UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications
Supreme Master Ching Hai World Society Christopher, Stephen
As Ching Hai initiates do not prefer to speak of their community as religious, it may be more precise to describe Suma Ching Hai as a transnational cybersect primarily composed of diasporic East and Southeast Asians. Suma Ching Hai is inseparable from a vast mediascape of online lectures, videos, chat groups, commercial enterprises and tightly-controlled official messaging. Sum Ching Hai is also a New Religious Movement that blends together aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and messianic theology. The charisma of the Supreme Leader Ching Hai, called Thanh Hải in Vietnamese, binds the community together. She is often revered by initiates as partly divine, as a perfected being who preaches the proper meditation style (Quan Yin Method) and spreads compassion and the uplift of spiritual consciousness. Born in Vietnam, raised in the West and now based in Taiwan, Ching Hai teaches a syncretistic theology. Based on her time in India, she incorporates Sant Mat traditions, Surat Shabd Yoga (emphasizing divine sound and light), and Radhasoami as practiced in Beas. There are many similar theological touch points: 2 1/2 hours of required daily meditation; spiritual progression through stages of consciousness; abilities to experience astral planes; and total devotion on the spiritual master as an aspect of divinity. Practitioners of Ching Hai are given initiation after watching and summarizing (in written essays) 90 lectures of Ching Hai (available online) and practicing vegetarianism for at least 3 months. They are initiated by either Ching Hai herself or, more likely, by about twenty disciples who are authorized to perform initiations. Children of initiates are given "half initiation" at 6 and "full initiation" at 12 based on their spiritual advancement. Practice of Ching Hai depends on region: in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam especially) and China, governments have branded Ching Hai as an "evil cult" and news stories abound about confiscations of illegal religious material or cult-like forms of psychological manipulation of initiates. In Vietnam, for example, Thanh Hải followers in Hanoi do so surreptitiously, with fear of government reprisal. Their meditation center is secret. Conversely, Thanh Hải followers in Ho Chi Minh City are building an official meditation center and do not live under the same shroud of fearful secrecy. Besides official adherents, there are many people who practice Quan Yin Method privately and consume online material related to Ching Hai without identifying explicitly with a community or even community of faith. The global community of Ching Hai followers could be briefly summarized as bounded together by a range of theological beliefs, meditation practices and forms of digital consumption. Significant communities exist in Taiwan (called Qinghai Wushang Shijie Hui), where the main headquarters were established in 1986. Of Vietnamese origin, several thousand are practitioners and refer to Ching Hai affectionately as Chi Hai ("eldest sister" in Vietnamese). Other concentrated populations of practitioners are in mainland China (although banned officially), South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and California. Based on five normative precepts -- which includes not taking life and eating a vegan diet -- non-initiates of a vegan persuasion may discover this NRM by visiting one of 160 or so Loving Hut restaurants -- from Prague to Hanoi to San Jose -- where they will be exposed to Ching Hai's spiritually-infused artwork on the walls and her teachings beaming through 24 hour satellite TV. A cursory glance through online and printed media highlights the importance of veganism and these restaurants in shaping the public perception of Ching Hai (which is sometimes branded a "Vegan Cult" in Vice, for example).
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Attribution 4.0 International