Is Tibetan Buddhism a Cult?
Dr. Robert J. Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform and Lamaism,
the Cultist form of Buddhism
by Chris Chandler
Robert Jay Lifton
(born May 16, 1926) is an American psychiatrist and author, chiefly known
for his studies of the psychological causes and effects of war and
political violence and for his theory of thought reform. He was an early
proponent of the techniques of psychohistory.
Disclaimer: Robert Jay Lifton wrote a seminal book, entitled, “Thought Reform
and the Psychology of Totalism which was
published in 1961. It had a subtitle, A study of “Brainwashing” in China.
However, he published a new edition in 1989. In the preface he noted
the following point, “Now after twenty-eight years, my own sense of this
book has changed. I see it as less a specific record of Maoist China and
more of an exploration of what may be the most dangerous direction of the
twentieth- century mind-the quest for absolute or “totalistic” belief
systems. In other words this book is not about China but about universal
issues of mind control and not about the specifics of one country from
which the initial evidence was gained.
In 1988 Steven Hassan published his book, “Combatting
Cult Mind Control” and he acknowledged the contribution that Robert J. Lifton had made to his thinking. It is clear by the
time Robert J. Lifton wrote the new preface to
his book one year later he owed a lot to those who were trying to address
the issue of cultism.
1. Milieu Control
involves the control of information and communication both within the
environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a
significant degree of isolation from society at large.
Lamaism maintains a completely controlled
system of communication, both within the environment, and within the
individual. Within the environment, No information is allowed” in”
and none of the secrets of the inner workings are allowed ‘out.” For
an example of not allowing any information “in”, the scandals involving the
Eco Karmapa, concerning money laundering, the
illegal purchase of benami land, set aside for
Indians, was all over the Indian news and even in the U.S. news that is
very pro Lamaism. This news never reaches these sanghas.
The Lamas made sure , in the closed system they
maintain, that none of this reached the ‘devotees” in the U.S. and Britain,
who support Ogyen Trinley
Rinpoche, the Dalai Lama’s ‘prodigy” being
groomed to take his place. The lamas need not have worried,
since none of these devotees, some of them programmed for years
, would ever read anything that contradicted their pure view of this lama,
or any lama in fact. But for the newer students, it was essential to
make sure that none of this information ‘got into the lama system” so the older
western students would function as important ‘gatekeepers” to minimize this
news, to distort it as unimportant, and to make sure that the boundary from
the outside, was completely “impermeable.” For one year this scandal
was all over the news, but none of the western Lamaist
students knew anything about it, because they were told by the lamas and
the older students to pay no attention.
Sogyal’s predatoriness and
sexual abuse is similarly protected from being ‘information’ let into
‘other sanghas, that are closely related, and
since all of them have formed an alliance now, this would be all of them ,
that is why the ‘circling of the wagons” was so important by these other
lamas, who went ‘immediately’ to Rigpa centers,
and taught, or taught with Sogyal, side by
side, or had western students make videos about how ‘wonderful” Sogyal is, all to deflect and prevent these sanghas from even contemplating the news…
They also powerfully control the information
and communication within the individual, by their repressive, terrorizing
vision of hell realms, and the teachings that even a negative
thought, particularly of their ‘gurus” or master lamas, will lead one to be
in ‘hell forever” with no hope of return. This would fall under the 8
deadliest transgressions, to see, say or believe anything negative about
ANY of these lamas who are to be seen as living deities, that you are
totally dependent on for ‘enlightenment” , which is , of course , a
complete distortion of the Buddha’s teachings.
2. Mystical Manipulation
is manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were
planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to
demonstrate divine authority or spiritual advancement or some special gift
or talent that will then allow the leader to reinterpret events, scripture,
and experiences as he or she wishes.
In very short order, western students are
indoctrinated into “magical thinking” and quickly disabused of their
rational thinking and critical reasoning, which is systematically undermined,
replaced with group think, carefully orchestrated by the older students,
who model how to “view these lamas” by
their sycophantic behaviors around them, their total submission
to an agreement with everything these lamas say ‘as divinely inspired”.
While pretending to be “humble” one is learning that these are
“divine beings” on these thrones, that the older students are submissively
hanging on every word they say, and who are only here to “help us”. Some
fairy tales include a lineage, where their previous lamas, were products of
a deity and a human being.
Quickly one is following the group, to model
submissive, prostrating behavior, and a sudden belief in fairy tales,
listening to fables about Tibet and the lineage of these divine ones, and soon
one learns to ask no penetrating, western type questions. Hours of
chanting, particularly when one is making offerings, long periods of
meditation together, starts to have a ‘dissolving quality” on all that one
has previously valued and believed. It is shocking how quickly this
happens. The lamas are soon ‘creating ‘magical nets’ of protection around
the group before a retreat, they are doing ‘purification practices, and
‘blessings” of books, and ritual materials, such as malas,
they engage in special ‘abishekas.” It doesn’t
take long for the group and newer students indoctrinated into these
‘mystical manipulations” to believe that the lama himself is divine, and
the recipient, and manifestation of a living Buddha, that represents
sometimes hundreds of living deities, coming through his enlightened body
to the students. These lamas are experts at ‘mystical manipulation’
and have made it a ‘fine art” of seduction to quickly control the minds of
the individuals in the group to believe this.
3. Demand for Purity
world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted
to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection.
The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.
In the Tibetan Lamaist
cult one is immediately taught that one is ‘impure” and that is why one is
in a ‘human body” and NOT in a deity body, like these lamas. The
teachings after being presented at first as ecumenical, and easy going, and
relaxed, soon become are all about ‘purity” and doing many practices,
and cycles of practices to ‘purify’ ones being, that may and probably will
take ‘lifetimes.” Soon, one begins to feel ‘less than they did” when they
entered the Lamastocracy, and one loses
confidence in one’s own individuality, which is ’emptied out, by both the
dogma and the practices, one feels ’empty” and often ‘only complete
in the presence of the lamas.
as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor
or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members’
“sins,” “attitudes,” and “faults” are discussed and exploited by the
Lamas , have started using ‘confession in the
group” recently, i.e. a confession of sins before the group, and a
confession of one’s faults, particularly if there has been a ‘change in
administrations” the outgoing administration is humbled, with confessions,
or the ‘managers” of the group, use group shame to make devotees
conform to the rules of the system.
5. Sacred Science
The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered
to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is
not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson
for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism.
The Tibetan Lamaist
version of Buddhism , even though it is based on Hindustani Brahmin
priestly caste system religion is taught as the “highest form’ of
Buddhism and referred to as the Third Turning of the Wheel, i.e. the
highest teaching the Buddha taught, even though there is no record extant
that the Buddha taught Guruism ( he actually said
that ‘no one should sit higher than another, and to be a light unto
yourself) or in particular, the Mahayana gradual path, or
certainly NOT vajrayana. Vajrayana,
and the master-disciple commitment, is said to be the highest teachings of
the Buddha, and the fastest path to ‘enlightenment” even though in the Pali and Sanskrit teachings of the Buddha, there is no
record of these teachings. Nor were their teachings on ‘reincarnation.”
which is very helpful to keep those lamas on thrones, reincarnating again
and again, the same person and the rest of us reincarnating into ‘higher”
embodiments, IF we adhere to the Lama doctrine, The latter will of course
take ‘many lifetimes.” Very convenient for them, and a ‘long slog’
for the rest of us
6. Loading the Language
The group interprets or uses words and phrases
in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This
jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter
members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking.
all these Lamaist sanghas
have their own ‘loaded” language, new members soon learn to speak in
the jargon of these cliches so that in short
order, this loaded language has added to the group think.
Everything the lama does is a ‘great teaching” no matter how egregious,
women who are particularly docile and conforming and sexual consorts, or
the older female “pimps” for the lamas, are considered to be “Dakinis”. They are treated with respect in front of the
group, for ‘going along with the abuse”, (that film honoring that old
Tibetan woman, Khandro is a classic brainwashing
film for the western women, on how to behave!) the more ‘traditional’ they
are, to fit into their roles, the more praise they are given in the group.
The men can be more arrogant and dismissive, since they are modelling the lamas.
But the men too, have to be willing to give up their egos, and this is
considered again, not exploitation by the lamas for their own benefit, but
a “great teaching”, or if the show wrathful insulting behaviour
to the student, he is getting a “great blessing” and not an insult.
Physical abuse becomes a quicker ‘purification” of one’s karma.
This list is not exhaustive, just the most obvious examples of
loading the language.
the lama” also is a great blessing, and “serving is the greatest
elegance” or the best prostration could result in immediate enlightenment….
All of it is to make the individual conform to this repressive, autocratic
lama system where individualism and critical thinking and even resistance
to being submissive is turned on its head by the language.
7. Doctrine over person
personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any
contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of
that happens, again, is subordinated to the great blessing of being within
this ‘sacred science”. Ordinary events become ‘miraculous”,
Rain, rainbows, anything that happens in the ordinary world is no
longer just objective events, but are magical and are a blessing of the
lama, or the sacred teachings of the Buddha that only the lama can dispense.
The point is to make the student totally dependent on the lama, just as in
all cults the students become totally dependent on the leader,
8. Dispensing of existence
group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does
not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside
world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted
to the group’s ideology. If they do not join the group or are
critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members.
Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should
any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also. (Lifton, 1989)
old Tibet this would have been ‘literal” people were imprisoned, tortured
or even killed if they were a danger to the lamas despotism. But
Tibetan Lamaism today uses more subtle rejection, ‘ignoring that
person” , rejecting that person, even wrathfully and insultingly treating
that person, in the group, making sure that the heretical behaviour is noticed by the group, and the rejection
serves to prevent anyone else from asking critical questions, soon
everyone in the group is into group think and totally conforming.
Laughing at the same time at the same jokes, all looking adoringly at
their source of everything, i.e. the lamas on those thrones, the
students have to become totally dependent on the lama, any
independence is totally discouraged , subtlety and directly through shame
in the group, and , if someone leaves, Lamaism all together,
they are considered DEAD , lost, and even a demon. To be
shunned by the group, totally. They are very dangerous to the lamas,
but they are presented as very dangerous to the potential enlightenment of
the group members who must shun them.
which leads out from the Tibetan Buddhist dream-trance (Chris Chandler: “Enthralled – The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism” – Review of the book by Victor and Victoria Trimondi)
This is the best
research and the best material ever written on Tibetan Buddhism –
Review of The Shadow
of the Dalai Lama by Chris Chandler
Is Lamaism a
cult? Dr. Robert J. Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform and Lamaism,
the Cultist form of Buddhism by Chris Chandler
Ex Tibetan Buddhism – Blog of