New Religious Movements (NRMs) are gaining converts worldwide and many have put down roots in Hong Kong. Some movements are more open to scrutiny than others.
Below is a sample of NRMs operating here. They range from small groups with barely 100 members to organizations that claim thousands of devotees.
Figures relating to membership of the NRF4s featured come from a variety of sources, including published articles, the groups themselves and Danny: Ma Kwok-tung, a missionary at the Hong Kong Christian Short Term Mission Training Centre.
The International Supreme Master Ching Hai Meditation Association
Founder: Ching Hai
Established: Date not mentioned in group's books, place: Taiwan
Members: 2,000 in Hong Kong; group does not have official worldwide figures
In the early l990s Vietnamese Chinese Ching Hai made a name for herself in Hong Kong by offering to donate US$6 million (HK$46.4 million) to resettle Vietnamese in the territory's camps.
Instant enlightenment is promised to those who chant her name and title, according to official propaganda. "Whoever sincerely recites 'Namo Ching Hai Wu Shang Shih' (the Supreme Master Ching Hai) will be saved and liberated," according to Ching Hai's book The Key Of Immediate Enlightenment: but followers must also "refrain from taking the life of sentient beings" (which means they must also be vegetarians), "refrain from speaking what is not true", "refrain from taking what is not offered", "refrain from sexual misconduct" and "refrain from the use of intoxicants".
Founder: Yoshikazu Okada (a.k.a. Kotama Okada), who based his teachings on Mokichi Okada (no relation, see Hong Kong Shumei Church of Divine Guidance)
Established: 1978 in Japan; 1994 in Hong Kong
Members: 100 in Hong Kong; 800,000 worldwide
Sukyo Mahikari was investigated in 1997 by an Australian newspaper, The Canberra Times, which caned the group a doomsday religious sect and chronicled the complaints of disgruntled former members, including allegations of financial impropriety, "brain washing" and deception over the group's history.
Adrian van Leen, director of Concerned Christian Growth Ministries in Australia, which monitors religious movements in that country and elsewhere, says, some members "believe that taking medication or seeking medical treatment is unnecessary or unacceptable". Sukyo Mahikari refutes all the claims.
Its assistant chief in Hong Kong, Raymond Chan She-sam, also disputes allegations the group is apocalyptic, even though Goseigen The Holy Words, Sukyo Mahikari's bible, states: "God is at the stage of daybreak of the spiritual civilization. Those who do not wish to receive the great role for its dawn cannot but result in annihilation. The world is plunging more deeply into such an age".
"They [the disbelievers] will have no choice other than to end up in 'being Pulverized' (sic); 'the age of sudden death' shall also come."
Unification Church (Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity)
Founder: Sun Myung Moon
Established: 1954 in Korea; active since 1980s in Hong Kong
Members: 3,000 in Hong Kong; several million worldwide
Moon, who considers himself the messiah, claims to be undertaking the mission Jesus could not complete on Earth because of his crucifixion.
Moon contends the goal of the Unification Church is to unite all of Christendom. But his sermons these days are filled with apocalyptic prophecies for the United States, his home since the early 1970s: "God hates the American atmosphere," he said recently. "Satan created this kind of hell on the Earth. It is heading for destruction in the very near future."
The church arranges mass marriages to create what it considers to be perfect families. The Unification Church declined to speak to the Post.
Church of Satan
Founder: Anton Szandor LaVey (1930-1997)
Established: 1966 in the US
Members: 50-100 in Hong Kong; 10,000 worldwide (according to news reports last year about LaVey's death)
Excerpts from the Satanic Bible, written by LaVey:
Registration costs US$100 and can be done through its web site (www.coscentral.net/member.html).
Church of Zion
Founder: Leung Yat-wah
Established: Mid-1980s in Hong Kong
Tse Fung-yin, a member from 1994 to 1996, says: "Mr. Leung told us hydrogen peroxide could cure cancers and AIDS." Claiming she was the one who exposed the group's beliefs two years ago, 35-year-old Ms. Tse says she began asking questions only after drinking drops of the chemical for 20 consecutive days because Mr. Leung had said it was the embodiment of Jesus. All it did, however was give her a fever and diarrhea, she says.
The Church of Zion holds regular prayer meetings in Kowloon Bay. Though the Post was invited to participate in a gathering in December, none of the group's leaders would agree to be interviewed.
Church of Scientology (also known as Dianetics)
Founder: L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986)
Established: mid-1950s in the US
Members: The organisation apparently no longer keeps records of individual members, claiming instead more than 1,000 Scientology organizations, missions and groups worldwide.
Scientology began with the publication of Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health, by Science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
Scientologists believe that salvation can be achieved through regression therapy (an exhaustive personality test - often the first introduction most people have to the group - is available on the Internet at www.scientology.org/). The teachings are a mishmash of Freud, Eastern thought (reincarnation, for example) and science fiction.
The Church of Scientology did not return calls from the Post.
Shumei Church of Divine Guidance (branch of Japan's Shinji Shumeikai)
Founder: Mihoko Koyama, whose teachings are based on those of Mokichi Okada (1882-1955), see Sukyo Mahikari. The Hong Kong chapter is led by 69-year-old Sichi Chan, who is of Japanese and Chinese descent.
Established: 1960 (in Hong Kong); 1970 (in Japan, when it officially broke away from the Church of World Messianity)
Members: 10,000 in Hong Kong; 310,000 worldwide
Okada believed that a divine spiritual purification would occur through a global catastrophe unless humanity could rid itself of sickness, poverty and discord by means of prayer, natural agriculture and appreciation of beauty.
This, says minister Issei Shinagawa, "is the principle of our beliefs".
He adds: "This religious group has three main objectives. Firstly, it is believed that by the unique means of Jorei [the giving of divine light], one can get happiness and bliss. Second, natural agriculture [no fertilizer, no poison], which yields healthy crops is practiced. Thirdly, the learning of art is motivated, for it is believed that art can beautify one's thoughts."
The stress placed on beauty led to the opening last year of the Miho Museum near Kyoto, Japan, designed by Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei. The museum reportedly cost US$250 million, though Mr. Shinagawa says the exact amount "is not clearly known". He adds: "Part of the building expenses came from donations of our believers in Japan, Hong Kong and other places."
Founder: Tsunesaburo Makiguchi
Established: 1930 in Japan; 1961 in Hong Kong
Members: 45,000;in Hong Kong; 16 million worldwide
Soka Gakkai was founded as the lay arm of Nichiren Shoshu, one of many Buddhist organizations claiming to follow the teachings of the 1 3th-century teacher Nichiren. Despite years of charitable activities with a focus on disarmament, human rights and humanitarian relief, the group remains stained by allegations from murder to rape. There is even a Soka Gakkai Victims Association, which in 1995 had 10,000 members, according to Time magazine.
Rie Tsumura, Soka Gakkai's representative in Tokyo, blames disgruntled members of Nichiren Shoshu - with which Soka Gakkai severed ties in 1991 - for most of the allegations and says no member of Soka Gakkai has ever been charged with a crime and claims all allegations have been disproved.
But the organization continues to instill fear in many. No one the Post interviewed (among them a theologian, an academic, a cult expert and a housewife), about Soka Gakkai wanted to be named, citing worries about intimidation.
One says: "There is a charge that Soka Gakkai wants to make a Buddhist country out of Japan. ... If it's true, that would be frightening because Soka Gakkai is the Buddhist group most known for its intolerance towards people (of other beliefs) in Japan."
Another: "Although there are many nice believers [of Soka Gakkai], they don't accept other's opinions. For instance, if they knew I criticized them, I would have a lot of [Soka Gakkai] guests in my house tonight."
Hong Kong Church of Christ
Founder: Kip McKean
Established: 1979 in the US; 1988 in Hong Kong
Members: 2,000 in Hong Kong; more than 150,000 people attend Sunday services worldwide, according to the Internet home page of the International Churches of Christ.
Rick Ross, a US-based consultant on religious cults, says the Church of Christ "has targeted the Asian community in Canada" and has been planting many groups throughout Asia, including Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and Hong Kong. It has churches in every city with a population of 100,000 or more, according to its web site.
"[Members] become dependent on the group and become conditioned through the intensive indoctrination program," adds Adrian van Leen (see Sukyo Mahikari). "They are authoritarian and the emphasis is that if you leave them you're leaving God and the truth."
He criticizes the church's emphasis on "discipline". (Members have "disciplers" - a more senior member who oversees all aspects of their lives.) "Other churches have programs of discipline, but this one's taken to extreme," he says. "Also taken to extreme is the confessing of sins [to the point] of drawing up sin lists . .. Sexual sins seem to be regarded as a graver problem."
The Hong Kong Church of Christ (no relation to the United Church of Christ or independent Churches of Christ) refused to talk to the Post.