Church of Sunyata
Name(s): Church of Sunyata
Short Description: The Church of Sunyata ("emptiness"), a cult founded by a mediocre fantasy writer based on a sort of mish-mash of "New Age" mysticism, sci-fi pseudo-science, and self-improvement pop-psychology, informed by influences from a variant of the Necronomicon, which guides its members to cast off their humanity and strive for "True Emptiness" and "The Peace of the Cosmos".
History and Scope
Founded by fantasy writer Ralph L. Chandler shortly after 1967, when Chandler completed work on Mu: A Scientific Approach to Enlightenment, a pseudo-scientific/quasi-mystical book on Chandler's interpretation of psychology, biofeedback, and Zen Buddhism, allegedly written by Chandler for tax reasons; the book proved successful enough that Chandler abandoned his work in fiction and dedicated himself full-time to the foundation of the Church by 1973. Chandler claimed that after writing the book, he had seen its full implications, and realized that he needed to found the Church to help save humanity from its worst impulses.
The core of Chandler's mystical work is that the human mind is a maelstrom, and the secret to enlightenment is to rid oneself of this chaos through a process called "Emptying", with the ultimate goal being to become "Truly Empty", filled with nothing but the peace of the cosmos. His approach incorporated Zen meditation, augmented by one-on-one counseling sessions. While there was nothing ground-breaking about this, the fact that it was explained in pseudo-scientific terms made Mu appealing to the science fiction fans, those who enjoy an organized and spartan view of the universe, and the hippies who made up Chandler's readership, and it didn't take long for the influence of Mu to extend beyond this core.
By the mid-1970s, Chandler withdrew from public view for "solitary meditation", and rumors began to spread that he'd either gone mad, or succumbed to drug addiction; this wasn't far from the truth, as Chandler had, in his mystical research, come upon the Sussex Manuscript, which had in fact shattered his sanity and become a drug-like obsession for him, filling his head with references to "The Hungry Void" and other shadowy intelligences dwelling in the emptiness of The Void. He became convinced that the path to true "Emptiness" lay in inviting these intelligences to devour all our human weaknesses. Chandler's direct involvement in the Church would be effectively over by the end of the 1970s, and Chandler would die in isolation in 1995, his mental and physical deterioration carefully covered up by the Church. Chandler had continued writing for the Church until the end, and much of his writing through the years was in fact used by the Church in its vast quantities of expensive required-reading course materials and Church publications, but Chandler's writing would become increasingly erratic and eccentric until his final descent into incoherent madness and then death by the 1990s.
Still, in spite of Chandler's lack of involvement, the Church had become extremely profitable, and in 1978, day-to-day operation of the Church was taken over by an enthusiastic follower, Brian Musgrove. It was in this era that the church began to attract more widespread public criticism and a bad reputation for its cultish qualities, newfound interest in money, and increasing financial exploitation of its members. The courses and counseling sessions came at considerable cost, and many who plateaued before learning the inner teachings felt like they had gained little of value for a great deal of money. Despite the accusations, these were still boom times for the Church, and its membership grew throughout the world, even as governments around the world began taking greater and greater interest in the church, its profitability, and the question of its actual eligibility for tax-exempt status as a genuine church, while defection by disgruntled members posed a greater and greater threat to the Church's ongoing profitability. This precipitated Church efforts in the mid-1980s to recruit celebrities for the purpose of lending the Church an air of respectability and renew membership from the celebrities' followers and admirers. In return, the celebrities were offered its "self-improvement" techniques and industry networking from within its ranks.
For various purposes, including attracting the celebrities, keeping them in a controlled environment that isolates them from criticism and prevents them from leaving the Church, and boost profits from the Church's lucrative training programs and materials, these high-profile members were typically sequestered in a luxurious mansion retreat in the Hollywood hills, with special "higher level" training programs, self-improvement courses, and counseling sessions could be carried out in luxurious privacy and isolation.
It was from this class of celebrity recruits that actor Craig Steele would rise through the Church ranks to eventually become the de facto public face of the Church. Steele had grown close enough to the Church and achieved a high enough level in its operation that he was able to spend a great deal of time with Chandler in personal counseling sessions, growing close to the Church's founder, and learning the Church's highest-level mysteries direct from the source. After Chandler's death, it would be Craig Steele who was most intimately familiar with Chandler's mystical philosophy and with the source of its deepest secrets and most outlandish influences, the Sussex Manuscript, which, with Steele's least coherent final writings, fell into Steele's possession; the revelations from these materials would crush Steele's sanity as well, but, unlike Chandler, Steele would emerge from the experience without completely breaking, and become the first member of the Church to achieve True Emptiness as envisioned by its founder, the first of the Church's members to be lost to the Hungry Void.
Steele's progress into the Hungry Void as one of "The Emptied" would be followed by head of operations Brian Musgrove, who had been keeping the Church of Sunyata afloat as a business throughout Chandler's decline into madness, illness, and death. Soon afterward, a small core of chosen members would follow them into "Emptiness".
Identification, Psychology and Behavior
The earliest members of the Church of Sunyata were aging hippies and naive but optimistic science fiction fans, and much of the Church's core membership would be drawn from much the same demographics over the course of the 20th Century.
Much of the Church's most profitable membership would be drawn from vulnerable over-achievers in high-pressure success-driven positions, who were attracted to the Church's promises of self-improvement and success, and were happy to make sacrifices to "invest" in the Church's expensive programs to try to fulfill the promise. The Church programs would thrive on these members' cycles of desperate hope in the next level's promises for success, followed by inevitable disappointment and failure, followed by the assurance that members' low level of Church programming is the cause of their own failure and the advancement through the Church programming is the only guaranteed path to success, followed by desperate hope in the next level's promises for success....
A privileged class of Church membership can be found in the celebrities recruited since the 1980s; these bear a close resemblance to the overachieving white-collar membership, except for specialized programming centered around "networking" with the Hollywood elite and recruiting membership while striving for Emptiness for success.
The highest levels of Church membership include members who have learned the Church's deepest mysteries, ceasing to be human as we understand it, becoming instead one of "The Emptied".
Much of the Church's internal jargon centers around the concepts of "True Emptiness", "The Peace of the Cosmos", the process of "Emptying" one's self of "all Ego", and striving toward the ultimate goal of "Becoming One with the Universe through Emptiness"; the very name of the Church of Sunyata refers to the Buddhist concept of emptiness of earthly woes. Church members (especially those in enforcement and leadership positions) may also refer to the concept of "Cleansing" "Infections" (enemies of the Church) by any means necessary.
Tomes, Artifacts, Sites
- tome: Mu: A Scientific Approach to Enlightenment, the Church's founding document
- tome: Sussex Manuscript, a version of the Necronomicon from which many of the Church's core concepts were drawn
- tome: The Exegesis of Ralph L. Chandler, the collected post-founding mystical writings (and ravings) of the Church founder
Allies, Creatures and Deities
- Ralph L. Chandler, founding member; began developing the Church of Sunyata in 1967 (when the concept was born and the original text written), through 1973 (when the Church was officially founded); withdrew from the public in 1978, and remained an enigmatic background figure in the Church until death in 1995.
- Brian Musgrove, head of Church operations; joined in 1973, became head of operations by 1978, and remained in that position until the 2010s.
- Craig Steele, famous actor, "public face", and de-facto leader of the Church; member since 1985, effective leader from ca. 1995 until the 2010s.
- numerous other Hollywood celebrities, popular musicians, business people, and even a few politicians and corporate executives are current members of the Church
- High Credit Rating: the Church's membership has attracted over-achieving white-collar workers and celebrities who command positions of great wealth, power, and influence
- location: Church Headquarters, a 10-story office building in Los Angeles California
- location: an isolated celebrity retreat in Hollywood Hills
- other: the Church operates a small publishing/publicity wing, as well as a business wing, both dedicated to the production, sales, and distribution of the bottomless supply of new Church materials for consumption by its membership
- other: the Church of Sunyata also controls a large amount of property, investments, and wealth donated by its members