Re: Living with fears after leaving a cult
Date: December 19, 2008 11:24PM
For many years, I was a member of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a Japanese Buddhist cult. Our leaders encouraged the same mindset -- that spending a lot of time chanting and devoting yourself to the organization and its activities created 'good karma' for you. We were also taught that leaving or criticizing the organization would create bad karma.
Why and how did I come to believe this? I'm trying to understand that now. I'm educated, I'm considered intelligent, I am a writer, so I KNOW how people can use words to influence and manipulate. I've been trained to do that myself! WHY was I so influenced by these people?
Well, I liked many of the members and leaders. They seemed normal -- kind, friendly, smart, idealistic, had good jobs, seemed liked and respected by those around them; nobody seemed like a kook or a misfit. They were very positive; I was in a negative place in my life, and I wanted to be more optimistic. I felt like a victim, and I wanted to be pro-active, like they seemed to be. THEY all said that the organization was the only Buddhist group teaching Buddhism correctly. They contributed a great deal of money and time to SGI -- and they talked about how things were getting better in their lives -- how they were resolving job, family, health and financial problems. They gave SGI credit for all the good things they'd achieved. If you hear this kind of thing over and over again for years -- from people that you like and respect -- it just sinks in, whether you intend for it to, or not.
We also heard, over and over, that people who left or criticized SGI were misguided at best and traitors, at worst. When I began to question, and disagree with certain organizational policies, I began to feel anxious and confused. Was I wrong, or were these people that I'd liked and trusted for years? I began reading new information on other websites and talking to people who had different viewpoints. I felt terrible anxiety about doing this, like I was betraying my friends -- and setting myself up for terrible things to happen to me. Yet once I started, I couldn't stop questioning and looking for new information.
Eventually, I realized that my anxiety was a sign that SGI is teaching some bad things -- a person should not have to be afraid to listen to a different opinion! This website has also helped -- I really got to see just how these different groups are all using the same tactics -- whether a cult is based on Christianity, Paganism, Buddhism, Yoga, or something else -- so many of them say "We're the only way to salvation or enlightenment, and if you don't stay with us, something terrible will happen to you!" Well, they ALL can't be right! I began reading about these other cults, and thinking, "Man, different lyrics, same melody!" And if you study the Bible, the Koran, the teachings of the Buddha --- do ANY of them say that you have to devote yourself to one group, priest, minister, iman, rabbi, yogi, or lay leader? No! In fact, they caution readers about false prophets!
I still sometimes worry that bad things will happen to me because I've left SGI -- though I worry less than I used to. It takes time to change habits of thinking -- but it can be done. It helps to remind myself that even the most dedicated SGI members are not immune to disaster. One of our leaders died on 9/11; he was on a plane that crashed into the World Trade Center. Other members have suffered serious, debilitating health issues and deaths in the family. Their devotion to SGI did not prevent this -- and why does anyone think that it would? One of the very basic teachings of Buddhism, is that life is suffering -- no matter who you are, you will experience sickness, old age, death and loss. Religion simply isn't a good luck charm to ward off trouble. It would be nice if it were!
I think that this is how cults get ahold of us and manipulate us -- they play upon our natural desire to avoid uncertainty and suffering; they promise us that if we do what they tell us to, we can have some control over our lives. I just have to keep reminding myself that good things and bad things happen to everyone, no matter who they are or what their religion.
Some people on the Byron Katie/Eckhard Tolle thread were talking about using humor and imagery to change habits of thinking. Once, I was going with some other SGI members to see a live videocast of Daisaku Ikeda's speech -- Ikeda is the much-deified president of the SGI organization. Some members literally believe that they will not attain enlightenment if they don't accept him as a mentor -- sort of like a Japanese Buddhist Jesus Christ! Anyway, I'm in the car and the tune "We're Off to See the Wizard," from the "Wizard of Oz" just came into my head! That was a big turning point for me! I really began to see Ikeda as like the Wizard of Oz -- just some ordinary joe who projected this fake and awe-inspiring image of himself -- and got people to believe it! Wise man, that Frank Baum....but I'm not going to worship him either!