Nov 27, 2022

An Indian guru and his disciples lived for eleven years in a hotel complex near Lake Lucerne. Then they hastily departed

High above Lake Lucerne, the yogis once proclaimed the age of enlightenment: the Sonnenberg hotel complex served as the home of an Indian meditation master and his entourage. Now the hotels are for sale.

Erich Aschwanden, Text; Karin Hofer, pictures
January 12, 2021, 5:30 a.m
Felix Kägi hesitates to let the photographer and the journalist into the former Hotel Kulm. 'I haven't been in here in over twenty years - and practically no one else either. Be careful not to break through a rotten ceiling!» Kägi is the leader of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement in Switzerland and a dozen other countries and takes us on a journey into his past. Into a world from which he will say goodbye in these days.

After the first few steps down a hotel corridor littered with mattresses and rubble, Kägi sheds his reserve. "This is room K 223. I lived here in 1983 when the Maharishi led his movement from Seelisberg," says the 67-year-old, who is happy to see him again. The memory of the eventful years is back. Back then, when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi from Jabalpur in central India, his assistant Raja Felix Kägi from Stäfa and thousands of other yogis from Canton Uri wanted to make the world a better place.

Indian mysticism and Swiss organizational talent
The beginnings go back to the 1960s. Maharishi, meaning "Great Seer," is the darling of hippie mysticism at this point. His meditation technique, which is said to induce mind-expanding states of mind, inspires pop and film stars. With his impressive white beard and long hair, he corresponds perfectly to the image that western hippies have of a wise seer.

In 1968, the Beatles visit the guru at his Indian ashram. Actress Mia Farrow and Mike Love from the Beach Boys also want to learn more about his teachings in India. Maharishi knows how to market interest very well and collects thousands of new followers on his travels around the world, often called yogis in Switzerland. Maharishi has written several books on Vedic knowledge that are more than 2000 years old. The spiritual teacher is himself a seeker. He wants to build a world center from which to proclaim enlightenment and eternal peace. Which country would be better suited for this than Switzerland, where the Red Cross and the UN are already based?

Again and again the great seer travels to the Alps. Here his path crosses that of Felix Kägi. Like many of his contemporaries, the young man, who was born in 1954, is looking for an alternative lifestyle. The son of the village photographer from Stäfa gave up his attempt to live as a mountain farmer on an alp in Ticino after two years. Instead, he is training to become a Transcendental Meditation (TM) teacher. "With Maharishi, I found the way to expand my consciousness without taking drugs," he recalls. Kägi becomes a personal confidant of the wise man from India.

Felix Kägi, as chairman of the Swiss TM movement, calls himself Raja, which means "Prince".
Hotel Kulm was left to decay after Maharishi Mahesh Yogi left.

The Guru's former home has been hastily abandoned and is in danger of collapsing.

The leader of the TM movement appreciates the fact that Kägi combines Indian meditation techniques and Swiss organizational talent. The several thousand yogis who attend his courses do not live from meditation alone, but have to be housed and fed. For this purpose, the movement rents up to thirty hotels in tourist regions. The hotel operators find the intellectual clientele a bit strange, but they are happy to be able to rent out the rooms that are empty in the off-season. Kägi is responsible for the procurement of fresh products and approaches the inner circle around the guru.

World center in the heart of Switzerland
It was love at first sight when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came to Seelisberg for the first time in 1971. «The high mountains around Lake Lucerne reminded him of his time in the Himalayas. He found the tranquility in the spa to be heavenly,” says Kägi, looking back. How fitting that the ideal premises for his World Transcendental Meditation Center are for sale. The owners have been looking for a buyer for the vacant Sonnenberg hotel complex for years. The grand hotels opened in 1875 have seen better days. The great seer and his entourage move into the "Kulm", courses and further training take place in the representative "Sonnenberg".

Fifty years later, we can glimpse the Guru's happiness upon stepping onto his balcony. The view of the emerald-green Lake Uri is fantastic, and the Rütli meadow, the cradle of the Swiss Confederation, is right at our feet. The spiritual teacher describes Seelisberg as “heaven on earth”. Meanwhile, Felix Kägi lives in room K 307 and can also enjoy the wonderful view of the lake. The life of the followers of the guru is not luxurious. Around twenty yogis have to share a shared bathroom. "We lived for our mission and we were absorbed in it," he explains almost fifty years later, without regretting his decision for a second.

Bizarre mold stains cover the walls of the former Hotel Kulm.

The university of the TM movement is still housed in the Hotel Sonnenberg.

The yogis practiced the technique of flying on these mats.

The TM movement experienced its heyday in Seelisberg. More than 300 yogis live in the hotel complex most of the time. They are attracted by the master who, on January 12, 1975, announces the "dawn of the age of enlightenment" during a boat trip on Lake Lucerne. The guru claims that thanks to the so-called Maharishi Effect, diseases, social problems and crime in the general population would automatically be reduced. This effect is achieved when one percent of a country or city meditates according to its specifications.

Bunkered miracle cure against coronavirus
The exciting time and with it the upswing of Seelisberg ended abruptly after eleven years. In 1983 the Maharishi embarked on a world tour with lengthy stays in Africa, South America, the USA, the Philippines, Japan and above all India. Felix Kägi, who organizes the many trips, is always at his side. Seelisberg declined in importance for the TM movement and in 1991 the guru moved his movement's headquarters to Vlodrop in the Netherlands. Kägi no longer knows what prompted the guru to make this decision. In 2002 the Hotel Kulm was closed and all residents had to move. The inventory is left behind. The hotel will be left to its own devices. «The Master did not want his former home to become a place of pilgrimage. Therefore nothing was changed. We're not attached to buildings», is how Kägi explains the chaos.

While there is a great deal of confusion in the corridors and in the common areas, some rooms give the impression that the occupants left them only yesterday. In a cupboard, Kägi discovers a large supply of Echinaforce, the drug that was briefly considered a miracle cure for the corona virus. The visitor cannot help but wonder if yogis saw the pandemic coming decades ago.

On his journey of discovery, Kägi finds everything that once defined his life: the large meditation room, the library of the spiritual teacher and the TV studio. "It was from here that Maharishi's performances were broadcast as far as Nepal using what were then state-of-the-art parabolic antennas," he recalls. Posters with the Guru's portrait still hang in some rooms. A poster showing the yogis so-called flying should not be missing in the midst of the chaos. However, critics speak of hopping; How much the yogis actually took off cannot be seen in the picture. If the plaster weren't trickling off the walls and the floor crunching suspiciously, one might think that the next group meditation under the guidance of the great seer would be imminent.

The Guru did not want his former abode to become a place of pilgrimage.

The yogis claim to be able to fly thanks to their meditation technique.  The "proof photos" are in the guru's former room.
The seer's entourage had to share a shared bathroom in the former grand hotel.

Now the "Kulm", which is no longer a listed building, will probably soon be demolished. This decision is no longer in the hands of the yogis. The TM movement has decided to sell the "Sonnenberg" area, which is more than five hectares in size. The location high above Lake Lucerne is exclusive, as is the price. The nine plots of land and the listed Hotel Sonnenberg are currently being advertised by a real estate company for CHF 27.5 million.

Felix Kägi, who trained to become a raja (prince) of the movement from 2004 to 2005, is neither attached to the hotel complex nor to the town of Seelisberg. After the Guru's departure, he rarely came here. In the years that followed, he got into politics and, among other things, ran unsuccessfully for the Zurich government council as a representative of the natural law party. He remained loyal to the TM movement throughout his life. Today he lives in Rain in the canton of Lucerne and sells Ayurvedic products.

The good spirits of Seelisberg
In contrast, Otto Odermatt cannot imagine leaving the mountain village of Uri. The 74-year-old came to Seelisberg in 1976 and stayed. He and his wife Maria are the good spirits of the "Sonnenberg". Odermatt was born in 1946 in the main town of Nidwalden, Stans, near Seelisberg, and trained as a primary school teacher. But he found his true destiny as a teacher of Transcendental Meditation, which he made his profession. Today he is something like the grail keeper of the movement.

As the senior yogic aviator, he directs the Maharishi European Research University housed in the hotel. There, where «due to the long presence of Maharishi, a natural vibration of stillness and purity can be felt, which naturally steers each visitor in the direction of deep transcendence». At least that's what the website of the TM movement says. "You can't actually talk about Transcendental Meditation, you have to experience meditation," says Odermatt and invites the guest to one of the courses for people who are not (yet) part of the movement.

From his room, Maharishi had a magnificent view of the mountains of Central Switzerland.

The Hotel Sonnenberg, which opened in 1875, has to be extensively renovated by its new owner.
The ravages of time gnawed at the Hotel Kulm.

"Transcendental Meditation has nothing to do with religion," he lectures. "It is a mental technique that brings about the impartiality of the mind." Odermatt has already introduced Christian missionaries, Muslim clergy and Hindu swamis to the technique of meditation. What annoys him most is that the movement is called a sect and is reduced to yogic flying. "The journalist Hugo Stamm really made a living from being able to put us in this corner." However, yogis should not be surprised if they are perceived as cranky. With its ideas for improving the world, the TM movement repeatedly offered targets for attack.

In 2006, for example, Hugo Stamm came up with the headline "Sect wants to roll down Swiss cities" in the "Tages-Anzeiger". At that time, the yogis warned of buildings that were supposed to bring bad luck. In order to create world peace, all large cities would have to be razed to the ground and rebuilt according to Vedic knowledge, was the demand of the movement. Model cities were to be built in Geneva and Lausanne, and later the movement also wanted to flatten Zurich, Basel, Bern, Lucerne and St. Gallen. "His Highness Raja Dr. Felix Kägi even claims that this would make Switzerland invincible," Stamm quoted the then and current TM boss with relish.

High-flying ideas with potential for excitement have long stopped coming from the TM movement. The people from the inner circle like Odermatt and Kägi have gotten older. This is also true of many devotees living in TM centers around the world. According to Kägi, around 10 million people have learned Transcendental Meditation and practice it without being a member of the organization. In Switzerland, 600 to 700 people learn TM every year.

In Seelisberg, however, the movement has taken on a patina, as has the impressive hall in the Hotel Sonnenberg, where Maharishi once held his conferences on the creation of world peace. For a long time no one seems to have walked the thick red carpets or taken a seat in the more than one hundred imposing armchairs.
In the great hall of Hotel Sonneberg, Guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught disciples from all over the world.

Advertisement for a Guru's meditation course.

The large hall in the Hotel Sonnenberg is only rarely used and has accumulated a lot of dust and patina.

However, it should not be that easy to find a buyer for the aging hotel complex with around 200 rooms. As early as 2006, the yogis announced their departure from the mountain village of Uri. But so far all sales negotiations have failed. Even today, the TM movement wouldn't sell to everyone. "It has to be someone who has a vision for this place like we had," emphasizes Raja Felix Kägi. He can imagine that the hotel complex will be returned to its original purpose. The creation of a health and wellness facility would also be conceivable. The foundation stone for this has already been laid, as Switzerland's first Ayurvedic clinic has been in the former Hotel Pilgerheim since 1987.

In 2021 it should work with the sale of the area. According to Kägi, several potential investors have expressed their interest. Although a sale seems within reach, the deadline for the offer to buy has been extended to January 22nd. In any case, it is a place steeped in history, for which the investor has to shell out a further CHF 100 million for renovation in addition to the purchase price. Finally, such illustrious guests as Richard Wagner, Heinrich Heine and Leo Tolstoy stayed at the Sonnenberg. And what hotel can boast of having hosted a guru who brought enlightenment to the world from here?

Tokyo court disposed of records linked to AUM cult dissolution order

November 24, 2022 (Mainichi Japan)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The Tokyo District Court has disposed of records related to a 1995 request for an order to dissolve AUM Shinrikyo after the cult committed a series of crimes, including a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, an official said.

As one of the few cases in Japan in which the court issued a dissolution order under the Religious Corporations Law, the disclosure is likely to boost calls for the proper preservation of official records.

According to the court official, records pertaining to AUM Shinrikyo's dissolution order request, including the original copy of the decision made in favor, were destroyed on March 8, 2006.

The dissolution order request was filed in June 1995 by the governor of Tokyo and the chief prosecutor of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office.

In October that year, the district court ordered the cult to disband, and the Supreme Court later finalized the ruling.

Separately, it was recently discovered that a number of family courts had discarded valuable materials related to juvenile cases.

The Supreme Court's regulations state that while records on incidents involving minors should be preserved until the individual reaches age 26, documents of historical value must be kept beyond the limit and in perpetuity under special preservation provisions.

Records of AUM Shinrikyo's bankruptcy and criminal cases are subject to special preservation. After 13 senior members of the cult were executed in 2018, then-Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa ordered that trial records regarding the cases be kept indefinitely.

The disclosure about the disposal came as the Unification Church has come under renewed scrutiny since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was killed in July by a gunman, said to have harbored a grudge against the group due to his mother's massive donations and believed Abe had connections with it.

The Japanese government has been investigating the church, regarded by some critics as a cult, to possibly ask a court to consider depriving the group of its status as a religious corporation with tax benefits.

Earlier this week, the Cultural Affairs Agency sent its inquiries to the church in what was the first case of the "right to question" being exercised under the religious law.

Is pushing for change within the LDS Church a 'tactic of Satan'? A top leader thinks so.

Others see activism as constructive, not destructive, and a sign of “genuine discipleship.”

Peggy Fletcher Stack
Salt Lake Tribune
November 24, 2022

To some, the support of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a federal measure that would codify same-sex marriage seemed to come out of nowhere.

Sure, it would preserve the rights of religious groups to privately oppose such unions, but the move still seemed to reverse the Utah-based faith’s earlier stance that allowing LGBTQ couples to marry was, well, an affront to God. Or that it could destroy heterosexual families or even the fabric of society.

So how does a deeply conservative church change its mind? Must it come from a pope or a prophet? Or can members do the swaying? And did that happen here?

From its 19th-century beginnings, Mormonism has made big and small shifts — from abandoning polygamy, ending a priesthood/temple prohibition facing Black members and reversing a controversial LGBTQ policy to allowing women to serve as witnesses in temples and at baptisms.

It is, after all, a church that preaches “continuing revelation,” which is typically interpreted to mean a message from deity to the church’s “prophet, seer and revelator.”

Some argue that none of those changes would have been possible without gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) prodding from believing members.

Recently, however, one church leader declared that such internal pushes are a problem — “a tactic of Satan…to blind and mislead the young.”

When activism or advocacy “is directed at the kingdom of God on earth or its leaders, especially prophets and apostles, it is the wrong tool for the wrong job in the wrong place,” Ahmad Corbitt told a group of Latter-day Saint chaplains last month. “Why? Because it effectively but subtly undermines the doctrine of Christ, which is God’s plan for changing, saving and exalting his children.”

In his speech, “Activism vs. Discipleship: Protecting the Valiant,” Corbitt, first counselor in the church’s Young Men general presidency, warned that any “activism toward the church” that could weaken confidence in church leaders “is obviously not of God.”

Corbitt warns that members' activism against church leaders and policies can be “a tactic of Satan…to blind and mislead the young.”

Some activist causes are “important or good or often pursued in good faith,” said the Black Latter-day Saint leader. “I tend to agree with many of [their] underlying causes. …A light bulb must be changed to avoid darkness and restore light. My simple point is a hammer is not the right tool for that job.”

In other words, believing members should sustain the status quo and wait for the prophet to “change the light bulb.”

To Darius Gray, a longtime Black Latter-day Saint and self-described activist, that approach could mean living in the dark for a lot longer.

Igniting volcanic change on race

Activism among members that addresses social, cultural and doctrinal matters can be “genuine discipleship,” Gray says, following Jesus’ example.

As that kind of disciple, Gray was one of three male converts who worked to reactivate and support disaffected members of African descent in the 1960s before the priesthood/temple ban was lifted, he recalls. Initially their efforts were seen by some as “potentially disruptive and a topic best left alone.”

Still, they persisted, and their entreaties to headquarters paid off. “What followed was the creation of the church’s Genesis Group, which continues 51 years later with the same charge,” he says. “As we wait upon the Lord, we are to remain busy.”

While researching the collected 19th-century minutes of the church’s governing First Presidency, Gray noted “the sheer lack of official inquiry concerning the Black priesthood restriction was astonishing.”

Fortunately, “one soul became a most profitable servant, dedicated to activism and to faith, by thoroughly researching the history of that internationally defining topic,” Gray says. “His name was Spencer W. Kimball.”

Without Genesis, an exhaustive historical examination by Lester Bush in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and countless other leaders and members praying and asking for change, Gray says, Kimball, the church’s 12th president, might not have been open to erasing the ban, through what has been termed a revelation, in 1978.

What about today’s racism?

James C. Jones, a Black Latter-day Saint who is studying at Union Theological Seminary in New York, concedes that activism toward the church “can be employed in problematic ways to problematic ends.”

But believing that it is “always a tool of the adversary that undermines the doctrine of Christ is flawed,” says Jones, who has written a video course for members on abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. That assumes that such activism “cannot be Christ-centered or Christ-inspired.”

Latter-day Saints covenant to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places,” he says, “which of necessity means we stand against any actions or policies that denigrate the [image of God] in any of God’s children.”

If church leaders are engaging in problematic behavior, Jones asks, “then what are members supposed to do exactly?”

Unqualified faith in the brethren, he says, “is not actually a gospel principle.” Is losing faith in them the same as “losing faith in Christ? Is condemning functionally queerphobic policies causing more faith crises than the queerphobic policies themselves?”

In his speech, Corbitt proposes talking to local lay leaders and then letting them send the message up the hierarchical ladder, Jones says. “When it comes to fighting injustices on an institutional level, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to be able to successfully address injustices within the parameters of the same institution that put the injustices in place. No advancement of Black people in America, for example, came by way of just doing what white people told us to do.”

While the church has said more about race in the past five years than in the decades before, denounced prejudice, collaborated with the NAACP and acknowledged the contributions of Black pioneers, he says, “the church has yet to implement any protracted policy, strategy or curriculum that helps members unlearn and fight racism.”

Dynamic tension

The church is both hierarchical and democratic at once, according to historian W. Paul Reeve, who teaches Mormon studies at the University of Utah.

There is “dynamic tension between those two forces,” Reeve says. “Corbitt emphasized the hierarchy over the bottom-up approach, but, historically, many accepted changes came from members with no leadership position.”

The historian points to the creation of the children’s Primary as having sprung up from individuals as well as the weekly Sunday school.

“There is space within the faith for the democratic impulses to make their way up the line,” he says, “but [there are] also boundaries that the hierarchy has established that can find someone getting excommunicated from the faith if they are seen as crossing that line.”

Consistent and public protest, he says, “can also get you in trouble,” pointing to Ordain Women co-founder Kate Kelly, who was excommunicated in 2014 for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church.”

Yet, many of the small advancements for women in the patriarchal faith came in the wake of that movement.

Women began to be pictured with male general authorities in photo spreads, seated among male leaders during twice yearly General Conferences and added to the church’s top executive committees.

“There is no way that [therapist] Julie Hanks’ highlighting shame culture in ‘For the Strength of Youth’ specifics about clothing didn’t prompt that change, to take away the do’s and don’ts,” says Cynthia Windward, one of the “At Last She Said It” podcasters. “Or the training that all leaders working with minors have to complete now post-Sam Young [a former bishop who was excommunicated after he went on a three-week hunger strike to protest church leaders doing private, one-on-one interviews with children and youths]. Or maybe even us asking why women can’t be auditors? Witnesses?”

Then poof, Winward says. “We’re allowed now.”

Erika Munson, co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges, concedes that “institutions don’t like change." But, she said, when Latter-day Saints "feel that something at church is not in alignment with the gospel, they want to do something about it.”

Erika Munson, who co-founded Mormons Building Bridges in 2012 to unite Latter-day Saint and LGBTQ individuals, bristles at the thought that the word “activism” can have a negative connotation.

“Active is a word we love to use in the church, asking people, ‘Are you active?’” she says. “Being ‘active’ is the way you show your church credentials.”

She understands institutional resistance to being pushed.

“Institutions don’t like change,” she says, “but when church members feel that something at church is not in alignment with the gospel, they want to do something about it.”

It can be in small ways in a congregation, says Munson, who is now the co-founder of the Emmaus LGBTQ ministry, “or large ways like marching in a pride parade, or lobbying for gay rights in Washington, D.C.”

The church’s drive in 2008 to help pass California’s Proposition 8, defining marriage as between a man and a woman, was “a turning point for many loyal faithful Mormons,” she says, “who were good soldiers and worked for it and then felt bad about it.”

A couple of years later, Munson says, that “turmoil combined with the power of the internet to tell personal stories, connected with their own spiritual testimonies of how God works in their lives.”

Voila. Quiet “activism” emerged.

“It’s so satisfying to say we all have testimonies of the gospel,” she says, “and it’s our testimonies that are driving this.”

To “active” members, there is a constant “back and forth between orthodoxy and obedience, testimony and personal revelation.”

To the more rigid believers, any activism aimed at the church “looks very disobedient,” Munson says, but not to her.

One big role of a prophet “is to listen,” says Susan M. Hinckley, the other “At Last She Said It” podcaster. “God uses people and circumstances to make things known in all kinds of ways.”

By definition, Hinckley says, “a living church responds.”

Scientology workers signed contracts under duress, their lawyers say

The church disputes that, and now a federal judge will decide if allegations of abuse will be heard by a panel of loyal Scientologists, not the courts.

Tracey McManus
Tampa Bay Times
November 17, 2022
Before Gawain and Laura Baxter could leave their posts as workers aboard the Church of Scientology’s religious ship in the Caribbean in 2012, the couple said they had no choice but to sign contracts they didn’t understand.

It was required before a security guard would hand over their passports, immigration records and identification, according to court records.

What they didn’t know, according to their declarations, is that they signed clauses agreeing to bring any future dispute before the church’s internal arbitration panel of loyal Scientologists, not the U.S. court system.

The Baxters and fellow Scientology worker Valeska Paris sued the church in April for trafficking, and now a Tampa federal judge is considering whether to grant the church’s request to punt the lawsuit into internal arbitration.

At a hearing on the motion Thursday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Barber asked both sides to explain whether the former Scientologists signed the contracts under duress. All three were members of the church’s military-style workforce called the Sea Org.

The Baxters and Paris signed their contracts out of “religious obedience,” not duress, argued William H. Forman, an attorney for Church of Scientology International, one of five church entities named as defendants.

He said that falls under a legal doctrine known as the ministerial exception that helps protect churches from claims by religious workers. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled secular courts cannot interfere with it, he said.

Forman said no church official made objective threats to the Baxters or Paris about leaving the church. Signing the documents was required only if they wanted to leave while remaining in good standing with Scientology. He said the former Scientologists had “subjective beliefs” related to their religion about what would happen if they failed to sign the contracts, such as being excommunicated from their families.

“The duress issues here are not black and white,” Forman said. “They are hopelessly intermingled with the religious issues.”

What created duress was fear of punishment conditioned into the Baxters and Paris since childhood, said Shelby Leighton, an attorney with Public Justice, a nonprofit that is part of the team representing the former Scientologists. In the Baxters’ case, because children were not allowed in the Sea Org, Laura Baxter got pregnant with her husband on purpose as a way to begin the process of leaving.

While being subjected to “long interrogations and psychological punishment” during the “routing out” process, the Baxters were held in isolation and surveilled 24 hours a day by security, according to their declarations. During her time in the Sea Org, Laura Baxter said she was also confined to the ship’s engine room, forced to do manual labor and had pay withheld.

Leighton said that physical force is not required to prove duress and that confinement and threat of force is sufficient. “That’s not a subjective fear,” Leighton said. “They’re basically being trapped on the ship until they sign the documents.”

While discussing the issue of duress, Barber asked about a hypothetical scenario in which someone had a gun to a person’s head while they signed an arbitration contract on video and whether that would have to go to arbitration. Forman responded, “Yes, because the agreement says you must arbitrate.”

Paris also served on the ship, called the Freewinds, but was in Australia when she left the Sea Org in 2009. Leighton said Paris experienced the same duress because she had to sign departure contracts with the arbitration clause in order to get her passport back from Scientology.

Barber, the judge, noted that Paris was in a foreign country and needed her passport to be in Australia.

“That is not being told you can’t walk out this door,” Forman said. “It’s a matter of religious obedience.”

Last year, a U.S. appeals court upheld a Tampa federal judge’s ruling that sent a fraud lawsuit brought by former Scientologists Luis and Rocio Garcia into the church’s internal arbitration. The Garcias’ attorney argued the arbitration agreements the couple signed while in the church were “substantively unconscionable” because they were seen as enemies of the church after suing Scientology and could not get a fair hearing.

The appeals court ruled that delving into the fairness of Scientology’s arbitration process would be interpreting religious doctrine in violation of the First Amendment.

In the trafficking case, attorneys for Scientology argued that the Baxters and Paris signed the same arbitration agreements that the U.S. appeals court upheld in the Garcia case.

But in their response, attorneys for Baxter and Paris argued the Garcias never raised the issue of duress. They were lay parishioners who signed contracts while receiving services and were not full-time religious workers.

Barber did not indicate when or how he would rule on Scientology’s motion to compel arbitration.

(Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the name of Public Justice, an organization working on behalf of the plaintiffs.)

Helping Survivors

Helping Survivors. Our mission is to assist anyone who has been victimized by sexual assault or abuse. Our website is a compilation of information around different instances of sexual violence. We offer resources to assist survivors and their families, and we will continuously be adding more. To see our organization and some of the helpful information we have made, check out the link below:

Thousands flocked to a spiritual leader who claimed he could multiply money. Then, dead bodies turned up

Lianne Chia
November 26, 2022

  • Charismatic spiritual leader Dimas Kanjeng amassed thousands of followers, including high-ranking government officials
  • He convinced them that if they gave him money, they would make a substantial profit
  • Then, two of his foundation’s leaders were found murdered
  • Years after he was jailed, there are still supporters loyal to him

ROBOLINGGO REGENCY, EAST JAVA: They came in droves from all over the country. Even high-ranking officials flocked to him.

At every gathering spiritual leader Dimas Kanjeng held, tens of thousands would attend, recalled businessman and lawyer Muhammad Ali. At the height of Dimas’ popularity, he was estimated to have 23,000 followers.

“I was enchanted,” Muhammad Ali said, going on to describe the spiritual leader as convincing, authoritative, and charismatic.

But it was more than just his personality. Dimas, whose real name is Taat Pribadi, claimed he had the power to multiply money – a “power” that he demonstrated to great effect among those watching him.

Word of his supposed power started spreading rapidly throughout Indonesia from 2009. In 2012, he officially registered his foundation, Padepokan Dimas Kanjeng Taat Pribadi, and started collecting even larger sums of money, and assets, from followers, promising handsome returns. Over two years from early 2014, Muhammad Ali handed over 35 billion rupiah (S$3.068m) – and he was just one of thousands who gave the man money.

But it was also around that time that Dimas’ scam began to unravel. Then, the dead bodies of two of his foundation’s leaders were discovered and identified.

Dimas has since been unmasked as a fraud and jailed. But even today, there are some who remain loyal to him.

What exactly made him so extraordinary? The programme Catching A Scammer explores the con – and the appeal of the man himself.


In 2010, local journalist Ahmad Faisol was invited to Dimas’ compound to cover a prayer and charity event. Dimas was beginning to attract followers at the time.

Security at the compound, recalled Faisol, was strict. No invitation, no entry. But it was then that he personally witnessed Dimas multiplying money.

“He asked me to come to his living room and search him,” he said.

Faisol remembers seeing “a lot of money”: Around 50 million rupiah (S$4,392), which later went up to 100 million rupiah.

When Faisol asked how he got the ability to do this, he replied that it came after meditating in the mountains.

Dimas was also known to cure illnesses, according to another local journalist Babul Arifandie. “There were some rituals, obligations that must be carried out by the patients,” he recalled.

Babul had visited Dimas’ foundation thrice for work and remembers being “amazed” at the man’s magnetism – and his ability to collect millions of rupiah from thousands of people.

“He is like honey, and he attracts a lot of ants,” he said.

Magnetism aside, those like Muhammad Ali also noted that the foundation was financially sound and donating to social causes.

Dimas had promised to multiply the money Muhammad Ali gave. At the start, Muhammad Ali had not intended to hand over “that much money”.

“But he always said the money would be returned,” Muhammad Ali explained. That compelled him to hand over as much as he could – even selling his assets and taking a bank loan.

In return, he was given suitcases as a guarantee. Money, he was told, had been locked inside.

“If the suitcases were opened before the stipulated date, you will die, go blind … be paralysed,” he said. “That was the threat – in the end, we were scared.”

As for Lilik Riyanto, the then-finance manager of a charitable organisation, Dimas told him that in order to get funding from his foundation, he would first have to give money to it.

“They called it a cash-out fee,” said Lilik, who declined to name his former organisation as it has dealings with the country’s public sector. “It’s like when you want to get a loan from the bank, you have to first pay a provision fee.”

Dimas also promised to contribute funds to Lilik’s organisation's hospital building project.

Both Lilik and Muhammad Ali were convinced by the “fantastic amount of money” the foundation appeared to have. Lilik remembered seeing an account statement from a foreign bank with an office located in Jakarta, which showed an amount in the trillions of rupiah.

Muhammad Ali also checked that the foundation was registered legally as a non-profit.

In total, from early 2014 to mid-2016, Lilik’s charity sent Dimas more than 20 billion rupiah (S$1.758m), with the expectation of receiving 1 trillion rupiah.

It was in 2014, journalist Faisol recalled, that the first hints of trouble surfaced.

One day in August, the chairman of Dimas’ foundation, Abdul Gani, approached Faisol and said he had something to tell him. “If I were to guess, it seemed like he had something he wanted to get off his chest … but he was hesitant to tell his story,” said Faisol.

Abdul was said to be one of Dimas’ closest friends – there were rumours they had known each other since they were teens.

Faisol began to investigate the foundation. “There were rumours of strange ongoings,” he said. “There were a few people who wanted to share, but they were afraid for their safety.”

His attempts to reach Abdul again were also unsuccessful.

On April 13, 2016, things took a dramatic turn.

Without a word to his family, Abdul disappeared. The next day, his body was found. His head was wrapped in a plastic bag and duct-taped. More duct tape covered his entire face. A noose was around his neck, his hands were tied, and there were bruises on the back of his head.

“It’s obvious that it’s murder,” said Abdul’s nephew, Muhammad Efendi, who identified the body.

Abdul was a respected figure in Probolinggo regency and news of his murder shook the community. The manhunt for the murderers began.

In May, the police made arrests. One of them, Wahyudi, was the leader of the foundation’s security team. He was also an active member of the Kopassus, the Indonesian Army’s special forces command.

But there were still many unanswered questions. “Why did they murder? What was the motive?” said Rakhmad Hari Basuki from the East Java High Prosecution Office, who prosecuted the murders. “They had no grudge against Abdul Gani.”

More disturbing news surfaced. Abdul’s colleague was also missing – and had been for some time.

The disappearance of Ismail Hidayah, the foundation’s coordinator, had been reported by his wife more than a year ago. When Abdul was found murdered, the police figured out that Ismail had also been murdered.

His body had, in fact, been found in February 2015. But at the time, recalled journalist Babul, the unidentified corpse was completely unrecognisable. No one took notice, he added, because “why should we care about this unknown person”?

With the identification now made, it wasn’t long before investigators found the common thread. “Ismail, Abdul and Dimas – they’re known as old friends,” said Babul. “It means there are two people, close friends of Dimas Kanjeng, who (died of) unnatural causes.”

WATCH: Exposing The Schemes Of A Spiritual Conman In Indonesia (46:12)


In September 2016, the police raided Dimas’ compound. It was no ordinary arrest.

Besides the Probolinggo police, there were law enforcers from the East Java region, including a heavily armed tactical unit. In total, according to Faisol, there were about 2,000 police and personnel from the Indonesian Armed Forces.

“There were thousands of people living at the foundation, and they were willing to die for Dimas Kanjeng,” said Babul. The leader himself was found at the back of his foundation’s compound, hiding in the sports complex. Followers there wielded bamboo sticks and stones and blocked the police from entering.

It took the police two hours to take him into custody.

Why was Dimas able to inspire such loyalty among his followers?

“Indonesian people – we revere symbolism,” said Devi Rahmawati, a cultural studies lecturer from the University of Indonesia. “Dimas Kanjeng understands and makes use of that.”

For one, she said, he had changed his name from Taat Pribadi to Dimas Kanjeng – the word “Dimas” in local Javanese dialect refers to a male representative, while “Kanjeng” is a title that commands respect.

“He changed his corporate branding to ensure he is a figure beyond reproach,” she said.

There were also many photos of him with government ministers and other prominent people. While Devi noted that “anyone can take a picture together with these elites”, Dimas used it to “establish a reputation, so people see him as a trustworthy figure”.

Indonesia, she added, is a society with strong oral traditions. So, when people saw what Dimas could supposedly do, the news spread rapidly.

“The people who spread the rumours are not only people who have seen it with their own eyes … They are also people who are trusted in their own circle,” she said.

“It's not surprising then that the word spreads faster and is convincing.”

Among segments of the population, there is also a long-held belief in what is commonly termed black magic.

Victim Muhammad Ali recalled that even when the suitcases he had been given as a guarantee were handed over to the police, “they didn’t dare to open them”. He speculated that they may have got a shaman to help.

They later discovered that the suitcases were filled with dollar bills, likely expired, and counterfeit money.

“It was worthless,” he said. “I left them at the prosecutor’s office.”


In February 2017, seven people stood trial for the murders of Ismail and Abdul, while Dimas was accused of ordering the murders.

It was easier to secure convictions of the seven, noted prosecutor Rudi Aji Prabowo, because there were witnesses to the murders.

“But none of the murder suspects dared to name Dimas as the mastermind, or to say that he was the one who gave the order,” said Rudi, who led a team of prosecutors to handle Dimas’ murder charge.

Given the public attention on the case and the number of fraud victims said to be involved, there were about 10 members on his team. In comparison, most cases would have about two prosecutors.

In Indonesia, prior to going to court, prosecutors would speak to suspects to confirm evidence gathered by the police and other case details. Rudi remembered his surprise at Dimas’ demeanour, which he maintained throughout the trial.

“He spoke softly, was actually a lot smaller (than he appeared in pictures) and was very calm,” he said. “He insisted he had nothing to do with the murders.”

But prosecutors managed to prove that 100 million rupiah was given to the murderers to commit the crime.

It turned out that both Abdul and Ismail were killed to stop them from exposing the fraud. Both knew, said Rudi, that there was something wrong with the foundation.

“Dimas gave the order using some metaphor,” added Rudi.

In the end, the killers were sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison. Prosecutors sought a life sentence for Dimas, but he received 18 years’ jail.

This was followed by his trial for fraud. Besides Lilik and Muhammad Ali, there were two other victims who made police reports about being scammed.

During the trial, witnesses testified that they truly believed in Dimas’ ability to conjure things up. “It was very interesting,” said prosecutor Rakhmad. “They said that at the foundation, he could attract not just money, but food – meatballs, soup … fruit salad.”

“So, the chief judge asked Dimas to prove this at his next trial appearance.”

That was when he admitted that he could not do it.

“It was clear that there was no investment or any type of business carried out by his foundation,” said Rakhmad.

Dimas was sentenced to an additional three years in prison for defrauding one victim. Though he was found guilty of defrauding the others as well, he received no additional jail time.

This is because, said Rakhmad, the maximum jail term in Indonesia is 20 years in consecutive cases, life imprisonment or the death penalty. Dimas had already received 18 years for the murders and three years for fraud, making a total of 21 years.

“Of course, we are disappointed,” said Lilik, who still hopes that his foundation can get its money back. “But we have to abide by the law.”


The total sum involved in the fraud charges tried in court was almost 100 billion rupiah, according to prosecutor Rakhmad. But this is merely a fraction of what Dimas and his foundation likely received.

There were no accounting reports, he said, and law enforcers couldn’t determine how many victims had made payment.

The total amount Dimas collected could be more than a trillion rupiah, he added. There were also those who deposited assets like land certificates or cars.

To this day, the whereabouts of the money remains a mystery.

“Investigators searched the (foundation’s compound) for bunkers, but they never found anything,” said Rakhmad. “(The money had) vanished into thin air.”

The compound lies deserted now – much shabbier than it used to be. It has become a no-outsider zone surrounded by high fences.

“It used to be open to the public,” said journalist Babul. “But it’s closed off now … not even police officers can walk in freely.”

Yet, he said, there are still about 300 people living inside. They are waiting for Dimas to be released.

The Children of Osho Miniseries Part 1 - Interview with Sam Jahara

The Cult Vault: The Children of Osho Miniseries Part 1 - Interview with Sam Jahara

"In this miniseries, I chat with Sam Jahara about her experiences growing up in the Rajneesh movement after her parents began following Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Sam answers the question of "Where were the children?" and the answers are unpleasant reminders that in a high control environment, allegiance can only be to leadership, leaving no space for relationships familial or otherwise. Sam Jahara is a practising counsellor and psychotherapist for Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy."

Nov 22, 2022

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Spiritual Leader, Dies

Lily Koppel
NY Times
February. 6, 2008

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced transcendental meditation to the West and gained fame in the 1960s as the spiritual guru to the Beatles, died Tuesday at his home and headquarters in Vlodrop, the Netherlands. He is believed to have been in his 90s. Steven Yellin, a spokesman for the organization, confirmed the Maharishi’s death but did not give a cause.

On Jan. 11, the Maharishi announced that his public work was finished and that he would use his remaining time to complete a long-running series of published commentaries on the Veda, the oldest sacred Hindu text.

The Maharishi was both an entrepreneur and a monk, a spiritual man who sought a world stage from which to espouse the joys of inner happiness. His critics called his organization a cult business enterprise. And in the press, in the 1960s and ’70s, he was often dismissed as a hippie mystic, the “Giggling Guru,” recognizable in the familiar image of him laughing, sitting cross-legged in a lotus position on a deerskin, wearing a white silk dhoti with a garland of flowers around his neck beneath an oily, scraggly beard.

In Hindi, “maha” means great, and “rishi” means seer. “Maharishi” is a title traditionally bestowed on Brahmins. Critics of the yogi say he presented himself with the name, which is Hindi for “great seer.”

The Maharishi originated the transcendental meditation movement in 1957 and brought it to the United States in 1959. Known as TM, a trademark, the technique consists of closing one’s eyes twice a day for 20 minutes while silently repeating a mantra to gain deep relaxation, eliminate stress, promote good health and attain clear thinking and inner fulfillment. Classes now cost $2,500 for a five-day session.

The TM movement was a founding influence on what has grown into a multibillion-dollar self-help industry, and many people practice similar forms of meditation that have no connection to the Maharishi’s movement.

Over the years since TM became popular, many scientists have found physical and mental benefits from mediation in general and transcendental meditation in particular, especially in reducing stress-related ailments.

Since the technique’s inception in 1955, the organization says, it has been used to train more than 40,000 teachers, taught more than five million people, opened thousands of teaching centers and founded hundreds of schools, colleges and universities.

In the United States, the organization values its assets at about $300 million, with its base in Fairfield, Iowa, where it operates a university, the Maharishi University of Management. In 2001, disciples of the movement incorporated their own town, Maharishi Vedic City, a few miles north of Fairfield.

Last March, a branch of the organization, Global Financial Capital of New York, moved into new headquarters it bought in Lower Manhattan.

The visibility and popularity of the organization can largely be attributed to the Beatles. In 1968, the band, with great publicity, began studying with the Maharishi at his Himalayan retreat, or ashram, in Rishikesh, in northern India. They went with their wives, the folk singer Donovan, the singer Mike Love, of the Beach Boys, the actress Mia Farrow and Ms. Farrow’s sister Prudence.

They left in the wake of rumors of sexual improprieties by the Maharishi, an avowed celibate, though no sexual-misconduct suits were filed and some of the participants later denied that anything untoward had occurred.

Nevertheless, public interest in the movement had been aroused in the West, and it continued to grow in the 1970s as the Maharishi took his movement around the world and as its techniques gained respectability in the medical world.

Later in life, the Maharishi refused to discuss the Beatles. Another one of his disciples was the Indian spiritualist Deepak Chopra, who was a friend of the former Beatle George Harrison and who promotes his own teachings based on traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine and meditation.

The Maharishi’s movement began losing followers the late 1970s, as people were put off by the organization’s promotion of a more advanced form of TM called Yogic Flying, in which practitioners try to summon a surge of energy to physically lift themselves off the ground. They have never gone beyond the initial stage of flying, described as “frog hops.”

Mahesh Prasad Varma was born near the central Indian town of Jabalpur, into a scribe caste family. Called Mahesh, he studied physics at Allahabad University and for the next 13 years became a student and secretary to a holy man, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, who the young disciple Mahesh called Guru Dev.

“Right from the beginning the whole purpose was to breathe in his breath,” the Maharishi wrote in his “Thirty Years Around the World: Dawn of the Age of Enlightenment,” published in 1986. “This was my ideal. The whole purpose was just to assume myself with Guru Dev.”

After the death of his master in 1953, Mahesh went into seclusion in the Himalayan foothills. He emerged two years later and began teaching a system of belief, which grew into the worldwide TM movement.

“It would appear that Maharishi cobbled together his teaching after his master died, when he found himself unemployed and out-of-grace with the ashram,” said Paul Mason, a critic of the Maharishi and the author of a biography, “The Maharishi: The Biography of the Man Who Gave Transcendental Meditation to the World.” “He reinvented himself and became a ‘maharishi’ and wanted to be seen as a messiah.”

Since 1990, the Maharishi had lived in Vlodrop with about 50 of his adherents, including his “minister of science and technology,” John Hagelin, a Harvard-educated physicist, who is expected to oversee the organization in the United States.

Late in life, the Maharishi tried to breathe new life into TM, establishing in 2000 his “Global Country of World Peace,” with the goals of preventing war, eradicating poverty and promoting environmental sustainability. One effort tried to reach young people across the United States with the support of celebrities like Donovan and the filmmaker David Lynch, who went on a speaking tour of colleges to promote the cause.

The Maharishi also sought to rebuild the world according to Vedic principals. He called for the demolition of all toxic buildings and unhealthy urban environments, even the demolition of historic landmarks if they were not built according to “Vedic architecture in harmony with Natural Law.” The Maharishi contended that the White House was wrongly situated. He said that a more suitable location for the capital of the United States was the small town of Smith Center, Kan.

In the last years of his life he rarely met with anyone, even his ministers, face-to-face, preferring to speak with followers almost exclusively by closed-circuit television.

A correction was made on 
Feb. 15, 2008

An obituary on Feb. 6 about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced transcendental meditation to the West and gained fame as the spiritual guru to the Beatles, described incorrectly those who may bear the title of Maharishi, Hindi for “great seer,” and misstated his own eligibility for it. The title may be bestowed on people of any caste, not only Brahmins. He was not ineligible because he was from a lower caste.

Nov 20, 2022

Cultists burn Misamis Oriental woman, 84, alive for her 'great sins'

Nicholas Yong
Yahoo News
30 August 2022

Public uproar has ensued in a town in eastern Misamis Oriental, after an 84-year-old woman was thrown into a fire by 11 members of her own clan, as part of a cult ritual to purge her of her “great sins”.

According to Rappler, the incident took place in the village of Baliwagan in Balingasag town, more than 50 kilometers from Cagayan de Oro City, on Sunday (August 28).

Police said that neighbors rushed to the crime scene, stopped the cultists, and took the victim Teofila Camongay to the town hospital where she subsequently died of third-degree burns.

Seven cult members have since been arrested.

The suspects belong to the Camongay, Cabusas, and Ercilla families – all members of a clan - and lived together in the small and close-knit community in Baliwagan.

They include 20-year-old cult leader Crisanto Ercilla, as well as children and grandchildren of Camongay. Police are also looking for two men and two women from the same clan, who were allegedly involved in the murder.

Investigators said it was Ercilla who ordered his followers to throw his grandmother into a fire after he beat her up for her "great sins." He and the other suspects will be charged with patricide charges on Tuesday, the same day that Camongay is to be buried.

Connection to the PBCM?
According to the police, Ercilla was a self-proclaimed spiritual guru. He claimed to be possessed by the spirit of the late Philippine Benevolent Christian Missionaries (PBCM) founder and master Tomas Eugenio Sr.

The PBCM is an offshoot of the powerful Ecleo political dynasty’s Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) in the Dinagat Islands and Surigao del Norte.

Eugenio, who claimed to be the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, died in 2004. It is unclear if Ercilla and his followers are affiliated with the PBCM which is now led by Eugenio’s son and successor Charlie, and based in Jasaan, Misamis Oriental.

The story, which was broken by Cagayan de Oro broadcaster Magnum Radio, sparked swift condemnation from religious leaders and local officials.

Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Jose Cabantan called the crime "unimaginable", while Tablon parish priest the Reverend Father Vic Arellano said the suspects were "influenced by an evil spirit."

Nov 15, 2022

CultNEWS101 Articles: 11/15/2022

UFO Doomsday, Gurus, Conmen, Book, Solar Temple

 "A cult living in an isolated desert commune in Tumacacori/Tubac, AZ near the border has raised alarm over its leaders' UFO doomsday predictions and heavy use of indoctrination, surveillance and control.
  • The 120 members are required to turn over their homes, cars, money, businesses and possessions to the cult leader.
  • Former followers claim they are covering up child sex abuse and that members have died from being denied medical care and being "worked to death."
  • Members are required to work 40-60 hours a week of hard labor for no pay despite old age, illness or physical limitations.
  • Gabriel of Urantia told Dateline he was Martin Luther, King Arthur, and George Washington in previous lives. He claims to be the "Planetary Prince" and that a space alien named.
"The self-appointed Godmen of the twentieth century eschewed asceticism and chose a life of opulence, fanfare & power-politics.
The word 'Guru' that has iterated, notoriously, into 'Goldman' in contemporary India does not find mention in the oldest spiritual texts of the Vedas. The Vedic precept of salvation was exclusively sacrificial in nature and concept, and it wasn't until the age of Vedanta or Upanishads (when the focus shifted to Jnana or knowledge as the pre-requisite of 'moksha' or liberation of the soul from the cycle of re-birth) did the need of a Guru warrant to impart that eclectic knowledge. The Pauranika and Tantrika schools of thought in AD 300 transformed Guruism into an institutional lineage, doctrinally sectarian and with the advent of Sikhism in the 15th century, the institution of Guru was redefined structurally into a religio-military entity of the Godman.

An existential vacuum pervaded the West with the fall of Christianity and the rise of science and rationalistic epistemology, the principle of acquisition of knowledge and unravelling of truth through rational means and empirical evidence. Though scientific materialism paved the way for rapid human advances and technological progress, this philosophy was grossly inadequate in addressing fundamental metaphysical, moral and spiritual questions of mankind. Human beings were reduced to mere machines, cogs in the wheel of profit-making enterprises where psychology replaced spirituality, economics substituted humanness and feelings were reduced to mere biochemical reactions.

Every human activity was commercialised and dehumanised. Naturally, human beings rebelled against such a mechanistic worldview, and it provided a fertile ground for exporting Guruism to the West as an alternative, a new counterculture. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Swami Prabhupada led this spiritual renaissance in the West in the rebellious 1960s, long after Swami Vivekananda delivered his historic sermon at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, heralding the resurgence of Hindu mysticism and spirituality. The spiritual quest of man was resuscitated, and these Gurus addressed the imperative of creating a new culture.

In India, renowned as the cradle of spirituality and mysticism, the ancient tradition of the Gurukula system was metamorphosing into Godmen, the 'realised soul', the supreme authority, synchronised with the unitary consciousness of the ultimate reality or Brahman, in the true spirit of monism. The Godman hailing from a non-brahmin caste in the rigid caste hierarchy of India was perceived as a saviour, liberating the faithful from the oppressive class dominance, ostensibly offering them a mediator for their salvation and a wellspring of spiritual nourishment. The rising incomes in the 1980s and 90s and the burgeoning middle class facilitated the mushrooming of the Godmen across the country, catering to all social classes and demographics.

The quantum changes in technology and globalisation, culminating in a socio-economic structure, aggressively competitive, unprecedented and aping the West, resulted in the futility of material pursuits and meaninglessness of life, drawing hordes of people into the asylums of the Godman, who proffered to instil meaning, reinstate purpose and restore identity in the lives of the lost. For the Indian masses, total obeisance to the Godman was merely an extension of the subservience to the patriarchal social system, dominated by a mostly male chauvinistic father in every family, urban or rural.

Unlike in the ancient and medieval periods, where a Guru or a Godman was regarded as an epitome of wisdom and a finite reflection of the infinite divine self, the self-appointed Godmen of the latter half of the twentieth century eschewed asceticism and life-long commitment to a life of detachment from worldly pleasures, ironically chose a life of opulence, fanfare and power-politics. The nobility of mission and purity of purpose, witnessed by great spiritual leaders like Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Paramahansa Yogananda made India the finest exemplar of spirituality, was ruefully and irretrievably lost in the pursuit of wealth and power of the modern-day Indian Godmen. Equipped with dubious and limited knowledge, by manipulating and misinterpreting the exhaustive collection of ancient spiritual texts, these con artists have betrayed and corrupted a gullible public.

The elite character of socio-economic development through decades post-independence, a non-inclusive growth model that alienated millions of poor Indians from economic participation and prosperity, was also instrumental in mushrooming of Godmen in the country. A quintessential case is Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a rape convict and his Dera Sacha Sauda religious cult, whose charitable trusts provided free food and education to millions of its followers. The underprivileged Sikhs who had converted from Hinduism, escaping oppression and ostracism from their lower caste status, realised that class division is deeply entrenched in Sikhism, too. However, its cardinal message is equality.

Where the state administration failed in dispensing its basic duties towards its citizens, a charlatan succeeded in restoring social peace and, true to the Needs Hierarchy Theory of Abraham Maslow, instilling in the masses their paramount need for self-esteem. The security of livelihood offered by the cult drew millions of loyal disciples, mostly youth from Punjab and Haryana. Violent protests marked the day of Ram Rahim's sentencing to life imprisonment for raping a minor girl, resulting in arson, vandalising, vehicles set ablaze, train carriages wrecked, and roads blocked, killing 30 people and paralysing life in large swathes of Northern India.

Most of these acclaimed Godmen have been convicted of murder, rape, sexual assault and running prostitution rackets in recent years after numerous allegations of sexual orgies and excesses perpetrated in their precincts. Asaram Bapu, Swami Bhimanand, Sant Rampal, Swami Premananda, Santhosh Madhavan, and Swami Sadachari are a few prominent ones, among other scoundrels, who are implicated and currently serving prison sentences, for their various acts of felony, from murder, rape, sexual abuse, financial fraud, cheating and misappropriation. While for a discerning mind, these self-imposed Godmen are just deft tacticians capitalising on human vulnerabilities and insecurities, for their adherents and disciples, they are inviolable, and all allegations are mere propaganda. Convictions and incarcerations are not persuasive enough to label their idols as criminals, and nothing offers a better case study on the cognitive bias known as Confirmation Bias as the resolute clan of the Godmen.

The most entertaining and comical of the lot is Swami Nithyananda, currently a fugitive, wanted by Interpol for allegations of kidnapping and confinement of children to collect donations for his hermitage in Ahmedabad. A consummate conman, who had sold his critical faculties and reason to the Devil, has established a sovereign nation for dispossessed Hindus on an island he bought from Ecuador near Trinidad and Tobago. This nation, named 'Kailasa', has its cabinet ministers and a Prime Minister! While it is conceivable that one could lose his mind, patronising a lunatic by a frenzied crowd defies all logic.

Sadhguru, aka Jaggi Vasudev, who has been accorded the second-highest civilian award, Padma Vibhushan, is a master of pseudo-science. Under the garb of rational discourse, chaste English-speaking skills and ecumenism, his forays into science commentaries on Higgs Boson, evolutionary biology, the relationship between eclipses, cooked food and body chemistry. His prescription of proprietary Shambhavi Mahamudra Yoga and its positive correlation with neuronal brain regeneration and similar absurdities are highly unscientific, fallacious and ridiculous. The political patronage of these conmen for vote-bank is equally objectionable, which offers legitimacy to their irrational, unethical and immoral practices.

Behind the deceptive mask of India's socio-economic advancement and scientific establishments, ushering in the digital and space age, lies a vast majority of the population, from the elitist to the ignorant, who are equally vulnerable and obsessed with myths and legends. Most are believers in superstitions and fairy tales and, invariably, credulous patrons of religious obscurantism and magic. Their intellectual and rational faculties cannot delineate fact and fiction. They look deep into the past to create a future. It seems that India's science education is not scientific enough to permeate a pan-Indian scientific temper."

November 18th is recognized as International Cult Awareness Day 

"The Order of the Solar Temple (French: Ordre du Temple solaire, OTS) and the International Chivalric Organization of the Solar Tradition, or simply The Solar Temple, is a cult and religious sect that claims to be based upon the ideals of the Knights Templar. OTS was founded by Joseph di Mambro and Luc Jouret in 1984 in Geneva, as l'Ordre International Chevaleresque de Tradition Solaire (OICTS), and later it was renamed Ordre du Temple Solaire. It is associated with a series of murders and mass suicides that claimed several dozen lives in France, Switzerland, and Canada in 1994 and 1995.

Some historians allege that the Solar Temple was founded by the French author Jacques Breyer, who established a Sovereign Order of the Solar Temple in 1952. In 1968, a schismatic order was renamed the Renewed Order of the Solar Temple (ROTS) under the leadership of the French right-wing political activist Julien Origas."

" … In October 1994, Tony Dutoit's infant son (Emmanuel Dutoit), aged three months, was killed at the group's centre in Morin-Heights, Quebec. The baby had been stabbed repeatedly with a wooden stake. It is believed that Di Mambro ordered the murder, because he identified the baby as the Antichrist described in the Bible. He believed that the Antichrist was born into the order to prevent Di Mambro from succeeding in his spiritual aim.

Some time afterwards, Di Mambro and twelve followers performed a ritual Last Supper. Subsequently, apparent mass suicides and murders were conducted at Cheiry and Salvan, two villages in Western Switzerland, and at Morin Heights—15 inner circle members committed suicide with poison, 30 were killed by bullets or smothering, and 8 others were killed by other means. In Switzerland, many of the victims were found in a secret underground chapel lined with mirrors and other items of Templar symbolism. The bodies were dressed in the order's ceremonial robes and were in a circle, feet together, heads outward, most with plastic bags tied over their heads; they had each been shot in the head. The plastic bags may have been a symbol of the ecological disaster that would befall the human race after the OTS members moved on to Sirius; it's also possible that these bags were used as part of the OTS rituals, and that members would have voluntarily worn them without being placed under duress. There was also evidence that many of the victims in Switzerland were drugged before they were shot. Other victims were found in three ski chalets; several dead children were lying together. The tragedy was discovered when officers rushed to the sites to fight the fires that had been ignited by remote-control devices. Farewell letters left by the believers stated that they believed they were leaving to escape the "hypocrisies and oppression of this world."

A mayor, a journalist, a civil servant, and a sales manager were found among the dead in Switzerland. Records seized by the Quebec police showed that some members had personally donated over C$1 million to Di Mambro. Another attempted mass suicide of the remaining members was thwarted in the late 1990s.[citation needed] All the suicide/murders and attempts occurred around the dates of the equinoxes and solstices in some relation to the beliefs of the group.

Another mass-death incident related to the OTS took place during the night between the 15 and 16 December 1995. On 23 December 1995, 16 bodies were discovered in a star-formation in the Vercors mountains of France. It was found later that two of them shot the others and then committed suicide by firearm and immolation. One of the dead included Olympian Edith Bonlieu, who had competed in the women's downhill at the 1956 Winter Olympics.

On the morning of 23 March 1997, five members of the OTS took their own lives in Saint-Casimir, Quebec. A small house erupted in flames, leaving behind five charred bodies for the police to pull from the rubble. Three teenagers, aged 13, 14 and 16, the children of one of the couples that died in the fire, were discovered in a shed behind the house, alive but heavily drugged.

Michel Tabachnik, an internationally renowned Swiss musician and conductor, was arrested as a leader of the Solar Temple in the late 1990s. He was indicted for "participation in a criminal organization" and murder. He came to trial in Grenoble, France, during the spring of 2001 and was acquitted. French prosecutors appealed against the verdict and an appellate court ordered a second trial beginning 24 October 2006. He was again cleared less than two months later in December 2006."

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