Religion: Anglesey dad fears Buddhist group brainwashed son

Elwyn Lloyd-Jones, a father of three, has not spoken to one of his sons for more than a year

BBC News/September 28, 2023

By Gwyn Loader

A dad has accused a Buddhist group of "brainwashing" his son, leading to their relationship breaking down.

Elwyn Lloyd-Jones, of Penmon, Anglesey, is one of several people who have raised concerns about the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT).

Mr Lloyd-Jones first knew one of his three sons was involved with the group after his wife Olga died in 2021.

The NKT said it preached kindness to everyone while Elwyn's son said his dad's claims had "no truth whatsoever".

Mr Lloyd-Jones said, following the death of his wife, his son told him he was turning his back on Christianity and "had found something 100 times better with the Buddhists".

They now have not spoken for more than a year - something he blames entirely on the NKT.

"Losing him is like he's died," he said.

He told Newyddion S4C: "I thought at the time they'd taught him to hate me with the brainwashing.

"But now I've read up and read up - and they don't teach people to hate others. They teach people I'm bad and that it's dangerous to go near me."

What is New Kadampa Tradition (NKT)?

Formed in 1991 in Cumbria, the NKT is a Buddhist organisation. It has no links to the UK Buddhist Society. A registered charity, it claimed in 2022 to have 1,300 centres in 25 countries worldwide.

Founder Kelsang Gyatso was born in Tibet and died last year.

NKT teachings are focused on his works, with some claiming other Buddhist texts are banned from NKT centres - an allegation the NKT denies.

What do NKT supporters believe?

The NKT does not recognise the Dalai Lama as its spiritual leader.

The quarrel came to light in the late 1990s over the Dalai Lama's proscribing of a Tibetan deity, while Kelsang Gyatso regard Shugden as a Buddha, opponents claim he is a demon.

Many groups associated with the NKT have held protests against the Dalai Lama in the UK and other western countries.

While the NKT has been successful in attracting members and expanding to countries across the globe, it has also been controversial, with many former members raising concerns about the group.

When contacted, Mr Lloyd-Jones's son did not deny being an NKT member, but said the claims were "a figment of his father's imagination" and this had been a sad and painful experience for him and his family.

In a statement, NKT said "gratitude, respect and kindness towards everyone, especially our parents" were "core values of Kadampa Buddhism".

Other former NKT members have been interviewed by the programme, raising concerns about safeguarding issues and members being ostracised from their families.

Harriet Pilkington Rowland, who lives near Cardiff, joined 20 years ago after taking an interest in Buddhism.

She lived at an NKT centre while studying, but became worried for some fellow members who she said were "troubled younger people" or "clearly just drifting".

She added: "I had a strong feeling they appeared to be estranged from friends, family.

"If anyone ever expressed, and this is quite key, that they had an issue with anything, the stock answer was 'that's self-cherishing'.

"The idea of self-cherishing does exist in Buddhism but not to the point where it is an answer and a cure-all for everything."

NKT said it was "surprised and saddened" about the allegations, and said it offered "sincere apologies to anyone who has had a negative experience at an NKT centre".

Renato Barajasis, a former NKT member who lives in Toluca, Mexico, joined the organisation in 2009 and was an ordained monk by 2013. He continued in that role for three years before leaving.

He said he became increasingly concerned after reading online articles which were critical of the NKT.

After becoming disillusioned with the organisation and deciding to leave, he said he was surprised by NKT's response.

"The teacher replied very soon telling me he didn't perceive things the way I did, he sees things very different… 30 minutes later, I received an email from England telling me they respect my decision, but they didn't want to see me again.

"And I was evicted from every NKT centre around the world."

Educational charity Inform provides information about minority religions and sects.

Its honorary director Dr Suzanne Newcombe said NKT was one of its "most inquired-about groups" which has "raised a lot of concerns in Britain and gained international attention".

Dr Newcombe said NKT was not "really interested in constructively engaging in a dialogue about former member complaints" when Inform inquired.

NKT said its centres across the world were "deeply appreciated by their local authorities and communities for the services they offer and for the open, welcoming, and peaceful environments they provide to everyone".

It added: "Most people who attend NKT centres report feeling more hopeful, inspired, and positive. They find that both the teachings and the meditations help them to reduce their anxiety and stress, and to look at life's difficulties in a more beneficial way.

"NKT centres offer everyone within their communities full support with their problems, within the scope of the charity's objectives."

"There is no pressure put on anyone to take ordination."

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