Scandals-hit Indian gurus, suspected cults scam Chinese followers

By GT staff reporters Source:Global Times Published: 2020/6/15 20:24:40

Anti-cult education held in Danhua primary school in Bozhou, East China's Anhui Province Photo: cnsphoto

If you see a man wearing a maroon waistcloth and bead necklace sitting next to a yoga mat in a secluded meditation room in China, chances are he may not be a graced spiritual leader. China has become a hotspot for Indian-born disgraced "gurus" and cult organizations scamming people by selling them so-called spiritual lessons.

Some of such Indian spiritual groups advertise with labels like "spiritual guidance," "yoga culture," "longevity" and "business success" that cater to Chinese consumers, and use their ostensibly mysterious spiritualism to deceive and ultimately control its members, which experts concluded falls in line with the definition of a "cult" in China, and is likely illegal. Infamy of these "holy men" has spread globally, as various media have reported them participating in criminal cases both in India and other countries, including China.  

Experts call on Chinese people to not blindly worship the guru culture, and to especially beware of dubious claims and "anti-science" messaging in the name of religion. 

"Chinese people have to be wary of imported cults, which might become a sort of crime if not well-managed," said Wang Dehua, head of the Institute for South and Central Asian Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

"We welcome healthy cultural exchanges with India, such as Indian food, Bollywood films and yoga classes which have been proven popular among Chinese, but we don't welcome faulty spiritual masters who cheat money under the guise of religion," Wang told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Followers of the controversial Indian guru Ram Rahim Singh walk outside an ashram in Sirsa, India, on August 27, 2017. Photo: AFP

Cult warning

China's Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and the China Anti-Cult Association (CACA) have issued a warning against Indian-imported religious threats like disgraced spiritual "gurus" in January 2019, asking residents to stay alert about some spiritual courses with extravagantly colorful descriptions offered by some Indian religious groups, and to stay off "suspected religious cults."

The warning came after a famous Taiwan actress Yi Nengjing, also known as Annie Yi, posted a Sina Weibo post promoting controversial spiritual courses offered by Kalki Bhagavan and his wife Amma, creators of the Oneness University based in Chittoor, India.

The 70-year-old founder of Oneness University and his wife were investigated for a large amount of unaccounted wealth by India's Income Tax department in a tax raid in November 2019, dampening many followers' faith in his teaching, Indian media reported. 

The university, whose name has been changed into O&O Academy, was taken over by the couples' son. The organization has continued attempts to attract more Chinese trainees through opening social media accounts like those on WeChat, the Global Times found out.

According to a broker in charge of organizing Chinese trainees to India for the physical and spiritual training programs, a team composed of more than a dozen team organizers, some 200 lecturers and volunteers has been working on providing counseling, registration, planning, and administration work for Chinese who would like to go to India for training programs, which last for at least a week.

The broker reached by the Global Times, who asked for anonymity, said her team is not a company but a group of individuals passionate about the training courses who would like more people to join. The team works in cooperation with O&O Academy. She has organized more than 10,000 Chinese to India for the training program in the last seven years.

According to the broker, the training would be held in cities such as Beijing four times a month. In promoting the training programs, said the broker, they have to make some adjustment in wording and phrasing to comply with the Chinese government's management on physical and spiritual training courses and integrate in the Chinese market. The Chinese government and Indian government hold different attitudes toward such training course, she said.

Now, all the training programs of O&O Academy have gone online due to the COVID-19 and the government's stricter management.

However, the broker promised trainees will be organized to India as soon as the border control is lifted.

An anonymous Chinese web user shared her experience on Zhihu, China's Quora-like Q&A platform, after attending a two-day course in 2017 held by the Oneness University in Beijing. She said the course was sold in six Chinese cities with the price of 3,600 yuan ($515) per person, and a venue was only open to 250 people. The 250 seats in Beijing were sold out in two days, and the class was held via livestream by Indian lecturers with interpreters translating the class into Chinese.

Indian lecturers spent two hours to explain oneness, which is "unconditioned love and joy for no reason," and in the following classes they told attendees some problems can only be solved by "external power" like oneness. 

The lecture was intermittent with meditation-like mantra, and some attendees, including volunteers hired by the sponsor, were immersed in their emotions, hysterically laughing, singing or crying. 

She recalled that a lecturer introduced them the concept of gold ball, which was shown in a picture. Many attendees claimed they saw various illusions under the help of background music and the lecturer, including seeing the gold ball telling them they would get everything they wanted.

The web user noticed the price of the course in the Chinese mainland rose to 10,000 yuan some days later.

At the end of the class, attendees were peddled a seven-day course in India with prices ranging from $3,600-100,000 for one phase, and an entire course contains 15 phases, which means that it would cost as much as 10 million yuan ($1.4m) to finish all 15 phases of the course.

Another trainee recalled the course was full of brainwashing. "I was told that one could be saved from samsara cycles after touching their gold chariot, which is absurd," said the trainee on his social media account.
Newspaper headline: Mystic malfeasance


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