‘Holy Hell:’ Life Inside a South Austin Cult

A new documentary from an ex-cult member looks at the Buddhafield commune in South Austin that manipulated its members into staying: “We were family and if someone was unhappy and wanting to leave, people would talk you out of it and The Teacher would talk you out of it.”

By Alex DailyDecember 26, 2016 9:30 am|

This story originally aired on July 19, 2016.

For decades, South Austin has been at the center of Austin’s weird – where hippies live, where clothing rules at public swimming hole Barton Springs are lax, and, for 14 years, where the Buddhafield cult was based.

Will Allen was the group’s unofficial videographer. Now, years after leaving the cult, Allen made a documentary that uncovers the complexities of cult and its narcissistic spiritual leader – a man known as Andreas, Michel and, sometimes, The Teacher.

Allen says their leader was a master at undercover. “We were all directed to be very, very secretive,” he says, “so we could never talk about ourselves to anybody.”

Back in the 1980s, Allen’s sister, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, introduced him to her meditation teacher. “I found a lot of peace and happiness and joy and love in that room,” he says.

He got more involved with the group and as his commitment deepened, Allen says his other priorities fell by the wayside. “Pretty soon, you’re being isolated from other people,” he says. “You’re being told to only listen to one person.”

His intuition would occasionally indicate to him that things didn’t feel right, but as part of a religious group, Allen says they were taught not to question the group’s views and practices. “You’re supposed to believe and trust and not doubt,” he says. “That kept us there for a long time… I would ignore my impulses to leave and I think a lot of us did. We kept each other there. We were family and if someone was unhappy and wanting to leave, people would talk you out of it and The Teacher would talk you out of it.”

The group dynamic and the leader’s hypnosis sessions would keep people from acting on the urge to leave.

“There were a lot of games being played there, a lot of manipulation.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Post by Hannah McBride.