Sacred teachings not secret anymore
Scientology teaches that humans first came to the earth from outer space 75 million years ago, sent into exile here by an evil warlord named Xenu, according to church documents.
The church also teaches its members to communicate with plants and zoo animals - and with inanimate objects such as ashtrays, former members say.
But these esoteric secrets have only recently been revealed publicly, because the Church of Scientology for decades used copyright lawsuits and other measures to keep them under wraps.
"When people hear the secret teachings of Scientology, they think, 'How could anyone believe such nonsense?"' said cult expert Steve Hassan.
"The fact is that the vast number of Scientologists don't know those teachings. Scientologists are told that they will become ill and die if they hear them before they're ready," Hassan said.
MIT student Carlos Covarrubias told the Herald that while he studied Scientology at its Beacon Street church, he was instructed to tell ashtrays to "Stand up," and "Sit down" - ending each command with a polite "Thank you."
The same ashtray techniques were documented by a BBC reporter's hidden camera at a Church of Scientology chapter in Britain.
Covarrubias - who left the church and now considers it a cult - spent about $2,000 to reach a particular level of church teachings. But longterm members must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to entirely cross what Scientology calls the "Bridge to Total Freedom."
More advanced students are taught to do the following:
"Find some plants, trees, etc., and communicate to them individually until you know they received your communication."
"Go to a zoo or a place with many types of life and communicate with each of them until you know the communication is received and, if possible, returned."
Once-hidden beliefs like these are being made public through the Internet, in books and articles about the church, and in courtroom documents.
Among the most attention-getting of the revelations is church founder L. Ron Hubbard's description of "the Xenu incident."
Human misery can be traced back 75 million years, when the evil Galactic Federation ruler, Xenu, transported billions of human souls to Teegeeack (now known as Earth), according to Hubbard, who started out as a science fiction writer.
Xenu then dropped the souls - called "Thetans" - in volcanoes on Hawaii and in the Mediterranean, and blew them up with hydrogen bombs, Hubbard said in his writings and lectures.
Xenu then implanted these disembodied souls with false hypnotic "implants" - images of "God, the devil, angels, space opera, theaters, helicopters, a constant spinning, a spinning dancer, trains and various scenes very like modern England," Hubbard said in his characteristic freewheeling style.
These invisible souls still exist today, Scientology teaches: called "Body Thetans," they cling to every human body, infecting people with their warped thoughts.
And only hundreds of hours of costly Scientology "auditing" - a process critics have likened to exorcism - can convince the harmful Body Thetan clusters to detach.
The auditor's tool is an "E-Meter," or Electrometer - a type of lie detector that sends a mild electric current through the body while a trainee holds a metallic cylinder in each hand. The E-Meter can detect Body Thetans and past emotional disturbances (known as "engrams") whether they happened yesterday or in a past life millions of years ago, Scientologists believe.
For most Scientology recruits, however, the first step toward spiritual advancement is a course in "Study Technology" - a learn-to-read technique - or the "Purification Rundown" - a detoxification method using vitamins and saunas.
Although they deny any connection to the Church of Scientology, there are groups operating in Massachusetts that teach these two "religious" practices to the public: Narconon in Everett, the Delphi Academy in Milton, and the World Literacy Crusade with a post office box in Brighton.
After initiation, church members first strive to reach a spiritual stage called "Clear." Then they try to reach a series of "Operating Thetan" levels - up to level VIII and beyond.
John Travolta, a longtime Scientologist, reportedly has reached at least level VII, and church celebrities Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Kirstie Alley, and Lisa Marie Presley have also reached high levels, according to critics and ex-members.
Advanced students of Scientology are also taught to heal people with the touch of a hand. Travolta told The Observer newspaper of London in January that his touch healed the rock musician, Sting.
"He was under the weather and he had a sore throat and flu symptoms. I did two or three different types of assists, and he felt better," Travolta said.
Scientology officials object when critics highlight some of Hubbard's more unusual teachings.
It's like mocking the Christian view of Jesus' virgin birth, or indicting Jews on the basis of a few obscure Old Testament passages, church President Rev. Heber C. Jentzsch said.
Instead, the Church of Scientology emphasizes the practical benefits of its "applied religious philosophy."
Scientology programs make people smarter and more alive, Jentzsch said. Scientologists believe they have the only path to human salvation.
"With the dawn of a new year, it is vital that all Scientologists take an active role in the movement that is bringing salvation to Planet Earth. That means moving more and more people up the Bridge," Commander Sherry Murphy of the Church of Scientology's Fields Executive International division said in a Dec. 29, 1997, memo to all new Scientology recruits.
And to preserve that path forever, they have built nuclear-bomb-proof vaults in New Mexico and California to store Hubbard's original manuscripts and tapes.
Critics and scholars point out, however, that many of L. Ron Hubbard's ideas are not original. He took many ideas from Freud and Buddhism - Hubbard also taught that he was a reincarnation of Buddha - then renamed them, adding his own science fiction-inspired vision, scholars say.
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