So it's a cult. What now?
August 18, 2008 5:52 PM   Subscribe

I think I've accidentally got myself involved in a cult. What should I do? (warning - very long post inside)

Step 1 - a friend of mine recommended a Korean-based accupressure treatment for stress. I had some treatments. Worked wonders. £30 a pop - good value. The atmosphere of the centre is lovely - it's very relaxed and everyone is very friendly.

Step 2 - treatments are good, but my practitioner recommended that in order to maintain the benefits, that I start classes. Classes involve a combination of chanting, movements (like tai chi or yoga) and meditation. I signed up. And it's working - I'm less stressed and more able to focus on and work on the issues that make me stressed. Works out at about £6 a class - again, good value. I'm at Step 2 (the steps are divisions I've made up, they're not official divisions of the organisation).

Step 3 - the practitioners are suggesting that in order to get the most benefit from the "energy", I should sign up for advanced training which seems to involve talks and ritual ceremonies. It costs around £4000 for this stage. I was interested, but I have no money at the moment (postgrad studies) and pointed this out to them. They're sympathetic. (I'm no longer interested - see below)

Step 4 - additional advanced training (don't know much about this but it's equally costly)

Step 5 - can become a practitioner, involving additional training in Korea, signing over possessions to the centre, living in the centre and spending all my time as a volunteer giving treatment to both paying customers and those in need (emergency services workers, the homeless, people in old age homes, AIDS patients etc)

So far, so dubious, but the focus on giving back to the community is genuine. And the practitioners are genuinely caring and committed. And there will always be naysayers for any quasi-religious organisation.

BUT - I googled the organisation a couple of weeks ago, and Google threw up a "Organistion X Cult" link, which I followed. Turns out that the couple who started the organisation 30 years ago were jailed in 2000 for a $35 million fraud, for having set up a Doomesday Cult saying that the world was going to end in Feb 2000. Which, clearly, it didn't. The organisation changed its name and kept going with a different focus. The wife has come out of prison and is still running things from Korea. So the organisation that I'm a part of is directly linked to people who set up a Doomesday Cult only a few years ago.

So I've concluded that it's a cult.

Question - what do I do?

I want to keep going to classes. I enjoy being at the centre. Should I keep going or would that be a bad thing?

I believe that most of the practitioners have no idea of the background of the organisation and have joined the cult without realising that it's a cult. I've got to know a couple of them quite well and care about them. Should I make them aware of this? How can I help them? (Can I help them?)

Should I challenge the organisation as a whole about the founders' Doomesday Cult? How should I address this? I accept that if I do this, I'm likely to be asked to not return (in which case, I'll take up Tai Chi and meditation separately!)

Is there anything else I should do? I'm concerned that other people may be sucked in. But I think that the UK brahch is run by the book as a charity and there's probably nothing there that the authorities could work with.
posted by finding.perdita to Religion & Philosophy (31 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't know how well doubt, fear and trepidation fit in with the healing arts. As a matter of fact those are sure-fire energy zappers. If there isn't a place that you can join to learn this modality that isn't cash-intensive, maybe you would be wise to seek out a simpler method that is taught well - eye to eye, mind to mind, heart to heart and seeks to better the world in small workable strides that don't involve signing over ones first born son as collateral.
posted by watercarrier at 6:10 PM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

well-put watercarrier.

i think you should go find avenues for t'ai chi and meditation that don't come with the negative karma attached.
posted by gnutron at 6:11 PM on August 18, 2008

First, for yourself: take your classes elsewhere. No sense playing with fire. Plus, knowing what you now know, I highly doubt your stress relief will be at the same level it was before.

For dealing with others: I was involved in what I now consider to be a borderline-cultish organization. No amount of logic, convincing, arguing, or facts could have convinced me to turn on the group. So trying to convince anyone to leave the group is probably a waste of time. If anyone asks, you can tell them your concerns, but be aware that they may have answers for everything you say. It's called "overcoming objections" and both salespeople and proselytizers are very good at it.

Good luck.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 6:13 PM on August 18, 2008

I'm curious... they called it korean "accupressure treatment for stress" but what was it really? Was it just massage or physiotherapy? Do you know that this accupressure treatment is better than physiotherapy or sports medicine?
posted by holloway at 6:21 PM on August 18, 2008

There are plenty of relaxation/yoga/tai chi places out there, so just cut ties and move on. If anyone asks, you can point out your research and send a link, and leave it at that. Don't bother trying to get into deep discussion, as Fuzzy Skinner says, because depending on how entrenched the others are into the structure...

Cults are just mini-religions (religions with no political power). Imagine trying to convince a religious follower that their god is wrong and the other one is right. Impossible. Time to move on. I'd be worried if there were children involved, but these are adults, and their decisions are their own problems.
posted by Ky at 6:21 PM on August 18, 2008


Acupressure is acupuncture without the needles. It's like a more precise version of massage (I've practiced it before), but the scientific literature isn't conclusive.
posted by Ky at 6:24 PM on August 18, 2008

Talk to the people there that you've grown to care about. But be prepared for them to not believe you. And accept that.

As for the group as a whole, unless they're doing something illegal or harmful that you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, leave it alone. It's possible for people to start living legitimate lives after this type of thing. There's no reason to go after them because of things they did in the past.

That being said, if there is something fishy going on bring the hammer down. Again, just make sure there's really something going on.

Finally, get your relaxation somewhere else. You don't need to explain things to them. If asked, just say that you feel it's in your best interest not to come back.
posted by theichibun at 6:25 PM on August 18, 2008

I would get out fast, I just wouldn't want to risk cult brainwashing getting me. Just take up Tai Chi and meditation with a reputable teacher and school. You would probably enjoy it more, cause you won't have the cult thing hanging over your head -- and meet good people as well. Cult dudes don't have a monopoly on relaxation or giving back to the community, either.
posted by Theloupgarou at 6:26 PM on August 18, 2008

If you are giving them money, even if it is a seemingly good value, you are supporting their overall organization and therefore complicit in its deeds. I am sympathetic--this is a small thing bu I felt I had to give up buying lunch from a cult / shady religious organization although their sandwiches were seriously tasty and very reasonably priced.
posted by Morrigan at 6:33 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For the people you care about, approach them gently and say that you've read some articles about the origin of the organization, and have some concerns. Be prepared to cit your sources. Be prepared to be disbelieved, but it's kind to try.
posted by theora55 at 6:50 PM on August 18, 2008

This is one of those moments in life when you need to save yourself first. Get yourself out of that situation. It's nice that you enjoyed some massage and mediation at a price that you could afford. I'd wager that most people who fall into cults have a very warm, welcoming transition into the bosom of cult. Their experience was probably not unlike yours. You can make an informed choice and perhaps they didn't have that opportunity.

If you've researched it and you know it's a cult, then you need to make a choice. You are playing with fire.
posted by 26.2 at 6:56 PM on August 18, 2008

Maybe not a cult, but a MLM/Pyramid scheme.
posted by gjc at 7:02 PM on August 18, 2008

If you pay money for a kooky service, don't be surprised when they amp up the kookiness in the hopes you'll reciprocate.

It's not a cult. It's just good business sense.
posted by wfrgms at 7:20 PM on August 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

But I think that the UK branch is run by the book as a charity and there's probably nothing there that the authorities could work with.

Look at your Step 5. Is it common for charities in the UK to require the signing over all of one's worldly goods and property, and moving into the charity's office, in order to become a full participant in the charity?

I believe that most of the practitioners have no idea of the background of the organisation and have joined the cult without realising that it's a cult.

That's usually how it works. More people are apt to join something they think of as The Beneficial Spiritual Association than something they take to be The Group Of Scheming People Which Will Convince You To Hand Over All Of Your Money.

Re: challenging the local leaders... It's not likely to accomplish anything. They're either already firm believers or have had training in how to deal with people rocking the boat. Or both.

Re: helping the ones you care about... Are you on "Let's go out for a coffee together" terms with them? If so, take them out and tell them what you've dug up. Be prepared for the full range of negative reactions, or a "Oh, I won't be suckered in by it" shrugging-off. That's pretty much all you can do. You don't carry the same emotional weight as one of their family members, and family members have a hell of a hard time getting their loved ones out of such things.
posted by CKmtl at 7:38 PM on August 18, 2008

Best answer: You know now that tai chi/yoga/accupuncture classes are things that help you relieve stress - simply take similar classes elsewhere. You WILL find another place where you feel "at home" that isn't part of any shady behavior.

As for everyone else: this is the kind of thing that people have to find out for themselves. They won't believe you if you tell them. They just won't. Leave it be. If anyone asks you why you're leaving the center, simply say that you found another class that suits you better and that you really enjoyed the time you spent with them. End of story.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:55 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds more to me like an MLM, like gjc said. As a former member of a church-based cult, all I can say to you is GET THE HELL OUT NOW!
posted by IndigoRain at 8:03 PM on August 18, 2008

"With doomsday approaching, the cult leaders were preparing to flee the country with much of the money, prosecutors said."

$35 million, wow!

Cults often do provide something of value. In your case, it's helped you, and you enjoy being at the center. But the long-term cost is probably higher than you'd be comfortable with, economically and spirituality. You won't get anywhere challenging them, and - aside from alerting neophytes, there's not much you can do for entrenched members. Get out and look elsewhere, there are similarly places elsewhere without the karmic cost.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:32 PM on August 18, 2008

I'm fairly certain I know the group you're talking about. I don't see the harm in mentioning it to your friends. However, it's possible they already know but are choosing to ignore/deny it.

I had a coworker who started yoga with this group to address some health problems. From the beginning, she knew about the cult association - even cracked jokes about it - but the intro classes were cheap, close to work and she liked the friendly staff. As time went on she became more "enthusiastic" about the classes. Instead of cracking jokes, she'd defend them. After a year and a half of classes, she left her job in cancer research to do the master training in Sedona. Now she's broke and plans to travel the world as a DY yoga teacher. I'm all for people following their dreams but the DY association is strange - especially since she's given them all her money. This all happened gradually, nothing drastic. She keeps in touch with people, but makes it very clear she's not interested in any cult discussions.

Should I challenge the organisation as a whole about the founders' Doomesday Cult? How should I address this?

I'm not sure what you'd accomplish. They've already been challenged as such in the media.

Should I keep going or would that be a bad thing?

You're concerned enough about this group that you're thinking about challenging the founders about their Doomsday Cult.
I say take up tai chi.
posted by yeoja at 9:00 PM on August 18, 2008

$35 million is a bit meh. If it's a cult, they're not even that good (as in multi-billion dollar good) at it.
Get. Out. Now. There's plenty of classes for yoga, tai-chi, meditation and relaxation techniques and whatnot with no strings like these, out there.
posted by _dario at 9:00 PM on August 18, 2008

signing over possessions to the centre

Running FAR AND FAST FROM THIS OBVIOUS FUCKING CULT is really good exercise, with endorphins and shit. I would recommend this to your friends, too. They need endorphins and calorie burning far more than giving all they own to AN OBVIOUS FUCKING CULT.

posted by dirigibleman at 9:20 PM on August 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Please keep in mind that the genuine warmth you feel toward some people at the center may not be fully reciprocated. Or, if it is, it's also wrapped up in a whole bunch of techniques developed by the cult to encourage new members to lower their defenses and bond with individual members. These people you're well disposed toward may be themselves assessing your insecurities and presenting a carefully constructed facade to encourage you to bond with them. That's not to say that they are necessarily this manipulative, but if they've affiliated themselves with the organization and undergone its intensive training, then they are certainly more than just nice people who teach techniques of relaxation. They are acting in the interests of the group they represent and to which they've already given much.

Protect yourself. Keep in mind that, in all likelihood you have been sized up and are being developed as a new prospect. And that emotional connection is one of the central means toward that end. Prepare your escape plan. Change what numbers (cellphone?) you can and secure whatever information (credit cards?) needs to be secured. Make your break and make it decisively. Wait some time. Months, not weeks. If you've suffered no repercussions and received no harassment, then you could probably allow yourself one single contact for the purposes of making your case to those you care about.

Above all, don't fuck around. Organizations like these prey upon the weak and pervert the natural inclinations of the heart. It's very likely you've already begun to think in categories that advantage their organization and which subvert your own self-determination. Since you've spotted the fix and are eying the door, it means you're tougher than they thought. You can get the help you need without being preyed upon. I wish you good luck.
posted by felix betachat at 9:42 PM on August 18, 2008 [4 favorites]

can become a practitioner, involving additional training in Korea, signing over possessions to the centre, living in the centre and spending all my time as a volunteer

As soon as you heard this, you should have run far away from these fruitloops. This is an absolute 100% no doubt about it sure sign of a dangerous cult. Luckily, it's still not too late for you to do so, so do it. Let me guess, they also suggest that their upper-level "practitioners" disassociate themselves from friends and family members who question or are hostile to the organization? Make like A Flock Of Seagulls and run so far away, dude.
posted by DecemberBoy at 10:15 PM on August 18, 2008

yeoja, after doing some research I'm pretty sure that the OP's organization is different from the one you're talking about. DY (or DW, rather) does have some cultish tendencies, but I feel like they're relatively legit, especially compared to the OP's organization.

OP -- I think you should leave. As you probably also researched, the organization you're attending was re-created right after the founders got out of jail. There have already been reports of attacks and threats against high-ranking members who left the organization in Korea. In fact, the Korean equivalent of 20/20 or 60 minutes had a program last month about this cult, titled "The return of a cult leader: why do his members follow him again?".

I took a few classes at DY once -- at a similar, yoga/meditation based organization. I was going along with some other people, and had my skept-o-cult-o-meter on standby all the time, because several aspects of the organization seemed strange: the Dianetics-like stress examination, the enthusiasm of the members, etc, etc -- some small things. When the exercises and meditation started, I went through the motions anyway, and was surprised to realize that it worked, I felt refreshed, relaxed, destressed, etc. Everyone else in my group felt the same. Each time I returned, I felt the same way, and I can honestly say that my quality of life improved over the two or three weeks that I was taking the classes.

After those initial sessions, though, I never went back because I was too busy all the time, but also because of those small things that bothered me. What I mean to say is -- don't mistake effectiveness for good intentions; just because the exercises work doesn't mean that the organization isn't trying its best to earn a profit from your money.

If I was in your shoes, and I really really wanted to stay, what I would do would be to write a letter/write a sign to myself. I'd say: "hey, self, if so-and-so happens, if they ask me for too much money, etc, NO MATTER WHAT, leave the organization immediately. No ifs, ands, or buts. In a few months you may say 'but I didn't know then what I do now -- this is really important to me -- the rules can be bent'. No matter. Trust your former self on this." I'd hang it in a well-seen area in my room, such as next to the mirror, and would look at it every day, and abide by its rules.
posted by suedehead at 11:08 PM on August 18, 2008 always starts with Meditation and ends with your daughters being owned by a foreign government.
Most cults make you feel good and they slowly sway you in.
Simple solution, just stop.
posted by TeachTheDead at 5:16 AM on August 19, 2008

What does Korean-based acupuncture mean? You didn't give us the name of it, but maybe you can find something similar somewhere else. If you know the name of it in Korean, I (or others in Korea) might be able to tell you more about it, either in the thread or by email (please not MeFi Mail because I don't check mine).
posted by smorange at 5:47 AM on August 19, 2008

smorange, if you google "cult korea $35 million" you end up with the correct one in the first few links, I believe.
posted by mikeh at 7:02 AM on August 19, 2008

Regardless of whether this is a cult (and it is), they're not actually helping you—they're ripping you off. £30 to administer a placebo (this kind of therapy has been pretty well debunked by now) is not a good deal. And anyone who talks about "energy" in the New-Agey sense is a fraud. (They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means.)

If you are feeling more relaxed after your sessions at this place, it's probably due to the laid-back atmosphere you describe, and whatever psychological games they're playing with you. Of course they're making you feel good. They're trying to indoctrinate you.

So, (a) they're ripping you off with their fraudulent therapy, and (b) they're trying to indoctrinate you into their cult. They're predators, and you don't owe them anything. Leave and don't come back.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:11 AM on August 19, 2008

agree it's a cult. run for the hills!

But I don't agree with the above who says that acupressure has been 'debunked'. Try Shiatsu massage from a decent practitioner. It helps my migraine and back problems better than did the chiropractor, and way way way better than did physiotherapy which actually made the problem worse. I don't consider chinese medicine (although shiatsu has more routes in Japanese medicine I think? Not sure) to be 'new-agey' or alternative though, but I'd definitely recommend it.

So yup, try and find a practitioner in that to test it out, and def recommend tai chi too.
posted by nunoidia at 12:54 PM on August 19, 2008

Quit! And don't try to talk the people who are involved out of being involved because they are more likely to convince you to stay. Only do that once you are completely sure that you have some real distance from the whole thing-- it's kind of like being an addict. if you go to the shooting gallery to try to convince your friends who are still junkies to quit, they are more likely to get you high than you are to get them to quit.

you can get social support and community from far healthier groups without the risk and the financial drain. don't let them use your normal human need for connection and peace to profit and suck other people in.
posted by Maias at 3:41 PM on August 19, 2008

nunoidia- I don't know about acupressure, but acupuncture has definitely been debunked.
In the "has no more measurable effect than a placebo" sense.

And according to this article, acupuncture at least isn't really ancient or chinese at all. Can't speak for other chinese medicine, but acupressure seems like it would fall in the same category.

Probably just has the same effects a normal massage or relaxing contact with another human does. Not that I'm saying it doesn't work for your migraines and back problems... but you may get better results from treatments that are clinically proven to work. If nothing's been proven to work... then whatever floats your boat! :)
posted by thejrae at 3:03 PM on November 3, 2008

If you don't believe in it, get out, you'll never sell anything that you don't agree with.
posted by metaflame at 12:30 PM on February 3, 2009

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