"A rare look into the world of those women who put flowers in your hands at the airport."
Feminist Bookstore News
Nov./Dec. 1996 Vol. 19, No. 4
I can only say, wow! It's this kind of book that I find not only interesting but an off-beat and quirky, though worthy, addition to the memoirs or spirituality section of any women's bookstore. In Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement, Nori Muster recounts the story of her life in the Hare Krishna movement since 1977. For more than ten years, she worked as a public relations secretary and editor of the organization's newspaper. It's an insider's view of drug dealing, weapons stockpiling, deceptive fundraising, child abuse and murder. Though she has formally left the movement, she is still a believer. 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.
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.
"Her narrative serves on two levels: as behind-the-scenes historical reportage and as a very personal account of her journey into Krishna consciousness."
Nexus, Colorado's Holistic Journal
Betrayal of the Spirit is a rare glimpse into the workings of the Hare Krishna movement in the US by a former insider. Author Nori Muser joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in 1977 and left in 1988, disillusioned with the way that the mechanisms of the institution interfered with her pursuit of spiritual truth.
Nori Muster joined the group not long after the death of its founder and master, Swami Prabhupada—which ushered in an era of considerable disarray for ISKCON. In her position as public relations secretary and an editor of ISKCON World Review Muster was especially privy to the group's workings and many times had to present cover stories to soften the impact of the many scandals that rocked the movement—scandals involving membership schisms, fund-raising anomalies, child abuse, drugs, weapons stockpiling and even murder.
Her narrative serves on two levels: as behind-the-scenes historical reportage and as a very personal account of her journey into Krishna consciousness and her search to find meaning within the confines of religious institutionalism. Despite her frustration with the inner workings and the rampant religious hypocrisy and sexism that forced her to leave her job and the group in 1988, Nori remains true to her spiritual path and even sympathetic about ISKCON and its shortcomings.
Nori Muster's balanced critique gives many helpful insights for those seeking a better understanding of the structure and nature of religious cult groups at the fringe of society.
"Written with a devotee's ideal for truth and a raconteur's sure command of story and syntax."
Gentle Strength Times
Newspaper of the Gentle Strength Co-op
A True Story of Spiritual Intrigue
by Rose' Sullivan
Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement, by Nori J. Muster is a forthright, sympathetic account of a Hare Krishna devotee's search for spiritual awareness. She finds some answers and a good measure of peace, but all is not well nor all peaceful within the temple, or indeed with the sect. Nori Muster found not only spiritual awakening, but in due time she found individual and group corruption that some of the leaders wanted to cover up. The flow of her story is intensely personal and poignant, and at times gripping, as she recounts her part in the play of a misguided organization that crumbled and fragmented in the 1980s.
Nori Muster's story is written with a devotee's ideal for truth, and a raconteur's sure command of story and syntax. Don't start reading this book too late in the day, or you'll stay up all night to finish it.
"Her book discusses international drug smuggling, arms caches, airport fundraising, child abuse, and assassinations within the organization."
University of California, Santa Barbara Alumni Association
Alumni Authors, Summer 1997
The author joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness 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. Her book discusses international drug smuggling, arms caches, airport fundraising, child abuse, and assassinations within the organization, as well as the dynamics that forced most of the group's original members to leave.
"While it is clear that Muster did care about the organization, her contradictions can be disturbing because she contributed to a facade that hid the degradation that ensued."
West Coast Review of Books, Art & Entertainment
The path to enlightenment has never been so crooked. Chronicling the breakdown within the Hare Krishna, Muster provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into a religious movement that many have considered to be a "cult"; she combines this with her personal experience as a devotee working for its public relations department for a decade. While the record of changes within the organization is satisfyingly well researched, Muster's personal account of her beliefs versus her actions is frustratingly inconsistent.
Searching for spirituality and purpose in her life, Muster joined the "missionary Indian religious movement," the Hare Krishna, in 1978. Formally known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON), this group provided Muster with a job. Despite stating she didn't want to be a "subservient woman," she joined an organization where the members told her straight out that one of their fundamental beliefs is "submission is the ornament of a woman." She claims her enthusiasm as a new devotee made her overlook the significance of this belief.
Muster encountered scrapbooks of newspaper clippings chronicling ISKON's history which involved charges of drug smuggling, murder and brainwashing. But Muster provides another glaring inconsistency: despite having chosen the Hare Krishna path for spirituality, her only response to the clippings was as follows: "I got a shiver reading the scrapbook, sensing the challenges that could lie ahead as a public relations secretary." Undisturbed by any possible moral degradation in ISKON, she explains that her father had worked in public relations, and his example taught her "P.R. means selling yourself out occasionally to protect your self-interest." No kidding. This explanation sounds as though ISKON merely provided a career move, and spirituality was a secondary concern.
As she progresses with her personal account, Muster expresses a sense of betrayal by corruption within this spiritual organization; however, while the movement as a whole may have been betrayed, the sense that she as an individual was betrayed fails to be cogent because she learned of the possible corruption when she saw the scrapbook.
Muster's intertwining of different accounts proves effective. This chronicle of ISKON's changes over 10 years gives much insight on how malfeasance ate at the spirit of this organization, leading to disillusionment among many devotees. While it is clear that Muster did care about the organization, her contradictions can be disturbing because she contributed to a facade that hid the degradation that ensued. -N.R.
"Betrayal is an excellent investigative and gripping book."
West Coast Review of Books, Art & Entertainment
Ms. Muster was a child of parents who were part of the hippie age of the 1960s who would try different alternative ideas, such as sensitivity training and encounter group classes. The author's mother was an atheist and her father was agnostic.
Growing up without God or any kind of spiritual sense paradoxically encouraged her to search for some meaning in her life. She finally ended up a devotee of the Hare Krishna movement in the early '70s and a member of ISKCON, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. In this organization she worked as public relations secretary and editor of its newspaper.
At that time, and even today, the Hare Krishnas were often subjected to a negative public reaction. She and the people she worked with were at first successful in having portrayed life in the organization in a positive light. During her time the organization was featured in Life magazine. The text itself was not too flattering, but the cover was more successful in disseminating a positive portrayal of the movement. But corruption, greed and child abuse disillusioned her to the movement and she finally left. As it turned out, most of the original members of the group had already left for the same reasons.
Author Muster was most sensitive to the many child abuse cases that occurred at the headquarters in India where parents would often send their children, believing they would get a good Krishna education. Instead, they were often subject to beatings and sodomizing by the older kids with the full compliance of the teachers.
Betrayal is an excellent investigative and gripping book, especially for those who are considering joining the Hare Krishna lifestyle. - D.M.
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.
"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.]
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 (Good Reads books reviewer)
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 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)
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
Loving the Good or Hating the Bad are NOT the same
[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
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.
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.
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!
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!*
Review by Brad Warner, ordained Zen Buddhist monk and author
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" by Nori Muster helped me during difficult times to put things in perspective as a devotee and a member of ISKCON. Knowing that people aren't always what they seem on the surface and good and evil are subjective, nevertheless, I was caught in a chaos of my own feelings and thoughts.This book helped me process my confusion in understanding the dangers of willful ignorance. - I.P.
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.
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