"It looks to me like one of the fastest-growing cults in the world," says Dr. Margaret Singer, perhaps the country's first and foremost cult expert. Dr. Singer, who has been following modern cults since their appearance in the late 1950s (she cites the Moonies, the Hare Krishnas and the TM movement as the earliest examples), ....
Only within the last nine or ten months has she begun receiving calls from men and women--just over a dozen of them, and almost all from San Francisco and San Jose-- who have lost their spouses to the Ching Hai organization. "Almost everyone I talked to," she says, "had lost a partner--a girlfriend, a husband--because they had given up everything to go to work in a restaurant or join the group."
Singer says that the callers also complained about the tremendous sums of money their spouses gave to the Ching Hai organization. "Husbands and wives would be very distressed about the amount of money the spouse paid for trinkets," she says. From what she heard, she says, it seems the Ching Hai group pressures its members to buy merchandise. "They would have meetings where they would sell these trinkets, and the asking price would be five dollars, but the group would urge people to pay more and more, like $50."
Singer sees this group as dominated by its leader's personality and ego. "Ching Hai seems to have fantasies about being around lots of people, educated people, wearing fancy clothes and having a lot of power. But she doesn't seem to have fantasies about suicidal revolutions or apocalyptic endings."
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Part Buddha, part Madonna, Supreme Master Ching Hai promises immediate enlightenment to San Jose's Asian immigrants