A spiritual healer suing for defamation over claims he is a sleazy cult leader was asked whether or not he could feel "discarnate spirits" as he was cross-examined in a Sydney courtroom — and said that he could.
Serge Isaac Benhayon, 54, is suing acupuncturist Esther Rockett in the New South Wales Supreme Court over a blog post, comments and several tweets.
Benhayon, a former tennis coach, is the founder of spiritual healing business Universal Medicine and describes himself as a teacher and practitioner of healing techniques.
He spent Wednesday on the stand in the defamation trial, facing questions that ran a broad gamut of topics including nine-foot-tall invisible spirits with no feet, reincarnation, Leonardo da Vinci, the tradition of "ageless wisdom", Universal Medicine's finances, and allegations he talked inappropriately about sex in front of children at Universal Medicine sermons.
He claims Rockett made a number of defamatory suggestions about him, including that he is the leader of a socially harmful cult; that he indecently touched her when she saw him for treatment; that he knowingly makes false claims about healing; that he engages in inappropriate and sleazy behaviour towards women; and that he is delusional and dishonest.
Benhayon's barrister Kieran Smark SC told the four-person jury in his opening address on Tuesday that Benhayon was not a cult leader: “It’s not a cult and it's not socially harmful."
Rockett’s barrister Tom Molomby SC started his cross-examination on Wednesday morning by asking Benhayon if there had been any “discarnate spirits” in the courtroom since Monday.
“Yes there has been actually," Benhanyon answered. "They come in and out all the time.”
“Are there any here now?” Molomby asked.
“There are actually.”
“They stand in this room.”
“Can you point one out to me?”
“You can’t see them.”
“How many are here?”
“I don’t count them.”
Molomby asked Benhayon to count the number of spirits multiple times, but he refused, saying the “rule of my soul” meant he could not.
“I could if I wanted to, but it’s not something I practice and it’s not something I’m allowed to do,” he said.
“Can you please do it now?”
“I can’t do it.”
Molomby also asked when the particular spirits Benhayon said were present in court on Wednesday had entered the room.
“There were some that were present when I arrived, and particularly when you walked in,” Benhayon said.
The spirits Benhayon can sense but not see are nine feet tall, have no feet, and a "crevasse" where the nose is meant to be, the court heard.
Benhayon also told the court he is the reincarnation of Renaissance painter and thinker Leonardo da Vinci.
Asked if he really believes that, Benhayon said "I don't believe it, to tell the truth" – but quickly confirmed that he meant that he knows it to be true, rather than it being a mere belief.
"I have the knowledge of what I am and what I am not. I don’t have to believe in something when it is energetically confirmed," he said.
He also told the court most people have "at least" 2,300 past lives, and that his other past lives include Pythagoras, a female teacher from America, and a man with no children who lived "somewhere in Asia".
Under questioning, Benhayon agreed that he had told students of Universal Medicine that if a person left their inheritance to their children, the way those children spend the money could affect the person in their next life.
"That’s a teaching you’ve propagated to your students and something you say now?" asked Molomby.
"Correct," answered Benhayon.
He also agreed that he had told students if children spent the inheritance "to keep them in glamour" or on cocaine or other drugs, that it could cause a "contraction in my kidneys".
But he stopped short of agreeing unreservedly that he actively discouraged people to leave their money to their children.
"You were telling students in 2008 if they left, or if anyone left, money to their children, that could inflict them with unfortunate consequences in the next life?" asked Molomby.
"I wouldn’t use those words," Benhanyon replied. "But the science teaches us to be responsible with our money. That’s the science."
He said that he doesn't give clients advice or tell them what to do.
"I share the science so they can make their own decisions," he said, adding "reincarnation is a science."
He was questioned over two former clients in particular: a woman named Rita Vone who left her 50% share of her house to Benhayon when she died in 2010, and a woman named Judith McIntyre who left $500,000 to her two children and bequeathed the rest of her estate to Benhayon when she died in 2014, the court heard.
“While Rita Vone was still alive, you suggested at a meeting of your students that she might be reincarnated as your grandchild, didn’t you?" asked Molomby.
"I played around with the idea, yes," Benhayon said.
"You suggested she might come back as your son Michael’s child."
"Playfully, I said that. I said it as a teaching, as a possibility. Not as an authoritative declaration."
"You spoke about it as a possibility, that she might come back as your own son’s child and thereby calling you grandad," Molomby said.
Later, Benhayon agreed that he had told his students that Vone had in fact been reincarnated as the child of a German woman.
"Do you accept that what you were saying to students on this topic could easily have had the effect of deterring them from leaving money to their children and leaving it you?" asked Molomby.
"Certainly not," Benhayon replied.
Benhayon confirmed that his entire family – including his wife, ex-wife and four children – earns its living through the Universal Medicine business.
Earlier on Wednesday Benhayon told the court he had created, but never practiced, a healing technique known as “esoteric breast massage”.
In 2007 he invited a group of around seven women who had embraced his teachings about energy to a treatment room to tell them about the technique, he said.
“I gave them a talk about the history and purpose of the technique and what it meant to women,” he said. “I demonstrated the technique with my wife on the table fully clothed. I did not touch my wife, I simulated the technique above the body with my hands.”
He also said he had used another technique known as “deeper femaleness” – which he said is to “activate what lays dormant energetically” – fewer than a handful of times in his 19 years of practice.
Benhayon told the court he felt “raped” after he read a blog posted by Rockett on November 11, 2014.
“The level of intrusion went to another level," he said. "Miss Rockett has basically crossed every line … the intrusion and the raping of my integrity, the attempt to demolish my reputation and the intrusion into my marital status, et cetera. You feel raped. You feel that you’ve been stripped.”
Rockett, who is yet to give evidence, will argue defences of truth and honest opinion.
The trial continues.