SUPREME MASTER CHING HAI
The “Supreme Master Ching Hai” visited Ireland recently and gave a seminar entitled: “Immediate Enlightenment, Eternal Liberation”. The event took place in the main hall of the RDS. It was well publicized both through street posters and substantial ads in national newspapers, highlighting the news that “Heaven is here and now!” and inviting the Irish public to “see God while living”. Approximately 1000 people turned up to hear and see Ms. Ching Hai, a Chinese-Vietnamese woman who appeared in evening dress on the flower-bedecked stage. She connected easily with her audience, even inviting those who were seatless to share her space and her cushions onstage. Her informality was in stark contrast to the dozens of mainly oriental-looking minders in business suits, who silently monitored the proceedings – some of the hundred or so disciples who accompanied her on a lecture tour of Europe.
The content of Ching Hai’s address was part Buddhist, part Hindu, but given a New Age twist in, for example, her insistence that the term ‘Christ’ refers not to a person, but to a power that emanates from God and manifests the authority of God in exceptionally enlightened individuals. With a touch that seemed to owe something to Wordsworth’s poem Ode on the Intimations of Mortality, she explained that when we are born, we may remember past existences. As we grow, things crowd round, and we lose the vision of God which we had when we left heaven. Then, going far beyond Wordsworth, she reasoned that if God lives in here (pointing to her heart), logically one should be able to see him at any time – “we just have to know where to direct our attention. Seeing (the Light of God) is believing”. Consequently, she declared: “I am offering proof of God’s existence”. This proof however, is evident only to those who have been initiated into what she terms the “Quan Yin Method” of meditation.
“Quan Yin” is the name of a goddess, the most popular in China. Worshipped both by Buddhists and Taoists, Quan Yin is represented as a female figure with many arms to signify her generosity towards her devotees. She is particularly favoured by women who pray to her for the birth of a son. However, the “Quan Yin Method” of meditation bears little relationship to the traditional simple prayers and offerings made to the goddess. While reluctant to explain the method to the uninitiated, Ching Hai did indicate in replies to questions from the audience that it involves turning our attention inwards to listen to God – something we have forgotten in the course of our busy lives. During meditation one will hear musical sounds, such as that of the bagpipe. Quan Yin meditation is practised with one’s attention focused on the ‘third eye’ centre, located in the middle of the forehead. This, she said, is the wisdom centre and the highest gateway for leaving one’s body. However, the technique should be learned properly and practised correctly. She warned of the danger of focusing on any chakras or centres of energy without proper guidance. That guidance is given during the process of initiation into the method. All present were invited to take initiation there and then. About 100 people took up the offer. Some underwent full initiation which involves a life-long commitment to a vegan diet and at least two hours meditation daily, as well as refraining from all alternative forms of meditation and other spiritual practice. Others received the “quick initiation” or “Convenient Method”, requiring a half-hours meditation daily and abstinence from meat for ten days each month.
WHO IS CHING HAI?
Ms. Ching Hai is a talented and energetic woman, evident in the displays round the hall of paintings, jewelry, Chinese lanterns and fashion – all designed by herself and available for purchase. Also on sale were her videos, CDs, tapes and books. A magazine and a booklet of her talks were available for free. Proceeds of sales are used to fund charitable activities and disaster relief in various parts of the world. Ching Hai was brought up as a Catholic, but learnt the rudiments of Buddhism from her grandmother. However, in a brief autobiography she explains that her significant spiritual experience came about as a result of time spent in the Himalayas where she discovered “the Quan Yin Method and the Divine Transmission”. Nowhere in the movement’s literature is any mention made of how she came upon this enlightenment. Upon enquiring as to who Ching Hai’s teacher was, one of her retinue replied vaguely: “Kutaji – he lives in a cave in the Himalayas – maybe he has left his body now.” Such reticence in regards to the identity of one’s initiating guru is quite unusual among Oriental religious teachers and begs the question as to the true origins of Ching Hai’s teaching. Some clues are however to be found in the language that the Supreme Master uses in her writings and talks.
There are notable similarities between Ching Hai’s philosophy and that of the surat shabd or “sound and light” yogic tradition of Northern India. This tradition is represented at its best in the Radha Soami movements of Agra and Beas. Julian Johnson’s book, The Path of the Masters is the classical English language source for the philosophy and teachings of the Radha Soamis. Comparing it with Ching Hai’s writings reveals significant features common both to the Radha Soamis and Ching Hai. These are: the requirement to practise long hours of meditation under the direction of the Master; the emphasis on the Master himself/herself as the object of meditation; the practice of meditation at the “third eye”; the idea of spiritual progression through a number of ascending planes or levels of consciousness; the prediction that the meditator will see inner light and hear inner sounds, particularly musical sounds; the ability to leave the body at will during meditation and explore the astral world.
Former disciples of Ching Hai have alleged that disciples are taught to meditate with a blanket over their heads. This practice – unknown to the Radha Soamis – tends to induce drowsiness which makes people more susceptible to mind-control. It has also been reported that disciples were strongly encouraged by Ching Hai herself to put together a six-figure donation towards U.S. President Clinton’s personal legal defence fund.
Louis Hughes op