In the Money Corner

How a Berkeley-based religious sect sold feng shui to the country

And the fire certainly didn't harm Lin Yun's credibility. He travels constantly to speaking engagements all over the world. He won't even be back in the Bay Area until October, according to temple staff.

Closer to home base, Lin Yun has consulted on projects like siting a park in Chinatown and a casino in Colma. He was also invited to bless the city of Santa Cruz and offer feng shui recommendations for the town -- one of which was to install spotlights at all four corners of the city's boundaries, aimed back toward the city center.

Lin Yun's church has acquired a second large Berkeley house -- again, worth more than a million dollars -- to serve as the Lin Yun University campus and promote Black Sect Tantric Buddhism. The church also bought an estate that once belonged to industrialist W.R. Grace on Long Island in New York -- a 50-plus-room house with a swimming pool, an indoor tennis court, a banquet hall that seats over 300 people, and well over an acre of landscaped grounds -- to serve as its East Coast temple.

Black Sect Tantric Buddhism is obviously doing well financially, though its income cannot be determined by outsiders because religions, unlike other nonprofit corporations, are not required to file tax returns.

But the lama of another Tibetan Buddhist sect with a temple in Berkeley is nonplussed. "I guess it just goes to show you can call yourselves whatever you want to," sighs Lama Pema Konchog Ghedun Zangpo, of the Ratna Shri Tibetan Buddhist Center. "They don't fit into the Tibetan tradition anywhere that I'm aware of." (There are four official branches of Tibetan Buddhism.)

In fact, Lama Pema has had no contact with the group. "They're pretty secretive," he says.

Repeated attempts to interview either Lin Yun or Crystal Chu met with failure. (Lin Yun won't return to the Bay Area until October, and an apparently perturbed Chu could never be reached at a time convenient for her to talk.) The temple's newsletter, however, boosts Lin Yun's reputation as a spiritual leader of stature, recording his travel itineraries (Taipei, Penang, Sydney, Munich, New York, Hong Kong, Bangkok, back to Taipei, and so on) in exhaustive detail, providing transcripts of his speeches, and printing photo after photo of the great man himself in the company of presidents of European universities, directors of Chinese missile factories, and such dazzling luminaries as Jean-Claude Van Damme.

"Just to see Professor Lin Yun again after so long a wait was like having one's thirst quenched after a very long, dry hot spell," burbles disciple Jenna Jackson in one issue.

An emphasis on total belief and devotion spills over into the Black Sect's feng shui. While Bramble claims, "Feng shui doesn't require that you believe in it. It's like gravity," the Black Sect stresses intention in its cures. Thus, even if you place a cure incorrectly, as long as you believe it will work, it will. "Which leads me to ask why you even need to call it feng shui in the first place," says Bramble. "Why not just call it magic?"

Of course, that's a question you could ask about feng shui in general. But Black Hat feng shui does have a central "transcendental" component, which consists of elaborate guided meditations, mudras (physical gestures meant to reinforce intention), chanting, and spells. For instance, someone hoping to win a lawsuit might be told to perform a ritual Cure for Litigation, which would require that he or she combine a teaspoon of Borneo camphor crystals with nine pieces of ice in a bowl of water and use the resulting mixture to clean the top of his or her stove for 15 minutes every day for nine days.

Then there's all the bad stuff that can happen if you don't follow Lin Yun's rules. The temple gift shop, for instance, sells a set of three Lin Yun videos for $300. But don't think you can split the cost with an interested friend or two; the spine of each tape displays a series of stiff warnings, each typed on a separate white mailing label.

Label 1: "MAKING COPIES OR LOANING TO OTHERS CAN PROVOKE UNLIMITED CALAMITIES."

Label 2: "DIVULGING HEAVEN'S SECRETS IS DONE AT YOUR OWN RISK."
Label 3: "MAINTAINING THE SECRECY OF TRANSCENDENTAL CURES IS BENEFICIAL TO OTHERS AND TO YOURSELF."

Label 4: "FAILURE TO MAINTAIN SUCH SECRECY CAN HARM OTHERS AS WELL AS YOURSELF."

Theological quibbles aside, Black Hat-style feng shui reigns unchallenged in North America. Visit a bookstore: Of the over 100 different feng shui titles currently in print, most are Black Hat-based.

"At least 90 percent of them," estimates Ray Langley.
"Ninety-five percent," says Bramble.
A new magazine, Feng Shui for Modern Living: Secrets of Health, Wealth, and Happiness, began publishing last autumn, offering articles like "Inspired Gardening: Water for Wealth," and "Career Success: 10 Top Tactics With Feng Shui." Clearly, the trend hasn't even begun to peak.

The self-help aspect of Black Hat feng shui is certainly responsible for much of its appeal. Popular titles include Feng Shui: Arranging Your Home to Change Your Life; Designing Your Happiness by Lin Yun disciple Nancilee Wydra; and Kirsten Lagatree's Feng Shui at Work: Arranging Your Work Space to Achieve Peak Performance and Maximum Profit.

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