This photograph of a palm tree in a circle of sand at the Church of Scientology’s HQ at Gilman Hot Springs, in the California desert, doesn’t look unusual at first glance.
But there is more to it than meets the eye.
Before we explain what we’ve been told is actually going on inside those concentric circles of raked sand, click on the photo to enlarge it, and see if you can figure out what’s happening:
The key to the image, which was published on this bulletin board for ex-Scientologists, can be found on the upper rim of the circle. It appears to be a lone figure wearing a white shirt, making his or her way around the edge of the sand. Here’s a closeup:
According to three people we spoke to, like Sinar Parman, the former chef for both church leader David Miscavige and the late church founder, L. Ron Hubbard, this sand circle was used as a punishment for Scientologists who fell out of favour with the church’s hierarchy.
The church denies these claims and says the circle is a spiritual exercise (see its full statement below).
Parman claims the punishment required Scientologists to run around the tree for hours at a time. He told us in an email:
[It] is commonly referred to as the “running program” or renamed “Cause Resurgence Rundown”. … A rundown is a set of processes, usually in form of questions on the e meter in order to achieve a certain spiritual achievement. In this case it’s a physical action of running around a “pole” in the photo — a palm tree, to achieve a spiritual goal. It fits the term of “auditing” which has the goal of improvement of one’s spiritual being. It is supposed to be beneficial, spiritually.
However, David Miscavige perverted this and had people run around in very hot unbearable conditions and without the proper physical conditioning, nor proper shoes and thus transformed it to a form of punishment and abuse/cruelty. I have not done this rundown, but per accounts from those who did it, one is supposed to do it for 5 hours per day minimum and there were those who did it full time — the whole day except for meal times. This was applied to those who “messed up” or removed from their jobs, not those who are doing well as a reward.
The Church of Scientology insists this is not a punishment. A spokesperson told us:
The picture shows a person running on a well manicured running track in a lushly landscaped area. I even see a seating area with what looks like wooden benches. The person running is participating in a spiritual program which is part of the Scientology religion and covered in our Scripture. Many members of the Church choose to do this program voluntarily and for his or her spiritual fulfillment. This particular picture has been floating around the internet for years and is not news.
Mark Bunker, a film director who is making a documentary about the church, also told us this is a picture of Scientology’s running program. The alleged running program punishment has been discussed by ex-Scientologists before (you can read descriptions of it here and here and here.) But this photo is perhaps the only image of the alleged program being carried out.
The sand circle no longer exists, but you can see where it used to be in the lower left quadrant of this image of Scientology’s HQ from Google Earth:
Photo: Google Earth
Here’s another view, showing the circle where unmanicured grass is now struggling to grow:
Photo: Google Earth
The circle at Gilman Hot Springs was thought to have been abandoned around 2010. But according to Parman and Bunker, the running program continues to exist inside the church. Both sources told us that at the church’s building in Clearwater, Fla., an indoor circle has been built for a similar purpose.
Karen de La Carriere, a former Scientologist who is now a dealer in Thomas Kinkade paintings, claims she experienced the punishment in 1982, at Clearwater. “For four months of my life I had to run around a pole. it’s supposed to be a spiritual enlightening tool, theoretically,” she said. She claims she was punished after being falsely accused of funelling money out of the church.
“Your knees start buckling, your ankles swell but … you’re made to do this 12 hours a day. Even if you’re in pain or stumbling.”
“The punishment ended when I claimed I had good wins, good enlightenment … you have to write a success story … saying all these great things happened to you, you’re very, very happy and you want others to get the gains you had.”
“I would have written anything to get off the program. That was the only way out.”
UPDATE: Here’s a video of a man on the circle in 2009, running in 94F heat (skip to 4.20):
Here’s the church’s full statement on this issue, from spokesperson Karin Pouw:
As anyone can see, it is obviously not “a Scientologist being punished in the desert” and such a statement would be defamatory. The picture shows a person running on a well manicured running track in a lushly landscaped area. I even see a seating area with what looks like wooden benches. The person running is participating in a spiritual program which is part of the Scientology religion and covered in our Scripture. Many members of the Church choose to do this program voluntarily and for his or her spiritual fulfillment. This particular picture has been floating around the internet for years and is not news.
Your question reflects a lack of religious tolerance that is, unfortunately, all too common in some media sources. Scientology is a relatively new religion and, while our religious practices are not as well known as other more established religions, we are seeking spiritual salvation. We work hard to answer common questions and put the information on our website at www.scientology.org and also our media centre at www.scientologynews.org.
But back to the picture: there is no story here and I suspect you are being told wild stories from a small group of apostates who only seek to infect media with false and sensational allegations in order to further their religious-hate agenda. If you were given a picture of someone taking Communion from a Catholic apostate would that be “a Catholic being punished through forced feeding?” And would that be something the Business Insider would publish?
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