Do I fear cults?

Ever since I encountered Tibetan Buddhism, the word "cult" has been in my head. When I started visiting the dharma hall, I wondered if I saw one. When my visits became regular, I wondered if I befriended one. When I decided to seriously study Buddhism, I wondered if I joined one.

All the above questions have long been answered—I guess it’s hard for a group to become a certified cult when “Let it Be” sits at the core of the belief—but a question remains: Why am I always worrying about “cults”? It is time to go down the rabbit hole and see what’s in there. Figuring it out might be similar to knowing the identity of Freddie or Jason. This doesn't make either less harmful, but would make me feel much better.

The first step is to figure out which aspects of a cult make me nervous.

  • Do I fear specific cults?
  • Do I fear members of a cult?
  • Do I fear how cults influence me?

Do I fear specific cults?
This possibility, though ear-pleasing, doesn’t exist; I have never received real threats or harm from groups identified as cults (as most of us haven’t). I associate the word “fear” with “cult” because I see them associated in news media. There is no physical entity that gives me cold sweat.

Do I fear members of a cult?
Cautiously, I would say no. I was annoyed a few times when some friends tried to recruit me into something I perceived as a cult. Although our friendship had changed permanently (mainly because I distanced myself), there was no harm. They were, without exception, trying to spread good will, not a scam or an evil scheme.

Do I fear how cults influence me?
Hmm…No. Ultimately it is up to each of us to decide to be “influenced,” except for kids forced to join a cult. There might be thousands of people who claim to be victims of a group, but also there are people who set their lives on good tracks because of that same group. Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Beck might be part of a controversial group, but it doesn’t make them less professional and awe-inspiring.

It is becoming clear that the source of my fear does not lie in cults or their members. Of course—I have barely had direct interactions with any such groups. But my obsession and fears about cults are real. Where do they come from?

I already know: Me. Where else?

I don’t need to know what the exact cause is—my tummy is accurate enough to signal me (through contraction) that there IS something inside. I will dig into what issues exist in the next post, but for now this revelation is good enough: If I fear something but do not have a solid reason for doing so, it’s because I am looking at a projected image of my private issues.