Cult leader makes millions selling fake medicines imbued with ‘Buddha’s power’

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/6/20 19:18:00

Residents of Hefei, East China’s Anhui Province sign their names on a billboard which advocates rejecting illegal cults on December 22, 2015. Photo: IC

"When I became suspicious, they told me that the product did not work on me because I was not pious enough," said a 52-year-old woman surnamed Chen who used to be a member of an illegal cult told the Hubei Daily.

Chen had two terrible marriages and has been haunted by illness for a long time. After hearing that believing in "Milefo Dao" - a cult based around worshipping the Maitreya Buddha - could help her change her life, she joined the cult and became one of its accountants. 

However, although she spent all her money on buying the cult's "healthcare" products, she did not feel better; instead, her health became worse and she even broke a few of her bones after falling over several times. 

On April 1 a local court in Central China's Hubei Province sentenced 16 members of the cult to between two and six years in prison for spreading superstitions, which triggered public concern over cults and the harm they do to society.

According to police, the cult had established a secret and strict organizational system and had gathered over 4,000 followers across the country within a year. By holding lectures and selling products, the cult leader accumulated over 10 million yuan ($1.5 million).  

China launched a campaign to crack down on cults after six members of the Almighty God cult beat a woman to death in a McDonalds in Zhaoyuan, Shandong Province in 2014, after she refused to give them her telephone number. 

The State Council and the Ministry of Public Security have identified at least 14 cults since the 1990s.

Extinction and communism

Hubei police found out that the cult's leader, Li Changlu, 61, from the city of Yongzhou in Central China's Hunan Province, had been gathering together former members of the "Zhong Gong" cult since 2011. Calling himself a successor to Zhong Gong's leader and reincarnation of the Maitreya Buddha, Li established Milefo Dao and recruited followers in 23 provincial-level regions.

Zhong Gong was founded in 1987, four years before the once-popular Falun Gong movement which was banned as an "evil cult'' after more than 10,000 members held an illegal demonstration outside the Communist Party headquarters in Beijing, The New York Times reported. 

Like Falun Gong, Zhong Gong was started by a charismatic individual with his own variant of traditional Chinese concepts, offering meditative exercises to promote health and enlightenment. By some accounts it had tens of millions of followers at its peak in the early 1990s, said the report. 

Police who worked on the Milefo Dao case said that the organization's beliefs were based on Zhong Gong's, but also included the idea that the world is about to face a mass extinction event and that the only way for people to survive (and realize full communism) is to obey the teachings of the Maitreya Buddha.

Li set up a company to deal with the cult's finances in 2012 and set up branches across the country. He trained one leader and a tutor for each branch and called his followers "employees."

"Before every meeting, we placed six cups on a desk and worshipped the six immortals. After boss Li came, we could sit down," a former cult member said, adding that they were told that the more rituals they attended, the faster their "power" would grow.   

According to the police, to keep his organization concealed from the authorities, Li required all members to change their phone numbers frequently, use secret codes, and live in hidden rented houses. If a member's participation in the cult was discovered by the authorities, they would not be allowed to participate in any meetings for several months. 

Cash for the cult

While brainwashing his members, Li also demanded his branches push members to buy "healthcare products."

Li claimed that his products were imbued with Buddha's power and required members to eat them to accumulate "merits." Boxes of medicine were sold to members at significant markups. 

"The tutor told us that after he touched the product, or said something to the product, it would be totally changed. If we ate it, we would become immortal," said a member. 

The products sold by the cult are unlicensed and do not confirm to the country's food and drug standards, police said. 

Police arrested 21 key members of the cult in August 2015 and confiscated 10.32 million yuan, 37 bank cards and 82 books of cult propaganda. 

"A cult normally asks its members to worship a 'god' or 'Buddha,' but in reality it is usually the cult's founder himself, based on some fabricated fallacies rather than established religious doctrines," Shen Guiping, a religious studies expert at the Central Institute of Socialism, told the Global Times.

Shen said that cults often promote doctrines that are anti-social or against humanity and try to accumulate wealth through various means.


Newspaper headline: Rich from religion

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