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ISKCON

ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness); Hare Krishna
ICSA has much material on ISKCON, in part because of a dialogue with the organization that goes back to 1998.  The resources listed below include: (1) articles on this site; (2) book reviews on this site (3) links; (4) news summaries from ICSA periodicals.

Articles on This Site

Introduction to Group Report on ISKCON (Hare Krishna).  Michael Langone
Child Abuse in the Hare Krishna Movement: 1971-1986.  E. Burke Rochford, Jr. with Jennifer Heinlein
Devotees and Their Parents.  Dhyana-kunda devi dasi.
Dynamics of Spiritual Abuse.  Bhaktavatsala Dasa 


Book Reviews on This Site

Hare Krishna Transformed (E. Burke Rochford) – Marcia Rudin; Reviewer 
Monkey on a Stick (John Hubner & Lindsey Gruson) – Arthur Dole; Reviewer 

News Summaries

ISKCON. Hare Krishna Gets Evangelical 

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness arrived in the United States in 1966; by 1980, many Americans considered the faith a cult. Today’s Hare Krishna temples, which currently support claims of 250,000 US devotees, have been sustained over the years by Indian immigrants; they host mostly Indian congregations and sing mostly Indian music. But devotee Howard Resnick, who helped lead Hare Krishna at its US peak, along with others who include devotee Emily Penny, intend to reverse that trend. Westerners such as Resnick and Penny want to bring founder Swami Pradhupada’s teachings to Americans again by removing the group’s increasingly Indian overtones so Westerners can connect directly with Krishna. 

As a white American from North Carolina, Penny originally struggled to find a place in the community dominated by Indian immigrants. She says, “The music is Indian. The dress is Indian. The food is Indian.” But “Krishna never told us to wear saris.” 

But Pradhupada wanted to separate Hare Krishna from traditional Indian Hinduism and even created a specific translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu holy book, for his followers. Sarvatma Dasa, a 34-year devotee and Hare Krishna priest, supports the evolution, noting that “I have a lot of friends who are still caught up in the details of the ethnicity instead of the broad philosophy. There are universal principles that are easily understood, and then there are local customs that I couldn’t care less about.” 

Resnick and his organization, Krishna West, imagine a temple without saris. Prasadam could be Italian, Brazilian, or Chinese if correctly offered to Krishna. But what drives Krishna West is more a profound evangelical spirit than just a desire to adapt. Resnick says, “We’re seeking intelligent people who want to help change the world. If Krishna wants it to work, it’ll work.” 

Resnick and Penney believe Hare Krishna can bring peace to American lives. Devotees believe chanting Hare Krishna, much like prayer, brings divine energy into the chanters, which they can then use to better their community. “Pradhupada came because there was an emergency in our culture,” Penney said. “And it’s not better than it was 40 years ago, it’s worse.” (OnFaith, 6/16/14) [IT 5.3]

The Hare Krishna (International Society for Krishna Consciousness/ISKCON) Palace of Gold in New Vrindaban, in West Virginia, is still decaying; but new leadership and new money are rebuilding the community following years of decline caused by child abuse, corruption, and murder. As the history related in some detail here indicates, the intention of Prabhupada, the community’s inspiration, was to create a self-sustaining commune that emphasized the spiritual and disdained material wealth. But a charismatic and authoritarian new leader, Kirtanananda, an American convert, came to exert total control over the community and the lives of its inhabitants. He involved the group in commercial activities, some of them scams. Two of his lieutenants were accused of murdering dissidents, and one who was convicted said later that he had acted on Kirtananada’s orders. Finally, ISKCON leaders excommunicated Kirtanananda, and then the whole community. In the end, Kirtanananda was convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Released in 2004, he died in 2011 at a hospital in India at the age of 74. By the late 1990s, the New Vrindaban population was down to 225; many by then owned their own houses—purchased from the organization, which needed money to stay afloat—and worked outside the community. In 1998, ISKCON re-admitted New Vrindaban, and today there are signs of new life. One hundred and sixty devotees live above the temple, others in an ashram, and more in a nearby apartment complex or in modest homes along a winding road. Devotees who remain celibate wear orange robes; others wear jeans and flannel shirts, flowing skirts, or patterned saris. Attendance is not taken at religious services. A small stream of young people from other temples flows in—parents looking to raise their children in a quiet place, or those who want to live off the land and study under Prabhupada’s early disciples. The new leader is 59-year-old Jaya Krishna, who became a devotee following the death of his wife and 23-year-old son in an automobile accident. In a recent vote, the community decided to take $4 million from Chevron in return for the company’s right to drill on 2,000 acres of New Vrindaban land, which lies above the Marcellus Shale. Community renovation has proceeded apace, and the group can expect additional revenue when drilling starts. In light of the growing popularity of yoga, meditation, and Eastern spirituality, Jaya Krishna thinks New Vrindaban might become an ideal retreat. (Washington Post, 1/10/13) [IT 4.2 2013] 

A lawsuit filed in India in 2001 that is soon to be brought before the Supreme Court pits two factions of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness—Iskcon-Mumbai and Iskcon Bengalaru—against one another concerning how the society should function and who should succeed the late A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada as leader. (Zeenews, 1/22/12) [IT 3.2 2012] 

Federal court decisions holding that members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas) have a right, sanctioned by the California Constitution, to distribute literature and speak to travelers in pre-screening open areas at Los Angeles International Airport, but not to solicit money. The sect’s lawyer now argues that the Krishna’s solicitation rights might even extend beyond the airport’s metal detectors and onto the planes, so long as the soliciting Krishnas have tickets. Much of the oral argument is over whether the airport is a “public forum” according to the state constitution. This question will probably be considered in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1979 decision to uphold a “reasonable ban” on solicitation, following its ruling that airports are nonpublic forums under the federal constitution. [IT 1.1 2010]


The California Supreme Court is hearing an appeal by Los Angeles of 1998 and 2001 federal court decisions holding that members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishnas) have a right, sanctioned by the California Constitution, to distribute literature and speak to travelers in pre-screening open areas at Los Angeles International Airport, but not to solicit money. The sect’s lawyer now argues that the Krishna’s solicitation rights might even extend beyond the airport’s metal detectors and onto the planes, so long as the soliciting Krishnas have tickets. Much of the oral argument is over whether the airport is a “public forum” according to the state constitution. This question will probably be considered in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1979 decision to uphold a “reasonable ban” on solicitation, following its ruling that airports are nonpublic forums under the federal constitution. 

A political opposition rally in April in downtown St. Petersburg in defense of the right to gather was quickly dispersed by police, although five minutes later 50 Hare Krishnas were allowed to walk in formation and assemble close to the same spot. [csr 8.2, 2009) 

The oppressed include many Protestant, neo-Protestant, and new religious groups. Last year, authorities launched a “pogrom” against the International Society for Krishna Consciousness that saw police tear down the group’s houses and mosque in Almaty District. Others who have suffered searches and confiscation of religious literature include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, charismatic Christians, Scientologists, and Unification Church members. TV and government press campaigns aimed to discredit these groups are “unprecedented in [their] ignorance and aggressiveness.” Programming, full of lies and distortions, includes one testimony from a former Jehovah’s Witness expelled for immoral behavior, and another from the “spiritual daughter” of The Russian [anti-cult activist] Alexandr Dworkin. Elizaveta Drenicheva, a Russian who came to Kazakhstan as a Unification Church volunteer, was found guilty in January of “crimes against humanity” — she sermonized about man’s sinfulness and the truthfulness of service to God — and was sentenced to two years imprisonment. [csr 8.1, 2009) 

Kazakhstan recently rescinded amendments to its constitution that curtailed religious freedom, this after an international condemnation followed a government crackdown that included jailings and the expulsion of two activists, one a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISLCON/Hare Krishna), the other a Russian follower of the Unification Church. In the capital Dushanbe last year, 147 mosques, many Protestant churches, and the country’s state synagogue were closed or demolished. In December, nearby Krygzstan banned proselytizing, the distribution of religious literature, and the involvement of children in religious organizations. Kazakh authorities say they are sitting on a religious tinderbox, with a population 47 percent Muslim, 44 percent Russian Orthodox, and a vastly multiplying number of Protestant evangelical groups . . . The European Court on Human Rights ruled in February that Russia violated provisions in the European Convention on Human Rights when it barred Unification Church missionary Patrick Francis Nolan from the country for religious reasons in 2002. [csr 8.1, 2009) 

As compensation for the mercy killing of an injured 13-year-old Friesian Blue cow belonging to the Hare Krishna community’s Bhaktivedanta Temple, in Watford, England, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has donated a two-year-old white Meuse-Rhine-Issel cow to the community. The temple’s veterinarians felt that the older cow was recovering and didn’t have to be put down. [csr 8.1, 2009) 

Under pressure from the Hindu Council UK and the Hindu Forum of Britain, the Krishna Avanti School, which receives some government funding and is scheduled to open in London in the fall of 2008, has modified its admission standards to include Hindu children who do not practice the Hare Krishna variant of the religion. [csr 7.3 2008) 

On the eve of a Kazakhstan government delegation’s arrival in Romania for an OSCE conference on combating discrimination, the head of a Kazakhstan local administration ordered the Hare Krishna to demolish their temple and houses in the group’s rural commune. Authorities destroyed 13 of 66 Krishna homes in late 2006 — saying they were erected illegally — as part of a three-year campaign to destroy the commune, according to Forum 18, a Norway-based human rights organization. [csr 6.2 2007] 

Hare Krishna (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) 
Ten British MPs have joined Hindus around the world to protest Moscow City Hall’s withdrawal of a permit for the [Hare] Krishna to build a temple behind a supermarket in the northern part of the city. Russian Orthodox authorities are hostile to the group, fearing attempts to convert young people; a letter to authorities from an archbishop described the Hindu god Krishna as an “evil demon.”[csr 5.1 2006] 

A Moscow court has refused an appeal by the Hare Krishna movement to build in a “prime” section of the city, a decision a Krishna representative said was politically motivated and violated both the rights of ownership and religious freedom. A representative of the city government said it was looking for another plot of land for the Krishna “because everybody understands that we cannot throw out the religious community on the street.” . . . Authorities in Almaty, Kazakhstan, accusing the Hare Krishna of illegally acquiring land outside the capital, say they want to destroy several summer houses put up by the group and possibly even expel it, said Krishna spokesman Maxim Varfolomeyev. The government says the group simply failed to follow land regulation procedures, but Varfolomeyev accused the government of religious persecution. The head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee [a representative of the international human rights organization] agreed with Varfolomeyev that the Krishna were targeted because the land in question was prime real estate. Largely Muslim Kazakhstan has a tradition of religious tolerance, but lately has tightened laws on religious organizations, fearing extremism. . . . The New York State Supreme Court has agreed with a zoning board ruling that a Hare Krishna couple cannot keep “holy cows” in the village of Angelica, not even if they conceive of the animals as pets and integral to the practice of their religion. . . . The Hare Krishna temple in New Vrindaban, WV, fallen into decay thanks to internal schisms and scandal of the past, and down to only 100 residents, was the site of a gathering of Indian devotees resident in the U.S. who appear to be the mainstays today of an organization that drew counter-culture Americans into its fold in the 1960s and 1970s. It is uncertain how long New Vrindaban will survive, especially since it is now devoting half its budget to pay its share of a large Krishna settlement with victims of sexual abuse suffered at the movement’s schools and communes. [csr 5.1 2006] 

International Society for Krishna Consciousness/Hare Krishna 
Compensation Payments to Abuse Victims Begins 
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) [sometimes known as Hare Krishna] has begun to pay $9.5 million in compensation to 535 former students who were physically, emotionally, and sexually abused in its boarding schools in the 1970s and 1980s. Payments will range from $6,000 to $50,000, with Krishna temples around the world contributing some $6.5 million. The victims initially asked $400 million.[csr 4.3 2005] 

Attorney Wendell Turley said the settlement, even though relatively small, is important because, “when the defendant explicitly apologizes, and acknowledges his wrong, and has arranged some compensation for the victims, [it] is a type of validation that will have a strong therapeutic impact.” (Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times, Internet, 6/26/05) [csr 4.3 2005] 

Hare Krishna [International Society for Krishna Consciousness/ISKCON] 
Bhaktipada Released from Prison but Banned from Community 
Former Hare Krishna splinter group leader Swami Bhaktipada (known also as Kirtinananda Swami, born Keith Ham), has been released from the federal correction facility in Butler, NC, after serving eight years of a 12-year sentence for racketeering. He had also been charged with ordering the murders of two followers who threatened his control of the New Vrindaban Krishna community in Marshall County, WV. “Krishnas aren’t very popular,” Bahktipada said when he pleaded guilty in 1996. The community, once 700 strong, was expelled from ISKCON in 1987. [csr 3.3 2004] 

The ISKCON governing body has forbidden Bhaktipada from participating in the organization, and the manager of New Vrindaban, stressing that ISKCON has worked hard to establish good relations with its West Virginia neighbors, said: “There is no turning back on our fresh start, and Kirtinananda has no part to play in our future.” (AP via Charleston Daily Mail, Internet, 6/17/04; AP in Charlotte Observer, Internet, 6/18/04) [csr 3.3 2004] 

Paroled Swami Returns to Breakaway Faction 
Kirtananda Swami Bhaktipada, recently paroled from prison after serving a term for racketeering while head of the Hare Krishna community in West Virginia, has returned to lead his splinter group, the Interfaith League of Devotees, in New York City. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has prohibited the 66-year-old swami from visiting any of its temples. It earlier expelled him for “numerous, serious illegal acts” as well as for deviating from its teachings and elevating himself above A.C. Bhaktivedanta, the founder of ISKCON. (Peter Duffy, New York Times, Internet, 7/11/04) [csr 3.3 2004] 

Hare Krishna [International Society for Krishna Consciousness/ISKCON] 
Bhaktipada Released from Prison but Banned from Community 
Former Hare Krishna splinter group leader Swami Bhaktipada (known also as Kirtinananda Swami, born Keith Ham), has been released from the federal correction facility in Butler, NC, after serving eight years of a 12-year sentence for racketeering. He had also been charged with ordering the murders of two followers who threatened his control of the New Vrindaban Krishna community in Marshall County, WV. “Krishnas aren’t very popular,” Bahktipada said when he pleaded guilty in 1996. The community, once 700 strong, was expelled from ISKCON in 1987. [csr 3.2 2004] 

The ISKCON governing body has forbidden Bhaktipada from participating in the organization, and the manager of New Vrindaban, stressing that ISKCON has worked hard to establish good relations with its West Virginia neighbors, said: “There is no turning back on our fresh start, and Kirtinananda has no part to play in our future.” (AP via Charleston Daily Mail, Internet, 6/17/04; AP in Charlotte Observer, Internet, 6/18/04)[csr 3.2 2004] 

Paroled Swami Returns to Breakaway Faction 
Kirtananda Swami Bhaktipada, recently paroled from prison after serving a term for racketeering while head of the Hare Krishna community in West Virginia, has returned to lead his splinter group, the Interfaith League of Devotees, in New York City. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has prohibited the 66-year-old swami from visiting any of its temples. It earlier expelled him for “numerous, serious illegal acts” as well as for deviating from its teachings and elevating himself above A.C. Bhaktivedanta, the founder of ISKCON. (Peter Duffy, New York Times, Internet, 7/11/04) [csr 3.2 2004 2004] 

Hare Krishna (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) 
Changing Face 
The Hare Krishna movement in the United States appears to have outgrown its counter-culture image and matured, although the organization is still dealing with a sexual scandal stemming from activities in the 1970s and 1980s. “It’s entirely possible these days that a Hare Krishna could be living next door to you and you wouldn’t know it,” says Burke Rochford, a professor at Middlebury College, in Vermont, who has studied the group for three decades. “They are now just part of the culture in ways that the average person couldn’t have imagined some 20 or 25 years ago.” [csr 3.1 2004] 

Many Hare Krishna — Rochford estimates there are now 50,000 devotees in the U.S. — live with their families outside the group’s temples, work in a full range of occupations, and dress like people in the mainstream rather than in the saffron robes that made them famous. A latter-day emphasis on family includes encouragement to maintain ties with relatives outside the Krishna community. Proselytizing, once found annoying by outsiders, has diminished in favor of what some characterize as attending to the needs of existing members. [csr 3.1 2004] 

“The shift from just monks and nuns to a more congregation-based religion has really led to openness and has had consequences in a lot of areas,” according to Maria Ekstrand, a member of the group and co-editor of the forthcoming book, The Hare Krishna Movement: the Post Charismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant. (Michael Kress, Dallas Morning News, Internet, 3/19/04) [csr 3.1 2004] 

Moscow Demonstration against Hare Krishna 
Two thousand members of the Russian Orthodox Church recently demonstrated in Moscow against the planned Hare Krishna cultural center on land donated by the city. They protested that the organization was a brainwashing totalitarian cult with no connection to traditional Hinduism and no place in Moscow. In January, a coalition of Orthodox, Muslim, and Jewish leaders declared themselves against the center because it would not fit in with Russian traditions. (Citoyen, Internet, 3/22/04) [csr 3.1 2004] 

Hare Krishna (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) 
Airport Solicitation Restrictions Re-imposed 
A federal judge has refused to continue blocking enforcement of the Los Angeles International Airport anti-solicitation law despite appeals from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna). Authorities say that the Krishna solicitors were annoying passengers and required them to remain in small, cordoned-off “booths” in the passenger terminals. The Krishnas claimed that the law was unconstitutional because the booths were in out-of-the-way places. (AP, Internet, 3/18/03) [csr 2.2 2003] 

Seeking Chapter 11 Reorganization 
Eleven temples of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Hare Krishna) were to have filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy reorganization on April 30. A $400 million lawsuit against them for abuse in their boarding schools in the 1970s and 1980s was dismissed in 2000, but similar charges were filed in Texas State court in 2001. The temples say that the damages sought are greater than their collective assets and if awarded would destroy their religious communities. The reorganization plan provides compensation for youths who were abused at the schools but chose not to sue. (Business Wire, Internet, 4/29/03) [csr 2.2 2003] 

Hare Krishna/International Society for Krishna Consciousness 
No George Harrison Money to Group 
Ending speculation that former Beatle George Harrison would leave $30 million to a Hare Krishna trust, it was announced in late November that his entire estate of $150 million has gone to his wife, and then their son. Harrison, who joined the Hare Krishna group in the 1960s, donated a ranch north of London to them, and it had been rumored that his ashes would be scattered in the Ganges. (IANS, India, 11/30/02) [csr 2.1 2003] 

Ford Heir to Donate $10 Million 
Alfred B. Ford, a descendant of Henry Ford, says that he will donate $10 million to the Hare Krishna [International Society of Krishna Consciousness] organization to help build a $100 million headquarters in Mayapur, India. “I would like Mayapur to be to its followers what the Vatican is to Catholics,” Ford said. “I would like Mayapur to be a place where people would come for a spiritual experience and to listen to discourses on philosophy.” Ford became a Hare Krishna after he met the movement’s founder in the U.S., in 1975. (AP, Internet, 12/29/02) [csr 2.1 2003] 

Airport Solicitation Suit 
The Hare Krishna organization [International Society for Krishna Consciousness] has sued in U.S. District Court against limitations on its solicitation of donations at the Los Angeles International Airport. ISKCON says that the need to apply for 30-day permits specifying where and when they can seek donations, and barring them from chanting, singing, and dancing or shouting under penalty of a $500 fine, violates their right of free speech under the First Amendment. (San Diego Union-Tribune, Internet, 1/14/03) [csr 2.1 2003] 

Cattle Keeping Charges Dismissed 
A judge has dismissed charges against a Hare Krishna [International Society for Krishna Consciousness] couple accused of keeping four cattle on their property in the village of Rushford, 80 miles south of Buffalo, NY, without a permit. Continuing debate on the issue pits village law against the Hindu religious beliefs of Stephen and Linda Voith, which call for the protection of cattle. (AP, Internet, 1/2/03) [csr 2.1 2003] 

ISKCON/Hare Krishna/Children 
Hare Krishnas to Declare Bankruptcy to Avoid Suit 
Hare Krishna congregations named in a lawsuit alleging sexual and emotional abuse of boarding school students will file for bankruptcy reorganization in several sates. The group hopes that if their plan is approved by federal bankruptcy judges, the $400 million (£280 million) lawsuit filed in Dallas by former boarding school students will be dismissed.[csr 1.1 2002] 

Anuttama Dasa, a Maryland-based spokesman for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON, said: "We don't believe that innocent members and congregations should be held accountable for the deviant behavior of individual acts committed 20 or 30 years ago." ISKCON also plans to set up a fund to compensate children who may have been victimized in Hare Krishna schools during the 1970s and 1980s.[csr 1.1 2002] 

The Texas lawsuit alleges young children at Krishna schools in India and the United States were terrorized by their instructors. The suit claims that young girls were given as brides to older men who donated to the religious community. Children were also allegedly deprived of medical care, scrubbed with steel wool until their skin bled, and prevented from leaving the school. (Ananova, 2/7/02, Internet) [csr 1.1 2002] 

Hare Krishnas Win Suit for "Mocking" Them / United Kingdom 
ISKCON in the U.K. recently won a suit against the House of Fraser, Ltd., that includes an award of £17,500 in compensation, legal costs, and a public apology, all for "mocking" the group in an ad.[csr 1.1 2002] 

The House of Fraser published a double-page advertisement in the April 2001 issue of The Face magazine that featured Hare Krishna Hindu devotees and included the text: "Linea Directions ¬ wear it and pity those who can't; exclusive to House of Fraser. If I wasn't a chanting, cymbal banging easily led nutcase who'd been brainwashed by some loony religious sect, I could be wearing Linea Directions' extra-fine marino sweater and linen jeans."[csr 1.1 2002] 

Shivarama Swami, the head of the Hare Krishna movement in the UK, said of the decision: "This is not just a victory for the Hare Krishna movement, or even just a victory for Hinduism; this is a victory for the rights of religious worship and expression. This will set a standard for the future and be a warning to other companies not to use someone's religious faith as a nasty and spiteful advertising campaign." (Press release from ISKCON, 2/25/02, Internet) [csr 1.1 2002] 



ISKCON.org
The Official Website of The Hare Krishna Movement™ Organization. [ISKCON]

The information in this overview is quoted from Hinduism, TM & Hare Krishna, by J. Isamu Yamamoto. The book is part of the 16-volume Zondervan Guide to Cults and Religious Movements.  [ISKCON]The history, the lawsuit, and the mythology, by Nori J. Muster. "This website traces the history of child abuse in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement. Gurukula, Sanskrit for the "school of the guru," is the area within ISKCON where most of the child abuse took place. The schools were extremely abusive on all levels: emotional, physical and sexual, and the children's basic needs were severely neglected. I am an exmember of ISKCON and author of the book, Betrayal of the Spirit (University of Illinois Press, 1997)." [ISKCON]Overview of ISKCON's history, beliefs, and practices from www.religioustolerance.org.  [ISKCON]A list of several dozen sites listed on surrealist.org. [ISKCON]