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 What are the signs that the OBC might be a cult?

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Lise
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PostSubject: What are the signs that the OBC might be a cult?   Wed Mar 24, 2010 4:37 pm

Understanding that everybody's impressions are different, could any of you talk a little bit about the warning signs that made you think this was a cult? The info might be esp. helpful to people reading this forum who are just beginning to have contact with the OBC.

It would also help me even though I've left. I've talked to people who feel very strongly that the OBC is a cult and I know others who don't. For myself, I didn't experience it as a cult. I thought some practices were bizarre, offbeat, silly, but I didn't sense any danger of losing myself or my autonomy to this group. I never had a "master"; I've always kept authority figures at a distance -- maybe that kept me from getting to the next level where the cult-like behavior takes place.

Or is it there from the beginning and I just didn't see it?

L.
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: What are the signs that the OBC might be a cult?   Fri Mar 26, 2010 2:04 am

I had an exchange yesterday with someone who reads the forum but isn't posting yet. With his permission I'm sharing his comments:

"This a cult because it's built around one person who set herself above and apart from answering to anybody or being held accountable for her actions. We weren't following Buddhism -- that was window dressing. We were there to serve this woman who brooked no resistance or discussion from those who disagreed with her. I remember her saying "Monks have no rights". No right to question, no right to protest abusive treatment. It's true, we didn't have rights there. Whether things have changed much is anybody's guess. Because it was so much a part of their consciousness then, I feel that it almost certainly has been carried into the present culture." [end quote]

I haven't researched Jiyu Kennett, except for reading materials available from the OBC and the odd web reference or citation in a journal. But it seems to me that she created her own version of Soto Zen, declared herself the head and then changed the rules to suit her interests. I don't see how she could claim legitimacy through a specific Japanese lineage and structure, then reject their organization's authority over her -- it doesn't make sense. I wouldn't accept that as valid in any other context & it's hard to understand why people went along with it in her case. Maybe it was the appeal of a charismatic leader, or her followers were too invested in her by then and didn't want to back out?
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Olly



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PostSubject: Re: What are the signs that the OBC might be a cult?   Sat Mar 27, 2010 7:03 am

Hi Lise,

Whether the OBC is a 'cult' is a difficult issue and depends on what one means by cult. As a starting point, here is an extract from the current Wikipedia article on cults:

"Cult pejoratively refers to a group whose beliefs or practices could be, reasonably or unreasonably, considered strange. The term was originally used to denote a system of ritual practices. The narrower, derogatory sense of the word is a product of the 20th century, especially since the 1980s, and is considered subjective, and is a result of the anti-cult movement, which uses the term in reference to groups seen as authoritarian, exploitative and possibly dangerous.

The popular, derogatory sense of the term has no currency in academic studies of religions, where "cults" are subsumed under the neutral label of "new religious movement", while academic sociology has partly adopted the popular meaning of the term."

I think "authoritarian, exploitative and possibly dangerous" is the key phrase. "Authoritarian" - certainly, they do seem to be quite a 'top-down' organization and I think the continued veneration of Jiyu-Kennett is connected with this. She herself seems to have been rather an overbearing and difficult figure, even in accounts from people who also express admiration of her (See the Wikipedia article on her for examples of this).

"Exploitative" - well, the person you quote seems to think so. I didn't feel 'exploited' during the 2 years on-and-off during which I attended an OBC temple, but I did feel bullied and I lost much self-esteem.

"Possibly dangerous" - this is a very strong phrase, and one would need examples of people being seriously physically, psychologically or emotionally harmed to back this up. I have found one such account online which, if accurate, is disturbing enough:

http://www.factnet.org/discus/messages/3/30751.html?1179842646

I think it would be fair to describe the OBC as a "New Religious Movement" for the meantime, and it is good to describe it as such as we need to bear in mind that this 'Soto Zen according to Jiyu-Kennett', it is not part of the mainstream Soto Zen church.

The OBC has thus far evaded criticism, perhaps because more colourful and pushy 'Buddhist' New Religious Movements like the NKT, the FWBO and (more recently) Diamond Way Buddhism have been attracting most of the flack. It is good that this forum exists so that such scrutiny can be voiced.

Olly
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: What are the signs that the OBC might be a cult?   Sat Mar 27, 2010 9:59 pm

Thanks for that, Olly, it does help to frame the question in terms of certain attributes and then test the "cult" label against what we actually saw and heard. I rely on my own impressions first and foremost, and as such I can agree with "new religious movement". It does depend on what happened to each of us individually; it's like the story of blind people touching different parts of the elephant and describing what they felt. For those who touched the OBC and know it as a cult, I'm not able to disagree with them nor do I want to -- their perception of their experience is as valid as mine is for me.

I go to a group counseling session for folks who have had trouble with religious stuff. Our therapist has a theory that some people by their natures and past history are more vulnerable to giving up control of themselves and suspending their good judgment in the face of external pressure, exploitation and control. She tends to see people as "cult-receptive" or "cult-resistant", which helps me see how people can hold such disparate opinions of the same place -- interesting stuff.
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PostSubject: Re: What are the signs that the OBC might be a cult?   Sat May 29, 2010 6:21 pm

"Authoritarian" is the word to describe my experience with the master in charge of the priory I used to be involved with. I just got exhausted trying to "accept" arbitrary rules -- some were sort of minor things, like keeping the priory at 55 degrees in the winter (supposedly to save heat) and never, NEVER using the special cup reserved for the master. But bigger things came up, too, like the master deciding unilaterally to dispose of the temple we had all help create and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars buying other property. He used to tell us repeatedly that Buddhism isn't democracy and his job was to make all the decisions -- big and small. For a long time, I thought something was wrong with me that I couldn't just "let go" and not try to control things. Giving up control, of course, is a worthy effort both spiritually and in terms of our relationships with others. But it seemed to me that the practices at this temple allowed too much authority to rest in this one individual who, after all, is just a human being. I couldn't understand why the OBC continued to let this kind of authoritarianism go on in one of its temples.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: What are the signs that the OBC might be a cult?   Sat Mar 26, 2011 1:02 am

I just ran across this website and this book that is posted free -- on the nature of cults. Could be useful: THE CULT TEST

http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-cult_q0.html

Shasta / Kennett fits many of these criteria - not all of them. Shasta
didn't do deceptive recruiting and they didn't engage in financial
plundering of people's bank accounts and trust funds. And no sexual
abuse. Most of the other behavior fits.
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