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"The Most Tragic Betrayal" - Hinduism Today

"Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement was accepted among many ex Hare Krishna devotees worldwide as a mind-opening narrative."

August 8, 2009

Nori Muster, a positive thinking modern author of many life engaging books, essays and poetry. Her Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement, was accepted among many ex Hare Krishna devotees worldwide as a mind-opening narrative and has helped thousands of individuals regain their individuality, sobriety and strength. Learning to Flow with the Tao is Nori's own version of the ancient Taoist oracle, iChing. Pray for Peace Notebook: Direction in the Time of Change is an edited collection of Nori's political writings, 2000 to 2009. Visit her website to read more and explore Nori's wonderful world of positive possibilities.

Sex, drugs, embezzlement chant today's Hare Krishna
By Sujor Dhar
25 July 2001

Kolkata—Sex scandals and embezzlement charges that have knocked the image of the Hare Krishna cult are now being compounded by street battles and court arbitration between its rival groups.

Last month, internal dissensions became public when rival factions fought over which of them would lead the annual Rathyatra (chariot-pulling festivals) through the streets of Kolkata and New York.

In April, meanwhile, the shaven-headed, saffron-robed cult members abandoned their drums and dancing to pelt each other with stones outside the temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) on Kolkata's Albert Road, forcing police to intervene and arrest several feuding devotees.

ISKCON is better known as the Hare Krishna cult, because its adherents are best known for chanting it ritually. Krishna is a spiritual leader said to have lived in northern India 5,000 years ago, but is deified as a god. The rival groups within the cult are the ISKCON Revival Movement group led by its expelled Kolkata chapter president Adridharan Das and the ISKCON Governing Body controlled from the United States.

ISKCON, founded in New York in by one-time professor of philosophy Srila Prabhupada, rapidly grew into a world movement. It attracted celebrities like Beatle George Harrison who incorporated the trademark Hare Krishna chants in his music. When Prabhupada died in 1977, he left behind a translation of the Bhagvad Gita (The song of Krishna), an ancient Hindu text which, among other things, explained the laws governing transmigration of the soul and its ultimate liberation.

But Prabhupada also left behind a worldwide empire with more than 100 temples, centers and schools run by 3,000 full-time members - and over which an intense struggle for control has grown. By the Nineties, a string of sex and money scandals had overtaken the movement with a large number of its devotees leaving the fold in disgust.

The biggest blow came in 1988 when Nori J Muster, ISKCON's public relations secretary and editor of the organization's newspaper, left and went on to write Betrayal of the Spirit, a book which thoroughly exposed the organization. Muster's book detailed a sordid story of drug dealing, weapons stockpiling, deceptive fundraising, and murder within ISKCON - and the schisms that forced 95 percent of the group's original members to leave.

"The root of the present problems with ISKCON is the proliferation in number of gurus," alleged its expelled president Aridharan Das. "Our founder, Srila Prabhupada, had set up a system within ISCKON which allowed him to remain the diksha [initiating] guru for new disciples for as long as the society exists," he added. "After his departure in 1977, his leading disciples unauthorizedly stopped this system and set themselves up as the new initiating gurus. Today there are some 90 gurus who are creating all the problems, many accused of sexual offenses and many languishing in jails," he claimed.

"Our first and foremost mission is to restore our founder as the only guru and disenfranchise the other 90 gurus who are actually enjoying the assets of ISKCON," Adhridharan Das said.

Countered Dayaram Das, member of the ISKCON Governing Body at Mayapur, 100 kilomters from here, "Throughout Srila Prabhupada's written and spoken instructions, he consistently stated that after his departure his disciples would become spiritual masters."

The Governing Body insists that it operates on the guidelines set forth by Prabhupada and that Das has siphoned off funds and misused the order's property. "This is all rubbish," the expelled president said.

Fissures within the cult reached a flashpoint recently at the world famous annual Calcutta Rathayatra procession on June 23. Armed with a court order, a rival group of the Kolkata chapter, which owes allegiance to gurus mostly based abroad and wield local clout through the global headquarters at Mayapur, hijacked the Rathyatra this year.

Said Adridharan Das, "I have performed this festival without a break for the past 20 years. It has grown to be the largest Rathyatra festival in the world with some 1.5 million people of the city taking part annually."

Das had appealed to the Kolkata High Court to stop his rivals from taking out the Rathyatra procession, but the court ruled against him. The court observed that he has been expelled as the president of the Kolkata unit. "We are armed with the court order. We will now ask the court to evict Adridharan Das from the Albert Road temple of Kolkata," they said.

The sex scandals involving its gurus have prompted long-time devotee Vineet Narain to set up the ISKCON Reform Group, which has branches in Australia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

Narain stated that disciples have been leaving, especially after one of the gurus, Loknath Swami, was involved in the molestation of a teenage girl in the United States. Several other self-proclaimed gurus fell from grace following serious charges of child abuse.

Several of the religious leaders are in US prisons serving terms on various charges. A group of former ISKCON gurukul (boarding house) inmates also filed a lawsuit in 1999, alleging sexual abuse when they were staying as students.

"A wonderful account of a fascinating life experience."
Dr. Robert Ellwood,
Professor of Religion
University of Southern California

ISKCON Official Response
by Anuttama Dasa, ISKCON Director of Communications

Published in ISKCON Communications Journal, 1997

Betrayal of the Spirit is a troubling book for several reasons. First, because most of the decay and denial graphically described in the book's categorization of ISKCON during the ten years after the passing away of Srila Prabhupada, its Founder-acarya, is true.

Secondly, because the author's attempt to illustrate the society's discrepancies—and, perhaps, validate her decision to distance herself from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and her former position with the society's newspaper—largely ignores ISKCON's very significant and positive contributions in nurturing the lives of many, since its founding in 1966.

It is a helpful book in understanding ISKCON's early years. But, standing alone it offers a glimpse of the society that is neither balanced nor complete.

Muster weaves a colorful story of her decade of temple life within ISKCON, beginning with her first meeting Hare Krishnas as a college student at the University of California. She narrates her early ashram years, her years of editorial work at the society's newspaper (the ISKCON World Review), and her gradual disillusionment with the organization.

As a former member of the public relations department, she experienced particular angst, and thus focuses much of her book, on ISKCON's unwillingness to publicly address critical issues that arose from 1977 to 1987, the first ten years after Srila Prabhupada's "departure."

I empathize with the narration and dilemma that Muster vividly describes. As Director of Communications for ISKCON in North America since 1993, I am often beleaguered with the pressure of presenting a healthy institution to its constituents, while providing objective—and often harsh—internal critique to facilitate growth and reform.

At a seminar I attended in 1994, the Director of Public Relations from an Alabama Baptist seminary taught that institutions expect their communications people to be "a mouthpiece for the organization: to tell the good news." But, he warned, a communicator's most important job is to be a "mirror for the organization." To communicate from the outside in, how the larger society perceives, evaluates, appreciates, and faults that smaller community or institution.

In that capacity, oddly, Muster continues to serve ISKCON. Her (only slightly exaggerated) description of the eventual corruption (of an uncomfortably large number) of early gurus, ISKCON's skepticism towards non-devotee opinions and input, and the unwillingness to demand accountability at all levels of leadership, tell a painful story. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that every endeavor is covered by some degree of fault. Or, as the common adage goes, to err is human. So, to some degree, we must forgive the mistakes of the past and move onward.

Real danger, however, lies with the close mindedness and lack of self-criticism that often accompany religious zeal. Documenting ISKCON's failures, then—and its unfortunate willingness to overlook them—is the book's strength.

As Larry Shinn writes in his foreword to Betrayal:

Muster's account shows that considerable personal and institutional denial took place among Hare Krishnas who were in positions of leadership and had the capacity to stop illegal economic activities or correct religious practices that were unethical by the Hare Krishnas' own standards. More circumspect leadership would have saved the group a half decade of public denial and internal conflict.

Betrayal of the Spirit is an interesting read. Few ISKCON devotees, friends, or observers will not find herein some previously unknown detail of the movement's tumultuous ten years after the departure of our Founder-acarya. Human frailty, sin, chauvinism, lust, greed, and envy are historically proven elements for a successful publication. Thus, they find here a prominent place. This overemphasis on the negative, however, is also the book's greatest weakness. Although Muster doesn't dwell exclusively on controversy, an objective reader familiar with ISKCON will recognize that the journalistic penchant for sensationalism and (perhaps) a need for "personal healing" has overshadowed the more important demand for balance and objectivity.

As Shinn comments,

Much as a disillusioned spouse looks back on his or her marriage with both longing and regret, so too, Nori Muster's story provides a selective remembering of her experiences within ISKCON...Therefore, many positive ISKCON news events are passed over for their more negative counterparts. For example, without additional sources a reader of Muster's book may be unaware that within a 30 year span, ISKCON has grown to include over 300 temples in 85 countries. Or, that most American temples minister to a predominately Asian Indian congregation. Or, that ISKCON's Food for Life project is the largest vegetarian food relief program in the world, having served 75 million free meals. Or, that the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the ISKCON affiliated book publishing house, is reportedly the world's largest publisher of Vedic scriptures.

Nonetheless, much can be learned from Betrayal of the Spirit; especially by ISKCON leaders who should be vigilant to not repeat the mistakes of the past, while zealously pursuing a brighter future. As a member of ISKCON since 1975 I, like Nori Muster, am painfully aware of the society's historical shortcomings, and its often spastic endeavors for renewal. But, despite that, the contributions of ISKCON have far, far overshadowed its mistakes.

Shinn writes,

After Nori Muster left the movement [in 1987], reforms continued not only in the United States but also in India and throughout the world. It is not surprising that the Hare Krishnas who experienced major institutional setbacks began to develop mature spiritual and institutional reforms in response to these crises...It is important, therefore, to understand that Nori Muster writes about ISKCON in the United States during the 1980's, not the Hare Krishna movement throughout the world in during the 1990's. ISKCON does not choose to see itself as a "marginal religious organization," as some scholars describe it. It wishes to be an important spiritual movement, just as Srila Prabhupada envisioned his presentation of Srimad Bhagavatam to be "a cultural presentation for the respiritualization of the entire human society." (SB, preface) To fulfil its vision and its mission, ISKCON must continue to mature. Betrayal of the Spirit records many of ISKCON's past shortcomings. It is up to the current members and leaders of ISKCON to provide future writers and commentators with an accurate picture, a factual picture, of its renewal.

Cultic Studies Journal
Vol. 14, No. 2, 1997
Review by Joe Szimhart

Nori J. Muster was a member of the Hare Krishna sect, formally known as the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), from 1977 through 1988. She recounts her decade of "devotional service" at the ISKCON public relations headquarters in Los Angeles in an honest and interesting account. Betrayal of the Spirit represents a personal insight into the behind-the-scenes propaganda machine developed by some of ISKCON's "gurus." As Nandini (Muster's devotee name) the author worked for the ISKCON World Review, the sect's primary PR and in-house newspaper. Circulation reached well over ten thousand throughout the world. World Review's purpose was to not only inform the members of the goals and gains of the group, but it also featured articles that amounted to damage control of the increasing scandals that plagued the movement. Muster writes of her years as a member during the most difficult period faced by the sect. She joined just after the founder, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (Srila Prabhupada), died and left his colorful organization with too many immature, confused and corrupt leaders.

Woven throughout Muster's presentation of Hare Krishna corruption is her struggle to remain a good devotee according to the principles set down by Prabhupada. Her relationship with her father, Bill Muster, also provides a subplot that enlightens us even more about the "politics" behind the PR scenes. Bill Muster was an accomplished communications professional and businessman who sustained a close relationship with his daughter all the while she worked for ISKCON. He often advised "Nandini" and her boss, Mukunda, with valuable strategies. This did not mean that he approved of all the group stood for, but he did support his daughter's chosen spiritual path. He died of cancer not long after Nori Muster found herself outside of ISKCON in 1988.

Muster was not seeking to quit ISKCON. The pervasive suppression of women's natural rights under Prabhupada's chauvinistic system and her desire to assert those rights, coupled to finally set her aside. In the end, Nandini could not convince her bosses to report the news of ISKCON's plights accurately. Despite talk of efforts to reform the movement, the male chauvinism won out; Nandini's efforts were dismissed.

Back in the world as Nori Muster, the author tells us that she still sustains her belief in Krishna as her God. At times she participates in devotional activity at the temples and chants the mantra. At the end she says, "I admire Prabhupada....Were it not for Prabhupada's courage and sacrifice in coming to the United States in 1965, many more lives would have been wasted on drugs and fruitless searching." I find this last statement filled not only with loyalty and devotion, but also with irony and a touch of denial. I find little in Muster's book about Prabhupada's mixed messages he sent to his leaders about selling books and fundraising. Muster does not write of strong indications in letters by Prabhupada that speak of an insatiable need to have his books distributed and his name recognized globally. Hare Krishna devotees, whether in or out of ISKCON, might admit to corruption within the managerial ranks, but few dare criticize Prabhupada who they see as the "pure devotee" worthy of a godlike worship.

The hyperactive response in ISKCON to recruit new members and raise money, even illegally and unethically, had to grow from the founder's instruction. As Muster indicates, "Prabhupada said" was as good as a word from Krishna Himself to many of the devotees. Many Hare Krishna's and their agents knew that Prabhupada was pleased with all the money they brought in from major drug sales. Prabhupada made a point to disapprove of selling drugs, but the successful drug sellers were the ones who could "catch the big fish without getting wet," which was a Prabhupada saying. To her credit, Muster does not flinch in recounting the facts about the corruption.

The book's greatest value, I think, rests in its sensitive exposure of the intricate guru system Prabhupada unwittingly left behind. It becomes clear that Prabhupada retained ultimate leadership in himself through his writings, and he did not invest an equal rank to anyone, despite the claims of a few ISKCON gurus. Muster both describes and explains this power struggle within the ISKCON sect and self better than anyone has, to my knowledge. Exposures like hers are needed if Prabhupada's movement is to continue in its struggle to reform and to become a worthy home for devotees like Nandini, who Nori Muster once was.

Joe Szimhart's website, including more book reviews - click here

Magill Book Reviews, EBSCO Publishing
'Former member Nori J. Muster offers an inside look into the Hare Krishnas'
Review by Robert A. Morace, Ph.D. [published at northernlights.com—now offline]

BETRAYAL OF THE SPIRIT: MY LIFE BEHIND THE HEADLINES OF THE HARE KRISHNA MOVEMENT is a book by Nori J. Muster, a former member of the Hare Krishnas, who has kept the faith but left the organization, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Muster worked in the Los Angeles temple's public relations office and now has much to tell but no particular axe to grind, and has much to offer: not only as an insider's account of the workings of what once was the United States' largest and most visible alternative religion/religious cult, but as a spiritual autobiography and, more importantly, as a way to shed light on both the persistence and pervasiveness of the cult phenomenon in the United States. Such a book could help explain why people join; why they stay or leave; how cults are organized and operate; how they represent themselves to their members and to outsiders; how the media represent them; how they respond when they feel besieged; and in what ways and to what extent cults such as MOVE, the Branch Davidians, Heaven's Gate, and ISKCON serve as latterday versions of the utopian communities and millenarian sects that flourished in America in the nineteenth century. Above all, such a book could help readers understand why so many people find living in a country which its politicians like to call the greatest on earth so deeply unsatisfying.

Regrettably, BETRAYAL OF THE SPIRIT betrays all of these expectations. Despite its titillating subtitle, Muster's memoir of her "life behind the headlines" provides few insights and no evidence whatsoever of what Michael Novak has called the "profound religious struggle . . . between the human spirit and all institutions." Nor is there much scope. The reader learns little about ISKCON in general, and not much of substance about the Los Angeles and West Virginia temples with which she is chiefly concerned. Insights into the cult phenomenon (ISKCON and Jonestown, Heaven's Gate and the Republic of Texas) are virtually non-existent. The lessons Muster draws from her eleven years in the organization are just as insubstantial as her reasons for joining in the first place: ISKCON's "isolation and faltering hostility with the outside world" and the "lack of accountability between leaders and followers," especially women. (The author's feminist critique would be more convincing were it not so superficial, the target so easy, and the author less adoringly dependent on the advice of her father, a public relations professional who helped save the steamboat "Delta Queen" and sell cluster bombs.) One can appreciate the reasons that must have led Muster to write this sincere if superficial account. Appreciating why a reputable university press chose to publish it is quite another matter.

In Reply to: Robert A. Morace, Ph.D.

Professor Robert A. Morace wrote a scathing review of Betrayal of the Spirit, posted at Northernlight.com. My publisher mailed a print-out of this review a little while ago and by coincidence, the same day Dave Schiller send a copy by email. All books get good and bad reviews and I've been lucky to have many good ones, but I've wanted to comment on this one, so perhaps this forum is a good place to post my rebuttal.

In this review Morace says he cannot understand why a reputable university press chose to publish my book. Well, for some reason, the publisher loved my story. There's a file in my closet with about 150 rejection letters from literary agencies and publishers for this book and two of my novels. It's a good collection that any writer would be proud of. Any piece of writing can find a publisher if the writer keeps trying.

Morace says, 'The author's feminist critique would be more convincing were it not so superficial, the target so easy, and the author less adoringly dependent on the advice of her father, a public relations professional who helped save the steamboat Delta Queen and sell cluster bombs.'

First of all, I disagree that I even set out to write a "feminist critique." The reviewers of Feminist Bookstore News* were more accurate about my intention when they said: 'It may not be feminist but it does offer a rare look into the world of those women dressed in orange who put flowers in your hands at the airport in search of spare change.' That's exactly what was on my mind when writing. It's certainly not feminist because the book defends the Hindu customs of celibacy and chastity, while pointing out how those values differ from the culture where I grew up (Los Angeles during the 60s and 70s), and even differ from what ISKCON practiced. Actually, ISKCON had its own belief system and code of morality, only loosely based on Vedic (or Hindu) culture, which the book describes.

He implies that my book attacks ISKCON. Actually, it's a story about ten years of my life, rather than an attack on anything. It's written in the tone of a debriefing and emotional discharge of that experience. Also, I disagree that ISKCON's an easy target. It's actually an exceptionally deceptive target. In ISKCON, the worst perpetrators wore religious robes and claimed to be spiritual leaders. They have gotten away with their crimes for decades, simply by enforcing a rule that it's a spiritual offense (blasphemy) for anyone to criticize them.

Regarding my father. ISKCON advises (at least it did in 1978, when I joined) new members to cut ties with their "material" friends and relatives. The fact that my father could be involved was a relief to him and the rest of my family who would have otherwise felt that they had 'lost' me.

On this one point, I do admit that I talk too much about my father. However, he did a lot to help the Krishnas' various public relations campaigns. He was listed on the ISKCON World Review masthead as a consultant during the last three years of his life. He also helped us in our fight for an open editorial policy during those years. Including him in the story line, I hoped to pass along some of his wisdom.

Finally, as to whether my dad sold cluster bombs. My dad never actually sold bombs, so let the record stand corrected. He produced an informational video for a client that described cluster bombs. It was a paid job for a military defense company. Perhaps that's a form of selling one's soul, which could be compared to what I was asked to do for ISKCON. The point was that I was making by citing his example, was that I felt cheated because I sold my soul to protect the crooks in ISKCON, and wasn't even paid.

Morace says, 'Despite its titillating subtitle, Muster's memoir of her 'life behind the headlines' provides few insights and no evidence whatsoever of what Michael Novak has called the 'profound religious struggle . . .' The reviewer is right, there's no trace of Michael Novak, but I delivered behind the headlines material. For example, the book describes what was going on in ISKCON behind the George vs. ISKCON trial, the Berkely guru's gun busts, the Laguna Beach Mafia-murder and drug bust cases, New Vrindaban's FBI raid and grand jury investigation, and a host of other news stories that made headlines. The book also describes what was going on behind the headlines of ISKCON World Review.

Morace says, 'The reader learns little about ISKCON in general, and not much of substance about the Los Angeles and West Virginia temples with which she is chiefly concerned. Insight into the cult phenomenon . . . are virtually non-existent.'

Perhaps the reviewer misses the point. Los Angeles and West Virginia temples were involved in illegal activities. At least those people who were "in the know" were. The rest of us, ordinary, blind followers, thought everything was on the up and up. That's what was happening. The organization was shallow and unspiritual, except for those who actually chanted our rounds every day, followed the four regulative principles and attended the morning programs.

Any devotee could write an interesting book about their experiences, and I predict that more will. For example, I would love to read an honest book by an ex-GBC member, ex-sankirtan devotee, or ex-gurukula student. If they write honestly about their experiences, their stories will help future generations avoid making the same mistakes. Think of how much healing an honest book about New Vrindaban would bring.

My book is simply a slice of life: Watseka Avenue as Nandini experienced it in the 1980s. The book is about how the leadership's crimes collided with my spirit, and why I decided I had to leave. I was in ISKCON for ten years and this is what it was like, these were the things I saw, these were the main characters, this is what I learned from my research after leaving the organization. My experience mirrors hundreds of other "ordinary" members' experiences. I wrote the book to give them a factual behind-the-scenes look at the organization they belonged to during that terrible time.

"A fine historical report. As a parallel witness to some of these events, I agree with the fairness and even-handedness of the perspectives and characterizations."
Dr. Arnold S. Weiss, director
Los Angeles Institute for the Study of A Course in Miracles

The Darker Side of ISKCON

Two of the books on the Hare Krishna movement stand out for their detailed narration of the power struggle and corruption in some chapters of the movement. The sordid events—child abuse, sexual corruption and murders at New Vrindaban are the subject of the book Monkey on a Stick by John Hubner and Lindsay Gruson.

The controversial Hare Krishna leader, Kirtanananda, aka Bhaktipada, was fined $ 250,000 and slapped with a 20-year-old federal prison sentence for racketeering and conspiracy in two murders about four years ago. He was expelled from the Hare Krishna movement much before he was found guilty.

Nori J Muster joined ISKCON in 1978. She lived in the Krishnas' western world headquarters in Los Angeles and worked for 10 years as a public relations secretary and editor of the organization's newspaper, the ISKCON World Review.

Her book, Betrayal of the Spirit, discusses international drug smuggling, arms caches, airport fundraising, child abuse, and assassinations within the mysterious group, as well as the dynamics that forced most of the group's original members to leave.

Muster's book is about the public relations nightmare of the decade following founder Swami Prabhupada's death. Disillusioned over continuing internal strife, in 1988 Muster left the world of saris, brass cymbals and institutional male chauvinism and returned to mainstream American life.

Her story reads like a non-fiction suspense novel while she shows how an organization can quickly fall into dishonesty, deceit and hypocrisy.


Nori Muster, in her forthcoming book Betrayal of the Spirit, offers a perspective on the gap between religious proclamations and practise in ISKCON during her years in the movement throughout the 1980s that I encourage all of those in leadership positions in ISKCON today to take seriously. Though Muster's book may emphasise primarily the negative attitudes and events associated with ISKCON in America, it also reveals her longing for models of piety and integrity that gurus and ISKCON leaders purportedly represent. Her story reveals the deleterious effects of shallow religiosity, unethical conduct and self-deceptive proclamations by some of ISKCON'S gurus and leaders on the average devotee who simply looks to see how wide the gap is between what a person asserts about his or her authority as a spiritual leader and what he or she actually does. For Prabhupada that gap was quite narrow. That is his legacy, from which contemporary gurus can learn much.

[Published at http://www.iskcon.net/hktv/hktvshinn.htm—now offline.]

India West
Ex-ISKCON Devotee Vents In a Revealing Book
by Viji Sundaram
Nov. 21, 1997

In the 1970s and '80s, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness made reams and reams of press, a good part of it negative.

After its founder Srila Prabhupada's passing, some of the 11 gurus he had named to run the organization grew power hungry. Stories one would ordinarily not link to a religious institution—of kidnappings, high-handedness, non-accountability, drug deals, illicit sex and murder—were linked to ISKCON, whose reputation steadily plummeted.

In Betrayal of the Spirit, Nori Muster, a 22-year-old graduate of U.C. Santa Barbara, who did a 10-year stint with the organization as secretary of public relations and editor of its newsletter, ISKCON World Review, uses her insider's knowledge in her tell-it-all book She describes what went on behind the scenes of an organization which, to the public mind, was one of white dhoti- and sari-clad hippie-types who made a nuisance of themselves at airports and bus terminals, and sang with frenzied fervor on the streets.

Free of malice, the book reveals how the young woman, who entered the movement filled with hope and idealism, eventually left thoroughly disillusioned, thanks to the very people she had hoped would guide her on the spiritual path.

'The ISKCON I joined was exuberant, joyful and confident,' she says, in the last chapter of the book. 'The ISKCON I left was scarred with scandal, enmity and disgrace. When I consider that difference, I cry.'

Acknowledging that the title of her book does indeed sound somewhat harsh, Muster in the preface says that 'most Krishna followers are gentle people, who observe the principles of celibacy, sobriety and vegetarianism.

'Millions have found peace through chanting Hare Krishna, and I believe A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought genuine spirit to the West. The word 'betrayal' refers to the attitudes and events that betrayed the spirit.'

That betrayal took the form of the male leaders expecting the female devotees to unquestioningly carry out their orders, uncomplainingly occupy the back rows at ISKCON conferences, and resignedly accept the fact that they were of 'lesser intelligence.'

In illustration of this, Muster writes about a male-dominated ISKCON conference she and a handful of other women devotees once attended in a New Jersey temple.

Toward the end of the conference, she writes, a woman in the back row stood up, shaking with self-consciousness and said: 'I joined the New York temple in 1968,' she began. ' . . . I've tried to do everything my authorities asked. I'm so fed up with the way I'm treated that I could cry.

'The women have the worst rooms in the building, and the plumbing is breaking down. When I told the temple president our shower was broken, he said to use a bucket.

'We never have a place to chant because the men won't let us in the temple room during japa time. Sometimes I think ISKCON is only for men and I'm just in the way.'

From a literary standpoint, the book is not a page-turner and one that perhaps will never make the best-seller list. It doesn't grip like Monkey on a Stick—a book published in the late 1980s by a Bay Area journalist and a New York Times reporter—exposing the revolting goings-on at some of the ISKCON centers.

Nevertheless, Muster's book provides the curious with vivid glimpses of an organization that has since made serious efforts to redeem itself.


i thought this was a very good personal recollection of a woman's time during the transition period of the hare krishna movement.

- Sonja 01/08/2009

I find books on the "Hare Krishna" movement to be insightful, especially when trying to understand the misfortunes that have plagued ISKCON since the departure of Prabhupada.

- Mathias 01/26/2008

The spiritual odyssey of a Krishna follower
[the same review also appears at Amazon.com]

The author was looking for a spiritual direction in her life, and she found that in the Hare Krishna movement. In the beginning, she found ISKCON was filled with joy, happiness, and peace, but when she left the organization after a decade; she found it scarred with scandals, enmity, and descended in disgrace. The death of the founder Prabhupada brought changes and years of confusion which was tumultuous. No one in the organization comprehended what would be the fate of the organization at this critical period of its life. Many followers left in disgust or disappointment. The Governing body council (GBC) made of 11 men enforced its rules, but for believers, the rigid patriarchal structure was too hard to bear and some henchmen including the gurus, and local temple leaders took advantage of their political might and subjected their followers, especially women and children to abuse. The taste of money and power corrupted many leaders.

Many people think that this book is similar to John Hubner's scandal filled book "Monkey on a Stick," but actually this is different from it in its narrative style and the story. This is partly an autobiography where the author discusses the spiritual joy of Krishna consciousness she experienced in the beginning and her father's positive influence in her personal, professional and spiritual life. This book in some way is similar to Mukunda Goswami's "Inside Hare Krishna Movement," which focused on ISKCON global communication strategies. Likewise this book also focuses mainly on issues surrounding the governing body and the dissemination of information through the organization's publicity wing, the "The ISKCON World Review." One of the responsibilities of the author was to disseminate the ISKCON news as it happened and also ensure that it creates positive image for the organization.

This book does not get into details of the scandals as John Hubner does in his book "Monkey on a stick," but discusses the issues and the steps the PR department has to take to minimize the damage and correct the erroneous ways of the individual or the group involved. Issues like women raising more money than men in sankirtan program but they never had any say in the managing the organization or sankirtan parties. The PR department urged temple leaders to change their ways of doing their business. The Los Angles temple took steps to change this practice and set an example for other temples. The 1973 attack on deities at New Vrindaban by a group of motor bikers discusses the bad media publicity on the organization and the subsequent investigations that lead to the detection of stockpiling of assault weapons. The Rishabdev of Laguna Beach temple was explosive news since his connection to drug dealers in Southern California to raise money for temple projects caused concern for the principles on which the organization was found. The biggest challenge to the PR department, the author recalls is the 1980 raid in San Francisco and the large cache of weapons found on the temple property. Guru Hansadatta strongly believed that the war between United States and Soviet Union was inevitable and he thought they had to defend ISKCON organization in an armed struggle. It was getting harder to keep the organization from media assault and the crippling effect it had on ISKCON. Other problems for PR department were GBC unity, guru reform, initiation by suspended guru's and stealing of devotes from another guru. Certain media coverage helped the organization such as Life magazine's cover page picture of Hare Krishna girls in saris and the gopi makeup provided a positive image of ISKCON. Chapter 9 entitled "The gurus start world war III" is an interesting account of the evolution of several splinter groups around the country by ex-ISKCON members.

Bill Muster, the author's father had experience as a PR person in the "Save the Delta Queen" campaign to win congressional exemptions from legislation. He guides the author in her publicity/marketing of the movement, and provides positive impact on her professional life. He is even positive about her joining the ISKCON movement and not pleased when she leaves it. One of the touching parts of her personal story involving her father is in the last few pages when he is dying of cancer. He finds peace in God and the faith that his soul would continue after death. His last wish was to be cremated after his death and ashes dispersed in the southeastern part of India amid chanting of sacred hymns by a Viashnava priest at a remote Hindu temple on the edge of Bay of Bengal.

Even though many have fallen and left Krishna life entirely, some are spiritually compelled to go back to the movement because of its metaphysics, the rituals and Krishna consciousness. Reincarnation, karma yoga, bhakti yoga, chanting, and meditation have become common to many in the West, partly because of the determination and courage of Prabhupada to come to United Sates to save thousands of souls which otherwise would have been lost to drugs, sex and alcohol.

1. Hare Krishna Transformed (The New and Alternative Religions Series)
2. Hare Krishna in America
3. Inside the Hare Krishna Movement: An Ancient Eastern Religious Tradition Comes of Age in the Western World
4. The Dark Lord: Cult Images and the Hare Krishnas in America
5. Monkey on a Stick (Onyx)
6. The Hare Krishna explosion: The birth of Krishna consciousness in America, 1966-1969
7. Inside the Hare Krishna Movement: An Ancient Eastern Religious Tradition Comes of Age in the Western World

- Rama 2/18/2014

The author was a member of the team that produced the newspaper that went out to Hare Krishna members worldwide and as such was privy to inside information not available to most members of the organization. The unique vantage point of the author is what makes this book worth reading if you want to understand how an organization like this under stress slowly falls apart.

What is so surprising is that even with murder, child abuse, and the corruption of many leaders of the organization the author still took many years to finally decide to leave this group. As a reader with little confidence in organized religion I found it a fascinating psychological read. What was it that made it so hard for Muster and others to leave this group? Many did finally decide to leave over time but it was very hard for most of them to psychologically break away. In fact many still maintained some contact with the group or formed splinter groups. It reminded me of the Reformation and how so many Protestant sects formed after breaking away from the Catholic church.

While the Hare Krishnas can seem bizarre with their Indian dress and chanting the internal disunion is a familiar theme and can be seen in many Protestant or Catholic splinter religious groups today that disagree with dogma or the personality of the group leader.

Muster quotes a psychological study that found that most members of this sect had an obsessive compulsive aspect to their personality. This is most evident in the requirement that each member spend hours each day chanting prayers (japa) over and over and counting the prayers on their prayer beads. Failure to do this was grounds for expulsion.

The book is well written, but I give it only three stars because it seems to me that it would have a very narrow readership. I don't think there are many who want to know the details of what happened to the movement in the 1980s, but for anyone who does this is a worthwhile read.

- Carol 1/4/2015

this was yet another great book about the corruption within the Hare Krishna movement. But it was written from an insiders view as far as her being a devotee yet also somewhat on the outside as a woman. Since this was written i know many in the movement have worked to remove the sexism which i think was made out of hand by the very gurus who were corrupt anyhow. But back to the review of the book, i really liked that it also had a personal spin regarding her relationship with her father. A great read!

- Andy 9/21/2010

reread again...still an awesome book filled with joy pain commitment and dissolution

-Jane 8/10/2016

Boston University Review
The Hare Krishna Movement: When Maya Becomes Divine

Nori Muster's Betrayal of the Spirit, is an insider's account of the Hare Krishna movement in the United States. It is an autobiographical recollection in which Muster describes the changes within the organization, and offers her hypothesis as to how and why these changes occurred. Her story begins in college, when she first encounters ISKCON, and as the book moves chronologically through time, she moves deeper and deeper into the movement. She starts as an interested observer, later becomes a member, and finally begins working in the public relations office within ISKCON. In the last part of the book, Muster paints a shocking picture of ISKCON, and concludes with her reasons for leaving the movement.

Her primary thesis is that the Hare Krishna movement she first became interested in was not the same Hare Krishna movement she left behind. As an undergraduate, Muster was looking for spiritual advancement, and she found just that in ISKCON. Instead of synthesizing her own spirituality, however, she had stumbled upon an organization that dictated to her the kind of spirituality she should have. Her ascent into the movement was quick, and at times irrespective of her own will. She allowed gurus to persuade her to become a member, to persuade her to work in the PR department, and to persuade her to cover up problems that occurred within the movement.

She describes ISKCON as an organization that fell apart after the demise of its teacher, Srila Prabhupada. He had started the movement as a sacred offshoot of Hinduism that was rooted in Bhakti Yoga. Devotees lived a strict life in which their purpose was to serve Krishna. After Prabhupada's death, Muster postulates, corrupt and egocentric gurus failed to keep up the sacred traditions that Prabhupada had worked so hard to cultivate. The decentralization of the movement created factions all over the country. Each "zonal guru" felt that he was the true successor of Prabhupada, and conducted affairs in his zone without anyone to report too. Because of this split in power, the gurus ruled their respective zones like feudal lords, and in the process lost the very teaching that Prabhupada had passed on.

With neither a balance of power nor a system of checks and balances, ISKCON shifted away from a sacred practice, and moved towards an organization infested with debauchery. Muster's involvement was not devoid of blame. As a member of the PR department, she helped to place a cloth over the illicit affairs of its members. Though she did not agree with the "shove it under the rug" approach, she conceded to the gurus and helped to do just that.

In the end, what was once an organization that had provided Muster with a home, a job, a husband, and a spiritual family, had turned into a suffocating situation. Conflicts of interest over her publications, and disagreement over handling "touchy issues" led Muster to leave ISKCON. She realized that her need for spirituality was not being fulfilled through the movement. Though she still believed in Krishna Consciousness, she no longer believed in the new ISKCON.

Betrayal of the Spirit raises some key questions about religion, and offers interesting answers concerning people and blind faith. Firstly, how Hindu are the Hare Krishnas? Secondly, was Nori Muster a confused young woman who fell into the arms of a corrupt organization or was she an immature and foolish woman who never learned to think on her own? Lastly, is it even correct to say that ISKCON is a religious movement?

In reference to the first question, how Hindu are the Hare Krishnas, my opinion is that they are nowhere close to understanding the basic premise behind this ancient religion, and their interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita and bhakti yoga are way off the mark. The Gita for many Hindus is a guidebook to life. It is used to make sense of life when life itself doesn't make sense. In it Lord Krishna counsels Arjuna on topics such as duty, honor, respect, and discipline. None of these lessons seem to be valued by the Hare Krishnas. Simply chanting "Hare Rama, Hare Krishna," wearing monastic garb, and meditating with a japa mala does not make one a Hindu. While it may be true that Prabhupada founded an organization based on a love and devotion for Krishna, the ISKCON of the 1980s was similar to Prabhupada's creation only in name. Sexual abuse, prostitution, murder, drug embezzlement, and money laundering are hardly lessons taught by Krishna in the Gita, and I wonder what version of the Gita Hare Krishnas are reading.

As a Hindu who holds the teachings of the Gita to be sacred, it makes my blood boil when Hare Krishnas say that they are incorporating the words of Krishna into their lives. Krishna consciousness, what does that term mean? Does it mean an awareness of Krishna? Is it a love for Krishna? Does it involve a commitment to live life by his words? If that is what the term refers too, then the Hare Krishna movement is an enormous failure. From my perspective, if the Hare Krishnas never said that they were based in the Hindu tradition then I would not care about their actions, ideas, or philosophy. But ISKCON says it is a sect of Hinduism, and thus when ISKCON is mentioned, Hinduism is inferred. My problem with ISKCON arises here. If a group openly says that they are part of a tradition, then I expect them to respect that tradition. I certainly do not expect the group to bring shame to that tradition. ISKCON has a distorted view of what Hinduism is about. It talks about leading a clean life on one hand, and on the other hand, gurus are abusing their power and sleeping with little girls. I do not see what is Hindu about that.

The second question that this book brings up is whether ISKCON was so good at sucking people in that Muster got mixed up in a corrupt organization, or whether she was too naïve to realize what ISKCON was really about. In my view, she was a young woman looking for a place to belong and trying too hard to find it. She was too weak of mind to make choices on her own, and relied on her father and the gurus to make decisions for her. Soon after college she joined ISKCON. This prevented her from living in the real world. She did not have to make difficult real-world decisions; she was living in an ashram where a guru dictated what she was to do. And even in the end at the age of thirty, she relied on her father to give her guidance with her work, with her life in ISKCON, and with her decision to leave it. In my opinion she was a puppet whose strings were never fully controlled by her own brain.

Lastly, can ISKCON even be considered to be a religion? In my view, most religions (with some exceptions) don't traverse airports and con people into giving them money. Devotees are not usually made to sell cookies in order to make a profit for a cause. Religions don't put out cookbooks titled A Higher Taste to make money. Cover-ups about murders should not be part of a sacred organization; they belong in Al Pacino movies. This is not a religion, but rather a hoax. Its goal is not to grow spiritually, but rather monetarily.

The most disturbing part of ISKCON is not the behavior of the gurus. It is not the murders, or the headlines. It is not even its disrespect of Hinduism. Rather the most disturbing aspect is its devotees. They are like the children who followed the tune of the Pied Piper, being mesmerized by something so insane. The ability of ISKCON's devotees to lose common sense, and become unable to separate reality from maya paints a weak and unnerving picture of the human mind. Betrayal of the Spirit provides interesting insights into a world where religion stops helping and starts hurting.

- Preeti Subhedar read original

Boston University Review
A Critical Review of Nori Muster's Betrayal of the Spirit

Betrayal of the Spirit is a thoughtful and critical insider's account of the Hare Krishnas, more formally named the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). In this religious autobiography, Nori Muster reflects on her experiences as a devotee and describes the Hare Krishna's decline after the death of Swami Prabhupada, the ISKCON founder, in 1977. She does all this from the unique perspective of a public relations officer.

In the 1970s, a time of social change and experimentation, Nori Muster was a college student who became fascinated with religion and came to a spiritual crossroads in her life. She felt destined to pursue Krishna consciousness after meeting welcoming devotees and connecting with their four regulative principles. She also became interested in the organization's press, learned about gurus and bhakti yoga, and was taught to chant mantras and japas. Because Prabhupada's writings provided answers to her questions about the mysteries of God, Nori moved into the Los Angeles temple and immersed herself in Hare Krishna culture, eventually devoting eleven years of her life to working in ISKCON's Public Relations department.

Throughout the book, Nori argues that ISKCON's downfall in the 1980s did not result from Prabhupada's failings. Some of the factors that contributed to the group's demise include a zonal guru system and its lack of accountability, corruption of certain influential gurus, an inflexible patriarchal structure, isolation from and dishonesty toward the outside world, and negative publicity brought upon by the Hare Krishnas themselves.

The Governing Body Commission (GBC) held a meeting after Prabhupada's death and decreed that eleven gurus would initiate disciples and be treated with the same respect formerly paid to Prabhupada. The new zonal guru system was a turning point because the transmission of guru power was not smooth, and the gurus took paths that seemed to diverge from the founder's principles.

Muster attributed a flood of negative publicity about ISKCON to national and international problems caused by one or several individuals. Several gurus had integrity problems. Among them were Jayatirtha who experienced devotional ecstasy as a result of heavy LSD usage, Hamsadutta who stockpiled weapons in the Northern California ranch, and Ramesvara who was attached to a fifteen-year-old girl and failed to chant his japas. If these and other corrupted gurus were held accountable for their actions and immediately excommunicated from ISKCON, much of the bad press would have been avoided. Some of the remaining issues ISKCON had to face included: the Jonestown tragedy, Laguna Beach drug busts, a court case called George vs. ISKCON, deceptive fundraising activities, drug dealing and prostitution in New Vrindaban, neglect and child abuse in the Dallas boarding school, and family incest in a gurukula in Vrindavana, India. Many of these events were covered up.

Despite the bad publicity and a growing negative reputation, Muster gave ISKCON the benefit of the doubt and continued to have faith in its leadership. A struggle between her expectations as a devotee and ISKCON's scandal-filled reality eventually led her to resign from her job and separate from the movement.

I respect and admire Nori Muster's courage in writing Betrayal of the Spirit. One can only imagine the hardship, adjustment, and acceptance she had to face as a female Hare Krishna devotee. Luckily she did not experience any of the abuse, neglect, or organizational incest that was mentioned in one of the chapters. However, the way she describes her experiences, especially as a woman devotee, is inconsistent with her initial knowledge of ISKCON women. In other words, I would argue that she was not as naïve as she described herself to be. Numerous situations in the book made her aware of women's second-class status and submissive roles.

Muster's feelings of confusion and growing alienation became more evident when an award for ISKCON's P.R. department was given to a part-time male staff writer, despite her dedication and hard work as a public relations secretary and editor of the ISKCON World Review. She probably did not realize the extent of the organization's patriarchal system. Nevertheless, she did present us with several incidents that should have given her fair warning of the lack of recognition or appreciation that she would receive as a female devotee. Two examples include one woman's explanation that "submission is the ornament of woman" and her college professor's argument that ISKCON women were considered inferior (16). Muster had persuasive evidence of subservient roles of most ISKCON women, but wanted to believe that it wasn't true.

Why didn't Muster share what she knew about ISKCON's internal problems with other devotees? I have mixed feelings regarding this issue because it is disturbing, yet understandable considering the situation she was in. Of course a fellow devotee would only want to know the facts, so as to not be blindly worshiping Krishna in the midst of internal corruption. Since it was her job in the P.R. department to encourage optimism and to project a positive image of ISKCON, however, it is almost excusable that she did not let the word spread about the organization's turmoil. I do give Muster credit for attempting to notify others through various interviews and articles, particularly because she was regulated by the GBC, which did not allow reporting of certain new stories that would have brought unfavorable attention.

Because Muster is more objective as opposed to subjective in writing the book, the events that occurred behind the scenes within ISKCON are more believable. It is important to note that she does not write as a bitter, former Hare Krishna devotee of the 1980s, but instead as classic reformer who simply scrutinized the leaders of the movement. I enjoyed reading this book because, as Larry Shinn pointed out in the foreword, two distinctive themes are interwoven within it. Muster provides both an interesting account of what happened to the Hare Krishnas in the United States during that time and a narrative of her own struggles with the Hare Krishnas.

- Gina E. Dapul read original

Best-bookstore.com Reviews

Loving the Good or Hating the Bad are NOT the same
(from Best-bookstore.com)
[the same review also appears at Amazon.com]

I went to a Kumbha mela in India in 1965 at 18 years old and experienced many of the sincere Holy sadhus of India. In the same year Srila Prabhupada went to America with a message of How to get Back to God. Drugs and sex were not the way.

I joined iskcon in 1978 as well and left iskcon in 1984 for pretty much the same reasons as Nori. However, I have never left the love of Srila Prabhupada.

The danger Nori has here is by focusing on hating the bad our consciousness becomes very stained. I decided to simply Love the Good in all that passed through my life, including iskcon.

The study of human nature is fascinating. I went to the big Mayapur festival in 1980 and there were 11 "holy thrones" for the 11 American holy young men who staged a coup after their leader left his body. To them their spiritual Dad had died and it was case of getting into a position of power in iskcon. They just did what came natural to ambitious americans. Take control of the iskcon world.

I looked at this with some amusement and immediately said to a devotee next to me, "Eleven green bottles sitting on a wall, and if one green bottle should accidently fall there'd be ten green bottles left hanging on the wall."

It was just so obvious to anyone that these young American boys were no sadhus. But they were connected to one.

Over the past 26 years nearly all the green bottles have indeed fallen, but they were never supposed to be on the holy thrones anyway.

My young son who attended the school in vrindavan had a dream where Srila Prabhupada was trying to get onto his throne but was unable as there were too many american kids sitting on it. He turned to my son and just said, "What have I done"?

Radha and Krishna are a sweet loving and divine couple. Loving consciousness is their message. By focusing on the good we become sweet. By focusing on the bad we become sour. I say, focus on the sweet and good. It will all work out fine ...in the end. Haribol!

There Are No Victims, Only Volunteers
(from Best-bookstore.com)

As a 31 year member of the Hare Krishna Movement, I apologize on behalf of the angst and disappointment Nori has experienced, as expressed in Betrayal of the Spirit. I empathize with her, as I have experienced similar, but I am also eternally greatful for all the devotees within the movement that invested their time in me, to help me shape my character, and give up a materialistic life for genuine spiritual life. This is something that is lacking in her book.

As Nori knows, the founder, Srila Prabhupada, described that there are two types of mentalities, that of the fly, and that of the bee. The fly looks for the toxins and the bee for the nectar. Is this book a meditation on toxins or on nectar ? I have had my share of disappointments with various leaders, and have been a leader myself in the Krishna movement. I am sure I let many people down as well, but with my limitations , I tried to overcome my lower nature. I don't think that the well-wishing founder of the Hare Krishna Movement would approve of this book, as it gives a very distorted view of what the Hare Krishna Movement was not intended to be, and actually is not.

Srila Prabhupada, who she still claims to be a follower of, would say that there may be spots on the moon, but it does not effect the illumination. I remember meeting Nori and her husband in their offices one time, to thank and commend them on the movements newspaper that they were editing, and how they called it the Whitewash Review. It was then that I realized they were writing things that were "politically correct" because there probably was some pressure to do so.

I am not currently very active within the mainstream Hare Krishna movement, but I don't see the value in scaring people away from visiting a Hare Krishna temple. I think is is actually a disservice, and an act of violence in itself. The greatest decision I ever made in this lifetime was to visit a Hare Krishna temple, and the incredible effect the lifestyle has had on my development as a human being. Even Lord Krishna showed us the example of sucking the poison out of the witch Putana, but delivering her back to the spiritual world because of acting like a nurse to Him. I could also try to cash in on a percentage of $13.00 by writing about all the faults I experienced in the Hare Krishna Movement, but better I write volumes about my own short-comings and improve them, but who would want to read it ? We become what we meditate upon.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the purest and most profound author of spiritual literature that anyone could read. His books are available online, or at any Hare Krishna temple. He said that he too was a member of ISKCON, and "ISKCON with all thy faults, I love thee". Does this mean that Nori's standrards are higher than his ? I hope Nori and her husband will bury their hatchet and continue to participate in a way superior to cashing checks from hanging out the dirty laundry known as Betrayal of the Spirit. I think she has betrayed her own spirit by publishing it. I am also trying to learn to take responsibility for my own decisions and to give up the "victim" role, otherwise how will I ever grow ? The saints within ISKCON far exceed the deceivers.

Not impressed
(from Best-bookstore.com)

Self-pitying, weak-minded and unbalanced account of one woman's involvement in the Hare Krishna movement. I would have admired her more, if she had taken responsibility for her own mistake in getting involved in something which she later regretted, rather than blaming others. And I thought it a shame that she should vent her spleen in a way damaging to an organisation, which has helped so many.

A portrait of mounting corruption and its concealment.
(from Best-bookstore.com)

This well-written book provides a good account of how a religious organization can become increasingly corrupt yet seek to conceal and deny this corruption at every turn. Muster recounts her own role in this deception. For much of her time in ISKCON, she was an editor and writer for a sect newspaper that tried to balance journalism with its purpose to put a positive spin on whatever was happening within the organization. Finally, the evidence of corrupt behavior became too great to ignore, and when Muster attempted to publish interviews and stories that mildly touched upon controversial events, she was thwarted by the cult authorities. Eventually, Muster had no choice but to leave the group. In the author's view, ISKCON's problems began with the death of the supreme guru, Srila Prabhupada, in 1977. This resulted in the devolution of authority to eleven "zonal gurus" who lacked the charisma and Vedic scholarship of the cult's founder. Inevitably, some of these gurus went completely overboard, spurred on by the cult's practice of worshipping—in effect, deifying—them. The new introduction to the book, written later than the original introduction by Larry Shinn, implies that the author no longer categorically rejects the mind control/manipulation model that Shinn seems so eager to discard. While this book offers a good overview of the decline of ISKCON in America, it does not provide a lot of insight into the lifestyle of ordinary members of ISKCON, such as those who went to airports tirelessly for years to raise money for the cult. I found myself wanting to know more about the private thoughts and feelings of the person Nori Muster and not just about the series of scandals that swept through the cult in the 1980s.

no point missed!
(from Best-bookstore.com)

To the unfortunate person whose review is titled "Missing the Point"- i'm afraid it is you, my friend. Hare Krsnas are NOT about spreading the Hindu caste system throught the world, nor are they trying to create some elite class of MALE Brahmins.

Actually, ISKCON founder Srila Prabhuada constantly spoke out against the Hindu caste system- which places people in caste BY BIRTH. Meaning, the son of a Brahmin is automatically considered a Brahmin. Prabhupada practised genuine Vedic dharma in granting devotees Brahmin initiation based on QUALIFICATION- and to women too!

Youll be surprised to know that the base of Krsna Conscious philosophy is "Aham Brahmasmi"- I AM SPIRIT.

There is no distiction based on temporary bodily distinctions such as sex, race, or even species! Hence the fact that devotees practice Ahimsa "nonviolence" to ALL living beings.

Yes, i lived in Krsna temple for 2 years and have been a devotee for almost 10. There are inumerable women devotess who are Brahmins, Priests, and temple leaders. And as a male devotee, one of my many services involved cooking and cleaning in the temple. There is no "woman's work" predjudice. We are all spirit-souls serving Sri Krsna. The movement is not perfect- but the philosophy of Vedic culture and the devotion of Srila Prabhupada will inspire the heart of any open minded person!

I just cannot see lies spread about my culture. Please forgive me if i have made any offenses. All glories to Srila Prabhupada!*

this was yet another great book about the corruption within the Hare Krishna movement. But it was written from an insiders view as far as her being a devotee yet also somewhat on the outside as a woman. Since this was written i know many in the movement have worked to remove the sexism which i think was made out of hand by the very gurus who were corrupt anyhow. But back to the review of the book, i really liked that it also had a personal spin regarding her relationship with her father. A great read!
- Andy (Good Reads books reviewer)

i thought this was a very good personal recollection of a woman's time during the transition period of the hare krishna movement.
- Sonja (Good Reads books reviewer)

I find books on the "Hare Krishna" movement to be insightful, especially when trying to understand the misfortunes that have plagued ISKCON since the departure of Prabhupada.
- Mathias (Good Reads books reviewer)

Other Reviews

Review by Brad Warner, ordained Zen Buddhist monk and author hardcorezen

I just finished reading Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement by Nori J. Muster. This in spite of the fact that I have two Zen related books waiting patiently for me to review them. One's about Haukuin, the other is about the Heart Sutra. But, frankly, I'm more interested in what happened to the Hare Krishna movement.

In a nutshell, this book is the tale of Nori J. Muster who once went by the name Nandini and served as a key P.R. person for ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) during its most turbulent years, the late 70s through the late 80s. This was the time from right after founder A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's death through the murders and violence depicted in the book Monkey on a Stick, which covers the debacle of New Vrindaban, the "Hare Krishna Disneyland" (they really called it that) in West Virginia.

The Hare Krishna story in short is that a charismatic, dedicated and sincere monk named A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (the Prabhupada part was added later) came to American with something like $2.75 in his pocket and started a worldwide movement based on the ancient teachings he had studied and practiced throughout most of his life. Then he died without clearly naming a successor. The members of his movement have been fighting about this ever since, although things have settled down a lot in the past twenty years.

I can't find the precise quote because I borrowed the book from the library and didn't want to mark it up (though I liked it so much I'll be buying my own copy). But Muster quotes someone who said that Srila Prabhupada had two kinds of authority. There was the institutional authority conferred upon him by his spiritual master. This made him a monk and a teacher. This type of authority could conceivably be conferred upon anyone who went through the necessary steps to receive it.

The other type of authority Srila Prabhupada had was much more nebulous. It was a personal sort of authority that came through his particular personality and the strength of his commitment to his practice combined with all sorts of accidents of fate such as his coming to America in 1965 just when young people there were searching for gurus.

Not long before he died, Prabhupada named eleven men as having the power to initiate new disciples. Each was responsible for a different territory. But he was a bit vague as to whether these men were gurus like him or not. This has been a point of contention ever since. Be that as it may, Prabhupada could only confer institutional authority upon his disciples. He couldn't give them his charisma or his commitment to practice. And he sure couldn't pass on to them the accidents of fate that made what he did possible.

A few of the men among that group of eleven were extremely charismatic but insane. A few others lacked such charisma but were very sincere and tried their best to follow what Praphupada had taught. A couple of those failed spectacularly in their efforts, thus sullying the movement even more. Just two of these eleven men remained in positions of authority within ISKCON at the time Muster wrote her book (1997).

This is all fascinating to me because I find myself in much the same position as those eleven guys. There is a lot less at stake in Dogen Sangha International (DSI). We have no monetary assets at all, no "Palace of Gold" in West Virginia, no one selling our literature or our delicious cookies at airports. Dogen Sangha International is not even registered as an entity with any government agency anywhere. Dogen Sangha Los Angeles is. And I believe Dogen Sangha Bristol in England may be. Dogen Sangha (minus the international) in Chiba, Japan may also be. It's possible others are legally registered in France, Germany and Israel. I'm not sure. But if they are, they are just local entities using that name. DSI has no worldwide meetings to decide policy, no board of governors, no nothing. It's just a name, really.

Nishijima Roshi conferred a certain degree of what we might call "institutional authority" upon a number of his students, me included. Like Srila Prabhupada, Nishijima could not confer his personal authority upon anyone. The word authority here is problematic. But I'm using it here because I can't come up with a better term.

Nishijima also named me as president of Dogen Sangha International. But he never spelled out exactly what that meant. It was extremely important to him, though. And because it was so important to him I said "yes" even though I'm no clearer on what it means to be president of something that doesn't exist than anyone else is. I have resisted any attempts to make Dogen Sangha International anything more definite than it is. (Dogen Sangha Los Angeles, is something entirely different and I'm working toward establishing that as a religious non-profit corporation in the State of California. DSLA will have no authority over any other Dogen Sangha branch.)

In my book Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate I wrote about what happened when that appointment was made. It was remarkably like what happened to the Hare Krishnas, but without anyone being beheaded by a mad disciple.

I've heard from dozens of people since that book came out telling me how things went precisely the same way in their aikido dojo when the master died, or in their church when the pastor passed on and so forth. It's an incredibly common scenario. It happened at the San Francisco Zen Center when Suzuki Roshi died and, to a lesser extent, at some of the temples Katagiri Roshi established after he died. Paul, Peter and James battled over whose interpretations of Christ's teachings were correct.

It happened after Buddha died too, according to Stephen Batchelor in his book Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. Batchelor believes that Maha Kashyapa, revered by many Buddhists (and pretty much all Zen Buddhists) as Gautama Buddha's rightful successor was more of a guy with political savvy who pulled the ranks together than someone who actually understood what Buddha was on about. In fact, Buddha is on record as telling his followers not to appoint a successor.

And this will happen again, many more times.

So why do guys like Gautama Buddha, Srila Prabhupada, Nishijima Roshi and so many others even attempt to set up these institutions? Are they so naive as to think that their institution alone won't go through what every single other one like it has gone through as far back as the beginnings of recorded human history?

Some of them may be that naive. But my guess is that most are not. Because institutions also manage to preserve these teachings even in spite of the power struggles and suchlike that always take place. We know what Buddha taught (or at least some approximation thereof) because of the institution that wily old politician Maha Kashyapa set up to preserve it. Had Buddha's followers actually taken his instructions not to appoint a successor to heart, we probably wouldn't know very much about Buddha today except as a minor philosopher in ancient India.

And there you have my dilemma regarding Dogen Sangha International, and why I am so wishy-washy as to what to do about it.

Answers on a postcard please.

Betrayal of the Spirit Review

A young Californian from a turbulent background finds her first peace of mind within a spiritual movement, only to discover the organization has become morally bankrupt. She leaves, disillusioned, to save her sanity - and her soul.

After a traumatic childhood and adolescence, the author - typical of many in her generation, raised in the '60s - seeks consolation and security within the Hare Krishna movement. The controlled environment and introspective philosophy help her achieve stability and free her from her dependence on drugs and self-destructive relationships. Leading a normal, productive life for the first time, she quickly rises to a high position within the organization.

Gradually she realizes that the leaders of the movement are corrupting the spiritual essence of the founder's teachings. In the midst of growing dissension within the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), she begins to sense a greater and greater discrepancy between what the self-anointed leaders proclaim and what public television and newspapers report about the religious group.

It becomes increasingly more difficult for her to deny what she sees: drug sales, weapon dealing, child molestation, deceptive fund raising, and psychological enslavement of naive devotees. She realizes she is caught in the middle of another Jonestown-in-the-making. As the editor of the Society's ISKCON World Review newspaper, her central role in the Movement's attempt to cover up these activities and her sense of honesty as a journalist collide in an inevitable crisis of conscience. Her resignation from the organization and resulting moral disillusionment are the subject of this far-reaching exploration of the relationship between human aspirations and human frailty.

At the heart of every revolution is the question of individual rights versus the sanctity of the established order. Revolution is always perceived by that order as the line of least resistance, the easy way out. The author describes the pain of mind and heart that led to her decision to leave ISKCON. By sharing her experience, the reader recognizes the early signs of hypocrisy and corruption. The reader learns why it is more courageous - and more difficult - to abandon ship, than to remain compulsively loyal to a system that is ultimately destructive to self and spirit.

Muze Annotation

The former director of public relations for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (also known at the Hare Krishna movement) offers this behind-the-scenes account of her ten years as a member, and the scandals and inconsistencies within the movement that ultimately led to her departure.


Betrayal of the Spirit is part of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In an email 23 July 01, Prof. of Religious Studies Tom Tweed said: "My students found the excerpt from your book very helpful. And I am happy to know about the new paperback edition. Thanks."

Check out Dr. Tweed's book:

Retelling U.S. Religious History
, by Thomas A. Tweed (Editor)

This collection marks a turning point in the study of the history of American religions. In challenging the dominant paradigm, Thomas A. Tweed and his coauthors propose nothing less than a reshaping of the way that American religious history is understood, studied, and taught. The range of these essays is extraordinary. - Amazon review

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