Date: Sun, 8 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 8, 1996 A M E

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Date: Sun, 8 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 8, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #151 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/8/96 http://www.atheists.org In This Issue... * Cyber Guru Early Disciple Of Hindu Avatar * Atheists May Ask Park Service To Remove Plaque At Statue * Abbot Who Said Virgin Was A Fake Retires * About This List... *** An AANEWS Investigative Report... FORMER CHINMOY DISCIPLE BEGAN NOTORIOUS RAMA ''CYBER CULT'' The "Dark Side" of Hindu-Buddhist-New Age Pseudoscience A former discriple of religious guru Sri Chinmoy -- the man whose followers persuaded the National Park Service to permit installation of a "peace plaque" at the Statue of Liberty recently -- left the inner circle of the Hindu group, and founded his own mystical organization which some have labeled the Rama "cyber cult." That man is Frederick Lenz, a 56-year old meditation leader and mystic, who has insisted on being called Zen Master Rama, and claims to be the reincarnation of several powerful deities. Yesterday, AANEWS reported that followers of Sri Chinmoy had approached the Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty, Diana H. Dayson, an official with the National Park Service, several weeks ago to persuade that agency to permit the mounting of a "peace plaque" at the popular tourist attraction. According to the New York Times, Dayson was shown a video about the "spiritual" works of Sri Chinmoy and his group; a segment of that program showed the Hindu cult leader supposedly lifting thousands of pounds of weights. Other phenomenal deeds have been attributed to Chinmoy, such as composing thousands of songs, drawing 5 million pictures of "peace birds" and authoriing over a thousand books. Chinmoy's group promotes endurance runs and marathons across the world. It has also attempted to gain international recognition by erecting commemorative plaques, known as "Peace Blossoms" at sites across the world, including the Grand Coulee Damn and Victoria Falls. Cult awareness experts warn that the Sri Chinmoy group may appear to be relatively harmless, but that it is nevertheless a religion. Park Service spokesmen said that the agency ostensibly "addressed that question" prior to permitting installation of the "peace plaque" at the Statue of Liberty. The Agency hosted a dedication service on August 27, which included speakers who praised the Hindu religionist for his efforts on behalf of "peace." The Service reportedly also presented a cake to commemorate Sri Chinmoy's birthday. But the benign image of "peace" may not tell the entire story. Mindless psychobabble, credulous acceptance of religious and pseudo-science doctrines such as reincarnation and other artifacts of "eastern wisdom" may leave certain followers vulnerable, mentally "mushed-out," and prone to manipulation by strong, charismatic leaders. It can also create what cult awarness experts warn is a "totalistic" environment. One former associate of Chinmoy has allegedly created such a manipulative environment in the form of a so-called "computer cult." In the 1970's, Frederick Lenz became a disciple of Sri Chinmoy, nearly a decade after the Hindu avatar left his native land and headed for more lucrative and spiritually-yearning territory in the United States. Chinmoy established a series of AUM centers, and was grinding out books, giving lectures, performing musical concerts, and had even ingratiating himself into the halls of the United Nations, where he led "meditation" sessions. He later reportedly became a close friend and confident of Michail Gorbachev. Lenz was born in 1940 in San Diego, California; his family moved to Stanford, Conn. where his father eventually became mayor of the city. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut in 1974, and in 1979 obtained a Ph.D in English at the State University of New York. According to sources including the New Age Encyclopedia, he became a devotee of Chinmoy during this perior, and was given the name Atmananda; he also began conducting meditation classes. Lenz was "sent to California by Chinmoy" in 1980, and opened a short-lived AUM meditation center in San Diego. He soon formed his own group, however, known as Lakshmi; according to the Encylcopedia, Lenz changed his name to Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu in 1985, and two years later incorporated Rama Seminars. According to several sources, what began as a "small, relaxed group of people studying Eastern religions" evolved into an "effective mechanism for extracting large sums of money from the followers." Former assocates of Lenz say that he became obsessed with power over others, and began to exhibit a number of standard control-tactics. These included orchestrated use of drugs, sexual manipulation, demands for money and other "loyalty tests", and reliance on what some described as "the increasing use of ambiguity and contradictions" in helping to formulate a mish-mash of occultist doctrine and personal self-help psychobabble. In the late 1980's, there were intermittent periods of publicity as members left the Lenz group. Estimates of the number of followers has varied considerably, but there is thought to be a "hard core" or inner circle of 200-350 who have paid exoribant amounts of money to Lenz for the "privilege" of his enlightenment. Lenz formed numerous corporate entities during this time; most of his new age outreach has been conducted through Advanced Systems, Inc. and National Personal and Professional Development Seminars, both of which boasted maIl drops in New York's World Tradce Center. Lenz's teachings and seminars reportedly exhibited an ever-changing amalgam of new age, Buddhist, Hindu and occultish themes with tinges of pop-culture and dubious propositions such as "everything goes back to a grid." Tuition to participate in some seminars can run as much as $2,500 a month; and even members are frequently insulted, "dressed down" and berated by Lenz. There have been a number of allegations that Lenz has placed special emphasis on the seduction and manipulation of female followers (another characteristic of many cults, including the Jim Jones "Peoples Temple" sect, AUM Supreme Truth, Branch Davidians, and eastern mysticism sects led by the likes of Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh). During the 1980's, Lenz's seminars were advertised in national magazines and newspapers. The New Age Encycloped notes that the lavish displays showed Lenz "in expensive, fashionable clothing." At least one anti-cult group accused Lenz of using his teachings to control every segment of his student's lives, including "dress, eating habits, what one does for recreation or relaxation...their daily regime, their choice of automobiles, their attitudes toward health care and even their careers." It is this final category, though, of manipulating occupations which has given rise to the Lenz's moniker of being a "cyber guru." This stage of evolution in Lenz and his mystical cult seems to correspond with Rama's own transformation, one which he said was marked by a transition from Vishnu, "Cosmic Preserver," into a disciple of Shiva, the Destroyer. One ex-member told WIRED Magazine that Lenz insisted he was "an enlightened being from the Dark Side." "Jesus was the nice guy, but the people he represents were tired of sending nice guys so they sent me instead." WIRED notes that in 1990, Lenz was insisting that he was "one of twelve enlightened teachers on earth, but refused to say who the other were..." Telling students they can "earn while you learn," new cult followers were reportedly pushed in computer programming and cyber-related occupations. Companies either controlled by Lenz or linked to his members "hired out" to other firms for computer-related services and systems consulting. Reportedly, "a handful of companies got burned" and there was a black list circulating among New York executives of Lenz-linked firms to avoid. In addition, members are excoriated about contact with "the outside world", includer former friends, associates and relatives. "Lenz warns them (members) that a direct phone line is dangerous because it gives others an opening to one's energy. Instead, members maintain phone mail systems... ," notes WIRED. Several published accounts say that while Lenz's followers endure a near-poverty existence, often with little more than a bed and computer, Rama himself boasts expensive homes, and flies across the country in private Lear jets. On tape, Lenz reminds devotees that "The more you give, the more people you can help...It's that simple." He has also instructed them that they should never have more possessions than they can pack up and move in a car. The activities of Lenz and his followers has been examined on NBC Dateline, and in articles appearing in publications such as WIRED, the San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, Santa Fe Reporter, Philadelphia Inquirer, Hartford Courant and the Portland Oregonian. The titles of many of the articles are themselves revealing: "Yuppie Guru Finds Cash in Computers," "Zen Master a Fraud," "The Cosmic Seducer," and the even "California Raisins Bounce Back." From Bad to Worse? Much of the tone in these articles involves the contention that Lenz is best described in his own words -- a "dark side" of eastern mysticism, a "false" guru who left a "true path" of Hindu, Buddhist or spiritual teaching and was seduced by power and control. Such off-the-shelf pop philosophy masks the disturbing similarities, though, between seemingly benign new age religious movements and the more overtly authoritarian, manipulative cults. There is considerable evidence that Hindu "Krishna" style groups are enjoying a renaissance, particularly on college campuses. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are reports of renewed interest in religious courses and mainstream Christian groups as well, part of a larger pattern where people seek "answers," "transcendance," or "inner peace" at the foot of a cross or the feet of a mumbling avatar. Authoritarian movements of any kind can develop strategies to control followers, but religious cults appear to have some distinct characteristics. A report on the Lenz group, for instance warns of "mass-hypnosis techniques...employing long, rhythmic trance-inducing monologues, vague language, meditation, hand manipulation, lighting and music that tend to make people more open to suggestion." Meditation itself needs to be considered in a cautious and critical light; there is considerable debate in the scientific community over its effects and benefits. The danger in meditation may rest with its social context, as a unifying ritual for a group, or an activity which promises unrealistic (or even outrageous) results. Various meditation gurus have claimed that meditation can result in the ability to levitate or fly, increased sexual potency, mystical powers and communication with spirits. Religious cults also rely on the notion of a master, guru, avatar or other often charismatic figure who promises some occult, hidden knowledge through ritual. Often, that includes prolonger periods of chanting, praying, even repititious labor or some other activity. Cults have been known to also manipulate the consciousness of followers by tampering with diet and sleep patterns. Followers are often warned to avoid contact with "outsiders" who are considered sinful, profane, unworthy or ingorant. Additional Resources: Those readers seeking more information on the "cyber guru" can find a number of internet resources, including "The Code Cult of the CPU Guru" by Zachary Margulis which appeared in WIRED Magazine. Check out http://www.hotwired.com. In addition, www.ex-cult.org includes an informative Report and bibliography. "The New Age Encyclopedia" edited by J. Gordon Melton (Gale Research Inc.) is an indispensible tool for understanding much of the "newage" movement and personalities. * An Update: American Atheists will is expected to release a statement sometime tomorrow calling upon the National Park Service to take down the "Peace Blossom" religious plaque erected by followers of Hindu cult leader Sri Chinmoy, and investigate the incident as a possible violation of state-church separation. We'll have more information for readers tomorrow as this story develops. **** ABBOT WHO SAID VIRGIN APPARITION A FAKE RETIRES FROM POST Discord continues to rock the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico over that nation's leading religious symbol and alleged apparition, the Virgin of Guadalupe. In a statement issued Friday by ecclesiastical authorities in Mexico City, it was announced that Abbot Guillermo Schulemberg, administrator of the Basilica de Guadalupe, was officially retiring. In June, a major controversy ignited when it was revealed that Schulemberg considered the apparition of the Virgin a "symbol" or metaphor, rather than an actual event. There was a public outcry over that statement, and the abbot submitted his resignation on July 8. The controversy has ancient roots, but modern day theopolitical implications. Mexico remains an important "asset" for the Vatican, boasting a heavy Roman Catholic population; but here, as elsewhere throughout Latin America, the church is being challenged in a "turf war" for religious allegiance by aggressive Protestant sects, including evangelicals and Mormons. The Church is also jockeying for political control, and in some areas has decided to back the insurgent PAN (National Action Party) to implement its conservative social agenda. The legend of Juan Diego has been an important ideological tool in maintaining its grip on the Mexican culture, and in rationalizing its assault on the otherwise-secular political institutions of the country. According to a church-fostered legend, the Virgin appeared to a poor Indian named Juan Diego in 1531. Coincidentally, she was a darked-skinned version of Mary -- and she happened to appear on a hilltop outside of Mexico City that was considered holy and magical by the Aztec Indians; some maintain that there was even an Aztec shrine to a goddess at this same site. The Virgin then asked Juan Diego to erect a church in her honor at that location; the apparition was dubbed the Virgin of Guadalupe, a corruption of an Aztec (Nahuatl) Indian word meaning "the one who crushed the serpent." As a cosmic calling card, she also allegedly imprinted an image of herself on Juan Diego's coat. Since then, the Virgin of Guadalupe has become an icon of Roman Catholic superstition throughout Mexico and the entire region. In June, Schulemburg (also identified in some press reports as "Schulenburg") was quoted in Mexican newspapers for statements made in late 1995 in a Catholic magazine known as Ixtys, a publication of the Jesuit order. The elderly abbot -- age 79 -- said that that the appearance of the virgin was "symbolic and not a historical reality." Anthropologists, social historians and even some church leaders knew as much, especially since the powerful "cult of the Virgin" represents a blending of Catholic and pagan-Indian traditions and symbols. The Virgin of Guadalupe, for instance, is often depicted standing on bull horns (a symbol of sexual potency and fertility), or the lunar-goddes symbol of the crescent moon. But Pope John Paul had "beatified" Juan Diego for sainthood in 1990, an important "bone" in continuing to reward the allegiance of millions of credulous, Virgin-worshipping Mexican Catholics. Schulemberg said that such a process was "a recognition of a cult. It is not a recognition of the physical, real existence of the person." When the interview statements were made public, Schulemburg initially denied making them, then insisted that the "historical existence" of the apparition was not essential to belief in the Virgin. Reuters and other news media reported that there was "outrage" throughout the country. There were threats of violence directed against the abbot, and calls for his immediate dismissal. Friday's announcement gave no reason for Schulember's departure and retirement, although some had expected the abbot to retire due to his advanced age. Archbishop Norberto Rivera announced that he was taking over the task of administration of the basilica, a job held by Schulemberg since 1963. "Peek-A-Boo" Religious Artifacts As in other parts of the world, visits and miracles carried out by celestial gods and goddesses are commemorated in dubious relics and souvenirs left behind. In the case of Juan Diego, there is the image of Mary which was left on his cloak, and is now a featured attraction at the Basilica de Guadalupe. Millions of people are whisked by the cloak every year on a moving sidwalk. Research indicates that as with other religious artifacts, scientists have not been permitted to examine this questionable item. The cactus-threat garment joins a long list of other "miraculous" objects, including the Shroud of Turin, the Holy Coat of Trier, assorted bleeding statues, strands of hair and even slices of bone from saints. One only gets to "peek" at these dubious items which are, in the minds of the faithful, incontrovertable evidence of divine interest and intervention. Though Abbot Schulemberg is now gone, the Virgin lives on in the form of decals, emblems, calendars and designs. She appears on everything from t-shirts to posters and remains what even Schulemberg described her to be -- "The Empress of the Americas, the Lady that is in all of our homes, that is not only in our wallets but also in our hearts." *** About This List... AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information on American Atheists, send mail to info@atheists.org, and include your name and postal address. Or, check out our cool new web site at http://www.atheists.org. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org, and put "info aanews" in the message body (minus the quotation marks, please!) Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER. American Atheists Internet Representative is Margie Wait, irep@atheists.org.

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