Ed's note: Here are several articles from The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. The first article/sidebar was published in June 2000, just after the case, Children of ISKCON vs. ISKCON was filed. The other article/sidebar was published in June 2003.
Tarnished leader: Allegations about Swami Prabhupada suggest that he knew of child abuse in the movement bud did nothing about it. Those Hare Krishnas who are pure of heart have been tarnished by the allegations.
by Martin Daly
Sunday 18 June 2000
They were a funny looking lot, even by the hippy, drop-out standards of the 1960s and early '70s: bald Westerners in odd-looking Indian clothing, singing alien chants and reading scriptures from a monotheistic Hindu religion that could not be pronounced by most, never mind understood.
The Hare Krishnas were always a friendly mob, but for years they were often just another of those sects that came from the East to join those cults in the West already providing alternatives for those who despaired of Christianity and the cultures of the money-driven First World.
The movement endured. They built wonderful, marbled temples and ashrams, established schools and preached universal brotherly love.
Devotees eschewed alcohol and illegal drugs and spent their days raising money for the community and praising God.
There has always been criticism about the way Hare Krishnas brought up their children, isolated from an outside world for which they might later be ill prepared and, as a result, might suffer social and cultural dysfunction.
There was a view, too, by some within the movement that women were inferior, and scriptural literalists sometimes found in their readings what they thought was approval for them to beat women.
Leaders were said to have claimed that the brains of woman were smaller the those of men, although in the controversies that followed the reporting of these claims, they were denied.
In a way the Hare Krishna movement appeared to be a communist/socialist mix, Eastern-style, being lived out in the West, that nevertheless shared threads common to most religions. Give up the quest for great soul-destroying riches. Invest in god. Live with the community in spiritual splendor and reap the rewards, eternally.
But something went dreadfully wrong in paradise, so wrong that the International Society for Krishna Consciousness faces financial ruin if the $660 million suit against it by Texas lawyer Windle Turley, on behalf of 44 plaintiffs - alleging sexual, physical and pyschological child abuse - succeeds in court.
The allegations put the Hare Krishnas into the same league as some groups of priests, Christian Brothers and nuns who sexually and physically abused young boys and girls.
The great tragedy of the two decades of abuse in Hare Krishna schools across the US and in India, according to Mr Turley and former Hare Krishna public relations officer Nori Muster, is that the movement, including its revered founder, the Indian sannyassi (or holy man) Swami Prabhupada, knew all about the abuse and did nothing.
"We were forbidden from talking about child abuse," Ms Muster told The Sunday Age. "We were supposed to cover our ears and walk away ... We were supposed to say that was just a rumor and `I do not believe it'."
Ms Muster, who for 10 years was public relations secretary and editor of the sect's newspaper, wrote Betrayal of the Spirit based on her life inside a movement that broke many spirits. The book is about schism, drug and weapons dealing and stockpiling, deceptive fundraising, child abuse and murder in the temples and ashrams allegedly devoted to the god Krishna.
Many of the parents who trusted the movement with their children meant well. They wanted, in cases, to shelter them from a material world of which they disapproved. "They sheltered and isolated them, but neglected them in their own world. The kids were not only cut off from normal society, but they did not have TV or toys. They were kept away from relatives, grandparents, who were not members of the organisation. A lot of the kids not physically abused have a fear of the outside world," says Ms Muster.
Those Hare Krishnas who are pure of heart and spiritually committed are now being tarnished by what the leaders did or did not do about allegations of child abuse.
But for those who want to find god, Krishna-style, Ms Muster suggests they buy a book, take it home and stay away from the movement. Krishna, she says, is everywhere, except perhaps in some of the Hare Krishna temples.
R E L A T E D (sidebar to "Tarnished Leader")
Peace, love tainted by shame
By MARTIN DALY
Sunday 18 June 2000
American investigators have linked Australian-based Hare Krishna followers to a $660-million lawsuit alleging the sect was responsible for "the most unthinkable abuse and maltreatment of little children" for at least two decades in schools in the US and India.
The former spiritual leader in Australia has been named in the suit, which alleges Krishna movement culpability for widespread sexual and physical abuse, including torture and rape and the emotional terror of children as young as three.
Investigators have also uncovered claims that an Australian teacher (not named in the suit) abused children at one Indian school. They also claim that others who are alleged to have abused children from the US, Canada and Britain spent time at ashrams in Australia.
The suit is on behalf of 44 claimants but lawyers in the case believe there may be up to 1000 victims. The suit alleges the torture of the children went on for years but primarily occurred between 1972 and 1990. Lawyers believe the abuse continues to the present.
A large number of Indian children are also alleged to have been abused by foreign and Indian devotees and gurus, but they are not included in the legal action. This abuse is alleged to have occurred in India and the US.
It is believed that no Australian children were educated at the US-based schools and only a small number of Australian children might have attended two US-managed Hare Krishna schools, Vrindavan and Myapur, in India, where much of the abuse allegedly took place. But the head of the Governing Board of Commissioners for Australia, Ramai Swami - who apologised repeatedly for the hurt and damage any abuse had caused - said as far as he knew no Australian case has been reported from India.
The suit names the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), 16 other ISKCON entities and 17 members of the Governing Board of Commissioners as defendants.
Lodged by lawyer Windle Turley, who is based in Dallas, Texas, the suit threatens to financially cripple the international Hindu-based movement, which, over the years, has seen members implicated in murder, corruption and fraud.
Mr Turley told The Sunday Age he had no evidence so far that Australian children had been abused but said there were widespread allegations that at least one member of the sect, who had also been based in Australia, was an abuser. "He was evil," Mr Turley said.
"I know one of our victims was abused in Australia. She had a terrible, terrible experience. They took her to India, London, to Australia and came back to the US. Bad things happened to her," he said.
"Australia has come up during our investigation several times ... as to people that come to work in the schools, as well as some of the victims who passed though Australia going or coming to the schools in India.
"They spent time in Australia. There was one specifically identified abuser in the schools who came from Australia."
Mr Turley said that while there was no reason to suspect the abuse was isolated to the US and India, he did not know if it was as rampant in Australia or Europe. "I know people who are associated with the leadership go to Australia from the US," he said. "We found some of the parents of our plaintiffs, and the plaintiffs themselves, have been in ashrams in Australia."
The sex scandal among the devotees has been simmering for decades at the sect's boarding schools, known as gurukulas, across the US and India.
But followers were told to ignore parents or children who complained. They were ordered to treat them as if they were out to damage a movement that preaches that permissiveness and impure thoughts cause suffering.
In May, 1996, it was shown that the gurukulas were in some cases havens for guru and devotee paedophiles who preyed on children, subjecting them to appalling sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
The suit stems from those allegations. It claims that the revered founder of the movement, a reputed Indian holy man, Srila Prabhupada, was told in 1972 that there was extensive physical and sexual abuse of children.
"But he concealed the wrongdoing from the public, parents and all but a handful of close advisers," the suit alleges.
Many of the victims are now dysfunctional adults, surviving on the margins of society. Some have committed suicide.
The suit was lodged with the US District Court in Dallas last week. It lists as defendants the governing board members, including Charles Bacis, the former head of the sect in Australia, parts of India and parts of the US, who often resided and preached at the Melbourne temple in Albert Park.
He was known at the time as Srila Bhavananda Gosvami Vishnupad, but is also known as Bhavananda Das. He is named in the suit only because he was one of the sect's leaders at the time of the alleged abuse. There is no suggestion in the suit that Bhavananda Das, a New Yorker who reportedly made films in Hollywood and was a member of Andy Warhol's entourage before joining the sect, was personally involved in any of the abuse.
He was reported in the media to have been defrocked in 1985 after he admitted he was homosexual.
An American author, Nori Muster, who for 10 years was the sect's public-relations officer in the US, says in her 1997 book Betrayal of the Spirit: My Life Behind the Headlines of the Hare Krishna Movement that Bhavananda Das was later expelled by the governing board of commissioners for breaking an undertaking that he would not initiate disciples.
Bhavananda Das lives in Sydney and works at reception at the Hare Krishna temple in North Sydney a few days a week. He says he has retired, not having had a management position for 13 years.
Bhavananda Das told The Sunday Age he would not claim some of the charges of child abuse were unwarranted, but suggested the case had been blown out of all proportion and was symptomatic of the litigious US environment where huge money was sought on allegations that could not be sustained.
He refused to discuss the details of the allegations on the basis that he had not read them, and refused to say if he had heard of any child abuse in the sect, which he joined in 1969. "I have only heard about it (the suit) on the grapevine," he said "... I did not know I was named (in the court documents)."
But Bhavananda Das went on to describe the allegations of abuse of foreign children at one of the Indian schools as preposterous. "I know that school in India, the one I was in charge of. We did not have any foreigners. It was in Myapur. It was for poor Indians, financed by ISKCON in India."
On a visit to Melbourne in 1983, the spiritual master, then aged 43, described Australia as a "slaughterhouse society" whose members were mostly loafers.
The proof lay, he is reported as saying, in its children who, despite millions of education dollars, were turning out to be "little cats and dogs running in the streets causing chaos wherever they go". He also said the Krishna school at Murwillumbah, New South Wales, was "turning out practically the only nice children in the country".
Ramai Swami said the movement years ago had admitted there had been serious child abuse at some boarding schools, for which it had expressed profound regret. It had put in place mechanisms to prevent it happening again.
He added that a number of the abused, to whom the movement had apologised, were now taking legal action through Mr Turley. He agreed the movement had been targeted by paedophiles who had abused its trust. Ramai Swami said he knew of only one Australian case of abuse by a Krishna member. It was years ago and involved a young girl in Adelaide in an incident outside the Krishna school.
Allegations of child sex abuse could cost America's Hare Krishnas about $600 million. Can the Australian movement survive the fallout?
By Sushi Das
02 June 2003
They have been a fixture around Melbourne's city streets for so many years, dancing and chanting in their saffron robes, collecting donations and spreading their patchouli-scented message of peace, love and understanding.
They have been a fixture around Melbourne's city streets for so many years, dancing and chanting in their saffron robes, collecting donations and spreading their patchouli-scented message of peace, love and understanding.
But the Hare Krishnas, the worldwide religious movement, is now embroiled in a multi-million dollar lawsuit over one of the most heinous crimes: child sex abuse. And the details of the alleged crimes, including rape, torture and child slave labour, are horrific.
Ironically, the movement that shunned material wealth and consumerism will now have to use its considerable business acumen to stay afloat. For the organisation is staring at bankruptcy and Hare Krishnas around the world are wondering what this means for the future of their faith.
The $US400 million ($A616.6 million) lawsuit against the Hare Krishnas in America alleges that children between the ages of three and 18 were sexually abused or mistreated at American and Indian Hare Krishna ashram-based boarding schools during the 1970s and 1980s. About 91 victims have joined the lawsuit so far.
Unlike other religious organisations tainted by similar crises, The International Society of Krishna Consciousness, as the Hare Krishnas are officially known, plans to handle this differently. The organisation is not arguing against the abuse claims. It wants to settle the matter by filing for bankruptcy. This keeps it out of the courts, protects its assets, and allows it to pay compensation to victims who come forward by June 30.
As part of the deal, which is designed to save the future of the global sect and block further claims by abuse victims, Australian Hare Krishnas have been asked by head office in America to contribute to the compensation fund, along with other Hare Krishnas elsewhere around the world. The movement operates in more than 350 countries.
This landmark case in America may signal the financial demise of the Hare Krishnas. It also raises questions about the global future of the movement. Can Australia's Hare Krishnas survive this scandal or does this spell the end of a movement that has ebbed and flowed, but neverthless survived for nearly 30 years?
Melbourne's Hare Krishna temple, nestled in the leafy streets of Albert Park, is one of the biggest in Australia. It is a tatty, but impeccably ordered mansion with rosters and timetables for cooking, cleaning, chanting and festival dates hanging on the noticeboard.
The courtyard is serene. Dew sits on huge palm leaves as prayers begin at 4am. Outside the mansion walls, middle-class executives are still asleep before beginning another hectic day in the rat race.
Strictly speaking, Hare Krishnas do not eat meat, take intoxicating substances, gamble, or have sex for any purpose other than to have babies. They are a sect of Hinduism, taking their teachings from Hinduism's bible: the Vedic Scriptures.
George Harrison's association with the movement gave it added kudos among young people searching for an alternative to the stressed-out, materialistic world of their parents. His music was strongly influenced by his spiritual beliefs. The hit song My Sweet Lord introduced millions of people to the Hare Krishna mantra.
Melbourne's Hare Krishnas might have adopted a lower profile in recent years, but they are still here. By keeping their heads down during times of adverse publicity, and employing a sharp business eye, this group has steadily developed successful commercial operations and ensured its survival over three decades. Indeed, of the smaller religious movements in Melbourne, the Hare Krishnas are considered to be the most significant, despite their numbers remaining static over the past few years.
The Melbourne temple, established in 1975, has several roles. It acts as a place of worship, a community centre, a centre for teaching, a focus for festivals and the headquarters of Hare Krishna commercial enterprises. That includes running two "donation" restaurants in Swanston Street, catering, book distribution and donation collection. In the last financial year the temple turned over $1.45 million. The Sydney arm generated $900,000.
In Melbourne they claim a congregration of about 6000 and a core of about 250 families who are active participants and regular donors. The organisation's mailing list has 2700 names. Twenty people live at the temple devoting themselves to temple duties. Others live outside the temple and may have employment in mainstream society.
Aniruddha Das, the temple president, has an office upstairs at the mansion. His desk is cluttered with papers, files, a Matchbox toy car, laptop, Palm Pilot, MP3 player, freshly made sweets and statues of Indian gods. A tall man, his head shaven save for a small pony tail, he wears loose white robes (dohti) and a white, pear-shaped mark down the bridge of his nose. He has an open smile and kindly blue eyes.
Aniruddha joined the Hare Krishnas with his wife in 1978 when he was 23 years old. Before that, he says he used to be a "devotee of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll". It is this generation of middle-aged devotees who are now asking questions about child abuse. Some of Aniruddha's friends in America are the parents of victims.
In the 1970s in Melbourne, the organisation distributed Hare Krishna books and collected donations. The followers were mainly Westerners who adopted religious names and chanted in praise of Lord Krishna. It was not long before their public chanting was deemed a public nuisance under local by-laws and they were seen as idealistic, hippie drop-outs.
Uneasy with being labelled a cult in the 1980s, the organisation scaled back the public chanting and started cultivating a thriving business in restaurants and catering, all the while collecting donations. At about that time the Indian community started attending the temple.
"The core (administrative) people now are mainly Westerners but the major part of the congregation is about 80 per cent Indian," Aniruddha says.
He plans to sell sets of videos of the life of the founder of the Hare Krishnas to raise the $90,000 that the Australians have been asked to contribute to the American compensation fund. "The Hare Krishna movement in Melbourne is a very peaceful community. We're happy to help the devotees in America. These are my friends.
"It's not pleasant to see your friends have to face the issues of trying to create an educational institution for their children and then find out that other people have come in, who were their friends even, and have molested their kids," he says.
So what actually happened to the Hare Krishna victims in America and India, and how did it stay a secret for so long? Legal documents lodged in courts in West Virginia and California by the victims' lawyer Windle Turley allege that children between the ages of three and 18 were sexually abused or mistreated at American and Indian Hare Krishna boarding schools for 20 years until 1990.
The Hare Krishna movement had encouraged many devotees to forgo all their material possessions and devote their lives to the futherance of "Krishna Consciousness".
Turley alleges that in order to advance within the faith, devotees were required to relinquish their parental duties and place their children in Hare Krishna-founded and sponsored boarding schools to indoctrinate them into the disciplines of Krishna Consciousness.
This freed the parents to raise money for the benefit of the gurus, temple leaders and Hare Krishna corporations. But the schools were poorly funded and badly run, and soon became centres of neglect and abuse.
The documents allege children were raped and beaten with boards and fists. Some were kicked into submission. Children were frequently deprived of medical care for conditions such as broken facial bones and malaria. They lived in filthy, overcrowded schools, sleeping on the floor. Some were forced to wear soiled underwear on their heads as punishment. In at least one school, the children learned to routinely remove insects from their food before eating it.
Girls as young as 12 were often "given" or "promised" to older men in the movement. Some children were emotionally abused through near-total parental and societal isolation. Children were also used as slave labour to run the schools themselves. "In many instances, the abuse could be accurately described as torture of children," the documents allege.
The victims say they are now not equipped to enter outside society. They have extreme difficulty holding down jobs and maintaining relationships.
"A significantly large proportion of (the victims) have become alcoholics, drug users, unwed mothers, and suicides. They suffer from a profound sense of guilt, helplessness, and loss of self-esteem. They all suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of their childhood experience," the documents say.
The founder of the institution, the late Prabhupada, was allegedly told about the physical and sexual abuse of minors in 1972, a time when he totally controlled the institution. The victims allege he and others conspired to suppress the alleged crimes, fearful that the public exposure would threaten the viability of the movement.
Melbourne's Aniruddha says the Australian Hare Krishna community protected its children from abuse by running ordered, well-funded schools with proper checks and balances. They closed the Australian boarding schools in the 1980s because of a lack of funding.
The community has survived for 30 years, been accepted by mainstream society and remains strong despite the American scandal, argues Aniruddha. The movement has a solid financial base, a stable internal structure and offers a way of life that is attractive to those looking for an alternative to the daily nine-to-five grind, he says.
The Reverend Doctor David Millikan, a Uniting Church minister and university lecturer, agrees. "It is essentially a movement of practice rather than thought," he says. "It will survive. But it has not addressed the big philosophical or political questions within Western society. It's really more or less said: 'look, we're going to go about our business, the world is stuffed and we will bliss out in adoration of Krishna'."
Millikan, an expert on cults and sects, says that of all the sects that arose around the 1960s, the most resilient have been the Moonies, the Children of God and the Hare Krishnas. But recruits are getting harder and harder to come by and some of the second generation are drifting away.
Moreover, Millikan questions whether the organisation has a genuine congregation and whether women have achieved equality within the Hare Krishna movement.
"I reckon there is a struggle within the movement itself to give women some degree of equality and that same struggle is present within the Catholic Church," he says.
He also attributes some of the strength of the Hare Krishna congregation to expatriate Indians. "You'll find that when displaced Indians are in a place where they don't have access to a temple they will go along to the Hares."
Despite the current problems, Aniruddha is confident that the Hare Krishna movement has a bright future, with a little help from "Krishna's mercy".
On an international level, a little application of its commercial skills has also been a handy tool for the movement over the years, helping it raise crucial funds. It is fitting, then, that the Hare Krishnas should want to end this chapter with the victims of child abuse, through a suitably sharp business deal.
The author is not related to anyone mentioned in this story.
INSIDE THE TEMPLE
Hare Krishnas form a sect of Hinduism. The three most important deities in the Hindu pantheon are Brahma (creator), Shiva (destroyer) and Vishnu (preserver). Vishnu's most important feature is as preserver and protector of the universe, which he accomplishes through his many incarnations. One of his most loved and famous incarnations is as Krishna. Krishna was said to be blessed with striking beauty and attracted the adoration of all women.
- The Krishna sect, founded in the 16th century, taught that the best way to burn off ignorance and the consequences of bad actions, and achieve perfect bliss, was to express loving devotion through dancing and chanting to Krishna.
- Globally, the Hare Krishna movement operates in more than 350 countries. It includes 60 rural communities, 50 schools and 60 restaurants.
- Hare Krishna activities include: temple worship, preaching, book distribution, farming, free food distribution, restaurants and education.
- Hare Krishna centres are autonomous bodies that place themselves under the authority of The International Society of Krishna Consciousness governing body in America.
SOURCE: www.iskcon.com and www.gospelcom.net
A Krishna life (sidebar to story above)
Keseva Dasa was influenced by the television program Kung-Fu as a young boy. He knew one day he would shave his head like Grasshopper and live a monastic life. Looking for direction, he gave up studying acting at the age of 18, donned the robes and gave his life to Krishna Consciousness. Fifteen years later, he is still there, organising tours to India and teaching the Vedic Scriptures at the temple.
"Without spiritual people, spiritual leaders and spiritual groups like us, I'd say it's very much a hopeless situation. The direction society is going in is very negative . . . people like us stand up and are willing to say this is not right. And we're offering the world an alternative," he says. The temple does good works, says Keseva. Between the temple and the restaurants the Hare Krishnas feed 2500 people a week for free.
Svetadvipa Das is 31 years old and softly spoken. Three years ago he left Sydney, took up yoga, ditched his job at the optometrist and became a devotee. He wears wooden beads around his neck and his orange robes denote his monastic, celibate status. He lives at the temple.
When it his turn on the roster to open the temple doors for morning prayers he is out of bed at 3.15am. He doesn't watch TV and he spends the day managing one of the city restaurants. Occasionally he goes for a swim and he's usually in bed at about 8pm. It is a disciplined life.
"I guess I was dissatisfied with a lot of things, the way society was going, the whole rigmarole. I had a lot of questions and I wanted answers: who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going? I was looking for a better lifestyle," he says. "I'm doing a test period to see if I'll stay a monk and take that path or whether I will take the family path." He says he reaches a blissful state when he identifies with his "internal nature".
PREETI ANANDA KRISHNAN
Preeti Ananda Krishnan was brought up a Hare Krishna by her parents in Malaysia. She is 23 and says Krishna Consciousness provides more answers to life than the medical degree she is studying for at Melbourne University.
Medicine, she says, does not explain the existence of the soul, for example, but a belief in reincarnation can even explain near-death experiences. Hare Krishnas believe the soul passes from one physical body to another for reincarnation to take place.
Preeti is very clear about her faith: "The mind can be your enemy or your friend. Chanting is to control the mind. The mind gets agitated and chanting helps to focus it. You feel liberated from the mind's agitations. Chanting is like training to focus your mind, so that you will use that focus on God later."
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