Paper on cult-like tendencies in the NKT

Here is an important paper by psychologist Michelle Haslam reflecting on her time spent practising with the New Kadampa Tradition (and a few references to Triratna thrown in). Reading through the paper may be a useful detox for those who have recently (or not so recently) exited Triratna since many of the negative patterns of thought and behaviour are shared by both movements. In particular we noted these similarities, sometimes paraphrased and sometimes listed here in direct quotes from the text:

1. "Under the highly polished surface lies ingrained sectarianism and a disparaging view of all other forms of spirituality; an expansionist drive that uses the energy of new recruits to spread the message with no concern for their burnout."

2. "a cultish dependency on the word and approval of the leader and an abdication of critical thought that is actively encouraged."

3. Both organisations are populated by "hero-narcissists" who play into a sense of group grandiosity. We can see this in Triratna's slogan "What the World Needs" (i.e. more Triratna).

4. Neither organisation offers the Buddha Dharma but highly idiosyncratic takes on Buddhism developed by their founders, i.e. the "Kadam Dharma" and the "Triratna Dharma Life" (aka the "particular presentation").

5. Haslam says, "Despite being a psychologist, and an atheist, and working full time outside of the centre, I am now shocked at the extent that I came to believe some of the teachings and to act accordingly." Aren't we all!?

6. "on top of the abusive experience experienced within the group, the wider community is likely to abandon you or emotionally neglect/invalidate you at a time of distress." As happened to Mark Dunlop and other whistleblowers in Triratna.

7. "Many survivors have reported that their friends who were not NKT members had more empathy and were more friendly than their NKT friends." One instance of this in Triratna springs to mind when an Order member friend of ours needed overnight accommodation when visiting a dying friend (also an Order member). One local community (that he had previously lived in for many years) refused to put him up on account of certain "views" he was supposed to hold.

8. "The teacher is . . . regarded as an embodiment of the moral and spiritual dimensions of Buddhist teachings. It is this ideal that underlies the role of teacher as exemplar and shapes the asymmetrical charismatic relationship between a teacher and his students. Such idealisation often leads a student to experience strong emotional attachment, with feelings that parallel those associated in Western culture with romantic love. This can lead to self-abandonment and glorification of the other." 

9. "The member may feel as if the practises are ‘working’ for them due to indoctrination, fervor (infatuation and awe), emotional contagion, group narcissism, sense of belonging to a group, and love-bombing through the suggestion that they are all developing positive karma or ‘merit’."

10. "Believers are often extremely protective of their movement and deeply angered when it is questioned or insulted. Increased anxiety in attachment relationships is thought to increase hostility towards out-groups."

Comments

No. 9 reminds me of the "old" Croydon and of Padmaloka today -- in fact both institutions share some of the same "staff".

On No. 2 it's not true to say that critical thought isn't encouraged -- mitras are definitely encouraged to be very critical of "dangerous" social trends such as "feminism", "pseudo-egalitarianism" and a variety of "social justice" causes while maintaining almost total credulity in relation to Sangharakshita's misdeeds and darker aspects of the Order's past. 

The thing is, it's all subtler in Triratna. On the one hand that makes it harder to see and break. But maybe on the other, given that Sangharakshita's movement isn't such a heavy and abusive cult, there is more scope for things to change if this is seen by enough of those involved. While change clearly isn't going to happen within the NKT, I would argue that it's not so clear with Triratna. Maybe the Treerats could still morph into a genuinely Buddhist school, without the cultish elements?

Someone forgot to mention compassion and wisdom...Which is found in Triratna. The Buddha said look to your own inadequacies. ..

^^ We'd happily make available a short article on Triratna's compassionate and wise response to Sahgharakshita's sexual abuse victims, starting with Sangharakshita's expulsion of Mark Dunlop -- for daring to raise the issue in the first place! 

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