LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
In a message dated 5/26/98 10:44:10 PM, you wrote:
The guru of New Vrindaban, Kirtanananda, aka Bhaktipada, was fined $250,000 and is serving the third year of a twenty-year federal prison sentence for racketeering and conspiracy in two murders (described in Monkey on a Stick). According to Hinduism Today, he denied complicity in the murders, despite pleading guilty.
Monkey on a Stick validated rumors of chauvinism, guns, child abuse, drug use and drug dealing, dishonest gurus, death threats and murder in ISKCON. When I was a member, I ignored these rumors, but in researching Betrayal of the Spirit I learned that most ISKCON rumors are basically true. The only hyped thing about "Monkey" is the writing style, because the language sounds like it's from a cops & robbers novel. Also, the authors improvised some conversations, notably Prabhupada and Kirtanananda on the airplane.
Betrayal of the Spirit mentions practically every ISKCON rumor, covering some of the same area as Monkey on a Stick. Here are some excerpts:
On rampant chauvinism:
Women remained on the sidelines of the ISKCON utopia. Unless spoken to, they were not to look at men or talk to them. They had no voice whatsoever in social affairs. . . . At the temple, women had to cover their heads with a shawl and their legs with a long skirt or, preferably, wear a sari. p. 11
Most iskcon women played the subservient role. p. 22
Women in the L.A. Sankirtan Party:
The women lived with a male leader, and a different one slept with him each night. This scandalous form of management took place in several U.S. temples [L.A., Berkeley, New Vrindaban]. p. 37
Arrogant Male Leaders:
Instead of living as pilgrims, ISKCON sannyasis and gurus arranged exclusive dinners, flew around the world on expense accounts, and enjoyed the best accommodations that temples could provide. People bowed to them every day, and they had "servants" to do their errands and housekeeping. Some let their meditational practices go by the wayside as they became stars, charismatic figures on the ISKCON skyline. This led to the phenomenon of "guru groupies" . . . who were fans of particular leaders. Some of the men welcomed charismatic followers, perhaps to assure themselves that their spiritual practices mattered less. p. 45
Sannyasis had been Prabhupada's constant companions during the final years. . . . Unfortunately, more than a few had taken the lifelong vows prematurely. Many had trouble with their celibacy or chanting vows and fell from their positions. ISKCON strayed from the traditional understanding of the sannyas order in another important way. The institution covertly allowed men to leave home without providing for their families. . . . There was so much abuse of the sannyas order that the GBC suspended all sannyas initiations from 1978 to 1982, with only a few exceptions. p. 44.
Ironically the gurukula [school] in Vrindavana, India, the land of Krishna's youthful pastimes, was the setting of the worst child abuse. . . . Tragically, there were men on the staff who never should have been around children. Students were slapped, kicked, beaten, and slugged when blindfolded, held under water faucets, locked in bathrooms for days without food or blankets, sodomized, and threatened with death. The most abusive aspect of gurukula life was that the teachers employed the older, more experienced boys as "monitors" to enforce discipline and corporal punishments. Teachers looked the other way when monitors abused and sodomized younger children. p. 76
[in the 1970s] Rishabdev made the necessary introductions for those who wanted to become smugglers. Despite the moral questions involved in such practices, some devotees willingly risked their freedom for the promise of quick financial independence and the ability to support chosen projects. p. 62
In late 1977 the devotee-dealers became irritated that some associates were embezzling from PDI [the Laguna Beach money laundering operation]. They hired five Italian enforcers who were--unbeknownst to them--members of the federal witness protection program under orders to infiltrate PDI. In time, two of the Italian gangsters grew impatient with Stephen Bovan, a PDI "employee" who owed them money. They urgently wanted Bovan to pay so they could reimburse federal agents for fronted cocaine. To raise money, Bovan kidnapped Alexander Kulik and extorted $100,000 in ransom from PDI, but instead of paying his debt, he kept the money. The protected witnesses reacted by shooting him nine times in front of a Newport Beach restaurant. Local law enforcement officials solved the case in a matter of days when they found the getaway car, a customized green and white Cadillac convertible, for sale in a used car lot. High-powered attorneys helped clear the devotees of murder charges; the two notorious protected witnesses disappeared before the trial. p. 63
I looked over the old clippings and filed them, so I was aware that a drug murder had taken place just when I met devotees in Santa Barbara. It never occurred to me that dealing was still going on, but yet another drug bust happened . . . For the second time in two years, authorities arrested Rishabdev, Dridhavrata, and others in Laguna Beach. This latest bust, an undercover operation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), happened in November 1979, just in time for the first anniversary of Jonestown. The Orange County Register announced the news on its front page with the headline "Krishna Hash Bust: Eleven Indicted in Orange County Crackdown." Similar headlines appeared in the Los Angeles Times and other papers, but "Krishna Hash Bust" was unique for its size and its tabloidlike impact. The Register later called the drug-smuggling ring one of the largest in Southern California history. They were right about the Hare Krishna connection, too, even though the P.R. office denied it. At the time I didn't know that in the 1970s ISKCON accepted money from a number of different drug-dealing operations. p. 65
Guns & Gangsters:
Some devotees actually were packing drugs and guns in their bead bags. Drug dealing and fascination with guns were rampant in certain ISKCON circles, as in the rest of society, surprising only because devotees portray themselves as nonviolent people. I had visited the Berkeley temple but only vaguely sensed the darkness that investigative reporters later confirmed. Hamsadutta and his band of German gangsters ran their temple like Rome in its later days. A covey of airport women slept with their male leaders, including the guru, and took speed to work long hours. Importing illegal German cars, using drugs, collecting weapons, and playing rock and roll were the mainstays of temple life, along with worshiping Krishna. p. 68
Other temples had guns--and some even stockpiled them--but usually the arms were perfectly legal. Gun laws in the United States made it easy for any group to own military-style weapons. Devotees in New Vrindaban and Berkeley even became federally licensed firearms dealers. p. 82
New Vrindban (West Virginia):
I believed that New Vrindaban was great, but devotees who came from there had strange tales to tell. . . . Rumors of child abuse dated back to 1974, when a nineteen-month-old boy died from abdominal injuries. The place of women at New Vrindaban was low, possibly the lowest in all of ISKCON. Women who left the sankirtan teams told stories of physical and sexual abuse, and despite 1977 and 1978 Governing Body Commission resolutions on the subject they still slept with their male sankirtan leaders. Women were considered property, and Kirtanananda believed it justified for men to slap their wives, if need be, as part of the women's training, an idea he later explained on national television. Strange ideas were commonplace in the isolated commune, where every devotee was fixed on the single goal of making the Palace of Gold successful. My enthusiasm for the palace blinded me to the possibility that Kirtanananda ran the most corrupt zone in ISKCON. p. 59
In a message dated 6/1/98 5:49:56 PM, you wrote:
Yes, this disturbing rumor has been circulating for years (decades in some circles). So far there is little proof, except some tapes, said to be recorded during the last days of SP's life, that they're analyzing. Of course, the GBC has officially denied the possibility, but their track record on honesty makes their word of honor less than reassuring. It is painful to think that an elderly man would be treated in an abusive way. If the truth is to come out on this, it will require confessions. I believe that those in the GBC who could shine some light on this matter are either too naive, too frightened or too invested in the conspiracy to come forward.
In a message dated 6/4/98 2:42:33 AM, you wrote:
I summarized the child abuse problem in chapter eight of my book: "Who's Watching the Children?" (see above, from p. 76) The worst abuse took place in the 1970s and 80s, when ISKCON maintained centralized boarding schools and members had to send their children there once they were five years old. The kids were deprived of love and all the material things that parents of the 1950s worked hard to give the baby boomers.
A few years ago i 'adopted' two Krishna kids to learn about what they went through and point them toward recovery. Now they are doing well, one is in college and the other has a job. I am grateful to have friends among ISKCON's 2nd generation.
There are already lawsuits forming because some of the abused parties feel legal pressure is necessary to get the GBC's attention. However, lawsuits are slow and usually the attorneys are the only winners. Despite whatever success or failure a lawsuit will bring, the second generation needs to get on with life. Many have already had children of their own. They are trying to get established in jobs, or get the education & help they need to become self-sufficient. I believe most of them will do it and many who were abused are already in college or working, developing resumes.
Close observers agree that certain people in the organization's hierarchy need to resign & offer amends. Ideally, once they get paying jobs in the "material world," offenders would offer to help pay for some of the damage they caused. That is the path to forgiveness. The wounds are deep and heal slowly, so your prayers are welcome.
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