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Excerpt from Betrayal of the Spirit

Chapter 6, pp. 54-56 "A Spiritual Disneyland"

Copyright (c) 1997 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with the permission of the University of Illinois Press.

In April 1979, Kirtanananda, the guru for the Krishna commune in West Virginia, announced ambitious plans to turn his rural community into a "spiritual theme park." He wanted to chart a ten-year publicity plan, and when he called the P.R. office Mukunda told him about my father (a P.R. man from Hollywood). I'd been a devotee barely a year when Kirtanananda sent tickets for Mukunda, my dad, and me to fly to New Vrindaban for a P.R. consultation.

We landed in Pittsburgh at dawn, and the temple president met us at the gate. He and Mukunda talked all the way to the baggage claim, while Dad and I followed along half-asleep. We claimed our suitcases and got on the highway in a temple station wagon. I fell asleep in the back seat as the car wound its way seventy miles southwest to New Vrindaban, West Virginia. I awoke when the car turned onto a dirt road. We rounded one bend and then another, and there it was, atop a distant emerald green hill: a miniature gold Taj Mahal framed in the morning mist. The building was a monument to Prabhupada and had already garnered national publicity for ISKCON. We drove into the compound, parked in the center of the community, and the driver got some men to carry our bags to our rooms. . . . .

Kirtanananda [the guru of new Vrindaban] and Mukunda had known each other since 1966, when Prabhupada became a feature of Manhattan's Lower East Side. Both men had been eligible for initiation at the first ceremony. Mukunda went through with it, but Kirtanananda languished in Bellevue Hospital, undergoing psychiatric evaluation. It didnt seem fair; although he was thirty years old he had needed a legal guardian to get him out.

Kirtanananda was the first man in ISKCON to become a sannyasi [renounced priest], a position Mukunda was still trying to achieve. He did not have a spotless reputation, though. As soon as he accepted the renounced order from Prabhupada in 1967, he returned from India, grew a beard and started wearing black vestments. He believed that the saffron robes of the Vaishnava religion didn't have a broad enough acceptance in the United States and told others that Prabhupada had sanctioned the change. Although only a few devotees traded their dhotis for black robes, Prabhupada denounced Kirtanananda, writing at least forty letters on the matter to his disciples in New York. In one he wrote, "It is clear that [Kirtanananda] has become crazy and he should once more be sent to Bellevue. . . . . if he is not sent to Bellevue then at least he should be stopped from speaking such nonsense." Kirtanananda and his long-time male companion Hayagriva split from the New York temple and wound up starting New Vrindaban. Within months Prabhupada forgave his repentant disciple, and Kirtanananda began developing Prabhupada's vision for the property, along with more than a few of his own ideas. . . .

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