Monday, September 21, 2015

The Cookie Monster in the Palace of Gold

Comcast is soon discontinuing its "Personal Web Page" service. I've got a bunch of stuff I put up there over the years, which will disappear when the service ends. I'm transferring some of it from there to this blog, for the benefit of future generations... 

The Cookie Monster in the Palace of Gold 
Hanging with the Hare Krishnas in West Virginia

[We're discussing here our stay at New Vrindaban, a huge Hare Krishna farm/commune near Wheeling, West Virginia. The Hare Krishnas belong to a movement centered on following ancient Indian traditions (in dress, diet, etc.), and on the worship of Krishna, an incarnation of God celebrated in Hindu theology/mythology.

[Dark secrets lay beneath the surface of New Vrindaban. At the time of this discussion, Janardan and I were aware of the nefarious underbelly of the place, having read Monkey on a Stick. When we actually visited the commune, though, we had been blissfully ignorant.

[The unquestioned master of the commune was Kirtananda Swami Bhaktipad, one of 11 Krishna higher-ups who had claimed guruhood and leadership of the movement since 1977, when the movement's founder, AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, had died. Most of these 11 ultimately left the main Krishna organization, amid varying sorts of scandal. A update on the current status of Bhaktipad and New Vrindaban appears at the end of our story.]

ALAN ROSS: How did the West Virginia thing begin? Why did you even stay there? Could you tell me what was the initial ...

STUART RESNICK: Yeah, sure. The idea behind the trip was that I had been in India for two and a half years and, well, in the ashram in India it was really tight. Like, you gotta only read Our Books. In other words, if you were in the ashram in India and you went to see some other guru, you'd come back and they'd try to have you thrown out, you know? People used to say, well, you can go to the prostitute down the street and no one will care, but if you go to another holy man, you know, well that is awful.

So after two and a half years of that, I came back and I was ready to sort of free my mind by seeing a lot of other places. I thought, you know, it's not like I need to find or add anything on to my understanding, but I need to experience some different things from what I've been experiencing for two and a half years, to sort of tear apart things that I might've built up [pointing to head] in there that I didn't know about. So, Janardan ...

JANARDAN: Didn't we have the idea that this pilgrimage was an inoculation of a kind?

STUART: An inoculation, meaning ... ?

JANARDAN: To inoculate ourselves against cultish thinking of all kinds.

STUART: Well, that's a good idea.

ALAN: And you called the trip ... ?

STUART: The Bodhisattva Yatra.

JANARDAN: Well yeah. Because apart from the prostitutes that I personally wanted to save, there was the notion that somehow we had come through the ashram and survived it, you know what I mean? And there were people all over the country in all these different communities who were thriving and striving to reach enlightenment or to heights of adoration, or you know, whatever. And they were trying to save everybody else and they were trying to save themselves, and in a way, they were kind of locked into the mindset of ... well, here it is: OUR truth is the only Truth that there is. Now Stuart and I had already debunked that for ourselves, so it was ... in that sense, a Bodhisattva Yatra. Bodhisattva comes from the Buddhist tradition and expresses the idea that you don't take nirvana until all other beings are ready to do the same. And a yatra is a holy pilgrimage. So we were going out to save all beings, and especially those who thought themselves enlightened.

ALAN: Or at least for a good laugh.

STUART: Yes, yes.

ALAN: Because you'd already had contact with the Krishnas.

STUART: I always had a certain love for the Krishnas just because ... Well, first of all, because they're obviously not trapped by the conventional reality, and you gotta give 'em that. And you gotta give 'em BALLS too, because you gotta have balls to walk down the street dressed like that, chanting, and all of them knowing that everyone thinks that they're assholes.

JANARDAN: They're purists.

STUART: Yeah. Yes, yes.

JANARDAN: Whereas some of the Western cults sit half-assed, you know?

ALAN: They've got fabulous food. I mean, at the very least.

STUART: Yes, yes. Good food makes up for bad philosophy.

So Janardan and I go on this pilgrimage. I had written ahead saying that we were coming, and they had said they had someplace for us to stay cheap, you know, they had simple spiritual accommodations. When we got there and I asked about it, they said ...

JANARDAN: 400 cows! I remember you saying, "Janardan! They've got 400 cows on the farm!" And also there was a lot of hype before we got there. There was some sort of Disneyland Spiritual Paradise that was in the making. Something beyond your imagination ...

STUART: Ah yes, this Temple of Gold that I think is either the first or the second most popular tourist attraction in West Virginia. Very surreal. So, but when we got there, they said, well, you can just stay with the devotees, and just do a little bit of work and then you won't have to pay anything.

JANARDAN: And the practices, too, right? Weren't we expected to ...

STUART: Well, yeah, I guess we were expected to. I know that I did, I don't know whether you got up that early. In any case, we went there and you get up at some ungodly hour and everyone is doing their Hare Krishnas in this big hall, everyone is doing their Hare Krishna mantras.

You see, the devotees take a vow to repeat the mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. And they were supposed to do it maybe a thousand times a day or something. Which takes about two hours in the morning. Something like that, a very long time. [Note: all devotees carry a pouch with a string of beads in it that they use to keep track of the number of times they've repeated the mantra.] And they would all come and you were supposed to say it loud enough so that you could hear it ...

JANARDAN: They were all like ... walking around in the temple, Stuart included, moaning mornings, with their hands inside these ... these ... PENIS SACKS! And they're just working the beads, working them! And when you enter the temple, you hear this low rumble, "Herremm, herremm, da-darumm ..."

STUART: There's absolutely no effort to chant in unison! Everyone's doing it and you're supposed to do it loud enough so you can hear it, so everyone's saying it in an audible pitch, without any attempt to be at harmony or in rhythm. They have loudspeakers too, so that everyone can get the spiritual benefit of it. So there's this incredible Rooaaarr, you know? This incredible Doomsday-type rumble going through the ashram. And yeah, for some reason you're not supposed to let anyone see your beads. For whatever reason, they don't let people see their beads.

JANARDAN: There's more merit if it's hidden.

STUART: Yeah, so they have these little sacks ...

JANARDAN: These little scrotal sacks that you stick your hand in, and you work these beads.

STUART: There must be something somewhere in some scripture. They were very big into scripture, and there must be some scripture that says it's better, you know, more merit if you keep your beads hidden. I guess it must be that if you do it openly, people will mock you and you'll lose your faith, so better to hide it.

So anyway, they chose somebody to show us around, they said, "Oh, you have to see the Palace of Gold." So they assigned someone ...

JANARDAN: Trishna. He was kind of a mentor.

STUART: Yeah ... Now I don't remember the actual point in our conversation. Trishna would, in the course of it say, "Yeah this is our temple, and we have a temple so we can worship our guru, because the guru represents God."

JANARDAN: His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta.

STUART: Yes. Which reminds me, by the way, that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was once asked, "What do you think of His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada?" And Maharishi said, "A very nice name."

[Explanatory note: Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada was the Indian guru who brought the Hare Krishna movement to the West 30 years ago, and is still posthumously worshipped by devotees. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is another Indian guru who flourished in the 60s; he brought Transcendental Meditation (TM) to the West. Picking up followers such as the then godlike Beatles and Mia Farrow, Maharishi seemed on course for worldwide revolution. But Farrow eventually complained that Maharishi had tried to seduce her, which caused John Lennon to leave India, become disillusioned, and mock Maharishi with the song "Sexy Sadie" on the "White Album," no doubt slowing the global progress of Maharishi's movement.]

JANARDAN: Maharishi. Yes, well of course, he had his little galliance with Mia Farrow, now didn't he?

STUART: Well, we know about Mia Farrow now.

JANARDAN: Ahh com'on! "Sexy Sadie"?

STUART: What are you talking about?

JANARDAN: The Beatles' song, "Sexy Sadie"!

STUART: That referred to Maharishi.

JANARDAN: Yeah!

STUART: Yes, yes. But John Lennon only thought that because Mia Farrow said that Maharishi ...

JANARDAN: ... said she preferred Maharishi to Frank Sinatra ... ?

STUART: But - now we know that Mia Farrow is wacko and sends Woody Allen Christmas cards with skewers in them. And she changed the course of Western Civilization! If it wasn't for Mia Farrow, we'd all be doing Transcendental Meditation now. It would have taken over the world. But that's neither here nor there.

In any case, Trishna, in the course of his explanation, would say, "God is a Person."

JANARDAN: Trishna was a tall, bald-headed, beautiful guy in his young twenties, very amicable, not one of these eye-dead mumbling sycophantic listen-to-me-I'm-telling-you-the-Truth kind of guys at all. No! A very likable guy, the kind of guy you would share a beer with if he wasn't so fucked up.

STUART: He would give me this stuff from the scriptures, and then he would look at me, you know, like "So, what do you think?" As if he wanted something. And I was there for free, I didn't want to pick a fight, you know? And I for the most part wasn't contradicting him until he would say, "So, what do you think?" That was his job.

So eventually what it came down to was, he said, "God is a Person. That's what the scriptures say. What do you think of that?"

And I said, "Well, you know, I don't believe in something just because it's written in the scriptures." And he didn't know what to say. After that, we went on to something else.

JANARDAN: Well, the thing was, he knew we weren't entirely unsympathetic. He knew that Stuart had been to India, he could see we did practice, that we were serious meditators, so that when Stuart says something like that, the guy has a certain respect. He doesn't think Stuart has said that without careful consideration, you know what I mean?

STUART: So a couple days go by, and people would say to us, "How long are you staying?" And I'd say, "Well, we're thinking of leaving tomorrow." And they'd say, "No, no, no! You can't leave tomorrow, you have to stay for the talk by Bhaktipad."

ALAN: Is that the guru with the gold temple?

STUART: No, that's Bhaktivedanta, the old guy who came from India and founded the movement. He's dead now, and this particular ashram is run by a guy named Bhaktipad, who was a gay acid freak from New York who turned to Krishna and ended up being God at this place.

JANARDAN: He had no teeth. And he was very roly-poly. And he preferred little boys.

ALAN: This was who you called the Cookie Monster?

STUART: Yes. [More on this later ...] So they said we had to stay until he gave question and answers.

And when I said to Janardan, "Do you want to leave tomorrow" - because I was sort of nervous ... I mean, even though I didn't know at that time that there were bodies buried there, I suspected there was something uncomfortable going on ... - Janardan would just have this sweet look on his face, and say, "I don't know if I ever want to go." And only he can know what he actually meant by that, because throughout the years he always yanks my chain in one way or another, so I never know.

[Note: according to Monkey on a Stick, bodies of dissidents were in fact found buried on the grounds of this West Virginia ashram in the years following our visit.]

So finally we agree that we'll leave them the morning after Bhaktipad's talk, and I guess they figured that's OK, because he'll surely convert us if only we hear his wise words.

JANARDAN: ... or massage his wise feet.

In India, there are a few very interesting concepts associated with spiritual seekers in the company of saints. First of all is satsang, when all the members of the community get together and tell each other what they know. They share their spiritual experiences and repeat the scriptures. They kind of intellectually shake hands, as if to say, "We're all together, we're ALL RIGHT!"

WAYNE HINKLE: I'm OK, you're OK!

STUART: Everyone else is screwed!

We'd also be together every day at lunch. And it was not just that we were there with Bhaktipad, not just that there were the little boys massaging his feet, and that every once in a while as he was eating he would just sort of look up and toss an asparagus out into the crowd that everyone would fight over ...
JANARDAN: Yes! The guru's leavings! That's prashad, another key concept.

STUART: Prashadam.

WAYNE: Prasad?

JANARDAN: Well, the thing is, everyone else in India calls it prasad, but the Hare Krishnas call it prashadam.

STUART: Pra-sha-dam. And that's how I knew that Janardan was going over to the dark side, because he would come over and say, "Oh, is it time to go get some prashadam?"
But not only was all that going on, but if you'll remember, while we were eating, there was a guy reading from the scriptures. And it was not like a Christian preacher. As we were eating, he would open the book and say, "And then, LORD SHREE GOVINDA said to the assembled multitudes, 'We must all chant the Divine Name of Krishna'," in this horrifying monotone, continuously, while you were trying to eat.

JANARDAN: The reason for what Stuey just described is that when you eat, or when you are with a guru, or when you are making love, you are especially open to spiritual vibrations or whatever. And so, you see, by reading or hearing the scriptures while you're eating, the blessings to be accrued from the scriptures enter the food that you're eating, and you absorb that into your body and into your spiritual being.

And this is the whole concept, too, behind the prashadam. The guru may just pick an asparagus off his plate, and he may throw it on the ground, and that may have been the same kind of asparagus that was on your plate before, but - because he picked it up, because it's been in his aura, see, it's assumed all of his spiritual vibrations. So! By picking up that asparagus and shoving it up your anus, you acquire the highest spiritual benefit! And if you would eat it - tenfold the amount of merit!

WAYNE: What would happen if, say for instance, he threw a piece of asparagus out there and it just plopped on the floor and no one touched it? And just looked at it?

JANARDAN: Oh, that would never happen.

WAYNE: Oh, why? What would happen then?

JANARDAN: Because we were all eager to receive his prashadam.

STUART: I mean, if indeed someone did pick up that asparagus and shove it up their ass, they either would've been instantly killed or worshipped, I don't know which.

Now one of the reasons I had wanted to go to this place is ... well, it was just intriguing to me. The Krishnas had this separate world that was cut off from the rest of society. They had kids there who did not realize that they were weird, you know? They thought that this was the world. They'll probably grow up to be, who knows, six, ten ... you can grow up to a certain age in that farm, and then one day, they go to the big city and it's just, "Mommy?!? Daddy!?!"

ALAN: Like the Amish.

STUART: Yes, yes. And what a shock it must be when they realize that the entire world isn't like Hare Krishnas!

Anyway ... the night of the big satsang, the question and answer program with Bhaktipad, comes. There's a whole community, this whole world, this whole alternate universe, internally consistent, existing on its own there, and they're all in this huge hall to hear the guru. And they're all wearing these orange robes, they all have what Janardan called a "pooh-pooh," which means they'd shaved heads with a little ponytail left over in back, you know? So they're all sitting there ... It's question and answer time, and this guru, this roly-poly man that they all literally think is God, is there ...
But first, to give you some more background on this, they did an expose on one of those 60 Minutes-type shows of this guy, and a few things from it stick in my mind. Of course, if they had asked the adults, "What do you do here?" the adults would sort of filter it, and think, all right, this is 60 Minutes, you know, let me say this in some way that isn't too offensive to the mainstream. But 60 Minutes did the smart thing and asked the kids, and the kids could only answer honestly. So they asked them questions like, "So, do you pray for Bhaktipad, or do you pray to Bhaktipad?" And all the kids said, "No, we pray to him." You know, "because he is the Divine Blah-blah-blah-blah."

JANARDAN: He's the Divine Representative.

STUART: He's Krishna's Representative.

JANARDAN: Their terminology was exquisitely banal. I wish I could remember more of it. You would hear words like "Representative," "God-head," a lot, you know?

WAYNE: Was he the one that they eventually caught with all the Mercedes?

JANARDAN: No, that was Bhagawan Shree Rajneesh.

STUART: Although this guy Bhaktipad eventually did go to jail and Alan Dershowitz had to go down to talk his way out of it. In the 60 Minutes type thing, they also asked him, "Well, there are reports that women are being beaten here." Which, in fact, if you go back to the Indian scriptures, you can probably find justification for wife-beating, so that probably did go on.

But he said to 60 Minutes ... it wasn't 60 Minutes, it was 20/20 ... he said, "No, no, no. It's not that I advocate wife-beating. It's like ... if my dog misbehaves, I'll roll up a newspaper and give him a swat on the nose." And, whether you think that's a pigheaded opinion or not, at least, anyone with any connection to reality knows that it's not something you say on national TV.

ALAN: Sean Connery did.

JANARDAN: And the women still love him.

ALAN: Absolutely.

JANARDAN: And would still love to, uh ...

ALAN: ... do 'im.

JANARDAN: Yeah. But Stuart is right that this was a very cohesive community, and the women I met there seemed to acclimate fully to those Vedic scriptures, to all the injunctions, some of which did seem kind of absurd. Like the ones about cows, the ones about dress ... I never could quite understand and I used to ask Stu, why do they have to wear the fuckin' 2,000 year old dress? How does that bring them closer to God? Again, I'm not sure of the fine print in the scriptures, but ostensibly the rationale is simply "we want to be close to the original goatherds and Gopis that loved Krishna, because by emulating them, we, by some sort of symbiotic identification, will advance closer to Krishna himself." Krishna, by the way, might be a fictitious being, but that's another story.

STUART: And the things with the cows are just like so offensive at so many different levels, that I wouldn't even want to get into it.

JANARDAN: Oh! You mean like the cow dung and the drinking the cow urine?

ALAN: Jeeez!

WAYNE: What's with the cows, anyway?

JANARDAN: Of course, drinking your own pee was something popular!

STUART: Oh, that's another story!

WAYNE: Oh God!

STUART: But the thing with the cows is that Krishna - the god that they worshipped - was a cowherder, so all of a sudden cows are the most sacred thing in the world. And you bathe the statue of Krishna in this, this mixture that includes cow urine for sure, not to mention - who knows? Feces, semen. We really don't know.

JANARDAN: Got a little extra discharge? Just add it to the brew!

But what is often forgotten about Krishna is that he made love to something like 400 -

WAYNE: Cows?

JANARDAN: No, women! Simultaneously.

WAYNE: Simultaneously?!

JANARDAN: Married women! This is a very unusual kind of god. Yet the women at New Vrindaban had to remain in the back of the temple. They were definitely second place. I don't know if this is just the oriental way, but they couldn't dance in front of the altar, because the men were supposed to be closest to the deities. The women were willing, subservient, swaying.

ALAN: Sounds sort of Hasidic.

WAYNE: How did that come about, though? Why were the women always downtrodden, let's say?

JANARDAN: Because, according to the scriptures, they don't have the spiritual essence that the male has. You see, the male has "virya," which is "ojas" contained in the semen, and this stuff propels you toward Godhead! But what do the women have? The best that women can hope for is to marry someone who is enlightened or at least on the way, and then when he dies, to kill themselves. Right? That's called "suttee." Oh, and father his children. They were good at that, a lot of the women did have babies. Of course, some of them were being abused by the guru.

STUART: The short answer, of course, is that the scriptures were written by men.

WAYNE: Sounds like one of those old blues tunes from the turn of the century.

STUART: What we've been trying to communicate is that here's Bhaktipad, worshipped as God in this community that is so Twilight Zone-isolated from the rest of the world that you don't know what's going to go on there. They could believe anything, they could do anything, because they have no connection to the reality that we're familiar with. So Bhaktipad begins his question and answer and, as you know, whenever this starts, there's always a pause, because everyone's sort of nervous to ask the first question.

JANARDAN: They call it satsang.

STUART: Huuugge room. A filled, packed room.

ALAN: And they're all dressed identically, of course, except for you and Janardan.

JANARDAN: Exactly! We stand out like two sore thumbs. Everybody else looks identical, perfectly homogeneous. And Stuey and I are sitting with them, but in jeans and Pink Floyd T-shirts.

ALAN: And hair on your head.

STUART: So Trishna jumps in the very first opportunity with his first question, which is, "What should we do if we're preaching to someone, and they say that just because something is in the scriptures, they don't necessarily believe it?" You know? Verbatim what I had said to him.

JANARDAN: And the guru, stirring from a doze, says, "WHAT'S THAT?!" And Trishna says, "What should we say to those people who suggest that God is not a Person?" And the guru, who has been languishing on his chair with [a belly like]a 50-pound bowling ball in his lap, being massaged by meek little boys with pooh-poohs on their heads, this guy so full of this Krishna sugar food he eats, all of a sudden screams out of a nearly toothless mouth: "WHAAAAT!!???!!! WHOOOO SAYS SUCH THINGS??!! We shall KILL them!" And I look over at Stuart sitting next to me, and he looked like that guy in the Spanky's Gang ... what's his name ... Wheaties?

STUART: Buckwheat. Who, by the way, has now converted to being a Black Muslim and changed his name to Kareem-of-Wheat.

WAYNE: Oh really?

JANARDAN: But back to the guru, he said, "WHO says such things??!! WHO are these IMPOSTERS??!! They should SHOW themselves!!" And I don't know about Stuart, man, but my kundalini was RISING! I mean, I felt tingles up and down. My heart was going BNNHH-BNNHHH-BNNHHH.

ALAN: Did you back up towards the door?

JANARDAN: Anything could've happened, they could have all just ... But Trishna, bless him, stayed cool.

STUART: He did not offer us up, even though it was SO SADLY OBVIOUS, you know? During that time when your kundalini was rising, I was actually doing the Hare Krishna mantra with all my might, praying. I never pray, I always thought I would die before praying, yet here I was praying to Lord Shree Krishna to rescue me.

WAYNE: So the guru got excited over that one? A little too many of them cookies.

JANARDAN: That came next. We had been prepped and hyped about the question and answer program. We were told that there would be something very special happening afterward, at the end of the program ...

STUART: And we were told it was a Cookie Toss. But when we said, "What's a Cookie Toss?" they just said, "Oh, well, you'll see!"

JANARDAN: So we're in the temple, on beautiful white marble floors, and the deities are kind of hanging out behind their curtains, and all the people are gathered around and there's this buzz going around: "Cookie Toss, Cookie Toss! Cookie Toss, Cookie Toss!" And the guru ... basically, the guru tosses cookies into the audience. Keep bearing in mind everything that was said about the merit, you know? Just imagine a cookie thrown by a guru - how much shakti [spiritual energy] is transmitted through that gesture. So the devotees were pretty aggressive about that.

STUART: The whole crowd would sort of coagulate around the area where the last cookie was tossed.

JANARDAN: And I was, like, "How come the same guys keep getting the cookies?" And we were told, "Look man, you want to get one of those cookies, you gotta go for it!" And as I watched, I was bewildered to see Stuart just elbowing people aside, and knocking over women to grab a cookie thrown by Bhaktipad!

ALAN: So you became caught up in the whole thing?

STUART: Hey - I just wanted a fucking cookie, you know?

JANARDAN: But I have to admit, though I did like to pull Stuart's chain, there were a couple of times, man, when I was watching the deities unfold and I really had to question whether this world really isn't simply a veil of maya, and whether the true reality isn't contained somewhere within ...

WAYNE: A cookie?

STUART: Lord Krishna's lotus feet.

JANARDAN: Yes, Lord Krishna's lotus feet. There was something supernaturally attractive about that setup. It was only Stuart's great fondness for me, and his wish to save a spiraling soul, that saved me from that place.

But the Krishnas were good to us, actually, when you think about it. After all, we weren't murdered. We were never molested. Not that I know of, at least not consciously. And we got a lot of cheap vegetarian food. The Krishnas were very good to us.

And that's the difficult thing, because when people want to hear about the Krishna story, I actually have fond memories of the Krishnas. People are just ready to jump on the Krishnas: "You were with the Krishnas? Wow, how bad were they?" But the fact is, most of my memories are happy ones. They were all right. I guess as long as you didn't rub the wrong person the wrong way. Or, if you rubbed the wrong person the right way, and then stopped rubbing them - you might get rubbed out! Monkey on a Stick, though, was brutal in its descriptions.

STUART: Well, I like the Krishnas in the same way I like a lot of time talking to fundamentalist Christians, because sort of what annoys me the most is people who are hypocritical. Meaning, they say, "Yes, I believe in God," but then, for instance, when they're sick or they're scared of death, they say, "Oh I never want to die," they treat death as a big tragedy. Which is inconsistent with this idea that they're going to go up to heaven, you know what I mean?

What I like about the Krishnas is, even though I think their ideas are bullshit, they really just take them and hold onto them with all their might and try to carry them through all the way. And that's part of my mind - I like simplicity, I like purity. That's why I like chess, that's why I like poker, because it's simple, it's straightforward, and you can take one idea and follow it all the way through. And no matter how bad the idea is, that sort of intrigues me about the Krishnas.

JANARDAN: It also makes them much less threatening. To me, at least.

ALAN: They're so two-dimensional.

JANARDAN: They're so two-dimensional that it would be like playing a child a game of chess, because you always know what buttons to press or not to press, etc. So there's a sense of like taking candy from a child, taking cheap ...

STUART: ... cookies ...

JANARDAN: ... from baby Krishna. Yes.


[In the years following our visit, the mid-to-late 80s, Bhaktipad experimented with more Christian styles of dress, liturgy, paraphernalia, and symbols. Without changing core philosophy, he hoped to demonstrate that Christians and Krishnas are fellow lovers of God. While Bhaktipad may have considered these changes an ecumenical preaching strategy, powers within the main Krishna organization accused him of "wholesale conversion to ... Christian millenarianism" and warned of a New Vrindavan "Jonestown".

[At the same time New Vrindaban was being shunned by the outside Krishna community, Bhaktipad faced increasing pressure from police investigations, and in 1996 stood trial on six counts of mail fraud, three counts of racketeering, and one count each of conspiracy and interstate travel to commit murder for hire. The victim of this murder was Sulocana das, allegedly killed for exposing scandal in his manuscript The Guru Business. Bhaktipad served time till 2004; upon his release, the main Krishna organization banned him from visiting the commune he founded. He continued to preach in New York City, through an organization he established called the Interfaith League of Devotees. Within a few years, conflicts and defections among his American devotees convinced Kirtananda that "There's no sense in staying where I'm not wanted"; in 2008, he permanently moved his mission to India, where he died three years late. Krishnas who oppose Bhaktipad have detailed his dark history on the net.

[A former long-time resident of New Vrindaban, who saw this whole story unfold, attempted to write a history entitled New Vrindaban: The Black Sheep of ISKCON. By 2007, he lamented, "... the more research I undertake, the more horror stories I discover, until now I am not sure whether the New Vrindaban Community was more a spiritual community or more a criminal enterprise operating under the guise of a religious community. Truly I have become disheartened." The strange tale of New Vrindaban is currently detailed in the indie documentary Holy Cow, Swami. This DVD includes interviews with Bhaktipad, devotees, ex-devotees, prosecuters, and Alan Dershowitz; also some back-story on Prabupada and the origins of the Krishna movement. Thumbs up!

[The newspaper article Rebuilding its temple suggests that typical Krishnas are no longer young Americans renouncing the world for a life of monkish spirituality, but more likely a congregation of expatriate Indian householders. On that page, click on the Krishnas Come Home video link to see footage of New Vrindaban in 2006.

[Re Mia Farrow's claim that Maharishi made a pass at her, see this Daily Mail article from 2014.

[New Vrindaban itself is alive and well, both as a Hare Krishna temple and a tourist attraction. One of the current residents even maintains an unofficial blog about his life as an aspiring devotee. I guess the mood has lightened in the intervening years, as the blog's motto is: "Cows may come, cows may go, but the bull is always here."]

1 comment:

nuzen said...

Excellent story Stuart, entertaining and informative. I wish the documentary Holy Cow Swami was available as a torrent, or something, as I can't find it online other than as a dvd from Amazon. Thanks for writing this blog.