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She said other followers already had asked her if they should help the president. And if your president is good and you think by helping him you can help your country and help the world, then do it! He's innocent, you know; he's not proven guilty. Ching Hai said she did not even know how much was raised until she read about it in the newspapers.

The event took place in the main hall of the Royal Dublin Society, venue for major sporting and cultural events. It was well publicized both through street posters and substantial ads in national newspapers, highlighting the news that "Heaven is here and now!

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More than people turned up to hear and see the "Supreme Master", many of them conveyed to the hall in mini-buses chartered by the group, which had been cruising the streets of Dublin all afternoon offering free one-way transport. Ching Hai, a handsome Chinese-Vietnamese woman, appeared in evening dress on the flower-bedecked stage. She connected easily with her audience, even inviting those who were seatless to share her space and her cushions onstage.

Her informality was in stark contrast to the dozens of mainly oriental-looking minders in business suits, who silently monitored the proceedings. As we grow, things crowd around, and we lose the vision of God which we had when we left heaven. Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing Boy,.

Then, going far beyond Wordsworth, she reasoned that if God lives in here pointing to her heart , logically one should be able to see him at any time — "we just have to know where to direct our attention. Seeing the Light of God is believing". Consequently, she declared: This proof however, is evident only to those who have been initiated into what she terms the "Quan Yin Method" of meditation.

Worshipped both by Buddhists and Taoists, Quan Yin is represented as a female figure with many arms to signify her generosity towards her devotees. She is particularly favoured by women who pray to her for the birth of a son. However, the "Quan Yin Method" of meditation bears little relationship to the traditional simple prayers and offerings made to the goddess. While reluctant to explain the method to the uninitiated, Ching Hai did indicate in replies to questions from the audience that it involves turning our attention inwards to listen to God — something we have forgotten in the course of our busy lives.

During meditation one will hear musical sounds, such as that of the bagpipe. However, the technique should be learned properly and practised correctly. She warned of the danger of focusing on any chakras or centres of energy without proper guidance. That guidance is given during the process of initiation into the method. All present were invited to take initiation there and then. About people took up the offer. Some underwent full initiation which involves a life-long commitment to a vegan diet and at least two hours meditation daily, as well as refraining from all alternative forms of meditation and other spiritual practices.

Others received the "quick initiation" or "convenient method", requiring a half-hours meditation daily and abstinence from meat for ten days each month. Ching Hai is portrayed as a talented and energetic woman - evident in the displays round the hall of paintings, jewelry, Chinese lanterns and fashion. All — we were told — were designed by herself and available for purchase.

Also on sale were her videos, CDs, tapes and books. A magazine and a booklet of her talks were available for free. Proceeds of sales are used to fund charitable activities and disaster relief in various parts of the world. Ching Hai was brought up as a Catholic, but learnt the rudiments of Buddhism from her grandmother. However, in a brief autobiography she explains that her significant spiritual experience came about as a result of time spent in the Himalayas where she discovered "the Quan Yin Method and the Divine Transmission".

Some clues however, are to be found in the language that she uses in her writings and talks. This tradition is represented at its best in the Radha Soami movements of Agra and Beas. The main features held in common both by the Radha Soamis and Ching Hai include: Former disciples of Ching Hai have alleged that disciples are taught to meditate with a blanket over their heads. This practice tends to induce hyper-ventilation which makes people more susceptible to mind-control.

It has also been reported that disciples were strongly encouraged by Ching Hai herself to put together a six-figure donation towards U. And, as for the Dublin mission, several letters appeared subsquently in the "Irish Times" from some of those initiated. They complained that, though they attempted to practise the "Quan Yin Method", their efforts to see God ended in failure.


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Apart from the various groups calling themselves "Radhasoamis" that have split off from the original movement based in Agra, there are a number of independent movements with their own names based on Radhasoami philosophy and spirituality. But apart from these, there are numerous movements using surat-shabd ideology and methods, which are shy about acknowledging the sources of their teaching. The best known of these is Eckankar, established by Paul Twitchell, one-time disciple of Kirpal Singh. His movement consists mainly of plagiarized Radhasoami elements with a few added idiosyncratic twists.

It has also suggested that the Divine Light Mission has a connection with the Radhasoami tradition. According to some accounts, the father of Guru Maharaj had been a follower of one or other branch of the Radhasoamis. I am particularly indebted generally to this source in preparing this paper. Some of those who have not wished to acknowledge their indebtedness to the mainline Radhasoami tradition or to any other living tradition, have stated that they were enlightened or initiated by unidentified Masters at various undefined locations "in the Himalayas".

An example of this was Dr. Another such example is, I believe, Ching Hai. However, at the moment it is not known to me where or from whom she received initiation. She is also heavily into New Age. Her movement also appears to be highly commercialized. The Supreme Master, 46, is an elegant hostess--and clever merchandiser. At a vegetarian dinner with a TIME correspondent last week in Alhambra, California, she wore a bright yellow dress that she designed herself--embroidered with the Supreme Master monogram SM and available to followers by catalog.

When she gestured with her hands, she flashed gold and diamond rings with the SM design, part of her Celestial Jewelry collection--available by catalog as well. Also for sale: Celestial purses, hats, gold dinnerware, chopsticks, inspirational videos, floor lamps.

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A petite woman with long, dark brown hair that cascades past her shoulders, the Supreme Master is passionate, earthy she says she needs a husband and more fun than the average saint. At the moment, Suma Ching Hai is more than divine: Nevertheless, the Supreme Master remains a fervent Clintonite. How can he solve America's problems if he is distracted? He's in debt. He's a suspect.

This is terrible. Scandal-plagued politicians are not the only objects of Suma Ching Hai's charity. Whenever there is a natural disaster, she is there--with money. She says she has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to victims of the Mississippi River floods and to survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing. He is a useless Buddha. It involves no chanting, no mantras, but a "contemplation of the inner sound stream," as her disciple and U.

Still, her publications and Website always capitalize pronouns that refer to her. Suma Ching Hai simply says she is enlightened and that "there are certain things that I know. At 30, she met and married a German doctor but left him, amicably she says, to become a Buddhist nun and pursue enlightenment in India. Her recognition as a spiritual leader came rather suddenly in when she tried to buy a copy of the Hindu sacred work the Bhagavad-Gita that she says she saw in a shop along the Ganges. The shopkeepers said there were none in stock; she insisted she had seen it.

Then they discovered the book in a sealed box and began hailing her for the keenness of her third eye. She fled the sudden acclaim but eventually came to terms with her status. She claims her disciples number "maybe a million, maybe more. In Taiwan she reportedly has , followers. However, when the government closed down her headquarters it had been constructed without a license , the sect produced a membership list of only names. At that ceremony, she wore queenly robes "under orders from God," she says , riding a sedan chair carried by eight bearers to the cheers of "your royal majesty.

One admitted, though, that "believers are not allowed to speak to outsiders without permission from above. Other religious leaders in Taiwan are barely polite. The secretary-general of the Taoist Association says he has information that she has bought up vast tracts of land in Cambodia. Master Chinhsing, a Buddhist monk of Vietnamese origin who may have been Ching Hai's mentor, disapproves of her departure from the austere ways of Buddhist tradition.

He has reportedly warned her never to identify herself as his former student. The Supreme Master has been away from Taiwan for a while, traveling among disciples around the world. From that global perspective, the hubbub about the Clinton donation is rather pesky. And why shouldn't she help Clinton? Dozens of Asian men in dark suits, each wearing a yellow ribbon on his lapel, walk the airport halls and direct wanderers to the group. Suddenly, the meditators rise to their feet and storm Gate A8, which is already swarming with bodies. American Airlines Flight is pulling in. With some persuasion, the admirers line up on either side of the gate's walkway, and the yellow- ribboned officials link hands to form barriers against the masses, whose numbers continue to grow.

Chinese, Vietnamese and broken English combine to make a rising din. An elderly Chinese woman thrusts her arms into the crowd, trying to pry open a place for herself. Gate A8 is a parted sea of ecstatic faces, all of them waiting for the appearance of the Supreme Master Suma Ching Hai. Ching Hai is many things: She is also a fashion designer, beauty makeover consultant and restaurateur. According to most of her followers, Ching Hai is not only a saintly philanthropist who took the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong under her wing, she is also the living reincarnation of the Buddha and Jesus Christ.

According to her critics -- and they are few -- she operates one of the largest and fastest-growing religious cults in the world. Is Ching Hai truly the Messiah? Of the several hundred assembled worshippers here tonight, only I will later be fortunate enough to sit just inches from the Supreme Master and ask her this very question.

For if she is the Messiah, she has inexplicably chosen to manifest herself as the owner of 56 vegetarian restaurants which cover the globe from Taipei to Melbourne to San Jose. On the corner of Twelfth Street and East Santa Clara Street, once the site of Paolo's, the posh Italian restaurant that was for decades the hangout of the Valley's agricultural and political elite, Ching Hai's establishment now serves a stunning, if overly ambitious, variety of vegetarian dishes ranging from spring rolls and faux swordfish to pasta marinara.

It also doubles as a library and museum containing hundreds of Ching Hai magazines, books and videotapes. On posters and laminated photographs, the Master's face smiles beatifically, though her slightly paralyzed left cheek gives her the appearance of wearing a sort of foxy grin. Mannequins stand adorned in her own haute couture outfits, which seem to draw from the fashions of both Star Trek and Dallas.

On the walls hang her simple paintings of flowers, trees and landscapes. Above the tables of the dining patrons looms a gigantic TV screen which broadcasts the Master's teachings and, occasionally, her music video, which features her singing in dance-club duds and vogueing like Madonna. Though Ching Hai may appear to have come from another planet, she was actually born in Vietnam and spent much of her adult life in Taiwan. Though she refers to the two countries by their respective colonial names of "Au Lac" and "Formosa," she has a strong affinity for both, and reportedly has her largest followings there.

There seems to be something about the five-foot-tall leader which strongly appeals to these immigrant groups. She avoids overtly authoritarian cliches and instead cultivates the image of a wise old aunt. In the transcript of one lecture, when a disciple asks if he would be justified in killing a murderer to prevent future bloodshed, Ching Hai sagely advises him to go to the police instead.

But perhaps more significantly, Ching Hai seems to offer ancient religion's comfortable familiarity and America's crass but coveted commercialism. Both a religious idol and a Third World aristocrat, Ching Hai bears more than a passing resemblance to Imelda Marcos, adorned in her self-styled "fairy clothes," which models have paraded down runways in the world's fashion capitals. A Buddhist nun who preaches asceticism, Ching Hai can nevertheless be seen in her magazine, Suma Ching Hai News, giving makeovers and fashion tips to female followers. Like many Eastern belief systems, Ching Hai's centers around meditation, but her own method, called Quan Yin, contains "The Key of Immediate Enlightenment"-- no waiting necessary.

It's basically a silent meditation. This is about all the information one can coax from the Ching Hai group about the Quan Yin method, which they guard like a secret recipe. Initiations take place at the acre Ching Hai Meditation Center in Morgan Hill, to which actual visits are discouraged.

Almost all that is known about the group's actual methods is that it requires keeping a strict vegetarian diet and meditating a minimum of two and a half hours per day while chanting the Master's name. Ching Hai also teaches what she calls the Convenient Method -- a sort of Quan Yin Lite for new initiates -- which requires meditating only half an hour per day, and eating vegetarian for 10 days per month.

At the restaurant, a smiling volunteer serves a dish of simulated chicken to Millar. A Ching Hai "liaison" and one of the organization's few Caucasian members, Millar possesses none of the zombie-like qualities one tends to attribute to cultists. Millar calls herself a "skeptic" and says she's "not big on authority. Millar says she has looked into various religious organizations, but found them all to be scams. Traveling in Taiwan on a business trip, Millar discovered Ching Hai's teachings through the niece of a business contact.

Her skeptical nature, she claims, made her unreceptive at first. Seven years after her introduction to the Ching Hai group, Millar has risen to become a high-level member responsible for tasks such as putting together the Master's books, arranging ceremonies and talking to the press. But she insists that the organization is very "laissez-faire.

I like it, it's really formless. It's a formless teaching, too. As to the Master's role in all this, Miller cannot quite say. She teaches us a lot. This role is both inside and outside. For Millar, all the proof of the Master's divine nature comes from the Quan Yin method. I found that Millar, a high-level member of the group, and the "not so great ones" seem equally enraptured with this new religion. In fact, they worship her so much that anything she touches becomes a prized possession. Ching Hai's new book features a picture of the Master about to engage in one of her favorite activities: The caption reads, "Master offers her love and blessing by sharing candies with the gathered initiates.

We love the candy Master gives us. You know, it's different from other candy. We love going around to get it, it's like being little kids. Ching Hai's name is new to most cult experts, but her behavior, and that of her followers, is not. The Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network provides lists and definitions of common cult practices. Under "Techniques of mind-control," one finds a description of "thought-stopping techniques" such as "meditating, chanting and repetitious activities which, when used excessively, induce a state of high suggestibility. Joe Kelly, an exit counselor in Philadelphia, once belonged to the infamous Transcendental Meditation movement begun by the Beatles' guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The Maharishi promises to teach his members Yogic Flying, a levitation-like ability achieved through meditation. Without condemning meditation, Kelly posits that "the result of being in a trance state is that it unhooks your critical thinking skills. Kelly also says that cults encourage members to "become dependent, like a child. According to Kelly, even Ching Hai's strange line of fashion wear is not unheard of in the cult trade. Kelly's strongest bit of advice in identifying cults is to look for "the subjective nature of the doctrine. That's the clincher with these meditation groups. They're always changing the rules so you can't get a handle on anything.

Janja Lalich, author of Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, a book on post-cult recovery, provides a similar diagnosis. Her assertion that "66 percent of the people who join cults are recruited by friends or family members" seems borne out by the Asian members interviewed for this story, all of whom had been indoctrinated by relatives.

She also advised me to "see how they're answering questions. Are they scripted? I simply offer you a way to know yourself. She adds, "They're very good at turning the questions back on you. That's a classic technique. Or they'll talk gobbledygook. In her list of cult characteristics, Lalich includes a "hidden agenda," or what she calls a "double set of ethics.

As a member, you can be open and honest. To outsiders, you can lie. Margaret Singer, perhaps the country's first and foremost cult expert. Singer, who has been following modern cults since their appearance in the late s she cites the Moonies, the TM movement as the earliest examples , gained national fame for her work with the defense team of heiress Patty Hearst, who killed a man in a bank robbery while under the influence of a revolutionary cult.

Singer, who keeps extensive files on cultic groups around the world, considers Ching Hai unusual only in that most large, far-reaching organizations are led by men. Female cult leaders, says Singer, usually control small, local groups of anywhere from five to 50 members. Only within the last nine or ten months has she begun receiving calls from men and women -- just over a dozen of them, and almost all from San Francisco and San Jose-- who have lost their spouses to the Ching Hai organization. Singer says that the callers also complained about the tremendous sums of money their spouses gave to the Ching Hai organization.

From what she heard, she says, it seems the Ching Hai group pressures its members to buy merchandise. The Supreme Master's image graces Web pages, newsletters, the walls of her restaurants and the homes of her supporters. In her talks with these abandoned spouses, Singer says she has heard no evidence of physical or sexual abuse.

Nor does she think Ching Hai's doctrines, which include relatively few apocalyptic prophecies, point toward the sort of fiery endings met with by the self-immolated Branch Davidians or the self-poisoned followers of Jim Jones. But she doesn't seem to have fantasies about suicidal revolutions or apocalyptic endings. Though Ching Hai may not pose any physical threat to her followers, she may nevertheless be doing them other forms of damage.

Telling the spouse that if they don't join Ching Hai, they would have to leave them. In , Krysiak met Trang not her real name , a Vietnamese immigrant who had been captured by the Communists in her homeland, but had escaped on the boats to America where she found work as a hairdresser. When the couple met in Fremont, Trang had three children and was already following Ching Hai. Krysiak says he cautioned Trang against Ching Hai, but took her in anyway. She was the most highly sexual person I ever met.

That soon changed, however. The women die sexually with Ching Hai. The relationship suffered, says Krysiak, as he and the Ching Hai group vied for Trang's affections. He claims he sometimes walked in upon Trang meditating with a blanket on her lap, which she had been instructed to throw over herself so as not to reveal the secret Quan Yin method. He adds that Trang charged a plane ticket to fly to New York for her initiation into the group, bought a flute because Ching Hai played the instrument, decorated her room with Ching Hai posters, and got plastic surgery and breast implants because Ching Hai had supposedly undergone the same operations.

Trang also became a "fanatic vegetarian," Krysiak says. It was lucky that they were so Americanized that they had to have their McDonald's. Trang was not so lucky. And when Trang cut out her fish, she got thyroid disease. She had to go twice for radioactive thyroid treatment, and they killed a little bit too much thyroid. Now she has to take thyroid [medication] for the rest of her life. Even after the illness, the Ching Hai group won the tug-of-war for Trang. Krysiak moved to San Jose to get away from the memories of Trang only to see the Ching Hai restaurant open a few blocks from his house.

Krysiak returned home to find he had locked himself out of his house. He laughed. He said, 'In Vietnamese community, there are two causes for divorce: Bay , and Ching Hai. Ching Hai may be a recognizable figure to some in the Asian community, but despite her restaurants, approximately , followers, and contact persons in 37 countries, the mainstream press seems almost completely unaware of her existence. Even most cult experts knew nothing or little about her. The only readily available material on Ching Hai comes from her own literature and the numerous sites that line the World Wide Web, which usually offer little more than color photos of the Master and suspiciously favorable interviews by foreign journalists.

A tireless publicity seeker, Ching Hai never misses an opportunity to gain credibility and clout for her organization. She often claims to have been invited to the conspicuously prestigious locations for her lectures--Georgetown University, UCLA and the United Nations buildings in Geneva and New York--but rarely says by whom.

She also claims that seven United States governors proclaimed Feb. Ching Hai's attempts in to help the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong remain a feather in the leader's cap, though they apparently failed. In Taiwan, the story goes, Ching Hai even set up two front organizations to bestow awards upon her in a public ceremony, and successfully persuaded a baffled United States official to pose as the president of one.

Ching Hai's knack for self-promotion shines in her official biography, which reads more like a hagiography. In it, Ching Hai appears as a "rare and noble child" who taught herself philosophy at an early age and cried at the sight of slaughtered animals. The prophecies of clairvoyants back up Ching Hai's claims to gurudom: The rest of the biography is a paean to the Master's humility, humanitarian efforts and impressive output of saleable products.

Entertaining though this mishmash of religious mythology, Eastern folklore and public- relations razzle-dazzle may be, it's rather less interesting than the story of Ching Hai revealed in the thesis of UC-Berkeley graduate Eric Lai. The daughter of a Vietnamese mother and an ethnic Chinese father, Trinh reportedly hung out with American soldiers as a teenager, and bore one a daughter.

At 19, during the height of the Vietnam War, Trinh left home with a German doctor working for an international relief organization. Trinh's daughter later killed herself at Trinh married the doctor, and the couple moved first to Britain and then to Germany. There, in , she met a Buddhist monk whom she followed for three years until she was denied entrance to his monastery on the basis of gender.

Trinh then moved to India to study Buddhism. It was here that she became a prize pupil of Thakar Singh, who had just splintered off from a Buddhist order, Radhasoami, to form his own sect, Kirpal Light Satsang. According to Lane's findings: But by the time Singh's crimes came to light, Ching Hai had already learned from him the "light and sound" meditation technique, and had left for Taiwan. Lai's research revealed that in Taiwan, in , Trinh studied with a Buddhist nun named Xing-jing.

Unaware of her association with Singh, Xing-jing officially ordained Trinh in the order and gave her the religious name "Ching Hai," which translates from Mandarin as "pure ocean. She taught meditation, and meditated herself for up to four hours a day. One former colleague told Lai, "We were all impressed by her devotion and sincerity. Returning to Taiwan in , Ching Hai lured followers away from her former master, Xing-jing, and set up a makeshift temple in an apartment in the Taipei suburbs. Rumors about her prophetic abilities and unique meditation methods earned her a large following, and by posters of Ching Hai appeared all over Taipei.

By the time the Taiwanese Buddhist community learned of Ching Hai's past connection to the disgraced Satsang cult, it was too late. The new Messiah had been born. And now she is among us in San Jose. Her arrival is a rare and momentous occasion which her followers have been anticipating since her last appearance here in For new initiates personally selected by Ching Hai through their written applications and photos their only contact with the Master has been through the literature and videos available in the restaurant's library.

Perhaps a fortunate few have been able to channel her as promised. Now, however, they will be able to see and hear her in person. Some may even be touched by her. Cries of adoration greet Ching Hai when she appears in the portals of Gate A8. As she walks, her path is strewn with flowers, prostrate bodies and outstretched hands. She smiles modestly.

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Once outside, she is escorted into the back seat of a black Isuzu Trooper. She waves to the undulating crowd as the car speeds away, heading for the nearby Red Lion Hotel. For the next hour, the short-term parking lot of the San Jose Airport is jammed with cars heading for the exit to follow her. On the stage is an assortment of pillows on a white chair. The person audience chatters happily until an announcer approaches the microphone.

Within two seconds, the room grows completely silent. Upon the request of a yellow-ribboned official, a fussing newborn is whisked through the doors by its mother. For the next hour, the only sounds in the Fir Room are the microphone tests and the setting up of several video cameras and klieg lights. When Ching Hai enters the room, the crowd stands and applauds. She walks under an arch of party balloons strung together by multicolored ribbons and down the center aisle toward the stage, stopping now and then to direct a smile at a lucky follower who inevitably convulses with delight.

She takes the stage, soaking up the adoration and barely able to conceal her pleasure. She begins her talk with phrases that are alternately humble and self-congratulatory: I don't know if I'm good enough for you. After a long and tortuous lecture, Ching Hai takes questions from the audience, even answering once or twice in Mandarin. Soon, it will get easier. The crowd applauds. Later, Ching Hai gets flustered by a more difficult question. A young medical student wants to know if the Master condones euthanasia. She paces the stage. What's that for? Before the student can answer, she sighs crabbily.

Why am I responsible for all the countries? So it's hard for me to tell you which one to kill and which one not," she says. Laughter erupts from the crowd, and then applause. Ching Hai wraps up her talk well after midnight. She makes her last rounds through the audience, touching a head here, smiling beatifically there.

A black man in African garb shrinks in his seat as she passes, his hands clasped together in worship, sobbing in great gasps, looking into the Master's face while tears stream down his. Ching Hai chortles as she passes him, and stops to poke her green umbrella at him, which he fondles gratefully. I have stayed only because I want to arrange for a private interview with the Master. When I find Millar, she says she will see about it--and within seconds, I find myself sitting in a chair face to face with the Supreme Master Ching Hai.

Our knees are almost touching. Six hundred pairs of eyes are riveted to us, several men hold microphones less than an inch from my nose, and every video camera and flood light in the house bears down upon me and the Master. With sweat already soaking through my shirt, I begin asking questions. Ching Hai tells me her organization is "rather big," with "a lot of centers around the world or 50 countries. My next question--about funding--is answered with much humility. Though she calmly explains that the sales of clothing and jewelry accounts for most of her money, she adds, "We don't really need that much.

She claims, as does Millar, that she and her followers sleep in plastic tents. Use tents. Plastic cheap. We live very simple. We eat vegetarian. Ching Hai shakes her head. God gives it to me. Neither of us seem to take this answer seriously--but I write it down anyway. According to Millar, the Master's clothing and jewelry are "very expensive, but it's very high quality. God has certainly been kind to Ching Hai: My last question to the Master concerns a woman who had earlier stood to proclaim to Ching Hai, "The world has waited thousands of years for you.

I find it hard to concentrate on her words, and stop writing momentarily. The interview is done, and the Master and I shake hands. Long after she has retired to her room, groups of disciples hang around in the lobby to touch the arm of the journalist who shook hands with the Master. It occurs to me that I may now be seen on a videotape in the Ching Hai library: Our words may end up on a Web site, or in the Suma Ching Hai magazine, or condensed into an aphorism in a book. Against my will, I had become another prop in Ching Hai's magic show. Like the followers milling about me, I had stepped into the light and sound of the Master.

From the March April 3, issue of Metro This page was designed and created by the Boulevards team. Much Ado: Clinton's legal defense fund returned donations received from the Supreme Master's followers. The mysterious, Vietnamese-born "Supreme Master" spoke to of her followers, mostly recent Taiwanese and Chinese immigrants, on the "key to immediate enlightenment" at the San Jose Red Lion Hotel.

As it turns out, the self-proclaimed Buddhist messiah may have given out some political advice at the same time. The very next day, in Washington, D. And according to group investigator Loren Berger, many of the personal checks, cashier's checks and money orders under scrutiny actually came from San Jose, where Suma Ching Hai has one of her largest followings outside of Taiwan.

Just last Tuesday, Michael Cardozo, executive director of the legal defense fund, announced that the contributions had been returned, much to the dismay of local followers.

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The reason given by Cardozo was that the donations looked suspicious: Money orders supposedly given by people in different cities had sequential numbers, while some checks were written in identical handwriting. The xenophobic reaction of the Clinton trust, driven by scandal attack dogs in Congress, has angered some local Ching Hai followers who say they're just trying to support the president.

Local Ching Hai representative Pamela Millar of Palo Alto tells Eye that members of the group pooled their checks after Suma Ching Hai suggested sending a donation to the fund "if you want to help the president. She stresses that "Master" Suma Ching Hai never directly told her followers to send money. Millar's check was among the ones returned en masse by Cardozo with a letter questioning the source of the money. I don't know why it should be a scandal," she adds. Another representative of Ching Hai, David Bui of San Jose, says that support for the president is widespread in the group.

Ching Hai's organization derives most of its income selling to its followers thousands of videos, CDs, magazines and tapes--all bearing the image of the Master, smiling crookedly due to a slightly paralyzed cheek. Santa Clara streets, where David Bui works. This week Metro fielded calls from national press scrambling to get a fix on the elusive Suma Ching Hai and her flock, as yet unreported by the mainstream press. The SJ Merc might have had little to add on the subject had it not tapped the expertise of normally byline-less former Metro managing editor Steve Buel, who some people may think has fallen into a black hole but actually now helps hold down the Merc's city desk and was credited at the end of the Post pickup as having "contributed to this report.

Write again soon! The Washington Post on Clinton's knowledge of the fishy campaign funds. Mother Jones says Charles Trie is number on its list of the top campaign contributors. Mother Jones writer L. Davis says Clinton's Indonesian money scandal may be the real thing. Controversial characters and groups keep trying to use the Sept. Last month, the Church of Scientology raised eyebrows when victims were told to call the group for mental heath counseling. Now, sources say, a woman who has been called a cult leader has been trying very hard to give major donations to charities benefiting the victims of the terrorist attacks as well as Afghan refugees.

The red-faced president returned the check. Lately, sources say Suma Ching Hai's reps have been working the phones hoping to give big money to major charities, including Unicef and the American Red Cross. A spokeswoman for Unicef says the organization doesn't comment on donors or potential donors. A spokeswoman for the American Red Cross said she knows nothing of the donations.

If they turn out to be true, we will consider returning the donations. Suma Ching Hai, a Taiwan-based guru who calls herself Supreme Master, gets her income from a chain of vegetarian restaurants run by her followers, who also buy her overpriced tapes and videos. The red-faced Prez promptly returned his check from the messianic mystic.

Ching Hai evidently viewed the Sept. On Monday, msnbc. She tried to fly under the radar. Sources say she used that m. It was clear she was in it for publicity. I find the local offices of the International association of the Supreme Master of the Universe in a squat warehouse in a rather sad-looking industrial section of El Monte. An attractive blond on the far side of 40, she deposits me in a conference room amid blown-up photographs of Supreme Master Ching Hai with Martin Sheen and Swoosie Kurtz, another with Debbie Reynolds, taken at a "One World. After several minutes, Hudson and a small Vietnamese woman join me.

I ask Hudson about the press kit she'd sent promoting Ching Hai's works. It looked like an evening line for Far East Barbie. That's part of World Peace Media. I was like, 'Oh my god, she is so enlightened. I tell her I can roll it, thanks. As Hudson goes on to say that she studied world religions for 21 years but did not find "inner peace" until she began practicing Quan Yin meditation for two and a half hours a day, as she compares Ching Hai to Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, Vo continues to stare at me. I get the distinct feeling that, while Hudson has invited me here, it's Vo who understands what's behind the curtain, and is waiting to decide how much I need to know and how I will learn it.

Not that I haven't already learned a little. A quick online search yields more than 30, sites mentioning Ching Hai. Her many official sites, such as Godsimmediatecontact. Born in Vietnam in , from girlhood she helped the poor and needy, actuating her higher calling with a years-long mission in the Himalayas, where she studied under a "great master" and learned the meditation technique called Quan Yin, which focuses on light and sound. Having found enlightenment, she has for two decades ministered to the crises of the world, accepting absolutely not one penny from her followers, who are mostly from Asia, and who are said to number in the millions.

There are also less reverent portraits, online and in print: A "cult watch" site suggests that "Ching Hai evidently viewed the September 11 atrocity as an opportunity to legitimize herself, and soon had her devotees working the phones to various charities. She had a child by an American soldier before she was 19, a daughter who later committed suicide. She claims to be the reincarnated Buddha and Jesus Christ, and followers are said to be so obsessed with their leader that they drink her bath water. As a second course of hot-and-sour soup arrives, I ask Vo how long she's been associated with Ching Hai.

I came to America in ," she says. I ask if they know how Ching Hai raises the millions she gives away. Basically, that's it. The people, the so-called disciples, if they want to pitch in and help with disaster relief, sometimes we gather a lump sum and give it to them. Well, usually we don't accept donation, unless there is a critical disaster or whatnot happening.

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We have c3, tax-exempt, so we gather the whole thing and give it that way. But she doesn't accept any donations, like personal, so she can build a house, no, there's no such thing as that. She's more than happy just living in a tent. She's very humble. I tell Vo it must be hard for Ching Hai to live in a tent with her tremendous wardrobe.

As evidenced by hundreds of photographs on the Web and in her magazines and videos, she rarely wears the same thing twice: Here she's in a fuchsia silk tunic, beatific at her easel; there in a saffron-colored monk's robe, with hair shorn; in a hot-pink velvet bodice and hair extensions, giggling at a Moon festival in Florida; in outrageously elaborate Siamese princess regalia, complete with golden headpiece.

So she started growing hair and putting on makeup and start design her own clothes, and everyone start loving that. They say, 'See, finding God means choose beauty and virtues, we don't have to renounce the world and look bald. And she does that to relate to all the different essences in each and every human being. They'll do that -- it's really not about the money. I tell them I appreciate how nice it would be to give the stuff away, yet if Ching Hai is funding hundreds of relief efforts, the money has to come from somewhere.

When I ask if I can have a catalog, both Hudson and Vo are silent. Do they, perhaps, have a catalog I can lookat? She believes God is love and God should give things to the children instead of taking things from the children. I mention that my daughter likes these pears, and ask if their non-religion is ever accused of being a cult.

They say, 'How come I hear such and such? This is really about the simplicity, because that's really where that happiness is. I want to cry when I think of that, because that is what she taught me so much. I am very in awe, but I am. I want to be. I rule the world! I'm also the head of entertainment here," says Hudson. I'm a producer and a writer and an actress, I have my own companies, but I also do their weekly show.

We just want to ask you maybe a few questions, whatever. I find myself in a studio that is the opposite of spontaneous. There's a raised stage, with two chairs set up; cameramen and sound people; and a line of smiling, nodding Asian men pointing still cameras at me. The sound of mechanical chirping fills the room as Vo tries to get me to sit in the guest's chair.

I decline, despite the encouragement of a dozen people, including the chef, Nancy, who Vo tells me has flown in from Texas, and who wears a locket holding a photo of Ching Hai. I ask her if she made it. We take you down there. They have never realized that some people have that much love and dedication to the work. The men with still cameras motion for Vo and Hudson to stand close beside me, and then begin taking our pictures. I smile stiffly; I've been here over three hours.

I tell Hudson and Vo I really need to leave. I thank them for the materials, but tell them I cannot accept the food, as it might be construed as their encouraging a positive write-up. Vo's face clouds over, either because she's truly wounded I would make such a supposition, or -- and to my eye -- because this is precisely what she's hoping for. The desire to flee trumps journalistic ethics, and I grab the bags and push open the door with my butt. The women follow me into the street. It may be paranoia, but I don't want them to know which car is mine, and make a show of jangling my keys next to someone else's beater station wagon.

I thank them for their time, and after a protracted goodbye, they go back inside, though not before Hudson tells me to check out her own Web site. There are many items for sale, including several dozen boudoir shots of Hudson; an assortment of Queen Kathryn products, such as Fudge Fatale candy and Sacred perfume; and Queen Kathryn, the Movie , starring Hudson in a gold Xena-like outfit. The synopsis explains that Queen Kathryn hails from the planet Nebaron, is raised by the Yodecian tribe in the Himalayas, and opens Starshine Dance Studios in Los Angeles, from where she and a "harem of young girls" fight the evil force known as Gregorian Mansoon, whose "mission is to turn the people of L.

Not me. I followed the "method" of "Suma Ching Hai" for a while, three or four years ago, before leaving because I saw no point in continuing to waste time on a method that seemed fictional. There is no evidence of a mantra in this group because nothing is written.

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The first few times you meditate, you are instructed to repeat "Suma Ching Hai" internally for 30 minutes a day. You are advised to give up meat, fish and eggs and all intoxicants. You are, they hope, fully vegetarian by this time. You are also told how to meditate on "light and sound", by concentrating on the "third eye," which is supposedly in the region of the pineal gland, between the eyebrows, and also by blocking your ears and listening to the celestial sounds within.

These can be the sound of bells or other "heavenly music". I would not know: I heard nothing and "saw" nothing. You are told of "brilliant light", although sharing experiences is discouraged, because not everyone is the same. You are also asked to cover yourself with a sheet or blanket, so no one can see you even when meditating in a group of fellow "disciples.

I have no idea how to spell these, of course, since it is all passed on orally. You are told never to repeat these "names" aloud and, of course, never to tell anyone else about them. Does that mean I am now officially a "sinner" in the eyes of Ching Hai devotees? I have four children and work as well. Also, the books and other paraphernalia were over-priced. The books and tapes could be borrowed if you liked, and once you were an official follower, you had an ID card, with your photo on.

This was to be carried with you, although no one ever asked me for it. You need never give any money at all, if you did not want to. There was no pressure at all in my Sussex group in England and everyone seemed very pleasant. I never came to any harm from Ching Hai or her following. Meditation made me calmer, but sitting on your bum thinking of very little is bound to calm you down anyway! I did once see Ching Hai, in London.

She was a small woman, dressed in very plain clothes and with an incredible amount of charisma. She talked for a while and then invited questions. I asked one and was impressed by her direct manner and down-to-earth, practical reply. She had a way of looking in your eyes, as if she knew you completely. I cannot describe it more exactly than that, but there was definitely some power there, despite her slight physical frame.

You have heard of ancient masters of the east, enlightened masters, perfect masters, now there is a supreme master among us. Every several years a new-enlightened master comes on the scene to share their so-called spiritual wisdom with the world. It is more rare to see a woman in this position, but there have been a number of women over the years.

Originally born in Au Lac, Vietnam she spent much of her adult life in Taiwan. Ching Hai was brought up as a Catholic by her parents, but learned the basics of Buddhism from her grandmother. Her father was a highly respected Naturopath who loved to study world literature and was especially interested in philosophy. This along with other spiritual influences molded her to what she is today. When she was young she disliked when someone would harm plants. She has been known often to take a wounded animal home, to care for it.

If she saw an animal slaughtered, she would cry. All her life she's been repulsed by the sight of killing animals for meat and wishing that she could prevent the suffering in the world. She has always been a vegetarian. Her appeal is to bring peace to all brothers and sisters, which is done by her meditation technique and prayer.

Master Ching Hai went on the road at an early age to seek knowledge. She left home at 22 to study in England, and then went to France and Germany, where she worked for the Red Cross as an interpreter. At 30, she met and married a German physician, and after two years of marriage, with her husband's consent, they separated. She left the marriage in her continuing pursuit of enlightenment.

Fulfilling an ideal that had been with her since Her childhood. She became a Buddhist nun and pursued enlightenment in India. Although her disciples seem to know all about this and accept her story, others are a bit skeptical. Calling herself shy in nature, she kept this treasure she found hidden Quan Yin Method. After she returned from the Himalayas she then began to teach this initiation to others at the earnest request of those people who sought her instruction and initiation.

It was through the insistent requests and efforts of Her earlier disciples in Formosa Taiwan and United States that Master Ching Hai now lectures throughout the world. She has initiated multiplied tens of thousands of spiritual aspirants using the Quan Yin method. Images are under the copyright of their owners. More info shown for each image when viewed in detail. December 16, Length: Vy Cao. January 20, Length: Chris Jansma.

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Otherwise the related wikipedia article. As of the district had a population of , The district capital lies at Son Duong. Located at The district capital lies at Tan Binh. This is a wider card with supporting text below as a natural lead-in to additional content. This content is a little bit longer.

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