The Murky Sea of Cult Money

Remember “Supreme Master” Ching Hai? She’s the reputed Taiwanese cult leader we reported on last year. That’s when HSUS’s top (vegan) M.D., Michael Greger, got cozy enough with Ching Hai to appear on her “Supreme Master TV” network. Now we’ve learned that Ching Hai’s international empire recently gave HSUS a $50,000 donation. Is it any surprise that HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle is now a big admirer?

For the unfamiliar, websites promote Ching Hai as God’s "Immediate" and "Direct" Contact. Hear any alarm bells yet?

Here’s how a Sydney Sun Herald article described the self-promoting demigoddess in 1994:

The Supreme Master Ching Hai, leader of what is reportedly the fastest-growing cult in the world, is a 44-year-old divorcee with a penchant for funny hats, tacky jewellery and gold lamé.

As she steps into her shiny limousine, an attendant dressed like a bridesmaid fussing with the three-metre satin train of her self-designed gown, the Master looks not unlike a young Imelda Marcos. […]

A rabid anti-communist, the Master inspires feverish adoration like a kind of deity-cum-rock star among her followers who, on mass meditation expeditions, don matching luminescent hats for the obligatory 2-1/2 hours' daily invocation of her name in a heavenly chant.

And then there’s this from a 1997 Chicago Tribune report on Bill Clinton’s “Whitewater” legal defense:

With a bumbling ally of President Clinton serving as cheerleader and unofficial accountant, members of a tiny Buddhist sect were cajoled into donating $400,000 to Clinton's legal defense fund, a sect official told a Senate panel Thursday. …

According to a report given the panel, a sect [Ching Hai] started and named after herself emphasizes spiritual improvement, self-knowledge, a vegetarian diet and occasionally drinking the leader's therapeutic bath water.

How, um … interesting.

But let’s get down to business: Why is a cult leader investing $50,000 in HSUS?

The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association’s donation is for “medicine and vegan food for animals under [HSUS’s] care.” (Fast forward to 9:20 and 11:00 in this report.) That’s fairly benign, but let’s hope HSUS isn’t caring for any cats (which are natural carnivores).

Ching Hai’s larger, stranger dietary dictates are in line with those of HSUS. She preaches a quasi-Buddhist lifestyle that requires veganism. She claims people need to convert to veganism in order to “save” the planet. (Perhaps coincidentally, she also owns 160 vegetarian restaurants.) Satellites beam her 24/7 “Supreme Master TV” and its anti-meat message across the globe in a multitude of languages.

Wayne Pacelle seems hopeful that the recent $50,000 ka-Ching (pun intended) won’t be the last. In April he even inscribed a copy of his book The Bond to the cult leader. (We’re not making this up.)

“Supreme Master Ching Hai — Thanks for the incredible leadership + vision you provide through the world! You are an inspiration. Wayne Pacelle 4/15/11”

How far off the fringe is Ching Hai’s “incredible leadership + vision”? The Phoenix New Times has more:

The consequence of ignoring Hai's edicts will be that Earth will end up like Mars or Venus, which she contends once had "water, life, and people similar to us." That is, until the Martians and Venusians "raised too much livestock," triggering an "irreversible greenhouse gas effect." She even posits that there were at one time "four Venuses," two of which went bad from global warming.

Material for Pacelle’s next book, perhaps?

If Pacelle wants to cozy up to a cultist, that’s his prerogative. (Perhaps he missed her not-so-flattering profile in last fall’s VegNews.) But we understand his motive: Ching Hai may be creepy, but her money is still green. And if oddball mystics are the kind of supporters HSUS is recruiting, the next stop on Pacelle’s book tour may as well be at 1424 Sixteenth Street, NW.