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TIME 100: AUGUST 23-30, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 7/8

Gurus and Godmen

Ever the mystical East, Asia in the 20th century produced a colorful array of godmen who attracted millions of followers, brought down governments and even had songs written about them by The Beatles. At the nice end of the spectrum are men of god who preach the secular gospel of democracy and human rights, like the Dalai Lama. At the other end are leaders of doomsday cults who sometimes exhorted followers to mass murder--think Japan's Shoko Asahara. In between is a group of more genial gurus, whom rational folks might describe as eccentrics--but whom followers have seen as messiahs.

m o r e
Dalai Lama: Apostle of Peace
Tibet's exiled leader stands as an icon of goodness

His orange robes and Afro hairstyle make him look like a throwback to the 1960s, but he claims even greater antiquity--as a reincarnation of a Hindu godman from the 19th century. He has a massive following--100 million in 133 countries, his handlers say--and a multimillion-dollar empire of charitable trusts and organizations. Not bad for a 73-year-old whose main claim to fame is an ability--dismissed as simple sleight of hand by professional magicians--to make "holy" ash and assorted baubles materialize in his seemingly empty palm.

At 79, the leader of South Korea's Unification Church is not the messiah he used to be. His business interests have been hit by the recent downturn in the Korean economy. His movement began to lose steam in the mid-'80s, after Moon was jailed briefly in the U.S. for tax fraud. Last year, one of his daughters-in-law wrote a book alleging corruption and abuse within Moon's own True Family. Membership in the church is said to be down from hundreds of thousands in the 1970s to mere thousands. Still, that's enough for an occasional mass wedding, a Unification Church specialty.

At a 1919 seance, this Vietnamese civil servant received a visitation from the Supreme Being. Inspired, Ngo created Cao Dai, which fused elements of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism and was structured along the lines of the Roman Catholic Church. Later the movement took on an anti-communist hue: at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, much of the Cao Dai leadership was arrested and many priests perished in jail. (Ngo himself died in 1926.) Nonetheless, the church claims to have 2 million followers. Like Ngo, many of them commune with "superior spirits"--Victor Hugo, Shakespeare and Sun Yat-sen among them.

The small, bearded Hindu holy man turned The Beatles on to spiritualism in 1967 and made "guru" a household word in the West. The Fab Four quickly tired of him--John Lennon dismissed him as a "lecherous womanizer," and wrote Sexy Sadie in his dishonor--but the resulting publicity did the Maharishi more good than harm. He went on to propagate Transcendental Meditation, a stress-reduction technique that, he claims, can make people levitate. The proceeds from TM schools worldwide are said to run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Now 81, the Maharishi plans to build the world's tallest building somewhere in India. Even godmen, it seems, like to be closer to God.

The Most Influential Asians of the Century

Asians of the Century
A cavalcade of towering individuals and a newly awakened populace

Why Adam Smith Would Love Asia
Asia has been the proving ground for global capitalism

Ending Silence
Asian women are celebrating hard-won triumphs

Embrace the wisdom of democracy and capitalism

t h e  l i s t

Ho Chi Minh
Pol Pot
Issey Miyake
Daisuke Inoue
Rabindranath Tagore
Sun Yat-sen
Mohandas Gandhi
Mao Zedong
Lee Kuan Yew
Deng Xiaoping
Corazon Aquino
Park Chung Hee
Eiji Toyoda
King Rama
Akira Kurosawa
Dalai Lama
Akio Morita

This edition's table of contents



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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