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Dec 22, 2020

On this special episode, Melissa explores the phenomenon of outlier religious or alternative followings – otherwise known as cults.  At the center of this fascinating discussion, Melissa focuses on the still-operating community known as  Buddhafield – currently situated in Hawaii.  The cult is the subject of the 2016 documentary “Holy Hell,” which was made by former cult member Will Allen, with footage taken mostly from his years as the Buddahfield’s official documentarian.  Started in the 1980s by an out-of-work actor named Jaime Gomez (who soon thereafter changed his name to “Michel, Andreas, The Teacher or Reyji”) as a sort of hybrid of Eastern and Western new age philosophies, Buddhafield attracted kindred souls in the often-vacuous and lonely landscape of West Hollywood.  Gomez’ followers tended to be young and beautiful – encouraged to wear as little clothing as possible (the leader himself was known for years to wear nothing but a speedo) and to remain celibate.  Which, it turns out, is a difficult thing to hold onto if you’re half-naked, young and beautiful and surrounded by nothing but other half-naked young and beautiful people.  So ridiculous was the hypocrisy that cult members began to refer Buddhafield as “Bootiefield.”  But there were darker aspects to life within the cult – as his cult grew, Gomez gradually began to consider himself God incarnate.  His followers became servants – opening every door, carrying chairs on their backs so he could sit whenever he pleased.  But even darker were the allegations from former members of emotional and sexual abuse by “The Teacher,” allegations which were consistently denied by Gomez and remaining cult members alike.  In the meantime, the lighthearted, freewheeling spirit that had attracted so many to him began to drain from the cult leader as he became more of a shadow of a person and only a shell of a man.  As she discusses the incredibly compelling history of Buddhafield, its move from California to Texas and then finally to Hawaii (where it still exists as a much smaller, but still devoted, cult), Melissa explores her own relationships with current and former members of alternative spiritual compulsions (i.e. cults) as well as age-old questions as to what attracts (almost always) educated, intelligent and creative people to the prison of cult life.