Wednesday, September 20, 2017


This posting is the first in a series intended to acquaint readers unfamiliar with the history of the Hare Krishna (ISKCON) movement to obtain a brief but thoroughly representative snapshot of some of its most prominent leaders. I know that most of my readers come to my blog curious about the cult after having received a mailed invitation to attend one of their temple celebrations. Others go directly to my essays to read topics of interest to them either through a recommendation or a web search. So far, however, most of my writings in this blog and its companion, have dealt with philosophical or doctrinal issues and my personal experiences during my 13 years as a Hare Krishna devotee

Now I would like to turn my attention to the most influential leaders within ISKCON, specifically those who were direct disciples (as was I) of its founder, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami ("Srila Prabhupada"). While vast troves of information (mostly critical) about these individuals exists on the web, going through it all and making the necessary connections between what they did and why can be a daunting task. (For a summary of the mindset behind the attraction of the hippie and New Age generations to ISKCON and similar cults, please go to

In addition, my intention is to refute the prevailing ISKCON propaganda that treats the crimes committed by most of these early disciple-miscreants as byproducts of immaturity and personal deviations from the pure and wonderful teachings of their guru. 

In fact, the worst of these deviant disciples were also among the best fund-raisers in the history of the Hare Krishna movement. Their charisma and sharp business sense coupled with their fanatical adherence to Srila Prabhupada's strictures regarding bare-bones expenditures for his disciples were responsible for the rapid openings of many new temples as well as grand temple projects. One of the best examples is the still-admired New Vrindavan temples and grounds that rose from its incongruous location near Wheeling, West Virginia under Kirtanananda Swami's leadership. 

His tenure in ISKCON dates from 1966, the year Srila Prabhupada arrived in New York from India. Judging from the information below, I think you might wonder why he was not apprehended and removed from his position before matters took such a tragic turn. Sad to say, the answer was obvious almost from the beginning: for our guru, the ends indeed justified the means. The price of what we believed was transcendental bliss was the abdication of our highest moral values. For Kirtanananda and his followers, moral cynicism and relativism were the rule of the day. Lost souls, all of them.
  • Kirtanananda, a childhood polio survivor, avid homosexual, and unrepentant pederast, was one the earliest disciples of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami ("Prabhupada") and certainly one of the most infamous. A toad-like man in the grip of full-blown megalomania, he oversaw the construction of the New Vrindavan temple in Moundsville, West Virginia while assembling a rogue's gallery of violent, salacious peons.[i]
  • Along with his fellow homosexual and good friend Hayagriva (Howard Wheeler), Kirtanananda built a criminal empire in addition to the ornate temple and grounds. His devoted goons included the Sankirtan leader and sex abuser Dharmatma Das (Denis Gorrick), the murderer Tirtha Das (Thomas Drescher), another murderer, Daruka Dasa (Don Reid), and many others.
  • Nothing, however, compares to his offences to humanity than his role in allowing and perpetuating the horrible child abuse innocent children of devotees suffered at the Gurukula boarding school.  The infamous New Vrindavan gurukula was a nest of unimaginable cruelty and sexual abuse suffered by children dumped there by their parents. Imagine the misery endured by children who never had a family life (or toys of any kind) forced to take ice cold showers at four in the morning and fed a diet so meager that many appeared emaciated.[ii]
  • His criminal propensities—pedophilia, drug trafficking, stockpiling weapons and ammunition, to name a few--as well as his determination to usurp his guru's role in his community were widely condemned, but, like most narcissists, he still managed to attract a large and devoted following. Expelled from ISKCON in 1987. 
  • In 1996, he was sentenced to twelve years in federal prison for racketeering and conspiracy in the murders of Steven Bryant and Chuck St. Denis. Released after serving eight years. Tirtha Das (Thomas Drescher): on orders from Kirtanananda, murdered Chuck St. Denis in 1983 and dissident Steven Bryant in 1986. Currently serving life in prison.
  • Kuladri Das (Arthur Villa): Kirtanananda's henchman, now associated with Radhanath Swami. Alleged co-conspirator in Bryant's murder. Currently employed by ISKCON in life member drive targeting non-resident Indians
  • Radhanath Swami: both he and Gopal Krishna Goswami took sannyasa initiation from Kirtanananda in the early 1980's. After the fall of Kirtanananda, Radhanath took over his disciples. Sworn testimony of Dharmatma Das in the Sulocana murder trial implicated Radhanath as a co-conspirator. Although he stated that he "broke all ties once I came to know about the murder," both he and Gopal Krishna Goswami attended Kirtanananda's funeral in 2011, where they were seen prostrating themselves before his garlanded corpse.
Postscript: If you wonder why Radhanath Swami and Gopal Krishna Goswami were initiated into the sannyasa (renounced order) at a time when Kirtanananda's criminal activities were well-known throughout the ISKCON universe, you will find out shortly. 

[i]Hubner, John, and Lindsey Gruson. Monkey on a Stick: Murder, Madness, and the Hare Krishnas. San Diego:  Harcourt, 1988.
     This article was written for ISKCON Times, a webpage maintained by Padma Shri honoree Madhu Pandit and his associates, staunch enemies of the GBC-controlled ISKCON. Shri Madhu Pandit dasa is also the founder of the famed Akshaya Patra food relief charity.


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