"This memoir, now in paperback with a new preface, is an important insider critique of a disturbing era in ISKCON's history."
Books in Brief
March 26, 2001
This autobiography by an ex-Krishna Consciousness member offers troubling revelations about life in the movement's upper echelons. Muster worked in public relations at the national headquarters from 1978 until 1988, while the movement weathered accusations of child sexual abuse, corruption, mishandling of funds and even murder. In her privileged position, Muster came to the painful realization that many of the accusations were true, despite leaders' repeated denials. She says that, with the benefit of hindsight, "it seems obvious . . . that I could have packed up and left ISKCON at any time," but at the time, she was "so engrossed in 'getting religion' that I confoundedly accepted too much dark along with the light." This memoir, now in paperback with a new preface, is an important insider critique of a disturbing era in ISKCON's history. - Jana Riess
"Muster hopes the book will help others who are attracted to cults."
Nori Muster - A Spirit Betrayed
Profile by Lauren Winner
March 26, 2001
Nori Muster had everything going for her. Sure, her teenage years had been a bit rocky, but nothing more than the normal teenage rebellion in the wake of her parents' divorce. Now she was graduating from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the world was her oyster.
The day after commencement, Muster drove to the west L.A. temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)—more commonly known as the Hare Krishnas—and joined up. She would spend the next 10 years in the religious group, which she now considers to be a cult. "I had finished college, I could have just walked out into the world and done anything, and instead my life has been sucked up," she now reflects bitterly.
In 1997, Muster published Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement (Univ. of Illinois), a memoir of her days in ISKCON. This spring the press is reissuing the book in paper with a new preface that is more critical than in the original. "When I wrote the book, I was sort of half-in, half-out" of the Hare Krishnas, says Muster. "Now I am totally out."
Muster's time as a Hare Krishna went from idyllic to nightmarish. At first there was a feeling of community, of family. Muster, who had found the college social scene far too dominated by beer and pot, appreciated the Hare Krishnas' rejection of drugs. She also found a good job within the Hare Krishna community, working on their newspaper; she eventually became the assistant editor.
It was that "central position" of editor, says Muster, that gave her a different view of the movement. "I began to see that it was very hypocritical," she recalls. Hypocritical, and worse: she asserts that Hare Krishnas were involved in murders, kidnappings and child abuse, crimes they didn't want Muster to report on. When Muster finally did begin to publish articles probing the underbelly of the Hare Krishnas, the movement's top dogs cracked down. She resigned from the paper and left the Hare Krishnas at the end of 1988.
Not surprisingly, the Hare Krishnas aren't thrilled with Muster's spin on the movement. Anuttama Dasa, international director of communications for ISKCON, tells PW, "If you just read her book you get a very unbalanced, biased picture. Every institution has its individual participants who fall far below the principles of the organization."
The University of Illinois Press expects to get a sales bump for the paperback from the publicity surrounding a current lawsuit brought by adults who claim they were abused as children in the movement, says Danielle Dupuis, publicity manager at Illinois. "Since Nori is involved with the lawsuit, she would be great at speaking about what is happening."
Muster hopes the book will help others who are attracted to cults, and their families. To the former, she counsels, "Be aware when you're in a dysfunctional system, and don't let it control you. Back away—then heal yourself." To families, she says simply, "If you have a loved one that is in a cult, just stand by them."
Read the other "Publisher's Weekly review printed in 1996 (for the hardcover edition).