The Affirmation of Charismatic Authority

The Case of the True Buddha School


  • J. Gordon Melton Institute for the Study of American Religion



Buddhism, True Buddha School,


The True Buddha School (TBS) is one of a set of new expressions of Buddhism that have arisen in Taiwan in the decades since World War II. It is a version of Esoteric Buddhism, following a path much closer to Tibetan Buddhism, rather than either the Ch'an or Pure Land Buddhisms that have dominated Chinese Buddhist groups for the past few centuries. It is headed by Lu Sheng-yen (b.1945) who began his religious career as an independent Daoist spiritual counsellor in Taichung, the large city in the centre of this island nation. In this paper I will introduce the True Buddha School and discuss this movement in relation to theories of charismatic leadership.

Author Biography

J. Gordon Melton, Institute for the Study of American Religion

Originally from Birmingham, the Reverend Dr Melton graduated from Birmingham Southern College in 1964 with a B.A. degree then completed theological studies at Garrett Theological Seminary (M.Div) in 1968. Ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church in the same year he has since served several pastorships J. Gordon Melton received his Ph.D. in the History and Literature of Religions in 1975 at Northwestern University after having surveyed over 800 religious groups functioning in the United States at that time. He has authored over 25 books including Encyclopedia of American Religions, Biographical Dictionary of American Cult and Sect Leaders, Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, and the New Age Almanac. He is presently the director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion. As his wikipedia entry notes (, Dr Melton’s encyclopaedic knowledge also encompasses a strong enthusiasm for vampire studies. Dr Melton has recently become fascinated with the religious life of Taiwan and has completed extensive research on the True Buddha School for a forthcoming book planned with Constance A. Jones. Dr Melton hopes to visit Australia in early 2008.


Barker, Eileen 1993 Charismatization: The Social Production of ‘an Ethos Propitious to the Mobilization of Sentiments’. In Secularization, Rationalization, and Sectarianism: Essays in Honor of Bryan R. Wilson, edited by Eileen Barker, James A. Beckford, and Karel Dobbelaere, 181-201. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Ching Kung n.d. Dharma Drum Mountain. Dharma Drum Mountain, Jinshan, Taiwan 1998 To Understand Buddhism: The Collected Works of Venerable Master Chin Kung. The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation, Taipei.

Tilling the Soil, Planting Good Seeds: The 20th Anniversary of Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies. Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, Jinshan, Taiwan.

Ching Yu-Ing 1995 Master of Love and Mercy: Cheng Yen. Blue Dolphin Publishing, Berkeley, CA.

Dawson, Lorne 1998 Comprehending Cults: The Sociology of New Religious Movements. Oxford University Press, Toronto.

Fu Chi-ying 1996 Handing Down the Light: The Biography of Venerable Master Hsing Yun. Hsi Lai University Press, Hacienda Heights, XCA.

Galanter, Marc 1989 Cults: Faith, Healing and Coercion. Oxford University Press, New York.

Goddard, William G. 1966 Formosa: A Study in Chinese History. Macmillan, London.

Introduction to Dao n.d. Taipei, Tsu Kwang, Jordan, David K., and Daniel L. Overmyer 1986 The Flying Phoenix: Aspects of Chinese Sectarianism in Taiwan. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Kaulbach, B., and B. Proksch 1984 Arts and Culture in Taiwan. Southern Materials, Taipei.

Lian Lian 1998 A Friendly Visit from his Holiness Orgyen Kusum Lingpa. Purple Lotus Journal, 9 September: 2.

Lin April C.J., and Jerome F. Keating 2000 Island in the Stream: A Quick Case Study of Taiwan’s Complex History. SMC Publishing, Taipei.

Lu Sheng-Yen 1984 The Flying Carpet of the East. Tukwila, WA.

The Inner World of the Lake. Amitabha Publications, San Bruno, CA.

The Great Spiritual Response of Tantrayana. Yuan Zheng Tang of True Buddha School, Singapore.

a A Complete and Detailed Exposition on the True Buddha Tantric Dharma, translated by Janny Chow. Purple Lotus Society, San Bruno, CA.

b Dharma Talks by a Living Buddha. Amitabha Enterprises, San Bruno, CA.

c Encounters with the World of Spirits. Purple Lotus Society, San Bruno, CA.

Incredible Spiritual Happenings. True Buddha Publications, Singapore.

New Revelations from the Buddha King, translated by Janny Chow. Purple Lotus Society, San Bruno, CA.

Household Feng-shui. Purple Lotus Society, San Bruno, CA.

Mansfield, Victor 2007 Some Psychological Approaches to Tibetan Buddhism. Online: Accessed 10 August 2007.

Nelson, Geoffrey K. 1987 Cults, New Religions & Religious Creativity. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.

Sheng-Yen 2000 Meeting of Minds: A Dialogue on Tibetan and Chinese Buddhism. Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Foundation, Taipei.

Tam Wai Lun 2001 Integration of the Magical and Cultivational Discourses: A Study of the New Religious Movement Called the True Buddha School. Monumenta Serica 49: L 141-69.

Wilson, Bryan 1970 Religious Sects. McGraw–Hill, New York.

Yao Yu-shuang 1994 A Study of Two Chinese Buddhist Movements in London: The London Buddha’s Light Temple and the Real Greatest Chapel. MA dissertation, University of London.



How to Cite

Melton, J. G. (2008). The Affirmation of Charismatic Authority: The Case of the True Buddha School. Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 20(3), 286–302.