep level, and not merely because the Teacher tells me so.
One evening I was talking to my good friend John who also has left the NKT and joins me fairly frequently for teachings at the Dakini Temple. As often happens, we started to talk about the NKT. And as I often say, I’m very happy I’m out. But, John countered, even though we are no longer involved, the NKT will always be a part of us. He likened his relationship to the NKT to that of a family. Like family, he felt like he had little choice of what Buddhist group he fell into. He wasn’t even looking to get involved, Geshe-la just seemed to manifest in his life at a very critical and vulnerable time in his life. He will be forever grateful for the teachings and the kindness shown to him by some really incredible NKT practitioners when he was very, very ill.
Also like family, sometimes we have to walk away because we can no longer grow within its confines. Or you leave because you disagree on things and you simply can no longer get along together. Yet, despite the separation and distance, they are still your family. And that is how he sees the NKT. It’s an interesting view. It implies that there still love in your heart, even though you may no longer have anything to do with one another. There are still some ties there, no matter how tenuous. And it holds the door open for a reconciliation.
I mulled that one for a while because the analogy did resonate with me. But, when I searched my heart I could no longer find that soft spot in my heart for the NKT. There wasn’t anger, nor did my heart feel hardened, there was simply nothing there. Even during the frostiest days of the cold war with my brother, I felt some connection. Sometimes it was merely the tiny molecules of DNA, but there was something.
For myself, I think I see my relationship to the NKT as more like a first marriage. I was young and naive in the ways of Buddhism. I jumped at the first tradition that would have me. I learned a lot though. The NKT introduced me to Buddha’s teaching in a clear, logical, structured manner, and for that I will forever be grateful. But, it had very clear ideas of how I should behave, how I should spend my time and who I should hang out with. And for a while I really tried to be the good Kadampa, to do everything right, and to be an aspiring Bodhisattva. But somewhere along the way, I lost touch with me. And like all relationships where you can’t be your authentic self, it simply could not survive. Happily, I’ve moved on. And I wish the NKT well, and hope for its own sake it deals with its issues. But, I have no interest in reconciliation. The past is the past.
But the NKT and I still live in the same neighborhood. We have friends in common so it’s still a topic of interest. And I still have opinions about the state of the NKT which I happen to think are quite smart and interesting, which I feel obliged to tell people who may care. I’m hoping that will change with time, and that my NKT friends and I can find some other common ground that our shared NKT experience.
In the meantime, I may still write about the NKT now and again. Especially as I continue to explore other dharma traditions. Please be patient with me.