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The Main Characteristics of a Cult

August 1, 2011

by Cult Awareness

Here is Cult experts wrote about ‘How to recoginize a cult’. The sad thing is my friends who are deeply trapped in AOL do not have this awareness or they are in self-deny mode. Read it carefully and decide for yourself Art of Living is a dangerous cult or not.

Quote from Authors Lalich and Tobias, ‘in Take Back Your Life’ (2006), outline the main characteristics of a cult.

Decide for yourself if these characteristics are present in the XYZ org:

  1. The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
  2. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
  3. Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
  4. The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry — or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
  5. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar — or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
  6. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
  7. The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
  8. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
  9. The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
  10. Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
  11. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
  12. The group is preoccupied with making money.
  13. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
  14. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
  15. The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
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18 Comments
  1. Prairie Princess permalink
    August 2, 2011 12:16 am

    Sounds like what I saw on AoL and why I stopped participating. Can’t wait to see what the AoL trolls have to say and how they justify the group’s craziness.

    • Jr. permalink
      August 2, 2011 4:48 am

      I’m done responding to Harshal, as it’s apparent he’s never going to change. I encourage others to do so too.

  2. stupidseeker permalink
    August 2, 2011 6:09 am

    Wonderful. great job @ The Doctor

  3. Anonymous permalink
    August 2, 2011 1:35 pm

    in my opinion and experience its best to be a moderate… i do the adv course once a year and thats it otherwise aol can really put a lot of psycological pressure to do this and that but its the same with iskcon, isha yoga, shivananda yoga , chinmaya mission and osho(worst here) therefore remaining on the periphery is good and there are a lot of aolers who are genuine , honest and well meaning caring ppl… maybe the inner circle of sri sri is totally skewed…the world culture festival celebrating 30 yrs was a great spectacle and very enjpyble 2 watch on tv but in these kinds of orgs its essential to listen to ur own heart and mind first..

    • Anonymous permalink
      August 3, 2011 5:03 am

      How do you manage to stay on AOL’s periphery? AOL zombies keep calling/texting/mailing you even after you leave AOL so how will they let you stay on periphery while you’re still in AOL. Can you share some tricks that work for you.

      • Prairie Princess permalink
        August 3, 2011 12:47 pm

        Be too busy for “seva” and don’t attend their events. Just say “no”–a lot.

      • user permalink
        August 3, 2011 8:20 pm

        one more trick: you can do it…kind of when you are married to a man/woman and dont love him/her!
        you can stay at the periphery of aol, but it may be the most comfortable place to stay at.

  4. Anon permalink
    August 3, 2011 3:24 pm

    Since you cannot do long kriya on your own, you have to attend AOL group sessions where you will be obligated to recruit new people. You will have do this ‘seva’ in exchange for the free follow-up sessions. The same thing goes for attending knowledge sessions and satsangs. It is impossible to remain at the periphery if you want to be in AOL.

    All these group sessions always ends in asking the attendies to enroll new people. These sessions are the very source of AOL’s expansion.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    August 4, 2011 12:29 pm

    yes tricks to stay on the periphery are : just always say ur out of town or really really and have work commitments and are travelling due to work also dont attend the local satsangs where there is a lot of psycological pressure i find going to the ashram once in a while very peaceful and the dr’s there are good ( the one i go to was practising in england and teaching in the school of tropical medicine there ) so she wouldnt want her name tarnished so she prescribes baidyanath medicines that are safe.. and her medication has worked where antibiotics and homeopathy havent worked for me… also i just sit on an adv course once every 1.5 yrs it helps i just go for the meditation and breathing….and i do the followup only once a month…. the seva i do is plant trees and volunteer in an orphanage or donate 2 akshay patra of iskcon am sure some ppl get benefitted by aol like the guided mediatations have helped a high bp patient and a cancer patient i personally know.. the revived joshimath padhmasadhna also helps in weight loss only tm and aol tech this sequence its not there in power yoga or shivananda ive done both i dont socialise much with aol devotees either but some of them are moderate and very helpful .. oh and i eat egg as well hehe….yeah the sessions one mentions are the source for new ppl in every organisation… be it shivanada , aol, chinmaya ,iskcon, power yoga and others…sri sri is just a spiritual teacher and a yoga master popularising yoga in the west just like mmy …. even mmy’s guru puja was all copy paste frm joshimath .. and anyways if aol techniques help ppl destress once in a while its good…

  6. Peaceful Warrior permalink
    August 4, 2011 7:10 pm

    Actually the main crux of a cult is exploitation in the name of service. People giving up their time and money, thinking that they are doing noble service of society, while the master and his family live a life of luxury, built on the sweat and toil of foolish “seva warriors”. The brainwashing is so strong, that people are not willing to face the ugly truth that they have been duped.

    • Anonymous permalink
      August 5, 2011 6:53 pm

      but still, many people are happy in a cult. it gives them an aim in life. not everyone has a purpose in life..and many would get depressed in this society of aimlessness, cut-throat competition and unfulfiled desires. a cult (similar to a religion) gives a meaning (whatever) to life, to which people can hold on to. it gives an identity to otherwise lost many, and perhaps friends too. the price is that a cult takes ones money and time. its a trade-off. perhaps it is good for many. what do we comapre the life of a culitst to?…if he/she were not in the cult?…
      I am not sure if the life of many would be worse otherwise. i have a friend in a cult..in my opinion hes wasting his time and money, in his opinion i am wasting mine…he is happy with his life…I am not (but nothing to with not being in cult)
      I am not justifying cult culture (and I am definitely agains some cult types)….but i do think what else do we have as an alternative?….there is not “one path to happiness” for all. many people in this world are bound to fail in thier desires and seek solace in some alternative lifestyle that many cults offer..some of the religions seem to be even more harmful than some cults…
      …..

      • Peaceful Warrior permalink
        August 5, 2011 7:04 pm

        “but still, many people are happy in a cult.”

        IMO such happiness is temporary. Nagging doubts surface some time or the other. One has to earn one’s happiness and success – then it sticks with you. Sure world is tough place to live, and many don’t like it. But finding real happiness is not as simple as following a system or a person – such quick fixes do not exist. One has to introspect to know oneself, and keep challenging oneself to build one’s life. Spiritual wisdom and knowledge definitely help, but spending one’s life in an ashram or a “cult” is for very very few people.

      • anonymous permalink
        August 5, 2011 9:49 pm

        The thing about your “happy” friend, is that he/she is no doubt like all the people I saw close in in AOL: They pretended to be happy to family and friends who disapproved of what they were doing, and when we were just there, doing seva, working, whatever, everyone was miserable, hoping it would get better, complaining, and calling it stress release. I don’t believe anyone is actually happy in a cult.

      • Jr. permalink
        August 6, 2011 3:18 am

        Good points from you both, but I think it’s just impossible to reach ones full potential in life, including happiness if one is in a cult. The happiness is always going to be short termed and bound to the cult and/or the leader. One can certainly experience some joy from the advanced courses, but it’s all just temporary until the next course, or the next satsang, next SSRS visit, etc. I personally think a part of the real joy of an advanced course is when it’s over. Cults always get you hooked like a drug, making you come back for more and more. To be truly happy, one must be free of dependence on people and organizations. I agree that most senior teachers don’t seem very happy, and many of them look quite unhealthy. I feel so sorry for the friends I know of who are still stuck in AOL, losing their soul.

  7. Original Anonymous permalink
    August 6, 2011 3:31 pm

    I think if we keep doing some good intended noble acts like the one below happiness is not very far away.

    • user permalink
      August 7, 2011 9:44 am

      @original anonym. thanks for uploading.
      some years back I met some elderly people from gandhi peace foundation. They were not very rich, but they were well educated. it was a good surprise for me to see that people are happy without running after money..although personally I am not devoted fan of gandhi, but i was impressed by the sincerety of the people i met…i have no reason to say that they were after fame or money..I wish we could create a world where people are not panicking e.g. by the falling euro prices..despite already having enough money to buy thousands meals…

  8. user permalink
    August 6, 2011 3:58 pm

    (user=anonymous @August 5, 2011 6:53 pm). good points @amonym, jr and peac. war.
    yes apparantly cult feelings shud give a temporary happines. i have seen a few people spending their life in a cult. I dont see any difference in the method of getting affected by a religion(most of them) or a cult…perhaps the number of followers and the time since death of the leader is the major difference..oh yes and the amount of money you are forced/encouraged to spend is different. if ohso was born at the time of buddha,,may be it would have been a religion today (if it has survived and expanded). buddha was a teacher in the beginnig, so were ssrs, osho and others..(but apparantly the religiuos teachers were genuinly interested in the betterment of mankind..whereas the cult leaders are not just interested in that..apparantly they are interested in fame, power and money too…perhaps many are interested in that only..)

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