Cult or Buddhist organisation?

19 April 2011 - 5:54am Comments Off


How does one differentiate between a cult and a Buddhist organisation? What are some of the characteristics of a cult?


In the world today, the word ‘cult’ has become the catchphrase for any group, religion or lifestyle which people do not understand, or which they happen to disagree with. Such a trend is dangerous because many of the organisations inaccurately labelled as a ‘cult’ are legitimate groups. Once the taint of the term ‘cult’ has been applied to a particular group, it is often difficult to change the image in the public mindset.

What is a cult? In a cult, the leader’s efforts will normally be focused on pleasing the students. A cult leader will be wary of saying something to turn his or her students away or do anything that challenges them. After all, why would the leader of a cult want to spoil his or her source of income? If a person was the leader of a cult, then he or she would aim to control their followers or students in any possible way, from what they should read to who they should spend their time with.

The opposite of a cult is a truly spiritual organisation led by a truly spiritual teacher. A true spiritual leader seizes every chance to benefit the student. This includes telling the student something they do not want to hear, because it is the truth that will benefit them. True spiritual leaders also operate out of compassion. For example, our spiritual guide His Eminence Tsem Rinpoche always gives students the opportunity to correct themselves over and over again, even the student fails at every opportunity, because he believes in their ability to transform for the better.

Another key aspect of a cult is the withholding of the truth from non-members. Cults often teach their followers to be completely open and truthful within the group, and impress a deep sense of guilt should they withhold any information from fellow members. Simultaneously, cults encourage their members to be evasive when questioned by people outside of the group. Members are taught that outsiders will not understand or will make light of the group’s ideas and practices.

As Kechara is a Buddhist organisation however, transparency inside and outside the organisation, and between student and teacher is also very important to Rinpoche. Rinpoche believes that it sets a good foundation of a positive guru-disciple relationship. Such a foundation is necessary because when we take refuge with a lama, he or she makes a promise to take care of us until we reach the state of Enlightenment, no matter what circumstances.

These are just some of the aspects of a cult. Given their negative characteristics, to mislabel a legitimate organisation as a cult could have serious consequences. Thus it would only serve us to double-check and be sure of ourselves before labelling groups as ‘cults’, because we never really know how many people we could be robbing of their potential to benefit from spirituality and the Dharma.

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