Ching Hai

Ching Hai (清海)

Supreme Master Ching Hai
Born Hue Dang Trinh[1]
12 May 1950 (1950-05-12) (age 61)
Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam
Residence  France[citation needed]
Known for Founder of Quan Yin Method

Supreme Master (or "Suma") Ching Hai, (born 12 May 1950), is the self-titled founder and spiritual teacher of the Quan Yin Method with an estimated 20,000 followers world wide.[2]

Ching Hai is a poet, painter, musician, self-published writer and entrepreneur who heads the Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association, a business group with worldwide interests in restaurants, fashion and jewellery design.[3][4] She is known for her philanthropic and humanitarian work,[5] and has been criticised for making allegedly ostentatious displays of generosity.[6]



The San Francisco Weekly cites 1995 research by a Berkeley graduate student in journalism which says she was born Hue Dang Trinh to a Vietnamese mother and an ethnic Chinese father, on 12 May 1950 in a small village in the Quang Ngai Province in Vietnam.[7] At 19, during the height of the Vietnam War, she developed a relationship with a German scientist and doctor who was a relief worker: Trinh worked as a Red Cross interpreter in Europe.[2][8] They married, but separated after two years when she left him to pursue spiritual enlightenment.[7] In 1979, she met a Buddhist monk in Germany whom she followed for three years, but his monastery denied entry to females.[8] She moved to India to study different religions, and became a disciple of Thakar Singh.[7] During her stay at his ashram[8], she learned the Radha Soami Sant Mat 'Light and Sound' meditation technique which Thakur Singh taught [9], and from which her Quan Yin Method is derived.

According to an account by Patricia Thornton, Ching Hai's recognition as a spiritual leader began in 1982, when she tried to buy a copy of the Hindu sacred work the Bhagavad-Gita from a small shop beside the Ganges. The shopkeepers denied having a copy, but she insisted she had seen it there. An extensive search uncovered a copy hidden in a sealed box; word quickly spread that Ching Hai had an "unusually well-developed third eye."[10]

In 1983, she followed a Vietnamese Buddhist monk in Taiwan named Jing-Xing. Unaware of her prior connection to Thakar Singh, Jing-Xing ordained her in 1984 as "Thanh Hai". In Mandarin this is Ching Hai, which means "pure ocean".[8]

According to her official biography, Ching Hai was born to a well-off naturopath's family in Âu Lạc (old name for the region north of Hanoi) in Vietnam. Though raised as a Roman Catholic, she learned the basics of Buddhism from her grandmother. After being given a divine transmission of the Inner Light and Sound by a true Master in the Himalayas, she renamed the technique the Quan Yin Method.[11]

No initiation or membership fees are collected from disciples, but the bulk of her financial support comes from Taiwan,[7] where her following is the strongest; her followers in the US are predominantly new immigrants from China and Vietnam.[8] Her Supreme Master Meditation Centers, incorporated in Los Angeles and San Jose and several US states, benefit from tax-exempt status as religious organizations.[7] Ching Hai has been described by Rafer Guzmán of Metroactive as a "tireless publicity seeker". By her own admission, she presides over a "rather big organisation" with "a lot of centers around the world—40 or 50 countries". The organisation includes restaurants and outlets for jewellery and clothes designed by her.[8]

International profile

On 22 February 1994 she was awarded commendations from representatives of six US State Governors for contributions to various disaster relief funds.[citation needed] Ching Hai asks her followers to specifically acknowledge these two days each year, both referred to as Ching Hai Day.[12]

She has claimed that seven United States governors proclaimed 22 February 1994 as "Supreme Master Ching Hai Day" in recognition of her charitable work including then governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, for her $65,000 donation to relief efforts for victims of the 1993 Mississippi River flooding.[citation needed] However in the same year, $200,000 which she promised to a relief organisation after the Southern Californian fires reportedly never arrived.[8] Metroactive reported that it was alleged in Taiwan that Ching Hai set up two front organisations to make awards to her, and manipulated a United States official into posing as the president of one in a public ceremony.[8]

In 1994, the local government in Vinh Long Province, Vietnam issued a declaration classifying Ching Hai's operations as "religious propaganda" intended to "illegally oppose the government." Actions were launched to curtail further activities by her organisation.[13]

In 1996, in an attempt to build political support abroad, Ching Hai asked her followers to contribute money to the Clinton Presidential Legal Expense Trust.[14] US$880,000 was raised. However, the donations were returned when the Trust found irregularities involving identical signatures and consecutively numbered money orders. They also found donors listed who did not have the financial means to give that amount of money. The year-long scandal had a negative effect on her organisation, further damaged perception of the Clinton administration,[10] and rather than the intended "boomerang of international support" for her efforts, resulted in an extensive investigation and a congressional subpoena.[10] The Taiwan government also investigated her organization for "alleged fund-raising improprieties," which included a transfer of $2 million outside of the country.[3]

Ching Hai was criticised in the Western press as "The Immaterial Girl: Part Buddha, Part Madonna," and as "The Buddhist Martha Stewart ... merchandizing mystic from Taiwan."[15]

Ching Hai was awarded the Gusi Peace Prize in 2006 in Manila, Philippines for her work in Philanthropy and Humanitarianism.[16]


Loving Hut logo

Ching Hai supports many vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and is described as the innovator of the international Loving Hut vegan restaurant group,[17][18] now with 200 restaurants worldwide.[19]

Admission to her public seminars is free, but she has made millions of dollars as a painter, author, fashion designer, and jewelry designer. She launched an expensive clothing line in New York and Paris in 1995. Her business activities have led some detractors to question her motives, and she has also been criticised because her disciples are reported to buy much of her artwork, which is seen as a de facto donation. One disciple is believed to have bought a pair of used sweat socks for US$800 because "when the Master leaves the physical world, at least I will have her socks".[7] In 1997, she stated that she earned more than former U.S. President Bill Clinton's annual salary of $200,000.[14] Followers respond that much of the money she makes is used for helping the poor and providing necessities to refugees and victims of environmental disasters.[5]

She offers a $64 catalogue of 50 books called "Elevation of the Soul" which include a Supreme Master cookbook, more than 400 videos of public appearances by the "Supreme Master" and an $8 video of "Funny Non-Saint Stories" taped in Los Angeles, plus footage of "Master's Birthday Celebration" in Taiwan. The San Francisco Weekly said: "Some of the videos have the ring of a Zen koan – 'To Do Without Doing' – while others are as unambiguous as 'A Message From God.' There are even lip-synched pop music videos..."[7]

She has authored self published picture books, such as The Birds in My Life and The Noble Wilds.[20] The books consist of hundreds of photos described as being personally taken by Ching Hai, many of them digitally manipulated to anthropomorphise the animals,[citation needed] and are interlaced with short poems written by her.

The group maintains websites in at least 17 languages, offering in-house news magazines, RealAudio and downloadable MP3 versions of radio broadcasts, and online WindowsMedia versions of Supreme Master television programs for those without access to cable stations.[10] The main website of the group contains a prominent link to the "Celestial Shop," along with the Suma Hai Ching publishing company. Items available online include a line of "Celestial" apparel and jewelry designed by the Supreme Master, along with a range of other items that included, as of August 2010, products from the Loving Hut restaurant chain, and many assorted lamps with names such as The Lucky Bagwa, At One With All Creation, Blessing Light, and Celestial Rain, among many others.[10][21]

Supreme Master Ching Hai International

Supreme Master Ching Hai International is the corporate entity behind Guanyin Famen/Quan Yin. It is affiliated with World Peace Media, Oceans of Love Entertainment, Supreme Master Television, and several cable television series, all groups and businesses established by Ching Hai. Her organisation runs a string of vegetarian restaurants around the world, some of which sell her merchandise.

In late 2008 Ching Hai launched a media campaign in Australia and New Zealand asking people to "Be Green, Go Veg, Save the Planet".[22] Vegetarianism, clean energy, and tree planting were promoted as a solution to climate change and pollution. The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association also made submissions to the Garnaut Climate Change Review advocating large cuts to livestock production.[23]

According to political scientist Patricia M. Thornton at the University of Oxford, the Ching Hai World Society's heavy reliance on the internet for text distribution, recruitment and information-sharing, marks the group as a transnational "cybersect."[10]

The source of wealth behind the group's charitable efforts and its media empire is a mystery, according to Thornton. Like the Qigong organisations that came to the fore in China in the 1980s and 1990s, Suma Ching Hai International adopted the structure of a business enterprise early on.[10]

Much of the media produced by Suma Ching Hai International is heavily self-referential and promotional, according to Thornton, and aims to "build a public record of recognition for group activities."[10] In 1998 the organization staged a concert for donating to several prominent children's foundations in the U.S., while highlights of the event were captured in a coffee-table book. Ching Hai has had local authorities in various countries declare particular dates "Supreme Master Ching Hai Day."[10]

Quan Yin

In 1986, Ching Hai founded the 'Immeasurable Light Meditation Center' and the 'Way of Sound Contemplation' (Quan Yin) in Miaoli, Taiwan.[10] Quan Yin is markedly similar to the much older Surat Shabd Yoga from the Sant Mat tradition which also teaches meditation on light and sound. In 1988 she severed any connection with Buddhism and developed the flamboyant style with which she is now associated.[10]

Ching Hai has said, "It’s not that I invented the Quan Yin Method; I just know it. This method has existed since the beginning of time, when the universe was first formed. And it will always exist. It is not a method; it is like the way of the universe, a universal law that we must follow if we want to get back to the Origin, back to our true Self, back to the Kingdom of God or our Buddha nature."[24] In her book The Key of Immediate Enlightenment, it is said that those who recite her name would become elevated.[25]

Ching Hai initiates spiritual aspirants into the Quan Yin Method, which is purported to exist in various religions under different names, as the "best, easiest, and quickest" way to get enlightenment.[26][27] The method involves meditation on the "inner light and the inner sound of God", or the Shabd that she claims is also referred to in the Bible and said to be acknowledged repeatedly in the literature of all the world's major spiritual traditions. Ching Hai accepts people from all backgrounds and religious affiliations for initiation. One does not have to change one's present religion or system of beliefs.[7] Neophytes to the Ching Hai way may cease eating animal products gradually (for ten days per month) in what is termed the "Convenient Method" and do half an hour of meditation a day.[7] The Quan Yin Method requires two and a half hours of meditation per day and adherence to five precepts[28] borrowed from the Five Precepts of Buddhism:

  • Refrain from taking the life of sentient beings.
  • Refrain from speaking what is not true.
  • Refrain from taking what is not offered.
  • Refrain from sexual misconduct.
  • Refrain from the use of intoxicants.

Quan Yin in China

Quan Yin was introduced on the Chinese mainland in 1992, where it is commonly known as "Guanyin Famen" (Famen is Chinese for method). It spread without notice for several years, but in July 1996, two years before the onset of a campaign to stamp out "heretical sects," authorities in Sichuan found a list of several thousand practitioners of the method in seven provinces; it included many Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members, and some high-ranking cadres.[10]

The authorities asserted that the organization's beliefs and activities were fundamentally "anticommunist", and it was labelled a "reactionary religious organization."[10] At the time that the ban against "heterodox religions" was put into law in July 1999, Guanyin Famen/Quan Yin claimed an estimated 500,000 followers in 20 provinces and cities.[10]

In January 2002 the manager of the Wuhan Zhongzhi Electric Testing Equipment Company was accused by the Chinese authorities of using the business as a cover to "support heresies" associated with Guanyin Famen/Quan Yin.[10] The enterprise allegedly supported 30 Quan Yin practitioners who "masqueraded as employees and business associates." The manager was charged with using the company's offices and buildings as "retreat sites," organizing "initiations" and "screenings" to recruit members, and illegally printing and distributing more than 6,000 copies of "heretical texts."[10]


Environmental violations

In 2004, an artificial island and 330-foot (100 m) long boardwalk created in the Biscayne National Park cost $1 million USD to remove after being illegally constructed by Ching Hai, known locally as a wealthy property owner under the pseudonym Celestia De Lamour.[29] National Park workers replanted between 400 and 500 mangrove trees in the area once covered by the illegal boardwalk. The private property owned by Ching Hai adjacent to the national park was seized by police and later sold at auction to the village of Palmetto Bay, which planned to establish a park on the site.[30]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Partridge, Christopher (2004) New Religions: A Guide, Oxford University Press, p. 264
  3. ^ a b Chua-Eoan, Howard (20 January 1997). "The Buddhist Martha". Time Magazine.,9171,985800,00.html. 
  4. ^ Hackman, Nichollas (13 December 1998). "The Peace Seeker". Los Angeles Times. 
  5. ^ a b "The Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association, Humanitarian Relief Activities". Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  6. ^ Maragay, Fel V. (20 November 2006). "Master of charity". Manila Standard Today. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i Young, Gordon (22 May 1996). "God Inc.". SF Weekly. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Guzmán, Rafer (28 March 1996). "Immaterial Girl". Metro. 
  9. ^ "The Radhasoami Tradition: Chapter Five, THAKAR SINGH AND THE FOUNDING OF KIRPAL LIGHT SATSANG". Garland Publishing, Inc.. 1992. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Thornton, Patricia M. (2008) Manufacturing Dissent in Transnational China in "Popular Protest in China," Kevin J. O'Brien (ed.), Harvard University Press, pp. 189–192
  11. ^ Supreme Master Ching Hai (March 2009). "God's Direct Contact". Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association. 
  12. ^ "About Ching Hai Day". Retrieved 16 July 2009. 
  13. ^ People's committee vinh long province (8 August 1994). "Prevent operation of the reactionary Supreme Master Ching Hai Thanh". Retrieved 16 July 2009. 
  14. ^ a b Jackson, Brooks; John Gilmore (9 January 1997). "Religious Leader Felt Sorry For Clinton". CNN's Inside Politics (CNN). 
  15. ^ "The buddhist martha". Time. 20 January 2007.,9171,985800-2,00.html. Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
  16. ^ "PGMA confers 2006 Gusi Peace Prize to 15 great achievers of the world". Gov.Ph : The Official Government Portal of the Republic of the Philippines. 23 November 2006. Retrieved 11 June 2009. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Vegan Fast-Food Loving Hut Opens in San Francisco Centre Food Court". SF Weekly website: SFoodie blog. SF Weekly. 3 May 2010. Retrieved 11 May 2010. 
  19. ^ "Loving Hut – International Vegan Chain Restaurant". 27 October 2010. 
  20. ^ "The Supreme Master Ching Hai: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle". Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  21. ^ "The Official Online Shop for Celestial Products". The Celestial Shop. Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  22. ^ "Bleak days at Cape Grim as beef bashed". The Australian. 26 October 2009. Retrieved 15 December 2009. 
  23. ^ Ching Hai's submission to the Garnaut Climate Change
  24. ^ Supreme Master Ching Hai (17 December 1998). "Master's Words: The Quan Yin Method is an Eternal Universal Law". Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association Publishing Co Ltd. 
  25. ^ Chan, Charmaine (3 January 1999). "Cult branches spread worldwide". South China Morning Post: p. 7. 
  26. ^ "Soundless Sound – The Tone That Fills The Cosmos". Yoga International Magazine Issue 36. July 1997.  Secondary copy.
  27. ^ Supreme Master Ching Hai (28 November 1999). "Quan Yin Method is the Easiest Way to God". Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association Publishing Co Ltd. 
  28. ^ Supreme Master Ching Hai (25 March 2010). "Quan Yin – The Five Precepts". Supreme Master Ching Hai International Association Publishing Co Ltd. 
  29. ^ "Park service to eliminate island". The Washington Times. 16 March 2004. 
  30. ^ Morgan, Curtis (24 March 2004). "Park removes access to illegal bay island". The Miami Herald. 

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