Loyalty in Cult-Family

Editor’s Note: Here’s a look at cults from the unusual perspective of a former self-realization monk and current Clergy Project member. He describes three cults, including his own former cult, and then indicates the destructive characteristics that they share. This is reposted with permission from his blog.

==============

By “Scott”

Extreme groups like Amish, Skinheads, and Self-Realization Fellowship Order promise followers “paradise”. Promises of “paradise” come in various forms: a heavenly afterlife by following tradition, spiritual enlightenment by meditation practice, or superiority over others by violence.

Below we compare the underlying psychology within three extreme, cult-like groups:

Skinhead promise of paradise

Christian Picciolini was born and raised on the south side of Chicago in a working-class neighborhood called Blue Island, the birthplace of the American white power skinhead movement. [1]

One day at 14 years old I was standing in an alley and a man came up to me an essentially promised me paradise. He promised me that I wouldn’t feel powerless anymore. [2]

That man was Clark Martell who in 1987 co-founded the Chicago Area Skinheads, also called Romantic Violence, the first organized neo-Nazi white power skinhead group in the United States. [3]

Martell promised me that I had something to be proud of. And that if I joined him and his movement I would leave a mark on the world and find my purpose.

Did Skinheads deliver on their promise?

At first it felt like a family. There was a lot of acceptance. Here you have a bunch of broken people who enjoy each other’s company because we were all broken in some way. But quickly it turned into a dysfunctional family. It was after a while each person for themselves movement. There was no loyalty, only people with an agenda they wanted filled. They used others as pawns. [2]

Picciolini, after 8 years as a Skinhead, left the group. He co-founded a non-profit–Life After Hate–which helps people leave hate groups.

Amish in tradition and fear

Amish in buggy

A former Amish man testified on camera [4]:

I was Amish. It was a simple life. We were a unified people that shared one thing: Tradition. Within the Amish Order we all had our part: The older, the younger. From the outside we looked good. We looked satisfied. But on the inside we were confused, unsure, scared.

I lived in a society that was based on fear: The fear of hell. Each day I had questions and uncertainty about my life’s purpose. The elders told me not to question but to obey the teachings of the past. I tried to live at home but my reality was defeat. I had to hide my feelings for the sake of acceptance.

“Loyal” gods in Self-Realization Fellowship Order

My story:  In Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) the guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, promised to show us we were gods. In a secret ceremony disciples vowed their complete loyalty to the guru and SRF – his organization. Then the guru initiated disciples into Kriya yoga meditation techniques. Meditation and being loyal to the guru would show us we were gods. In its Service Reading #39, SRF teaches:

“To such a God-sent Guru [e.g., Yogananda] the disciple must always be loyal throughout his lifetime and through future incarnations until he finds redemption.”

Did SRF and Yogananda deliver on their promises?

At first, there was a sense of certainty, purpose, and acceptance. The guru and SRF made promises and had the answers. They made us dependent on them.

The monks were broken people. We all had been disappointed and disillusioned with the world. Promises made us willing to give up everything, to follow and obey forever the guru and SRF.

But after the honeymoon wore off it was a different story. There was no loyalty, only loyal followers and those who were labeled disloyal. Each person was loyal for his own self-preservation. Everyone’s true thoughts and feelings had to be hidden for fear of not being accepted. Any person could at anytime be branded as disloyal, shunned or ostracized within the community.

I lived in fear. People had to accept their “training” without question. Abuses were easily excused and justified. Towards the end of my decade-and-a-half within the Order, a few monks and I discussed our fears of fanatically “loyal” monks who might assassinate other monks who they considered disloyal. That kind of “loyalty” and fear was the last straw. All four of us monks in that conversation left the Order within the next several months.

There was no loyalty except to persons who said or did what SRF and its leadership wanted. Their promises were empty.

Loyalty in cult-family

At first, members of each of these groups, Amish, Skinheads or SRF Order, feel like they are part of a family. Members of the in-group feel accepted into the community. People outside the group don’t understand them and even ridicule them. A persecution or messianic complex drives followers of these groups to bond even closer together. However, the loyalty is to the leaders, tradition, or ideology–not to the individuals themselves as human beings. Any deviation from the tradition, guru or institution is seen as disloyalty. Fear takes over. Some members eventually leave the group.

These examples illustrate some common themes of groups like the Amish, Skinhead, and SRF Order:

  1. Leader or tradition that promises certainty, purpose in life
  2. Feeling, at first, of acceptance and family
  3. Dysfunctional group held together by fear
  4. Hiding of one’s feelings and living in fear of being found out
  5. Eventually, fortunate persons leave and are able to help others leave.

==================

scottBio: “Scott” was a monk at the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) ashram for 14 years before leaving to complete his education and enter the business world. Raised Roman Catholic, he got into eastern religious practices and was influenced in his 20’s by reading The Autobiography of a Yogi by SRF founder Paramahansa Yogananda. He is now a member of The Clergy Project and a successful business consultant. He discusses the hidden, and sometimes dangerous side of meditation practices, systems and groups at his blog, SkepticMeditations.com. The above lightly edited essay is re-posted with permission.

Notes:

Life After Hate. Staff. Accessed on Aug 20 2017 at https://www.lifeafterhate.org/staff

The Center for Investigative Reporting. Hate on the march: white nationalism in the Trump era. Reveal broadcast. Aug 19 2017.

3 Clark Martell. Wikipedia. Accessed Aug 20 2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clark_Martell

Amish: Shunned and Excommunicated. Mission to Amish People. Accessed on Aug 19 2017 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgU7hiBczjI&list=PLv3ujCEQ-THhKEp6ty81eFlAhcG6j4wcP

>>>>Photo Credits: By it:Utente:TheCadExpert – it:Immagine:Lancaster_County_Amish_03.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1249760

 

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  • Lambchopsuey

    I was a member of the pseudo-Buddhist cult SGI (Soka Gakkai International – formerly “NSA”, or Nichiren Shoshu of America, in the US) for just over 20 years. Now I am an anti-cult activist, and something I have learned in my 4 years of research is that all these cults are far more similar than they are different, despite superficial dissimilarities. For example, they ALL hit up their targets with “love-bombing”, a term coined by the Moonies, another cult, in which the new person is showered with approval, encouragement, smiles, gentle nonsexual touching, admiration. In short, this person feels like s/he’s finally met people who “get” him/her, who see him/her as s/he has always wanted to be seen. It’s remarkably effective on the vulnerable – the lonely, the sick, the depressed, those who are far from where they grew up, from family. It’s instant best friends and idealized family – for a while.

    Cults all appeal to those who are vulnerable for some reason. We all go through periods in life where we feel off balance and disoriented, even lost – when we move to a different town, divorce, experience loss such as a death in the family, even just starting a new job. Of course, with time, we’ll adjust and settle ourselves into our new reality and start to make our way again, but for that time that we’re out of our element, we’re easy prey for the predators who insinuate themselves, proffering acceptance, inclusion, purpose, and noble goals. These cults appeal to people’s idealism and egos, suggesting that, through them, these individuals can make the world a better place, and become important and influential in the process.

    It’s telling that so many cults hold out “happiness” as bait – they’re obviously fishing for the sad, the lonely, the unhappy. Anyone who wants to be happy but can’t seem to make that happen:

    Scientology: “The laws that, if followed exactly, can bring you a prosperous, happy future.”

    Pentecostalism: “No man will ever be happy until he learns this Bible lesson.”

    Some rando Jesus cult: “Happiness, how to find happiness peace, how to be happy, happiness peace and joy through Jesus Christ, the road to happiness peace joy and contentment.”

    Okay, THAT cult gets a Word Happy Salad award!!

    The Supreme Master Ching Hai vegan cult: “Just watching her videos I feel happier and I feel my level of consciousness go higher.”

    The Moonies: “And, after awhile, I asked them why how they could be so happy in such miserable times, and they said, “Because of Rev. Moon, and his Unification Church!” And so, I kept going with them, listening…”

    Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Applying Bible wisdom about how to live a happy life always gets good results.”

    Hare Krishna: “Chant Hare Krishna and be happy! And some may be skeptical that simply chanting: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare will produce happiness. However happiness is one of the very first symptoms that becomes manifest in a person advancing in Krishna consciousness. And this is my practical, personal experience. Ever since I started chanting the Hare Krishna mantra it has given me a sense of great transcendental happiness.” Links to sources here

    Happy, happy, happy. All of these cults put a strong emphasis on recruiting. They’re telling people what to look for and what to offer – in my cult, it was “You can chant for whatever you want!” With the implication that you’ll actually get it, through magic, essentially. You want it to be real, you want to believe so bad that you train yourself to overlook when it doesn’t work, and your comrades in faith are love-bombing you to train you how to think and behave and appear – pouring on the encouragement and admiration, even applause, when you exhibit the behaviors they approve of; frosty looks, a quick change of subject, even admonishment that you need “guidance” from a higher-up when you don’t. You quickly learn what it takes to get that approval and acceptance – you just have to adopt the cult persona, wear it like a gorilla suit over your real thoughts and feelings. Those can’t be shown – too dangerous. But the gorilla suit? Oh, yeah…

    A lot of these cults will invite people to “just TRY it” for some defined time period – maybe 90 days, 100 days. “That will give you enough time to see that it works, and if you decide you don’t like it, well, at least you’ll know you gave it a fair chance!” NOW imagine if it’s someone inviting you, instead, to try heroin or crystal meth – “You can quit if you don’t like it!” The point of the defined time period is to make their practice, whatever it is, into a habit. What if this person were to try a come-on with, “Just try our practice for long enough for it to become a habit that will be difficult for you to break!”?

    • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

      @@Lambchopsuey:disqus: Thanks sharing your insider and now outsider perspectives on the “cult-like” groups, like Soka Gakkai International. I don’t know much about SGI. I googled and only found a couple critiques of the group from 2014 or older. Feel free to share other critiques that you think may be relevant. For some reason, in the US, now meditation and groups that advocate it are getting more adulation and less scrutiny.

      I agree with you that “cult-like” groups share many of the same behaviors that you mentioned.

      The promises of cult-like groups that followers will find happiness, even outright joy, bliss, ecstasy reminds me of my particular former decades long indoctrination in the “cult-like” group of Self-Realization Fellowship, founded by famous Indian yogi and author of Autobiography of a Yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, said

      “The soul loves to meditate, for in contact with the Spirit lies its greatest joy. If, then, you experience mental resistance during meditation, remember that reluctance to meditate comes from the ego; it doesn’t belong to the soul.”

      Manipulation in this message includes: if you don’t love to meditate you are not “soul” (good/godly). Meditation (of course the guru’s Yogananda’s way) brings the greatest job. If you don’t want to meditate or don’t feel joy in meditation you are inferior, “ego”, and doomed to wander in delusion (suffering, pain, or at least not find greatest joy that only guru and meditation can bring followers.)

      My favorite definition of a cult is what supposedly Frank Zappa said: The only difference between a cult and religion is the amount of real estate they own.

      • Lambchopsuey

        Self-Realization Fellowship has a beachside compound in Encinitas; I’ve been past it but never went in. I’ve been to Swami’s beach for tide-pooling with my kids. Swami’s beach is thus called because it’s right below their property (all beaches in CA are, by law, public) and I guess their guru was called “Swami” something or other. The Self-Realization Fellowship predators are still out there – my daughter, home for college for the summer, went to a music festival in San Diego or somewhere with a friend and was approached by a guy from the SRF; he gave her a coupla books (which she left here when she went back to college). I didn’t like it (since I don’t like cults), but I was glad she wasn’t interested.

        “The soul loves to meditate, for in contact with the Spirit lies its greatest joy. If, then, you experience mental resistance during meditation, remember that reluctance to meditate comes from the ego; it doesn’t belong to the soul.”

        Ha! Here’s a quote from the founder of Nichiren Buddhism: There is no greater happiness for human beings than chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.Nichiren, “Happiness In This World”

        Yeah? Well, I did it – plenty! – and it much more often felt like the “endless painful austerity” (which is how that cult expresses “mental resistance”) than “happiness”! But the point of this is that the chanting is supposed to induce a trance state which releases endorphins, causing a feeling of contentedness, bliss, euphoria – a “high”, in other words. There’s more on endorphins here [LINK]; this site states:

        Avoid Transcendental Meditation, Mantras, Chants

        It may be wise to avoid transcendental meditation or mantra meditation.I’ve found articles on the Internet which claim that these forms of meditation can actually cause a release of endorphins, depersonalization and derealization–among other things.

        So they lead to an endorphin addiction, resulting in the subject becoming far more similar to an opium addict, lying on his couch dreaming beautiful dreams as his life passes him by. The cults don’t tell you about THAT effect…

        “High” states can be very pleasant and addictive, but as you mentioned, one of the greatest blunders we all made was to mistake them for something spiritually significant. For example, I have effortlessly experienced similar or higher states, very pleasant and expansive, after smoking a joint, where I feel all buzzing with sex energy and loving and aware and in the present. Now, I know DC and other members would not agree (it’s a hard notion to be swallowed even by non-members), but my own experiences have led me to believe that there is no essential qualitative difference between getting high through a group experience, sex, drugs, meditation, breathing techniques, binaural beats, whatever, you name it. As WYLTK states, it’s all basically a matter of finding ways of temporarily altering one’s brain biochemistry, which is wired in such a way that with the right stimulation we can all get way up there. It’s far from an elitist experience, but quite democratic, in fact. Source [LINK]

        Yet most people don’t realize this state can be deliberately invoked, so the charlatans who present themselves as in possession of “the secret” for how to attain this continue to draw in the unsuspecting. The goal, of course, is to keep the mark engaged long enough for the practice, whatever it is, to become a habit that will become “calming” and “reassuring” on its own just from becoming entrenched, thus self-reinforcing. If they’d told you going in that their goal was to train you to make this a habit (knowing how difficult habits are to break), might you have been a little more careful going in? Who knows? But one might hope. “Here, just try this heroin/crystal meth for 90 days. If you don’t like it by the end of that trial period, you can always quit! And then at least you’ll be able to say you gave it a chance!”

        Disclosure: When I talk about this stuff, I tend to reference the anticult activism site I help run, https://www.reddit.com/r/sgiwhistleblowers/. This is not for self-promotion purposes; it’s simply because that’s where all my research is. I love to collaborate with other anticult activists; the more we can get this information out into the mainstream, perhaps fewer people will get suckered into these charlatans’ webs.

        All the cults promise “happiness”, which tells you they’re trawling for unhappy people to lure into their sphere of control:

        – Scientology: “The laws that, if followed exactly, can bring you a prosperous, happy future.”

        – Pentecostalism: “No man will ever be happy until he learns this Bible lesson.”

        – Some Jesus cult: “Happiness, how to find happiness peace, how to be happy, happiness peace and joy through Jesus Christ, the road to happiness peace joy and contentment.”

        Okay, THAT cult gets a Word Happy Salad award!!

        – The Supreme Master Ching Hai vegan cult: “Just watching her videos I feel happier and I feel my level of consciousness go higher.”

        – The Moonies: “And, after awhile, I asked them why how they could be so happy in such miserable times, and they said, “Because of Rev. Moon, and his Unification Church!” And so, I kept going with them, listening…”

        – Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Applying Bible wisdom about how to live a happy life always gets good results.”

        – Hare Krishna: “Chant Hare Krishna and be happy! And some may be skeptical that simply chanting: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare will produce happiness. However happiness is one of the very first symptoms that becomes manifest in a person advancing in Krishna consciousness. And this is my practical, personal experience. Ever since I started chanting the Hare Krishna mantra it has given me a sense of great transcendental happiness.”

        Yeah, well, happiness is also one of the first symptoms that manifests when you drink a snort of cognac, too O_O

        At least THAT guy ^ has got dancing tigers! That’s boss O_O

        They will tell you how happy you will be in their group (and everyone in the cult will always seem very happy and enthusiastic, mainly because they have been told to act happy and will get in trouble if they don’t). But you will not be told what life is really like in the group, nor what they really believe. These things will be introduced to you slowly, one at a time, so you will not notice the gradual change, until eventually you are practicing and believing things which at the start would have caused you to run a mile. Source [LINK]

        You can tell their target demographic by how they phrase their sell. In this case, they’re attempting to lure in unhappy people – the lonely, the sad, the bereaved, the depressed, the unemployed/underemployed, those who have just moved to town and are off balance and looking for a new social community to plug into, people who grew up in abusive families…there’s no shortage of “unhappiness” in society, after all. Seems like a profitable market to exploit, right? Even the multilevel marketing (MLM) scams insist that they are delivering “happiness” by helping people lose their life savings and destroy their social capital become rich through working at home! BE YOUR OWN BOSS!! In fact, the verbiage of the sales pitch is often identical between MLMs and cults:

        MLM is a new way of life that offers happiness and fulfillment. It is a means to attain all the good things in life. Source [LINK]

        See?

        My favorite definition of a cult is what supposedly Frank Zappa said: The only difference between a cult and religion is the amount of real estate they own.

        I have a friend who was involved in the Yogi Bajhan cult for 7 years (he introduced Kundalini Yoga to the West); again, more similarities than differences. And speaking of real estate, most of these cults have a compound in Florida! Yogi Bajhan did/does; the SGI does; Scientology does; and Supreme Master Ching Hai does as well! I wonder if they have neighborhood parties…

        • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

          @Lambchopsuey:disqus : I lived for 1-2 years at the Encinitas location. Know what you describe and more quite well. You also, in addition to dagobarz, sound like you are or were in San Diego area. I lived in SD County for 3-4 years while I was in SRFs Hidden Valley and Encinitas Ashram Centers. Then was transferred to the SRF international headquarters, Mother Center in Los Angeles.

          I like the connection you made with Endorphins. I’ll investigate that further. I know dopamine is also highly addictive and is naturally and artificially produced in our bodies/brains.

          Do you have a blog? Have you visited mine, http://www.Skepticmeditations.com? Perhaps you’d be interested in reading and commenting there. Or, guest posting or I could quote some of your comments or threads.

          Thanks for sharing. The world needs more people like you to speak up about the “side effects” of getting involved in meditation and chanting groups.

          • Lambchopsuey

            We moved to the North San Diego County area in 2001. I left the SGI in 2007. We’ve moved, but we’re still in the same area.

            So you “were transferred” to the SRF HQ? You must’ve been pretty high up on the org chart! At one point, I was at the highest local youth leadership position (not here in CA), and I was able to see a WHOLE lot from my position in the “inner circle”. You get several people from the same cult together, and some are going to say it’s toxic and harmful, while others say, “Oh, that’s not right – they’re just the nicest people.” THAT is the “outer circle” perspective – where those who aren’t sufficiently integrated into the cult (or sufficiently USEFUL to the cult) are cultivated into the nicey-nice persona the cult wants to present to the world. It’s in the “inner circle” that you start to see the man behind the curtain, the nastiness of the politics, and see the cynical calculations that go on. That’s why these cults’ leaders are potentially their worst enemies.

            I haven’t been to your blog yet, but now that I know where it is, I’ll meander on over tomorrow. It’s getting late right now. I spend a lot of my time over at https://www.reddit.com/r/sgiwhistleblowers/ – I’m one of the mods there. Feel free to stop on by!

          • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

            @Lambchopsuey:disqus : Thanks for sharing your perspectives and stories. I hope others will read and learn about dark-sides to groups like SGI chanting group. I’ve bookmarked the SGI reddit and will check it out. In the past I’ve read some posts on meditation there.

            I agree that people in these groups that are on the fringes, outer circle, may be somewhat protected from the worst harms. Those in the inner circle, closest to the leaders, are probably most at risk of psychological manipulation and psychosis.

            FYI–I was a “grunt” on the SRF org chart. Nothing special–though I tried in my own way. The highest I got was I took brahmacharya monastic vows that some might consider “moved up” my standing in the spiritual food-chain. Ceremonies and vows only added to the cult-like commitment and obedience to group, feelings of guilt when questioning doctrines or leaders, etc.

    • dagobarbz, fine Italian shoes

      It was crazy back in the 70s. Moonies in Ocean Beach, Scientologists at Mesa College, the Hare Krishnas everywhere, inviting people to a “sumptuous vegetarian feast” every week. (it was later revealed they dug their vegetables out of the dumpster behind Safeway.)
      They invaded restaurants selling “posies for the children.” You couldn’t go out without some cult member trying to recruit you.
      It. Was. NUTS!

      Since I’m not fond of people in groups, especially the smiley ones with shiny eyes, my antisocial tendencies helped avoid recruitment.

      • Lambchopsuey

        It was crazy back in the 70s.

        It sure was. I know a guy who joined the Soka Gakkai (in the US, it went by “Nichiren Shoshu of America”, or “NSA”) in 1970, and there are a couple of books out – one by a guy who joined in LA in 1970 (that one is a memoir, “Sho Hondo”); the other is by a guy who joined about that same time in Seattle, and this one is a novelization of his experiences, The Society.

        it was later revealed they dug their vegetables out of the dumpster behind Safeway

        EWWWWW!!! That’s before “Safeway” was renamed “Vons”, I take it?

        All of this was possible in the 1970s, because of the societal upheaval caused by the Vietnam War + Civil Rights Movement. There were many people feeling disaffected and disconnected from “the mainstream”, lots of college kids looking for “a different way”. They were thus open to the “exotic” and “oriental” – in my former cult’s case, the widespread white fascination with Japan helped (“Stuff White People Like” has a separate page for white people’s obsession with all things Japan). But ultimately, things calmed down; the hippies were succeeded by the yuppies, as conservative and conventional a group as you might imagine. The overt Japanese-ness of NSA/the SGI resulted in far fewer converts; it was just too weird, in the main. By 1976, analysts were predicting that “Further rapid growth either of the parent body or the overseas offspring is doubtful.” That’s because the Soka Gakkai grew in the wake of the societal destruction of the Pacific War, within Occupied Japan where “outsiders” had completely changed the structure of their government and their society’s structure, among people destitute, desperate, sick, and starving. That just doesn’t translate well into other cultures! This is one of the main reasons Gregory Paul & Phil Zuckerman describe to explain why, in “Why The Gods Are Not Winning“, that no religion has demonstrated itself able to expand outside its own ancestral lands. Oh, back in the day, Christianity and Islam both spread at the point of a sword, of course, and maintained supremacy and monolithicity (not really a word O_O) through force. Now, Christianity can’t spread without coercion; neither can Islam. Their only hope of survival is that their devotees have lots of children whom they hope will continue in faith (not a certainty in countries which protect individual rights), but even in the Islamic theocracies, birthrates are falling to European norms. Iran’s birthrate has famously fallen by almost 75% (from an average of 7 children per family to just 1.8); “one of the most rapid fertility declines ever recorded in human history”“, and immigrant Muslim populations across Europe are reproducing barely above local norms; within a couple of generations, this rate aligns with local norms. In fact, “fertility in the Muslim world has declined two or three times faster than the world average.

        Whoops, digressed there! Anyhow, this comment, by a Shin Buddhist priest, nicely explains why these “foreign” religions don’t grow elsewhere:

        Christians believe that all people in the world must accept Christ, and missionaries undergo all sorts of hardship to bring the gospel of Jesus to all mankind. Christians “have a story to tell to the nations.” They go to teach and elevate people.

        Shin missionaries, on the other hand, go out to seek people who have similar opinions to their own. They invite them to join them in their activities. Shin regards entrance into the Hongwanji as a union of attitudes. The basis of these religious attitudes lies in one’s past experiences. No amount of arguing or teaching can bring these attitudes about without there having been the necessary conditioning experiences in one’s past.

        So, in a sense, there is little work left for me to do, as an anti-SGI-cult activist – SGI’s international membership numbers are collapsing; the cult can’t even hold onto its members in Japan; so the problem is resolving itself. But there remain people being harmed by what this group does, so I’ll continue to speak out, if only to leave a nice source of documentation for the future, so people can look back and shake their heads at the craziness some people went in for back in the day.

        • dagobarbz, fine Italian shoes

          Same with me and Scientology. Now that actress Leah Remini and other high profile Scns are cranking out documentaries and books, my work here is done. But you can bet I will tell someone who needs to hear it that Scientology is bad, ‘mkay. I’ve saved a few people from making a horrible mistake!

          • Lambchopsuey

            I’d sure love to hear your stories…

            But yeah, being in a position to steer someone away from that cliff is kinda important…

            I think Scientology’s gotten a bad enough reputation that many people simply won’t consider it. Just like how so many people won’t even consider joining the Moonies, or the Mormons, or the Hare Krishnas. They’re known, and they’re known to be BAD. So those groups can’t get a foot anywhere near the door. People simply won’t consider them. And that’s a good thing. Seems to be spreading, too…

          • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

            @Lambchopsuey:disqus : I think you underestimate the power of the “promises”: happiness, paradise, eternal bliss, immortality. Many, many people consider joining groups like these, if not are already in one (select a religion at random). The bad stories are seldom noticed compared to the promises.

            @dagobarbz:disqus : Thanks for sharing your stories. Hang gliding must be a “high”, exhilarating to do.

        • Cary Altman

          A quick word of support for SGI-America from an active practitioner. I agree about the comments in regard to it being almost off putting to Americans who can not get past the overtly Japanese presentation of the religion, but those who can get past the fact that the last Buddha, Nichiren, was Japanese, can find much to learn in this new humanistic religion promoted by SGI. It is true that new people are told to chant for whatever they want to test this religion, and it is true that many find just what they were looking for by doing this. You have to look a bit deeper than the apparent magic of this act though, and those who study the lessons that Nichiren gave us will realize that there is no magic happening here, and that all that is happening is the practitioner deciding in his/her prayers each day to be the best they can be, and to continue on, never giving up, until they reach their goals. Yes, the goal of this religion is to be happy.. but not by magic, but by focused human resolve, and taught by an entity about as far from being a cult as you can be, one that has no priests, no churches, and teaches that the point of everything is to be the best that YOU can be.

          • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

            Cary Altman : I’m happy for you that you find your strain of Buddhism/SGI meaningful in your life.

            To recap my post, the attributes of cult-like groups include:

            1) Leader or tradition that promises certainty, purpose in life.

            2) Feeling, at first, of acceptance and family.

            3) Dysfunctional group held together by fear.

            4) Hiding of one’s feelings and living in fear of being found out.

            5) Eventually, fortunate persons leave and are able to help others leave.

            I feel fortunate to have eventually left the cult-like group that I was “trapped” inside for decades.

          • Cary Altman

            I too am happy for you that you got out of your group that made you feel trapped. I do not see your indicators of cult in SGI. There are no promises of certainty, it depends on how devotedly you practice as to whether you gain benefit. Religion is not magic… it takes work. That work is our meditation and study. The promises of certainty and purpose come from within your own life, not something the SGI mysteriously gives you.
            Yes, when a member first joins they are clapped for and attention is focused on them and they feel special… at first…. just like my Ham Radio Club does when a new member joins. There is nothing nefarious here. And to the contrary of your list, try achieving a leadership position within SGI. It is not easy…. and I certainly did not feel overwhelming love and acceptance when I made it clear I wanted that position… the attitude was more standoffish and suspicious of my motives than instant acceptance. It seems I have to earn the position I desire.
            SGI is not held together by fear… I could drop out today and aside from a few phone calls wondering if I am OK, there would be no pressure to have me stay. I dropped back into a solitary practice for years, and could easily do it again now.
            The structure of SGI is designed so that we are encouraged each month to share our feelings at our monthly discussion meetings. We encourage members to share their feelings on all matters, even internal politics at SGI.
            So, bottom line is that I agree with your cult indicators and have seen them in various religious organizations I have been a member of in the past, including Christian ones; but I do not see these alarming signals coming from SGI. Many people leave SGI, not understanding that a complete practice involves not just chanting, but intense study of Buddhism old and new, and they fail to understand the core message… that it all comes from inside of you. Some look at the money making arms of SGI and conclude that since they make so much money on the publications of their newsletter and magazine and book sales and all the rest, they conclude that SGI must be a cult. They look at our third President, Diasaku Ikeda and conclude that he is a charismatic cultish leader, but fail to factor in that he is no almost 90 years old and will be replaced soon with a total unknown. A cult would be grooming us to accept our next leader… this is not happening at SGI.
            Some of my family and friends have been concerned by reports on the internet, and pages such as this one where people make allegations that SGI appears to be a modern cult… and I have been looking for that sort of influence during my 35 years of chanting. I have used a list such as yours to make these evaluations, and although biased by my good experience as a Nichiren Buddhist, I can not find evidence that we are a cult. We look cult-ish in some ways, but upon investigation one will find that instead of a focus on a leader/mentor or supporting the organization itself, the focus is really on the individual practitioner and their individual enlightenment. It might be instructive to examine what it is that we chant at SGI…. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo literally translates to “I devote myself to the mystic law of cause and effect” There is nothing there insisting on devotion to NSA, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood or even Nichiren himself… the devotion is to the law… not a cult.

          • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

            @caryaltman:disqus: I’ve gotten several email notices with a reply to my reply to you. But don’t see it posted here. I wonder if you deleted. Or, if I am missing it somewhere here so will briefly remark.

            You said much in defense of your views, including, “There is nothing there [SGI-America] insisting on devotion to NSA, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood or even Nichiren himself… the devotion is to the law… not a cult.”

            I wonder what “law” you are referring to.

            And what you mean by “devotion” to said law.

            Being an ex-cult-like group member myself (Self-Realization Fellowship monastic order for decades), those closing statements you made I hear as rather creepy and cult-like. Maybe I misinterpret or project my meaning into what you stated. But feel free to explain as I’d like to understand what you mean behind those statements and words.

          • Cary Altman

            Hi Scott. My last comments to you were deleted by the system after I went back to correct some spelling mistakes, and I got frustrated with Discus. It would be very helpful if you would repeat my last comments that you have in your email, as I have lost my original words in the process of trying to reply to you.
            Let me see how I can do without my notes however, and thank you for your further inquiry.
            The law I refer to is the ancient mystic law of cause and effect. Buddhism teaches that nothing can exist without a cause and all causes must have effects. Regarding the word devotion, please be careful not to equate this word with worship. Devotion in my mind speaks to my practice, my unfailing twice a day commitment to prayers and meditation. It is a Buddhist challenge to myself, the “work” that I put in each day to make positive causes in my life. My point at the end was that SGI does not ask for adoration and “devotion” to either itself as a group or to its current mentor/leader/President, but to your own personal practice and your own benefits in your own life. If this were a cult as you describe, Ikeda would be propped up as a demi-god, but that is not the message coming from Japan. I have heard it said that because it requires membership to SGI to be active and to receive their publications, that this alone, this asking for a subscription each year makes this organization a cult, but my response to that is that you can drop your membership any time you like and choose not to get the publications. You could still participate in any activity SGI holds, and no one will start pressuring you to re-up your membership… they just let you walk away. Over the 35 years I have been chanting, I have seen more walk away to practice solo than regularly show up at the monthly meetings. So, I tend to end my promotions of SGI among my friends and social media contacts in this way… and now you tell me why this sounds creepy to you, please. SGI, no churches, no priests… just you and the law.

          • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

            @caryaltman:disqus: As you requested, below is your email message I received and inadvertently got deleted by Discus.
            Cary Altman wrote:
            “I too am happy for you that you got out of your group that made you feel trapped. I do not see your indicators of cult in SGI. There are no promises of certainty, it depends on how devotedly you practice as to whether you gain benefit. Religion is not magic… it takes work. That work is our meditation and study. The promises of certainty and purpose come from within your own life, not something the SGI mysteriously gives you.
            Yes, when a member first joins they are clapped for and attention is focused on them and they feel special… at first…. just like my Ham Radio Club does when a new member joins. There is nothing nefarious here. And to the contrary of your list, try achieving a leadership position within SGI. It is not easy…. and I certainly did not feel overwhelming love and acceptance when I made it clear I wanted that position… it was more standoffish and suspicious of my motives than instant acceptance. It seems I have to earn the position I desire.
            SGI is not held together by fear… I could drop out today and aside from a few phone calls wondering if I am OK, there would be no pressure to have me stay. I dropped back into a solitary practice for years, and could easily do it again now.
            The structure of SGI is designed so that we are encouraged each month to share our feelings and our monthly discussion meetings. We encourage members to share their feelings on all matters, even internal politics at SGI.
            So, bottom line is that I agree with your cult indicators and have seen them in various religious organizations I have been a member of in the past, including Christian ones; but I do not see these alarming signals coming from SGI. Many people leave SGI, not understanding that a complete practice involves n ot just chanting, but intense study of Buddhism old and new, and they fail to understand the core message… that it all comes from inside of you. Some look at the money making arms of SGI and conclude that since they make so much money on the publications of their newsletter and magazine and book sales and all the rest, and conclude that SGI must be a cult. They look at our third President, Diasaku Ikeda and conclude that he is a charismatic cultish leader, but fail to factor in that he is no almost 90 years old and will be replaced soon with a total unknown. A cult would be grooming us to accept our next leader… this is not happening at SGI.
            Some of my family and friends have been concerned by reports on the internet, and pages such as this one where people make allegations that SGI appears to be a modern cult… and I have been looking for that sort of influence during my 35 years of chanting. I have used a list such as yours to make these evaluations, and although bi ased by my good experience as a Nichiren Buddhist, I can not find evidence that we are a cult. We look cult-ish in some ways, but upon investigation one will find that instead of a focus on a leader/mentor or supporting the organization itself, the focus is really on the individual practitioner and their individual enlightenment. It might be instructive to examine what it is that we chant at SGI…. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo literally translates to “I devote myself to the mystic law of cause and effect” There is nothing there insisting on devotion to NSA, the Nichiren Shoshu priesthood or even Nichiren himself… the devotion is to the law… not a cult.
            6:58 a.m., Saturday Oct. 14″

          • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

            @caryaltman:disqus : I pasted your message below. To here reply briefly to your latest discussion post. First, thanks for replying to my comments. Secondly, let me say that I don’t like to use the term “cult”. I think its a term that is dismissive, derisive, and derogatory. I rather prefer to discuss “cult-like” behaviors which are often attributes of many so-called cultish groups, their followers, or leaders.

            I wonder if you’ve studied any of the literature on authoritative leaders or groups, even families, clubs. I’m not saying I know anything about SGI. I don’t know, other than what briefly I’ve read on this thread and looked up online as a result. The substance of our language often reveals our attitudes and behaviors. I’m not an expert. Just a former Eastern spiritual seeker who since learned better after stepping away from the traditions.

            I recently posted an article on my blog, Paradoxes of Eastern Enlightenment, that might interest you. Not saying SGI has any of these paradoxes, as I don’t know. But you might see more where I’m coming from when I critique the systems many people assume are pure, infallible, and unchallengeable.

          • Cary Altman

            I saw my post in your email, but again it fails to appear here on this blog. This very disappointing as I was hoping for a good discussion. At any rate, I feel that I am being censored, maybe because this note in question really got down into some of the specific beliefs SGI promotes… possibly we are only allowed to go into generalities here. I do note your distinction of cult-like in your description, and that generalization opens up the chat to just about any practicing religion… and even the local Lutheran church shaming people into donating each Sunday by passing around the collection basket could arguably be called cult-like.
            I have not studied the literature you referred to, I simply have had to react to friends and family as I tell them what I have found spiritually, and am constantly looking for ways to Americanize the SGI message to play better to those people. I am trying hard to get the people who know me to get away from that idea that Buddhism is necessarily an “eastern” religion and see that I embrace it as probably the world’s first humanistic based religion. By this I mean that SGI is unique; we are a world wide lay organization 14 Million strong. The focus is not on a church, it is on us, as individual members. Nichiren Buddhism is sort of an anti-organization sort of thing the way it is being promoted today by the SGI… we proudly are not affiliated with the corrupt priesthood, and we tell practitioners that they themselves are the object of worship. “Do not seek this Buddhism anywhere outside of yourself,” Nichiren writes… and through this practice we learn that if we want anything in this life, we just have to set our minds to achieving it and then never give up. According to your list, this is cult-like I think, and I will give you that point. I just want to make the point that SGI is different… and I think more people who are seeking a direction should really look into what this huge worldwide lay organization has achieved, and why. I have a good book for you on this… Clark Strand, “Waking the Buddha” He talks about the cult thing in his book too.

          • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

            @caryaltman:disqus : Yes. The post I pasted from your email seems to have been deleted. Anyways…what I mentioned that did post above is what I wanted to ask you about. You are getting missionary in your comments, which is a turn off and probably violates comment policy here. The point I’d leave you with is to look at your tradition as an outsider who isn’t invested in it being right. Not easy to do. Having “beginner’s mind” rather than knowing and being certain. Cheers.

      • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

        @dagobarbz:disqus : Locations you speak of Ocean Beach, Mesa College, dumpsters at Safeway sound like you were in San Diego area in 70s. Interestingly, Yogananda guru-founder of Self-Realization Fellowship, had a large following and several ashram centers and temples in San Diego starting in the 1930s to present. California, indeed Westcoast, is petrie dish festering many new religious movements.

        I’m curious which smiley, shiney eyed gurus or groups you have particular insights into. The world needs more people like yourself and Lampchopsuey to share from the outside these groups so others can learn.

        • dagobarbz, fine Italian shoes

          Well, I did go after Scientology for 15 years. I know a little bit about cults.
          I forgot about the Paramahansa Yogananda guys up the coast. I flew that little south-facing ridge there once, kind of a strange thing to fly around. (hang glider)

          What I noticed about Scientology; their logo is a double cross and they sell you a bridge. I’m sure that’s Hubbard’s little joke!

      • Jim Jones

        I remember in the 80’s when the weirdos hung out in airports.

        • dagobarbz, fine Italian shoes

          OH GAWD YES! And the 70s too, I did some flying back when I was in the Army. You had to run a gantlet of religious weirdos lined up inside the main entrance to airports.

          • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

            Hare Krishna’s once gave me a flower and brochure at the airport. I wonder what other weirdo groups you are referring to at airports. Moonies, maybe?

          • dagobarbz, fine Italian shoes

            Absolutely Moonies, and those NSA Buddhist bunch. And some Christians of some flavor.

          • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

            I guess airports are no longer vogue for proselytizing. Those days of Pre-Internet. Nowadays groups proselytize using websites and digital media as their “airport” to peddle the wares to the masses of prospective recruits.

          • dagobarbz, fine Italian shoes

            You’re right. Last time I flew was 5 years ago, and there were no proselytizers or pamphlet distributors. It was a weird decade!

  • Jim Jones

    The current series ‘Scientology’ on A&E with Leah Remini seems quite on point.

    This cult makes extraordinary promises, and yet has never once ever demonstrated a single example of superior human performance – quite the reverse. It has created a group of broken people ruled by fear and by crimes.

    • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

      @Jim_Jones_1:disqus : In popular culture celebrities play a major influence on what many people think are “superior performance”. If someone is famous, rich, or outlandish (Trump, Cruise, or Lady Gaga, etc) that gets the clicks and turns heads. The same seems to apply to celebrity endorsements of religious and cult-like groups.

      However, the rise in popularity of media shows like Leah Remini’s and HBO’s Scientology and the Prison of Belief demonstrates that people have, at least, a morbid curiosity about religious and cult-like groups. Hopefully more coverage will be given to other groups, including mainstream ones, such as Catholic church, with all their systemic abuses and cult-like behaviors.

      • Jim Jones

        In other western countries, religious belief, indicated by activity, has dropped to the 1 – 3% level. Where it hasn’t, it is dropping fast. Even in the US it is hollowing out. Google (religious churn)

        • http://skepticmeditations.wordpress.com/ Scott SkepticMeditations

          I agree there’s some encouraging signs modern society is getting less religious. However, I’d not assume that religious “activity” (mostly measured by church attendance or affiliation) is a very good indicator that Western society is not superstitious or holds less supernatural kinds of beliefs and behaviors. Magical thinking is not limited to churches or identification with religions or gods. Hence why I write articles on my blog about meditation practices, which like for me replaced Western with Eastern magical thinking. That is until I question the whole lot, including science and secular worldviews, not just religious ones.