How To Awaken Those Tricked By ‘Buddhist’ Cults

As published in April 2015’s issue of Singapore’s ‘For You (Information)’ Buddhist magazine


All these sentient beings [in the Dharma Ending Age (now) will], away from the Buddha, be progressively distant. Evil teachers who speak the [false] ‘Dharma’ [will be as numerous] as the Ganges River’s sand [grains].

– 阿难尊者 (楞严经)
Venerable Ananda (Surangama Sutra)

A Buddhist friend had this query – ‘A relative attended the activities of a group, whose teacher claims to be a “Buddhist” master giving “Buddhist” teachings. Having learnt some seemingly “Buddhist” practices there, she claims they have “healing” effects, and that the master has some “supernormal” powers. However, upon closer look, this so-called master is not a true Buddhist teacher who gives true Buddhist teachings at all. He is merely riding upon Buddhist culture, teachings and terminology in a loose and inaccurate way to promote his ideas and practices, many of which distort actual Buddhist teachings. As she strongly believes in the so-called healing effects, she blindly gives the master credibility over whatever he teaches, gladly parting with her money and time to contribute to the group. Not only is she learning “Buddhism” wrongly, which brings her further away from liberation (enlightenment), she is repeatedly cheated in its name. How can I wake her up?’

It can be challenging to guide those in ‘Buddhist’ cult groups back to true Buddhism due to 3 main reasons. [1] First, they did not really learn about true Buddhism adequately, which is how they easily fell for, and continue to fall for these groups’ tricks. (This is delusion or ignorance, the root of the Three Poisons at work.) [2] Second, as these groups dish out some appealing and addictive benefits, they are easily mistaken as worthy of faith and support, assumed to create ‘good’ karma (for health and wealth) when promoted. (This is attachment or greed, the first of the Three Poisons at work.) [3] Third, these groups often use fear to retain followers, by claiming those who leave ‘will’ create very ‘bad’ karma. (This is aversion or hatred, the second of the Three Poisons at work.) The thorough solution for awakening those poisoned is by continual education through the true Buddhist teachings. When the root poison is uprooted by wisdom, all Three Poisons will be purged.

There are 2 key steps the deluded can take to awaken themselves, and for us to help awaken them. [1] The background of all so-called ‘Buddhist’ teachers should be checked for credibility – even if they are already ‘popular’. Are there public records (e.g. online and in print) on who their teachers are, and which Buddhist organisations they are associated with? Are these teachers and organisations in turn reputable in the eyes of orthodox Buddhists? [2] Are all the core teachings that attract many followers found in the Buddhist scriptures? Or are they self-concocted, mixed with pseudo-Buddhist ideas and practices? Even if they seem ‘Buddhist’, they might not be. If they are ‘praiseworthy’, are many prominent Buddhist teachers and organisations endorsing (or condemning) them? (Egoistic cults of personality usually run on high self-praise while disparaging others.) When in doubt, other learned Buddhist teachers’ advice based on the scriptures should be sought for second opinions.

One big reason cult followers remain loyal to their masters is due to apparent ‘healing’ benefits, often supposedly brought about by some ‘meditation’ or ‘energy’ techniques. (Another reason is being tricked into belief that they have secret ‘exclusive’ access to the ‘highest’ truth, which they are expected to believe blindly without question, thus stunting their growth of actual wisdom.) Some ‘healing’ effects are due to auto-suggested placebo effects, peer pressure and adrenaline rushes. Even when they do work, it could just be physical energy (such as qi) at play. The confusion comes in when warped ‘Buddhist’ practices are thrown into the mix, to make things look ‘holy’. The truth is, orthodox Buddhist practitioners already experience healing frequently. It is just that we do not make much of a fuss out of it, to use it as a means to attract followers. This is so as all forms of worldly healing and powers cannot prevent death, while the Buddha’s teachings focus on transcending rebirth.

The main priority of the Buddha’s teachings is to heal the mind before the body as all suffering arise from mental poisons, while liberation is by ending the cycle of birth, ageing, sickness and death. For instance, countless in history have experienced miraculous healing through the time-tested practice of mindfulness of Buddha (e.g. Amituofo), but most also know the importance of practice to reach his Pure Land, where healing of mind and body will be truly complete, and the cycle of suffering can be transcended once and for all. A cult master however, slanders all Buddhas by saying there is no point to reach Pure Land. Such is how deviant teachers can sabotage and destroy spiritual lives! Cult masters short-sightedly focus on short-term ‘healing’ instead. The more this is emphasised, the more will the main priority be forgotten. With attachment to physical ‘healing’, while neglecting furthering of actual spirituality in time, one’s body will still eventually let one down.

What if cult masters seem to have ‘supernormal’ powers? Most, if not all are imaginary, either staged or are mere mind games. If they do exude some strange ‘energy’, all the more should they be steered clear of, as the physically and mentally weak can easily be manipulated. The Buddha was very clear that only the pure universal Dharma and pure personal conduct should be used to attract followers; not unverifiable claims of power, attainment or status for fame and fortune. Although masterful of tremendous supernormal powers, the Buddha only used them skilfully as last resorts, to highlight the truer and greater miracle – of instruction, that leads to liberation. Other traits of cult masters include claims of being ‘equivalent’ to Bodhisattvas and Buddhas (out of delusion), being embroiled in financial and sexual scandals (out of greed), and being against orthodox Buddhism (out of hatred). Being so seriously affected by the Three Poisons, how can they lead others beyond them?

Some might think that since some cults have some ‘positive’ teachings and ‘healing’ benefits, we should just let them be. However, not clarifying on them is to allow their further confusing of the masses via defiling of Buddhism’s name. As the Three Poisons keep all bound to suffering, any teachings that further them are harmful. These spiritual poisons are more insidious than physical poisons, which are easier to detect and eradicate. The most dangerous poisons are those disguised as tempting candy. Any cult master who is willing to abuse and misrepresent the Buddha’s teachings is straightaway and downright a liar. As the Buddha warned in the Itivuttaka, ‘For the person who transgresses in one thing, I tell you, there is no evil deed that is not to be done [as it can be concealed]. Which one thing? This – telling a deliberate lie. The person who lies, who transgress in this one thing, transcending concern for the world beyond [karmic rebirth] – there is no evil he might not do.’

Also warned by the Buddha in the Surangama Sutra (楞严经), ‘[With the] causal ground [or direction] not true [at the start, the] fruit [or result] attracted [will be with] twists and turns, [away from the true goal].’ (因地不真,果招纡曲。) Mistaking a false teaching as the true path to liberation, one might end up taking a convoluted detour for many lifetimes, and even sink to the lower realms due to negative karma created from supporting what is against the Buddha’s teachings. All grave mistakes begin small, as they further grow when left unchecked, until they become so serious and widespread that they even harm oneself and others beyond this generation. As concerned Buddhists, we must share these warnings, with all our already affected or potentially affected family members, friends and beyond, while pointing out a path for how they can learn the genuine teachings of the Buddha. If even we true Buddhists do not do this, who will? Why not share this article today?

– By various Dharma protectors


Such as I have spoken, is named Buddhas’ speech. Not such as spoken, is Papiyams’ [Mara: the evil demon king] speech.

– 释迦牟尼佛 (楞严经)
Sakyamuni Buddha (Surangama Sutra)

Related Articles:

How To Prevent Being Tricked By ‘Buddhist’ Cults
(As published in Singapore Buddhist Federation’s magazine):

Are There Mediums & Manifestations Of Buddhas & Bodhisattvas Around?
The Buddha’s Admonition Against Making False Claims

Recommended Courses:

List will be updated regularly:


  • Everyone has the right to believe.But for cults to twist the buddhas teachings…that act alone is already built upon a violation of a most basic moral code by building trust on a lie. 

    Belief is sensitive becos it has alot to do with an ego. Apart from other attractive reasons why people continue to join cults..life has conditioned us in so many aspects that we tend to equate all our choices as intelligent ones. Nobody wants to feel foolish especially when one has invested their time..faith and money. But we all know that intelligence is not foolproof. Intelligent people also do make mistakes. 

    It is important to make intelligent choices but we should go all the way and not halfway by just stopping at the choice made. Full intelligence is the ability to get in and get out. It is two way…not one way. One who can get in but cannot come out is simply trapped. 

    If indeed one gives so much emphasis on intelligence…remember this. What you lose…you gain. When you lose the intelligence of the ego…you gain wisdom. Wisdom is more important than intelligence.

  • There are two types of people in this world. One who upholds what is right regardless of any person. The other is simply one who upholds WHOM they think is right. This is how spirituality divides.

  • Keep up the good work in exposing these cults. Honest Buddhists must be guided correctly. (L)

  • There is no excuse why Buddhist dunno which are authentic sources in the jungle of many centres and even temples. If they are clueless and is sincere in learning from the RIGHT sources….just step into the Singapore Buddhist Federation as your first stop to Dharma.

    I have seen many cults even vegetarian ones who trumpet their compassionate efforts of their diet. Yet when it comes to the teachings…they do not refer to the tripitaka or the kangyur. Some have no qualms about changing the buddha sutras while expounding respect and filial piety to elders. If you can’t even respect the teacher and true teachings by checking your sources rather than hearsay or becos my friend say so…..how well can you respect yourself and your parents? Even the name of amitabha is being changed to 南无天元太保阿弥陀佛. How many people have you sent to hell with this?

    The penalty for changing buddhist sutras is Avichi Hell. Its likely King Yama will give a discount on this. How much more when parents just like parrots groom their kids to become followers and even spokesperson of cults. They are literally pushing their own kids to hell..not liberation.

  • Cults are basically formed by people who dun believe in karma yet they need the brand of that religion to push their agendas whether for ego’s sake or money. Thats why they dare to preach one thing yet do another. For all we know…they dun even believe in the religion they represent. For all we know…they only believe what they want to believe their way or truth while using the skin of another faith as their cover.

  • When you are in a cult which the respective federations do not recognise. The next possible way to recognise it is through its believers. Its much easier this way. People will form their own self pepetuating cycles.

  • 有心入佛门却不努力入正门。这一世的人身等于努力也是白费的。因为你已经选择了成为魔的眷属与它的魔子魔孙。

  • Cults have the best actors. When people or even teachers exposes them…they cry foul and once again…using the guise of their so called peace…high moral grounds….they accuse them of not behaving.

    The best proof of whether a faith is cult or not is very simple – if the leader acts blind, dumb and deaf despite seeing the wrong done in the name of keeping peace.

    In the first place…who is not keeping the peace and maintaining the order which prevents disorder by working towards the right cause?

    If their so called role model is a perfect example…it is the best example of building a world to harbour lies and wrong doing.

  • A world that harbour lies and evil has no TRUTH in order that the lies and evil may continue to flourish at your expense. This is exactly what evil hope to achieve becos you can lend them power and wealth.

  • Darkness hates the light. Where there is light…there is no darkness. This is the same way with truth…that of upholding it and EXPOSING the darkness to light.

  • Those who are truly interestd in the dharma will not create bad karma with it. Those who are not interested…they won’t even be bothered to learn or know and stay free from any knowledge. Only those who pretend to be interested as they are more interested who are more interested in their own veated interests would do the unthinkable. These people not only failed to receive the precious gift….in addition…they land themselves into woeful states and incur lifetimes of bad karma amd rebirths. This is not worth it.

  • I hope they then can realize their mistakes and reform, so no need to descend into lower realms.
    ;-( ;-(

  • In this dharma ending age…while anyone can claim to have the truth. In fact, everyone can claim to have it. There is something more important than TRUTH. It is called MORALITY. 

    It is natural to assume truth and morality goes hand in hand but that is not quite the case. Without morality…whatever truth no matter how great would be as false as what it is lacking.

  • Is Bahai Faith really counted? It is recognized in many interfaith events…
    Sure as Buddhists, we know that their claim is nonsense.
    Is listing them as a cult does more harm than good in harmony?

  • Re: Is Bahai Faith really counted? It is recognized in many interfaith events…

    Reply: That which misrepresents Buddhist teachings and propagates the misrepresentations should be listed.

    Re: Sure as Buddhists, we know that their claim is nonsense.

    Reply: Do all Buddhists know ‘their claim is nonsense’? What about non-Buddhists? Have all been surveyed? It is always good for all to know Bahai Faith does not represent true Buddhism.

    Re: Is listing them as a cult does more harm than good in harmony?

    Reply: The word ‘cult’ was not used for description at all. As above, that which misrepresents Buddhist teachings and propagates the misrepresentations should be listed. Their propagation and misrepresentations of Buddhist teachings surely does more harm than good in the name of inter-religious harmony?

  • Yi Guan Dao cult

    Three Treasures:

    The rite of initiation involves the new prospective follower, usually desperate people seeking a solution from a higher power to solve serious medical, or personal, or financial problems), being led unsuspectingly to the ”fotang”, normally by an acquaintance holding a respectable job, eg in the medical field.

    This acquaintance is, unbeknownst to the victim, actually a functionary of the ”fotang”. These functionaries are under great peer pressure to become “introducers” to mislead as many unsuspecting new members to the ”fotang” as possible, i.e. the prospective member is not informed beforehand of the actual identity, purpose, modus operandi and fees of the ”fotang”.

    The victim is merely told by the introducer that they are merely visiting a buddhist temple which supposedly helped the introducer to allegedly recover miraculously from a “serious illness” (e.g. a leg injury etc) previously.
    The victim is warmly welcomed upon arrival at the ”fotang” by a large gathering of white-clothed functionaries greeting him/her with “Congratulations”.

    Thereafter, the new arrival is served drinks and spoken to by a successive procession of functionaries, including the introducer and someone called a guarantor, who apply high-pressure selling tactics and instil the fear of death into the victim of the victim choose to decline joining, to compel the new arrival to donate a minimum fee of SGD20 on the spot to the ”fotang”, in addition to a bigger amount on the spot too (a minimum of $30, just enough to cover the first visit only) or an even greater one lump sum payment to cover printing of books and all future visits to the ”fotang”.

    After that, one of the functionaries takes the victim’s identification card (NRIC) to copy down his/her personal particulars.
    Upon payment of these exorbitant fees, the victim is then coerced to go through the initiation rites given by the “Master”, who transmits the “offering of the Three Treasures” (”chuan Sanbao”), which are supposedly top secret and not allowed to be spoken aloud (on pain of death) once the “Master” extinguishes the holy light on the fotang’s altar at the end of the day’s ceremony.

    The “Three Treasures” are supposedly:
    ① the ”xuanguan” (opening of the “mysterious eye/portal”, that is the cult’s version of the “third eye”, which the cult claims to be located at the top of the bridge of the nose, which the members are told is where the soul departs the body upon death);
    ② the ”koujue” (utterance and learning of the secret “pithy formula”, i.e. “Wu Tai Fo Mi Le”, a ‘mantra’); and
    ③ the ”hetong” (learning of the secret “hand gesture” of touching the tip of the right thumb to the bottom crease of the right fourth finger, followed by touching the tip of the left thumb to the bottom crease of the right little finger, then folding the left hand over the right hand into a cupping shape, thus apparently forming the Chinese character “child”, which the followers use extensively during the multiple kowtow-ing motion towards the altar).
    The Three Treasures are supposed to be a saving grace offered by the Eternal Mother to her followers. The cult teaches that their Three Treasures enable the Yiguandao members to transcend the circle of birth and death and directly ascend to Heaven after they die.
    Diehard Yiguandao followers regard the initiation ceremony as the most important ritual. The full meaning of the Three Treasures is a secret of Yiguandao members and is strictly prohibited to make it known to outsiders. The new recruit is warned repeatedly throughout the first visit not to reveal any of these secrets to outsiders, on pain of death. The Three Treasures are also used by followers in daily life as a form of meditation.

  • Thanks for publishing the list of Buddhist cults. When I told people I know, that, their Masters(a few in your list) are not pure Buddhist Masters, they retorted that as a practising Buddhist, I should not criticise(I was just telling) which Master is cultish. With this list, I can share.

  • Re: Somebody help my mom please. She is experiencing the exact same thing. Everyday worshiping this “Master Jin Bodhi”, whole day listening to him sing “pe kan zhe” when she’s not doing the meditation. She has been brainwashed.. Me and my dad keep trying to wake her up from if but she just refuse to listen. She is spending her money to light up a candle thinking it will bring blessings for my exams and for restaurant business.. someone save her from this scammer Jin Bodhi please… She is treating my dad bad because my dad dislikes this fake monk.. this fake Buddhist is wrecking families ..

    Reply: Do show and explain the information in this link to her:

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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