Is there a rule that NKT students can read only NKT books?

The NKT people have complete choice to read whatever books they choose, to follow other Teachers and to practise in whatever way they want. There are no rules limiting people’s freedom. However, I have understood according to experience that many Westerners find themselves in conflicting situations because of following many Teachers who give them opposite advice. Therefore they find serious obstacles in their spritual path. But still individuals have choice to practise in the way they choose. (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, alt.religion.buddhism.tibetan, 16 November 1997)

[From Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab:]

The books at Manjushri Centre’s library, as Dharma texts, were treated with respect; they were given to Centres and libraries which studied the particular traditions explained within them. What is wrong with this?

New Kadampa disciples study the teachings of Buddha passed down through Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition to the modern Masters Je Phabongkhapa, Trijang Dorjechang and Ven. Geshe Kelsang. Other Centres study Buddha’s teachings according to their own lineage Gurus. What is wrong with different spiritual families having their own special texts? Why is this so often misconstrued as sectarian? Why, because we are content to study and practise the path to enlightenment given to us by our root Guru, are we accused of sectarianism? This is plain nonsense.

In the early days at Tara Centre, we had several hundred books covering the whole range of Buddhist traditions. Each book was authentic and came from its own special lineage; we had the Pali Canon, Zen texts and many, many others. Many people would read these books and often the Centre would be host to seemingly endless and inconclusive discussions about people’s personal preferences in terms of Teachers, traditions and practices. It was very confusing and agreement about the actual meaning of Buddha’s teachings was very difficult to achieve.

Later I learned that it is accepted in Tibetan monasteries that each college has its own ‘yig cha’ or special understanding and interpretation of the teachings gained by study of a specific set of texts covering the whole Dharma within one tradition. By studying in this way clarity of meaning was far easier to attain due to a standard set of definitions of technical terms throughout each of the texts. (The editors at Tharpa Publications, for example, work constantly with Geshe Kelsang to standardise the terminology throughout his books to aid clarity of understanding for the serious student.)

It was the mid-1980’s and I had already received lots of teachings from many teachers of different traditions—very wonderful in itself but difficult to get a sense of making progress in learning and practising Dharma in any systematic and sequential way. We were students of Ven. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, a fully accomplished meditation Master who had received fully the lineages of instructions within Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition.

He was in the process of publishing a complete set of texts covering the entire path to enlightenment. Each of these texts are authenticated by reference to the works of Je Tsongkhapa. When the Teacher Training Programme based on these books began at Tara Centre I saw the opportunity to study in a clear and systematic way the entire range of Buddha’s teachings on both Sutra and Tantra.

Therefore I saw nothing wrong with giving away all those texts from the library that were not part of this tradition. To me it made a lot of sense because at last there would be clarity. I remember at the time several people at the Centre, misunderstanding our intention, remarked that giving away the books was wrong, narrow-minded, disrespectful etc.

To me, sending the texts to the other Centres was quite appropriate and an action of generosity to boot! Some of those centres were very happy to receive valuable augmentation of their libraries and wrote to thank us. Useless heated debates about the meaning of Dharma from the point of view of a certain Zen master versus that of a certain Theravadin master became, thankfully, a thing of the past. Those who wished to follow Zen teachings would go to a Zen Centre and those who wished to follow a Theravadin could do the same and those wishing to follow Je Tsongkhapa’s tradition could study at Tara Centre.

I know from my own experience that the action of bringing clarity to our library and study programmes, far from being sectarian, actually reduced sectarian feelings among the Centre members. How wonderful for all traditions to happily enjoy the clarity and precision of Dharma understanding that I feel is now possible to attain in New Kadampa Centres. I have no reason to suppose that other traditions cannot do this and I rejoice in their special characteristics.

At Tara Centre no-one has ever been, or is now, forced to stop reading the books of other teachers; individual people were, and still are completely free to keep and read books by any other Teachers, Buddhist or non-Buddhist—and they do!

However, Tara Centre as an institution follows the ‘yig cha’ according to Ven. Geshe Kelsang Gyatso’s texts and therefore on the study programmes those books are studied and those books only are in the library and shop. There is no need to promote the books of other traditions; if individuals wish they can purchase them through mail-order or visit the local Waterstones, Dillons etc. (Gen-la Kelsang Khyenrab, alt.religion.buddhism.tibetan, 23 January 1998)

8§3. The Resident Teacher’s commitments shall include: …to teach only subjects that form part of the three NKT Study Programmes; …to respect other spiritual traditions and try to maintain good relations with them, but the Resident Teacher shall not mix his or her teachings and spiritual practices with those of other spiritual traditions;…

9§1. To prevent the development of confusion and disagreement among NKT students, no NKT-IKBU Teacher or Spiritual Director shall write books or other material that contain elements of traditions that differ from the New Kadampa Tradition or that in any way contradict NKT Dharma books.

(A Moral Discipline Guide: the Internal Rules of the New Kadampa Tradition – International Kadampa Buddhist Union, © 2008, emphasis added)

[Please note: Emphasis added to show that these rules apply not to students (see Rule 11), but only to Teachers, and even then only in terms of what is taught on the NKT study programs, not what they may or may not read in private. As was explored in Standing Up for the Middle Way, not all forms of exclusivism are sectarian.]