Was this a Buddhist cult?

this happened a couple of years ago, so forgive me for the spotty information.

we went to visit a family friend, who was very excited to take us to a meeting of her Buddhist group. sounded interesting enough to me. we went and met some nice, suburban folks and observed them doing their chants and ceremonies.

but as the meeting progressed, i began to wonder. they belonged to a group called something like “the American Buddhist Association” (this recollection may be way off–help, anyone?). what really troubled me was that they kept making references to the group’s founder and/or president. not in passing reference, but in fawning, glorified tones: “this great, wonderful man” and so forth. almost everybody who spoke mentioned him.

then my ears really perked up when they mentioned their proselytizing activities. my knowledge of Buddhism is minimal, granted, but i never thought of it as a proselytizing religion.

these two factors wouldn’t have led me to think much further if is wasn’t for the person who took us to the meeting. this family friend is in her 50s, has been single for over 10 years, is awkward socially (wears 70s clothing and a frightful wig), and she doesn’t seem to have any real close friends. this seems to be her only real social outlet and she seems like a prime candidate for cult membership.

so the question (finally) is, did i observe a cult that night? does anybody know of any Buddhist organizations like this? she’s not in a barricaded compound, but if this is her whole life and the organization is getting plenty of volunteer work out of her, does this equal a cult? i can’t say if money is involved but i suspect it is.

this happened in the Peninsula, south of San Francisco and the people were mostly white suburanites. anybody have further information?

I have no more info. on this group you describe.

But… what is a cult? Sounds like a GD in the making.

I think it’s a highly subjective call. Frankly, it doesn’t sound too much different from some good Catholics in my family, senior citizens who speak reverently of that great man the Pope, go to mass every single day, and give 10% of their income to the church.

If this woman is happy, isn’t going dead broke (something that I’ve heard of happening to Scientolgists, f’rinstance, who may go into debt to pay for all of their classes), and isn’t in physical danger, who cares?

Was it SGI (Sokka Gakkai Intl. (sp?)-- the “nam myoho renge kyo” people)? This is a modern buddhist sect with an American presence that some might call “cultish,” (i.e., they talk about religion but aren’t Christian, egad!) and they do a bit of outreach, have a sound economic base, etc., but are largely harmless (sort of the Japanese equivilant of the Mormon church-- well-monied with missionaries and a political arm. .). Seems like a new form of Pure Land Buddhism to me.

As with all philosophies and religions, there are always a few out there that decide to mix and match and do things their way and call it something new, or another form of something old.
The world of western Buddhism is filled with organizations that perform all kinds of rituals and chants that aren’t native to anything eastern.
Regardless, Buddhism isn’t necessarily bound by any laws to being an absolute certain way and is very open to different kinds of interpretation, hence the many many forms of Buddhism in the east. From Tibetan, Therevadan, Mahayanan, Chan, Dhyana, Zen, Pure-Land… The list goes on…
There are so many organizations calling themselves some form of American Buddhist Association of one type or another.
I practice Zen Buddhism, the form is from Korea, and at the Zen Center and Temple I go to once in a while, they praise in a way Zen Master Seung Sahn, the founder of the center and temple here in the states on the east coast. Not in any religious form, but in a kind of acknowledgement that he’s done so much to help bring the place together, and has been a wonderful guide and teacher for many of the Zen students there. Kwan Um school of Zen is the name of it. It comes from Korea.
I have heard of many other types of Western Buddhism that incorporate Christianity or Judaism, Neo-Paganism… in America, and I’m not surprised what with so many people questioning so many faiths these days.
I doubt it’s a cult if your friend of the family isn’t spending lots of money, normally, no donations are asked for, but suggested. Once in a while, as with Churches and Synogogues, Temples and the like, there are requests for donations.
If she’s socially awkward, perhaps that’s what drew her into Buddhism? It’s appealing in that way to some people, as it promotes tolerance on a very strong level. I’m sure you’ve got nothing to worry about, but If your’e not sure, why don’t you ask for some literature from them, and question them some more? If they are anything like the Chogye Zen Center here, that’s encouraged.