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A band of benefit Buddhists"living in a temple owned by Britain's RICHEST religious sect are collecting pounds 100,000- a-year in state handouts.

The shaven-headed followers of the New Kadampa Tradition get pounds 96.50 each in housing benefit and income support payments.

People living near the sect's Tara Temple - a sprawling Jacobean mansion in Ashe, Derbyshire - say the only time the Buddhists leave the grounds is to collect their handouts.

And although benefit officials admit the situation is less then ideal, they say the payments are perfectly legal.

The NKT bought Ashe Hall last year for pounds 550,100 from Derbyshire County Council. The mansion, set in 38 acres, with two tennis courts, a football pitch and an indoor swimming pool, used to be a special-needs school.

About 20 NKT followers moved in four months ago from a Victorian hotel they converted into a temple in Buxton.

Followers live a simple life, spending the day praying or meditating in the gardens.

But one ritual they always stick to is their regular trip into Etwall, near Derby, to collect their benefits from the small post office.

The Buddhists pull up in a red minibus to cash their Giros, before returning to their secluded country house surrounded by trees.

"About 20 of them come in each week," said a postal worker.""Some are in robes and some have their heads shaved. The new arrivals wear jeans."

Craig Parkin from the Benefits Agency said: "Every one of these people has been assessed individually.

"We have no control over what they do with the money once they have been given their entitlement.

"They could donate every last penny of their benefits to the cause if they wanted.""

Carol Tyrell, an expert on religious sects, said the NKT has become Britain's richest, and fastest growing sect.

She said: ""Most religions seek a tithe or cash offering from their followers."A couple of pounds a week is one thing, but when it's your entire income or state benefit, that's something else entirely.

"Cults and sects make enormous financial demands."And without the distraction of having to work, followers can devote more time to the sect and furthering its aims."

The NKT has an estimated 400 members living in its residential centres around Britain.

It also has 200 smaller groups, where followers spread the word of the Buddhist icon, Dorje Shugden.

This has brought the NKT into conflict with the head of the Buddhist religion, the Dalai Lama, who believes Shugden brings followers material wealth in the short-term, but bad luck later. The NKT's leader is a Tibetan monk called Geshe Kelsang who lives at the sect's HQ, 200-year-old Conishead Priory, near Ulverston, Cumbria.

At the Derbyshire centre, sect member Mark, 25, said: "There are about 20 of us living here. New people are always welcome.

""Most of us decided to come here because we are believers and we want to pray more often. I came because I want to give love to everyone.""

All the senior staff were attending a Buddhist festival in Switzerland and no one was available to comment on the state benefits paid to followers.

But Chris Smith, Labour's social security spokesman, demanded an immediate investigation.

"It's astonishing that vast amounts of public money are being siphoned off from helping needy people," he said.

"If there's a loophole, the Government should plug it as soon as possible.""
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Sutton, Ricky
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 14, 1996
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