What life in a cult was like: “We gave away our critical thinking and moral code and surrendered it to him” — Gary Kramer writes about his interviews with former disciples of Buddhafield, including disciple filmmaker of Holy Hell.
Buddhafield espoused starkly different teachings and practices from the Christian cult I belonged to — and both Buddhafield and Christian cults are very different from Islamist political/terrorist “cults” I have spoken about before. The similarities, however, are also very real. I quote from Kramer’s interview those points that also point to my experience and what I have read in the research about terrorist cells.
What led to involvement? Will Allen (WA):
I was on a quest for happiness. I was pretty burned out from college. I liked the teachings I heard, and the people I met, and that was the beginning of the end. I was young and looking for some kind of secret to life—how to live my life and give it purpose.
Another member (David Christopher – DC) replied:
We were looking for something deeper. Our families are a cult. I have a new definition for cult: a group or organization that inhibits your thinking through guilt, shame, or coercion. That can be your family, it can be your church. . . . Most everyone in our community wanted something more—they saw something under the veil and wanted more than just the superficial, and that’s how they entered into this.
You can’t just join the Buddhafield. It’s hard to get in. It’s selective, and secretive. I realized quickly that there was something going on. I wasn’t invited in. There was a process you needed to go through… Eventually you get invited. . . . It was “this is more your family,” and I felt that way—it was way more intimate than my own family.
It’s like any relationship. You find the good and hold on to that as long as you can and overlook all the negatives. . . . (WA)
The craziness wasn’t really apparent for most of us. I’d like to say 80 percent of it is so fricking amazing that you can live in this state of bliss. And 20 percent was a little weird but you say, “I’m not going to look at that part.” (DC)
Comment on the culture, the rules:
The rules were interesting because they formed over time. . . . But there was so much deception and secrets and lies, these rules were impossible to maintain. Rules shifted . . . Things became extreme. (DA)
On abuse (in Buddhafield it was sexual abuse; other types of abuse exist in other cults):
We gave away our critical thinking and moral code and surrendered it to him. The abuse was able to last for so long because we were surrounded by each other . . . and those situations were not abusive. . . . Somehow they coexist. . . . He ignored our personality and egos, and we also ignored and compartmentalized it, as [if] in an abuse relationship. . . . We rationalized the good; it outweighed the bad. (DA)
How did you exit and re-adapt?
I was so committed I didn’t have the strength to leave until my other brothers and sisters [in the Buddhafield] started to leave. I was there because of them. When everyone said, “Hey, wait a minute…” we did it together. We couldn’t do it alone. We had this groupthink. Reprogramming—it is a tedious job to reintroduce yourself to your desires. I did a lot of writing. It took a long time to feel selfish again and feel self-centered. At 22 I unlearned everything I learned up to that point. When I got out at 44, I had to do it again. (DA)
We got this mass email [discussed in the film] and all of a sudden, I read it and I was like, What the fuck? All of a sudden there was this division. (DC) — (See my earlier post on the importance of exposing the hypocrisy and corruption among the cult leaders, etc.)
What do you miss once you leave?
The film “Room” is a great example. It’s an extreme—you want to go back to the room; it’s what you know… . . . It’s an addiction—you run away from your feelings. Once the Buddhafield went away, and after we stopped self-medicating with meditation, everything came up and you had to stop running from it and deal with it. If you aren’t feeling your feelings, you aren’t being human. That’s one thing we really missed in the Buddhafield.