Spartacus gave this thread a great power tool by using information
on Bronte Baxter's site to compare SGI with Transcendental Meditation
I can offer some additions (I nearly misstyped it as 'addictions')
Things to watch out for:
Stuff to watch out for if your friend is in a group or you are urged to join.
***A guru who is, according to biographical information, in his or her 70s or 80s but looks smooth faced and younger by two decades. A guru who needs plastic surgery is still in the grip of ego -- and high maintainance.
*A guru who has CPAs and a PR strategy. Avoid. If a formerly humble and unpretentious guru acquires these -- leave.
**The first lectures are free. Okay. Those lecture, the room rental, the printed literature, internet site, the posters -- all those cost something. Where'd that money come from for all those free classes?
Eventually YOU will have to pay for it. Remember this. You may be told the guru lives humbly. Maybe now. But later the guru may want an ashram or already have a big ashram.
*A guru who wears a lot of fashionable clothing or gold and is always surrounded by an entourage. If the guru has kids or relatives, they may need pampering, too. (Private schools, Harvard, Stanford, ski vacations, expensive weddings, etc)
**Does the guru bliss people out? What is the price of this bliss? Are people being beaten up by gangs by teh guru's followers at home in India? Thats the price for the bliss you are enjoying, safe in the US at the guru's event.
Look things up. See if in his or her home country, the guru or group is part of a political agenda and what its beliefs and behavior is. Do you agree with that political programme? In Asia, gurus especially when rich, become involved in political patronage. Look all this up before you get involved.
*What can someone who lives with an entourage teach all of us who run our own errands? Even if the founding guru lived in simplicity in an ashram and still was waited on, hand and foot, that person is still living as a wealthy person. The rest of us dont have entourages.
A celibate guru urges followers to marry, get good jobs and have kids. This is quite a departure from Indian (and most Asian traditions) which mandated spiritual quest for renunciates.
That means two things:
**Disciples usually return to their home countries in the West. They dont stay around at the ashram and become a drag on its resources. Back in the West by following Gurus instructions to become householders, marry, get good jobs and have kiddies, they are kept busy. Morale is boosted by guru study groups and letters. They earn money. They are tied to family life and less likely to go live 24-7 at the gurus ashram in India and become a drag on resources. Its better for members to build their assets in their home countries. Why? Because Australian and US dollars, Euros, Swiss Francs and British Pound Sterling have vastly greater purchasing power than Indian rupees.
The guru can come to these countries for visits and bring hard currency back to India -- and with increased purchasing power buy political support and buy gold and real estate.
* Big building projects. They become money-pits. Two, when you slave away to donate money and labor for that fancy ashram or sanctuary -- watch out. Once it is built, you may no longer be able to see the guru -- who will remind you that you are being egotistical to feel disappointed at guru's lack of gratitude.
When a guru (whether Hindu, Buddhist, Christian or Sufi (fake Sufi, genuine Sufi makes no diffence) acquires a fancy ashram -- all too often favoritism crystalises. Who is allowed into the sanctum and who is not? Who gets the best appointment slots for access to the music studio for recording a ghazal or kirtan or chant one has composed? Whoever is in favor, thats who.
And whowever is in favor can change at any time. Palaces bring problems.
*A stance of smiling serenity maintained at all times, even in circumstances where most of us would be upset. These persons may give an impression of strength and remarkable confidence, but this calm and smiling facade will shatter if someone knowingly or unknowingly makes fun of their guru and religion. Then the smiles and serenity will be replaced by childish viciousness.
With time, you catch on that that this smiling serenity is not from genuine psychological integration but is a well rehearsed default response. Sweet condescending humor may be used to distract or trivialize your concerns as though you are a whiney child. Smile, smile, smile.
If someone is in a "smiley face group" for very many years and cannot afford facelifts, the person may over years develop grotesquely deep smile lines at corners of eyes and mouth.
YOu are invited to a weekend event and they refuse to tell you what goes on. Dont even bother going and ignore anyone claiming you are a coward or close minded. Its not cowardice to refuse to jump into an alligator pond. As an adult you have the right to fully informed consent, especially if an event is billed as life transforming but they dont tell you what they will do to you.
If an event is powerful enough to be transformative it is powerful enough to have side effects. There is *no such thing* as something 100% beneficial and
*You are kept waiting. Beware. The guru says he or she will lecture at X hour. You all show up on time and the guru keeps you waiting. This in Asia is considered a sign of power domination -- keeping people waiting displays the power and prestige of the leader. If your time is not respected you are not respected.
This is also a clever way to keep people awake past normal bedtime -- a key method to destabilize critical thinking.
If you avoid anything or anyone that keeps you up past your normal bedtime, you will be protecting your own welfare in a very effective manner.
A friend of yours is suddenly happy and glowing. Most human problems, if dealt with via work and stable insight, resolve gradually. If someone is suddenly happy or euphoric, in a manner that seems out of character, they may be 'high' on group influence of some sort. Such sudden mood shifts can easily be produced by adroit social engineering especially combined with well orchestrated attention and flattery from a group. (insta intimacy) Diddle our neuroreceptors in just the right manner; the human animal will feel ecstatic. (Get and read Marc Lewis' Memoirs of an Addicted Brain to learn more about this)
In the West even those of us who are not Christians are influenced by the story of Paul of Tarsus being converted from hate to love in a surge of blinding light.
And we love our friends and wish them well. So be cautious if a friend has gone through sudden, simingly miraculous transformation and wants you to do it too.
Too often these ecstacies can be produced via adroit social engineering.
Even the most intelligent and educated among us is not immune. Remember, we are mammals. No amount of education or life experience changes this. IQ, education, those are applications. Underneath, at DOS level, we are mammals and can be tickled into rolling over and going gooey if some operator handles us and tickles us just the right way.
So if you fail to share your friend's enthusiasm, ask the background of the people who sent her into happiness, and she or he reacts by yelling at you, accuses you of being a 'hater' or cynic, or just goes icy silent and remote --thats a signal her or his happiness is a fragile achievement, not deep rooted healing that can withstand queries.
(Corboy note) In general, watch out for any group that is reportedly all about love, love, love. They're the ones who turn savage when their guru is exposed.
* Members are so dependant that they have pictures of their guru -- sometimes very many pictures - fostering an impression that they little different from young children who need to carry a favorite blanket or teddy bear at all times. In some cases, they may not have pictures of the guru but may decorate their rooms and offices in a manner prescribed by the guru.
*Some groups encourage members to dress only in a restricted range of colors, encourage a sugary, sentimental style meant to attract good karmic influences or assist in removing bad karmic impressions. This style may seem non specifically "new age" to outsiders, but have a quite specific theological meaning inside the group.
*The cult seems to value money and materialism too much. One *does* have to earn money to survive in this economy, but one should not be under pressure to have a certain 'look'.
*Building projects that are pushed through with no respect for concerns of neighbors. If you're the ones who know God, why care about the ignorant?
* A cult pushes for a particular type of dress code, or even, in some cases, a particular style of interior decor. (Anthroposophists do this. Some groups encourage members to dress only in a restricted range of colors, encourage a sugary, sentimental style meant to attract good karmic influences or assist in unwinding samskaras)
*****Beware if there is a high rate of marriage within a cult.
*****Be especially concerned if there's subtle or not so subtle pressure to have children, and especially if the guru and upper mangement seem to favor or be comprised of persons married in the cult and also who have children, while persistently single members are not nearly as favored -- unless they are affluent and have useful social or business connections.
******Be yet more wary if you notice that there's a trend to divorce non believing or disaffected partners followed by a second marriage to someone already in the cult.
If you note If you and your spouse are both in the cult, and one of you is mistreated or has doubts, you risk being divorced by your spouse and shunned by the group if you complain.
If you are both married and have children while in the cult and then one of you has doubts, the doubter may risk being shunned, divorced, may not be able to afford an attorney of the same caliber as the one supplied by the pooled wealth of the cult.
One feature listed by Spartacus:
Drugs are forbidden/discouraged – credit for drug abuse recoveries assigned to practice/master
(Corboy) Some groups may prefer to recruit people who have been through drug and alcohol hell. That way, the person lives in fear that if he or she questions to cult, or gets kicked out, they will relapse.
One sign if if a group (or a therapist affiliated with a cult) fails to mention or even discourages participation in rehab programs offered by hospitals outside of the cult. Another tip off: a group discourages or forbids participation in 12 Step programs such as AA, NA and Ala-non.
12 step groups encourage diverse viewpoints, and even atheist AA groups exist. And 12 Step groups, unlike cults, encourage service, but never at the expense of a person finding and keeping jobs and family life. And the 12 Traditions of AA forbid prosyletizing on behalf specific religions, sects, or political projects.
And in 12 Step, unlike cults, one is free to come and go, and you can dump your sponsor if you feel your sponsor is behaving like an asshole.
You are asked to fast or strongly encouraged. Going without food can mess with your blood sugar and interfere with your thinking.
You are advised to give up coffee as part of preparing for some guru's lecture. Caffeine withdrawal is no joke, the headaches and physical disruption are serious. Dont go without any drug or medication you are accustomed to - not even coffee. Do it on your own, for yourself, and when you have spare time to cope with the withdrawal, not because some guru has blown into town.