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Book Review - Devotee Farm

Devotee Farm

George Vaisnava

Upfront Publishing Ltd.: 5th Floor, St Georges House, 6 St Georges Way, Leicester, LE1 1SH, United Kingdom; 2003; 128 pages (paperback). 7.99£. ISBN 1-84426-103-4. http://www.upfrontpublishing.com/contacts.htm.

Reviewed by: Joseph P. Szimhart

Anyone not very familiar with the Hare Krishna movement founded by A.C. Baktivedanta Swami in 1965 will find Devotee Farm ponderous and confusing. According to the publisher, “the book Devotee Farm is based on the author's experience as a religious worker within the Hare Krishna movement for 15 years.” George Vaisnava may or may not be the author’s real name because the book carefully, if thinly, disguises nearly every personality and name associated with the group. A.C. Baktivedanta Swami, a.k.a. Prabhupada, becomes “Sadhupada”; ISKCON, or International Society for Krishna Consciousness, becomes “WOAK” or “Worldwide Organization for Awareness of Krishna Consciousness”; GBC, or Governing Body Commission, is “CGB” or “Central Governing Board”; New Vrindaban [the most successful “devotee farm” in West Virginia] is “New Utopia.” Keith Hamm, a.k.a. Kirtananda Swami Baktipada, is “Chandragupta,” the head guru of New Utopia; and the magazine Back to Godhead becomes “Returning to the Divine.”

There are dozens of other disguises, many that I recognize only because I have been familiar with ISKCON for more than 20 years. The casual reader, however, would not have a clue. The author’s style is odd in that he creates a cautionary fable out of his personal experience with a religious path—a fundamentalist, idiosyncratic “Vaisnavism,” or Rama/Krishna devotion—that he clearly supports in his final analysis. (Vaisnavism, based on a devotional approach [bhakti] to the high god Vishnu and his incarnations, is approximately 2,000 years old. Its sects are pervasive throughout India. The author of Devotee Farm most likely supports a revivalist sect initiated by Caitanya [1486-1533] in east India that primarily worships the avatar Krishna. The central text of that sect is the Bhagavad Gita. which is in book six of the great Hindu epic, Mahabharata. The epic was compiled into a written text between 400 BCE and 400 CE, with origins in much earlier oral traditions.)

Author Vaisnava somewhat arbitrarily divides his narrative into three parts. He writes in a casual, conversational style with little regard to dates and little emphasis on history via hearsay [Does this mean the books relies on hearsay rather than history for its “facts”? not clear.]. The following quote from the character Chandragupta is representative of how the author frames the cynical corruption in a WOAK farm community:

The difference is that we have a religious cover for everything we do. And that’s really all the difference. Whenever we are questioned, we can easily say that we are following the Vedic culture, and that advantage is so vast that you can really get support for anything with it. And we’ve got some useful idiots in the academic community who come and visit for a few days. Of course, we just show then what we want them to see, and so they go back to their universities and tell their students that we are a very good movement, and when the stupid journalists write something about us, they consider those foolish professors to know more about our movement than the ex-devotees who left us more than ten years ago. (pp. 41-42)

If I were to review the book in Vaisnava’s style, my comments would go something like this:

A man named Neville Puredevotee wanted very much to serve the high god Krishna through a movement that began in 1965. After 15 years of serving in primary and splinter groups in the movement, he discovered that the leaders were corrupted by power and no longer followed the path set down by the founder. Neville felt badly about this. He did not like any of the critical books written about the movement. So Neville wrote everything he knew about the group in a brief overview, with little elaboration, no documentation, and only a hint of historical context. He chose a crudely painted image for the cover that displays on the left the high god Krishna rising over a mountain range, and on the right a host of devotees in front of a fire, worshipping the false gurus, who look like demons. I do not understand why Neville disguised every name he knew—maybe he is afraid of lawsuits, or maybe he wanted only true devotees who knew the movement well to understand his message. Anyhow, Neville certainly did make it hard for me to follow his story, but I read it anyway because I promised to review the book.

At the end of his fable, Neville describes a young couple who met in the cult. This couple, Paramahansa and Muktipriya, fall in love and get married outside the Universal Krishna Worship Organization (UKWO), but they still sustain pure devotion to Krishna according to the founder’s guidelines.[1] Neville wants us to believe that he knows the true story behind the UKWO. He claims that other critical books were written, either by scholars duped by the UKWO, or by Christian fanatics or atheists who do not understand his faith.

Neville writes,

The reason for writing this book was to show how good intentions to serve God and mankind can be twisted and exploited by cult leaders. Also, I thought it was important to write from the perspective of a person who doesn't reject the religion altogether, but practices some of it apart from any institution or organization.”[2]

Neville shows us through Paramahansa that a pure devotee must reject the UKWO to have a personal relationship with Krishna through the founder’s teachings.

That is the end of my parody. Unfortunately, the author never describes what the “some of it” is that he practices, or whether it has any connection to the Vaisnava tradition in India.

George Vaisnava expresses disgust with Monkey on a Stick, by John Hubner and Lindsay Gruson (1988), renaming it “Ape on a Pole.” Had you not read Monkey on a Stick, you would have little idea what Vaisnava was talking about. His euphemism for the now-defunct Cult Awareness Network and for the American Family Foundation is “Network Against Cults” (NAC). He stereotypes an anti-cult group as responsible for a kidnapping:

It turned out that [Premalila] had been deprogrammed, that means, she had been kidnapped by some anti-cult cult which had been paid a large amount of money by the woman’s parents, who had been indoctrinated into thinking that they had helped their daughter in this way.

The reader has no way of knowing the specifics of the case. All we learn is that the WOAK devotees hardly react to her disappearance because they are so dependent on what the gurus tell them. All else is illusion to them, according to Vaisnava.

I cannot imagine that Devotee Farm would have much value to anyone but disenchanted Hare Krishna devotees who still yearn to follow some form of fundamentalist Vaisnavism. For more useful books on the topic, I recommend the above-named Monkey on a Stick, as well as Hare Krishna in America, by E. Burke Rochford (1985); The Hare Krishnas in India, by Charles R. Brooks (1989); Betrayal of the Spirit, by Nori Muster (1997); and Moon Sisters, Krishna Mothers and Rajneesh Lovers, by Susan Palmer (1994). There is also The Dark Lord, by Larry Shinn (1987), which is primarily a reactionary opinion by the author, who criticizes the anti-cult network’s view of the Hare Krishna.

[Add the following to the biographical section, if appropriate?]

Szimhart is a long time cult critic who has assisted interventions with Hare Krishna members. jpsz@fast.net


[1] Pracodayat and Isvarapriya in Devotee Farm.

[2] Actual quote from “George Vaisnava” comes from www.upfrontpublishing.com.

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