Tuesday, May 10, 2016


The ability of a cult to camouflage itself is an integral part of its survival. Controlling dissidents and blunting the effects of criticism are also priorities. Confronted with an uncomfortable truth, cult leaders often adopt the defense strategy of a poisonous blow fish that puffs itself up to appear bigger than it actually is. 


In addition to blending in and trying to appear disproportionately threatening, cults have infiltrated dissident websites in an effort to control, intimidate, and learn the identity of critics. From a practical viewpoint, dissidents who limit their criticism to chatting with other like-minded ex-cult members on a website will also be less likely to engage in actions that might prove embarrassing to the cult. In this way, even the therapeutic value of discussing one’s misfortunes becomes another tool of cult subversion.

Before I discuss some of the tactics the Hare Krishna/ISKCON cult uses in this regard, I would like to take a moment to discuss a similar pattern in two other major cults that arose to prominence during the 1960's and 1970's and have remained highly influential and controversial.

The Unification Church (“the Moonies”) has diligently worked to transform its image from a family of spiritual autocrats to all-American hyper-conservatives, founding the influential Washington Times newspaper and acquiring United Press International (UPI), among many other business interests. This is a far cry from a cult whose early enthusiasts were known for selling roses by the side of the road. However, these public relation schemes are like a tight, gaudy costume worn by a fat exotic potentate: if he runs too fast, it rips off, exposing his hideous nakedness to the laughter of the general public. 

Examples abound: who can forget the filing of false Federal income tax returns and charges of conspiracy that led to the conviction and imprisonment of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in 1984? Given the literature and videos meticulously exposing the contrast between the practices and actual beliefs of these and other cults established during the mid-to late 20th century, why do they continue to attract new recruits and what can be done about it?

A few years ago I came upon a website that strongly criticized the Hare Krishna/ISKCON cult’s views about and treatment of women using direct quotations from the teachings of its founder, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. A few things about the website bothered me, however. For one thing, the graphics used were of an unusually high caliber and it also contained a number of direct links to a number of authorized ISKCON websites. What the hell? Apart from the quotations that were concentrated at the bottom of the webpage, most postings resembled Facebook entries written by a punk-rock addicted teenage girl. Before long, as the saying goes, I smelled a rat.


The clues soon began adding up: how else can you explain the bold-faced links to ISKCON temple along with the site’s obvious maintenance and graphics expenditures? Although I contributed a few comments myself, before long I had the distinct feeling that visitors to this site were being taken for fools. Not surprisingly, in short order I learned that the website host, whom we all thought was an ex-devotee woman, was in fact a man. The website soon disappeared and good riddance. However, it was just the beginning.
Why, you might ask, would leaders—most probably initiating gurus-- of the Hare Krishna cult engage in subverting the authority of its founder/acharya in such a brazen manner? The answer is two-fold: unlike the vast majority of ISKCON devotees and the mostly Hindu community that make up the bulk of its donors, the present-day gurus of the movement are well-versed in the lectures, speeches, and commentaries of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. They also know that his preposterous and ill-informed notions about race, women, and so-called "Vedic Science" cannot survive rational scrutiny. For instance, his notion of slavery as the ideal state for blacks and women:

19 March, 1976, Mayapura, India:
Prabhupāda:  And the women are declaring, “independent.” They are begging door to door to a man, “Please give me shelter. Give me a child,” and they’re independent. One American woman, was…. She was speaking that “In India, the woman are treated as slave. We don’t want.” So I told her that it is better to become slave of one person than to slave of become hundreds. (laughter) The woman must become a slave. So instead of becoming slaves of so many persons, it is better to remain satisfied, a slave of one person. . . . And our Vedic civilization says, narī-rūpa pati-vratam: “The woman is beautiful when she remains as a slave to the husband.” That is the beauty, not the personal beauty. How much she has learned to remain as a slave to the husband, that is Vedic civilization. 

Taped conversation of  Srila Prabhupada and disciples (14 February, 1977, Mayapur, India):
Prabhupada: Sudra is to be controlled only. They are never given to be freedom. Just like in America
. The blacks were slaves. They were under control. And since you have given them equal rights they are disturbing, most disturbing, always creating a fearful situation, uncultured and drunkards. What training they have got? They have got equal right? That is best, to keep them under control as slaves but give them sufficient food, sufficient cloth, not more than that. Then they will be satisfied.

Of course, the swami's endorsement of slavery for blacks and women is bold-faced nonsense, good only for belly laughs and informing would-be Hare Krishna followers. If that were not enough, here's what he has to say about the brains of women:

3 February, 1975, Hawaii, (Lecture on Srimad Bhagavatam)

Prabhupada: To understand Brahman is not the business of tiny brain. Alpha-medhasan. There are two Sanskrit words, alpa-medhasa and sumedhasa. Alpa-medhasa means having little brain substance. Physiologically, within the brain there are brain substance. It is found that the brain substance in man is found up to 64 ounce. They are very highly intellectual persons. And in woman the brain substance is not found more than 34 ounce. You’ll find, therefore, that there is no very great scientist, mathematician, philosopher, among women. You’ll never find because their brain substance cannot go. Artificially do not try to become equal with men. That is not allowed in the Vedic sastra. Na striyam svatantratam arhati. That is called sastra. You have to understand that woman is never given to be independence.

So much for "Vedic science"! Srila Prabhupada followers! Next time you become seriously ill, what will you do? I bet you will run for your pitiable life to the best modern hospital you can find and eagerly submit yourself to the hands of a specialist, who very possibly will be a woman and whose medicines and therapies were developed using modern research techniques in laboratories where men and women work side by side. Mantras, Deity-worship, and other means of selectively denying reality won't help you, what to speak of your literal scripture readings. Time to wake up and clear the cobwebs off your underutilized "brain substance"! 

If the swami's views about brain size were true, the sperm whale, a mammal possessing, at 7.8kg, the largest brain on the planet, would enslave all of us as one gigantic, jagad-guru:

Sripada Whale-ji giving underwater SB lecture
Secondly, many of these gurus have amassed more disciples than their guru ever had and have also become experts at manipulating donors to enrich their coffers and fund the building of elaborate temples. In short, they have turned into self-deluded, dhoti-clad megalomaniacs bent on supplanting their guru. They want to be him:


These puffed-up charlatans are fully aware that they have wasted their lives chasing delusions. Like video-game addicts who have lost touch with reality, many senior ISKCON devotees in leadership positions live like petty tyrants drunk with power surrounded by hordes of their fawning acolytes. Most of all, they fear critics who would expose their candy-coated fake Hinduism to the public (especially the genuine Hindu organizations and politicians whose support is essential to their mission).

Aware that donors continue to be cultivated almost entirely by personal contacts, fancy events, as well as invitations and newsletters sent by ordinary mail, these cultists show little concern about criticism in blogs or other kinds of social media. However, if even a few of the influential people ISKCON has spent years cultivating finds an impassioned, impeccably researched diatribe written by an ex-cult member sitting in their mailboxes, it might spark an angry confrontation with significant financial repercussions.[1] Spending a relatively insignificant amount of money covertly funding a fake anti-ISKCON website is a small price to pay for avoiding such a disaster.

However, it is a bitter and uncomfortable truth that avoidance is the coward’s reaction to confrontation and informed argument. So is abusing the trust of others, especially when you know that they are turning to you for comfort and healing from extremely traumatic experiences. Remember that the term con artist refers to people who extract confidences from other people and then use the information for their own nefarious purposes.To exploit people who suffered in a cult and managed to extricate themselves is a grim, diabolical business.

The cold war strategy of containment is used by these so-called anti-ISKCON websites to herd dissidents together and thus keep them from disturbing the cult’s donor relations. Most of the few that operate with any form of sophistication are rife with signs that they are both funded and maintained by the cult itself. Apparently the idiots who believe that the sun is closer to the Earth than the moon have so little respect for the rest of us that they frequently overreach and engage in preposterous exaggerations that give themselves away almost immediately. 

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[1] Ironic, isn’t it? Yet, after many years of experience in not-for-profit fundraising, I can tell you it is the truth. 


AMW said...

I love this post. I have been reading your site for a long while, and I am so happy that you are speaking out. I am almost to the point of speaking out against ISKCON myself (left in 2011), and have been thinking about starting a blog to talk about my experiences within it and without it (see what I did there, lol). I should have figured that they would try and infiltrate such websites, I know I have seen devotees trolling. I look forward to your next post. Thank you.

jairus said...

I think many terrible things go on for religion or at best under disguise of that religion but also see religions, groups, as allowing such things instead of encouraging true pure truth seeking.. please contact me if can would love discussion with you thanks..

Paul T. Harrison said...

Thank you, great post :-) There are some good things in the philosophy, however if you take out all the "Guru worship" stuff, then it kind of turns into a children's book of fables. Normally this is fine and can be helpful, but these fundamentalist who try and take everything literally, have to go delusional. I love how this article shows the con..... bait and switch... as old as the hills and not spiritual.

Anonymous said...

I was involved with ISKCON for many years. What it's become is not something Prabhupada intended. There is a great deal of hypocrisy and individuals trying to force others to do things. This can be particularly true when it comes to marriage. I personally experienced this on several occasions. I was working, had my own apartment, was living near the temple, and performing service and attending classes every day. Additionally I was following the principles. However, it seems I was perceived as a cash cow for some miserable brahmacari in need of someone to take care of him. This is in contrast with the teachings that no one should ever be forced to do anything. I have been treated with contempt for holding a job and living on my own even though its written that if a person is following even one of the nine devotional processes they should be thought of as a devotee of Krishna. Many devotees have broken the law, such as copywrite infringement, molested children, among other crimes, including. I have witnessed sociopathic, narcissistic, and borderline behavior patterns. This is not part of the teachings, and at least according to Bhaktivinode Thakur, acting this in an aberrant way while chanting would not mitigate the karma, but make it worse. Prabhapada had said that he left the movement in its infancy, but its past due for them to grow up.