6 Reflections On Departure From ‘Buddhist’ Cults

Swiftly avoid evil yourself.
Swiftly do good yourself.
Swiftly purify yourself.

– Stonepeace | Books

[1] Question: Ironically, the constant reminder not to slander the ‘Dharma’ and ‘Dharma teachers’ is why many in cults do not speak up on what seems to be, or is clearly slandering the Dharma in teaching and conduct! Beyond merely having some deluded personal views, we should be discerning enough to suspect or know when so-called ‘teachers’ have deviated from the Dharma. It is from questioning for reasonable answers, that stubbornly remain absent, that many awaken to the truth that they are in cults.

[2] Instinct: Take calculated ‘risks’ by discussing with wiser ones who know your intention is not to slander the Dharma, but for learning the right Dharma. Many cult members stay stuck with their doubts, due to fear of speaking out or to seek other opinions. Trust your instinct. If you feel that something is not right, ask about it. There is no harm in doubting the doubtful, which will protect your spiritual life. Seek independent opinions too, for objective perspectives. It is by not asking that potentially harms for indefinite time instead.

[3] Cross-Reference: Always check what learnt with the Buddha’s teachings in the sutras, and as explained by many other great teachers. To prevent learning wrongly, 
the teaching to ‘rely on the Dharma [and] not rely on the person[ality teaching the Dharma]’ (依法不依人), as taught by the Buddha himself is key. Also, never learn the Dharma as an isolated individual or via only one organisation. This will prevent you from becoming too emotionally invested and attached, which is to become spiritually short-sighted and lacking in reason.

[4] Customs: Be mindful of appropriate Dharma customs. For example, it is said that in the Dharma Ending Age, the white-clothed (who are laypersons) will ascend the seat (to teach the Dharma), while monastics sit below (to listen). (法欲灭时,白衣上座,比丘下座。) This is not to say that laity cannot teach the Dharma, but that if monastics, who are supposed to be more committed and learned in the Dharma are learning from laypersons, instead of from other more learned monastics, it is an unhealthy sign of spiritual inversion.

[5] Retreat: 
Cults have obsessive clinginess for ‘herding’ and expanding their ‘flocks’. Step back to observe what is going on at the organisational and personal levels more calmly and clearly. Skip the cult’s activities to see the over-reactions of group leaders, classmates and perhaps even yourself, and reflect on whether they are sensible. You are likely to find more peace! Of course, do not become lazy in seeking the right Dharma. Hearing the experiences of past cult-members will help you to retreat permanently! 

[6] Departure: Cult groups tend to focus excessively on protecting their uniquely deviated brand of the ‘Dharma’, emphasising unquestioning faith in their leaders – for control. They also focus more on fundraising (instead of the actual Dharma) – for expansion. Do not be afraid to break from familiar ‘friends’. As cult groups are close-knitted, leaving them could mean losing part of one’s social life. However, for long-term well-being, do seek a kinder and wiser spiritual community, that advances to the truth, without evasion of questions. – Nianfo Fodizi

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