While this article focuses on Scientology and Landmark Education, it speaks universally to how intelligent, thinking people can be drawn into a cult.. . . In fact, indoctrination is tantamount to slow, methodical abuse. And just like other forms of abuse, often by the time you realize what what’s happening, it’s too late. Cults like Scientology initially seem to share universal values. They ask you to just keep yourself open to possibilities. Slowly, they keep pushing until, finally, they’ve established their way of thinking, first as the better alternative, and then as the new normal.
So subtle – I remember one of the things that drew me to SGI was its assertion that it was an organization dedicated to world peace and humanitarian causes. As a wilted flower-child, how could this not appeal to me? It was Buddhism, or so I was told . . . the most pacifistic philosophy going! The mysticism was irresistible, and the people I met were so kind and accepting. To someone relatively new in town who hadn’t made many friends, this was an added bonus. By the time I realized that things weren’t quite as they’d been presented, I was willing to go along with it – it was my new normal, you see.Both Scientology and Landmark also share similar recruiting methods, using its members as de facto evangelizers. In conversations about Landmark, my boyfriend’s mother repeatedly put me on the spot, forcing me to defend my beliefs. Suddenly I felt like the closed-minded one, arguing with a woman who had welcomed me to her family with open arms.
Certainly, it had to have been my own close-mindedness that started questioning things, right? It couldn’t be that I was seeing cracks in the façade of the practice – they kept telling me, over and over again, that the practice was perfect. I was flawed. When I went to my leaders for guidance, they were kind and understanding, and they gently explained what I had to do to correct my mistaken views – chant more, study more, become a heart-to-heart disciple of my mentor who loved me personally and had only my best interests at heart.When it came to Landmark, she had an answer for each of my hesitations. I lost sleep. I was under impossible pressure not to disappoint. My hair began to fall out; I had a bald spot the size of a quarter. Finally, I agreed to go to a Landmark “Completion” ceremony, believing it to be a graduation ceremony for her and her peers. In reality, the ceremony was a workshop where those who had “completed” their training were supposed to bring in uninitiated friends and family, and put pressure on them to join the Forum.
Of course – an answer for everything, and tricking people into coming to recruiting meetings. All meetings are recruiting meetings, if there is a non-member there. A non-member will be descended upon with more interest, approval and unwarranted affection than they’ve probably ever received in their lives. There is only goal here – to seduce that member into the group. After they leave, they will be flooded with phone calls, home visits . . . whatever it takes to get them to become one with the herd.That’s when I realized just how deep the indoctrination had reached. This wonderful, intelligent woman had been a part of the Landmark “community” since 1988. She credited her bravery and personal successes to its methods. At this point, questioning its motives meant questioning her own values, her own sensory and emotional perception. How does one explain to someone who they have spent years of their life and thousands of their hard-earned dollars on something that amounts to a cult?
Does this sound familiar? Every success, whether it was personal, professional or financial, had to be credited back to the good old Mystic Law. A cult-member is utterly without their own power – nothing positive can be accomplished without sufficient placation of the Mystic Law. It is the source to everything good, and the gohonzon stands as its portal.
Members become so closely absorbed into the cult that their own identities are lost. Questioning any of its methods or motives becomes personal; they’ve lost their individuality, and they aren’t even aware of it . . . in fact, they refuse to even examine that possibility. To leave the cult would be to lose whom they’ve become. “I am the SGI” is more than just a banal motto – it’s a firmly-held belief. You don’t need to be you any more.Indoctrination, in this way, is self-sustaining. To not believe would mean losing something very tangible. Organizations like these are in this way self-policed, the same way a simple game like Truth or Dare is intrinsically enforced by groupthink. Organizations are acutely aware of this, using groupthink, itself, is a methodology.
And that groupthink is reinforced at every opportunity. Every meeting opens with gongyo and closes with a trance-breaking sancho. In between, everyone speaks the various company lines and receives plenty of reinforcement from the other members. Good dog! You don’t want to lose their approval, because it has come to mean almost everything to you. Being accused of creating disharmony is less forgivable than holding up a gas-station.