Suma Ching Hai

Author: Pierre de Villiers
Publisher: The Neural Surfer
Publication date: June 1996

E-mail David Christopher Lane directly at

I want to go back to the home base now.

The following article is a point-by-point reply by Pierre de Villiers on an article by Rafer Guzman in the San Jose Metro concerning the spiritual teacher, Suma Ching Hai. It is the first installment of Pierre de Villiers' ongoing research concerning the life and work of Suma Ching Hai. Please send any further comments or information directly to Pierre de Villiers at his e-mail address or contact the Neural Surfer directly. Thank you.

Critique of "Immaterial Girl"

by Pierre de Villiers
e-mail Pierre de Villiers


This is a critique on an article written on Suma Ching Hai ("Immaterial Girl") by Rafer Guzman of the San Jose Metro.

The initial motivation for this critique arose when I read the article on the Net and decided that it was necessary to point out where I felt that views expressed in the article were subjective, off the mark, non-factual, or uninformed.

In the critique I take the Sant Mat movement as exemplified in the Beas Satsang (Sawan Singh - Charan Singh lineage) as a traditionally accepted movement. Where Suma Ching Hai actually just duplicates the Sant Mat/Shabd Yoga practice and teaching as elucidated in Sar Bachan: Prose (a Sant Mat book published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas, Dera Baba Jaimal Singh), I point this out as not actually being a point of critique, as it is a teaching of a traditional "bona fide" Sant Mat movement.

I might after a while seem to be repeating myself, but I found this unavoidable, in order to correct what I felt were some inaccurate perceptions reflected in the article. I also used the term Surat Shabd Yoga often, as this is the documented traditional spiritual path that Suma Ching Hai actually teaches.

The purpose of this critique is also to generate a purposeful and well-reasoned discussion, and I am from my side open to any comments, as long as they are well-founded and factual. Also, it is hoped that this may generate inputs from people who might be able to shed light on facts where they are not entirely clear.

The original article's text is indicated with quotation marks and italics.

I must emphasise that the views expressed in the comments have not been checked with the organisation and are entirely my own words, although within my understanding are factually correct and completely in agreement with the teachings of Suma Ching Hai and the views of the organisation. Any errors, again, are to be attributed to me and not to Suma Ching Hai or the Quan Yin Meditation Association.

Thank you

Pierre de Villiers

PS: the best introductory book to read on Sant Mat/Surat Shabd Yoga as far as I know is "Path of the Masters" by Julian P. Johnson, generally available from Sant Mat centers, if you are interested. David Lane also has extensive pieces on the path on his home page at The Neural Surfer (Point 2: Surat Shabd Yoga).

I have actually used the term right from the start without defining it; for an excellent introduction, see David Lane's "The Enchanted Land".

The Quan Yin home page can be found at

Related Quan Yin links are and

Introduction: On Reasoning and Emotive Language

Before starting with the actual article and my critique of it, I include the following quotes from Copi's book on logic and reasoning, as they encapsulate and illustrate my feelings about the arguments and emotive word usage in the article very well.

"Fallacies are pitfalls into which any of us may tumble in our reasoning. Just as danger signals are erected to warn travelers away from dangerous places, so the labels for fallacies presented in this chapter may be regarded as so many danger signals posted to keep us away from the bogland of incorrect argument. Familiarity with these errors and the ability to name and analyze them may well keep us from being deceived by them.

There is no sure way to avoid fallacies. To avoid the fallacies of relevance requires constant vigilance and awareness of the many ways in which irrelevance can intrude. Our study of the different uses of language should be helpful in this connection. A realization of the flexibility of language and the multiplicity of its uses will keep us from mistaking an exhortation to accept and approve a conclusion for an argument designed to prove that conclusion true.

The fallacies of ambiguity are subtle things. Words are slippery, and most of them have a variety of different senses or meanings. Where these different meanings are confused in the formulation of an argument, the reasoning is fallacious. To avoid the various fallacies of ambiguity, we must have and keep the meanings of our terms clearly in mind. One way to accomplish this is by defining the key terms that are used. Since shifts in the meanings of terms can make arguments fallacious, and since ambiguity can be avoided by careful definition of the terms involved, definition is an important matter for the student of logic." (p. 84)

"Clearly, when we are trying to "get at the facts", to follow an argument, or to learn the truth about something, anything which distracts us from that goal tends to frustrate us. It is a commonplace that the passions tend to cloud the reason, and this view is reflected in the usage of "dispassionate" and "objective" as near synonyms. It follows that when we are attempting to reason about facts in a cool and objective fashion, referring to them in strongly emotive language is a hindrance rather than a help." (p. 55)

"In seeking to discover people's views, interviewers must be careful not to prejudice the issue by phrasing their questions in such a way as to influence the answers." (p. 56)

"In the course of our investigations we shall come across certain highly emotive phraseology, as in the text of the statement by Dr. Elmer L. Henderson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Medical Association, on President Truman's proposed national compulsory health insurance program. Dr. Henderson states that:

"There is a great deal of double talk in the President's message, but what he actually proposes is a national compulsory health insurance system which would regiment doctors and patients alike under a vast bureaucracy of political administrators, clerks, bookkeepers and lay committees."

Now, can this passage be translated into more nearly neutral language without doing violence to the informative content? No more information is presented by Dr. Henderson in the passage cited than the following:

"There is some ambiguity in the President's message, but its intended meaning is the proposal to set up a national compulsory health insurance system in which contact between doctors and patients will be regulated by an administrative agency of large size, which would employ government officials, clerks and bookkeepers, and committees not composed entirely of M.D.'s."

These are the facts as Dr. Henderson sees them, and his information may well be correct. But when it is formulated with such a liberal sprinkling of emotively explosive words, like "double talk," "regimentation," "vast bureaucracy," "political administrators," and when there is the hint that "doctors and patients alike" would be under clerks and bookkeepers (as though no doctor ever employed a clerk or bookkeeper to keep his own records straight), then it requires a disproportionate amount of effort to cut through to the actual information presented.

Emotive language is not in itself bad, but when it is information we are after, we shall do well to choose words whose emotive meaning do not distract and hinder us from dealing successfully with what they describe." (p. 57)

An Introduction to Logic, Irving M. Copi, Third edition, Collier-Macmillan Limited (1969)

Article and Critique

"Immaterial Girl"

"Caption to Photo: Suma Ching Hai"

"By Rafer Guzman"

"Photographs by Christopher Gardner"

"As flight 717 circles the sky on a recent Wednesday evening, a group of about 150 people sit meditating on the floor of a waiting area at San Jose International Airport. Dozens of Asian men in dark suits, each wearing a yellow ribbon on his lapel, walk the airport halls and direct wanderers to the group. Men outside wave cars into the short-term parking lot, which is piling up fast."

"Suddenly, the meditators rise to their feet and storm Gate A8, which is already swarming with bodies. American Airlines Flight 717 is pulling in. With some persuasion, the admirers line up on either side of the gate's walkway, and the yellow- ribboned officials link hands to form barriers against the masses, whose numbers continue to grow. Chinese, Vietnamese and broken English combine to make a rising din. An elderly Chinese woman thrusts her arms into the crowd, trying to pry open a place for herself. Gate A8 is a parted sea of ecstatic faces, all of them waiting for the appearance of the Supreme Master Suma Ching Hai."

"Ching Hai is many things: painter, poet, Buddhist nun and spiritual leader. She is also a fashion designer, beauty makeover consultant and restaurateur. According to most of her followers, Ching Hai is not only a saintly philanthropist who took the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong under her wing, she is also the living reincarnation of the Buddha and Jesus Christ."

Suma Ching Hai does not claim to be the reincarnation of Buddha or Christ, but rather says that a fully enlightened master in the sound and light meditational path of Surat Shabd Yoga (for a definition of Surat Shabd Yoga, see David Lane's "The Enchanted Land") has reached the same level as these two past religious figures, and claims that she, as well as other recent and current existent masters on the path, have indeed reached that level. This view is in accordance with the traditional Shabd Yoga teachings (Surat Shabd Yoga is, in short, a spiritual path consisting mainly of a meditation on light and sound, requiring:
1. initiation into the path by a bona fide master;
2. adherence to a moral self-supported lifestyle, vegetarian diet and regular meditation on light and sound;
and effects the transport of the soul through different spiritual levels of existence to a final merging in God. Sant Mat is generally the name used for the path (by most of the well-known movements in India)).

"According to her critics--and they are few--she operates one of the largest and fastest-growing religious cults in the world."


As I mention later on, I do not think it is sound reasoning to state as an assumption that the spiritual movement led by Suma Ching Hai is a cult in the negative sense of the word as it is commonly used today. I would rather prefer an itemised definition of a cult and then a stepwise argument showing why her movement should be seen as such. It is my feeling that if this is done, it would be found that many current bona fide religious movements not generally described as such would have be grouped under the same heading, or otherwise, Suma Ching Hai's movement would have to be excluded from the definition with them.

It is also not true that Suma Ching Hai is elevated to a "God" level as a person; it is more the accepted practice in Shabd Yoga that the fully realised master is viewed as being one with God and, as said in Sar Bachan (Prose) (a publication of the words of the founder of current extant Sant Mat movements, Soami Ji, published by the Dera Baba Jaimal Singh), is to be viewed as God incarnate if spiritual progress is to be assured and effective. Viewing the master as a divine person, or rather as a meeting and mediating point between the divine and the human levels of existence is not peculiar to Suma Ching Hai. It is also a fairly natural and generally applied way of viewing both the founder and in many cases the current leader of most spiritual movements (usually a devotee would consider his/her master to be the one of highest attainment - this view of "faith" is generally accepted as a prerequisite for spiritual progress, from Ramana Maharshi to Jesus Christ); the point would be to not become intolerant of other bona fide spiritual movements in the process.

"Is Ching Hai truly the Messiah?"


I would rather replace the words "the" and "Messiah" and rephrase the question as "Is Suma Ching Hai truly a master?". The word messiah as would be applied to a person like Suma Ching Hai or other Surat Shabd Yoga masters would mean not that the person is to be seen as the Saviour (especially not as the only one) of the world. Rather, the masters hold the key to a path that can lead to the spiritual liberation of the individual, having traversed the path themselves, and are able to impart this method to an individual, as well as establish the initial inner contact with the inner sound, necessary for an individual to traverse this path. This, again, is a standard teaching of Surat Shabd Yoga masters.

Suma Ching Hai often refers to initiates as fellow practitioners rather than disciples, and actually is a very accessible and normal person in her daily dealings with initiates; rather than assuming an exalted, distanced role she, more than any other master in the recent history of Surat Shabd Yoga, freely mingles with practitioners and is in the process not only an excellent example of somebody living the teachings of the path but is, as other masters before her on the same path, an extremely hardworking person (rather than sitting back an basking in adulation). When there is work to do she would be often seen working with the initiates, and is always the one with practical and effective solutions to problems; in this she is if nothing else an example to others. This can be verified first-hand by asking any monastic practitioner who is a full- time resident of the main centre in Taiwan.

Though her interaction with practitioners is very normal and relaxed, practitioners do tend to have an attitude of veneration (actually, a feeling of intense love and kinship) for the master, There is also a very understandable (and usual with all Surat Shabd Yoga masters) venerational atmosphere visible amongst the initiates when she specifically acts in the role of master, as when she gives discourses (in public or in residence).

"Of the several hundred assembled worshippers here tonight, only I will later be fortunate enough to sit just inches from the Supreme Master and ask her this very question. For if she is the Messiah, she has inexplicably chosen to manifest herself as the owner of 56 vegetarian restaurants which cover the globe from Taipei to Melbourne to San Jose."

I am of the opinion that the chain of restaurants that she has opened is very much welcomed by vegetarians everywhere; a good vegetarian restaurant by its very existence offers a service to all vegetarians and even on this point alone I would laud what she has done, rather than finding it a point of critique. Rather than being an "inexplicable" facet of her as master it is a very logical expression and continuation of her strong emphasis on vegetarianism.

"On the corner of Twelfth Street and East Santa Clara Street, once the site of Paolo's, the posh Italian restaurant that was for decades the hangout of the Valley's agricultural and political elite, Ching Hai's establishment now serves a stunning, if overly ambitious, variety of vegetarian dishes ranging from spring rolls and faux swordfish to pasta marinara."

"It also doubles as a library and museum containing hundreds of Ching Hai magazines, books and videotapes. On posters and laminated photographs, the Master's face smiles beatifically, though her slightly paralyzed left cheek gives her the appearance of wearing a sort of foxy grin."


I must admit that such a comment on any person should be seen as pejorative; I also feel that this subtle technique of using adjectives with a negative connotation throughout the article very un-objectively paints a bleak picture of her without factual substantive grounds for doing so; it might have been understandable had she with fair certainty known to be involved in morally unacceptable behaviour, actions or deeds, but there is nothing of the sort even remotely applicable (I am specifically thinking of the type of (alleged?) unacceptable behaviour seen with people like Thakar Singh, John-Roger Hinkins and the like - sexual abuse, stealing, fraudulent behaviour etc. - re research by David Lane).

"Mannequins stand adorned in her own haute couture outfits, which seem to draw from the fashions of both Star Trek and Dallas. On the walls hang her simple paintings of flowers, trees and landscapes. Above the tables of the dining patrons looms a gigantic TV screen which broadcasts the Master's teachings and, occasionally, her music video, which features her singing in dance-club duds and vogueing like Madonna."


As I will describe in a later point, Suma Ching Hai for certain reasons has decided to break the traditional mould and image of a master (especially with the majority of at least current and recent masters being male) and one is open to interpreting her actions as one wishes, but a positive description of her singing would be just as applicable (which is what I refer to as the constant use of unmotivated negative descriptions or connotations).

Faqir Chand, a "heretic" master in the Sant Mat tradition had made it publicly known that some of the so-called masters have

1) not really had the experiences that they talk about and
2) are not the source of or are not aware of the miraculous events reported by their disciples as coming from their masters (see the entries on Faqir Chand under Point 2 on David Lane's The Neural Surfer page, specifically The Faqir Chand Library: Issue One and Faqir Chand: The Unknowing Sage.

Suma Ching Hai seems to indicate a similar awareness of this fact but at the same time hints that she has found the answer to the questions that Faqir Chand raised, and it is very plausible that her "innovative" behaviour as master is part of her answer to this dilemma - effectively changing the role and behaviour of the physical master as it is traditionally understood. This is very effective as it forces one to contact the inner master as Surat Shabd Yoga tirelessly advocates while she is still available to provide outer guidance as is necessary; with a traditional master one often tends to become so attached to and entranced by the physical form of the master that it becomes easy to put off the effort to "go inside"; it is for this reason that Sant Mat masters often say that the physical death of the master has this very required effect of "encouraging" inner progress on the part of the initiate. Suma Ching Hai's behaviour as a "normal person" has very much the same effect, and might herald something new in spiritual terms.

This is not necessarily the only or even main reason for her unique approach, but this point will be more fully discussed in a forthcoming article.

"Though Ching Hai may appear to have come from another planet,"


Closer inspection would reveal her to be a very sensitive, compassionate and accessible human being.

"she was actually born in Vietnam and spent much of her adult life in Taiwan. Though she refers to the two countries by their respective colonial names of "Au Lac" and "Formosa," she has a strong affinity for both, and reportedly has her largest followings there. Here in America, almost all of Ching Hai's followers are new arrivals from Vietnam and China."

"There seems to be something about the five-foot-tall leader which strongly appeals to these immigrant groups. She avoids overtly authoritarian cliches and instead cultivates the image of a wise old aunt."


Although the occurrence of female masters (especially well- known ones with large followings) is not that common, I do not think it should be too difficult to accept that a woman can fulfill this role as well as well as any "wise old uncle".

"Rather than preach fire and brimstone, she frames her lectures in a Q&A format vaguely reminiscent of Confucius and his students."


Rather than being vaguely reminiscent of Confucius' style, her lecture and question and answer session afterwards is most strongly reminiscent of (even identical to) the format used by most Sant Mat masters currently known in the west, and ignorance of this fact actually betrays the underlying ignorance of the content and historical context of what she actually teaches.

"(In the transcript of one lecture, when a disciple asks if he would be justified in killing a murderer to prevent future bloodshed, Ching Hai sagely advises him to go to the police instead.)"


If one were to take some time to attend question and answer sessions of other Surat Shabd Yoga masters, it would be clearly visible what happens to questions that are not spiritual questions (i.e. questions relating to the applicable spiritual practice, method and path): they are often "flattened" with a dry, "obvious" answer

"In addition, the title of her new book, I Have Come to Take You Home, may resonate strongly with new arrivals to the States."


That might be a witty surface interpretation but has little to do with the content of the book for one who has read it.

"But perhaps more significantly, Ching Hai seems to offer ancient religion's comfortable familiarity and America's crass but coveted commercialism."


I fail to see how it is possible for her movement and teachings to provide ancient religion's familiarity if her teachings are later described as those of a "very secret" and by implication "suspect" implied "cultish" organisation (though I would agree that it encapsulates the core teaching of all major religions in the same way as Surat Shabd Yoga masters constantly emphasise and that it actually delivers the benefits promised by ancient religions).

"Both a religious idol and a Third World aristocrat,"


The teachings of Suma Ching Hai constantly remind the initiates that the path to be followed is that of finding one's own divinity within, with an extremely strong emphasis on self- empowerment while outward worshipping of the physical master is strongly discouraged (she does not allow initiates to bow before her, touch her feet etc. in daily contact with initiates). This is true even though the traditional Surat Shabd Yoga teaching stipulates that viewing the master as a divine person is said to support progress on the spiritual path.

"Ching Hai bears more than a passing resemblance to Imelda Marcos,"


I would imagine that this statement would be true for a superficial assessment of Suma Ching Hai without trying to find out what her real character and person is like. Having seen many videos of her and spoken to initiates who have met her and monastic practitioners who know her very well in daily life I can only confirm that she is a model of what she teaches, and that if fault can be found with her it is not on this point.

Again, the conscious choice to change her appearance from that of a traditional master has a rationale behind it which is not immediately obvious, especially to an assessment based on limited observation.

"adorned in her self-styled "fairy clothes," which models have paraded down runways in the world's fashion capitals. A Buddhist nun who preaches asceticism,"


Suma Ching Hai professes to be a Surat Shabd Yoga master (having had extensive contact with Buddhism but finding her final answer and destination in the Shabd path) and not a Buddhist nun (she has had experience of being a Buddhist nun before entering the Sant Mat path, and sometimes afterwards used to dress in Buddhist garb, in the same way as Sant Mat masters with a Sikh background still are dressed in Sikh garb; - this does not therefore make her a Buddhist nun). She does not preach asceticism (compared a few paragraphs ago where the view was that she preaches crass American materialism) but rather the attainment of the goal of spiritual practice while living a normal life in the world. This is a very elementary teaching of Surat Shabd Yoga as taught in Sant Mat and other related instances of this spiritual science. This would be very obvious from a study of her teachings.

It is also important to understand that she teaches Surat Shabd Yoga to an audience with a mainly Buddhist background; she would therefore often use Buddhist terminology and stories to illustrate, explain and make her teachings understandable to them. In addition to this, she has also had a partially Buddhist (also Catholic) upbringing and background and this also features in the presentation of her teachings (although I feel this is a less important motivation for doing so). The exact same situation has occurred in India with the northern Saints, who come from (and have a large audience with) a basically Sikh environment and background.

"Ching Hai can nevertheless be seen in her magazine, Suma Ching Hai News, giving makeovers and fashion tips to female followers."


I think it is also possible to interpret this as follows (which is more consistent with who she is and what she teaches): rather than setting an example of an ascetic master (taking into consideration the tendency that occurs in both India and other Asian countries, that followers of a person considered to be a `divine' master have the habit of devoutly following the master's example), she tries to show her female initiates that it is correct to be a normal person living a normal life while following a spiritual path; and also that one of the side- effects of this path (this is confirmed but not necessarily emphasised in Sant Mat literature) is to make one a better person in all ways; more attentive to detail and able to perform day-to-day activities better than before. The fact is that this is borne out by most initiates that I know (I can vouch for it myself) and this self-empowerment of the individual is a typically un-cultish effect and I would imagine should lead to the path and method being lauded rather than singled out for criticism

Suma Ching Hai tries to teach the growth of both self- confidence and compassion as part of spiritual practice, and in many cases laudably succeeds.

""A listless-looking and middle-aged fellow sister, after being made up by Master, turned into a totally new person in five minutes," reads the article next to a full-color photo spread. "Everyone exclaimed: `Even the not-so-great ones become beautiful!' " And though Ching Hai claims that one has no need of anything on earth except the truth,"


To continue from my previous comment: a good judgement of a spiritual path is whether it generates in oneself a better self-view and positive qualities, whilst not separating oneself from others (but rather bring one nearer to one's fellow human beings). If a path is successful in doing this, it is to be commended. Moreover, if a specific teacher of this path succeeds in effectively implementing such a teaching, and seeing the disciples manifest the desired qualities in their lives, I think the teacher's work has been done well.

I think (in my personal opinion) that the Surat Shabd Yoga path is proving itself as a powerful and safe spiritual practice, with measurable effects within a practitioner's life.

Within this context, the loving care and tireless attention to detail that is a trademark of Suma Ching Hai for those who know her is only made more visible in scenes as described above.

"she freely admits that selling her merchandising creations supports her worldwide organization."


A very fundamental tenet of Surat Shabd Yoga-based paths is that the practitioner (even more so the master) should be self- sufficient and not live on the donations of others. I think Suma Ching Hai's way of generating income for herself is not only a very creative response to this tenet of the spiritual practice but is at the same time beneficial to many others at the same time. She does not live a luxurious life; and, the good that she spontaneously does to people in need is by itself something that should be lauded in any person.

"The Hai Life"

"Like many Eastern belief systems, Ching Hai's centers around meditation,"


This is by definition the most central tenet of Surat Shabd Yoga practice: meditation.

"but her own method, called Quan Yin,"


Her method for initiation and subsequent spiritual practice is not at all an innovation on her part but is a traditional and accepted method, renamed in the light of having a mainly Chinese audience, in the same way as the name has been translated to "The Path of Sound and Light" and similar names in English-speaking countries.

"contains "The Key of Immediate Enlightenment"--no waiting necessary."


The Immediate Enlightenment that she always refers to means the following: instead of following difficult yogic practices starting with Hatha yoga and ending with a reaching of the yogic goal of "enlightenment", of opening (becoming actively aware of and being able to utilise) the spiritual third eye (after laborious practice), this path starts from this point of "enlightenment" (seeing the inner light at this point and also becoming aware of the reality of spiritual realms and the comparative "unreality' of the physical) and proceeds from there upwards. As she stresses, it does not mean Immediate Masterhood, or equivalently, arriving at the final goal of Surat Shabd Yoga practice without effort and in no time. This last mentioned goal (in both her and other Shabd Yoga paths) is reached only after long, intense and sincere practice. This interpretation of the term is what she teaches, not what one might imagine it to be without knowing what Shabd Yoga is. It is for good reason that this path was referred to as the "Grand Trunk Road" (GT Road) by Sant Mat masters.

To summarise, what is seen in other yogic paths as the final goal or at least being close to the final goal, is provided in Sant Mat as the starting point at initiation.

""Quan means 'contemplation,' and Yin means 'inner vibration,'" explains Pamela Millar, a Ching Hai representative living in Palo Alto. "It's kind of the light and the sound. It's basically a silent meditation.""

"This is about all the information one can coax from the Ching Hai group about the Quan Yin method, which they guard like a secret recipe."


The Quan Yin method is exactly the same as that taught by valid Indian Shabd Yoga masters (knowledgeable students of the path will know that slight variants exist, but the basic teaching remains the same).

This method is kept "hidden" by all masters in the path, for very valid spiritual reasons which can be explained if necessary. It forms an integral part of the theory of the method taught, and is not a unique feature of Suma Ching Hai. Rather, if she did not teach the method as she did, or taught it in the way as is done by certain movements originating in America, I would be the first to severely criticise her for doing so. Fortunately, she has not compromised the purity of the teaching or the method for imparting it.

""I will explain everything during initiation," Ching Hai says in public."


The method is imparted during initiation to accepted seekers who have chosen this path in the same way as is done in all bona fide Surat Shabd Yoga movements.

"Initiations take place at the 40-acre Ching Hai Meditation Center in Morgan Hill, to which actual visits are discouraged. Almost all that is known about the group's actual methods"


Initiations take place in centers all over the world in the traditional way prescribed in the Shabd Yoga path. Inititations are also performed by Suma Ching Hai after her public lectures, at the venue of the lecture itself.
Visits to the Centre are open to all initiates and sincere seekers, which is by definition its express purpose. This is no different from typical practice in this path. The idea is to create a quiet, spiritual environment that can also be utilised by initiates coming from all over the world to visit; it is a haven for them that makes such a trip worthwhile.

Also, as explained earlier, as much of this method is known as is made known by other Sant Mat movements; it is not peculiar to Suma Ching Hai and there are very valid reasons for this being so.

"is that it requires keeping a strict vegetarian diet and meditating a minimum of two and a half hours per day"


These are requirements common to all valid Surat Shabd Yoga movements and form an essential part of the theory supporting the practice - there are very logical reasons for these requirements.

"while chanting the Master's name."


Any initiate who chants the Master's name during meditation should re-attend an initiation session to be refreshed as to the actual method: (I would be glad if this person could please be pointed out so that he/she may be corrected as to his/her practice.).

"Ching Hai also teaches what she calls the Convenient Method-- a sort of Quan Yin Lite for new initiates--which requires meditating only half an hour per day, and eating vegetarian for 10 days per month. "When children are 6 years old, if they are with initiated parents, they can be half-initiated," Ching Hai rather arbitrarily mandates. "When they are 12, if they have parents who also practice, they can be initiated fully.""


This is the only thing that Suma Ching Hai innovated from the standard practice of Sant Mat movements in general, and if she is a master as she purports to be, I would find nothing wrong with this. Even if the contrary would be true the idea is still a good one, in my opinion.

Update: a question was raised by a fellow initiate as to the actual requirements and application of the Convenient Method and full initiation, as compared to that described in the articles previous paragraph. I find it not that relevant to my point of critique but for those interested, complete information should be available at the Quan Yin Home Page

"Food for Thought"

"At the restaurant, a smiling volunteer serves a dish of simulated chicken to Millar. A Ching Hai "liaison" and one of the organization's few Caucasian members, Millar possesses none of the zombie-like qualities one tends to attribute to cultists."


This is not surprising and is rather to be expected, as I feel that the typical definition of cult and cultists do not apply to Suma Ching Hai's movement or her followers.

"Millar calls herself a "skeptic" and says she's "not big on authority." She grew up in Oregon near a small town that was once called Antelope before the followers of cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh successfully changed its name to Rajneeshpuram. Millar says she has looked into various religious organizations, but found them all to be scams. "It seemed like they wanted to give you something, but they always wanted something back," she says."

"Traveling in Taiwan on a business trip, Millar discovered Ching Hai's teachings through the niece of a business contact. Her skeptical nature, she claims, made her unreceptive at first. "I thought, 'I'll wait and see.' " But before long, she began to feel that Ching Hai was different from other leaders."


An interesting comment here is that I have had a similar experience, and the fact that I remain in the movement (very happily so, in fact) while actively doing research on the master should speak for itself: it seems that Suma Ching Hai is thus far validated by being accepted as a master after skeptical enquiry by initiates.

I also get the distinct impression that she knows about the "Chandian effect" (see my earlier comment about Faqir Chand and David Lane's postings about the same) and that she knows that the Surat Shabd Yoga path as traditionally taught might be a(n) (essential and necessary) stepping stone to something else unnameable transcending it.

""She won't accept any contributions," Millar says. "We can't give her gifts." The Master does not charge for teaching her meditation methods, she adds, "but it requires a commitment.""


This is my experience as well. Donations are not accepted even when offered, and the emphasis is more on Suma Ching Hai's giving to than her receiving from initiates. It also validates the purity of her teaching and her expression of it compared to other Sant Mat branches who allow the giving of money or even actively solicit donations, or at the furthest end of the spectrum, sells (usually a perverted copy of) the teachings to initiates.

"Seven years after her introduction to the Ching Hai group, Millar has risen to become a high-level member responsible for tasks such as putting together the Master's books, arranging ceremonies and talking to the press. But she insists that the organization is very "laissez-faire." "We change the rules all the time," she laughs. "We don't have a hierarchy. ... I like it, it's really formless. It's a formless teaching, too.""


I cannot comment on this remark by Millar, as I have not had that much contact with the part of the organisation where she is involved. I however disagree about the formlessness of the teaching. It may be that she means that as the teaching is basic to most religions, and it is in that sense "fluid" in being accommodating; and it is accommodating not because of "looseness" or "formlessness" but because it provides a superstructure for almost all other bona fide spiritual teachings and presents what seems to be the most comprehensive (in range and scope) of cosmologies available. This is then true of both Suma Ching Hai's teaching and Sant Mat, as they are identical.

"As to the Master's role in all this, Miller cannot quite say. "I don't know--she's like a guide. She teaches us a lot. This role is both inside and outside.""


This is the role of the master as traditionally taught in Surat Shabd Yoga. Even Sawan Singh, the Great Master, emphasises that the real master is the inner power that manifests through practice of this method.

"For Millar, all the proof of the Master's divine nature comes from the Quan Yin method. "It's not just the videos, the books," she says. "She comes to me during meditation sometimes.""


Though the experience of initiates does not validate the status of their master (re research of Professor David Lane - the Chandian effect and the Kirpal Statistic), it is also my experience that contact with Suma Ching Hai has brought about significant experiences, both inner and outer, that I have not readily found evidence of in related paths. I am not only referring to visions or experience of light and sound but of transformative inner experiences beyond verbalisation which leaves me to question seriously whether Suma Ching Hai is maybe not indeed somebody very special...this is a very subjective comment but in my twenty years of active spiritual practice a very important and significant one (for myself).

"I found that Millar, a high-level member of the group, and the "not so great ones" seem equally enraptured with this new religion."

""No, no, it's not a religion," said one young Vietnamese girl. "It's more like, just finding out about you, who you are." Every follower answered the same question with almost the same words: "No, it's about finding yourself.""


I must confirm the statements of all the Sant Mat masters and of Suma Ching Hai regarding her identical teaching: it is not a new religion; it is a scientific, verifiable spiritual practice which stands up to sincere enquiry and research admirably well.

"Their religion, they proudly say, is Buddhist, Christian, Catholic or Hindu--it just so happens that they also worship the Supreme Master Suma Ching Hai."


Re-read my earlier comments regarding the Surat Shabd Yoga teaching being the core of all religions and the specific role of one's own master. Refer to any Sant Mat book for more detail.

"In fact, they worship her so much that anything she touches becomes a prized possession. Ching Hai's new book features a picture of the Master about to engage in one of her favorite activities: scattering handfuls of candy to her disciples. The caption reads, "Master offers her love and blessing by sharing candies with the gathered initiates.""

"Indeed, after a recent Ching Hai lecture, one follower offered me a handful of Jolly Ranchers and Fun-Size Hershey bars, saying, "Here is Master candy! We love the candy Master gives us. You know, it's different from other candy. We love going around to get it, it's like being little kids.""


It also happened (as related to me by one of his long-time initiates) that Maharaj Charan Singh used to perform the traditional action of blessing items for his followers. This practice is something that occurs throughout the East with masters and their followers. It is not peculiar to Suma Ching Hai.

"Trance With Me"

"Ching Hai's name is new to most cult experts, but her behavior, and that of her followers, is not. The Chicago-based Cult Awareness Network provides lists and definitions of common cult practices."


Immediately applying the word "cult" to Suma Ching Hai's movement is not appropriate - it is an unsubstantiated and unreasoned premature judgement. What makes a movement a cult? Is the Sant Mat movement a cult, a spiritual movement, a religion (the masters emphatically say no, like Suma Ching Hai also does)? What makes Eckankar a cult and not a bona fide spiritual movement? The behaviour of the leaders? The accuracy of their teachings (in being in line with an accepted/verified/time-tested spiritual path)? Maybe Lane's criteria for choosing a master could be used, but can that also be used to identify a "cult"? Is it the lack of identifiable and traceable history and roots which make a movement a cult? What then about Soami Ji (the founder of the current Sant Mat movements of this century)? I think it is fairly obvious that this is not a simple issue.

In my experience, Suma Ching Hai's movement is much closer in nature to the Sant Mat movements than to the other "real cults" mentioned throughout the article (various criteria could be used to make as objective a judgement as possible).

"Under "Techniques of mind-control," one finds a description of "thought-stopping techniques" such as "meditating, chanting and repetitious activities which, when used excessively, induce a state of high suggestibility.""


There is in my mind nothing wrong with surat shabd yoga meditation practice done in a correct way; the method practiced by Suma Ching Hai is identical to that of Kirpal Singh, who should at least have been an authority on the method, having been an initiate and highly regarded student of the widely revered "Great Master", Sawan Singh.

To the contrary, I (and many others who have studied this path) have come to the conclusion that it is one of the most comprehensive, safest and beneficial spiritual practices around.

Also relevant is the amount of stress that Suma Ching Hai and other Shabd Yoga masters place on empowering the individual; that she/he as physical master should be seen as a fellow practitioner who is able to provide comment and guidance on the spiritual practices of others; that the individual should realise the truth within her/himself and not be dependent on anyone else; up to that point the master is only essential as an experienced and knowledgeable guide.

"Also noted is the concept of "love-bombing," which "discourages doubts and reinforces the need to belong through use of child-like games."


"Love bombing": the term is indictive (with a negative connotation, although the denotation - the actual thing it refers to - is not necessarily so) but refers to what occurs naturally whenever a disciple accepts a master; the generation of love for the master is accepted as an essential part of spiritual growth, specifically in the Surat Shabd Yoga path. I don't know of any child-like games and a "wrongful" need to belong.

"Joe Kelly, an exit counselor in Philadelphia, once belonged to the infamous Transcendental Meditation movement begun by the Beatles' guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Maharishi promises to teach his members Yogic Flying, a levitation-like ability achieved through meditation."

"Without condemning meditation, Kelly posits that "the result of being in a trance state is that it unhooks your critical thinking skills." Furthermore, Kelly says, a trance state can result in what he calls "an internal experience.""


Suma Ching Hai actively encourages critical thinking, as do all Sant Mat masters.

The matter mentioned would be applicable to all Surat Shabd Yoga movements if it were true; this subject (of inner experiences) is one that has not yet been explained sufficiently by research.

""It's context-dependent," he explains. "A Christian might experience Jesus, a Buddhist might experience Nirvana." It's no stretch to imagine, then, that a Ching Hai follower might experience Ching Hai. "When teaching comes after we have an internal experience," Kelly says, "we tend to be more receptive to it.""


Firstly, the meditation experiences of a Surat Shabd Yoga practitioner is to my mind not a point of critique against the master.

Secondly, the "Ching Hai meditation technique" (Surat Shabd Yoga), as practiced in the traditionally correct way (of which hers is one; Sant Mat as taught by Soami Ji and successors another) does not have the taints associated apparently with the TM method - it has historically been understood to be far more beneficial and without negative side-effects.

Thirdly, the nature and source of inner visions have been the cause for the formulation of many theories, but no definite answer has yet been found (although strong indications might exist). Even if the master only acts as a stimulus for such experiences in being a focus point for the generation of "faith" (single-minded attention) and concentration needed to induce such experiences, I would still condone the master's role.

"Kelly also says that cults encourage members to "become dependent, like a child.""


I must repeat that the teaching and example of Suma Ching Hai, and the effect of this on her followers, are exactly the opposite from this: treading the path to becoming master of yourself and being an independent, self-reliant person by cultivating the immanent divinity within is the actual experienced teaching. The dependency and childlikeness mentioned is not tolerated in Suma Ching Hai's teaching. To have faith and trust in a master if it is validated by experience is a great help on the way (and might even be an essential component during certain stages along the way), but one must find one's own source of power. This can be verified in many ways - one way would be to systematically watch all her videos and become aware of how strongly she actually emphasises this, in stark contrast to what the superficial labeling of the movement as a typical cult implies.

"Kelly scoffs at Ching Hai's candy-tossing ritual. "This is something that's so typical," he says, recalling that the Maharishi did exactly the same thing. "Our Master would throw the candy, and we would dive for it because it had been blessed.""


Rather than a "ritual', this is a spontaneous interaction between the master and initiates and is very meaningful within the context; it all depends on the validity of the master, and that is the (almost unanswerable, even according to Sant Mat masters) question to address.

"He adds, "That is not a Buddhist concept.""


I don't know who claimed that it was a Buddhist concept or that Suma Ching Hai is a Buddhist teacher - this only indicates ignorance of the content of her teachings. I find it harmless, and again not a relevant point of critique. I must repeat at this point that Suma Ching Hai uses Buddhist terminology only to explain Surat Shabd Yoga to Asian Buddhist-oriented followers.

I think that a thorough study of Suma Ching Hai's teachings and in parallel that of Surat Shabd Yoga would make this very clear.

"According to Kelly, even Ching Hai's strange line of fashion wear is not unheard of in the cult trade. "Yeah, TM did the same thing," he recalls. "They put out a line of these dowdy women's dresses that the Maharishi believed heightened female spirituality.""


Suma Ching Hai does not claim that her clothes confer any spirituality. At most she cites the designs as "proof" that one of the benefits of the practice of Surat Shabd Yoga is increased creativity, amongst other things; nothing more. The positive effects of this meditation method is mentioned as a fact by all Shabd Yoga masters.

"Kelly's strongest bit of advice in identifying cults is to look for "the subjective nature of the doctrine. That's the clincher with these meditation groups."


I do not know what other meditation groups Suma Ching Hai's movement is grouped with in this sweeping statement. I would group her movement with Sant Mat meditation groups, which do not in my opinion at all deserve to have their doctrines called subjective; they are compared to any other doctrine of the most objective and scientific extant and the above observation holds no water, in my view. A detailed factual investigation would reveal the truth of this matter very easily.

"They're always changing the rules so you can't get a handle on anything." Recalling the words "laissez-faire" and "formless" from Millar, I wonder if Kelly might not be prophetic himself."


My previous studies of the doctrines of Sant Mat confirmed that the doctrinal teachings of Ching Hai is very pure Shabd Yoga, nothing else.

The only "rules" are those explained before (in lectures) and during initiation, and besides being simple, are also constant, namely (summarising):

1. A pure moral life (no lying, killing, stealing, promiscuity, gambling, use of intoxicants) - a fairly standard tenet of spirituality;
2. a lacto-vegetarian diet (a harmless requirement);
3. two-and-a-half hours meditation per day (required as a basic component of Surat Shabd Yoga practice).

Group meditation is recommended but optional. The entire spiritual practice as taught by Suma Ching Hai (as is repeatedly stressed by her) is without any obligation and is a personal responsibility and commitment. No pressure is applied to members in any way regarding this.

The formlessness mentioned by Millar only makes sense if it is used in the sense of "a fluid encompassing" of other paths.

Also, as this spiritual method has a cosmology which can accommodate most other spiritual teachings, and also is a scientific method rather than an exclusive (blind) faith, it is possible and at times advised that one does not actually give up one's current "religion", but that one actually enhances the current religious context with practical and actual inner experience and progress, provided by the practice of this path.

"Janja Lalich, author of Captive Hearts, Captive Minds, a book on post-cult recovery, provides a similar diagnosis. Her assertion that "66 percent of the people who join cults are recruited by friends or family members" seems borne out by the Asian members interviewed for this story, all of whom had been indoctrinated by relatives."


The use of the word "indoctrinated" is not motivated by facts and is therefore pejorative.

""It's not like the '60s, where we were scared of the Moonies standing on the street," Lalich says."

"She also advised me to "see how they're answering questions. Are they scripted?""


The fact that the follower will quote the master's teachings is not essentially harmful. Rather verify if the master's teachings are pure, and see if the master does not condemn other spiritual path's teachings, or create a "new", "more correct" and "different" view of the world, exclusive to his/her movement. In this regard, the standard answers repeated by masters in the Surat Shabd Yoga paths could themselves be considered as "scripted". This is actually true for most spiritual paths.

My experience in this path is also that, in providing a comprehensive cosmology and spiritual practice that actually encompasses the teachings of most world religions, the followers of this path often have a very good (intuitive) understanding of the scriptures of other religions, not to mention their own path.

If "scripted answers" are to be used as condemning evidence of a movement's "illegitimacy" or "unacceptability" as a spiritual path, I am afraid that the major religions in the world today will be the worst off.

A very well motivated logical reasoning is the strong structure on which the Surat Shabd Yoga path rests, in contrast to some other spiritual paths.

"I could only think of this passage from Ching Hai's literature: "Our path isn't a religion. ... I simply offer you a way to know yourself.""


This is exactly what all Surat Shabd Yoga masters say, as far as I know; as well as all other masters that I feel have attained something worthwhile and who teach from experience. It is to my mind also a very healthy approach to spirituality if actually put into practice

""If anything is indicative of a cult, it's when people can't give you a straight answer," Lalich says. She adds, "They're very good at turning the questions back on you. That's a classic technique. Or they'll talk gobbledygook.""


Gobbledygook is the very last term to describe this path for one who has studied it. Also, turning the question back on the questioner would not be a totally wrong thing to do where the person being questioned has probably more scientifically verifiable method backing his beliefs than person interrogating him - it actually invalidates the purpose of the questioning. I would rather be an objective and gentle atheist than a believer of something that cannot be verified (I'm not trying to invalidate other religions but am rather trying to point out an age-old situation of unfair classification of non-mainstream belief systems as invalid, just because they are non- mainstream, and the corresponding validation of mainstream belief systems as true, just because they are mainstream - 100 000 Elvis fans can be wrong).

"In her list of cult characteristics, Lalich includes a "hidden agenda," or what she calls a "double set of ethics. As a member, you can be open and honest. To outsiders, you can lie." Ching Hai's followers may or may not be consciously deceptive, but I did find that, despite their refusal to describe themselves as a religion, Ching Hai's San Jose and Los Angeles branches are registered with the IRS as tax-exempt organizations, with their principal activities noted as "religious" and "church/synagogue," respectively."


Deception (in any form) goes against the grain of the basic tenets of this path, and the example cited does not e.g. uncover deception of the IRS but rather an indication of the nature of the movement's humanitarian activities. I cannot find any indication of (unconscious) self-deception of the members as to the nature of the movement.

I have no problem with the refusal to be labeled as a new religion. Suma Ching Hai's path is a spiritual movement but not a religion (see my previous comment), and I unfortunately cannot comment on the tax registration, as I do not know what the usual practice and laws are - outside my area of knowledge...(but my gut-feel response is that it sounds quite acceptable to me - Suma Ching Hai's is very much a non-profit spiritual organisation that, if anything, has repeatedly provided documented aid in world disasters without any profit and with everything that was donated and distributed well documented and accounted for, often being published in the organisation's magazine)

I also take exception to this very laborious and clumsy attempt at trying to prove "lying" within the movement. It is way off the mark, because if there is any "deception" extant it would be on a totally different level, which is the main goal of my research and which will be verified or not in due time (I am confident that a plausible explanation exists for this point of concern).

"Till Cult Do Us Part"

""It looks to me like one of the fastest-growing cults in the world," says Dr. Margaret Singer, perhaps the country's first and foremost cult expert. Dr. Singer, who has been following modern cults since their appearance in the late 1950s (she cites the Moonies, the Hare Krishnas and the TM movement as the earliest examples), gained national fame for her work with the defense team of heiress Patty Hearst, who killed a man in a bank robbery while under the influence of a revolutionary cult."


Grouping Suma Ching Hai's movement with the others mentioned without factual reasoning behind it is according to my books a fallacy (this is continued in the following paragraphs: Suma Ching Hai's movement is by default assumed to be a cult in the same way as the others mentioned, whereas her movement is actually much different and has much more similarity with bona fide Sant Mat movements).

"Singer, who keeps extensive files on cultic groups around the world, considers Ching Hai unusual only in that most large, far-reaching organizations are led by men. Female cult leaders, says Singer, usually control small, local groups of anywhere from five to 50 members. "And they keep a very tight hold on the group," she adds."


I would rather positively interpret Suma Ching Hai's role as master as being an affirmation of the possibility that a woman can also fill this traditionally male role very effectively.

"Only within the last nine or ten months has she begun receiving calls from men and women--just over a dozen of them, and almost all from San Francisco and San Jose-- who have lost their spouses to the Ching Hai organization. "Almost everyone I talked to," she says, "had lost a partner--a girlfriend, a husband--because they had given up everything to go to work in a restaurant or join the group.""


I can't say anything about this yet...what are the facts? How does it compare with the average divorce rate for the geographical area or population group? How does it compare with the divorce rate within similar spiritual groups that have been generally/publicly accepted as bona fide? How many successful partnerships are there?

It is also not my experience that people on this path give up their normal lives to pursue the path full-time; there are monastic practitioners but they are a drop in the bucket in terms of numbers compared to the rest of the movement. Also, the teaching of Suma Ching Hai is to realise this path while leading a normal life in the world - this is not idealised thinking on my part but her actual, constant teaching.

Even if this is true it could a localised effect occurring within a specific social context.

"Singer says that the callers also complained about the tremendous sums of money their spouses gave to the Ching Hai organization."


I suppose that if one wants to find fault with something that is actually blameless one will have to interpret facts in such a way as to support one's argument; a minority of cases would also not be indicative of the actual expression of the master's teaching in the majority of the group, which is expressly not to spend money on unnecessary items, specifically "trinkets", videos etc.

""Husbands and wives would be very distressed about the amount of money the spouse paid for trinkets," she says. From what she heard, she says, it seems the Ching Hai group pressures its members to buy merchandise."


What seems in this case would not be borne out if a proper study is done; I am very confident of this.

""They would have meetings where they would sell these trinkets, and the asking price would be five dollars, but the group would urge people to pay more and more, like $50.""


My experience in our center is totally different; no pressure is applied at all. Everything is sold at cost price. As far as I know it is not Suma Ching Hai's instruction; it is my experience this far that when an organisation is involved, individuals would in some cases get carried away (by their unthinking devotion). My impression is also that she would not condone it if it was brought to her attention (and if it turned out to be true).

Also, no money is solicited in any way. No donations are asked for. No "money seva" (donations) are accepted (as is done in similar spiritual movements), even when offered (my actual experience). Only the case of some disaster somewhere in the world, donations in the form of actual goods (food, clothing, etc.) or money are accepted and given to those affected. Bookkeeping of this is done and is published in the (free) magazine received by initiates.

The meetings are anyway not as implied in the above remark a time for buying and selling but is very simple a coming together by initiates to watch a video and meditate together. The actual reality is as simple as that.

"In her talks with these abandoned spouses, Singer says she has heard no evidence of physical or sexual abuse."


I am not surprised. If any fault is to be found with Suma Ching Hai, it is not on this point.

"Nor does she think Ching Hai's doctrines,"


Which are straightforward Surat Shabd Yoga without embellishments.

"which include relatively few apocalyptic prophecies, point toward the sort of fiery endings met with by the self-immolated Branch Davidians or the self-poisoned followers of Jim Jones."


Again, of course not. Looking for this type of thing is futile as it is way off the mark; the aims of her movement are positive spiritual development and self-empowerment in the sense that personages like Maharaj Sawan Singh (the Great Master) and others taught.

In my experience, no fault can be found with the movement from any of these perspectives. The only potential fault to be identified at all was denial of connections with Thakar Singh, and research on this is not yet conclusive.

While I am attempting to be as objective as is possible for an initiate to be I am confident that an acceptable explanation exists for this single point of critique, as the character and actions of both the master and initiates are exemplary and in the end has only beneficial results in terms of the spiritual development of the initiates, which is actually, in the final analysis, the main goal of spiritual practice.

""This one doesn't seem to be on that pathway," Singer says. "The way the group ends up is usually quite predictable based on the personality of the leader." Singer sees this group as dominated by its leader's personality and ego."


Accepting the hypothesis that her movement falls in the same category as bona fide Sant Mat movements, her goal is much more acceptable and pure than indicated in the line of thought described above. A good background knowledge of these movements would enable a much more relevant viewpoint, whereas simply seeing it as "another cult" is indictive, restrictive, and not well researched.

The "dominating/shaping" role of the leader could rather be interpreted as the role of example; if it turns out to be true that the master lives a pure moral life of selfless service to his/her followers, I think it should be commended rather than criticised.

This role of the master is in my mind true of most spiritual groups, including bona fide ones like Sant Mat.

""Ching Hai seems to have fantasies about being around lots of people, educated people, wearing fancy clothes and having a lot of power. But she doesn't seem to have fantasies about suicidal revolutions or apocalyptic endings.""


Comments about Ching Hai's fantasies are conjecture and comment. I would have preferred it if the critique in this article were more relevant and based on definite facts.

"Though Ching Hai may not pose any physical threat to her followers, she may nevertheless be doing them other forms of damage. "It was mostly just the money, and the breaking up of the family," Singer says of her callers' laments. "That's what was causing the greatest pain. Telling the spouse that if they don't join Ching Hai, they would have to leave them.""


The spending of money is not encouraged by Suma Ching Hai and it is on record where she chastises people for buying trinkets that her followers make available.

(To my mind the critique could rather (if it is valid) be directed at some overzealous (Asian) followers themselves, who actually initiate the making and selling of such things, and secondly at those who buy them, at their own whim and not under direction of Suma Ching Hai.)

I myself have even bought some "trinkets" (sic) without spending a lot of money in the process; completely at my own discretion, without any pressure at all...

I also know of counterexamples to those stated, where one partner in a relationship is an initiate of Suma Ching Hai and the other is not, without any detrimental effect on the relationship.

"Spiritual Tug of War"

"San Jose resident Steve Krysiak, who was involved with a Vietnamese follower of Ching Hai, has his own story to tell. "I compare it with Manson," Krysiak says. "He imprinted them with LSD--I think Ching Hai uses meditation.""


Comparing the teaching of Surat Shabd Yoga meditation with the imprinting of Manson's followers with LSD is fallacious beyond comment.

"In 1990, Krysiak met Trang (not her real name), a Vietnamese immigrant who had been captured by the Communists in her homeland, but had escaped on the boats to America where she found work as a hairdresser. When the couple met in Fremont, Trang had three children and was already following Ching Hai."

"Krysiak says he cautioned Trang against Ching Hai, but took her in anyway. "We had a wonderful relationship," says Krysiak. "Highly sexual. She was the most highly sexual person I ever met.""


Which, if the following remarks about declining sexuality being the result of following Suma Ching Hai is true, does not make sense. Highly sexual, and she was already on the path...

"That soon changed, however. "She just said, 'I have no sexual energy,'" Krysiak laments. "All my Vietnamese friends told me it would happen. The women die sexually with Ching Hai.""


She has repeatedly stressed that where one person in a couple is an initiate and the other is not, there should be no cause for disharmony. The initiate should put in an effort to keep the other partner happy, and must put in an effort to make the partnership work. Where the non-initiate requires an active sex life and the initiate does not, the initiate should try to comply with the wishes of the partner, within reasonable bounds.

I should however note that most of the significant and respected Sant Mat masters taught that in the long run sexual life should be contained, for the highest spiritual progress to be achieved. In this sense, if the above is true, it could actually validate the spiritual effect that Suma Ching Hai has on her initiates as very much essential Sant Mat...

"The relationship suffered, says Krysiak, as he and the Ching Hai group vied for Trang's affections. "Ching Hai wants them to meditate five hours a day, don't worry about the kids," says Krysiak."


This is a blatant non-fact. Exactly as in Sant Mat, two-and- half hours of meditation per day is required, as is explained before and after initiation.

She endorses a healthy family life - i.e. the path should make you a better person, parent, husband, or wife. This she repeatedly stresses.

"He claims he sometimes walked in upon Trang meditating with a blanket on her lap, which she had been instructed to throw over herself so as not to reveal the secret Quan Yin method."


This is only Surat Shabd Yoga meditation, and is the main point why an initiate would ask for initiation (- of his/her own free will and actual desire for spiritual growth, after a required period of study of the relevant literature, attendance of satsangs/meetings etc. - in order to ensure that the person makes a logical, sound decision - no blind, emotional conversion is applicable) . If you walked in on the meditation of any Surat Shabd Yoga practitioner, you would encounter exactly the same.

""I'd see her doing it, and I'd say, 'You've been seeing that damn Ching Hai again!'"


At initiation a "pledge" is made to endeavour to complete the prescribed minimum daily meditation (an aside for those who know: regarding "seeing" the master in meditation, the above would actually be a compliment).

"And she'd say, 'You've been spying on me!' ""


I think I could advise her as to some more effective replies...

"Trang ran up $9,000 worth of credit card debt, which Krysiak assumed was going to Ching Hai. "You know, those videos are $10 for people who are into the cult, but they're $28 or $30 for actual members," he says.


See my comment earlier (on money). This is NOT my experience or anybody else's at our center.

I have confirmed with a monastic practitioner from Taiwan that this is definitely and most assuredly not the case. The only places where money might be accepted is in the two large centres, in Taiwan and Los Angeles, to cover bed and board for visiting initiates (on a voluntary basis).

"He adds that Trang charged a plane ticket to fly to New York for her initiation into the group,"


Nothing wrong with initiation - if I could have received it in the physical presence of the master by flying to another city in our country I would have gone on overdraft to do it, and I assume myself to be rational...

"bought a flute because Ching Hai played the instrument, decorated her room with Ching Hai posters, and got plastic surgery and breast implants because Ching Hai had supposedly undergone the same operations."


This is where I have to comment on the overzealousness and unquestioning devotion that are sometimes present within the Asian mindset. This has nothing to do with Suma Ching Hai herself, and does not constitute any valid critique against her.

"Trang also became a "fanatic vegetarian," Krysiak says. "She tried to get the kids involved in it, but they hated it. It was lucky that they were so Americanized that they had to have their McDonald's.""


I wish everybody in the world were fanatic vegetarians. Also, it seems that the outlooks on life of Krysiak and Trang were so different as to make a split in the relationship no big surprise...

"Trang was not so lucky. "She got thyroid disease," says Krysiak. "The Vietnamese use coarse salt for cooking, with no iodine added, you know. And when Trang cut out her fish, she got thyroid disease. She had to go twice for radioactive thyroid treatment, and they killed a little bit too much thyroid. Now she has to take thyroid [medication] for the rest of her life.""


This is a sorry thing to happen to a vegetarian - not to be gloated over as an indiction of being vegetarian or be used as part of a critique against the master.

"Even after the illness, the Ching Hai group won the tug-of- war for Trang. "People told me that when they get them away from the Master, they might get away for a while, but the members will call them on the phone and try to pull them back." Trang left Krysiak in 1992."


My experience is different. No (I repeat: no) pressure is put on initiates. We have a few initiates in our two cities that we do not ever see at the meditation group, but no effort is made to contact them to "try and pull them back". I know some of these "non-interested" initiates personally and can verify this.

"Krysiak moved to San Jose to get away from the memories of Trang only to see the Ching Hai restaurant open a few blocks from his house. "I'm calm about all this now," he says, "but I didn't used to be." Krysiak tells of the day he lost his temper and stormed down to the restaurant. "I was out front, screaming, 'Ching Hai is a fake!' Well, I went back later and apologized to the owner there, and you know what she told me? 'Don't worry--this happens to all our men.' ""

"Krysiak returned home to find he had locked himself out of his house. "I called a locksmith, a Vietnamese guy, and I told him all about it. He laughed. He said, 'In Vietnamese community, there are two causes for divorce: Bay 101, and Ching Hai.' ""


The implied negative association is an ad hominem fallacy by association and totally indictive without reason.

"Advertisements For Herself"

"Ching Hai may be a recognizable figure to some in the Asian community, but despite her restaurants, approximately 100,000 followers, and contact persons in 37 countries, the mainstream press seems almost completely unaware of her existence."

"Even most cult experts knew nothing or little about her."


Not that information isn't available, as there is, for example, apparently research done by Eric Lai available at the library of the University of Berkeley.

"The only readily available material on Ching Hai comes from her own literature and the numerous sites that line the World Wide Web, which usually offer little more than color photos of the Master and suspiciously favorable interviews by foreign journalists."


As far as I know publicity has been given to her that is not positive, mainly because of ignorance on the part of journalists concerning her actual teachings.

"A tireless publicity seeker, Ching Hai never misses an opportunity to gain credibility and clout for her organization. She often claims to have been invited to the conspicuously prestigious locations for her lectures--Georgetown University, UCLA and the United Nations buildings in Geneva and New York-- but rarely says by whom. She also claims that seven United States governors proclaimed Feb. 22, 1994, as "Supreme Master Ching Hai Day." As it turns out, the governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, actually did, in recognition of her $65,000 donation to relief efforts for victims of the Mississippi River flooding."

"Ching Hai's attempts in 1992 to help the Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong remain a feather in the leader's cap, though they apparently failed."


Whether or not the attempts were successful, her actions were laudable attempts to help people in need; this continues to this day and is a spontaneous outflow of her compassion rather than a poor attempt at publicity as is implied above.

"But the $200,000 she promised to the Laguna Beach Fire Relief Coalition after Southern California was ravaged by fires in 1993 reportedly never arrived."


Has anybody followed this up? Maybe asked Suma Ching Hai what happened? Most probably there is a simple and straightforward explanation for this. I'd prefer facts above speculation in matters such as these.

"In Taiwan, the story goes, Ching Hai even set up two front organizations to bestow awards upon her in a public ceremony, and successfully persuaded a baffled United States official to pose as the president of one."


I would like to know if this can be factually proven or if it is a superficial view interpreted in such a way as to support an initial assumption; i.e. is it fact, speculation or a one- sided interpretation?

"Reality Check"

"Ching Hai's knack for self-promotion shines in her official biography, which reads more like a hagiography."

"In it, Ching Hai appears as a "rare and noble child" who taught herself philosophy at an early age and cried at the sight of slaughtered animals."


To determine whether this is factually true or false would be better than to conveniently imply that it must be false because it would support a case against her.

"The prophecies of clairvoyants back up Ching Hai's claims to gurudom: "She has come to this world, on the mission of Quan Yin, to save sentient beings from misery.""


The role of any Surat Shabd Yoga master is none other than this.

"After Ching Hai learned the Quan Yin meditation method from a mysterious Master in the Himalayas, according to the biography, she relocated to Taiwan, where a group of students guided by their prayers found her and coaxed the reluctant woman into becoming their Master."

"The rest of the biography is a paean to the Master's humility, humanitarian efforts and impressive output of saleable products."

"Entertaining though this mishmash of religious mythology, Eastern folklore and public- relations razzle-dazzle may be, it's rather less interesting than the story of Ching Hai revealed in the thesis of UC-Berkeley graduate Eric Lai."


As far as I know Eric Lai wrote an article about her, not a thesis, and I would really like to see a copy of it (in order to increase my research resources and leads).

"According to Lai's research, the Supreme Master was born Hue Dang Trinh on May 12, 1950, in a small village in Vietnam, in the same province which later saw the My Lai massacre. The daughter of a Vietnamese mother and an ethnic Chinese father, Trinh reportedly hung out with American soldiers as a teenager, and bore one a daughter."

"At 19, during the height of the Vietnam War, Trinh left home with a German doctor working for an international relief organization. Trinh's daughter later killed herself at 20. Trinh married the doctor, and the couple moved first to Britain and then to Germany."

"There, in 1979, she met a Buddhist monk whom she followed for three years until she was denied entrance to his monastery on the basis of gender."


Even assuming that all of the above is true, it does not yet invalidate her teaching or her role.

"Trinh then moved to India to study Buddhism. It was here that she became a prize pupil of Thakar Singh,"


Rather than going to India to study Buddhism, she went to India on a search for truth. While this may sound like a hackneyed story, similar to that of Paul Twitchell, the important difference is that her travels in India (and for example her visit to the Dalai Lama) can be factually verified by anyone who has the time and determination to do so (I have seen videotape footage of someone verifying the same).

Update: confirmation of her visit to the Dalai Lama has been received.

"who had just splintered off"


I have a problem with the factual correctness of remarks in this article. The splintering off that is referred to here happened not just (recently) but a long time ago when Kirpal Singh formed a splinter group in Delhi, from the Sant Mat group at Dera Baba Jaimal Singh (led by the legally appointed master Maharaj Sardar Bahadur Jagat Singh).

"from a Buddhist order, Radhasoami, to form his own sect, Kirpal Light Satsang."


It makes me wonder how many other errors there are in the article if Radhasoami is described as a Buddhist order. It is rather an (or better, the) instance of the Surat Shabd Yoga path.

(Suma Ching Hai therefore studied, and Radhasoami is, Surat Shabd Yoga, not Buddhism.)

""Thakar Singh turned out to be the most scandalous guru in the history of Radhasoami," writes David Christopher Lane, who while a graduate student at UC- Berkeley met Singh in India in 1978 and has since traced the guru's checkered career. According to Lane's findings: "By the mid-1980s reports circulated throughout the world about how Thakar had embezzled money, indulged in sexual affairs with numerous women, and had engaged in violent interactions with disciples." Some of the accusations included tying women up and beating them regularly."

"But by the time Singh's crimes came to light, Ching Hai had already learned from him the "light and sound" meditation technique, and had left for Taiwan."


Suma Ching Hai's association with Thakar Singh is as such not necessarily indictive. What could be criticised is that she has not acknowledged this and distanced herself from his actions (that would have made everything so much simpler).

"Lai's research revealed that in Taiwan, in 1983, Trinh studied with a Buddhist nun named Xing-jing. Unaware of her association with Singh, Xing-jing officially ordained Trinh in the order and gave her the religious name "Ching Hai," which translates from Mandarin as "pure ocean.""

"The next year, Ching Hai moved to a Buddhist temple in Queens, New York."


The question of my research becomes relevant at this point. The fact seems rather that Suma Ching Hai was Thakar Singh's representative in the US, and from there went to teach in Taiwan. I do not think she denies her association with Xing- jing, as she mentioned something like it. However, the point of contention is her silence (not any actual denial) about Thakar Singh, and the actual sequence of events from her (first, if many) initiation, her reasons for leaving, and the subsequent truth or not of her description of events since then.

I am surprised at the different versions of her stay in the US. Apparently, someone is right and the other is wrong. Also, the fact that this does not seem to be clearly described in Lai's research, as it is not given in this article, is a subject which actually puts all facts known open to questioning, and it becomes very important to get a full and true picture of what actually transpired.

"She taught meditation, and meditated herself for up to four hours a day."


Continuing from my previous comment: did she teach as representative of Thakar Singh or in her own name and why? I doubt that she taught Buddhism; at the most it would have been Surat Shabd Yoga cloaked in Buddhist terms.

"One former colleague told Lai, "We were all impressed by her devotion and sincerity." But a year and a half later, Ching Hai began teaching the "light and sound" technique to her students, though few responded favorably."


I don't know if the facts as given in this article can be trusted; the existing errors places a question mark over everything else, so I would rather wait until the facts come out. I at least honestly admit that I just don't know what her movements and actions were at this time.

"Returning to Taiwan in 1986, Ching Hai lured followers away from her former master, Xing-jing, and set up a makeshift temple in an apartment in the Taipei suburbs."


Again, the constant unsubstantiated use of negative adjectives and adverbs make the "lured" in the previous sentence questionable. An equally valid interpretation at this point is that they recognised her mastership and followed her; from the experience I and others have had since being initiated by her this actually seems to be a much more likely explanation.

"Rumors about her prophetic abilities and unique meditation methods earned her a large following, and by 1987 posters of Ching Hai appeared all over Taipei."


I have the feeling that the prophetic abilities mentioned here actually referred to her possible mention of visiting inner spiritual regions and the experiences that go along with that.

"By the time the Taiwanese Buddhist community learned of Ching Hai's past connection to the disgraced Satsang cult, it was too late."


I repeat that her connection to the Thakar Singh movement is not necessarily indictive or that it invalidates her spiritual attainment; rather, it is her silence about it which is questionable.

"The new Messiah had been born."


A new master had become publicly known...

"Messiah: A Job Like Any Other"

"And now she is among us in San Jose. Her arrival is a rare and momentous occasion which her followers have been anticipating since her last appearance here in 1994. For new initiates (personally selected by Ching Hai through their written applications and photos) their only contact with the Master has been through the literature and videos available in the restaurant's library."


I must say here that exactly as in other Sant mat groups the potential initiates have the freedom to visit the master anytime in Taiwan (or in Beas, for Sant Mat satsangis) if they can afford it; or (as in Sant Mat) they may see the master if the master visits their country (which happens in both Sant Mat and Quan Yin for areas where there are sufficient initiates to warrant a visit by the master). The situation of her initiates are not novel or different from other groups.

"Perhaps a fortunate few have been able to channel her as promised."


The master is not channeled. As with other Surat Shabd Yoga movements, the master may be seen in the inner spiritual regions, according the Surat Shabd Yoga teachings and the experience of initiates. Channeling is a totally different topic.

"Now, however, they will be able to see and hear her in person. Some may even be touched by her."


I remember seeing Maharaj Gurinder Singh in person during both of his visits to our country; for me it was just as momentous an occasion.

"Cries of adoration greet Ching Hai when she appears in the portals of Gate A8. As she walks, her path is strewn with flowers, prostrate bodies and outstretched hands."


The throwing of flowers is most probably a part of Chinese culture (although not limited to them), but to me would be quite a beautiful thing to do; the negative picture that is attempted to be painted here is just a normal occurrence that you would see with any master's visit, especially where Asians are concerned: they are not as inhibited as us westerners concerning this.

"She smiles modestly."


Well, she could also frown all-knowingly or have any of a hundred facial expressions...

"Once outside, she is escorted into the back seat of a black Isuzu Trooper. She waves to the undulating crowd as the car speeds away, heading for the nearby Red Lion Hotel. For the next hour, the short-term parking lot of the San Jose Airport is jammed with cars heading for the exit to follow her."

"The Fir Room of the Red Lion has been prepared for the Master's arrival. On the stage is an assortment of pillows on a white chair. Above it hangs a giant banner, decorated by stick- on gift bows, which reads, "Welcome SUMA CHING HAI to San Jose." Mylar party balloons float in the air, displaying Hallmark-style messages: "World's Greatest!" and "I Love You." A yellow microphone waits for its Master's voice. The 600- person audience chatters happily until an announcer approaches the microphone."

""Please meditate while waiting for Master," he scolds. Within two seconds, the room grows completely silent. Upon the request of a yellow-ribboned official, a fussing newborn is whisked through the doors by its mother. For the next hour, the only sounds in the Fir Room are the microphone tests and the setting up of several video cameras and klieg lights."

"When Ching Hai enters the room, the crowd stands and applauds. She walks under an arch of party balloons strung together by multicolored ribbons and down the center aisle toward the stage, stopping now and then to direct a smile at a lucky follower who inevitably convulses with delight."


I would be surprised if followers of a master showed no expression; I have seen myself with Maharaj Gurinder Singh's visit how grown men and women break down and cry when they get the chance to ask the master a question in public after a lecture. This is something very personal and I would actually not comment on another person's expression of his/her love for what he or she considers to be divine.

"She takes the stage, soaking up the adoration and barely able to conceal her pleasure."


Having seen numerous videos of her I can only say that this is a biased and unwarranted description of her behaviour, far off the mark as the most touching expression of the love between her and initiates is something so special as to warrant no comment.

"She begins her talk with phrases that are alternately humble and self-congratulatory:"

""Thank you for your love. I don't know if I'm good enough for you." She sighs. "I just try to be ordinary citizen. Then someone must come along and remind me I am Supreme Master Suma Ching Hai!" All laugh heartily."


Maybe I'm biased but I fail to see the self-congratulatory aspect in the remark. I do admit however that a superficial assessment of her might have one feel that she seems "superior" at times, but, taking time to understand her mode of expression and way of talking one actually realises what she really is about, and it is something both extremely normal and at the same time extremely special.

She also never tires of reminding the initiates that they are actually their own masters, and that they should strive hard to realise this; and that she is only a guide during this process.

"After a long and tortuous lecture, Ching Hai takes questions from the audience, even answering once or twice in Mandarin."


Not all masters always have a fluent, easy and relaxed manner of discourse; and for someone really interested in attempting to determine the spiritual reality behind a master the unimportance of this actually becomes evident. I have myself actually seen many lectures where I was very impressed with the authority (and ease) with which she spoke of spiritual matters.

""I'm having trouble practicing the Quan Yin," laments a young Vietnamese man. "I'm okay with the sound and the light, but the Quan Yin is different." Ching Hai asks, "Why?" but the young man doesn't know. "Try to practice for one minute," Ching Hai responds patiently. "Then practice for two. Soon, it will get easier.""


Having attended a Sant Mat master's satsang, I feel I can say that this is a not untypical example of what transpires during the question and answer session after the discourse.

"The young man's shoulders collapse with gratitude. "Oh, thank you, Master," he gushes. The crowd applauds."

"Later, Ching Hai gets flustered by a more difficult question. A young medical student wants to know if the Master condones euthanasia. "Are you trying to get me into trouble?" she snaps."


It is again not atypical for a master to answer a question unrelated to spiritual practice or matters with a matter-of- fact obvious answer or by turning the question back on the questioner.

"She paces the stage. "What's that? What's that for?" The medical student hesitantly replies, "It's mercy killing," and begins to explain about comas and brain death, but Ching Hai talks over him."

""Is that a law in America?" she asks. Before the student can answer, she sighs crabbily."

""I don't know--I'm from Taiwan. Why am I responsible for all the countries?" She picks at the pillows where she was sitting: "Is that my hair?" Finally, she confronts the student. "Sometimes, people wake up. So it's hard for me to tell you which one to kill and which one not," she says. Laughter erupts from the crowd, and then applause."


Defusing a non-applicable (i.e. non-spiritual) question with a "blunt" answer is not atypical of Sant Mat masters. Suma Ching Hai will often use humour. I have however abundant evidence where she gently and with compassion answers deep spiritual questions with great insight.

""Is God a person or an idea?" someone asks, to which Ching Hai replies, "I have no idea." More delighted laughter from the audience. "Anyone here want to describe God?" From the front row comes the correct answer: "A loving master who doesn't eat meat!" Ching Hai chuckles. "Yes, something like that," she says."


A good answer...

"Ching Hai wraps up her talk well after midnight. She makes her last rounds through the audience, touching a head here, smiling beatifically there. A black man in African garb shrinks in his seat as she passes, his hands clasped together in worship, sobbing in great gasps, looking into the Master's face while tears stream down his."

"Ching Hai chortles as she passes him, and stops to poke her green umbrella at him, which he fondles gratefully."


I have already remarked about the emotional side of the master- initiate relationship, and don't feel further comment is necessary...this speaks for itself...

"I have stayed only because I want to arrange for a private interview with the Master. When I find Millar, she says she will see about it--and within seconds, I find myself sitting in a chair face to face with the Supreme Master Ching Hai. Our knees are almost touching. Six hundred pairs of eyes are riveted to us, several men hold microphones less than an inch from my nose, and every video camera and flood light in the house bears down upon me and the Master."

"With sweat already soaking through my shirt, I begin asking questions. Ching Hai tells me her organization is "rather big," with "a lot of centers around the world--40 or 50 countries." (The number, if one assumes that every country listed in her book boasts not just a liaison but an entire center, is actually 37.)"


Yes, there are 37 countries listed but some countries have many centers - and the number of centres is most probably what she thought of (although 40 countries for an off-hand estimate is not far from 37). The point is however that she is not trying to absurdly boast about the number of centres.

"My next question--about funding--is answered with much humility. Though she calmly explains that the sales of clothing and jewelry accounts for most of her money, she adds, "We don't really need that much.""

"She claims, as does Millar, that she and her followers sleep in plastic tents. "We don't have a temple. Use tents. Plastic cheap. $40, $50 and you have a temple of your own. We live very simple. We eat vegetarian.""

"Yet, one elderly woman I spoke with bragged that Ching Hai dwells in a beautiful house on top of a hill, and that she and other followers traveled there to camp out in tents around the house."


As far as I know this was a guest house; and maybe she likes sleeping in tents - no harm done either way and nothing is proved either way. It's really unimportant; what is important that she actually is a very compassionate and practical person who cares very much for those in need.

"Ching Hai talks briefly of her philanthropic work in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Hong Kong and here in the United States. "Where," I ask again, "does this money come from? Ching Hai shakes her head. "I don't know. God gives it to me." She laughs. Neither of us seem to take this answer seriously--but I write it down anyway."


What answer was expected? The fact is, income comes from:

1) sale of her goods (her own work);
2) donation requests for disaster situations.

Is any wrongful source or application of money implied?

"According to Millar, the Master's clothing and jewelry are "very expensive, but it's very high quality." In the same breath, Millar also tells me that when the Master wishes to donate money to charities, she establishes a bank account to which followers can contribute. God has certainly been kind to Ching Hai: in 1993, her Los Angeles branch alone took in $395,518."


The between-the-lines implication of irregularity is unsubstantiated and unnecessary. I have belaboured this point enough in previous comments.

"My last question to the Master concerns a woman who had earlier stood to proclaim to Ching Hai, "The world has waited thousands of years for you." I reminded Ching Hai of these words, and asked, "Do you think this is true?""

""It's true for her," Ching Hai replied."


For those who know, I have a feeling she knows of and is here referring to the Chandian effect as described by David Lane. The most important point that I now suspect is that she has gone beyond that and actually has an answer for (what I currently see as) a very difficult spiritual dilemma.

""Do you consider yourself the Messiah?""

""Messiah not important," Ching Hai says, embarking upon a mini-monologue suggesting that being a messiah is a job like any other. I find it hard to concentrate on her words, and stop writing momentarily. "A messiah or a journalist," she says. "No difference.""


See my previous comment. Also, the viewing of mastership as a "duty" is confirmed by Maharaj Charan (and also Gurinder - ) Singh's reaction to his appointment as master.

"The interview is done, and the Master and I shake hands. Long after she has retired to her room, groups of disciples hang around in the lobby to touch the arm of the journalist who shook hands with the Master. "You were so close, right next to her," a wide-eyed girl exclaims, stroking my shoulder."

"It occurs to me that I may now be seen on a videotape in the Ching Hai library: the American reporter conducting an interview with the Supreme Master. Our words may end up on a Web site, or in the Suma Ching Hai magazine, or condensed into an aphorism in a book. Against my will, I had become another prop in Ching Hai's magic show. Like the followers milling about me, I had stepped into the light and sound of the Master."


As an Indian master (Paramahansa Yogananda?) once remarked to a person who negatively commented on a Hindu devoutly bathing in the Ganges (paraphrased, from memory): "That person at least has felt that he has come closer to God and has been cleansed of his sins - he will walk away with his mind calm and a pure feeling in his heart; is this not better than the fruitless attempt to declaim his sincere action?"

In the end, one of the tests for the validity of a spiritual path is "what effect does it have on the life and character of an individual on the path?" In this respect I must say that the question of Suma Ching Hai's mastership becomes less important, for, whatever the case may be, the effect on the lives of initiates that I know (and I include myself as well) is so positive and worthwhile as to be sufficient in itself. Even if Suma Ching Hai is not a master, her example and inspiration has meant so much for me in such a short time that I'm actually amazed at not being more amazed. This is the repeated comment I have heard from her followers, many of whom have followed other paths previously (with seemingly very powerful spiritual leaders), for many years, without any similar benefit.

"From the March 28- April 3, 1996 issue of Metro (San Jose Metro)"


I have up to now found arguments against Suma Ching Hai to be generally at least either emotional, non-factual or uninformed. (interestingly enough, the same types of arguments usually aired against vegetarianism, whereas the facts, if objectively and exhaustively researched, would reveal the truth of the matter).

I do not mind objective criticism (a respected Sant Mat master said that our critics are our best friends, for they show us where we can improve) but then it should be substantiated by facts.

I anyhow at least appreciate this as an opportunity to rectify some misconceptions that exist not only about Suma Ching Hai but also about the Surat Shabd Yoga spiritual path.

Thank you
Pierre de Villiers


1. Article "Immaterial Girl from the March 28- April 3, 1996 issue of Metro (San Jose Metro)

2. Acknowledgements (and thanks) to David Lane for the use of terms such as The "Chandian Effect", for many ideas and general inspiration in being critical and objective. My apologies for where I appear to be subjective, but a following article will discuss all the issues in more depth.

3. Many references were made to the practice and philosophy of Surat Shabd Yoga as it is taught by the Sant Mat groups of the Dera Baba Jaimal Singh (Baba Jaimal Singh's) and of Sawan Singh Ashram (Kirpal Singh's). I apologise and take full responsibility for any errors in my comments and ask that I please be notified of any that may have occurred.

4. I also take full responsibility for the facts and views expressed in my comments - they have not been checked with the organisation and are entirely my own words, although within my understanding are factually correct and completely in agreement with the teachings of Suma Ching Hai and the views of the organisation. Any errors, again, are to be attributed to me and not to Suma Ching Hai or the Quan Yin Meditation Association.


1. Use of the term "The Supreme Master".

It is common to address Sant Mat masters as "Maharaj". This word means greatest or highest (Maha) king (Raj). Applying the appellation Highest King or Royal Person in deference to the state of contact with divinity experienced by a true master is most appropriate. The translation of "Highest King/Ruler" into an English "Supreme Master" is also very appropriate and in this context, normal.

2. On The Vegetarianism Of Christ And The Buddha

In the same way as Sant Mat masters interpret Christ to have been a vegetarian in their discourses to audiences containing Christians, Suma Ching Hai interprets the Buddha to have been vegetarian in discourses to audiences containing Buddhists. I will support both Christ and Jesus having been vegetarian, more for the sake of supporting vegetarianism than anything else (though my personal opinion is that they were compassionate vegetarians). I would not mind anybody promoting vegetarianism in a harmless way. I understand her main thrust to be to verify vegetarianism as a crucial element in spiritual practice in general and Shabd Yoga in particular, citing examples from historical religions. This is a usual practice with the Surat Shabd Yoga masters that I have encountered. Their arguments are very logical and as little factual information exists, is as likely a true view of the matter as the converse.

(an aside: Suma Ching Hai actually cites Buddhist scriptures in support of her arguments, and recent research in Christian academic circles make the prospect of Christ being vegetarian a not unlikely possibility)

"This body is like a dream. When the body is unreal, then all things of this world are unreal. Nam alone is true. Hold fast to it." - Baba Jaimal Singh

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I want to go back to the home base now.