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 Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?

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Diana



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PostSubject: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Sat Jun 19, 2010 9:57 pm

First topic message reminder :

Note: this was previously posted under another topic sometime last week:

Is the OBC/Shasta Abbey a cult? In my personal and professional opinion the answer to that question is “yes”. Let’s start by giving the most often quoted and accepted useful definition of the word cult:

“A cult is a group or movement that, to a significant degree, (a) exhibits great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing, (b) uses a thought-reform program to persuade, control, and socialize members(i.e., to integrate them into the group’s unique pattern of relationships, beliefs, values, and practices), (c) systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members, (d) exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals, and (e) causes psychological harm to members, their families, and the community” (Langone, 1993, p.5)

Now let’s break it down:
(a) Devotion to person, idea, or thing.
In general: It is obvious that in the early days, devotion to Jiyu was absolutely necessary. She is the central figure as founder of the organization. After her death, it could be stated that any of her disciples, abbots, abbesses, or priors who were in a position of power and authority, would also demand devotion. Apart from people, devotion to ideas or things is also central when one looks at the goal of training being enlightenment or becoming one with the Buddha himself. It is obvious that devotion is central to this organization to anyone who has ever attended a ceremony or morning service.
In my experience: I was taught early on at the Abbey to devote myself to the masters and later on that intensified as I became a lay disciple. Through many means and circumstances such as meditation and thought-reform, I did submit and take on the learned-behavior of bowing, devotion, contrition, etc… The Buddha, the Abbey, and my master became central to my life and I became dependent upon them.

(b) Thought-reform as a means to persuade, control, and social members.
In general: The term “thought-reform” must be defined here. There are certain conditions that a thought-reform program can practice and they are:
“-Keeping the person unaware of what is going on and how she is being changed one step at a time.
-Controlling the person’s social and/or physical environment, especially the person’s time.
-Systematically creating a sense of powerlessness.
-Manipulating a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to inhibit behavior that reflects the person’s former identity.
-Manipulating a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote the group’s ideology, belief systems, and group-approved behaviors.
-Putting forward a closed system of logic and an authoritarian structure that permits no feedback and cannot be modified except by leadership approval or executive order” (Lalich and Tobias, 2006, p. 40-41).

The methods used to ensure the success of the process are as follows:
“-Induced dissociation and other altered states (speaking in tongues, chanting, trance induction via repeated affirmations, extended periods of meditation, lengthy denunciation sessions, public trials, “hot seat” criticisms focusing on the individual, sexual abuse, torture, etc.)
-Control of information going in and out of the group environment.
-Isolation from family and friends.
-Control of member’s financial resources.
-Sleep and food deprivation.
-Peer and leadership pressure.
-Extensive indoctrination sessions.
-Rigid security regulations and daily rules” (Lalich and Tobias, 2006, p. 41).
In general, many, if not all, of these conditions are met by the OBC. Personally, I have been exposed to too many of them to mention.

(c) Inducing states of dependency.
In general: It is obvious that the monks are dependent on the laity, the abbot/ess or prior, and to the order. These people give up their lives; their identity, careers, partners, family, money… They have the most at stake and the most to lose. The power differential is set up to use, abuse, and exploit them.
In my experience: I was literally told to never speak of my experiences or training to anyone, monk or lay, except for my master and two other monks. I was in a state of psychological emergency when I was told this. I was immediately dependent on a few select monks for my survival. I gave up my relationship, my friends, and other things not associated with the Abbey. I barely functioned in the world. When I was “let go” by my master I was totally lost. It took me 5 years to regain the autonomy and independence I had before beginning “training”.

(d) Exploits members to advance the organizations goals.
In general: This is both a simple and complex issue. First one has to look at “what are the goals of the OBC?” It could be stated that any financial support given to the OBC and its affiliates is a form of exploitation. One example of this could be the decision of Shasta Abbey to discontinue its “Buddhist Supply Shop” with the goal that the monks had better thing to do than run a business. The local congregation took the business over and of course, continued to support the Abbey. The Abbey found other resources to support their livelihood and could therefore spend more time on their own training. At this time, the Abbey also started shutting down access to the Abbey to the laity and public for more time for their own training. So not only did they successfully get rid of having to work, they also raised more money than ever before and reduced their religious services by closing the facilities.
In my experience: Did I feel exploited? That’s a tough one. The only form of exploitation that I could have possibly been exposed to was psychological and spiritual. I do feel that I was manipulated, but it is too personal a recollection to share.

(e) Causing psychological harm.
In general: There have been too many to mention, hundreds of people, that have left the OBC that have claimed psychological harm. One person in particular comes to mind in this. If you have not heard of the physical and psychological abuse that happened at North Cascades priory, I urge you to seek out this information. Rev. Koshin is implicated as being responsible for the almost-death of a novice monk. It is also well known that some monks have become mentally ill and others have even committed suicide. I know many congregation members that are mentally ill and damaged from training with the OBC.
In my experience: I was psychologically harmed in many different ways. Many of my issues should have been addressed by a trained therapist or psychologist. At the time, I was told to take “refuge in the three treasures” and that would help me, but it was insufficient and I suffered for years.
I hope this helps everybody, and I hope to continue this discussion and hear of other’s experiences.

Peace,
Diana
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sianabelle



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Thu Nov 29, 2012 3:16 am

Mia wrote:
sianabelle wrote:
it's not exactly in the same league as the Scientologists is it?
That's why I pooh-poohed the suggestion to begin with, but failing to take genuine concerns seriously is what got us into this mess in the first place.

That's quite right, Mia, good point. I get so frustrated when questions are not allowed to be asked, or if they are, they get ignored, like it's as if you never spoke. Mind you, these days more often I prefer to do the listening, I say to myself "listen and learn".
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Carol



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Mon Dec 10, 2012 1:48 am

I personally would like to read the report on the Eko investigation because Eko and his teachings kept me connected to the OBC for years. He was my "savior" when things went sour at North Cascades.

As a personal matter, I would like to see what I missed. How do we assess the accuracy of our responses to the world? Reading that report would for me be like looking into a mirror. Where did I go astray in placing my faith in Eko and his teachings? Was I right in part? Was I totally deluded?

I understand this isn't part of the discussion about the rightness or wrongness of the OBC's decision to keep the report private. It's just my reaction to their decision. For me, they are missing a teaching moment.
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Dr Dyson



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jan 01, 2013 10:10 am

I hope no one will mind if, as a newcomer to this site, I put in my fourpence worth.

I used to go fairly regularly to Throssel Hole as a lay trainee. In the course of time certain misgivings/dislikes started to form in my mind. They boil down to the following:

(a) The monks’ attitude to the lay students was very much de haut en bas, and their attitude to the dharma very authoritarian and dogmatic.

(b) Much of Jiyu Kennett’s autobiographical and semi-autobiographical writing seemed to me rather obviously self-serving. The picture that I formed of her at an early stage was of a self-dramatising, control freak, attention-seeking type. I never met her, but from what I have subsequently learnt from people who did, I wasn’t the only one to have this impression.

(c) Jiyu Kennett seemed to enjoy a kind of quasi-papal status as an infallible fount of wisdom that mustn’t be questioned.

(c) I felt that at Throssel Hole the dharma (to me, a simple life of desirelessness and compassion) was hugely and unnecessarily complicated: that a good deal of what was done there looked very like Worship and could only clutter and distract the mind.

What tipped the balance for me – what made me decide to leave the place alone – was an incident that occurred when I and a close friend went to Throssel Hole together in 1996. In due course there came a Summons that I was to go and be interviewed by Reverend X [no names, I think]. My friend got a similar summons. When I went to see Reverend X it turned out that I had been “reported” for having a private conversation with my friend during one of the breaks, and that I was now to be cross-examined as to the nature of our friendship. I’m afraid I made my position rather bluntly clear: that I resented being kept under surveillance and “reported”; that I would not be permitted or forbidden to talk to anyone; that I had no intention whatsoever of answering the kind of highly personal questions that Reverend X wanted to ask. Whereupon Reverend X suggested that it might be a good idea for me to leave the monastery as soon as I could. I recount this incident for what it’s worth. People may think I was in the wrong. I don’t, but I’m not into self-justification here.

A cult? I suppose it depends on what you mean by “cult.” They want your mind, certainly, and it’s a very controlling environment, with people being watched and tales being told. Certainly they want you to be submissive, and can turn nasty if you won’t play. But wouldn’t all this be just as true of a strict Benedictine/Cistercian/Trappist monastery? Aren’t things like this true of many large business corporations? Perhaps monasteries are the kind of places in which control-freaks and people who like to be controlled tend to congregate.

What it comes down to, maybe, is that, if you don’t like monastic life, stay away from monasteries and live the dharma in the world.
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jan 01, 2013 12:21 pm

Dr Dyson wrote:
I hope no one will mind if, as a newcomer to this site, I put in my fourpence worth.

A cult? I suppose it depends on what you mean by “cult.” They want your mind, certainly, and it’s a very controlling environment, with people being watched and tales being told. Certainly they want you to be submissive, and can turn nasty if you won’t play. But wouldn’t all this be just as true of a strict Benedictine/Cistercian/Trappist monastery? Aren’t things like this true of many large business corporations? Perhaps monasteries are the kind of places in which control-freaks and people who like to be controlled tend to congregate.

What it comes down to, maybe, is that, if you don’t like monastic life, stay away from monasteries and live the dharma in the world.

Hello Dr Dyson and welcome to OBC Connect. Feel free to contribute wherever you wish and note that there's an introduction section should you decide to share a little about yourself.

As to your experience at Throssel it was highly typical - the arrogance, condescension and control you describe are aspects of the culture Jiyu Kennett created. Interesting question you pose about monasteries being places where people who need to control and be controlled congregate. The problem in the religious sphere is these basic behaviors are obscured by the enchantment of spiritual practice. It sounds like you were able to reject that environment a lot more quickly than I did :-)
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Jcbaran



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jan 01, 2013 2:53 pm

Dr. Dyson -- welcome. Please do share your thoughts anywhere on the site - jump in. There are many topics and conversations that relate to both the OBC and other groups / situations.

There is no one definition for what a cult is. I sometimes call groups "cultic" - but that's hardly precise. Sometimes I talk about the OBC as an extended "personality cult" since that nails what Kennett created. Certainly, we can talk specifics that make a group more authoritarian, dogmatic, closed, repressive, emotionally toxic, self-blind and so on.

Recently posted a lot of material on the current Shimano and Sasaki situations. These groups were / are also highly "cultic" in their behavior, blind adoration of the teacher, group think, denial, insulated, and so on. And just because sexual conduct was involved in these cases doesn't make these groups more toxic or more unhealthy than Shasta / Kennett / OBC.
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Dr Dyson



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:21 pm

Thank you for your kind welcome.

My view of Throssel Hole is, I know, coloured by the memory of an incident at which I took personal offence. I have, though, come to feel that monasteries are intrinsically unhealthy places, because mind games flourish in them so easily. Anecdotal evidence of this is too striking to ignore. So many things that have gone wrong in the OBC are absolutely textbook examples of what happens when emotionally/mentally vulnerable people come into contact with manipulative and controlling “authority figures.” I don’t suggest that the motives of those authority figures are necessarily malign or cynical, as distinct from unconscious expressions of an insecure and controlling personality. I do suggest, though, that this sort of relationship is one from which good consequences are unlikely to flow.

“You need x, and only we can give it to you (or not, if you don’t behave yourself)” is an old, old game, isn’t it? I didn’t get sucked into it myself because I never thought of the monks as authority figures or as having anything I didn't have myself; I wasn’t looking for someone to tell me what to do or how to think.

I have for a long time now been seeing things in very simple terms. I understand the dharma as being a matter of desireless and compassionate living; I don’t need, and I don’t flourish in, a “religious” environment; I don’t see why living the dharma is something that needs to be organised; nor do I understand why “training” should be something done full-time in a monastery rather than full-time in the world of “normal” interactions.

You already have everything you need. You don’t need to buy into the “wise monk” idea. Doing so can give a certain sort of person a lot of power over you.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jan 01, 2013 3:54 pm

A warm smile from me Doctor,I say smile as for some reason your posts made me smile. Your memories are pretty much mine of 40 years ago,depth of meditation, love ,compassion ,wisdom seemed to in many ways be replaced by authority, title, and control. JK changed soto zen to the reformed soto zen, and she did reform it.
People like you do not want to be controlled and that is why I smiled
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jan 01, 2013 8:06 pm

Hello, Dr. Dyson, and welcome - very good to have you here.

I too think that, for some people, monasteries are unhealthy places. They provide safe harbour for those who manipulate and control others, and this activity goes largely unchecked up until the time that something sad, horrible, and irreversible occurs to one who wasn't able to defend against it or resist.
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Jan 01, 2013 11:21 pm

Dr Dyson, welcome and I so agree with most of what you said. I have just posted a similar view about monastic elitism on another thread ( http://obcconnect.forumotion.net/t654-the-republican-brain#10351 ). But where I think I would differ from you is about monasteries in general. Surely what they should be, and often are, is group of like minded people following a common purpose with the more experienced helping and guiding the less experienced on a path that it is very easy to go astray from. It is just as easy for someone on their own to go astray as in a monastery but then more difficult for them to learn about their mistakes. However groups, formal groups like monasteries in particular, are, as you pointed out, prone to the problems of spiritual elitism.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Wed Jan 02, 2013 1:26 am

From the book, MALIGNANT SELF LOVE by Sam Vaknin
Much of this book appears to focus on gurus / leaders - some interesting insights - that may relate to various group and guru experiences including Shasta / Kennett - jb

Supporting videos from the author:

http://youtu.be/jyB0uRWzaRo
http://youtu.be/epxbn7iwVjo
http://youtu.be/4d0sWx2Cdkw
http://youtu.be/jFX342ZuSbY
http://youtu.be/9u4KA4zEGiI
http://youtu.be/qaVn5IPlUvo
http://youtu.be/c9GQ8nI56Mc

http://youtu.be/HQCdUa_3rLo

The narcissist is the guru at the center of a cult. Like other gurus, he demands complete obedience from his flock: his spouse, his offspring, other family members, friends, and colleagues. He feels entitled to adulation and special treatment by his followers. He punishes the wayward and the straying lambs. He enforces discipline, adherence to his teachings, and common goals. The less accomplished he is in reality – the more stringent his mastery and the more pervasive the brainwashing.

Cult leaders are narcissists who failed in their mission to "be someone", to become famous, and to impress the world with their uniqueness, talents, traits, and skills. Such disgruntled narcissists withdraw into a "zone of comfort" (known as the "Pathological Narcissistic Space") that assumes the hallmarks of a cult.

The – often involuntary – members of the narcissist's mini-cult inhabit a twilight zone of his own construction. He imposes on them an exclusionary or inclusionary shared psychosis, replete with persecutory delusions, "enemies", mythical-grandiose narratives, and apocalyptic scenarios if he is flouted.

Exclusionary shared psychosis involves the physical and emotional isolation of the narcissist and his “flock” (spouse, children, fans, friends) from the outside world in order to better shield them from imminent threats and hostile intentions. Inclusionary shared psychosis revolves around attempts to spread the narcissist’s message in a missionary fashion among friends, colleagues, co-workers, fans, churchgoers, and anyone else who comes across the mini-cult.

The narcissist's control is based on ambiguity, unpredictability, fuzziness, and ambient abuse. His ever-shifting whims exclusively define right versus wrong, desirable and unwanted, what is to be pursued and what to be avoided. He alone determines the rights and obligations of his disciples and alters them at will.

The narcissist is a micro-manager. He exerts control over the minutest details and behaviors. He punishes severely and abuses withholders of information and those who fail to conform to his wishes and goals.

The narcissist does not respect the boundaries and privacy of his reluctant adherents. He ignores their wishes and treats them as objects or instruments of gratification. He seeks to control both situations and people compulsively.

He strongly disapproves of others' personal autonomy and independence. Even innocuous activities, such as meeting a friend or visiting one's family require his permission. Gradually, he isolates his nearest and dearest until they are fully dependent on him emotionally, sexually, financially, and socially.

He acts in a patronizing and condescending manner and criticizes often. He alternates between emphasizing the minutest faults (devalues) and exaggerating the talents, traits, and skills (idealizes) of the members of his cult. He is wildly unrealistic in his expectations – which legitimizes his subsequent abusive conduct.

The narcissist claims to be infallible, superior, talented, skilful, omnipotent, and omniscient. He often lies and confabulates to support these unfounded claims. Within his cult, he expects awe, admiration, adulation, and constant attention commensurate with his outlandish stories and assertions. He reinterprets reality to fit his fantasies.

His thinking is dogmatic, rigid, and doctrinaire. He does not countenance free thought, pluralism, or free speech and doesn't brook criticism and disagreement. He demands – and often gets – complete trust and the relegation to his capable hands of all decision-making.

He forces the participants in his cult to be hostile to critics, the authorities, institutions, his personal enemies, or the media – if they try to uncover his actions and reveal the truth. He closely monitors and censors information from the outside, exposing his captive audience only to selective data and analyses.

The narcissist's cult is "missionary" and "imperialistic". He is always on the lookout for new recruits – his spouse's friends, his daughter's girlfriends, his neighbors, new colleagues at work. He immediately attempts to "convert" them to his "creed" – to convince them how wonderful and admirable he is. In other words, he tries to render them Sources of Narcissistic Supply.

Often, his behavior on these "recruiting missions" is different to his conduct within the "cult". In the first phases of wooing new admirers and proselytizing to potential "conscripts" – the narcissist is attentive, compassionate, empathic, flexible, self-effacing, and helpful. At home, among the "veterans" he is tyrannical, demanding, willful, opinionated, aggressive, and exploitative.

As the leader of his congregation, the narcissist feels entitled to special amenities and benefits not accorded the "rank and file". He expects to be waited on hand and foot, to make free use of everyone's money and dispose of their assets liberally, and to be cynically exempt from the rules that he himself established (if such violation is pleasurable or gainful).

In extreme cases, the narcissist feels above the law – any kind of law. This grandiose and haughty conviction leads to criminal acts, incestuous or polygamous relationships, and recurrent friction with the authorities.

Hence the narcissist's panicky and sometimes violent reactions to "dropouts" from his cult. There's a lot going on that the narcissist wants kept under wraps. Moreover, the narcissist stabilizes his fluctuating sense of self-worth by deriving Narcissistic Supply from his victims. Abandonment threatens the narcissist's precariously balanced personality.

Add to that the narcissist's paranoid and schizoid tendencies, his lack of introspective self-awareness, and his stunted sense of humor (lack of self-deprecation) and the risks to the grudging members of his cult are clear.

The narcissist sees enemies and conspiracies everywhere. He often casts himself as the heroic victim (martyr) of dark and stupendous forces. In every deviation from his tenets he espies malevolent and ominous subversion. He, therefore, is bent on disempowering his devotees. By any and all means.

The narcissist is dangerous.
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Dr Dyson



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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Fri Jan 04, 2013 9:39 am

I am certainly struck by the extent to which the OBC seems to be structured around the personality of Jiyu Kennett and how far its understanding of the dharma seems to depend on her personal and rather eccentric vision of it.

I wonder to what extent the facts of Jiyu Kennett’s life are independently verifiable? How much of our information about her comes only from her own account? Don't misunderstand me: I’m not assuming that there’s anything fraudulent or questionable about her biography; only that it would be interesting to see what material there is, by way of forming a clearer and more objective picture.

I have found that she submitted a string quartet for the degree of Bachelor of Music at the University of Durham in 1961. (If anyone is interested, I'll post the link to the Durham website when the forum rules allow me to: i.e. after seven days). This is all I’ve been able to discover. Anyone?
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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Fri Jan 04, 2013 1:02 pm

Dr Dyson wrote:


I wonder to what extent the facts of Jiyu Kennett’s life are independently verifiable? How much of our information about her comes only from her own account? Don't misunderstand me: I’m not assuming that there’s anything fraudulent or questionable about her biography; only that it would be interesting to see what material there is, by way of forming a clearer and more objective picture.

Have a look at the wikipedia entry - a number of sources other than Jiyu Kennett and her students are quoted.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houn_Jiyu-Kennett
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Fri Jan 04, 2013 3:07 pm

probably the basic facts of her life were true.... but how she talked about what happened to her, her stories about her experiences and other people, I would take them all with a huge grain of salt, especially based on Myozen's account of Kennett's last years in Japan.

We all live in our own distortion fields of self... basic Buddhist insight.. and Kennett's was particularly intense given her personality and later her distortion field and shadows became louder and more isolating. At least, that's how I saw it..... as I was walking out the door.

From Michael Gazzaniga, leading neuroscientist from Dartmouth: "Biography is fiction. Autobiography is hopelessly inventive." -- from the book, THE MIND'S PAST (highly recommended)
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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Fri Jan 04, 2013 3:55 pm

Dr Dyson wrote:

I wonder to what extent the facts of Jiyu Kennett’s life are independently verifiable? How much of our information about her comes only from her own account? Don't misunderstand me: I’m not assuming that there’s anything fraudulent or questionable about her biography; only that it would be interesting to see what material there is, by way of forming a clearer and more objective picture.

One issue that's been discussed on the forum (I'll post a link to the right thread when I find it) is the nature of the certification Kennett obtained from the Soto Zen authorities before leaving Japan. Her autobiography suggests it gave her permission/authority to set up as a teacher of Buddhism in the West, but the question has been raised as to whether it actually only certified her to teach as a parish priest in Japan. Some who knew her during the those days have suggested she left Japan without the Soto organisation's knowledge or permission, much less their authorisation to teach in the West under their stamp of approval. I'm told the certification document is kept at Shasta Abbey but is not made available to anyone for inspection. If it was, someone with Japanese language skills should be able to answer the question pretty quickly. If Kennett did embellish her credentials, this is a material fact that people have a right to know about.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Is the OBC a cult? What do you think?   Tue Nov 19, 2013 11:55 am

Are You a Member of a Cult?
By Gurugaveska, The Buddhist Channel, Nov 18, 2013
Hong Kong, China -- What is a Cult?


The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘cult' as a system of religious worship, especially one that is expressed in rituals. It is often used in a derogatory sense with reference to a transient fad. Another definition, from The Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus, defines ‘cult' as an exclusive system of religious beliefs and practices; an interest followed with exaggerated zeal; a religion or sect that is generally considered to be unorthodox, extremist or false.

Sounds familiar? Cultism exists in almost every religion, society and certain organizations, often led by charismatic leaders. The names of Jim Jones and Charles Manson, amongst others, often come to mind whenever the word ‘cult' is mentioned, due mainly to the reported mass suicide of hundreds of gullible followers who followed their leaders with utter blind faith. The problem with cultism is that it is a Catch-22 situation - people outside the organization can almost always see quite clearly the workings of a cult but for the members within, no amount of convincing and rationale can ever make them realize that they are in a cult organization. Therein lies the painful dilemma and conundrum for concerned friends and relatives. Many families have hopelessly lost their loved ones to such organizations. Family relationships are strained or broken.

Cultism exists in almost every religion. Cults often come into being whenever there are charismatic leaders who claim to possess certain powers or profess direct communication with gods or deities and are therefore empowered to speak on their behalf. They allege that they have the power to heal the sick or reverse one's misfortunes.   These leaders, preachers, monks, priests or even heads of corporations often have a wealth of knowledge, strong persuasive personalities, and are charming, manipulative and cunning.  They revel in a sense of power over others and some are even sex deviants! Their objective is often the attainment of wealth and fame but the ultimate goal is to control and manipulate their followers to do their bidding and be subservient to them.  In some religious organizations, the leaders expect unquestionable devotion.  Fund-raising is definitely a core activity.

Often, a cult leader is known as a ‘Guru'. In the normal sense, 'guru' is the equivalent of ‘teacher'. In Early Buddhism the teacher is not infallible, and it is part of the student's duty to point out his faults respectfully. The student also needn't stick to a teacher, should the teacher be deemed incapable. The guru is idolized and worshipped by his followers. He is regarded as infallible.

Profile of a Cult Leader
A typical profile of the personality traits of a cult leader1  is basically that of a sociopath or psychopath2 which may comprise any or all of the following:

Glib and Superficial Charm - the tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. A psychopath is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything - never gets tongue-tied. He can also be a great listener to simulate empathy while zeroing in on his targets' dreams and vulnerability, so as to be able to manipulate them better.

Grandiose Self-worth - a grossly inflated view of his abilities and self-worth. He is self-assured, opinionated, cocky, and a braggart. Psychopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings.

Need for Stimulation or Proneness to Boredom - excessive need for novel, thrilling and exciting stimulation.  He takes chances and risks. Psychopaths often have low self-discipline and fail to carry tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine.

A Pathological Liar - shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever. In extreme form he is deceitful, underhand and unscrupulous.

A Manipulative Con-man - uses deception to cheat, con or defraud others for personal gain. This is distinguished from mere lying and deceit as exploitation and callous ruthlessness are present, reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one's victims.

Lack of Remorse or Guilt - lack of feelings or concern for the loss, pain, and suffering of victims. This is usually demonstrated by a disdain for his victims.

Affected Show of Warmth - superficial, open gregariousness and warmth.  This is a façade behind which lies emotional poverty, interpersonal coldness or a limited depth of feeling.

Callousness and Lack of Empathy - cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless.  He is dispassionate, coldhearted and lacks positive feelings towards people in general

Parasitic Lifestyle - intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others.

Poor Behavior Control - expressions of irritability, annoyance and impatience stemming from inadequate control of anger and temper. He acts hastily and uses threats, aggression and verbal abuse to intimidate.

Promiscuous Sexual Behavior - variety of brief, superficial relationships; numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners. He has a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity (rape) or of taking great pride in discussing sexual exploits and maintains multiple relationships at the same time.

Early Behavior Problems - variety of behavior problems. Prior to age 13, problems include running away from home, lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, arson, glue-sniffing and alcohol-use. In his juvenile years there is criminal behavior that shows antagonism, exploitation and manipulation which reflect ruthlessness and tough-mindedness

Lack of Realistic Long-term Goals - inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals. He lacks direction in life and leads a nomadic existence.

Impulsiveness - acts on momentary urges. Actions are unpremeditated, without deliberation and reflection. He acts without considering the consequences. Being foolhardy, rash, unpredictable and reckless, he is unable to resist temptations. This results in frustrations.

Irresponsibility - repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments such as contractual agreements. He doesn't pay bills, defaults on loans, performs sloppy work, and is often absent or late for work.

Failure to Accept Responsibility for His Actions - reflected in denial of responsibility and antagonistic manipulation of others through this denial. He lacks conscientiousness and a sense of duty.

Many Short-term Relationships - lack of commitment to a long-term relationship  as reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life. This includes marital and familial bonds.

Violation of Conditional Release - fails to honor conditions of probation or other conditional release. This results in revocation of probation due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation or failure to report to his probation officer.

Criminal Versatility - commits a diversity of criminal offenses, sometimes with impunity. He takes great pride in getting away with crimes or wrongdoings.

Modus Operandi of Cult Leaders
Recruitment of new members is one of the main concerns of a cult.  In the beginning, a cult leader is very warm and sweet and being an intelligent being, he uses his charming personality to make you feel important and flatter your ego.  He knows your strengths and weaknesses and what makes you tick.

Sometimes he gives you presents and a position within the organization to make you feel special.  Other followers also try to impress upon you that the leader is a wonderful and compassionate person with special spiritual power.  Very often he is looked upon as a guru. This is the beginning of the spider's web!  And before you know it, you are a willing and enthusiastic member of the organization and proffer your services with zeal voluntarily.

Thereafter, he will inculcate in you his spiritual philosophy and knowledge.  He loves giving long speeches and sermons, and often repeats himself - a ten-minute sermon can extend to 5 or 6 hours. He loves to listen to his own voice and impress his followers with whatever knowledge he may possess. In the process, he also demonstrates his healing powers to impress you. He may pass on profound teachings which are in tune with your state of mind and well-being.  In between sermons or spiritual lectures, he puts fear into your mind that if you should leave the organization and break certain rules or vows you and your family members will face misfortune or untimely death - in short, emotional blackmailing and brainwashing.
  
You are assigned certain tasks within the organization and are loaded with more and more work until you have no time for your friends and family. This is how he isolates you and makes you dependent upon the organization.  You are made to work long hours to the point of exhaustion - mind, body and soul.  With the fear already inculcated in your mind, you have no choice but to carry on working as he controls your mind when you are hopelessly weak and exhausted. You have become an easy target for manipulation and influence.

So long as you are obedient, you are deemed a good member and will probably be promoted to a higher position or are roped into the leader's inner circle to make you feel even more special. In a cult organization, the leader always creates a cell within a cell. Each member in the cell is told he is the chosen favorite assistant, and to keep this to himself. So in such a situation, each of these members feels that he is very important to the guru and the organization.  However, what they don't realize is that each is independently asked to spy on other members. The guru thus controls the organization through divide-and-rule.

If a member is suspected of being insubordinate or disobedient, he or she is placed in the middle of a room and verbally, sometimes physically, abused by other members for hours or days under the guise of religious training or group therapy until the victim breaks or simply gives in to avoid further such punishment. The member is then forced to make false confessions verbally and in writing - much like an Inquisition!

Sociopaths often act on short-term objectives and often shift their goal posts, moving from one place to another.  Except for temporal gain and fame, they often lack the vision of what they truly want to achieve as the principal objective of the organization.  Ultimately, organizations with sociopath-psychopath leaders destroy themselves.  It is interesting to note here that Jim Jones moved his whole congregation out of USA to Jonestown, Guyana as a mean to isolate his followers who eventually committed mass suicide.

Are you a Victim of a Sociopathic-Psychopathic Organization?
Do you see yourself as a victim of a cult?  As I said, one is often in a Catch-22 situation.  However, the best way to know is to check its leader against the above personality profile! Ask yourself truthfully whether you are happy with the organization, church, temple, society or even a commercial enterprise, etc. and whether you feel abused and isolated from your friends and family. For those who are wealthy ask yourself whether you have donated more than your fair share for the good (?) of the organization that you belong to.  Charlatan leaders love wealthy members, often treat them well and make them feel important by giving them certain high ranking positions within the organization.  The fool and his monies are soon parted!

Recovery from a Sociopath-Psychopath Experience
If you do identify yourself as a victim of a psychopath and is still a cult member, I would advise you to quietly leave before you are subject to an inquisition! Never turn back.  If you were once a victim but have since left, you would probably have had some traumatic experience to the point of emotional devastation - everything you believed in was a lie.  Do you still have anger towards the sociopath and yourself for being duped?  So how do you overcome the trauma?

First of all, you must realize that you joined the organization voluntarily because you were attracted by what you believed it stood for; usually for good and sincere charitable work or religious convictions. You believed the organization to be ably led by someone whom you thought was genuinely good and compassionate.  Realize that it is not your fault for being hoodwinked and coerced into joining the organization by the charismatic leader and his minions. There are millions of sociopaths and psychopaths on the planet and each has conned thousands of people. You are certainly not alone!

Secondly, get help - the right help. Do not expect your family and friends to understand. Remember, you broke their hearts when you were deeply entrenched in the organization.  Give yourself and your family time.  If you see a therapist, make sure he or she knows what it is like to be involved with a sociopath-psychopath. You need good counseling rather than anti-depressants to recover from your trauma.

Thirdly, give yourself time and distance. One of the fastest way to heal yourself is to move on, find a new job and hobbies and cut off all your contacts with the sociopath-psychopath and his followers.

Finally, if the organization continues to harass you even after you have left, you have the right to make a police report for harassment and emotional blackmail under Section 508 of the Malaysian Penal Code – Act, inducing a person to believe that he will be rendered an object of divine displeasure.  Also refer to Section 503 on criminal intimidation.

Do Not Lose Faith
Whatever nightmarish experience that you may have had in a particular organization, the one important thing is - never lose faith in the religion that you believe in.   One bad apple does not mean that all others are bad; society abounds with many good organizations with leaders who are spiritual friends or kalyana mitras, rather than gurus.   Read Sigalovada Sutta http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.31.0.nara.html which refers to true friends and how they treat each other, as well as to a healthy teacher-student relationship.

Worshipping a guru with blind faith opens one to the danger of abuse if the guru is not devoid of greed, hatred and delusion.

A good organization should allow you to make mistakes and the best it can do is to guide you along the right path with patience and compassion, not abuse and harassment. You will know a good organization, a temple or a church where members, lay devotees or volunteers are free to stay or leave for whatever reason without any fear of repercussions or reprimand. No organization is worth its salt if it is vengeful or resentful of its followers and volunteers who wish to leave. If you have left a cult organization, you should say to yourself “good riddance to bad rubbish”!  Be grateful to yourself that you had the courage to leave.

All These Shall Pass
Free your mind from the past and have no regrets – consider a past negative karma settled!  It is now time to move on to a new beginning, always remembering that when one door closes, another opens.  Remember that life is precious. Treasure it.

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1 The List of Psychopathy Symptoms: Hervey Cleckley and Robert Hare
psychopathyawareness.wordpress.com/.../the-list-of-psychopathy-sympto...
2 Psychopath vs Sociopath - Difference and Comparison
www.diffen.com/difference/Psychopath_vs_Sociopath?

Disclaimer: This article expresses the views of the writer alone and does not reflect those of this website or any organization that he is connected with.
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