Tag: Propaganda

The Nectar of Not-So-Transcendental Book Distribution

In this blog’s most recent post I tried to make the case that the shiny-happy ISKCON of the present day is not exactly what the movement’s founder-acarya had in mind.

“When he was alive Prabhupada’s desires simply did not include the 24-hour kirtans, weekend chanting festivals, and japa retreats so popular these days. During Prabhupada’s time the importance of the maha-mantra paled in comparison to another ISKCON-approved mantra: ‘Work now, samadhi later.’ During ISKCON’s heyday, Prabhupada’s (and thus ISKCON’s) top priority was selling books, plain and simple. (No one who was there at that time would dispute this. As Prabhupada said, many different times in many different ways, ‘Distribution of books and magazines is our most important activity.’) However, as I’ve already mentioned, that old-time book distribution wasn’t so spiritual.”

Having joined ISKCON some time after the fall of the Zonal Acaryas, I was brought up with a false narrative: I was led to believe, by devotees who were there and knew better, that in the physical presence of “Srila Prabhupada” ISKCON was an indomitable extension of Lord Caitanya’s mercy, a dynamic preaching movement faultlessly devoted to spreading Krishna’s message through the fully spiritual activity of sankirtana, either in the form of “book distribution” or “chanting the holy names.” I was taught to revere sankirtana and its limitless potential for spiritual transformation and cultural revolution. And when I’d been around long enough to find out that sankirtana had at one time devolved into something less than spiritual – something materialistic, hardly more respectable than panhandling and not far removed from a scam – I was encouraged to adopt the delusion that that unfortunate episode had occurred after ISKCON’s golden years, after Prabhupada’s departure.

Sadly, that’s not true. Paul Ford, initiated by Prabhupada as Pujana Dasa, writes about sankirtana in the seventies in his book Mad After Krishna. He gives a refreshingly un-sanitized account of what it was like to be a devotee in ISKCON’s golden days. I’ll reproduce an excerpt below but urge you to read the rest of the chapter from which the excerpt comes as well as the rest of the book in its entirety.

“Selling books was a bit like stage performance. Successful sankirtan devotees looked good. We shined our shoes, and made sure our clothes and wigs fit properly. We learned our lines, especially our opening lines. We also learned how to ad lib as the situation required. We invented and memorized a repertoire of lines, come-ons, and responses for various situations…

“Prabhupada said that we were to collect Lakshmi ‘by hook or by crook.’ One hook was establishing a rapport with the karmis. If, for example, they said they were from Kansas, we would say something like, ‘I’ve got a brother back that way.’ Some experienced devotees tried to create the feeling of an old friendship. If they succeeded, a request for a donation would seem like asking an old friend for a small loan…

“Another hook was to induce them to answer ‘yes’ to a series of innocuous but loaded questions. Then a ‘yes’ to a request for a donation would come more easily. For example, a devotee selling records to a young karmi might begin with, ‘Do you have a turntable?’ Nearly everyone owned a turntable. For another example, sometimes a devotee said, ‘We’re doing a survey.’ Then he asked a few questions and said, ‘We have a special deal only for the people we’re interviewing today.’ Sometimes a clipboard-carrying devotee in an airport or bus station firmly addressed the servicemen as ‘Soldier!’ and then ordered them to take a book and give money.

“Another successful hook was the come-on to the opposite sex. For example, the women sometimes approached a karmi man, pinned a flower or button on his lapel, told him how big and ‘dangerous’ he was, sometimes even kissed him, and then asked for a donation. Vrindavan Vilasini was a top female sankirtan devotee. Well spoken and convinced of the philosophy, she also had a pretty face and an attractive figure. Mulaprakriti, another top scorer, was less beautiful but was intelligent, strong-willed, hardworking, and highly skilled at sankirtan. The men sometimes accused the women of using their physical attractiveness to their advantage, and the women accurately returned the same charge.

“We often said that to sell to a karmi couple, one first needed to persuade the woman. In private, we laughed at karmi men who appeared to be under the control of their wives or girlfriends. In contrast, women devotees knew their place — subordinate and submissive to the men.

“Sometimes a householder devotee took a child, not necessarily his own, with him on sankirtan. By all reports, cute children were worth their weight in gold in donations. By about the age of fourteen or fifteen, they were ready to go out and collect Lakshmi on their own.

“Besides increasing the amount of money we collected, the cultivation of a tough, unshakeable attitude ‘dovetailed’ well with our philosophy. We had all knowledge; the spiritually covered karmis were incapable of understanding the truth. It was natural, then, to try to entice or trick them into buying into Krishna consciousness.

“The ‘crooks’ Prabhupada referred to were techniques ranging from mild deception to full-fledged transcendental trickery. We tried to give the impression that we were a part of what the public was supposed to experience at that particular time and place — especially if it were an illegal location. For example, in store parking lots we sometimes announced, ‘The manager asked us to come here today.’

“When a karmi asked, ‘Is this Krishna?’ in a hostile tone, we replied, ‘No.’ We answered questions according to how they were asked. For example, if someone asked, ‘What’s this for?’ I would give an indirect, vague answer, never mentioning Krishna. If, however, we hit them up hard enough, they would not even ask. They would give Lakshmi or not, and we would move on to the next karmi.

“Some devotees collected Lakshmi for Vietnam War-era MIA’s (Missing In Action) and POW’s (Prisoners Of War). Others said they were collecting for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) or the Red Cross. Other standard lines included, ‘I’m from Apple records’ (the Beatles’ record label) or ‘I’m George Harrison’s secretary.’ Or, ‘This book is about chemistry [or sociology, or political science].’ A book was about whatever we thought might interest that particular karmi. After all, the Hindu scriptures contained all knowledge on all subjects…

“Some sankirtan devotees had perfected a technique known to its detractors within the Movement as ‘shortchanging.’ Gopa, for example, would tell a karmi, ‘I’ve got a bunch of ones I’m trying to get rid of. Do you have a twenty?’ He would take the karmi’s twenty-dollar bill and slowly give him back one-dollar bills, one at a time. As he did so, he would continue to pitch the book. This technique was effective, because karmis often got tired of waiting for their change and gave up, leaving the devotee with a greater-than-intended donation.

“Sometimes, after inducing a karmi to take out his wallet, a devotee pointed to or touched a bill he wanted, say a ten or twenty-dollar bill. I heard that some devotees simply grabbed the money and ran.

“Some women devotees dressed up in attractive karmi clothes and sold flowers in bars. If a devotee got roughed up in a bar, it was because of her lack of faith. Devotees always trusted that Krishna would protect them on sankirtan. In addition, the women distributed books on military bases, especially on military payday. The services were then almost entirely male.

“Nevertheless, a devotee needed to use subterfuge when dealing with people whose intelligence was at the animal level. Karmis were simply too sinful to understand what we were doing. We accepted no legal, moral, or ethical authority other than our own, because God’s law was higher than man’s ‘concocted’ laws. The police and the courts were agents of the ruling class of atheists and materialists. Their job was to keep people ignorant of God and keep the present government in power.

“When we did obey others’ rules and laws, it was with the attitude that for now they were in charge, but that circumstances would be different later. A devotee once told me, ‘When we take over, we’ll demand money at gunpoint.’ Another devotee named Tarun Krishna called sankirtan a cross between sport and war. Tripurari declared sankirtan a holy war. Prabhupada himself said that book distribution was the equivalent of ‘dropping bombs on the laps of the conditioned souls.’”

It’s only natural that an ISKCON devotee “in good standing” will be skeptical of this account. Perhaps a devotee might be willing to believe these practices were adopted by some but not all, certainly not by the majority. Whatever the case, all devotees will insist that Prabhupada knew nothing about this (despite his being in direct communication with Krishna) and that even if he did he would have never under any circumstances condoned such practices. The prevailing narrative – that everything good comes from Prabhupada, whereas everything bad is due to the shortcomings of his followers – is a powerful one, despite the fact it’s not true.

In March of 1977 Prabhupada met in Mayapur with his “GBC men” to discuss their resolutions for that year. One of the things they discussed was the illegal practices devotees were using while on sankirtana. Prabhupada’s response was, in short, “Real point is if we can introduce book, there is nothing illegal. Everything is legal. Now, to save us from so-called legal complication, we must be legal. Otherwise there is nothing illegal, what we do for Krishna.”

Satsvarupa: We made resolutions regarding book distribution techniques. Any illegal techniques for book distribution, that is, illegal according to law, should be banned, including… And then a comprehensive list will follow, mainly supplied by Ramesvara Maharaja. They will include some things like outright illegal techniques.

Prabhupada: Real point is if we can introduce book, there is nothing illegal. Everything is legal. Now, to save us from so-called legal complication, we must be legal. Otherwise there is nothing illegal, what we do for Krishna.

Ramesvara: That was our conclusion, Prabhupada, that there are just a few practices…

Prabhupada: But we have to take care of the public.

Satsvarupa: Things… Some of them mentioned were to imitate a deaf and dumb man and ask for charity, imitating that… (laughter)

Prabhupada: That’s not bad. (laughter)

Kirtanananda: Some boys were arrested for that, Srila Prabhupada. They will arrest you in the United States if they catch you. They have done that.

Brahmananda: That is considered fraud.

Ramesvara: Prabhupada, the points that we are proposing to ban will not decrease book distribution, so they can be eliminated and book distribution will not be decreased.

Prabhupada: Yes. So the real legal thing is: some way or other, introduce books.

Later in the conversation they discuss the practice of dressing up in costumes – in particular, dressing up as Santa Claus, which Paul Ford also mentions in his book – and Prabhupada gives his response:

Satsvarupa: Yes. Also for book distribution techniques, the use of the Santa Claus uniform and other theatrical costumes is banned, not to be done.

Prabhupada: Is there any legal objection?

Satsvarupa: No.

Prabhupada: Then why?

Kirtanananda: They’re legal.

Hrdayananda: There was a great deal of negative publicity.

Kirtanananda: They are legal…

Prabhupada: So if it is legal, why shall they be…?

Ramesvara: The reason it was decided is that even though it is legal in America, in foreign countries there is bad reaction. The Americans do not mind as much as the foreign countries. So we are concerned for the international image of our movement.

Jayatirtha: It was published in practically every newspaper in the world, a picture of Santa Claus being arrested by a policeman in America. We got a lot of questions. Also the President of the United States questioned one boy in a Santa Claus outfit.

Ramesvara: We felt that it would not seriously decrease the book distribution if we stopped this.

Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Then it is all right.

So, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. If it won’t significantly decrease the amount of money coming in, then it’s all right. I don’t know about you, but when I imagined the heroic book distributors of yore I never imagined them in Santa suits passing out candy canes. That idea doesn’t really resonate with the image of sankirtana we get from Lord Caitanya’s pastimes, does it? It has less to do with spiritual revolution than it does with panhandlers dressed up as cartoon characters in Times Square. It’s certainly no more dignified. It’s a scam.

Unfortunately, an army of begging Santas was not the worst of it. As the conversation continues, Prabhupada and his leaders discuss something far more troubling and far more consequential to the lives of ISKCON’s devotees.

First, some background: As recounted in Monkey On a Stick and by Nori Muster in her essay “Life as a Woman on Watseka Avenue,” at some point in the seventies it had become commonplace for women’s sankirtana parties to be led by a single male devotee who “lived with and slept with” the women under his care. These men preached to their subordinates that they were their “eternal husband and protector” and then took advantage of this status to satisfy their own sexual desires with the rationalization that this was inspiring the victims in their service, because “It is understood that the sexual appetite of a woman is nine times greater than that of a man.”

I think you’ll agree this is troubling. Even more troubling is Prabhupada’s reaction:

Satsvarupa: …One of the popular means to distribute books is by women’s party. A party of women will travel under the care of a man devotee. But in taking care of the women, we have noted that some of these parties have been preaching a false philosophy of the relationship of the man who’s taking care of the women, and that philosophy is that the sankirtana leader is the eternal husband and protector of the women in the party. We want that this philosophy should be rejected. If a man is taking care of a number of women in a sankirtana party, he should be regarded as the son as well as a representative of the spiritual master, of Srila Prabhupada, and not the husband of these women.

Prabhupada: Husband, but why he does not marry them? (laughter)

Satsvarupa: Well, sometimes there may be as many as twenty women in a party.

Kirtanananda: They would like to.

Prabhupada: We have no objection if one marries more than one wife. That I have stated. But law does not allow it. So do the needful.

In comparison to Prabhupada, the approach offered by the GBC is more reasonable. (And what, pray tell, is “the needful” in this situation?) At least Prabhupada’s dsciples seem to show concern, if not for the women being exploited at least for the effect that exploitation might have on the Hare Krishna movement and the way it’s perceived by outsiders. And if you’re shocked by Prabhupada’s attitude about polygamy, please don’t suppress that reaction with knee-jerk veneration for the “founder-acarya.Prabhupada made comments in favor of polygamy throughout his tenure in ISKCON, even though that fact is not talked about in his society today. Like his comments on rape and spousal abuse, they don’t get much attention because that would upset the prevailing narrative. It’s a shame more devotees aren’t upset that the prevailing narrative is the only one they are able to accept.


ISKCON’s True History

Details also has on its site an eminently clickable timeline that gives the almost completely sanitized history of ISKCON. Here’s an alternative timeline. (Reproduced below, w/ links from the original.) I think you’ll find that it fills in some of the gaps left by Details’ broad, dumb strokes.

1965 – Srila Prabhupada sails to America to establish ISKCON, Aug. 27 to October 1.

1966 – ISKCON corporation founded Aug. 5. First centers open in New York and Height Ashbury.

1967 – Mantra-rock dance and first U.S. Ratha-yatra festival held in San Francisco, July 26.

1968 – Disciples establish ISKCON in England with the help of the Beatles.

1969 – Disciples open dozens of new temples, including New Vrindaban, Toronto, and Los Angeles.

1970 – Srila Prabhupada establishes the GBC, Governing Body Commission, with the Direction of Management, July 28. | Evidence that child abuse taking place in ISKCON, see VNN.org document | Bhavananda (later one of the eleven gurus) begins abusing ISKCON devotees’ children in New York.

1971 – First gurukula established in Dallas.

1972 – According to Prabhupada’s letters, by this time he was aware of temple presidents beating their wives and child abuse in gurukula (Rochford, 1998, p. 49 ).

1973 – ISKCON increasingly depends on panhandling to raise money. | After only a few years, ISKCON-arranged marriages are ending in divorce (Rochford, 1998, p. 49). | Motorcycle gang attacks New Vrindaban, June 5.

1974 – By this time, the gurukula basically functions as childcare so mothers can go on sankirtan (Rochford, 1998, pp. 51-53, 61). | Prabhupada refuses to sanction any further marriages (Rochford, 1998, p. 49). | Hamsadutta convicted of weapons possession charges in Germany (three years later he will become one of the eleven gurus). | ISKCON-wide standards set for gurukula behavior modification program. (Proposed List of Standards for Boys, public relations files, circa 1974)

1975 – Gurukulas established in Los Angeles and New Vrindaban. | Los Angeles BBT publishes Caitanya-caritamrta. | National media criticize ISKCON’s airport soliciting. | Chicago media report Prabhupada’s statement about women’s brain size, July 24. | Disciples fear World War Three after Srila Prabhupada describes tensions between India and Pakistan, morning walk tape, April 4. | ISKCON sannyasis launch a campaign against householders and women, Srila Prabhupada calls it a “fratricidal war” (Rochford, 1998, p. 49). | Father sues ISKCON over custody of his son, Joey Yanoff, November.

1976 – State authorities close Dallas gurukula, which had approximately a hundred students, the majority of whom were between the ages of four and eight (Rochford, 1998, p. 46). | Jagadish appointed minister of primary education. | Bhaktivedanta Swami International Gurukulas open in Vrindavana and Mayapur, India. | Bhavananda begins abusing devotees’ children in India. | National media criticize Hare Krishnas soliciting as Santa Claus. Santa suits and resulting negative publicity continue each year through December 1978.

1977 – More than a hundred worldwide ISKCON temples listed in Back to Godhead magazine. | New York State Supreme Court judge dismisses Ed Shapiro brainwashing case, March. | Susan Murphy, eighteen, who became a devotee at thirteen, and her mother file suit against ISKCON of New England, April. | Hare Krishna Land temple and guest house open in Juhu Beach (Mumbai), India. | Shooting incident at ISKCON’s property in Mayapur, India, July. Bhavananda arrested (his name added to the list of eleven gurus one day after the appointment tape). | Appointment tape recorded in Vrindavana, India, July 8. | Tamal Krishna writes letter listing eleven gurus, July 9. | First Venice Beach Ratha-yatra festival. | Robin George and her mother file suit for kidnapping and other charges, Oct. 14. | Steven Bovan murdered; ISKCON holds press conference in Laguna Beach temple, Nov. 7. | Srila Prabhupada enters samadhi at the ISKCON temple in Vrindavana, India, Nov. 14. Link to information about Srila Prabhupada’s passing: blowback links.

1978 – Newsweek magazine publishes “Krishna-by-the-Sea,” on the Juhu temple opening, Jan. 30. | GBC institutionalizes zonal guru system, March. | A total of eleven gurukula schools in North America. | Famous actor murdered at Hare Krishna Land, Juhu Beach, July. | Jonestown tragedy, Nov. 18. | U.S. Airport and street soliciting reach the highest point. In some airports, travelers face a gauntlet of a dozen or more ISKCON devotees at a time. | Devotee punches Western Airlines Employee, Dec. 28.

1979 – Krishna kids garland Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana at the Childrens Fair in London. | Bhaktivedanta Book Trust publishes Prabhupada Lilamrita, Srila Prabhupada’s official biography, by Satsvarupa. | New gurukula opens in Dallas. | Airport clickers, August. | Media cover Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold grand opening, New Vrindaban, Labor Day weekend. | “Krishna Hash Bust” reported in Orange County Register, Nov. 6. ISKCON holds press conference in Los Angeles, Nov. 7. | Dr. Burke Rochford begins to study the gurukula. (Rochford, 1998, p. 64)

1980 – Life magazine publishes cover story about the New Vrindaban gurukula, “Children of a Harsh Bliss,” April. | Life readers vote the children of Krishna cover one of the year’s best. The cover also appears on a Bombay billboard advertising Life magazine. | Life prints three letters to the editor in the December issue. (Letter to the editor, Life magazine, Dec. 1980) | Australian “60 Minutes” features the children of Krishna. | Gurukula opens in Lake Huntington, New York.| The number of married and unmarried devotees evens out; about one-quarter of devotees have children (Rochford, 1998, p. 50). | Hamsadutta’s Mt. Kailash farm raided, ISKCON issues press release, April 1. | Hamsadutta arrested for illegal submachine gun, ISKCON holds press conference in Berkeley, June 11. | GBC holds three “full extraordinary special” meetings to deal with guru deviations. Hamsadutta, Jayatirtha and Tamal Krishna are suspended for a year. | Ramesvara removes his vyasasana and writes an essay on guru reform, July 1. The GBC rejects Ramesvara’s conclusions, Aug. 17. | ISKCON Public Affairs holds first international communications conference in Bombay, November. | Pyramid House Talks take place in Topanga Canyon, Dec. 3.

1981 – Los Angeles Times publishes “Krishna: a Kingdom in Disarray,” Feb. 15. | Mayapur meeting: GBC rejects conclusions of the Pyramid House Talks; Hamsadutta and Tamal Krishna endorse the zonal guru system and are reinstated as gurus. | Steve Allen visits L.A. temple while researching his book Beloved Son, Aug. 31. | Grove Press publishes Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, edited by Steve Gelberg (Subhananda). | Children of Krishna pictured on the cover of the Australian BBT’s The Wonderful World of Hare Krishna in Australia. | Bhaktivedanta Village gurukula opens in central California. | ISKCON World Review begins publication. | IWR cites twenty-four gurukulas running in eighteen countries, with approximately seven hundred students. | IWR features an interview with Jagadish, minister of education. (Gurukula: School for the soul–An interview with Jagadish dasa, ISKCON’s minister of education, IWR, Vol. 1, No. 6, p. 1, Oct. 1981)

1982 – IWR cites more than thirty gurukulas worldwide. | Children of Krishna Prahalad and Dhanvantari give books and a garland to Princess Diana in Brisbane. | New gurukulas in France, Australia, South Africa, England, Sweden; Manipur, Tirupati and Assam, India. Detroit starts ISKCON’s first dayschool, breaking the trend of the boarding school system. | Lake Huntington gurukula offers summer camp for life members’ children. | The level of airport and street soliciting in America is less than half its 1978 peak. With revenues down, parents are pushed outside of ISKCON’s communities to find employment in support of themselves and their families (Rochford, 1998, p. 55). | Mayapur meeting: three new gurus added to original eleven (Pancadravida, Bhaktisvarupa Damodara and Gopal Krishna). | Jayatirtha leaves ISKCON; Bhagavan inherits his zone, March. | The New York Times publishes a story about ISKCON’s influence in the Soviet Union, April 15. | ISKCON holds Ratha-yatra in Washington D.C., Aug. 21. Mayor Marion Barry proclaims official Ratha-yatra Day; Washington Post covers the parade, Aug. 22; | The Public Affairs department and BBT publish Who Are they? magazine, Chant and Be Happy, and Coming Back. | Two year old boy in New Vrindaban dies from battering, October.

1983 – Children of Krishna appear on the cover of Hare Krishna Today, published by the Australian BBT. | Bombay announces plans to build a gurukula building on Juhu property. Day classes begin at the school. | The New York Times publishes a second story about ISKCON’s influence in the Soviet Union, April 18. | The Public Affairs department and BBT publish A Higher Taste cookbook.| Media cover Bhaktivedanta Cultural Center (Fisher Mansion) grand opening in Detroit, May 25. State senators Kelly and Vaughn, and Secretary of State Kondler issue a Senate Resolution recognizing Ratha-yatra and Fisher Mansion grand opening. | The GBC expels Hamsadutta at an emergency meeting in Miami Beach; the Miami Herald, New York Daily News, Associated Press, and other media report the story, July 11. | Charles St. Denis (Chakradari) murdered in New Vrindaban. | Food For Life begins. | ISKCON ordered to pay $32.5 million in George vs. ISKCON case, June 17; ISKCON appeals the case. | Hamsadutta disciples picket San Diego temple, San Diego Union-Tribune publishes story, June 20. | French government cracks down on sankirtan; Bhagavan’s summer festivals moved to Italy.

1984 – Mayapur meeting: GBC ratifies Hamsadutta’s expulsion. | Croome Court sold. | Imprisoned devotee Ujjvala lights Charles Manson on fire; ISKCON issues press release, Sept. 26. | Child abuse exposed at L.A. temple nursery school; Santa Monica Evening Outlook, Oct. 11, and the L.A. Daily News, Nov. 19, report the story. | Two boys, four and five years old, die in an abandoned refrigerator in New Vrindaban. | IWR reports benign nature of gurukula (ISKCON children win poetry writing awards, IWR 3.9, p. 2, Jan. 1984) | IWR article about Mayapur ignores rumors of abuse in Indian schools. (Spiritual city rising in Sri Mayapur, IWR 4.1, p. 7, May 1984) | IWR covers Los Angeles gurukula board meeting. (ISKCON’s educational leaders plan secondary school studies, IWR 3.10, p. 4, Feb. 1984) | IWR reports that six boys travel in U.S. with Muralivadaka. (Krsna kids touring America, IWR 4.5, p. 7, July 1984) | Gostabhihari prosecuted and imprisoned for abusing children in Dallas

1985 – Bhaktidayal files charges against Harikesh with the GBC, Jan. 6. | Children of Krishna perform peace dance at Gita Forum, Dallas. | Nirmal candra’s art recognized in magazine. | Lake Huntington gurukula girls meet New York congressman in Washington, D.C. | Sulochan begins distributing copies of The Guru Business to ISKCON disciples. | GBC names Minister of Education Jagadish a guru. (Four new gurus appointed, IWR 5.1, p. 3, May 1985) | Anonymous letter to the GBC describes Bhavananda’s sexual deviations, including child abuse, March. | ISKCON leaders complain that children are turning out to be like “karmies” (Rochford, 1998, p. 50) | Dignitaries attend grand opening of South African temple. | GBC holds an emergency meeting in Los Angeles to examine Bhaktidayal’s evidence against Harikesh (one of the eleven gurus); they pardon him. | New Vrindaban announces $60 million, ten-year temple construction project, media report the story, May 31 (never built). | Ravindra-svarupa writes “Under My Order,” describing the need for guru reform, June 6. | Prabhupada disciples meet in New Vrindaban to discuss guru reform, September. | The GBC votes to excommunicate Sulochan after he locks himself in protective custody during GBC meeting. | Rutgers University Press publishes Hare Krishna in America, by Burke Rochford. | Kirtanananda assaulted and sent to the hospital in a coma, Oct. 27. While recovering, he begins openly molesting children. | Persuaders documentary by Anna Raphael (Ritasya dasi), exposing Bhagavan’s arrogance, airs on BBC TV, December. | Dr. Lawrence Liliston publishes academic papers praising Lake Huntington gurukula. (Hare Krsna kids rate high in general awareness test, IWR 5.7, p. 2, Nov. 1985)

1986 – Mayapur meeting: GBC accepts list of twenty new gurus. Ravindra svarupa, author of the guru reform movement, becomes a GBC and guru. | Prahlad and the Krishna Kids (of Australia) record an EMI album, including a plea to Mikheil Gorbachev to free the Soviet Krishnas. | Lake Huntington gurukula closes. | Children of Krishna in Vancouver demonstrate to free Soviet Hare Krishnas. | Year-long observance of the five-hundredth anniversary of the appearance of Lord Chaitanya, including Pada-yatra pilgrimage to Chaitanya’s birthplace in India. | Forty children of Krishna walk with Pada-yatra. | Governor Sir Walter Campbell meets ailing devotee child Trishandhya in her hospital room in Brisbane. | Children of Krishna meet Queen Elizabeth in Auckland. | Children of Krishna ride float in Penn State University Homecoming Parade. | Nirmal-candra, son of Minister of Education Jagadish and a gurukula headmistress Laxmimoni, is left quadriplegic after an accident at the Gita Nagari gurukula. He begins writing about his gurukula experiences. | The last two regionally based ashram gurukulas close in North America; Indian boarding schools continue. | Ramesvara caught with minor-aged girl in Santa Monica mall, report given to GBC, May 7. | Sulochan murdered in Los Angeles, May 22. | GBC holds an emergency meeting in San Diego, Aug. 18-19, to discuss Kirtanananda, Bhavananda and Ramesvara. Kirtanananda agrees (by telephone) that he will resign if indicted for the murders of Sulochan or Chakradhari. Public Affairs office issues a news release denouncing Kirtanananda’s presence in the media. | Grand jury convenes to study New Vrindaban , Sept. 5. | Bhavananda agrees to quit initiating disciples while he is suspended, Sept. 8; when he goes through with an initiation ceremony, the GBC expels him. | The GBC holds an emergency meeting at the Pyramid House in Topanga Canyon to discuss Ramesvara. | Ramesvara, Bhagavan resign and leave ISKCON; L.A. Times covers story, Oct. 5. | BBT Council cuts off funding for all Ramesvara’s projects, October. | Hamsadutta followers finally vacate ISKCON Berkeley property, October. | Sulochan’s son drowns at New Vrindaban, Dec. 7. Grandparents obtain court order to take five year old brother away from the farm. | Kirtanananda embarks on “Freedom Tour” to distance himself from alleged crimes, December.

1987 – FBI raids New Vrindaban, exhumes St. Denis’ remains and collects evidence of copyright infringement and racketeering, Jan. 5. | New Vrindaban former school principal Larry Gardner (Sri Galim) and teacher’s assistant Frederick de Francisco (Lalita Madhava) arrested for child abuse; story reported in Wheeling News Register, Feb. 11, 17, and 18. | Mayapur meeting: GBC excommunicates Kirtanananda and all of his temples, and accepts the resignations of Ramesvara and Bhagavan. They issue a letter to all New Vrindaban residents asking them to leave Kirtanananda and be re-initiated in ISKCON, March 16. | Ananta-santi (Prabhupada’s Soviet disciple) finally freed from Soviet forensic hospital. | Westminster Press publishes Dr. Larry Shinn’s The Dark Lord. | Rolling Stone magazine publishes “Dial Om for Murder,” by John Hubner and Lindsey Grueson, April 9. | Time magazine publishes “Troubled Karma for the Krishnas,” Sept. 1. | Jayatirtha murdered in England. | California superior court hears George vs. ISKCON appeal. | Bhaktivedanta Archives publishes Srila Prabhupada’s letters in a five-volume set. | Satsvarupa resigns his position on the GBC, removes his vyasasana, writes an essay on guru reform, and grants an interview to IWR. | Temple presidents of Ramesvara’s former zone form an alliance called the Western Zonal Council. The council elects Badrinarayan as their GBC representative. | New Vrindaban holds “Religious Freedom Gathering,” Nov. 21-22.

1988 – A mother writes to Minister of Education Jagadish about child abuse at the Gita Nagari [Pennsylvania] gurukula, Jan. 26. (Dear Jagadish Maharaja, anonymous letter from a mother, 1988) | Mayapur meeting: The GBC admits Badrinarayana as a GBC to manage the Western Zone, including all of Ramesvara’s former territory. Within the GBC, he advocates gurukula reform (but favors keeping the matter a GBC secret). | Former member Christina Mills accuses New Vrindaban of abusing her as a child, March 3. | Harcourt Brace Javanovich publishes Monkey on a Stick, by Hubner and Grueson, including a statement about gurukula abuse in New Vrindaban. (Monkey on a Stick excerpt, Hubner & Grueson, p. 347) | GBC orders an interview of former gurukula students. (The Results, ISKCON Youth Veterans newsletter, 1988) | Jagadish resigns; GBC dissolves the Ministry of Education and forms the Board of Education. Jagadish becomes a member of the board. (GBC Resolution, 1988) | IWR interviews Drista Dasa, head of the Dallas gurukula, and Sri Rama Dasa, secretary of the ISKCON-wide GBC Board of Education. (IWR interview: Gurukula Today in Dallas, IWR 8.4, pp. 6-7, Nov. 1988) and IWR interviews Sri Rama Dasa, IWR 8.5, pp. 6-7, Nov. 1988)

1989 – Princeton University publishes The Hare Krishnas in India, Charles R. Brooks. | Detroit opens new gurukula schoolhouse.

1990 – ISKCON Youth Veterans newsletter publishes “Children of the Ashram,” by Raghunatha. (Children of the Ashram, by Raghunatha, ISKCON Youth Veterans newsletter, Vol IV, Aug. 1990, supplement, pp. 28-49) | Gurukula alumni hold their first reunion, Los Angeles. | Southern California-based Public Affairs office closes; ISKCON Communications opens in Potomac, Maryland. | A minor aged bride from New Vrindaban tells her story in the ISKCON Youth Veterans newsletter, January-May issue. (Gurukula, by D.D., ISKCON Youth Veterans newsletter, Vol II, Jan.-May, 1990, p. 1) | GBC passes a series of resolutions dealing with child abuse. (GBC Resolutions, 1990)

1991 – Householders outnumber renounced members. Seventy percent of devotees have at least one child (Rochford, 1998, p. 50 ). | Kirtanananda sentenced to thirty years in prison for using murder, kidnapping and fraud to protect an illegal, multimillion dollar enterprise; Associated Press reports story, March 30. | Thomas Drescher (Tirtha) convicted of first degree murder in Los Angeles for killing Steve Bryant (Sulochan); United Press International and Associated Press report the story, Aug. 21. The Washington Post follows with a feature story on New Vrindaban, Sept. 8. | Thomas Drescher found guilty in the murder of Sulochan, Aug. 20; Los Angeles jury recommends life in prison, Oct. 10. | U.S. Supreme Court finds ISKCON not liable for brainwashing Susan Murphy; case remanded to lower court on other issues; Associated Press and United Press International cover the story, Oct 7.

1992 – Gurukula alumni hold their third reunion in Los Angeles. Annual summer reunions continue in Los Angeles through the nineties.

1993 – Gurukula Alumni, Inc., publishes three issues of their color magazine, As It Is: The Voice of the Second Generation. | Hamsadutta asks to be accepted back into ISKCON. | Burke Rochford, in conjunction with ISKCON, begins “Project Future Hope,” designed to match members of the second generation to compatible jobs.

1994 – Gandhari studies the history of gurukula in her UCLA World Arts and Cultures Senior Colloquium. | A panel of former gurukula students, including Gandhari, addresses the Devotee Relationship Conference in Topanga Canyon about abuse they suffered in gurukula. | George vs. ISKCON settled for an undisclosed amount. | Gurukula alumni Jivananda commits suicide, he was eighteen. He grew up in the Pyramid House in Topanga Canyon. | As It Is, the Voice of the Vaisnava Youth interviews a former gurukula teacher. (From a Teacher, by Krsna-kumari, As It Is, the Voice of the Vaisnava Youth, No. 5, Summer 1994, p. 12)

1995 – Gurukula alumni Gaura-vani appears in three summer movies: “The Brady Bunch,” “Dangerous Minds,” and “Virtuosity.” | Manu appointed GBC Youth Minister. (ISKCON Youth Ministry Mission Statement, author’s collection)

1996 – An eight year old is molested in New Vrindaban; the girl’s father and other men beat up the perpetrator and pull out his ponytail (sikha). These incidents were never reported to authorities. | Former students from the Vrindavana, India, gurukula confront Dhanurdar, the former school principal who directed the abusive school in Vrindavana. The meeting takes place in the Los Angeles temple, arranged and facilitated by GBC member Badrinarayan. After the confrontation, Dhanurdara continues in his position as guru, sannyasi, and member in good standing. | A Los Angeles gurukula teacher resigns after she receives death threats for reporting incidents of child abuse to the proper authorities. ISKCON’s new Women’s Ministry learns of the incident, but is powerless to do anything. | The first lawsuit filed against any ISKCON and/or ISKCON entity alleging child abuse filed against Frederic DeFrancisco, Larry Gardiner, Keith Ham (AKA Kirtananda)Ê and other New Vrindavan and Vrindavan gurukula leaders. Originally filed in 1996 in Marshall County Circuit Court. The local newspapers (Wheeling Register-Intelligencer reported on the event).Ê | ISKCON World Review changes its name to Hare Krishna World. | V.O.I.C.E. (Violations of ISKCON Children Exposed) website by Nirmal-chandra Hickey and Maya Charnell posted, including personal accounts of abuse and a statement about Srila Prabhupada’s responsibility for gurukula. (Janmastami Nightmare: One Account of Child Abuse, anonymous, posted at the V.O.I.C.E. website, 1996). (Prabupada’s Responsibility, by Nirmal-chandra and Maya Devi, posted at the V.O.I.C.E. website, 1996) Nirmal-chandra also wrote an account of Vrindavana gurukula, which spoke for many victims of that school. (Vrindavana Gurukula, by Nirmal-chandra, author’s collection, 1996) | Ten gurukula alumni give three hours of moving testimony about child abuse in gurukula at the North American GBC meeting in Alachua, Florida, May 17-18. Children of Krishna, Inc., formed to help abuse victims and other children raised in the movement. (Excerpt from Priti-laksanam, by Kunti, 1996). (The Children of Krishna, Inc., Strategic Guidelines, author’s collection) | Srimad Bhagavan writes his autobiography to help effort to gather information about what happened to the children in ISKCON. “My Life Story,” by S.B. McKee, (author’s collection, 1996) | Maria Ekstrand (Madhusudani Radha dasi) starts an online conference called “Child Abuse Prevention” (CAP).

1997 – Manu persuades the GBC to pass two resolutions favoring the second generation, Mayapur Meeting, March. (GBC resolutions, 1997) | Guru B.V. Madhava leaves ISKCON after admitting that he touched a male follower inappropriately. | Muralivadaka resigns Board of Education and Children of Krishna, Inc., board of directors when confronted with evidence that he abused children. | University of Illinois Press publishes Betrayal of the Spirit, including one chapter about gurukula abuses. | Children of Krishna, Inc., report in their newsletter that in their first ten months of operation they had granted four individuals a total of $2,000. | Accounts of guru Bhavananda’s child abuse were gathered and published by Dr. Maria Ekstrand at chakra.org, a GBC-approved forum for discussing controversy. The Past is Not Done With, statements about Bhavananda’s acts of child abuse, (posted at chakra.org, by Dr. Maria Ekstrand, 1998)

1998 – Raghunatha revives his old newsletter on the Internet. Gurukula Veterans Journal website posted. | Gurukula alumni Manjari Devi performs with Madonna on the international MTV Video Awards. | Dhira Govinda (David Wolf, Ph.D.) establishes Child Protection Office (CPO), along with Yashoda Devi. (Child Protection Office interview with Dhira Govinda at Culver City Park, author’s collection, 1998). (Child Protection in ISKCON, a task force report, 1998) | Dhira Govinda (David Wolf, Ph.D.) also establishes the APVC, Association for the Protection of Vaishnava Children, to oversee ISKCON child protection efforts, “creating and maintinaing safe environments for children in ISKCON communities around the world.” Malini Dasi is assistant director. The establish the website apvc.org. | Harikesh resigns and leaves ISKCON. | ISKCON Communications Journal, based in Sweden, publishes Burke Rochford’s “Child Abuse in the Hare Krishna Movement: 1971-1986.” (click here to read a synopsis of this paper) When the article is published in their October issue, ISKCON Communications issues a press release. Media cover the story (click here to see articles): the front page of The New York Times; Associated Press, Religious News Service, Dallas Morning News, India Express, Deccan Herald, and numerous local radio, TV and news stories. | ISKCON Communications issues press release about the child abuse media coverage, along with confidential media guidelines to all ISKCON centers, Oct. 13. (Media Release: Hare Krishnas Investigate Past Abuse at Boarding School, Oct. 13, 1998) | Gurukula alumni Nimai Bhakti Pralad Dasa commits suicide, Dec. 13, he was twenty-six. | Gurukula alumni survey conducted, see results (Manu Dasa made the results public through chakra.org in April 2000).

1999 – Mayapur meeting: gurukula alumni address the GBC, Feb. 13. (Can We Mend the Shattered Fragments of ISKCON?, by Krsna-devata and Shakuntala, author’s collection, 1999) | Bhakta-Visvareta loses his cool in Mayapur, beats former Vrindavan gurukula principal Dhanurdara. (Hi everyone, by Bhakta Visvareta, author’s collection, 1999) | ISKCON’s Office of Child Protection issues its first newsletter, April 6, including their findings against two child abusers: Srutadeva dasa (Robert Kaufman) and Muralivadaka dasa (Michael Mager). (Cases Resolved by the Child Protection Office, vnn.org, April 6, 1999) | ISKCON’s Office of Child Protection begins to look for evidence that Kirtanananda and Bhavananda abused and molested children, April 23. | Dr. Michael Langone, Executive Directory of the American Family Foundation, an cult information organization, defends ISKCON’s reform movement at the AFF Annual Conference, May 14. | Windle Turley, P.C., of Dallas prepares to file a class action suit on behalf of several former gurukula students. | Associated Press publishes “Hare Krishnas Threatened by Lawsuit,” by Julia Lieblich, June 6; Jean Sonmor of the Toronto Sun follows with “Hare Krishnas on the hotseat,” June 14, and “Dark Side of Krishna Looming Class-Action Suit Alleges Physical and Sexual Abuse of Kids,” July 6. | ISKCON Communications pledges that the organization will donate $1 million to child abuse prevention efforts (Media Release: Krishnas Pledge One Million Dollars to Child Protection, April 29, 1999)

More Cult than Cult Classic

Details, a popular American men’s magazine, has published an article about ISKCON: The Return of a Cult Classic—The Hare Krishnas are Back. What follows is the comment I left below the article:

This sort of calculated misinformation used to be reviled as propaganda, now it’s celebrated as good marketing, if anyone notices it at all. DETAILS should be ashamed to have any part in ISKCON’s “re-branding.”

Forget this new-agey whitewash. Here’s what you need to know about ISKCON, because no Hare Krishna will tell you willingly: Their founder, Bhaktivedanta Swami “Prabhupada,” made an embarrassing, and embarrassingly long, list of statements that this article’s target demographic would undoubtedly consider racist, sexist, and homophobic, statements that would easily put him in the company of Donald Sterling, Cliven Bundy, and the like. Don’t believe me? Give a Hare Krishna a $10 “donation” for a copy of their Bhagavad-gita, in which you’ll find the timeless spiritual wisdom that “women are generally not very intelligent and therefore not trustworthy,” that they “should not be given freedom” because “they are like children,” and that they are categorically of “lower birth.” That’s just one example. Regarding “negroes,” Bhaktivedanta Swami remarked that it was “best to keep them under control as slaves.” And he referred to homosexuality as “demoniac” and “not for any sane male,” to him a clear sign of the degradation of human society. These are just a few out of a disturbing number of examples.

Aside from his outright bigotry, Bhaktivedanta Swami was anti-family, anti-education, and distinctly anti-science. He repeatedly denied that we had, or ever would, land on the moon. He believed that the sun was the only source of light in the universe. And he enlisted his disciples in a crusade to “debunk” evolution. Like all good cult leaders, he also erroneously predicted the imminent end of the world, in his case via nuclear armageddon.

The liberals in ISKCON would like to think these things are anomalies, overshadowed by the valuable and altruistic gifts their leader supposedly gave the world. At most they’ll refer to their guru’s back-catalog of backward views as “controversial” or “problematic.” Meanwhile, the conservatives in ISKCON embrace the same claptrap as divine. But the real trouble is that neither faction will ever denounce or even significantly question Prabhupada. They all worship him as infallible and, even when conscience tells them not to, consider everything he wrote and said and did to be flawless, inspired by god directly.

So, buyer beware! Read the volumes of fine print appended to this product. It’s way more cult than “cult classic.” All that stuff about vegetarianism and reincarnation and blissing out on mantra meditation may sound nice, but it comes at a high price. And despite this article’s intimations of cafeteria Hinduism and it’s guarantee that “with Hare Krishna…there is no commitment”—sure, they’re happy to have you volunteer your time, and they sure as hell will take your money if you offer it, without expecting too much else—if you want them to consider you one of them, you will absolutely have to revere Prabhupada “as good as god,” no a la carte option available.