While the Buddhafield cult lacks the name recognition of other infamous cults, it has lasted far longer than most of them put together - and largely under the radar. Buddhafield is what happens when a failed actor starts a religious group. Everyone looks amazing, they work out constantly, and there’s a wealth of damaged people drawn to the leader who claims he can make them feel whole. Buddhafiel's enigmatic leader has, at various points in his life, been known as Michel, Andreas, and Reyji.
The documentary about Buddhafield, Holy Hell, tells the story of Will Allen, a longtime member of the cult who escaped in the mid-2000s. Throughout the film, Allen speaks with other former members and traces the rise of Michel, who is now living in Hawaii.
Michel followed the traditional cult playbook of cutting members off from their families and changing their names, but then he took things farther with a series of detestable actions. The Buddhafield cult remains active in Hawaii, but anyone who sees Holy Hell will know to stay far away from its Speedo-wearing messiah.
Holy Hell director Will Allen worked closely with Michel for years, but only discovered bits and pieces about the cult leader's life. Some members of the cult believe that Michel was involved with the "dark arts" and pornography. The only definite piece of information about Michel was that he was an extra in Rosemary's Baby.
CNN uncovered that Michel was born Jaime Gomez, the son of a wealthy Venezuelan rancher. He went on to be a ballet dancer before setting his sights on becoming a star.
Michel's earliest teachings weren't the creepy psychosexual demands of the later years of the Buddhafield. He initially met his followers at yoga and meditation sessions, where each person was seeking enlightenment.
From those sessions, Michel led his followers to beaches and mountaintops where the group did their best to get rid of negative feelings. In the documentary, one former follower says that the Buddhafield was originally about "achieving a spiritual road for yourself, not licking [Michel's] feet."
Michel's followers weren't just working for him or working out with him. They came to the cult leader in search of enlightenment, which he gave to them during weekly hypnotherapy sessions.
These sessions, or "cleansings," were required, and they cost $50 per meeting. In the sessions, the followers told Michel everything about themselves, and many of the men were subjected to sexual assault, which was written off by the leader as a kind of remedy.
Followers were expected to go to weekly sessions, which went on for years. Michel may have made somewhere around $100,000 a year when membership was at its peak.
In the documentary, former members of the group discuss the Buddhafield requirement that they work out to make sure their bodies were perfect specimens.
Many of Michel's followers ate a clean diet, abstained from drugs, alcohol, and caffeine, and worked out up to three hours a day. One member says he can’t imagine living any healthier.
The most ubiquitous form of exercise was a required ballet class that brought many of Michel's followers to tears.