Editor’s notes: This is part 2 of an ongoing story. Part 1 can be read here. There have been a few private and anonymous contacts made to us from ex-members of Dahn who briefly shared their experience. There is also perhaps a current member of Dahn who has contacted us and said to stop this story because, “They are giving all Koreans a bad rap.” There is a lot of spin going on with the story of “Dahn.” We have tried to keep this report as exact to what really happens and is happening at a Dahn center as possible. The second and third part of this report concentrate on financial and scientific irregularities now being brought to light.
Recently, I was asked as one who was once part of Dahn Yoga for my thoughts on it. Had the opinion of it being a cult changed? Were there any changes seen in this business/religion/philosophy over the intervening years? No, my view of Dahn Yoga as a cult has only been strengthened by the recent spotlight the international media has cast upon it and Dahn’s founder, Seung Heun Lee. The only difference from my time in Dahn till now is, the addition of new company names like WHO, World Hongik Organization.
The media is starting to answer how a charismatic graduate in oriental medicine gained the skills to create a personal property rich world empire—Ilchi Lee was in the Unification Church—and by what I’ve seen he was an apt student of Reverend Sun Young Moon’s religion. The writer of part one of this report and participant in Dahn suggests: “Why should this matter? It was life in a cult that is what it was. I knew it after a couple of weeks. Just do the math. If anyone from the outside asks a question about a spiritual place that promotes peace; better brains, harmony and understanding would at most send a strongly worded intelligent, reasoned response and leave it at that. In the Dahn world, the world that creates ‘new humans,’ the response was that of threats against individuals, magazine editors, reporters, families of people opposing them. And once you are with them and you get close to them and wouldn’t do what they ask or drag your feat a little bit they just won’t leave you alone.”
It was do-or-die enlightenment. Enlightenment was the excuse, the justification for acting badly, treating others as second class citizens. A former Dahn practitioner at a center just outside of Daejeon said, “Members, often unpopular members who would eat with us in the dining room, hours later would hear their names called out at night.” This same former member who lived in a center for four months used to awaken and think that distance relatives were calling out to her and saying, “Christianity is wrong. Ilchi is the one and only heaven Ilchi is the one and only heaven.”
Ironically Dahn actually did teach enlightenment to a former member: “I guess I went from there to here and for me the German philosopher Immanuel Kant had it right and I paraphrase, `Enlightenment is having the courage to use one’s reason, intellect and wisdom without another person’s guidance. Dare to know, dare to be autonomous’ are direct contradictions to what Lee promotes as enlightenment, he wants dependence and no use of hard, reasoning intellect.”
Listening to different people come to terms with their Dahn experience there does tend to be a hungry heart and yearning soul characteristic in the members. A certain not softness but a willingness to step off the day-by-day treadmill to find something that in the end has to be called, “Peace.” It is easy to find the vulnerabilities in people who show up at your front door because they heard that you were a good neighbour and would offer other neighbours a different way to live in harmony. To live with each other and not at each other. But the constant oppressive nature and tactics used at Dahn centers is ironically not aimed at someone’s weak points, but pretending weak points don’t exist at all. Just continue to stress that your past was wrong and what really matters is the future—The future in Heaven that only Ilchi can give you.
What about the busted and screwed up lives of Dahn members past and present? What about financial malpractice where he asks “Dahn Teachers” to hand over thousands of dollars. There is no word of Lee taking personal responsibility in all this; in his mind it is fault of those with selfish interests, Christians and Korean-Americans who have attacked his legitimacy. This Dahn new gold dream according to its press release is a vehicle to exporting Korean spirituality and culture to the world. Well, in my time there (six months) his control over followers and employees has grown more demanding and paranoid so maybe Dahn offers a visionary product that has been long overdue to be recalled.
Recently there has been large and numerous defections in the upper ranks including high profile members caused by concerns of prosecution for financial irregularities. The trigger for this was the class action suit last year by 27 former Dahn teachers who accused Lee of physical intimidation if they didn’t start paying large portions from their bank account to Dahn centers. Lee called the lawsuit the 2nd assault against heaven. The first assault against heaven according to him was when he was sent to jail in Korea in the nineties for fraud. Korean ministers I’ve talked to warn their congregations accordingly about Dahn and debunk Lee’s claim of being able to offer heavenly salvation or anything else of a higher spiritual nature. We our all of us in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars is true but Ilchi Lee is not a path upwards to heaven.
When a branch of Lee’s business, Mago Earth broke the law over what I view as an ecologically bad 49-foot blond Korean mother earth statue in Arizona, the company tried to get away with it. They attempted to justify their actions under religious freedoms, that failed, so next they did what critics maintain was a less than real grass roots protest by Dahn members from other states. Still Mago wasn’t given up on. Dahn hired lawyers so an Arizona town can have a new erection of a 49 foot statue whether they likeit or not. When it comes down to spirituality vs. materialism, how does a plastic statue costing, $400,000 plus legal fees heal the planet or help us help each other?
Next Lee disappeared for a while and it took over five months and a CNN news crew to have to trap him and tell that he was being sued for alleged sexual assault. There have been other women who have claimed sexual relations with Lee, be it in a lawsuit or in support of another in legal action. One prominent Korean over a decade ago denounced Lee for alleged hundreds of sexual liaisons and other less morally uplifting physical practices. Still, the situation at the over 70 Dahn centers worldwide and in all the criminal courts who want to prosecute have not changed.
In this March’s Dahn announcement, which is really a publicity manoeuvre, Lee says he’ ll be giving over all the benefits of his companies to the teachers/masters around different Dahn Centers, but that’s what he did in 2000 to reduce legal liabilities, nothing really changed in my opinion. Is this current gesture more sincere than the last one? Or is there also truth that Lee has again taken a powder now gone to Japan to avoid legal problems? I was told this man was a spiritual man. In Dahn centres around the world people have been told that according to the UN this man is one of the fifty spiritual leaders of the world. SBS asked a UN official; the answer, no; Lee isn’t in the top fifty and the UN would like to talk with him about making that claim. Will that effect Lee’s comparison of himself as being on par with Buddha and Jesus? I think probably not, he seems to live in his own world.
There are those groomed to become teachers, that means free volunteer work, meeting financial quotas called `vision’, taking weekend courses, getting loans, doing thousands of Buddhist bows, letting go of things be they family, property, non-dahn relationships, long sleeps, hobbies and other jobs. Modern enlightenment means sacrifices for those singled out by the business. Yes, to be “new age” enlightened means sacrifices; Lee gets a consulting payment of a million American dollars a month, drives luxury cars, flies in a twin turbo prop plane, lives in luxurious accommodations and goes around with body guards. It seems enlightenment has different kinds of sacrifice and benefits. Lee by his lifestyle shows it good to be a self-proclaimed modern Dangun.
“Brain Education?” When the New York Post questioned this so-called enlightened system being practiced in the cities school system, it was dropped and New York saved $400,000. This wasn’t the first educational place to do this; Las Vegas had a school years ago that did the same after a CBS investigative report. Could it be Dahn’s brain science is pseudo science as CNN’s medical reporter suggests? How that could be with over ten years of medical research done by Lee’s brain researchers in Korea using state of the art equipment like MRI machines? What are supposed to be the benefits of all this unproven non-peer reviewed science? Dahn has said it can teach heightened sensory perception, the students I talked with don’t believe it, it was play time to them. A play time when they talked about how they saw their pets being killed by neighbours or being bullied on the schoolyard or laughed at by classroom teachers.
No future X-men here, although Lee is in a Dahn comic book promising better brains as well as less stress. Looking at it, I could almost picture a bandaged, black eyed, smiling Lee on the cover of Mad magazine with the caption “what me enlightened?” There is almost a dark comic element to what Lee has done to promote himself and to shutdown the doubts that those around him might have.
As a member of the cult you are told he’s a doctor, but it’s a paper mill diploma the kind you can get in Bangkok on Khao San Road. No solid medical worth, but the title looks good in print to people who lost touch with the reality that a title that is worked for offers. Then there are the city and university honorary proclamations for Lee. Dahn never mentions the pulled or refused proclamations, as well as how meaningless they are as in the case of New York City where 40 thousand in “Honour Days” were issued during one 365 day year. On the educational recognition, no major American University Lee has visited acknowledges an affiliation with him, despite Dahn having said otherwise in the past.
There is reason for concern that this organization besides new-age science is practicing sham medicine. No Dahn teacher I knew had even the basics of medical training, be it a St. John’s ambulance license or any other E.M.T. equivalent. If you injured or broke something while in a Dahn centre, you’d have to leave or use a call to get help, as we had had no medical facilities on grounds. The reality left me wondering how many small “accidents” go unreported in the hands of Dahn healers?
Dahn has sold—along with individual teacher’s services—, vibrating brains (a lady friend really liked these in the bedroom) that are supposed to bring cosmo-orgasms and help children with entrance exam test scores. And blue robe cloak and smoke healing turtles as a medicine cabinet replacement for thousands of dollars. Troubling, but not as life threatening as it might be if you go through the company’s “Liver Cleansing.” I’d rather not talk about that with anyone right now. A friend pointed out with Lee running a fasting institute, the branch must be saving lots of money on food. The only risk would be for people like diabetics if they took the “enzyme fasting.” All this is of course is told it will make you better in this world and right to enter the next. All of this and more, that is until someone starts to question all of this and maybe even doesn’t want their stomach rubbed any more or until someone gets killed.
Has anyone been killed in a Dahn course? Yes, Julia Siverls, a New York City teacher was killed by water deprivation in an Arizona desert while caring a backpack full of rocks. No one was convicted for what happened, though questions remain over the many delayed hours from the time Siverls collapsed and help was called. Dahn took no moral nor, of course, financial responsibility for her death.
Death in the Dahn world has a different meaning. In their “new human” world death means Lee leading them to heaven one hundred years after he passes away. Somehow I feel the direction Lee will be leading followers won’t be up, but down. Recently, a member asked me if I wanted to come back. When it comes to Lee and the practices of Dahn I believe the wisest course for the lucky ones who got out is to stay out and if you can walk away, then walk away. What did I learn from six months of life in this? Well for one thing: if you see, hear or speak with evil, tell anyone who will listen about it, and also I think proof must be asked of in all things.
Three ex-Dahn members and the editors of 3wm contributed to this story. Contact info: email@example.com
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