Several years ago, a young Englishwoman donned a backpack, set out for Australia and rented premises in Bondi; she’d brought the New Kadampa Tradition to Sydney from the United Kingdom. The beautiful Manjushri Temple is in the Conishead Priory near the Lakes District. This temple was constructed by the faithful from the ruins of an old building, inspired by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, the well-loved leader of the group in the West.
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 a photograph, Dorje Shugden is depicted on a ferocious lion’s back bearing a sword in his right hand. The Dali Lama distanced himself from the NKT practices by criticising the adherence to the warrior deity Dorje Shugden.
Unfortunately, politics intervened and soured things for many of us studying at that time. There were wrongs and rights on both side of the argument. Perhaps the Dalai Lama was right in wanting to standardise practices; but the Warrior Deity is, after all, one of the main pillars of the NKT.
Things became nasty when politics entered the fray. 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 NKT tradition. It seemed at odds with the whole Buddhist philosophy as taught to us.
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”.