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A Cult I Can Live With?

By Jasmin Singer — February 05, 2010

A vegetarian movement in Mongolia? So says The Christian Science Monitor? Really?

When I first read that, I was dumbstruck…. in a good way. According to the article, in Mongolia, “livestock outnumbers people 14 to 1 and meat consumption tops 200 pounds per person a year.” But, after the first vegetarian restaurant in Mongolia — Ananda’s Cafe — opened in 2006, over 20 followed. The driving forces? Health and spirituality.

Toward the end of the article, though, I noticed that the Supreme Master (“A lot of people think we’re crazy”) had a restaurant in Mongolia, and I then thought, of course Mongolia has a vegetarian movement. The Supreme Master is there!

Chances are, if you’ve heard of The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association, you have an opinion about them. Their website (let us spell it out for you instead of hyperlinking it — it’s www.godsdirectcontact.org — you see?) talks all about the “Inner light, the Light of God” being “the same light referred to in the word ‘enlightenment.’ Its intensity can range from a subtle glow to the brilliance of many millions of suns. It is through the inner Light and Sound that we come to know God.”

Definitely not my kind of thing, so I’ve steered very clear of The Supreme Master.

But then, last summer, Mariann and I were in Johannesburg, South Africa — a country sparse with vegans, let alone vegan grub. Our friend, with whom we were staying, kept talking about this amazing new vegan restaurant that had revolutionized the veg scene in Jozi — The Greenside Cafe. Turns out it was a restaurant owned by The Supreme Master. And it was damn good, even by snotty-NYC-standards.

The Supreme Master’s website continues: “Master Ching Hai accepts people from all backgrounds and religious affiliations for initiation.” (Um, wow, can you say “cult?”) “You will not be asked to join any organization, or participate in any way that does not suit your current lifestyle.” (Thanks for that, I wasn’t planning to.) “However, you will be asked to become a vegetarian.” Okay, I’m listening …

Of their five precepts for initiation to The Supreme Master’s Quan Yin Method, the first is this: “Refrain from taking the life of sentient beings. This precept requires strict adherence to a vegan diet.”

I mentioned “cult” earlier, and that’s how many describe The Supreme Master’s “Method.” But … Mongolia? Johannesburg? I even know someone — a brand new vegan — who has discovered a newly opened vegan restaurant right by his office here in NYC, The Loving Hut. That led me to visit the website for The Loving Hut. Turns out there are Loving Hut chain stores in nearly 100 locations worldwide!

And, according to a recent New York Times article, “Stop Eating Meat and Save the Planet?,” delegates arriving at the recent Copenhagen climate conference were greeted by a feed-in of sorts. They were given meat-free sandwiches handed out by, according to the article, “women in furry animal suits holding placards showing pictures of lambs, cows and pigs and warning, ‘Don’t Eat Me.'” Do I need to even tell you at this point that the activists were there by way of The Supreme Master?

I’m beginning to think that The Supreme Master — aka Ching Hai or Suma Ching Hai — is my very favorite cult leader in the whole world.

Of course, on the other hand, I really really don’t want anyone who is not yet vegan — or even already vegan, for that matter — coming across The Supreme Master and feeling like veganism is cultish. By being vegan and speaking out for animals, we are choosing not to contribute to cruelty, and we are advocating compassion. Simple as that. When God enters the picture, things can get fuzzy. So I’ve kept my distance from The Supreme Master, and nodded emptily when people mentioned something about her or her teachings. Not my thing, but g’head if it floats your fancy. That’s what my mentality has been.

But with every article that The Supreme Master gets penned in a major media outlet like the New York Times or, hell, The Christian Science Monitor, and with every new vegan restaurant that she opens in an area where it’s much needed, I begin to see my outlook shifting. I may not be jumping on her bandwagon, but I’m through with the eye-rolls, that’s for sure.


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(8) Readers Comments

  1. February 5, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Supreme Master come off as Adidas wearing nutters.

  2. Jack Lotko
    February 5, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    It would be great if the Roman Catholic cult I go to each Sunday would require everyone be vegan. (and we sought out a progressive parish, at least as far as social justice is concerned)

  3. Danielle
    February 8, 2010 at 10:26 am

    FUNNY TIMING!! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ching_Hai My favorite part: Cult expert Rick Ross said, "Ching Hai has a history of making large gifts in exchange for photo opportunities and what seems like self-promotion."[15] “It fits the classical definition of a destructive cult,”.

  4. Klarika Nettleton
    April 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Hi there, I am a committed Vegan and I am very impressed with Master Ching Hai's writings. I totally agree with her, we have not right to take the life of a sentient being! i cannot believe that anyone can grow spiritually and eat these tortured creatures, It is totally obscene how animals, fish and chickens are abused in factory farms, batteries, laboratories, game farms etc. etc. I would like to join a study group in Johannesburg. If anyone knows of one - please contact me. Klarika 011 462-1445

  5. April 27, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Hello. I have been with Master Ching Hai for 5 years now. I would like to report for the record that I am happily married and have a child (both non practicing), work, own a home and pay taxes. I have never once given Master Ching Hai money and have never recruited anyone. So, if she is a "cult leader", she is really not a good one as most "cults" take people's money and drive them from their families. I think that she is labeled here as cult because people are not used to a guru type relationship. In India for example it is very common to have a guru "master" to follow a spiritual path. She teaches her students or disciples in a similar fashion. Thank you for posting this article and opening conversation.

  6. August 3, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    I've been Quan Yin Practitioner for several years, and i haven't really been in contact with them for awhile. I've been vegetarian since I've been initiated, but recently found out I need to be vegan! LoL, I guess I've been out of the loop. Anyway, I live in the south, and i'm probably one of the few vegetarians, if not the only new vegan, in my small rural town. I don't want to push the Quan Yin method if people aren't already interested, but I will say it would be fantastic if people prayed more, or meditated in their own way even, especially if they keep a vegan or vegetarian diet. Vegan being better of course :) I appreciate this article a ton. It is an honest view of the positive aspect of the efforts made to spread peace by the Ching Hai Association, because at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter if you are a member of her association or not, what matters is if you choose to adopt a diet that expresses your desire to be compassionate to all of those around you, specifically animals :)

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