"An enigmatic character with huge powers of persuasion and influence"
Though his organisation purports to be nothing other than a business, there is much evidence, not least from Quinn himself, showing how it operates as a cult.
There are aspects of Tony Quinn`s organisation that certainly appear to have more than a passing resemblance to those of a cult. And the more you delve into how he managed to build it into what it is today, the more similarities emerge. It is clear that he himself has grappled with this question. In an extraordinary tape never publicly revealed before, but a transcript of which has been obtained by this newspaper, Quinn tells those attending a seminar in 1994 about how he sees himself and in the process poses the central question.
"You might say, Am I trying to start a cult, am I trying to be a leader of something?" I don`t know. But if you have any suspicions about me, the beauty of it is that you are totally safe and you won`t line up with me anyway.
Mike Garde, a field worker with Dialogue Ireland, an independent group which monitors religions and cults, believes the Quinn organisation is a cult and says Quinn himself shares similarities with other cult leaders.
According to Garde, the aspects of the Quinn organisation which share similarities with a cult are its strong figurehead, the elimination of opposing thought, the unswerving loyalty of enthusiasts to Quinn, and the view that those who criticise Quinn do not fully understand and their objections should be discarded.
Spokespeople for Quinn`s organisation vehemently deny this, pointing out that it is a business offering a service which people can take or leave. They say that Quinn`s image is used to promote products and services that he originated. They particularly object to the use of the word "organisation" because of any connotations it may suggest.
Quinn`s detractors believe, however, that he has a strong messianic streak and that his personality dominates the lives of some of those who subscribe to his Educo mind-technology. The 1994 seminar espoused a philosophy that needs those who adhere to submit themselves totally to Quinn and align themselves to the force that Quinn claims exists within him.
The seminar is littered with religious metaphors and concludes that only submission works. "If you were to relate to me, by that I mean give up all your resistance, give up all your ideas that are in the way and align yourself to me, then I can bring out all the Self and put in a programme that you and I believe was best for you and give you this perfect life," says Quinn.
Later, he says: "Something in them, which I believe is their force, recognises the force in me and they instantly, quite frankly, would do anything that I told them and there is no problem."
Quinn refers to himself in terms of being a leader of some kind of movement, all aligned to the internal force which he has discovered. "I think that in some way I am meant to work with a large group of people - it could be millions." He speaks of how the force has made him into a healer, capable of making others into healers. "If I can line up enough people with me and keep it pure, I can change the world," he promises.
However, there was some levity. He came across, he says, as a "Dublin fellow who comes from Ireland, is a bit of a peasant, a bit of a thicko, says silly things, does silly things and has these childish hobbies where he believes that he must be faithful to his heroes".
His spokesman Martin Forde rejects that there is any element of proselytising in Quinn`s message or in the methods in which his Educo system is sold. But it`s clear Quinn claims a greater role for himself than the mere jawboning of business gurus who goad you to even greater selling techniques.
"This brings me back to whether I would see myself as some type of leader. There, I would say that my answer is yes. I have always felt that in some way I would be involved in great change in the world."
In 1972, when he was bringing yoga to the masses, Quinn had already assembled a loyal core of followers, some of whom have remained faithful to him to this day. He set up communes in suburban homes in Kilbarrack and Howth, where people could step outside ordinary existence and experience yogic states of being - the different states of existence, past lives, auras and karmas. Two people who were heavily involved with Quinn in those early days say that there was a messianic aspect to him, that some believed he was a reincarnated Jesus. Certainly, it is clear that he spawned a loyalty that bordered on devotion. Quinn enthusiasts nowadays often drive Japanese sportscars on the basis that Tony likes sportscars; they put a huge emphasis on the body beautiful (Quinn is a body-building enthusiast); and use the full range of Quinn food supplements and vitamins. There also seems to be a predilection for a certain type of look with Quinn enthusiasts - one former employee described what she saw as the "women in black" phenomenon, whereby some women involved with the organisation wore black clothes, a lot of make-up, and short skirts.
The loyalty has extended to being involved in many of his research "breakthroughs" – "working under strict university conditions". Three of the four patients who underwent operations without anaesthetic - one of the marketing bulwarks for Educo and described as "unremarkable" by experts - were employees of Quinn they included Colette Millea, and Imelda Farrell who runs the Tony Quinn Health Centre in Cork. The research "breakthroughs" involving dramatic improvement in sales were achieved in Quinn shops with Quinn employees. Some of the "before" and "after" pictures used to publicise his gyms and slimming products also use Quinn employees, such as Maire Lalor, an Educo seminar tutor.
The Sunday Tribune has spoken to six people who were involved with the Quinn organisation, some for protracted periods. All spoke on the basis that their anonymity would be guaranteed. All describe Quinn as an enigmatic character with huge powers of persuasion and influence. Some attributed it to a nebulous form of psychic powers, others to an ability to relentlessly focus on people, others to his ability to hypnotise. "I definitely believe he has a psychic power, a hold over people," said one, who was deeply involved with Quinn in the 1970s.
Quinn himself variously describes this power as a force, an energy, a healing power. "I noticed... that this force seemed to touch off some people and cause great changes in their lives," he says during a seminar in 1994. "I used to find that people might literally fall down and when they got up again they felt that they had an understanding, an awareness, an experience that was greater than anything that happened to them before and it changed their lives. It was as if their personality was overcome by this force."
On his Educo tape, he explains the effect that he has on the people at his seminars. "People speak of happiness, even euphoria, with their minds feeling crystal clear. People often talk about a brightness in their head. Some claim they get an increase in energy, that it feels like energy circulating through their body and going out to other people."
The thrust of one of Quinn`s 1994 seminars is submission to him and obeying the force – "lining themselves up" with the force that emanates from Quinn. Independent thinkers need not apply and it`s clear that the great man isn`t a fan of feminism.
"With fellows, they may want to be very egotistical with me. In other words, they want to be better than I am and once they are into that mode it won`t work because they are making great effort. I may sit down with girls and they are into something like women`s lib and again we are into problems. I reject all these things. I will shock you because sometimes I say to people, `Do what I tell you and if you don`t know what it is, ask me`. What I tell people is, `just line yourself up to me`."
There is no shortage of newcomers prepared to align themselves to Quinn, as testified by the numbers attending his seminars. However, some of the families of these people are concerned that the changes have adversely affected their relationships with spouses and families. These people firmly believe that Quinn`s organisation has had a cult-like draw on their families, which has caused a rift between them and their loved ones.
A former associate says: ÒI spent most of my adult life with Tony Quinn, believed everything that he said. Tony Quinn was my entire life. But Tony was obsessed with money and very few others within the organisation made any real money at all. They were collecting huge amounts of money from the postal requests, the health products, the gyms and the seminars, but very little of it was filtering down. Nobody ever questioned him.
"When I left, the shutters came down. I was excluded. You were either with Tony or you were completely out in the cold. That's what happened to me."
Two others spoke about how they became personae non grata with the organisation once they had left, or were asked to leave. One expressed doubts about the necessity of selling seminars at £15,000 and was asked to leave shortly afterwards. Quinn, in his 1994 seminar, explicitly states that those whom he works with must align themselves to him and the force to which he speaks directly. In the mid-1990s, people who had lived in a communal house owned by Quinn for 20 years were asked to leave both the house and the Quinn organisation - some were said not to have wholeheartedly embraced Quinn`s relatively new departure into the Educo system.
"I am totally convinced that is the real problem that happened even in the organisation I was with - that people did not fully accept what I am outlining to you here. I am moving away from that at this stage. I don't want to do this, but I feel that I must just work with whoever totally accepts what I call the Educo philosophy."