Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Center/ Khenchen Dorje Rinpoche Center
B1 Meditation Center/East West Culture Project:
A quasi-Buddhist group in Taiwan
Joseph Szimhart (July, 2014)
This brief essay addresses a “new religious movement” about which I presented at an International Cultic Studies Association meeting in Washington DC on July 5, 2014. (http://www.icsahome.com/events/eventsarchive)
I presented about this group at the ICSA 2014 meeting with an ex-member who was devoted to B1 for many years and quit a few years ago after getting too close to the "Wizard" and seeing too much "behind the curtain."
Front names and websites for the group:
Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche Center
East West Culture Project (Taiwan), a.k.a.“The Tea House”, Khenchen Rinpoche Centre, the Temple.
EWCP Meditation Lecture Series
The Buddhist Temple
B1 Yoga Class
The Water Moon (Inc.)
Ya Ming Shan Meditation Retreat
The Qi Gong Class
Global Culture Holistic Living Project (a.k.a The Foundation)
Leader: Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, Khenchen
Kenchen Mawei Wangqiu Longli Jiacuo Rinpoche (a.k.a Master Wang or Lao Shi). Master Wang’s name is subject to change any time he ups his status in the guru game.
Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, Khenchen, Khenchen Rinpoche, or Master Wang claims to be a recognized Khenpo, Vajra Master, Dorje Loben, and Rinpoche in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
The following is a brief introduction to my model of what constitutes a potentially constricting group situation (see: http://jszimhart.com/cult_101):
Transcendental attraction to deep inner knowledge enveloped in a charismatic relationship with an exotic religion and culture. The relationship offers a unique way to fit into a foreign culture through adaptation and absorption into a community. The experience is one of self-transcendence.
Authoritarian leader claims greatness and wisdom of the highest order through lineage and status as a teacher despite slim to no evidence to support claim. No outside, objective or sholarly authority within the Buddhist milieu has access to Wang's cult. There are no moderating influences.
Circular tension is being on a path that amounts to psychologically orbiting the leader and core of the group. This orientation leads to intellectual and social constriction. Recruit or member avoids any criticism of the leader while never feeling able to achieve what the leader has achieved.
Exit perils arise over losing one’s attainment, investments, and support of group and leader if any doubt enters the mind or creates an urge to defect. Thought control through group techniques help deflect doubts.
We can use Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis model and his idea of unfreezing and freezing to better grasp how this model represents group experience.
Change Process/Lewin (from Wikipedia)
“An early model of change developed by Lewin described change as a three-stage process. The first stage he called "unfreezing". It involved overcoming inertia and dismantling the existing "mind set". It must be part of surviving. Defense mechanisms have to be bypassed. In the second stage the change occurs. This is typically a period of confusion and transition. We are aware that the old ways are being challenged but we do not have a clear picture as to what we are replacing them with yet. The third and final stage he called "freezing". The new mindset is crystallizing and one's comfort level is returning to previous levels. This is often misquoted as "refreezing" (see Lewin,1947)”
Lewin suggested that behavioral change comes about when old patterns are shaken up (unfrozen) by encounter with new ideas, an illness, tragedy, or some other major life event. Most human beings suffer cognitive dissonance as old ideas and patterns are challenged by the new. The next freezing stage can occur two ways: A retreat back to old patterns that feel “safe,” or an advance into new territory that demands adaptation and adjustment or conformity. Thus a person feels “born again” or “renewed” or “transcendent” or “saved.”
Above, I propose a set of themes through which devotional activity or “cult” formation occurs, no matter what the religious or secular foundation: The more extreme or absolute the application of these themes, the more harm might ensue. In my four part model, the entry or unfreezing stage is when a recruit goes from curiosity to immersion into an experience of self that is projected into a bigger, better awareness or future—an expansion or elevation of self. This new flow of self into strange, “elevated” territory can feel awesome as well as terrifying and it soon requires orientation. As I. M. Lewis noted in Ecstatic Religion, the new recruit or neophyte in ecstasy will invariably to some degree take on the characteristics of the environment in which the ecstasy took place, or, of the social context that interprets the experience.
In other words, an energized neophyte will and often wants to take on the trappings—the behaviors, clothing, language, rituals, and place, be it a physical place, a psychological orientation (mindset), or a website or all three—of the cult. Almost by default, the recruit turns to an authority figure in the milieu and this relationship generally creates and requires charisma to work smoothly. Charisma feels like proof. We hear newly converted or “sold” members say “it resonated with me,” felt right, or “I just knew this was it.”
This is where psychological and behavioral constriction begins in the milieu or house after the initial expansive awareness (often accompanied by ecstatic experience) gets one in the door. Ecstasy can manifest as a gentle inner glow of gnosis as well as a full blown dissociative episode that feels like one is out of one’s body in a realm of endless euphoria. To be ecstatic means to be standing outside oneself or to transcend.
The irony is that most manipulative cult managers either know this through experience or learn it. Robert J. Lifton called this “mystical manipulation” when a milieu makes something appear spontaneous in the new recruit while all along the new recruit is being set up to experience the new “insight” or “transcendent feeling.” Planned spontaneity means your experience of spirituality or of personal energy can be manipulated and is not sui generis or “pure.” (Lifton, 1961) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_Reform_and_the_Psychology_of_Totalism
The constriction process or “freezing” progresses as the neophyte settles into an orbit around the central idea and authority. This creates what I call “circular tension” as the neophyte seeks to conform to new patterns that attempt to get to where the leader and “in-group” claim to be, i.e., enlightened, saved, totally free, etc. However, in deceptive cult formation the leader tends to be flawed, deceptive, or delusional about their status. The insecure leader cannot allow any member to achieve or perceive to achieve the grandiose status of the leader. The environment is continually manipulated so that no one looks for the man behind the curtain—all eyes are on the wizard above the throne. If an insecure leader senses a challenge to his or her power, that leader will find ways to dissemble the challengers or dismiss them entirely from the milieu using an array of rationalizations and accusations.
There are exit perils after anyone joins any group, the least of which are losing investments of time, privileges, and newly found friends. Other, more concrete costs can include financial investments and relocation. However, when we consider that a cult often requires much more in terms of mind and soul—the investment of one’s very life in the here and hereafter—the dire prospects of doubt and defection are very confusing and painful ones to entertain. Loss of conviction or salvation that may be tied to the group and leader or guru is a BIG loss to face, thus increasing the circular tension that most cult members find themselves under.
This circular tension is often a misapplication and naïve approach to what a proper Buddhist will call “the razor’s edge.” The razor’s edge has nothing to do with a manipulative guru (no matter what you read that happened between Marpa and Milarepa). The razor’s edge of Buddhism is about the Eight Fold Path and getting things “right” (samma) or doing them “properly” in the best way (http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/8foldpath.htm).
As long as a group member just “goes along” following rules, engaging in ritual, attending required meetings, or sustaining a positive orientation toward the guru and the group, the tension is relaxed and one feels “free” in a state of what some call bounded choice or illusion of choice. In other words, as long as the member obeys the little policemen their head, mind traffic will stop and go without guilt and fear. However, if one begins to doubt the status of the leader or the importance of the group through disconfirming evidence, the tension increases to the point of pain.
The thought of breaking away means suffering loss and entering confusion—cognitive dissonance ensues (unfreezing). Many members will rationalize disconfirming evidence at this stage to relieve the pain and relax back into a group orbit. Others find it may be more painful to stay in orbit as the wider frame of reference that tells them that the guru is really a fake, or delusional, or merely another narcissistic cult leader among thousands, also tells them that life will be and is better outside the cult.
But this is where things get interesting for ex-members. No one just walks away from this kind of engagement. The teachings and lifestyle continue to trigger responses like guilt for not meditating, the temptation to change diet and dress, and the re-socialization among people who know nothing about this bizarre cult. In most cases, the guru has been deeply internalized (the Wizard on the screen remains in the brain). What was once a hero in your experience now becomes a demon in your skull and “it” will not go away.
Memory of this kind persists in a range of ways. One client I had was an example of internalizing the cult leader to such a degree that he felt “possessed” for years by the leader constantly mocking him through his thoughts after he quit (it took him over a year of struggle to just leave the commune in the Catskills of NY) the cult. He was drinking heavily when I met him in Santa Fe, NM as it was his way of suppressing the babbling “Baba” (Swami Muktananda) in his head. He eventually took my advice years later, stopped thinking he needed an exorcism, and went to a psychiatrist. A simple prescription of an anti-psychotic medication removed his “Baba” that years of booze and a Catholic ritual could not erase.
In other cases, ex-members develop a revenge mentality to expose the trickster so others will not fall into orbit. And others wrestle with the pain of reorientation sufficiently for a few months or a year, and then successfully “move on” to another chapter of their lives.
In my novel Mushroom Satori: The Cult Diary, the protagonist Jake leaves the Zen cult after ten years in it, but finds in short order that he still has to face the sensei/guru in his head and choose to “kill the Buddha” before he can move on and truly live. There is an old saying among Buddhists: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. The saying refers more to recognizing that the Buddha is not “a person” as there is “no self” in Buddhist philosophy.
This is what I see happening among ex-members of Master Wang’s cult, this pattern above that describes how social constriction takes place through psychological and behavioral maneuvers that comply with sacred and authoritative “suggestions.” As with most cults, ex-members of Wang’s milieu exit and recover in various ways that depend on depth and time of commitment, personality and psychological traits, and social supports.
One book I recommend to ex-members is Take Back Your Life by Lalich and Tobias. It is a good primer to begin to grasp what happened and to realize that this experience actually has a social reality that can be framed as I did above. There can be other frames of reference, but getting a sense of context or a way to “name” the disorder is also a way to find a proper remedy.
One of the worst things an ex-cult member can do is retain a false or overvalued belief that the leader really had magical powers or is not responsible for what “mid-managers” in the cult did. The corruption of knowledge (teaching) stems from a leader, so in the very least, an ex-member has to clean out the subtle and grandiose or corrupt ideas a leader has planted in his or her mind. That can take many years of effort.
Tibetan cultural chauvinism among lamas and abuse of women seekers
My review of Traveller in Space by June Campbell (1996)
Anyone who has followed the recent histories of Zen and Tibetan Buddhist teachers with western devotees knows that, too often, these same teachers have been criticized for both authoritarian and sexual indiscretions. It is easy to play the cynic who believes that these ostensibly celibate or married men--the teachers are almost always monks--find it hard to resist “sexually liberal,” white, westerners who dote over them. And it is easy to degrade devotees who submit “totally” to such gurus as no more than naive seekers who should have known better. In Traveller In Space, June Campbell delivers us beyond superficial cynicism into a scholarly study of the unusual patriarchal system of Tibetan Tantra and its relevance to female subjectivity.
Although Campbell speaks from extensive personal experience--she was a consort of an important Tibetan lama (priest-monk) for several years and an accomplished translator of Tibetan texts--Traveller is not another “ex-member” exposé for lay readers. Campbell lives in Scotland where she teaches Religious Studies. Hers is an important study that utilizes sophisticated psychoanalytic, religious, and cultural theory. She explains and criticizes how the female role, the dakini, in Tibetan Tantra (Vajrayana) has diminished the individual female integrity to comply with a male-dominated, male-defined tradition. Campbell invokes feminist scholarship, especially that of Luce Irigay, as well as religion and mythology scholars, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell (no relation to the author), and Agehananda Bharati among them, to reinforce her perspectives.
In certain terms, Campbell points out the vulnerabilities of Tibetan Tantra to western influence. Tibetan dakinis have been acculturated to accept their roles as unequal if revered “objects” useful to lamas in their sexual rituals. The latter, usually secret, are said to provide powerful opportunities for the lama to attain “enlightenment.” Western ethics (conditioned by a long history of Judeo-Christian influence) and feminist philosophy conflict with this secret patriarchal system. Western women have long complained about sexual exploitation by certain gurus who invoke an “enlightened” status, one that “entitles” them to have sexual contact with devotees. Campbell provides a scholarly and psychoanalytic basis for their complaints as well as a new standard for women within the Tibetan tradition. She admits that if this new standard, one that accepts women as self-determining “subjects” in their own spiritual destiny, were incorporated, Tibetan Tantra would either revolutionize or disappear.
More than a cross-cultural critique, Traveller In Space is a good primer on lamaism and Tantric religious history with its roots in Indian philosophy. Campbell analyses how separation from the mother at a young age has certain emotional effects on “reincarnated” lamas and their ensuing needs for “nurture” from consorts. The title is a translation of the Sanskrit word dakini (Tibetan khandro) that means “sky-goer.” The implication is that the submissive dakini is unattached to any thing and functions as an empty “space” to afford the partner-lama an experience of “enlightenment,” but, in tradition, this does not work in reverse. Campbell systematically discusses and deconstructs such male-generated notions as untenable and “illogical” within and “outwith” the system if Tibetan Tantra is to incorporate status integrity for women. She also points out how lamas manipulate their consorts, or dakinis, by suggesting if they reveal the affair or rebel, the dakini will suffer “madness, trouble, or even death.”
The fact that this manipulative behavior is somehow sanctioned by a centuries-long tradition, largely unchallenged by the females within Tibetan culture, demonstrates how completely the “feminine” has been politically framed by both male-generated symbology and signature, according to Campbell. The effects of Campbell’s study may be difficult to predict, but the need for it in light of the continued attraction of western seekers, particularly women, for exotic “enlightened” teachers is inestimable.
Review by Joseph P. Szimhart published in Skeptical Inquirer (July-August 1996) "A Wayward way to Buddhist Spirituality."
This quasi-Buddhist group does not like being called a cult.
Ex-members who reveal abuses they saw or experienced have been threatened with lawsuit.
4 April 15 An example of Master Shang (aka Wang) teaching/ NOT VERY IMPRESSIVE:
(see Shang teaching quoted and translated below)
6 Aug 14: The "leavingtaipeicult" blog mentioned below and my short essay on this group led by a Master Wang (aka "Shang" lately) has stirred a heated response on a chat site "Forumosa".
Unfortunately, the EWCP devotee (HappyInTaiwan) uses a typical-for-people-in-cults ad hominem approach toward critics (the blogger and myself).
Cult members or people who "think" from inside a self-sealing system tend to be blind to internal flaws as they project all their problems to outside interference. The following essay will help you grasp how a self-sealing system operates:
The purpose for my essay was to spark debate (my essay is not a verdict), get this group out into the light of day and out from underneath its "brochure" or staged reality. (see below in this column):
for a thorough insider's view:
"Nobody joins a cult. Contrary to all appearances as a legitimate organization, the groups known as ewcp, East West Culture Project, The Bodhicitta Project, B1 & the leader (known as Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, Master Wang, Wang Laoshi, Khenchen Dorje Rinpoche) make up a destructive cult that preys on foreigners & contradicts the tenets of appropriate Buddhist practice. If you or someone you know has been hurt, coerced or threatened by this cult, this site is for you. We can help." (anonymous ex-member of Wang's Center)
(note all lack of credible verification of claims. I will comment on the first few paragraphs only to give you an idea of how to examine the mask of guru promotion):
"Shang Longrik Gyatso Rinpoche, also known as Khenchen Rinpoche, is a recognized Khenpo, Vajra Master, Dorje Loben, and Rinpoche in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition."
(With a little research and by interviewing former insiders, one soon learns that Wang gave himself this title, Shang Longrick Gyatso Rinpoche. Self-entitlement is one of the most common traits of a cult leader.)
"His life is one of study, practice, and service and is dedicated to the cultivation of spiritual truth. This is shown in the wisdom and clarity with which he teaches and guides his multitude of students both in Taiwan and internationally."
(Shang/Wang is married, has two grown daughters, "Amy" and "Claire" and lives the eccentric if common life of a relatively wealthy man (he likes a good meal, nice clothes, nice houses), not that of a monk or scholar in the Tibetan tradition. He promotes copious ritual drinking among members, but it is not clear to me that the leader drinks on these occasions. He has perhaps a few hundred devotees, some of varying dedication, plus an inner core of dozens only. He can be difficult to understand and repeats themes, often talking about himself and his achievements.)
"Rinpoche's remarkable spiritual journey began at the age of seven years old in Taipei. From this beginning, he went on to study every major religion and spiritual system in the world."
(Every major religion and spiritual system in the world? That could mean anything as Shang/Wang shows no credentials that he ever passed a truly traditonal test of knowledge in major religions. Reading a book like "Religion for Dummies" would qualify him under this grandiose statement. To believe this, one would have to be under Shang/Wang's spell and fear looking outside his closed system for answers.)
*If you want an example of a true teacher that has been qualified by his tradition as well as the academy internationally, read The Ochre Robe by A Bharati. Bharati was a wandering teacher under the Goswami Order in India and taught at Syracuse University in the USA in his later career. Excellent!
"Wow!! Has anyone looked into the guy that limoncello keeps referencing? Joe Simzhart was part of a group called CultAware back in the early 90’s. Apparently he was going around in Australia and charging large sums of money to kidnap, abuse and deprogram members of different religious groups, trying to get them to denounce faith in their religions. Is the reason that the EWCP is not responding to all this because they’ve all been kidnapped?"
For the record, I was never a member of CultAware and the rest of the stupid commentary by Shiva the Destroyer deserves no comment.... (Joe Sz)
4 Apr 15 CONTINUED FROM ABOVE
below is a glimpse of Master Shang's teaching:
Every life is composed of a variety of elements, some of which are fundamental, others essential. This results in the diverse characteristics of individuals. This is not only true to individual organisms but also to the external world which is deeply impacted by various elements. We live in a dimension that is inextricably connected to gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, cobalt, nickel, silicon, zinc, as well as the the sun, moon, air, and water. The planet earth is constantly exposed to the influence of these factors. Since the Industrial Revolution, humanity reply heavily on the Sun and all of the other energies on earth. In fact, for a long time all energy found on earth has come from the Sun and in the form of vegetation. What baffled Thomas Edison was precisely how to turn solar energy into electricity and since then, terms such as photons have been coined. The problems which later arose because of nuclear fission and the like have become huge issues for the planet. An emerging technology known as laser enrichment will gradually change our lives, and is bound to be brought to the spotlight, as it is more economical than the ultracentrifuge. But that itself has many drawbacks. The gravest difficulty faced by humanity now is that everyone is exposed to gas emissions because of the constant burning of fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal. As a result, carbon dioxide permeates the entire atmosphere. The problems of radiation and global warming arise when sunlight shines directly on these emissions. Up till now, no method has proven to be effective in releasing carbon dioxide, so it is here to stay and continues to cause trouble for the whole of humanity. The destruction and damage it causes is certain to be a perennial one, it will not lessen. This issue concerns the earth's entire population.
In the next epoch, scores of scientists will dream of bringing in alternative energy sources from outer space. However, cost will be the main issue. Perhaps these scientists will seek opportunities on planets outside of the solar system or even venture to turn Mars into something similar to the Earth… All in all, things which were once seen in “Star Wars” might become a reality in the next century.
From the 19th century onwards, Buddhism has had to deal with global warming and pollution. After the 19th century, Indian and western philosophers and psychologists began to take advantage of advances in technology, printing, media and communications to disseminate literature on spirituality. Combining Hinduism, Buddhism, yoga, philosophy and hypnosis, they published on their experiences of what they called enlightenment. Courses on spirituality began to spring up from every crack and crevice, led by spiritual guides. There isn't necessarily anything good or bad about these new age religions, but the purity of a spiritual system is a key factor. We shouldn't allow those without proper lineages to arbitrarily turn Buddhist teachings and Tibetan Buddhism into commodities, sending erroneous concepts and messages, passing counterfeits as genuine, completely baffling those who are serious about understanding authentic Buddhism. This is where the greatest contamination and karma originate. Consequently at this time, it is most imperative to clarify the doctrines, and get to the bottom of what truly is and isn’t genuine Buddhism.