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Please send questions, comments, problems, and letters to the editor to All editorial correspondence becomes the property of -- unless requested otherwise -- and may be edited for purposes of clarity and space. Except where noted, entire contents Copyright ©1995,1996,1997 Society. trancenet.netTM is a trademark of Society, an unincorporated nonprofit organization. The opinions and viewpoints of contributors do not necessarily reflect those of, its editorial staff, nor Society, its board, officers, employees, volunteers. Neither Society nor its editorial staff conclude that any group discussed on this site is necessarily cultic in nature. We provide suppressed and alternative information so that you may make informed decisions for yourself. Copyrighted works are reprinted with permission as noted or are made available under the "fair use" exception of U.S. copyright law, for research and educational purposes only.
Editorial Archive for December, 1997


A Taiwanese-based UFO cult was "discovered" this past week by the American media after a worried mother reported her 16-year-old daughter kidnapped to Sheriff's officials in Los Angeles County. While the group may or may not be considering suicide, a number of eerie similarities have cropped up between this group and the Heaven's Gate group that committed suicide this past march near San Diego.

Nan Hwa Chiang was reunited with her mother at the Sheriff's department on Mon. Dec. 22. Lt. Roosevelt Blow told the Los Angeles Times that "we have no evidence of a crime," although an MSNBC news report stated that a Sheriff's investigation is continuing. The girl was living in an apartment complex next to "God's Salvation Church" (the group's registered name in California) in San Dimas. MSNBC reported that her father, a church member, had reportedly died of cancer and requested she stay with her uncle, also a member. Her mother flew from Taiwan to get her, and is expected to return with her daughter.

The group -- usually known as "Chen Tao," or "True Way" in English -- believes that God will make his presence known this March 31 (a little more than a year after Heaven's Gate) when He inhabits the body of its leader, Hon-Ming Chen (whose last name is conveniently in the group's name). The event will be televised nationwide on channel 18, presumably by the power of the Holy Spirit. The group has no official name; in addition to Chen Tao, its literature gives names such as "God's Salvation Church,God and Buddha Salvation Foundation" and "The Chinese Association of the Light of Soul." After the San Dimas fiasco, "God Saves the Earth Flying Saucer Foundation" was dropped as a name.

After the Salvation Church was exposed, group members made their move to Garland, TX (a suburb of Dallas), which they had already been planning for months. The Houston Chronicle quoted Tawnia Winchell, whose mother-in-law lives across the street from their principal residence, as saying that "They all came down here this past summer and bought up all the houses with cash. It's a trip." The Dallas Morning News reported that the group has bought 21 homes in the suburb.

As to why God has chosen Garland, member Chen-Sheng Wu told the Houston Chronicle that "Garland" sounds similar to "God's Land," although "we don't know if that's the reason" why God told him to move to the land of 110,000 people. Chen prophesies that the Western Hemisphere, and especially the United States, will be safe from the Holocaust of the next two years -- but more on that later.

It's not yet clear as to whether the group actually plans to commit suicide, although KCBS-TV news in Los Angeles reported that Taiwanese officials told the Sheriff's department that the group planned to commit mass suicide, according to the City News Service. But Yu-Chung Lo, deputy director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural office who had met the group in Garland, told the Associated Press that there is nothing to fear from Chen Tao: "I believe they would never commit suicide because as so far as I understand they are very gentle, friendly and most of them are highly educated." Reports haven't come in yet as to whether Mr. Lo had knowledge about Heaven's Gate or Jonestown before he made that statement.

Church members themselves deny that they're going to commit suicide: "To commit suicide is to kill God... It's killing your soul that was delegated to you from God," an unidentified follower in San Dimas told the AP. The Los Angeles Times quoted Lo: "When I asked them about it, some of them reacted very angrily, some of them said it was ridiculous." The Chronicle quoted an unnamed "Taiwanese cultural officer" from Houston who visited Garland said that _some_ members of the group bought round-trip airline tickets, leaving open the possibility that not all members have made contingency plans. Lo himself appears to be erring on the side of caution: he told the Dallas Morning News that officials will visit the group periodically. "We are keeping a file on each person... Families in Taiwan want to know how their loved ones are," Lo said. He seemed less certain about the group's beliefs: "To me, it's just like somebody who believes in Santa Claus," the Chronicle quoted him as saying.

KXAS-TV in Dallas reported that the group began in Taiwan in the 1950s, though the evolution of the group wasn't fleshed out through a recent Lexis-Nexis search. Chen, a 42-year-old former sociology professor, told the Dallas Morning News through an interpreter that he began receiving messages directly from God in 1992, although he received prophecies from a "golden ball" as a small child. At their Tuesday news conference in Garland, Chen or his interpreter made a possible Freudian slip while announcing that "People worry about our mass suicide. But we are really worried about people's mass suicide when the great tribulation happens" in 1999.

Chen says that a series of events will lead to the '99 nuclear holocaust, starting when China attacks Taiwan next month. Eight months later, three nuclear power plants will explode in Taiwan, followed by October's nuclear bomb blast in the Middle East. By 1999, there will be full-scale nuclear war. But "America is the place that will be protected by God," according to Chen. "After the nuclear war, more than four-fifths of the world population will be killed. More than a hundred million of people (sic) are estimated to be the select of God and saved by God." The last U.S. Census reported that there were more than 100 million people; however, that census was taken in 1990.

God's plans weren't made clear in advance to Charles Amyx, who lives next door to Chen Tao's primary residence. At the press conference, he asked if he's going to be in danger later next year if he doesn't believe in Chen's doctrine. Chen tried to assure Amyx that "There isn't any danger... God comes not to judge people... it will all become clear March 31." But Amyx wasn't convinced, as he told the Chronicle: "They say my house isn't insured for acts of God, so I guess I'm not covered if God comes down in a spaceship."

Chen tells his believers that he was the father of Jesus in a previous incarnation, making him either God or Joseph. But he maintains that God has Chen's face, which makes him (and possibly Joseph) more God-like. He introduced the current incarnations of Jesus and Buddha, ages 10 and 9, to the national media at Tuesday's press conference. Chen's Jesus is the Jesus of the East; the group is still waiting for the Jesus of the West, who they say is 27-30 years old and is living in Vancouver, British Columbia. Chen Tao reportedly placed ads in The Province and Vancouver Sun newspapers earlier this year, hoping to catch the eye of the holy man so he could meet the eastern Jesus at an airport terminal this past June 25.

How God is going to make his appearance isn't very clear. The Chronicle reported that members spoke excitedly about God's coming to Garland in an aircraft or airplane, which some referred to as a "Godplane." Aircraft from other dimensions will also appear; presumably, those other dimensions will have air in their outer space, if that is where the aircraft originated from. But the craft may appear to look like a cloud; KXAS quoted Chen as saying that "You can call it a cloud or a call it a flying saucer. It's just like a cloud." The group has been seeing many cloud formations lately in their trips across America, which constitute part of their spiritual training. One of the pictures they provided to the media showed a formation that they purported to spell "GOD," although the formation looked more like "007"; it was more likely a publicity stunt for the new James Bond flick. How exactly God will enter Chen's body is a mystery, but it's something we can look forward to across the Americas on channel 18.

But like many groups with doomsday prophecies, Chen Tao has left open the possibility that Mr. Chen is wrong about God's taking over his body. As Richard Liu, a translator for Chen, melodramatically put it: "If it should not happen, Mr. Chen will put his life on it. Whether he be executed, stoned to death or put on a cross, it doesn't matter." If history's any guide, he won't be.

Elsewhere in Taiwan

The Taiwanese Soka Gakkai-esque Buddhist sect, Hsi Lai, recently placed an advertisement on the Internet site of the Taiwanese CCC news digest. The group became controversial last year when it was reported that Vice President Al Gore held a fund-raiser at one of their temples in Southern California. The ad recounts Gore's message of unity at the meeting; "with the speech still fresh in our minds, we find it hard to believe that this wonderful civic event has been characterized as a political fund raiser."

The statement, paid for "(by) Fokuangshan Hsi Lai Temple (I.B.P.S.) Devotees," attributed the misinformation in the American press to cultural misunderstandings. "Western culture treats the individual and society as separate entities. In contrast, Eastern culture considers the individual and the society to be interdependent. Trying to westernize Buddhism and to do more to benefit the American people, Hsi Lai Temple monastics have chosen to be actively engaged in American society." It goes on to list some of their cultural accomplishments, while admitting that "On some finer points, a minority of monastics may not have been completely in tune with certain American cultural mores. However, all the actions were altruistically inspired, without the intention of crossing any legal lines."

The ad ends by partly concluding (among other things) that "The visit of the Vice President was a civic luncheon, not a fund raiser." But what of all those checks made out to the Democratic National Committee in the names of temple workers who had renounced material wealth, and who didn't have the kind of money that was made out? The statement insists that "No one ever mentioned any matters related to the election, contributions, or politics." However, non-verbal communications were not brought up in the statement.

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MSNBC report:
KXAS report:
Hsi Lai Temple "devotees' statement":
CCC News:


Cults have always been controversial, so perhaps it should be a surprise that what defines a cult is one of the most controversial things about them. As Germany goes on investigating the Church of Scientology for alleged human rights abuses, it would seem that others are puzzled over what makes for a "dangerous group" and what doesn't.

A recent in the Washington Times indicated that European governments are compiling lists of sects and cults, and many Americans aren't liking what they've put together -- along with Scientology and Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church (which effectively controls the Times), groups such as "Catholic charismatics, Hasidic Jews, Baptists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Quakers, Buddhists -- and the YWCA" have been labeled "dangerous sects" by various state panels. (Let's not forget that the Times has gotten stories seriously distorted before -- lest we forget how just this month, the paper's Insight magazine overblew the story about how Clinton contributors got special wavers to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.)

But if the Times report has any truth to it, then it shows the sad state of the definition of the word "cult". For anyone who's concerned about getting people to understand the types of groups profiled by Steve Hassan or Margaret Singer, such a semantic problem is (and has been) a very big one indeed. Many of us remember how many people refused to take the Heaven's Gate deaths seriously: that these people were either kooky wackos that the world's better off for not having, or that they knew fully what they were doing, and maybe the type of alleged deception used simply wasn't possible.

Another problem that counter-cult groups have had (at least in the United States) is coming up with money. Remember that the "old" Cult Awareness Network was essentially sued out of existence by a barrage of Scientology lawsuits; it never had an easy time coming up with cash, and its fundraising efforts became more desperate as it drew closer to extinction. Perhaps to remind us of this (I wish), the Boston Globe reported on Dec. 9 that retired investment banker Robert Minton has given a few of Scientology's former members and critics a total of $1.25 million for legal defenses and living expenses. Noting that Scientology hasn't exactly become "a good member of the world's religious communities," he hopes to reform the church from the outside. Upon returning home from a Clearwater, Florida protest a couple of weekends ago, he found that someone had given his neighbors pamphlets describing him as a "KKK"-style religious bigot. (Incidently, similarly-worded pamphlets were also distributed across the country in the neighborhoods of several other critics that went to the protest, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer on Dec. 13. Imagine that!)

But not everything is cozy in the counter-cult community. Last month, Landmark Education (effectively the group formerly known as Werner Erhard's est) reported that they had reached a settlement with the "Cult Awareness Network" of Chicago, which led most to conclude that it was the "new" CAN, which actually has that name. This week, Landmark sent out a new press release clarifying the old one -- that it was the "old" CAN, which is legally blocked from using that acronym, for now. The Dec. 16 release noted that the new CAN is "operated by the Foundation for Religious Freedom and (is) in some way related to the Church of Scientology."

There are many reasons why it would be odd for an Erhard-related entity to make a settlement with a Scientology-related entity, especially given the decades of animosity between the two. (Scientology has accused Erhard of stealing its "tech" in the formulation of his courses, and Erhard has never denied having studied Scientology at one point). Of course, such an agreement wouldn't have any teeth to it, and that is undoubtedly the real reason behind this settlement and follow-up press release. Landmark's lawsuit was against the old CAN's board of directors, and they recognize as self-evident that the "new" CAN really is a different group. (Acknowledging that the "new" and "old" CANs are both the same would put them in a rather precarious position should the old board of directors get their name back.) And the "new" CAN isn't likely to call Landmark, or any other group, a destructive "cult" anyway.

But the decision to settle has already hurt the credibility of the entity formerly known as CAN, as a objective source for information. It could keep them from regaining influence should they regain any form of financial or managerial stability, and it might even keep them from getting that. If people know that a lawsuit can keep them from providing information about any particular group, other groups are likely to follow Landmark's lead. It also implies a double-standard in the old CAN's determination to uphold its principles: it seems that it was right to fight the Church of Scientology courtroom attacks, even though it could not afford to do so, because of the group's impact on society. But Landmark has a smaller impact, and the old CAN decided that it was relatively safe to settle by never mentioning them again.

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Creation has two sides: intelligence, which is the cause of everything, and the manifestations of intelligence, which are the physical and psychological features of the everyday world. Because Transcendental Meditation directly approaches intelligence, rather than the manifestations of intelligence, it solves problems by introducing harmony and well-being at the most basic level, and not by dealing with problems themselves. That's why it is so effective.

Consider this example: The gardener supplies water to the root of a tree. That water, that nourishment, then reaches all parts of the tree - leaves, branches, flowers, fruit - through the sap. We can think of the sap as analogous to intelligence and the green leaves or yellow flowers as analogous to the manifestations of the intelligence. The leaves and flowers are the intelligence of the sap, after it has been transformed. So intelligence - like the leaves and flowers of a tree - appears as the many different forms of manifest life. Those manifestations include every aspect of existence, from the material and physiological, through the psychological, intellectual, and spiritual. All of those features of life come from transformations of intelligence. In meditation, we directly meet this essential intelligence. Therefore, we have the possibility of nourishing all of its other levels, and thus all levels of manifestation, in a way that is harmoniously related to the whole universe.

How is Transcendental Meditation different from the various other forms of meditation?

Maharishi: The basic difference is that Transcendental Meditation, in addition to its simplicity, concerns itself only with the mind. Other systems often involve some additional aspects with which the mind is associated, such as breathing or physical exercises. They can be a little complicated because they deal with so many things. But with Transcendental Meditation there is no possibility of any interference. So we say this is the all-simple program, enabling the conscious mind to fathom the whole range of its existence.

Transcendental Meditation ranges from active mind - or performing mind - to quiet mind - or resting mind. In this resting mind, one has purity and simplicity, uninvolved with anything other than the mind, uninvolved with any other practice. In Transcendental Meditation, because we deal only with the mind, we nourish all expressions of intelligence.

The mind meditates, gains Transcendental Consciousness and brings about transformation in different fields of manifestation. All fields of life, which are the expression of intelligence, are nourished or transformed and made better through experiencing Transcendental Consciousness.

The mind, of course, is always concerned with other aspects, such as the physiology of the body, the environment, and the whole universe for that matter. But since Transcendental Meditation deals only with the performance of the mind, from its active states to its settled state, it remains unconcerned with those other aspects, though it deals with them all, because intelligence deals with them all. -- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, unknown interview, copyright presumablyheld by Maharishi Vedic University, The Maharishi Foundation, or another group within the TM family.

Cults come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Categories of cults that are recruiting successfully today include:

Eastern meditation: characterized by belief in God-consciousness, becoming one with God. The leader usually distorts and Eastern-based philosophy or religion. Members sometimes learn to disregard worldly possessions and may take on an ascetic lifestyle. Techniques used: meditation, repeated mantras, altered states of consciousness, trance states.

Religious: marked by belief in salvation, afterlife, sometimes combined with an apocalyptic view. The leader reinterprets the Scriptures and often claims to be a prophet if not the messiah. Often the group is strict, sometimes using physical punishments such as paddling and birching, especially on children. Members are encouraged to spend a great deal of time proselytizing. (Note: included here are Bible-based neo-Christian and other religious cults, many considered syncretic since they combine beliefs and practices). Techniques used: speaking in tongues, chanting, praying, isolation, lengthy study sessions, many hours spent evangelizing, "struggle" (or criticism) and confession sessions.

Political, racist, terrorist: fueled by belief in changing society, revolution, overthrowing the "enemy" or getting rid of evil forces. The leader professes to be all-knowing and all-powerful. Often the group is armed and meets in secret with coded language, handshakes, and other ritualized practices. Members consider themselves an elite cadre ready to go to battle. Techniques used: paramilitary training, reporting on one another, guilt, fear, struggle sessions, instilled paranoia, long hours of indoctrination. -- Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, Lalich and Tobias, Hunter House, 1993.