Criteria to Evaluate the Ideological Totalism
This summary is based on the Bulles 1st quarter 1994, 4th quarter 1993
and 1st quarter 1996 of ADFI
in French, as well as on the book by Robert J. Lifton, "Thought Reform
and the Psychology of Totalism".
The goal is :
For more information, you can browse the site
of Steve Hassan (in English).
on a general point of view to define some criteria allowing to know if
the religious movement you are in is a sect. This general part is mainly
base on the "Bulles" by the ADFI;
more specifically, to compare these totalitarian criteria with Sukyo Mahikari's
practices in order to know if this movement is a totalitarian sect using
one or several mind control methods. This comparison will be based on my
experience and that of former members who were kind enough to help me.
In January 1954, an American psychiatrist, Dr Robert Jay Lifton, begins
a study on the mental manipulations whose victims were American prisoners
of war in Korea. He gathered then information about the confession and
"re-education" techniques used by the Chinese communists who had intervened
beside North Korea during the Korean war which ended in 1953. These methods
allow to better understand the process of mind control and define valid
criteria, non only for totalitarian regimes such as communist China, but
also for harmful sectarian movements (as defined by the report of the Belgian
Parliamentary Commission on Sects). The two fundamental elements of this
"Thought Reform" as Lifton called it are confession (express all the "evil"
committed in the past and the present) and the re-education which allowed
to "remodel" the subject in the desired moulding, here communism.
From these interviews with former prisoners of war in China, Lifton
defined 8 criteria, which, of course, remain general, because things are
not so clear in reality and we often need some distance. More over, the
harmful sectarian movements, as it is our main subject, such as totalitarian
movements, don't use all these methods. Sometimes, they use only some of
them, but they use them in depth.
Anyway, if a sectarian movement use only one of these methods, beware!
If it uses several of them, then it would be harmful...
1. Milieu control
This control can be more or less visible. It can go from physical confinement
to the regulation of outside communication. This control is never absolute,
because external parasite information always come and disturb the subject.
If this information prevents from creating an environment containing the
truth of the manipulators, this "unsuccess" is attributed to a bad application
of the taught processes or to the perversity of the recalcitrant person
who sees it as a personal unsuccess.
How many times were we told in Sukyo Mahikari not to believe what it
was said outside the sect. "We are not a sect, the others (the external
world) is saying anything" If we let evil spirits to disturb us, it was
because we did not apply the Mahikari "teachings" or it was due to our
personal or family "impurities".
The main consequence of milieu control is the breaking of the balance
between the self and the external world. Normally, we make a backward and
forward motion between what comes from the external world and our reflection,
which allows us to judge the reality of our environment and maintain our
The pressure by the manipulators tends to destroy this polarity and
replace it by a dualism : the real, the ideology of the group to which
everybody must identify and the non-real (the rest). Those who can reach
this identification has then an exalting feeling of omniscience. Others
will resist and try to escape manipulation, not without having aftermath.
It is a fact that, having integrated Mahikari thought, the members
see things in a different way, "spiritually". The external world is in
decay and only Mahikari detains the truth ("Sukyo" meaning Supra religion
as opposed to "Shinyo", similar to the truth, but not the truth). So, it
is true that members, who are vulnerable at one moment of their life (such
as Christian Jacob or myself), can feel omniscient. We have a "spiritual
interpretation" for all event and this feeling of knowing everything and
being able to interpret any event is really exalting. An ex-member Jacob
told me her family found her very haughty during her stay in Mahikari.
She had a superior attitude, she thought to know everything. But you realise
that only after leaving the sect.
So, I can say, that Sukyo Mahikari meets the first manipulation criteria
and control the milieu.
2. Mystical manipulation
Next step : personal manipulation. Its aim is to provoke determined behaviours
and emotions, but in a way that they appear spontaneous. This spontaneity
will have for the victim an aura of mysticism. The achievement of this
mysticism will prevail on any other consideration. "All question or action
questioning this superior goal is considered as retrograde, selfish, mean."
This mysticism can justify all the means.
In Sukyo Mahikari, we are taught that all that happens to us is the
consequence of our past and present actions and if we apply the "teachings",
"miracles" will immediately appear, if not, beware! When I left Mahikari,
I realised that I continued to live positive and negative events, such
as in Mahikari. In fact, my reactions I thought spontaneous (thank God
for all the positive and negative events, accept everything, even the,
sometimes serious, mistakes of the senior members, their orders, etc.)
were in fact dictated by Mahikari doctrine. More over, we were encouraged
to make "witnesses" (see point 1) in a spontaneous way to "help" the other,
witnesses which were remodelled to better fit the doctrine.
This mysticism is base on the individual trust which is difficult to
maintain permanently. The individual answers then the "psychology of the
pawn" : as he cannot escape forces which are too powerful for him, the
individual tries to adapt to them. He anticipates the pressures, stop asking
questions, which could be harmful for him. He then participates to the
manipulation of others.
Thousands times we have heard in Sukyo Mahikari : "What you don't understand
now, you will understand it later. Let the teachings becoming your flesh
and blood. Then you will be Sunao (Japanese word meaning : "to obey God
in all circumstances"). "When an event destabilising the doctrine happens
we tended to make it fit the teachings, rather than questioning them. And,
we fought those who were recalcitrant, manipulating them.
A second method used so.
3. The demand for purity
In totalitarian ideological systems, the world is divided into two distinct
groups : the pure and the impure, the absolute good and the absolute evil.
The pure is the ideas and the actions in accordance with the doctrine,
all the rest is impure, evil, diabolical.
We were taught in Sukyo Mahikari that only the sect detains the truth
(See Point 1) and the external world was in decay, submitted to diabolical
forces and disturbing spirits. If we don't want to be disturbed and experience
a pitiful destiny, we have to follow the "teachings" and raise our spiritual
level, became a good yokoshi (a good member of Sukyo Mahikari who apply
It is possible to reach this absolute purity ("the good communist" for
the Chinese, the good member of the sect, etc.). You can do anything in
the name of this purity.
Get seriously into debts, neglect to cure your illness, reject traditional
medicine, divorce (the marriage being a "brake" to the spiritual evolution),
etc. These are only the most common examples we can find in the sect. Even
if there are not reported extreme cases (pedophily, murder, etc.), these
cases are quite serious.
As total purity is never reached, you are likely to be punished, humiliated
Then appear two highly common feelings within Mahikari : guilt and shame.
These two feelings are finally well considered in the totalitarian movements,
because they become values for themselves.
In a next step, which is not (yet?) exploited in Mahikari, theses feelings
can help to cause mass hatred and lead to holy wars. Indeed, the best way
to get rid of this guilt is to denounce the "impure" influences from the
external world and fight them. With the influence of the manicheism (good-evil),
it is difficult to get a clear balanced idea of the external things.
You can get to confess imaginary crimes in the hope of being washed from
your impurities. This confession become an exploitation means of the vulnerable
members (feelings of shame and/or guilt preventing the member to quit Mahikari).
Typical motto in Mahikari : "If this negative event happens, it is
because, in a previous life, I committed such mistake" (imaginary crime).
I know that some "confessions" made to a leader have been exploited to
put the pressure on the member when the latter showed signs of leaving
Note that, for some people, the confession can "meet an auto-punishment
need, a desire to free oneself from the repressed feelings of guilt (catharsis)".
Four methods of mind control. Even if they are not all exploited in
depth (3), it is becoming serious.
5. Sacred science
The basic doctrine of a totalitarian system is presented as the "ultimate
moral vision to order human existence. It is banned (or impossible) to
When I, and other members, questioned Mahikari doctrine, we were told
that the teachings were coming directly from God and we cannot doubt of
them. It would be doubting of God himself.
Even though this "sacred science" comes from a revelation, it is superior
to ordinary logic, and "scientific" justifications are found. Criticise
it is immoral, unrespectful and even "antiscientific". So, on one side,
present science is criticised to be contrary to divine laws and responsible
for current problems and, on the other side, the scientific character is
used to justify the doctrine. Another unbalancing duality. It is the case
"This sacred science can give comfort and security, thanks to the apparent
unification between the mystical and logical experience modes. The predominance
of this "sacred science" is so strong that the individual who is attracted
by the ideas ignoring or gainsaying it will feel guilty and will be afraid."
Five methods used.
6. Loading of the coded language
"In the language of totalitarian environment, the cliché is everywhere."
The situations and the problems are restricted to a few short sentences
which are easy to remember and repeat. They are the beginning of all analyses.
They avoid real discussion and personal reflection.
Within Mahikari, these clichés are conveyed by Japanese expressions
(such as Sunao). Some represent good and others evil. They have a powerful
emotional loading. Even if every group (school, professional environment,
family, etc.) has its own jargon, creating the feeling of being part of
a group, in the case of sects such as Sukyo Mahikari, it implies a narrowing,
a linguistic impoverishment reinforcing the group feeling, but also (contrary
to classical "jargons") contributing to be isolated from the external world.
"The others are not thinking as we do". We feel good only in the sect,
where we can use the cliché and Japanese expressions to communicate
with the others, which is not the case in the external world. The other
members of the family who are not in the sect, feel this "wall" and are
afraid of it.
It is certainly one of the most developed methods within Mahikari.
7. Doctrine over person
"Personal experience, the feelings are continually canalised, moulded.
The feelings must meet official requirements."
"It is highly visible in the reinterpretation of history". On one hand,
there are the bad ducks : the Jews, the scientists, chemical products,
wicked industrialists, foreigners, rock singers, etc. and, on the other
hand, "the good guys", "Yokoshis", messengers of God, the Japanese, the
sect, etc. See the part dedicated to the lies of the doctrine.
Myths are also strongly used to reinforce "historical reality".
On a personal level, the member reinterprets his life, to fit the moulding.
"If I had that problem before Mahikari, I understand now it was due to
such error in a previous life or to my ancestors."
It must be pointed out that if the doctrine is gainsaid by the events,
events will be modified to fit the doctrine.
"We are not a sect, you know/. It is impossible that we can be such
Then you can go to depersonalisation processes (see the witnesses of
8. Dispensing of existence
Some have a right to exist, other not. The latter being "non-persons".
But thought reform offers to non-persons the means to reach existence.
"For the individual, the ultimate conflict becomes : "to be or not to
be", the being or the naught. The conversion becomes the only way to existence.
The totalitarian environment, even without physical violence, stimulates
the fear of destruction."
Many members are panicking if they would have to admit they are wrong
and, especially to leave the sect. Outside the sect, no salvation, they
were said. Leaving the sect would mean being disturbed by spirits, the
I remember one leader saying that the handicapped people were of no
use for God!
"The existence depends on the faith ("I believe, so I am"), on submission
("I obey, so I am") and, finally, on the feeling of total fusion with the
Lifton concludes saying that the more an environment has these eight
psychological themes, the more they are similar to ideological totalism,
even though no environment is completely totalitarian.
We can se that, for a movement denying of being a harmful sect, the
eight methods of mind control are used in Mahikari at various degrees.
The witnesses of the former members who were brave enough to talk about
it prove it : Sukyo Mahikari is a dangerous sect!
It is to be pointed out that totalism causes a "paroxystic" experience,
which allow to transcend the ordinary, banal life and enter truth, trust,
sincerity. But this experience is not spontaneous, but directed, controlled.
More over, this feeling lasts only in the beginning.
Some people contacted me saying they kept a positive feeling leaving
the sect very early. Personally, I had good moments and I met interesting
people, but it does not last. These very persons who contacted me said
they remained vigilant about the negative aspect of the sect, which, in
many cases, exceeds the positive one.
We can add to those purely ideological "criteria" more concrete ones
As explained in other places on this site, Sukyo Mahikari meets these criteria
(see the part about the history of the sect in Belgium, the report of the
Parliamentary commission establishing point 1 to 5, the witnesses of former
the presence of a charismatic leader, likely to become an object of veneration
and being the only one to be able to interpret the "orders" of God;
the pyramid hierarchical structure;
deception in recruitment and fund raising;
isolation, rupture from society;
exploitation of members;
use of mind control techniques.
So, if you are tempted to join the sect, I hope this had helped you
to get aware of the danger. I would hope this could help those who are
still in the sect.