The NKT-IKBU describes itself as Kadampa Buddhism and as a 'time-honored' tradition, stating that "Kadampa Buddhism is a Mahayana Buddhist school founded by the great Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (AD 982-1054). The BBC describes the New Kadampa Tradition as "one of the fastest growing Mahayana Buddhist traditions in the West, with 900 meditation centres in 37 countries. Founded by the Tibetan-born meditation master, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, supporters claim it offers local access to Buddha's teachings, meditation practice and an alternative view to life that promotes peace and harmony." Peter Bernard Clarke, a theology professor at Oxford, has characterised the NKT as a "controversial Tibetan Buddhist New Religious Movement (NRM)".
The organization of the New Kadampa Tradition follows The Internal Rules of the New Kadampa Tradition - International Kadampa Buddhist Union. These Rules contain numerous checks and balances on the behavior, election and dismissal of the administrators, teachers, and spiritual directors and are legally binding.
In 1987, Geshe Kelsang entered a 3-year retreat at Tharpaland in Dumfries, Scotland. During Geshe Kelsang's retreat he wrote five books and established the foundations of the NKT. Since that time, the NKT has grown to comprise over 1,100 Centres and groups throughout 40 countries.
After completing his retreat in the Spring of 1991, Geshe Kelsang announced the creation of the New Kadampa Tradition, an event which was celebrated in the NKT-Magazine Full Moon as "a wonderful development in the history of the Buddhadharma." In 1992, the NKT was legally incorporated under English law, which constituted the formal foundation of the NKT.
With the foundation of the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, he established an independent religious tradition aiming to "principally follow the teachings and example of Je Tsongkhapa". The many Centres which were following Geshe Kelsang's spiritual direction were gathered under the common auspices of the NKT and their General Spiritual Director, and became distinct from other traditions.
Geshe Kelsang regards all his books as "coming from Je Tsongkhapa, with himself as being like a cassette recorder into which the Wisdom Buddha, the Dharma Protector Dorje Shugden, has placed the cassette of Je Tsongkhapa's teachings". And in the preface of one of his books, Geshe Kelsang states, "I have received these teachings from my Spiritual Guide, Trijang Dorjechang, who was an emanation of Atisha; thus the explanations given in this book, Joyful Path of Good Fortune, actually come from him and not from myself." Cozort confirms the NKT view that the textbooks of Geshe Kelsang "are commentaries on Gelug works, especially those of its founder Tsongkhapa.
About the textbooks of Geshe Kelsang, the NKT says: "This remarkable series of authoritative books represents the most complete and integrated presentation of the Buddhist path to enlightenment available in any western language. Originally written in English they are currently being translated into many of the world's major languages.
Describing the introduction of these programs in 1990, Geshe Kelsang said:
The three spiritual programs are:
In 1990 Geshe Kelsang said:
Waterhouse has observed that a fundamental element is "the notion of the purity of Geshe Kelsang's lineage and the importance of maintaining that purity in practice". In his book Understanding the mind, Geshe Kelsang states that "it is mixing different religious traditions that causes sectarianism". The books and sadhanas prepared by Geshe Kelsang upon which all NKT practice is based, and the infrastructure of the NKT organisation itself, are considered to have placed a boundary around Tsongkhapa's tradition.
Regarding the qualifications of NKT teachers, Kay observed that "Whilst personal experience of the teachings is considered important, the dominant view within the NKT is that the main qualification of a teacher is their purity of faith and discipleship."
According to Bluck's research:
Unlike traditional Tibetan Buddhist organizations, which tend to favor Tibetans and monks over Westerners, nuns and lay people , Geshe Kelsang has said that monks, nuns, lay men and lay women can all become Spiritual Guides if they have the necessary experience, qualities and training. . All NKT teachers, lay and ordained, study on the same study and retreat programmes.
The Internal Rules specifies the criteria for completing the programme:
15§6. A practitioner shall be deemed to have completed the Teacher Training Programme if he or she:
• Has attended the classes related to each of the twelve subjects; • Has memorised all the required materials; • Has passed examinations in all twelve subjects and received a certificate to that effect; and • Has completed the required meditation retreats
In addition to the TTP commitment, all Resident Teachers have to attend International Teacher Training Program each year, taught in repeated rotation according to a sixteen-year study scheme.
Annual Holidays common to other Buddhist traditions
Annual Holidays unique to the NKT
In 2004, the dates of these observances were changed to the respective days in the common calendar. For example, Tsog Days were previously designated as the 10th and 25th days of each lunar month: "We should … make sure that we do not miss tsog offerings on these two days - ten days after the new moon and ten days after the full moon". This sentence has been deleted from the 2005 reprint, and these days are celebrated on the 10th and 25th days of each solar month.
Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day is also the day on which Geshe Kelsang was born.
NKT day commemorates the founding of the NKT-IKBU, while International Temples Day is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of building Kadampa Buddhist Temples throughout the world..
The New Kadampa Tradition traces its spiritual lineage through these main figures:
In February 2007, Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab was elected the new Deputy Spiritual Director of the NKT-IKBU.
Buddha established both lay and ordained Pratimoksha vows, and established several levels of ordination vows. According to the Hinayana schools such as the Vaibhashika school, ordained vows are a subtle physical form, whereas according to the Mahayana they are in the nature of a determination, which is part of mind. Traditionally, the different levels of ordination were distinguished by the specific vows taken, and by the ceremony in which they were received. In the NKT, Geshe Kelsang established a simplified tradition of ordination with ten vows and a single ordination ceremony that apply to all levels of ordained practitioner. When a person is first ordained they receive a Rabjung (preliminary) ordination; when their renunciation improves and deepens their ordination transforms into a Getsul (sramanera) ordination; and when their renunciation becomes spontaneous their ordination transforms into a Gelong (bhikkhu) ordination.
The 10 vows of the NKT's ordination as a monk or nun are to "throughout my life ... abandon killing, stealing, sexual conduct, lying and taking intoxicants" and also to "practise contentment, reduce my desire for worldly pleasures, abandon engaging in meaningless activities, maintain the commitments of refuge, and practise the three trainings of pure moral discipline, concentration and wisdom.
In The Ordination Handbook, Geshe Kelsang says:
The verbal explanation of the Kadampa ordination is brief — there are just ten commitments — but their practice is very extensive. These ten commitments that you promise to keep are a condensation of the entire Lamrim teachings. Although we can finish a verbal explanation of these vows in a few hours, their practice is all embracing. You should do this—few words but always practice, practice extensively.
The purpose of the Vinaya (Tib. dulwa) is “to control [the mind]” through higher moral discipline, as this is the foundation for developing pure concentration (i.e., tranquil abiding), and in turn profound wisdom (i.e., superior seeing). While the first five Kadampa vows (“Throughout my life I will abandon killing, stealing, sexual activity, lying and taking intoxicants”) are common to all Vinaya lineages, the latter five (“I will practise contentment, reduce my desire for worldly pleasures, abandon engaging in meaningless activities, maintain the commitments of refuge, and practise the three trainings of pure moral discipline, concentration and wisdom”) are taken from the Mahayana Perfection of Wisdom Sutra and its commentaries such as Atisha’s Lamrim text Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment, which references Arya Asanga’s The Bodhisattva Stages (Skt. Bodhisattvabhumi) listing the six ‘branches’ or necessary conditions for attaining tranquil abiding, including:
1. little desire
3. no distracting activities
4. pure moral discipline
5. no distracting conceptions
The purpose of taking monastic ordination in the Buddhist tradition is to practice a moral discipline that enables one to achieve tranquil abiding. In his text, Atisha says, “One who neglects the branches of tranquil abiding will never attain concentration, even if he meditates with great effort for a thousand years.”
They also engage in a Sojong ceremony twice a month to purify and restore their vows. A monk or nun who breaks their ordination vows must leave their Centre for at least a year. After that year, "with some conditions" they can return but cannot teach.
The first five vows are common to all ordination traditions, while the second set of five vows are a practical condensation of the 253 Vinaya vows of fully ordained monks. According to Atisha, the founder of the Kadam tradition, “The training of the Monk is [..] of two hundred and fifty-three [rules].”. As Nagarjuna says, however, these vows can be condensed: "always practice superior moral discipline, superior concentration, and superior wisdom. These three perfectly include all 253 trainings." Geshe Kelsang encourages his followers to focus their effort on improving their renunciation and ordained way of life, and that it is not necessary to receive Getsul or full ordination vows in a separate ceremony. He describes these vows as being easier to integrate into today's society.
Ordained people in the NKT abandon the physical signs of a lay person by shaving their head and wearing maroon and yellow robes of Je Tsongkhapa's tradition. They are given a new name which starts with "Kelsang," since it is traditional for ordinees to receive part of the ordaining master's name (Kelsang Gyatso).
Within the NKT community there are over 700 monks and nuns. NKT ordination ceremonies are usually held twice a year in the main NKT Temple at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Center in Cumbria (UK), Ulverston.
Practitioners approach their Buddhist teacher when they feel ready, and request formal permission once they have their teacher's consent. They may decide to live in one of the NKT's many Buddhist centers, but this is not a requirement. They are, in general, not financially provided for by the NKT. And, if they live in an NKT center, they still have to pay rent for their accommodation and pay for meals and the spiritual programs. To finance this, some have part-time or full time work. According to Belither, "a few people are sponsored because of their NKT work but others are on 'extended working visits' or work locally, and some are legitimately on employment benefit. For doing so they wear ordinary clothes if this is more convenient.
In a 1996 newspaper article whose neutrality is disputed, Madeleine Bunting (a Catholic) stated:
The NKT has established a Kadampa Buddhist Temple in the United Kingdom, as well as in Canada, the United States, and Spain; and it is currently developing a Temple in Brazil, with plans to build one in Germany too. The NKT stated that "The International Temples Project was established by Venerable Geshe Kelsang in the early nineties. The vision is to build a Kadampa Temple for World Peace in every major city in the world. The project is funded entirely by voluntary donations and revenue from International Buddhist Festivals."(means NKT festivals)
World Peace Cafes have been opened at some residential centres, and in 2005 the NKT opened their first World Peace Hotel, called Hotel Kadampa, a no-smoking, alcohol-free hotel in Southern Spain. A second Hotel Kadampa has opened in Montecatini in Tuscany, Italy.
Geshe Kelsang first introduced the title 'New Kadampa Tradition' to give the centres under his spiritual direction a distinct identity within the wider Buddhist world. Although the Gelugpas were sometimes referred to as new Kadampas, the name New Kadampa Tradition had never been used previously in a formal sense. Nevertheless, by using this title Geshe Kelsang is making it clear that practitioners of this tradition are principally following the teachings and example of Je Tsongkhapa. The word 'New' is used not to imply that it is newly created, but is a fresh presentation of Buddhadharma in a form and manner that is appropriate to the needs and conditions of the modern world. Furthermore, by using the title 'Kadampa', Geshe Kelsang encourages his disciples to follow the perfect example of simplicity and purity of practice shown by the Kadampa Geshes."''
In 1998 Geshe Kelsang stated in an interview:
We are pure Gelugpas. The name Gelugpa doesn't matter, but we believe we are following the pure tradition of Je Tsongkhapa. We are studying and practicing Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings and taking as our example what the ancient Kadampa lamas and geshes did. All the books that I have written are commentaries on Lama Tsongkhapa's teachings. We try our best to follow the example of the ancient Kadampa Tradition and use the name Kadampa to remind people to practice purely.
Nowadays the New Kadampa Tradition describes Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's presentation of Buddhism to the West as Kadampa Buddhism with the following statement:
Moreover, the NKT presents itself as being the continuation of the old Kadampa tradition by naming its school Kadampa Buddhism and equating this Kadampa Buddhism with the historical Kadampa School of Atisha:
Kadampa Buddhism is a Mahayana Buddhist school founded by the great Indian Buddhist Master Atisha (AD 982-1054)... The great Kadampa Teachers are famous not only for being great scholars but also for being spiritual practitioners of immense purity and sincerity. The lineage of these teachings, both their oral transmission and blessings, was then passed from Teacher to disciple, spreading throughout much of Asia, and now to many countries throughout the Western world... Kadampa Buddhism was first introduced into the West in 1977 by the renowned Buddhist Master, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Since that time, he has worked tirelessly to spread Kadampa Buddhism throughout the world by giving extensive teachings, writing many profound texts on Kadampa Buddhism, and founding the New Kadampa Tradition - International Kadampa Buddhist Union.
The NKT claims further that "Kadampa Buddhism was first introduced into the West in 1977 by the renowned Buddhist Master, Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
Consequently followers of the NKT refer presently to themselves as "Kadampa Buddhists", the Temples of the New Kadampa Tradition are referred to as "Kadampa Buddhist Temples", and more recently NKT teachers are named "Kadampa Teachers". Additionally, the Dharma centers of the New Kadampa Tradition are called "Kadampa Buddhist Centers and the hotels "Hotel Kadampas".
James Belither, the former secretary of the NKT, described the NKT as "a Mahayana Buddhist tradition with historical connections with Tibet", rather than a Tibetan tradition, and explained that Geshe Kelsang wishes his followers always "to present Dharma in a way appropriate to their own culture and society without the need to adopt Tibetan culture and customs".
In 1998, the NKT became a member of the British Network of Buddhist Organizations (NBO). Waterhouse notes that when the NKT joined the British Network of Buddhist Organizations, about thirty percent of the other Buddhist groups identifying themselves with the Tibetan Buddhist tradition left the NBO.
His reason for founding the New Kadampa Tradition:
Asked about the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Geshe Kelsang replied: