Founder: Master Suma Ching Hai (Her real name is Hue Dang Trinh according to William Claiborne's article entitled "Self-styled Zen Master Has Attained Financial Nirvana" in the December 20,1996 issue of The Record, p. A40)
Date of Birth: 1950
Birth Place: Au Lac, Vietnam
Year Founded: 1982, Taiwan
The First Theory: While in Formosa, Suma Ching Hai was meditating in a room behind a small temple during a typhoon rain storm and a group of people knocked at her door. When she asked them why they came, they responded, "Quan Yin Bodhisattva (The Goddess of Mercy) replied to our prayers and told us about you, saying that you are the great Master and we should pray to you for the method to reach liberation." The Master initiated them after several months of purification and their agreement to adhere to a vegetarian diet.
The Other Theory: When Suma Ching Hai tried to buy a copy of the Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad-Gita in a shop along the Ganges River, the shopkeepers said there were none in stock. She insisted that she had "seen" one. Then the shopkeepers discovered a copy in a sealed box. She fled sudden acclaim, but finally assumed the role of The Master. (According to Howard Chua-Eoan's article entitled "The Buddhist Martha" in Time, Jan 20,1997, p.47)
Sacred or Revered Texts: Bhagavad Gita, Surangama Sutra, The Bible
Size of Group: In Taiwan, she reportedly has 300,000 followers. But, when the government closed down her headquarters (it was constructed without a license), the group produced only 804 names which belies the 6,000 who appeared in Taiwan on Ching Hai Day in October 1995.
She has approximately 2,000 members in California (Dion Nissenbaum's article "Sect Master a No-show, Rumors Had Ching Hai in Lake Elsinore" in The Press- Enterprise, December 31, 1996 p. B01) According to the article "Unusual Cast of Asian Donors Emerges in DNC Funding Controversy" in the Jan 27, 1997 issue of The Washington Post, however, Suma Ching Hai has 100,000 followers in the United States and millions more worldwide.
Suma Ching Hai claims to be the reincarnated Buddha and Jesus Christ, and she combines the beliefs of Christianity with those of Buddhism. She attempts to teach her followers that all religions are teaching the same Truth, the "Divine Presence" within. She explains the importance of meditation, inner contemplation and prayer. She accomplishes teaching these "Truths" by her Quan Yin Method. The Chinese characters "Quan Yin" mean contemplation of sound vibration. The Method includes meditation on both Inner Light and the Inner Sound. Ching Hai teaches that the Christian Bible says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) This Word is the Inner Sound. Master Ching Hai says, "It vibrates within all life and sustains the whole universe. This inner melody can heal all wounds, fulfill all desires, and quench all worldly thirst."
During initiation, the Master provides the "spiritual transmission" to the enlightened world. This event is sometimes called the "sudden" or "immediate enlightenment," because one may hear the Inner Sound and see the Inner Light. Suma Ching Hai accepts people from all backgrounds and religious affiliations for initiation, however, a lifetime commitment to a vegetarian diet is a prerequisite for receiving initiation.
Keeping a vegetarian diet is important because Suma Ching Hai teaches that killing and violence, even to animals, is bad. "So what we try to minimize is the violence in our heart, the tendency to want to destroy other beings."
Ching Hai's teaching against violence towards animals is very similar to Sikhism, but her meditation teachings resemble Buddhism, and her Catholic background enables her to incorporate Christian Bible teachings as well. After initiation, meditation daily for two and a half hours and keeping the Five Precepts are the only requirements.
The Five Precepts are:
Refrain from taking the life of sentient beings.
Refrain from speaking what is not true.
Refrain from taking what is not offered.
Refrain from sexual misconduct.
Refrain from the use of intoxicants.
(According to Carey Goldberg's article "Cult-Like Group Linked to Refused Clinton Donations" in the December 22, 1996 issue of The Commercial Appeal, p.11A). Suma Ching Hai's goal is to teach her followers to be self-sufficient.
Suma Ching Hai International Association has recently received much publicity because of the group's donations to Bill Clinton's legal-defense fund. The group donated $600,000 to the fund last year, but the money was returned due to increasing negative publicity the President was receiving. Suma Ching Hai said she felt "sorry for Clinton's troubles... and wanted to help him" ( Washington Post, 27 Jan. 1997).
Chua-Eoan, Howard. 1997. "The Buddhist Martha." Time. January 20: 47.
Claiborne, William. 1996. "Self-Styled Zen Master Has Attained Financial Nirvana." The Record. December 20: A40.
Goldberg, Carey. 1996. "Cult-like Group Linked to Refused Clinton Donations." The Commercial Appeal. December 22: 11A.
Kelley, Donna. 1997. "Suma Ching Hai Explains Donations to the Clinton Legal Defense Fund." CNN Morning News. January 9: (videotape).
Nissenbaum, Dion. 1996. “Sect Master a No-show, Rumors Had Ching Hai in Lake Elsinore." The Press-Enterprise. December 31: B01.
Washington Post. 1997. "Unusual Cast of Asian Donors Emerges in DNC Funding Controversy." The Washington Post. January 27: A8.
Suma Ching Hai International Association
2731 Harway Ave,
Brooklyn, NY 11214
Phone: (212) 431-5538
Contact Person: Mr. Dong Zhihua
Phone: (718) 372-3921
Fax: (718) 372-1176
Created by Helen Merianos
Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Spring Term, 1997
University of Virginia
Last updated: 07/24/01