A note regarding my book, Betrayal of the Spirit
by Nori J. Muster
When I left ISKCON in 1988, most of the leadership still wanted to ignore if not cover-up the problems that I described. I wrote my book because I believe that obscuring history dooms future generations to repeat the same mistakes.
The book grew out of my ISKCON experience.
Chapter One, "ISKCON, the Krishnas' International Society," explains how I met devotees in fall 1977 and learned that Srila Prabhupada had passed away. It also describes ISKCON's culture and social structure (varnashrama-dharma), recruitment (Sunday feast, hari-nama), basic beliefs and practices (hearing, chanting), social networks (temples, farm communities), and hints at the issue of chauvinism and discrimination against women.
Chapter Two, "Unexpected Requirements," explains how I decided to join the L.A. temple and how I got my job in the P.R. office. It also addresses the socialization of new members (new bhakta/bhaktin ashrams), temple ceremonies (morning, evening programs, holy days), stated moral values (vegetarianism, celibacy, sobriety), deprogramming, the place of women in Hindu society, and ISKCON's relationship with the Hindu community.
Chapter Three, "Going Solo Into ISKCON," describes how I moved into the L.A. temple after college graduation. The chapter gets into the structure of ISKCON's hierarchy (GBC, ministers, temple presidents, etc.), the history of the lineage in India and the U.S. (Lord Chaitanya, Srila Prabhupada's arrival in America), the P.R. department's role in communicating with mainstream society (Robin George case, 1977 Laguna Beach drug murder, and early publicity for New Vrindaban), GBC announcement of the 1978 decision to establish the zonal guru system, and how the GBC dealt with resistance to the new gurus.
Chapter Four, "My Zonal Guru," shows how I move into the women's sankirtan ashram and take initiation from Ramesvara. I discuss corruptions of sankirtan (the change-up, wearing wigs, lakshmi points, male sankirtan leaders having sex with the women in their ashrams), ISKCON rituals (daily arotik for Ramesvara, Bhagavatam class, initiation), social implications of initiation, gender inequality among brahmanas, seniority, and deviations on traditional customs (especially corruptions of sannyas ashram). One of my first P.R. responsibilities was help stage a press conference in advance of the Venice Beach Ratha-yatra.
Chapter Five, "Jonestown Fallout," portrays ISKCON in its conflict with mainstream society and it's attempts to deal with the cult label.
Chapter Six, "A Spiritual Disneyland," tells the background of the Prabhupada's Palace of Gold temple project in New Vrindaban, West Virginia, and describes ISKCON's attempts to integrate with mainstream society, social deviance of gurus and entire zones within ISKCON (Kirtanananda's zone), and how chauvinism was present in the L.A. temple, as well as New Vrindaban.
Chapter Seven, "Drug Busts, Guns and Gangsters," is the story of the Southern California drug dealers who supported Ramesvara's temples. Also the story of Hamsadutta's legal problems with illegal guns and importing stolen cars in Northern California. With these media disasters, the BBT began funding the P.R. department and the GBC raised our operation to the level of a GBC ministry. Our office organized the first worldwide public relations seminar in Bombay, and P.R. delegates pilgrimaged to Vrindavana to observe Srila Prabhupada's disappearance day.
Chapter Eight, "Who's Watching the Children?" tells the story of child abuse in the Dallas, New Vrindaban, and Vrindavana gurukulas; media coverage and ISKCON's denial of the problem.
Chapter Nine, "The Gurus Start World War III," explains some gurus' preparations for world war. It is also about the split between supporters of the GBC's zonal guru system and those who opposed it, and ISKCON's culture of denial, gossip and rumors, guilt and fear as instruments of social control; divisiveness in the upper echelons of the BBT, further deviance of leadership (Jayatirtha leaves ISKCON), and physical abuse of women.
Chapter Ten, "The Storm Within, the Guru Issue," focuses on the ritvik issue and and various schismatic events—the Pyramid House talks, Amogha-lila's automatic writings, splinter groups, Ramesvara's attempts to remove his vyasasana and stop guru-pujas. In answer to BBT financial problem,s Ramesvara introduced cookie sankirtan; most zones adopted painting sankirtan, the pick, and other love-of-money funding schemes. The chapter also explains oppression and intolerance of critics and the GBC's rejection of Pyramid House talks. The chapter ends with the Los Angeles Times' publication of its landmark article, "Krishna: a Kingdom in Disarray."
Chapter Eleven, "P.R. Publications Promote ISKCON," is the story of how our Los Angeles operation became the propaganda headquarters for the worldwide ISKCON, publishing promotional books, newspapers and magazines including Chant and Be Happy, Coming Back, and The Higher Taste. Our media newsletter, ISKCON Report, and membership newspaper, ISKCON World Review, published good news from England, the (former) USSR, Nepal, South Africa, Mauritius, Fiji, the Philippines, Bangladesh, America, etc. Mukunda, the leader of the P.R. effort, becomes a sannyasi and GBC minister.
Chapter Twelve, "Ramesvara Crashes," explains what led Ramesvara to leave the organization in 1986—the financial crisis in the North American BBT, Robin George vs. ISKCON, continued power struggles with Hamsadutta, Kirtanananda, Tamal Krishna, etc. The chapter touches on relations between ISKCON and born-again Christians, and my own struggles with identity and co-dependence. There was also some good news: the P.R. department won good publicity for the opening of Bhaktivedanta Cultural Center in Detroit and started the Hare Krishna Food For Life program.
Chapter Thirteen, "The Revolution of Guru Reform," discusses the 1985 attempt to reform the institution from within, and the violence that was brewing in the organization at that time (introduces conspiracy to kill Sulochan; notes attack on Kirtanananda). ISKCON World Review continued to avoid ISKCON's bad news; instead focused on coverage of Lord Chaitanya's 500th anniversary and Pada-yatra in India.
Chapter Fourteen, "P.R. Bails Out of L.A.," tells about our office's move to Laguna Beach in 1986 to escape mounting controversy centered around Ramesvara. It also explores the culture of denial in a dysfunctional organization, and the issues of deviance, scapegoats, and abuse. Describes financial problems developing in ISKCON; also Bhavananda's and Ramesvara's moral deviations.
Chapter Fifteen, "1986: The Year of Crisis," is the story of the murder of Sulochan dasa in L.A., media coverage of ISKCON's problems, further deviation leading to GBC censures of Kirtanananda, Bhavananda, and Ramesvara, and the futility of ISKCON's denial. ISKCON World Review started publishing controversial interviews with leaders and ISKCON observers.
Chapter Sixteen, "The Budget Axe," describes the BBT Council cutting off the P.R. department's budget at the end of 1986, and our struggle to continue publishing with no budget. Bhagavan and Ramesvara abandon ISKCON, the Western Zonal Council of the GBC resolves that volatile issues should not be discussed in ISKCON World Review.
Chapter Seventeen, "ISKCON World Review Crosses the Line," shows the conflict between editor and publisher, and how little can be said in an institutional newspaper during times of conflict. Also describes the FBI raid of New Vrindaban and resulting docudramas and other coverage on network news. Kirtanananda saw it as good publicity and started his "Freedom Tour" to convince the media he was innocent.
Chapter Eighteen, "Six Months Out Of Print," explains how ISKCON World Review went out of print in 1987 to make decisions about editorial policy, then back into print after six months. The chapter describes institutional breakdown (conflict in the GBC), continued opposition to ISKCON World Review (Hridayananda, Badri-narayana oppose new editorial policy), leadership deviation (Kirtanananda and his zone expelled), media exposure of problems (Monkey on a Stick published) and the leadership's reaction.
Chapter Nineteen, "Women's Lesser Intelligence," is about my disillusionment with chauvinism in ISKCON. I address a Towaco conference on the role of women, and a North American GBC meeting to lobby for freedom of speech in the ISKCON World Review.
Chapter Twenty, "Moving On," describes my confrontation with the GBC chairman over ISKCON World Review editorial policy, and my resignation. The chapter talks about honesty in ISKCON, individual members' free will, and Srila Prabhupada's role in bringing the Vaishnava religion to the West.
I have found it satisfying to describe my life in ISKCON and have it published by the University of Illinois Press, along with the thoughtful forward by Dr. Larry Shinn. I hope devotees, especially the younger generation, will find it relevant to their experience, and helpful in piecing together their own stories during the decade following Srila Prabhupada's passing.