Tuesday, January 02, 2007

It's hard to research small religions

I've just had a curious experience trying to google info about a religious organization called FISU (the Foundation for International Spiritual Unfoldment). They have a brand new Wikipedia page, all created by one person, and I wondered if it was basically an advertisement for a new group, that didn't deserve to be in an encyclopedia yet. They claim to have thousands of members in the UK, and be sponsoring meditation lessons all over the world. But every reference to them I can find on Google is merely an ad they've placed, on an astonishing variety of directories, going back at least 10 years. No one refers to them in a blog, or in a newspaper article, as far as I can tell. The only information available about them comes from their own PR.

I had a similar experience last year trying to research New Kadampa Tradition Buddhism; they have a meditation center in my neighborhood and I was trying to find out more about it. They weren't quite so elusive -- there was a stink between them and the Dalai Lama some time back, so you'll find articles about that; and generally they're kind of hooked in, positively or negatively, with other branches of Tibetan Buddhism. But if you want to know solid, useful, information from an outside source about a group like NKT or FISU -- how large they really are; are they high-pressure fundraisers or evangelists; how does their philosophy and practice compare to other sects -- you pretty much have to just check them out personally and trust your instincts.

I don't particularly have a bad instinct about either group, by the way; I haven't visited them; their practices sound like they are inoffensive but would not suit me personally. I'm curious about these things because I respect people that put their values on the line and work with idealistic organizations like this, but I'm also wary of religious organizations in general; so many have been tools for abusing people. Maybe there should be something like a Better Business Bureau for religions.

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