The old adage “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” may be useful to Tsunami survivors receiving attention from some specious sects and groups called “cults.”

Just like in the movie Troy something sinister and/or self-serving can be concealed in a “gift horse,” and it’s probably not Brad Pitt.

In recent days a growing array of controversial religious organizations, gurus and self-styled healers have launched efforts for Tsunami relief, but who are they really focused upon helping?

Do their programs reflect a genuine desire to assist the victims of the most horrific catastrophe of the 21st Century, or are they just there to play the disaster for publicity and possibly some new recruits?

South African Scientologists are using church branches as drop-off points for clothes and other goods targeted for relief reports IOL.

And Scientologists flying in from all over.

Scientology has sent volunteers from Australia to identify bodies reported the AAP.

English Scientologists and even a voluteer from Utah funded by an anonymous businessman are being flown in to somehow help reports Surrey On Line and the and the Salt Lake Tribune.

Scientology volunteers are known for their bright yellow jackets emblazoned with “Scientology Volunteer Ministers” worn when doing their charitable chores.

Scientology says that over 200 “volunteer ministers” are helping in tsunami-hit countries.

In a strange twist Scientology has trained Tibetan monks to help tsunami survivors through so-called “touch assists,” which seems to be Scientology’s version of the popular Pentecostal practice known as “laying on of hands” for healing. Scientology volunteers and the Buddhist monks using their method will touch survivors to help heal their trauma reports the AFP.

Another controversial group concerned about the trauma of tsunami survivors is the “Gentle Wind Project.” This organization is sending its so-called “trauma cards” to Sumatra, which supposedly have “the ability to forgive and [help users] move forward in life” according to one testimonial featured on the group’s Web site. But critics have dismissed the cards as “quackery” and a doctor warned that groups pushing such products often find “people who are desperate…and then take advantage of them.”

Madonna’s much-hyped “Kabbalah Centre” is shipping 10,000 bottles of its touted “Kabbalah Water,” which the pop diva seems to believe has spiritual properties reported MSNBC.

Wouldn’t regular bottled tap water be just as effective and much cheaper? But then that couldn’t afford a photo op with glitzy “Kabbalah Centre” labeling would it?

And then there is the so-called “Art of Living” organization led by a former associate of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi “Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.” He has dispatched his disciples to teach tsunami victims “yoga” and “meditation.”

Hey Sri Sri how about funding some conventional classrooms for children rather than pushing your “yoga”?

Another pitch comes from Guru Sri Chinmoy of New York. His followers are collecting for something called “The Oneness-Heart-Tears and Smiles” organization and say they are now “engaged in an urgent global effort to bring desperately needed relief to the survivors.”

But Chinmoy, who has been embroiled in sex scandals and called a sleazy swami,” doesn’t seem to fit the “world harmony leader” title claimed at the group’s fund-raising Web site.

Mata” the hugging mama guru has reportedly laid down some hard cash reported one news service.

But will she want a photo op hugging her check like “Summa Ching Hai” when she dropped some dough on the Red Cross for September 11th victims?

Meanwhile hate preacher Fred Phelps from Kansas wants everyone to know that he is “thankful” God killed Swedish citizens through this particular disaster, something about their collective sexual sins reported Raw Print.

Is that Fred smiling over there for the cameras with his “God Hates Fags” sign?

Who will land next with the next wave of volunteers?

Maybe some Falun Gongers will show up to teach exercise classes and pass out flyers, or will it be Sai baba the guru philanthropist and alleged pedophile?

Nothing new about such activities by specious groups after a disaster except the size and depth of this terrible tragedy.

Scientology volunteers were seen at Ground Zero not long after the Twin Towers collapsed. And John Travolta seemed anxious for his photo-op when he visited the site.

Then Tom Cruise launched the Scientology-linked “Downtown Medical,” located in lower Manhattan, which provided the so-called “purification rundown” for the detoxification of FDNY firemen and others that worked at Ground Zero.

People are the most vulnerable to undue influence and recruitment efforts by groups called “cults” when experiencing a personal crisis, loss and/or going through a difficult transition. When people are isolated from family, friends, their community and familiar support systems they are likely to be weakened and more susceptible.

Sound like Tsunami victims?

Meanwhile mainstream religious and relief organizations and government agencies are focused upon providing practical help to the massive numbers of survivors such as potable not magical water, medical care and the restoration of basic services through the rebuilding of infrastructure.

CNN reports that this is the largest humanitarian effort in recorded history.

Let’s hope that that these practical efforts reach the tsunami victims before any so-called “cults” exploit their vulnerabilities or use them as backdrops for some photo-op.

The New York Times is often cited for its “politically correct” view of the news, but it seems like the “paper of record” has gone a bit too far and invented its own version of history.

In an article misleadingly titled “Commune to Close” a NY Times reporter describes a cult compound forced into liquidation by bankruptcy as “an enduring relic of the hippie commune explosion of the 1960′s” based upon the “principles of Christian love.”

Hardly.

Instead, the group known as “Love Israel” is one of the most notorious cults of the 1970s, as repeatedly exposed through numerous press accounts readily available to any serious researcher.

This information is largely glossed over and/or ignored by the Times reporter, who prefers to describe the group as a “commune,” rather than the much more obvious and historically accurate “c” word, “cult.”

The Times also allowed the group’s dictatorial leader Paul Erdman, who goes by the name “Love Israel,” to have the last word about everything.

Erdman brushed off any reports about sexual and financial exploitation within the group as merely “rumors” and “falsehoods” based upon “prejudice.”

Right.

The Times does not report the allegations of abuse about Love Israel in any meaningful depth, which ultimately led to the group’s bankruptcy. No cult victims or affected families are quoted, even though talk-show host Steve Allen discussed his son’s involvement publicly.

For an accurate portrayal of recent and past events surrounding the cult see the commentary of Rabbi James Rudin, a long-time expert observer of the group.

About 40 diehard followers still remain loyal to the 63-year-old Erdman. The cult leader told the Times, “Wherever we go we can do the same thing…we’ll just take that right with us.”

No doubt “Love Israel” will continue to control and manipulate his remaining followers in the same way he always has.

By the way, the New York Times calls such control being “like-minded.”

Does this mean that the Times reporter might view Jonestown through such a politically correct prism as simply a “commune” of “like-minded” people?

Perhaps, given this reporter’s seeming penchant for revisionist history.

CultNews previously reported that The New York Times declared the Jehovah’s Witnesses a “Christian denomination,” conferring a status upon the group that they have never possessed historically.

And once the Times lauded Sai Baba, a purported “cult leader” UN officials expressed concerns about due to “widely reported allegations of sexual abuse involving youth and children,” as “a friend of India and all the world.”

Isn’t it about time for the Times to tell its reporters to take more time researching their stories.

In India police are cracking down on “God men,” reports The Telegraph.

Authorities in Calcutta are warning residents to beware of the gurus and swamis who say they have “supernatural powers” and can effect mystical or magical cures.

One police commissioner said, “We will do everything to guard Calcuttans from the clutches of such swindlers.” He added that they frequently prey upon the sick who are in a “vulnerable state.”

Will this crack down eventually include more established Indian gurus such as Sai Baba, who supposedly possesses “supernatural powers”?

Probably not.

But at least in India some attention is being paid to this issue.

In sharp contrast within the United States “God men” like Brooklyn born Frank Jones, who calls himself “Adi Da,” most often operate with impunity.

And then there is the lucrative “faith healing” business, which supports apparent posers such as the popular Benny Hinn. Hinn lives lavishly off of the millions contributed by his faithful, that believe “cures” come from heaven during his crusades.

Does America need a crack down? There certainly seems to be plenty of gullibility on this side of the globe.

American showman P.T. Barnum once claimed that “people like to be humbugged.” And he was attributed incorrectly, as the originator of the old adage; “A sucker is born every minute.”

But despite such observations Westerners often suppose smugly that they are somehow less susceptible to spiritual hucksters, than say people in Calcutta.

However, the facts don’t support such an arrogant conclusion. There seem to be plenty of suckers ready to buy or believe almost anything in America.

Historically, many Indian gurus and swamis sensed this and moved to the United States. Swami Satchidananda, Yogi Bhajan and Bhagwhan Shree Rajneesh are three examples of such migrating “God men” who marketed their “supernatural powers” in the United States.

Books have been written about the “vulnerable state” of many Western spiritual seekers visiting India such as Karma Cola by Gita Mehta. And the more common category of largely domestic seekers is examined in The Faith Healers by James Randi.

NASA astronaut and scientist Brian O’Leary reportedly stopped in at the ashram of Sai Baba, a controversial Indian guru with a history of sex abuse allegations, to learn about peace, reported the Hindustan Times.

Subsequently, CultNews reported about the connection between O’Leary and Sai Baba, January 20, 2003.

Never mind.

O’Leary sent the following statement to CultNews via email:

“I am in India now, with absolutely no intention to visit Sai Baba. The newspaper article in the Hindu[stan] Times was planted by a devotee who had no idea as to my intentions in my trip. It is total disinformation. I have never been, and am not, a devotee of Sai Baba. About ten years ago, I visited him to observe his Siddha powers from the point of view of a scientist.”

OK.

The astronaut will actually lecture at the Neyyar Dam Sivananda yoga ashram.

It seems that some people once interested in Sai Baba have lost their interest.

Maybe that’s because where there is so much smoke, a fire might be burning? Sai Baba’s supposed “Siddha powers” seem to have consumed him.

Brian O’Leary once was devoted to the exploration of Mars through the NASA Apollo program. But now he seems to be more interested in the “New Age” than the Space Age.

The former astronaut was a recent drop-in at an Indian guru’s ashram, where he went for insights about how “to bring about peace,” reports The Hindustan Times.

O’Leary apparently now likes to orbit Satya Sai Baba, a purported “cult leader” with a sordid history of sex abuse allegations, which at times involved the teenage children of his followers.

Baba is prominently mentioned in O’Leary’s book “The Second Coming of Science.”

But the guru appears more interested in teenage boys than either science or world peace.

While in India O’Leary also met with an advocate of “free energy technology.” This theory is based upon somehow extracting energy from outer space.

However, according to allegations about Baba, the guru has focused upon creating “kundalini” energy within inner space through sex acts. This is probably not the “energy” source O’Leary is searching for.

The former NASA scientist-astronaut has an impressive resume that includes a Ph.D., teaching at Cornell, Princeton, UC Berkely and acting as an advisor to presidential candidates.

But a closer look also reveals that he has been on somewhat strange personal trek that began in the 70s.

According to one interview O’Leary’s journey includes involvement in mass marathon training with a controversial group called Lifespring and a litany of fringe theories about crop circles, “morphic resonance” and UFOs.

The fatuous interviewer referred to O’Leary as a “modern day scientific prophet” who “has tapped into cosmic energy.”

OK. But it looks like this Ph.D. has moved from hard science to something considerably softer, what many might see as “pseudo-science.”

Brian O’Leary certainly has the right to believe and talk about whatever he wants, but it seems the scientist should do more careful research about the gurus he is apparently willing to promote through his work.

Note: Brian O’Leary later denied he recently visited Sai Baba.

Without so much as a mention of the controversy that swirls around purported “cult leader” Sai Baba, Keith Bradsher of the New York Times proclaims the accused pedophile and sexual predator “A Friend in India to all the world.”

Huh?

The President of India did drop in at the guru’s ashram for a “blessing” and Bradsher dutifully reported about the visit. However, should a politician’s gesture to a prominent constituent be any reason to ignore the man’s sordid history?

Supoosed “holy man” Sai Baba does have a large following and controls millions of dollars through his charities, but according to numerous first-hand accounts he also likes to practice “sexual healing” on boys.

Only last year UNESCO cancelled its co-sponsorship of a conference with the guru saying it was “deeply concerned about widely reported allegations of sexual abuse involving youth and children that have been leveled at the leader.”

Like many other gurus that are often called “cult leaders,” Sai Baba has his share of celebrity admirers. His list includes Isaac Tigrett, co-founder of the Hard Rock Cafe and Sarah Ferguson, Prince Andrew’s former wife.

The London Daily Telegraph and India Today magazine have reported extensively about Sai Baba sexual proclivities, which apparently includes the children of his followers.

A former Swedish film star, Conny Larsson alleged the guru regularly performed oral sex on him and asked for it in return. This was somehow a spiritual effort to correct the Swede’s “kundalini” energy.

Right.

Three suicides have been linked to Sai Baba, one was an alleged victim of the guru’s sexual abuse.

How could the New York Times, often called the “paper of record,” overlook all this information?

The burgeoning growth industry of self-improvement within the United States continues to include exotic spiritual mentors. And India has been a fount for a litany of purported “gurus,” “swamis,” “yogis” and other would-be “god-men” that have enthralled Americans.

But in India such supposedly “spiritual” types are increasingly seen as simply tricksters or confidence men. And the police in Bombay are busting them, reports Reuters.

One Indian official who has exposed more than a few explained, “[Our] campaign is meant to be an eye-opener. We want to put a complete stop to those posing as god-men.”

But in the United States the First Amendment precludes putting a “complete stop” to any “religious” endeavor. So many of the “god-men” of India have immigrated to a more open market. After all, why work Bombay when you can come to America and make the big bucks?

Since the sixties a virtual wave of Indian gurus has washed upon the shores of North America. And seemingly gullible Americans have proven over and over again that they are willing to buy the wares of these “god-men” and a few “god-women” too.

The list of such spiritual entrepreneurs keeps growing.

There was Swami Satchidananda (now deceased), Guru Sri Chinmoy (still carrying on in Queens New York), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (perhaps the richest guru on earth), Guru Maharaji (a boy wonder), Swami Prabhupada (deceased founder of “Krishna Consciousness”), Sai Baba, Swami Muktananda (deceased founder of Siddha), Yogi Bhajan of 3HO, Swami Rama and let’s not forget the notorious Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who was deported before he died.

A new female “guru” is breaking into the American market named “Chalanda Sai Ma.” She is apparently a former pupil of Sai Baba and others, but is now touring solo.

Of course the United States appears to have plenty of homegrown flim flam, which includes an assortment of psychics, faith healers, mediums and even snake handlers. And American authorities are often far less vigilant than their Indian counterparts, when it comes to protecting the public.

Still, despite easily accessible homegrown holy men, there seems to be something about flowing saffron robes, mantras and exotic India that exicites the imagination of many within the US spiritual marketplace. Many “god-men” seem to know how to tap into that market, or that is, turn on the tap to cash in.

The historic success of Indian gurus in the US seems to have inspired a growing list of American wannabes that have taken on Indian names and titles.

Frank Jones from Brooklyn is now “god-man Adi Da,” Fred Lenz was called “Zen Master Rama,” a former New York housewife Joyce Green calls herself “Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati,” Mike Shoemaker became “Swami Chetananada” and Donald Waters became “Swami Kriyananda,” just to name a few.

Some of the “god-men” have turned out to have feet of clay. There have been several scandals and a few lawsuits regarding sexual misconduct and other allegations.

The old consumer adage “buyer beware” seems to be equally appropriate advice within the spiritual marketplace.

One Indian activist intent upon exposing “god-men” as simply con-men said, “It’s easy money — without any investment. As long as fear exists among people such god-men will thrive.”