Critique of the VegNews article, “Supreme Mystery”
By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.
We live today in a culture where the corporate-controlled mass media feeds us with “news” that is divisive, cynical, and disempowering, and it does it effectively and with good reason. There are powerful forces that want to maintain control over the masses, and the media is an indispensible tool in this manipulation of public opinion. Fox News, with its built-in agenda, is but one blatant example. In our vegan movement, we’ve now suddenly seen this same type of divisive and disempowering journalism forced on us by what until now has seemed like a trusted media ally in our cause, VegNews Magazine. The piece I am referring is the recent “Supreme Mystery” article in the Sept./Oct. 2010 issue.
I'd like to say at the outset that I'm a long-time fan of VegNews Magazine and think it has done wonderful work to support our vegan community over the past ten years, and also that I bear absolutely no personal ill-will toward the VegNews owners and staff about this article, who I consider my friends. Nevertheless, I'm distressed that they would publish this article, for the reasons given herein. I'd also like to make it absolutely clear that I have in no way been encouraged to write this, or anything about this VegNews article, by anyone in the Supreme Master Ching Hai community; this comes only from my heart and sincere desire to set the record straight for the benefit of our movement and the animals who are depending on us.
In my view, the article is a deceptive and toxic spewing of insults and one-sided misinformation. It is an unwarranted and misguided attack not just on Supreme Master Ching Hai and her world-wide community of hard-working vegan activists; it is an attack on the vegan movement and on all of us. It comes out of left field, unexpectedly, and has created the kind of “shock and awe” effect that the worst of mainstream journalism accomplishes to promote war, discrimination, and other forms of violence. The Supreme Mystery article is an act of unprovoked violence, and I believe we should all hold VegNews Magazine accountable for its actions. I believe this is serious because it has a chilling effect on the entire movement—the message is one of bullying and targeting—and it also divides our community and causes suspicion and mistrust, rather than appreciation for each other. There are disturbing racist and sexist overtones as well.
This article was intended to be an exposé that would bring the reader “behind the scenes” of the Supreme Master Ching Hai movement. In doing so, its goal was to imply that the SMCH community is a cult that has violent tendencies, that manipulates members, and that uses money unethically. These are blatant untruths, and it is terribly abusive to publicly ridicule and demean these people for their kind-hearted and generous work on behalf of compassion for animals, health, and environmental sustainability. VegNews magazine utterly failed to do its homework for this article, and never bothered to get to know the people it attacks in the article. Instead it relied upon bits and pieces of internet gossip and dated hack jobs to paint a misleading picture of Master Ching Hai and her community.
Since I proably have more experience with the SMCH community than any other relatively high-profile person in the vegan movement, I feel it is my moral obligation to set the record straight. In fact it is the others in the vegan movement like Bob Linden and Cherie Soria who have worked with, and gotten to know, the members of the SMCH community, who are, like me, most outraged by this unfair attack by VegNews.
Over the last dozen years, since before the release of The World Peace Diet, my wife Madeleine and I have been traveling fulltime, spreading the vegan message, and the SMCH community has emerged as a remarkably creative, enthusiastic, generous, and powerful ally in our cause. I’ve had the chance to meet with, work with, and get to know hundreds of members of the community, putting on lectures and conferences promoting vegan living, as well as working with Supreme Master Television and visiting Loving Hut restaurants. These clear-eyed, intelligent, cheerful, and kind-hearted people display none of the characteristics of being members of a cult, as VegNews insinuates, but exactly the opposite.
About fifteen years ago, I realized that no person walking this Earth has inspired more people to go vegan than Supreme Master Ching Hai, and in the years since, this has become even more true. We are witnessing the continuing flowering of her immense devotion to ahimsa (nonviolence), which is the essential core of veganism. This devotion has, I believe, inspired and catalyzed the valiant efforts of many thousands of people to the virtually miraculous feats of vegan consciousness-raising we are seeing, and that are so urgently needed at this time.
Just in the past several years, the SMCH community has succeeded in opening the 160-strong Loving Hut vegan restaurant chain—without even relying on bank loans!—and it’s clear we should be applauding, supporting, and thanking them heartily for their efforts, not unjustly ridiculing them. They have single-handedly created a worldwide vegan-promoting television network (suprememastertv.com) that over the past four years has turned out over 8,000 hours of professionally produced programs and has donated all this constructive and vegan-oriented programming to the public domain in more than 40 languages! This includes more than 800 vegan cooking shows from every part of the world, available without restriction. They have put on 26 vegan-promoting Climate Change conferences worldwide, and for many years before and during all this, they have been distributing millions of pieces of vegan literature in virtually every country on Earth, and bringing vegan food to hungry people, and shelter and aid to people all over the world who are suffering from earthquakes, floods, famines, fires, and other natural disasters, at enormous personal risk and expense. All of this is done cheerfully and with good humor and grace, and without asking for recognition or for any donations!
They are now in Pakistan bringing vegan food to flood victims, and in Haiti, SMCH teams personally served over 3,000 vegan meals daily for months (totaling over 250,000 in all), buying all the food themselves, and living with the people the whole time. The SMCH helpers each lost an average of 20 pounds serving the hungry people in Haiti (and they were already thin!). It is only “outsiders” like myself who will blow their horn, because they will not do it themselves. Honestly, for me, to know these people is to love them. Their valiant efforts to promote veganism, love, and respect for all, and their genuine humility make them, for me, the absolutely last people on Earth who should be attacked by a supposedly vegan magazine. I say supposedly vegan, because the core of veganism is nonviolence, and this is a blatantly violent attack.
Let’s look at the actual article.
First, there is the front cover, which has the teaser: “Exposé – Revolutionary Veg Eatery or Cult?” The word cult is a damaging and insulting pejorative. It has overtones of Charles Manson and Jonestown, of violence, sexual abuse, people being mentally and financially damaged and manipulated to benefit an oppressive and indoctrinating leader or inner circle of elites. Applying this word to a group of people is not something to be done lightly! It creates fear and a natural sense of not wanting to be taken advantage of by such a dangerous cult—of wanting to keep distance, and definitely of not trusting whatever such a cult is trying to do. The word cult conveys a sense of something sinister, with hidden and nefarious motives. Ironically enough, I have heard meat-eaters sometimes call veganism a cult that is always trying to “convert” people, and that it is dangerous. How strange that the leading vegan magazine is using this extremely negative word cult and using not against the sects that are today practicing live animal sacrifice (and there are many still doing this), but is using it against the leading proponents of veganism on this Earth! Master Ching Hai is the only major spiritual teacher who is actively, creatively, and skillfully promoting the spread of veganism to the mainstream. This is bizarre beyond belief!! There had better be huge amounts of some rock-solid evidence to warrant such a damning attack against literally tens of thousands of hard-working vegan activists! In fact, we find there is no substantial evidence presented at all.
Turning to the article on page 44, we are confronted by a double spread, with the huge headline “Supreme Mystery” shouting on the right side, and on the left we see doctored images of the person who is being exposed in this article. These images of Supreme Master Ching Hai that VegNews uses say it all. VegNews could have easily used a photo of her that portrays her positively; she is actually an attractive woman, and had that been done—as it usually is in VegNews—readers would naturally connect with her as a person. It would then be hard for them to believe the misconceptions the article will be foisting on them. So they doctored the photo to make her into an abstract object, something non-human, something witch-like. Turning a being into a thing is the essence of violence, and it is the essence of what veganism protests against; it is what allows us to kill 75 million animals daily for food. VegNews does this to her and this is abuse of not only her and her community, but of the readers as well, and is patently manipulative. The ironies here are remarkable!! VegNews manipulates the image and the facts in order to convince readers that she (their target) is manipulative!
Under the gigantic headline, we read immediately that the SMCH community, “headquartered in Taiwan,” is “in the throes of its latest mission” which is its “mass-produced restaurant chain, Loving Hut.” Notice the choice of words here. First we are informed that it’s not “American,” but Chinese, then we’re informed that it’s in “throes” a word that is usually associated with death, as in “death throes,” and finally that the chain is mass-produced, another negative word. Saying that the SMCH community is “headquartered” anywhere is misleading. It is not a corporation with a “headquarters.” It is a spiritual community of autonomous centers, all joined by their devotion to an ancient and respected meditation tradition, the Sant Mat practice of inner light and sound, and to their teacher. It is not a business entity, and has little of the hierarchical structure that we are used to; as it has been explained to me by people in the community, it is much more web-like and egalitarian. There are teams and groups working relatively independently on various projects, and there is no typical inner circle, just Master Ching Hai herself, who is not in Taiwan, and who travels extensively. The word “throes” is an absurd pejorative – why not use a celebratory or congratulatory word, for goodness’ sake? We’re talking about something the vegan movement has been dreaming of for years, and now it’s coming to fruition! Why is VegNews so dark, dismal, and deathly right at the beginning? A foreboding of what’s to come in the article?
The opening paragraph ends with another misleading statement – that “Supreme Master” – and they put the words in quotes in order to belittle both her and her students—“might be the most controversial figure in veganism today.” They could have added, “and if she’s not, we’re going to make her that.” I had to laugh when I read this. How utterly absurd!! With all the controversy in the vegan movement around so many people! PETA’s use of naked females, and HSUS’s serving meat at a dinner to promote farmed animal welfare in Ohio, and the inflammatory rights/welfare debates and all the personalities and egos involved, and here is Supreme Master Ching Hai, who has never uttered one word against anyone, who has never engaged in any type of debate or taken any unpopular position on any issue, someone who is quietly engaging in grassroots vegan education and who is virtually unknown by anyone – and she’s suddenly the “most controversial figure in veganism today?” What gives, VegNews? If anyone has their finger on the pulse of the vegan movement in the U.S., it is yours truly - traveling nonstop for years to virtually every state and giving lectures sponsored by local veg groups, and speaking at the conferences and being on the lists – the amount of controversy around Master Ching Hai, until this article at least, has been miniscule.
Fortunately, the vegan movement is mostly made up of fair-minded, open-hearted people who know a good thing when they see one. As the saying goes, we know a tree by its fruits. If Supreme Master Ching Hai is in fact the inspiring force behind all these wonderful projects—the Loving Huts, the Supreme Master TV, the Climate Change Conferences, the vegan disaster relief efforts—must she not be a person of profound kindness, wisdom, and love?
Turning the page, the insults to Master Ching Hai continue. We are told that she has an “impeccable, airbrushed complexion,” implying something false—that she makes deliberate attempts to deceive people, again to manipulate the reader into distrusting her. And then comes the first direct sarcastic and demeaning attack: “This is “god’s direct contact,” the self-proclaimed “chosen one” to millions of devout followers, and the sole creator of the Loving Hut chain. To skeptics she’s better known as the leader of the fastest growing cult in the world.”
This is completely false. Supreme Master Ching Hai teaches constantly that everyone is God’s direct contact, and that we all have what she calls the “master power” shining within us. She allows no one to worship her in any way, and she continually emphasizes that everyone is equal. She has never “self-proclaimed” to be the “chosen one” or anything. Anyone can prove this themselves—just read, listen to, or watch her teachings on the internet, or through a local center. I have done this and have viewed, listened to, and read hundreds of her lectures and teachings—they are very available—and it is clear that VegNews either simply did not do its homework, or it’s deliberately trying to deceive its readers. Her teachings are not a “mystery.” They are available to anyone interested, and are in line with all the teachers of her tradition. The traditional title of an enlightened teacher in the Sant Mat tradition is “Maharaj” or “highest (maha) king (raj).” She has modified it to Supreme Master, which is entirely in alignment with the tradition, and is not “self-proclaimed,” but as recognized and initiated by others, she has attained this level of spiritual clarity and status as spiritual teacher.
It is easy for VegNews to ridicule Master Ching Hai and her community in our Western culture, because we don’t have some of the same basic assumptions that operate in Eastern culture. This is part of the cultural misunderstanding inherent in this article. First, there is a cultural difference in our understanding of the self. In the East, the emphasis is on the group, and on cooperation and working together for the greater good of all. In the West, we emphasize the individual ego, and that life is about individual ambition and competition, and self-aggrandizement. So when we look at an Asian spiritual community with our Western lens, we project a model of domination and competition, where there is actually a spiritual community cultivating generosity and cooperation. We blame them for the faults we actually have in ourselves. Secondly, in the East, there is a longstanding recognition that it is possible for humans by dedicated effort to become spiritually mature, and that these self-realized people are precious and are to be highly-valued as spiritual teachers. In the West, we mistrust any situation where people deeply respect a spiritual teacher because we have unfortunately lost the community matrix of spiritual maturity, and therefore we have few authentic teachers. We impulsively attack them, like VegNews does throughout this article, in increasingly ugly ways.
Calling her community a cult is absurd, because it is completely open. There is no pressure to join, and anyone can leave at any time, and will never be encouraged to stay if they would rather not. In all my years of working with and relating to people in the SMCH community, there has never been the slightest pressure on me to “join” them. In addition, Master Ching Hai and her organization accept no gifts or donations of any kind. This is astonishing but true! There are no fund-raisers, walk-a-thons, donation drives ever. In the past fifteen years of involvement with her community, I have not been able to give even one dollar. All the money they get they earn themselves, and she is the same. She earns money through her mind-boggling creativity, creating books, CDs, DVDs, paintings, music, jewelry designs, fashion designs, and so forth. Not only will she not accept any gift from anyone, she lives very humbly and unostentiously. Her organization is actually at the highest ethical level of any organization I’ve ever witnessed. There is no foundation for referring to this community as a cult.
The community is also not growing quickly, contrary to what the article implies. Since she stopped traveling and giving lectures about eight years ago, the number of people applying for initiation to the meditation practice is small, and though there is a lot of effort to increase the number of vegans in the mainstream, there is very little effort toward making the numbers of the SMCH community expand. People eating at Loving Hut, for example, are never pitched in any way to join the SMCH community. This is another powerful clue that the Supreme Master Ching Hai community is absolutely not a “cult.” The article says vaguely, “SMCHIA membership numbers are growing at pace,” and earlier admits that no formal records of members are kept. Does this sound like a cult? I mean really! When people join, the organization doesn’t even keep track of their addresses and email addresses so they can contact them in the future! Even local churches do that! People are not contacted by or in any way controlled or manipulated by a central organization. It’s completely different than the image presented by VegNews.
Furthermore, it is one-sided to call her the sole creator of the Loving Hut chain; community members in Taiwan started the first Loving Hut, and it is obviously a co-creative endeavor, with many hundreds of people working together to help promote vegan living worldwide. She is certainly an inspirational force, but the members of her community are highly-motivated, compassionate, and creative people in their own right, as getting to know them will reveal.
Next, we read of VegNews’ interview with David Smugar of the SMCH community, and we’re told that he’s “spearheading the Loving Hut’s US public relations efforts.” This is both sarcastic and utterly incorrect. David is an obviously mild-mannered, quiet person, and he is not “spearheading” anything. He volunteered to be interviewed by VegNews for this article. What VegNews consistently fails to convey is that these people are spiritual practitioners and vegan activists, not businesspeople. They are not starting Loving Hut restaurants to make money, but in order to spread the vegan message of compassion and environmental sustainability. When Smugar speaks passionately about this, VegNews mocks him, sarcastically calling him “a walking, talking catalog of the association’s information-heavy website,” and denigrating his statements about the importance of promoting veganism to the mainstream as mere “tangents.” The article insinuates that he is being duped and used by Master Ching Hai, since he “lives in a small, humble room in one of the most expensive cities in the country and spends almost every waking hour working,” without being paid, living on savings. Rather than painting a positive picture of a noble person who is voluntarily doing his best to selflessly promote the vegan message in a cooperative way with others who are similarly inspired, the article portrays him and his fellow community members as clueless and naïve. There is this insulting sentence: “As with many controversial spiritual groups, followers don’t view Ching Hai as manipulative.” The condescending tone is palpable, and implies that they just don’t know how much they are being manipulated. A demeaning and damaging defamation.
In this section of the article Master Ching Hai is also misleadingly portrayed as being a fear-monger: “Fear, however is no stranger in Ching Hai’s role as a leader.” The article then goes on to quote “UC Berkeley graduate Eric Lai” that her “apocalyptic message in 1995 paralleled other fringe groups, playing on Y2K fears and foreshadowing the end of the world,” and that she is still today preaching a fear-based message. This is absolutely not true, and is ridiculous on many levels. Who is this Eric Lai? Is the fact that he’s got a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley qualify him as an expert? How pathetic! How far does VegNews have to grope to find dirt? Why does VegNews give this mysterious fellow such a large platform to spew his absurd stories? First of all, virtually no one was spreading panic about Y2K back in 1995! The claim is a lie on its face. Secondly, I was myself reading everything that she was publishing from 1995 onward, and I remember absolutely no mention of Y2K or of fear mongering in her message. And thirdly, and most importantly, this whole accusation of her spreading fear is completely unjustified. Anyone who takes the time to read her writings and view her lectures will see that her message is precisely the opposite. She works tirelessly to reduce fear in the world. The many thousands of hours of programming that SMTV has gifted to our world are all positive, constructive, inspiring, and uplifting. This is actually the hallmark of the SMCH community. It is to avoid fear and negativity and to instead emphasize love, support, and understanding for all. The journalistic pieces that SMTV does focus on highlighting the best in all the religious traditions of the world, for example. In a world awash in violent, cynical, divisive media, SMTV shines like a beacon of vegan positivity, seeing the best in everyone, and celebrating the creative accomplishments of people who are working to build a more peaceful, free, and abundant world for everyone. No one has to take my word for it. Anyone can go to www.suprememastertv.com and look through the massive archives. You will never find any unjustified fear-mongering or negative programming. How can a vegan magazine seriously paint someone as a fear monger who is doing her best to awaken the world to the fact that animal agriculture is extremely detrimental to the environment? Yes, Master Ching Hai speaks with a healthy sense of urgency about the importance of spreading the vegan message. Who is VegNews to criticize this? VegNews should be utterly ashamed of ridiculing someone who is inspiring 160 vegan restaurants and initiating many conferences world-wide to constructively focus media and expert attention on the importance of going vegan to save the Earth.
The next part of the article awkwardly tries to deceive the reader about her finances, which is an obvious mistake, because by the article’s own calculations, Master Ching Hai is basically giving away all the money that she earns to help people and animals in distress. The writing is full of snide remarks and negative, suspicious insinuations. Here is a woman who is giving millions of dollars every year to provide rice for starving people in famines and floods, and shelter and aid to people in earthquakes, and animals in need, and she is not asking for a penny in donations. She earns every dollar honestly through her own hard work and creativity. I myself have been delighted and amazed for years at the fountain of creativity that she displays, but the article mocks her and her students with sarcasm: “A $15 locket with her photo, a $250 painting of a clown, or a $1,000 “longevity lamp,” among other seemingly random arts, are available to anyone willing to invest in material attachments from their master.” Here is a teacher who supports herself financially through her creative, uplifting expressions of beauty (some of which have been positively received by Vogue and Guebelein) and VegNews insultingly demeans them to “seemingly random arts.” Her organization asks for and receives no outside funding at all. They generate their own money and donate it to help the world. Yes, this is amazing and unusual! It allows her to be completely independent, and gives her the freedom to actually work to expand veganism without being beholden to donors who might try to disallow that (for example, look at HSUS’s Wayne Pacelle, another vegan whose hands are tied because HSUS donors don’t want the vegan message spread). The sheer power of her ability to generate funding through creativity and generosity should be enormously inspiring to us as vegans. Maybe we can all learn something from this wonderful example!
The article stoops so low in its frantic searching for something—anything—to find suspicious! Not content to simply report the truth that Master Ching Hai accepts no donations from students or anyone, we read, “Association members stand by the statement that their master does not accept donations, denying speculation that enlightenment comes at a price.” There is absolutely no evidence for this – why the insulting, demeaning speculation? It’s an obvious attempt to condescendingly mislead the reader into distrusting both Master Ching Hai and her students. The article then goes on to describe an event in order to heap ridicule on Master Ching Hai for buying and developing land in south Florida under an alias – “Celestia De Lamour (“star of love”).” I asked people in the SMCH community about this and was told that it was an honest mistake about property lines. They thought they were creating their boardwalk path on their private land, but it was unfortunately on the adjacent public land. They are Asians, and one of their traditions is to change a name to bring an increase in good fortune--it's a harmless cultural tradition that we have no reason to mock or condemn. They paid for all the repairs, and the land has now become a public park, open to everyone. It should in no way be inferred from this that the SMCH community is a cult or disregards the environment. They are renowned for spending many hours in parks, beaches, and public lands all over the world picking up trash, and donating funds to buy lands so that they can be set aside as wildlife preserves. In sum, this story about the land in Florida is irrelevant, and in no way supports the VegNews quest to publicly humiliate these people and discount the good they are doing in the world.
Next we come to the mysterious Eric Lai and his mysterious “research.” Basically his findings are again utterly irrelevant, except that they provide a much-needed opportunity for VegNews to spread misleading insults, and to accuse Supreme Master Ching Hai of being a liar, which is, itself, an act of violence. The writer of the article, Abigail Young, has obviously sourced this entire section from a very stale source: an article that was published back on March 28, 1996, in the San Jose Metro by Rafer Guzman entitled, “Immaterial Girl.” This old baloney is now rehashed by VegNews as it pretends it’s done some “behind the scenes” research!! Young practically parrots this whole section verbatim from Guzman’s quoting of Eric Lai. Why is VegNews the first publication to be so obtuse as to trust this totally outdated hack job? Why does VegNews give its powerful vegan platform to spread these old Lai’s? (sorry for the bad pun). There is absolutely no authentication for any of what Lai says in the Guzman article. The thing is, even if it’s all true, it changes nothing, except to make VegNews look utterly foolish for slinging such degrading muck so unskillfully.
Lai accuses Master Ching Hai of becoming pregnant, perhaps by a U.S. serviceman, during the Vietnam war, and leaving her baby with her mother. First of all, I have never seen a shred of evidence that this is true, nor has anyone I have spoken to about it. Even if it is, how dare VegNews throw this insult at her? It was us, the U.S., that went into her country with extreme violence, napalming, raping, and killing millions of people and we’re now going to judge her for bearing a child in that nightmare? According to Lai, she lived in the same province in Viet Nam that saw the infamous My Lai massacre. How dare we as vegans and as Americans hurl this insult? It is blatantly racist, blatantly sexist, and blatantly cruel and deceptive.
Next, the VegNews article accuses her of studying “under controversial Sikh leader Thakar Singh, whose own laundry list of indiscretions includes sexual assault and violence.” Whoa!!
So now we have guilt by association! VegNews should be ashamed of this unprofessional journalism. I myself have studied under several Buddhist teachers who I found out later had committed sexual indiscretions. So what! Anyone who has ever spent any time at all honestly exploring spiritual teachings and traditions will most likely experience this. Does this make them somehow polluted with coodies? This is nothing but a cheap shot, and VegNews should immediately apologize for this and so many other inflammatory and disgraceful statements in this article.
Now we are up to page 49, the last page of this disgraceful article, and it turns from sarcastic and mean to downright ugly in its deceptiveness.
We have Lai attending a retreat in 1994 in Taiwan, so he’s obviously now a disgruntled initiate, and for some reason wants to ridicule his former teacher. This is extremely rare, given the fact that she has initiated at least a few hundred thousand people. VegNews could easily give its platform to hundreds of thousands of people who would enthusiastically testify to the positive, healing, and transformative effects that Master Ching Has has had in their lives, but instead it chooses to focus on an infinitesimally tiny fraction of that number—one or two—and deceptively portrays their experience as the real thing, while blatantly ignoring the testimony of the hundreds of thousands! Why would a vegan magazine do this? This is the real supreme mystery, it seems to me.
VegNews quotes Lai’s insulting remarks as its only version of being on a retreat with “master”—disparagingly putting “master” in quotes: “She was a tiny woman who commands all this respect; it was kind of absurd.” What is absurd? The fact that she is not a tall white male? This sexist, size-ist remark is offensive. Only tall people, and only tall men deserve to command respect, it seems. Women, especially small women, deserve no respect—how absurd to respect them. Again, I cannot believe I am reading a vegan magazine that is supposed to promote respect for others. How absurd to give respect to mere animals—they taste good! I really wonder if this Lai is a vegan—he sure doesn’t speak like it. Then VegNews writes that he’s “hardly convinced of her status as god’s direct contact.” This, again, betrays VegNews’ complete ignorance of Master Ching Hai’s essential message that God’s direct contact (or Truth’s direct contact if you prefer) is within each and every one of us. This is not a teaching unique to her, but is a universal teaching that we find in Buddhist, Christian, and many other teachings. VegNews repeatedly twists and misrepresents what she says, and then mocks its misrepresentation, ignorantly thinking it is mocking her. The tragedy, of course, is that most readers are completely unaware of how severely VegNews is twisting the truth to fit its own perverse agenda of attacking the person who is arguably the most successful, hard-working, and determined independent force for vegan advocacy on this Earth today.
The article then goes on to quote another undocumented anecdote from the 1996 San Jose Metro article that a man is upset with his wife because she “withdrew all physical contact” from him, and he goes on to claim that “she became strange” and beat her sons if they didn’t meditate. It’s interesting that the VegNews article didn’t quote another thing he said, which was that she became an extreme vegetarian, and wouldn’t let them eat meat, which he was furious about also. Again, this is a one-sided, undocumented accusation by some guy about his wife, and for VegNews to stoop to publishing this stale, marginal, insulting story in its article about Master Ching Hai is deceptive and unprofessional in the extreme. VegNews could have easily found thousands of people who would eagerly tell heart-warming stories of lives healed, relationships improved, and spouses going vegan due to the beneficial influence of the teachings and meditation practice, but chose instead to violate its readers’ trust and the vegan movement by publishing a deliberate deception.
Then we read this ugly climactic accusation: “Critical journalists and curious Buddhist monks received bomb threats and promises of violent acts, including execution and “eternal hell.” These actions don’t exactly align with the smiling, love-all-beings image, nor do reports of Ching Hai’s own temper tantrums and explosive episodes toward disciples.” VegNews has already gone way over the top, and now this! First of all, who exactly are these “select practitioners” who “take their devotion too far?” Where is this documented, exactly? I strongly doubt the veracity of these claims because Master Ching Hai absolutely forbids any form of violence, including deception, as the article mentions earlier: “no taking of life, using intoxicants, lying, stealing, or adultery.” These are the five Buddhist precepts, and they are all based on ahimsa, or non-violence, which is the foundation of veganism. She requires her students to live their lives in accordance with these precepts to the best of their ability, and in my experience, they do an exceptional job of it. Nevertheless, it might be possible for some wayward student or former student somewhere to be so upset with a journalist that he or she might warn that journalist that according to the sacred Buddhist texts, anyone who willfully slanders a spiritually enlightened person, or who willfully divides the spiritual community, will suffer in the “Avici Hell.” I myself could perhaps be accused of that after reading this violent article that is full of slanderous statements and that is divisive of our vegan community! It is very bad karma to deliberately publish words of violence that inspire hatred, distrust, sorrow, and unnecessarily cause harm to others.
The obvious point is that to link Supreme Master Ching Hai with bomb threats and executions is absurd. She can’t possibly control every single word that hundreds of thousands of people say (or are reported to say). The fact that this kind of thing is extremely rare to non-existent given the large numbers—and the unjust accusations that are obviously received—is a testament to the SMCH community’s patience, spiritual maturity, and earnest humility. I have been extremely impressed with the response from the SMCH community in the face of this unprovoked and hostile attack by VegNews: they have urged forgiveness and the importance of loving the VegNews editors and owners, over and over again to me. Since I am not the one being attacked, but am a witness to the public violence perpetrated by the VegNews owners, I feel that I, as perhaps the most informed witness, cannot just let these perpetrators go scot-free. They have committed real violence, and it seems right that they be held accountable for their actions by us, the vegan community. It is the animals, ecosystems, and starving people who are paying the real price for this VegNews attack. For me, it’s not so easy to let this pass unchallenged. Real damage has been done. Confusion has been fed, and truth has been willfully trampled.
As far as the “temper tantrums,” again, this betrays VegNews’ ignorance of the important ways that authentic spiritual teachers operate. I’ve talked with several students who tell how deeply healing it has been for them to receive one of Master Ching Hai’s scoldings. This is well understood in all the meditative traditions, and I’ve experienced this myself first-hand while studying with spiritual teachers in both the Tibetan Buddhist and Zen traditions. Master Ching Hai’s students are universally grateful for her ability to expose the machinations of their egos, and help them overcome their deeply-held delusions. People who are not interested in spiritual growth will never understand this, but I am explaining in the hopes that some readers with greater awareness will understand what I’m talking about here. Again, for the umpteenth time in this article, in its heavy-handed attempt to “expose” Master Ching Hai, VegNews exposes its own violence and ignorance.
The penultimate paragraph is replete with what are perhaps the most flagrant and unfounded insults in the article. “Ching Hai considers herself to be the living Buddha, a god for those in spiritual need, but are her actions and emotions anything but human?” I have already completely debunked this insulting mischaracterization. “The difficulty lies in distinguishing between a successful, fast-growing vegan food business aiming to save thousands of animals and help humankind, and extremely questionable behaviors of a powerful, mysterious woman in control of millions.” Gosh, I sure wish we had more people who would display such “extremely questionable behaviors!” Do we have some more people here on this Earth who can start 160 vegan restaurants, save the lives of hundreds of thousands of starving and destitute disaster victims, inspire literally hundreds of thousands or millions of people to go vegan, create a worldwide television station that broadcasts only constructive, compassionate programming, and is a loving and transformative inspiration for hundreds of thousands of people? Obviously, the only extremely questionable behaviors we see are those of VegNews itself writing and publishing such violent and misguided anti-vegan propaganda.
Then we have these parting cheap shots: “Anyone concerned with the state of the planet and well-being of animals would be happy to have a Loving Hut in town, and the spiritually bankrupt find solace in her methods. But is this intense growth sustainable, and what will happen to the hundreds of investors if the market can’t support the restaurant chain’s exponential growth?” So! Her students are “spiritually bankrupt.” I'd like to ask how VegNews reached this conclusion; by what standards are these people "spiritually bankrupt?" This sentence is a slap in the face to several hundred thousand people, including many spiritually sophisticated and intellectually discriminating people who are leaders in government, business, and academia in countries around the world, as well as Buddhist monks and nuns and other ardent and aware people. This undisguised insult, like the others in the article, deserves an immediate apology. The article closes with this sarcastic dire warning, that Loving Hut businesses might fail! In fact, they’re already successful. For the SMCH community, the success is measured not in dollars, but in lives saved, and people educated about the benefits of a vegan, compassionate way of living.
Why are we on this Earth? To compete and accumulate for ourselves? Or to live, as Master Ching Hai herself exemplifies, a life of generous giving that blesses others, especially those who are vulnerable? Ironically, while VegNews is busy defaming her, Supreme Master Ching Hai just recently received the President’s Volunteer Service Award, with thanks from the President of the U.S. “for helping to address the most pressing needs in your community and in our country.”
In closing, this “Supreme Mystery” article is itself a supreme mystery! Why was it written, after all? It seems to me to be a flagrant abuse of the power that the vegan community has come to entrust in VegNews. As Martin Luther King so wisely said, “Violence anywhere hurts all of us, everywhere.” We are all connected, and we are all the victims of this attack. It is the animals, starving people, and future generations who are hurt the most, and whose suffering it is easiest to discount, as VegNews does in this article.
Back to World Peace Diet