I was drawn to Tibetan Buddhism, reading texts from the New Kadampa Tradition in Bondi, a few years ago. Most of the books were by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, who had modified the ancient Tibetan texts and teachings to make them more accessible to western followers. Thousands of spiritual seekers found comfort and meaning in this tradition, because it made sense and related to their livesIn Bondi, a young Englishwoman donned a backpack, set out for Australia and rented premises and brought the tradition to Sydney. We learnt meditation skills, as well as studying the texts, which were supposedly descended directly from the disciples of Buddha. The beliefs and teachings departed little from the Dali Lama’s philosophy, however one particular difference became grounds for political dispute at one stage, which is when I decided to leave the group. NKT followers are taught to worship a warrior deity from the ancient practices, Dorje Shugden, who is said to protect the purity of the Dharma—the practices that need to be performed and protected for a happy and peaceful life.
In the photograph above, Dorje Shugden is depicted on a ferocious lion’s back bearing a sword in his right hand.
Even though the NKT may be more in line with adherents in the West, I found some practices and beliefs increasingly out of kilter with my mindset. Intricate offerings linked to dogma were practised daily before the shrine. And some of the concepts related to spiritual realms, such as “hungry ghosts” and “emptiness”, were very difficult to comprehend.
Nevertheless, I will always value the meditation techniques that I learnt while studying with the Bondi group, and I value the memory of the lyrical hymns full of joy and universal love that were odes to onenness: “May everyone be happy, May everyone be free from misery”; “O Precious One, Je Tsongkapa…from the Land of the Snows”.
Unfortunately, politics intervened and soured things for many of us studying at that time. Demonstrations occurred when the Dali Lama visited Sydney, and a damning book condemning the Dali Lama—especially his wish to abolish the worship of Dorje Shugden—was published by followers of the tradition. There were wrongs and rights on both side of the argument; after all, the Warrior Deity is one of the main pillars of the NKT, but nasty politics seemed at odds with the whole Buddhist philosophy as taught to us.