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Russian cult leader persuades followers he is an alien god
February 7, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
The sheer variety of religious cults and the way people can twist religious belief for their own ends has always interested me, probably because people themselves are interesting.
The most recent organization in the news is a Russian cult called Ashram Shambala, run by a 45-year-old Russian man named Konstantin Rudnev. Rudnev made the news because he was just sentenced to 11 years in a Siberian prison. His religious practices included drug trafficking and group sex and some of his many followers are underage. Rudnev is quite good-looking and must be quite a charismatic fellow as well, as he has persuaded his followers that he is the Great Shaman Shri Dzhnan Avatar Muni, a self-proclaimed alien god from the star Sirius, according to the Daily Mail. He would have been about 22 when he started his religion.
Ashram Shambala sounds highly syncretistic. Its teachings borrow something from Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, something from New Age groups, something from the Bible, something from the Koran, something from shamanistic religions.
Rudnev recruited people via study sessions and over the Internet. Once people joined the cult, they had to turn over all property to Ashram Shambala and cut off contact with their families. The group has close to 30,000 followers. People live in small communities called ashrams that are in one house or apartment complex. The group has branches in Ukraine, Greece and Denmark as well as in Russia.
A Russian news agency reported that members sleep only 3 to 4 hours each day, eat two strict vegetarian meals each day and have to ask permission from their teacher to use the bathroom. Violence and group sex are among its teaching methods. Both would probably have been acceptable if some of Rudnev's followers had not been as young as 14. Rudnev established the group in 1989 and has made millions. Authorities have not been able to prosecute him previously because no one would testify against him.
There have been so many similar stories about religious groups in the United States that use similar tactics: isolation of the new member, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, coercive sex. If a person is deprived of food, sleep and contact with human beings outside a belief system for long enough, you can probably convince him to believe in anything. Rudnev's rise to guru coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union and a struggling economy, which probably left many young people vulnerable to his influence. Even more depressing is how many of these groups there are, judging from Wikipedia's staggeringly long list of "new religious movements."
"By their fruits you shall know them" is probably as good a guideline as any when determining whether a religion has good or evil intent. This group appears to be nothing but a barrel of rotten apples. Hopefully Rudnev will be locked up long enough to persuade his followers that he is a man and not a god.
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