Devotee Writings etc.

Review of Peacock TV’s Krishnas: Gurus, Karma, Murder

by bhakta Eric Johanson



This three part documentary series depicts perhaps the most sordid events in the history of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s Hare Krishna movement, the murders of Chakradari dasa and Sulocana dasa at the hands of New Vrindavana enforcer Tirtha dasa. Unfortunately, and like so many other attempts by academia and journalists to depict the movement, this also suffers from undue influence by the leadership of the ISKCON institution (International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the corporate representation of the movement). As such, it is much like allowing a criminal to write their own news story. In short, the three part series, despite its professionalism, is more lazy journalism that fails to provide an objective view of the movement’s real history.


As we have written elsewhere in regard to an academic study of the ISKCON institution’s recent marketing techniques, Branding Bhakti, the institution’s leadership very much knows the value of trading access to its membership, facilities and reference materials in exchange for influence over how it will be seen by the reading or viewing public. Good journalists easily recognize this inherent institutional tendency for self-promoted distortion. The example is press reportage of government. It is far too easy for media outlets to simply parrot government spokespeople, sometimes going so far as to become “embedded” in that government’s war efforts. Peacock’s treatment of this series’ events borders on this low standard. They pretty much accepted the version of the ISKCON institution’s leadership as gospel.


As was also the case with the ’80s “true crime,” exaggerated account of some of the same incidents, the Monkey on a Stick book, the institution’s leadership largely avoided scrutiny by having the journalists portray the villain, New Vrindavana “guru” Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, as the sole “rotten apple” among the institution’s leaders. This is a common diversion used by all sorts of institutions to make scandals appear cleaned up when, in reality, others in leadership were also responsible. Kirtanananda may have been the worst in regard to the described murders and pedophilia, but his reign would have been impossible without the support of many in the series who now conveniently condemn him.


This is especially the case for the two chief narrators, Bhagavan dasa (William Ehrlichman) and Hridayananda “Swami” (Howard Resnick), both of whom are given the title “Former Guru.” This is not at all true for Hridayananda, who is still fooling people in this regard. That these two were suggested and used as chief spokesmen for so-called Krishna consciousness is indicative of leadership’s control of the series’ narrative. It is also a complete affront to ethics and the real history, what to speak of a stinging insult to the thousands of devotees driven out of the movement between 1978 and 1987 by them and their nine fellow “zonal acaryas”. Kirtanananda was just another of these eleven. Although both Bhagavan and Hridayananda now repeatedly condemn him throughout, they conveniently fail to mention that, at the time, they publicly backed him as a “perfect man and guru” right up until Tirtha’s 1986 arrest for the killing of Sulocana. For this eight year period all of the eleven claimed to be devotees on the perfect “uttama” level, something the depicted events conclusively prove they were not.


Mention is made at about the 37 minute mark of episode 1 of “the gurus” (acaryas) dividing up the world (into zones) as well as their assumption of absolute control over the movement’s devotees, their Godbrothers and Godsisters (disciples of the same guru). Both Bhagavan and Hridayananda give the deceptive impression that they were outside of this takeover and just following orders. This is all skillfully fit into how ISKCON institution leadership injects, once again, their patented lie that Srila Prabhupada (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the movement’s founder and guru) somehow chose the eleven zonal acaryas to succeed him as gurus after his physical departure. This was also done in 2018’s Branding Bhakti, despite the fact that this supposed “order” was shown to be non-existent about 43 years ago. The eleven were only named by him as priests (ritviks) to preside over initiation ceremonies for his new disciples until his departure.


Here is how this is done in episode 1:


Bhagavan: “On his deathbed he said, ‘I will name some of you to be gurus.’ When we take that mantle of guru and you have your own disciples there’s this struggle within yourself, ‘Do I have enough spiritual resources to try to take on that mantle?’ That’s a learning curve that Prabhupada took his whole life to get to.”


Comment: Again, there is no record of Srila Prabhupada naming anyone specific to be guru after his departure, only eleven ritvik priests in a July 9, 1977 letter. This was five full months before he was “on his deathbed.” All eleven zonals falsely claimed this appointment as pre-departure priests amounted to becoming full-fledged gurus afterwards. And for almost three years they hid the May 28,1977 conversation where this was supposedly done. What kind of “guru” deceives and conducts himself like this, especially in regard to their supposed appointment as guru? Yet both Bhagavan and Hridayananda were two of the most active members of this conspiracy. All this is explained in more detail in our article An Honest ISKCON. In this remark Bhagavan also introduces the appeal that the world should “feel sorry for us because we eleven were so inexperienced and prone to innocent mistakes.”


Hridayananda: “He (Srila Prrabhupada) was really worried about ISKCON just sort of disintegrating because when his guru left this world the movement that he joined did disintegrate and it disintegrated precisely because they hadn’t worked out the management, and people wanted power. So Prabhupada went through this trauma of seeing a spiritual movement, which he dedicated his life (to) just self-destruct. And he was determined that that wouldn’t happen with ISKCON. . . . I literally got a letter in the mail and suddenly I was a guru. I didn’t feel I was ready. I was 29 years old. Now suddenly God on earth.”


Comment: Here Hridayananda audaciously and deceptively asserts that Srila Prabhupada  consciously designed the zonal takeover that took place after his departure, as if the disintegration of his guru’s movement was somehow worse than the ruthless zonals driving thousands of their Godbrothers and Godsisters out of the movement that they had also dedicated their lives to. This is indicative of just how accomplished this man is at “sincerely” misleading others. The letter he got in the mail was probably the July 9 ritvik letter. He also wants everyone to feel ever so sorry for him.


Bhagavan: “You couldn’t help at that time to wonder why some were picked and some weren’t picked.”


Comment: False, the July 9 letter was used as justification for the selection of the eleven by all of them.


Hridayananda: “You have these young immature people suddenly acquiring this absolute power over other human beings. It always reminds me of the Three Stooges episode where Mo played Hitler (with) a little moustache and they’re like dividing the globe.”


Comment: Ha, Ha! It was hardly funny when devotees who could no longer stomach bowing to the eleven were forced out onto the street with nothing but the clothes on their back. Hridayananda and Bhagavan literally got to play Hitler for almost ten years. These are the stories that Peacock should have included to provide a more complete and less slanted picture of what they, Kirtanananda and ISKCON institutional leadership did to the devotees.


Bhagavan: “So we, the ones that he named, tried as we best knew how, to be a living teacher, but there was philosophical infighting you could call it.”


(Kirtanananda says something about the material world.)


Bhagavan: “We were left to deal with an ego having no restrictor placed on it because Prabhupada was gone. Kirtanananda saw himself as the center of everything and ah Prabhupada became something that he could use for his own self-aggrandizement.”


Comment: Kirtanananda wasn’t the only one with no restrictor. All of the eleven used Srila Prabhupada for their own self-aggrandizement.


Envy and Jealousy


In the spring of 1978 Bhagavan, Hridayananda, Kirtanananda and their 8 partners usurped the material assets of the Hare Krishna movement, the temples, farms, books and money. In this regard it is said that when the demon Ravana kidnapped Lord Ramachandra’s wife Sita that the pure, spiritual Sita was instantly replaced by a material “maya-Sita.” Instead of taking over the real spiritual ISKCON, therefore, these eleven zonal acaryas actually seized a “maya-ISKCON.” Srila Prabhupada had earlier said that this sort of envious mentality could not take place if these eleven men were part of the real ISKCON.


“So the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is not for the persons who are envious. Envious. It is a movement to train people how to become not envious. It is very first-class scientific movement, yes. Not to become envious. Therefore Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in the beginning introduces, dharma projjhita-kaitavo atra [SB 1.1.2]. In this Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, dharma, religious principles, cheating type of religious principle is completely eradicated, thrown away, projjhita. They are kicked out, projjhita. Just like you collect all the dirty things from the room, sweeping and then kick out, don’t keep it within the room. Similarly, cheating type of religious system—kicked out. It is not such religion, ‘this religion,’’that religion.’ Any religion system, if there is jealousy, that is not religion. Jealousy means… We should understand jealousy, what is jealousy. Jealousy means that you are rightful owner of something; I won’t allow you to take it. This is jealousy. This is jealousy. Jealousy, try to understand. Suppose you are rightful owner of something, and I am trying that ‘You don’t own it. I shall own it. Or somebody own it. I shall not allow it.’ This is jealousy.” Class on Bhagavad-gita 1.1, July 7, 1973, London


The “rightful owners” of the Hare Krishna movement were the thousands of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples who had given their lives to him. They all had a right to remain members and be provided for as long as they continued to follow his orders. Instead they were driven out over the next 8 years because they had trouble following the orders of the eleven. The eleven thus became what Srila Prabhupada calls “jealous” above.


Taking Over the Take Over


When the murder of Sulocana was an active news story in 1986-7 middle managers in the ISKCON institution rose up and succeeded in bringing the remaining, still-in-good-stead zonal acaryas’ standard of worship down to a more reasonable level. The remaining zonals thus became more accountable to the institution’s Governing Body Commission (GBC). Their actions had demonstrated to many that none of them were actually qualified to be guru. This was shown by their Machiavellian assumption of absolute power and the unlimited abuses of their Godbrothers and Godsisters. Yet because the vast majority of the institution’s remaining 1987 devotees were their so-called disciples, the GBC opted to smear lipstick on this pig and keep them as “gurus.” In effect this meant the middle managers, GBC and all the later succeeding “gurus” got to share control of the zonal’s maya-ISKCON. At no point since has the regime of Srila Prabhupada’s orders been restored.


Keeping the remaining zonals as so-called gurus was hardly recommended by the sastras (scriptures) however. There someone who imitates a guru or a pure (uttama) devotee is known as a dharmadhvaji (pretender). One of our departed, previous gurus wrote this about such people:


“One should give up the association of dharmadvajis, the hypocritically devout, with special care. Those who accept the external signs of dharma but do not actually follow dharma are called dharmadvajis. There are two types of dharmadvajis—the hypocrites and the fools, or the cheaters and the cheated. Such hypocrisy in jnana-kanda and karma-kanda is also condemned. In devotional service this hypocrisy ruins everything. Better associate with sense enjoyers, for in this whole world there is no worse association than the dharmadvaji. The deceitful dharmadvajis accept the signs of dharma with a desire to cheat the world, and to fulfill their crooked desires they cheat the foolish by helping them in their rascaldom.” Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sri Bhaktyaloka, Six Faults that Destroy Bhakti, Jana Sanga


As such, the only Krishna consciousness we should be hearing from Bhagavan and Hridayananada are apologies and appeals for forgiveness. Instead both of them, apparently with the approval of many of the institution’s leaders, continue to think they are some kind of authority to explain what Krishna conscious is. However, according to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura in the quote immediately above, they are a type of spiritual poison to be avoided at all costs. People like this are not deserving of our sympathy until they completely repent and give up their pretense. At least Bhagavan has given up his “spiritual master business.” Hridayananda, however, continues with his Krishna West project and is worthy of nothing but condemnation. Srila Prabhupada’s guru had earlier written about dharmadhvajis like the eleven zonals. The chaos they wreaked was inevitable.


“It is to be understood that those who artificially imitate the transcendental activities of the maha-bhagavata Vaisnava with the desire to accumulate mundane fame as a devotee have no attitude of service to the lotus feet of the Lord. Although in order to gratify their own material senses they proudly accept the dress of devotees, their artificial external exhibition of devotional symptoms is simply meant to cheat people. Pure devotion to Krsna is present wherever the symptoms of dharma-dhvajis, vaidalavratis, and baka-vratis are absent, and pride, duplicity, and extraneous motives are present wherever such faults are found.” Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, Commentary, Sri Chaitanya Bhagavata, Adi 16.229, English translation by Bhumipati dasa


Hridayananda alone is enough to spoil the entire ISKCON institution and the spiritual lives of all the members, but there are also any number of other dharmadhvajis therein who pretend to be more advanced than they are. In other words, there are many “rotten apples.”


“History Is Written By the Victors”


All in all, the control of the series’ narrative by the ISKCON institution’s leadership is so complete that the only thing that reflects badly on them is brief mention of the child abuse not in Kirtanananda’s temples. Even this is not elaborated on, going so far as to not specifically name the Windle Turley law firm’s class action suit against the ISKCON institution. And even that general mention was immediately followed by Minister of Communication, Anuttama dasa’s, spin about their Child Protection Office. No mention is made of the more recent scandals the Office has failed to remedy.


There is also something negative implied with the inclusion of the darked-out, anonymous friend of Sulocana who apparently still fears for his life. But even what is included of his narrative relates mostly to Kirtanananda, and since those events occurred 30 some years ago, the series clearly omits any reasons for his current anonymity. This leaves viewers to possibly assume that he is just being paranoid. In sum, Peacock’s acquiescence to leadership was so complete that the credits should have included the assurance that, “No current ISKCON leaders were harmed in the making of this film.”


“The process is you have to go to the teacher. But if the teacher is a cheater, then the whole thing is spoiled. A teacher must be teacher, perfect teacher. But if he happens to be a cheater then the whole thing is spoiled.” Srila Prabhupada, Room Conversation, July 10, 1973, London


  • Bhakta Dasa

    Good review. Thank you. I watched a part of part three of this “documentary” and quickly lost interest. I will not spend time watching the rest. I was there. I lived through all of it, and still am. No need for a show trying to earn mega-profits to tell me what happened.

    Why did they use Bhagavan and Hrdayananda? Why not some of us who were there and experienced the insanity of life under the self-appointed self-claimed perfect beings?

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