The Titanic Taproots - The Finale
The Kirtanananda swami expose
by Kailäsa Candra däsa
Part Two of a Three-Part Series
Having described the early escapades of Kértanänanda some months ago--and, in the first of this three-part series, having described an overview of them--and having compared him to T.K.G. (in terms of how they and their guëa-karma played out similarly or otherwise), it is now time to move on. In doing so, it is impossible to avoid discussing three major events, two of them violent, that transpired at, or in relation to, the Moundsville camp.
Your author, although he received his Harer Näma initiation in 1972 at “New Våndävan,” was only there twice. Both of those visits were in the early to mid-Seventies, and they were very brief, no more than two days each. As such, our direct experience of the place, of its ambiance, of the general attitude of its “inmates,” of its leaders (some of whom constituted a kind of rogue's gallery), and of the specifics of what went down there, is limited.
Yet, the above-mentioned three major events (as far as that community was concerned) cannot be avoided in any overview of the life and times of Kértanänanda Swämi. Another way of saying the same thing is that we must take advantage of devotees who were actually there in the late Seventies, the Eighties, and the Nineties, because they can provide us objective references, which can then be utilized in order to make accurate judgments.
One such devotee is Henry Doktorski, who received the name of Håñékeça from Kértanänanda, and who was, for a number of years, very devoted to him. Mr. Doktorski, although he was on the road a great deal (a master at the “pick,” he even invented one of the methods later employed throughout America to approach people for donations), was a regular and valued resident of the place. He became shocked and severely disillusioned in 1993, and, as a result, he has recently produced a thick, ultra-informative book entitled Killing for Krishna: The Danger of Deranged Devotion. It comes highly recommended.
It had been many years in the making. It is a god-send for those who want to know what went on with Kértanänanda, both before and after Çréla Prabhupäda's disappearance. It is very detailed and thoroughly researched. Your author could spend a whole article describing it, but that would not only be unnecessary (as per the purposes of this three-part series), but it would also be a disservice to Mr. Doktorski.
Quotes from it will be utilized here, providing chapter and verse, so to speak. The verification of all such citations in this three-part series is self-evident, since they are directly reproduced from Killing for Krishna. Confidence is high that all such depictions, descriptions, and quotes so utilized are accurate history and thus bona fide. Just as importantly, Killing for Krishna offers over 1,300 Endnotes with even more specifics, so its overall account is very solid, along with a great deal of cross-referencing.
One of the above-mentioned three major events was a spur-of-the-moment emergency meeting convened by the G.B.C. late in the summer of 1985. This governing body conclave at “New Våndävan,” as we shall see, would turn out to be anything but a smashing success, yet it was not a failure, either. Kértanänanda would more or less boycott it, even though it was staged at his own personal playground. He would also defy its conclusion during a sole confrontation he had with its leaders, despite agreeing with them that “something had gone wrong, very wrong, in ISKCON.” That was a consensus felt throughout the movement by all devotees, many of whom had and have been voting their disapproval with their feet since the heady zonal äcärya era ensued in the late Seventies.
Yet, percolating within the minds of many in 1984 and 1985, a momentum of so-called reform had been created. There was new-found hope that the high-profile pretender mahäbhägavats could be, and would be, brought down to a more reasonable status, and that their exalted worship—in clear imitation of His Divine Grace Çréla Prabhupäda—would be halted. Kértanänanda was the main stumbling block to that transpiring, and thus animosity toward him was generated within the hearts of many at that time. There was probably going to be another schism soon enough.
“For instance, the Jews say that they are the only selected people of God, but what kind of God is this Who selects some people and condemns others?”
Hayagréva: Machiavelli's view of man was very cynical. He wrote: 'In constituting and legislating for a commonwealth, it must be taken for granted that all men are wicked.
Prabhupäda: . . . according to our conviction, if one is perfect, why should he try to change the word of God? And if one is imperfect, what is the value of his change?
Do you find the first quote (above) a bit interesting? If so, you won't discover it in “ISKCON” literature or the Folio, because it has been culled out of the texts “ISKCON” presents, specifically, the text where Prabhupäda critiqued Aristotle. Do you find the second quote (above) a bit interesting? If so, you will find no reference to it whatsoever, because “ISKCON” has never allowed Prabhupäda's critique of Machiavelli to see the light of day.
However, these quotes can be found in a hardbound book entitled Dialectical Spiritualism under the publishing banner of PRABHUPÄDA BOOKS. Of course, it is virtually certain that the book is now out of print. Kértanänanda Swämi founded that publishing entity, and we are grateful to him for it, particularly in relation with this book. Your author has read, consulted, and reproduced quotes from it many, many times.
Many quotes from various Western philosophers (beginning with the Greeks and proceeding to Carl Jung), as well as responses from Prabhupäda, are covered in the publication and have been posted on our websites. Kértanänanda also wrote a nifty Foreword, wherein he summarily critiques all of the philosophers confronted by Çréla Prabhupäda, categorizing them in terms of most favorable, least favorable, and somewhere in between--relative to the Absolute Truth, the philosophy of Vaiñëavism and Kåñëa consciousness.
As could have been rather easily predicted, “ISKCON” leaders were more than a bit disturbed when Kértanänanda formed PRABHUPÄDA BOOKS, and they were especially agétäted when Dialectical Spiritualism was published. They have always demanded a monopoly on all such publications, and that entailed the power to decide what would be published, in what format it would be published, what would not be published, and what they could (and would) change in any and all of the literary output of His Divine Grace.
For example, massive changes, over seven hundred of them, were made to Bhagavad-gétä As It Is. Your author has covered this topic to some extent in previous articles. Although, in recent publications (with changes) by its publishing house--and then by the splinter entity from the now defunct BBT, called the BBT(I)--some mistakes in previous publications were corrected, that alone does not balance the damage done where correcting obvious errors had no relationship whatsoever to changes whimsically made to the purports.
Kértanänanda Swämi wanted Prabhupäda's critiques of various Western philosophers to be available to devotees in a hard copy format, and he thus created a super-excellent book with a title he devised, viz., Dialectical Spiritualism. Just as T.K.G. accrued credit for all the books and magazines that were distributed throughout America during the heyday of RDTSKP, Kértanänanda Swämi certainly accrued lasting devotional credit in publishing Dialectical Spiritualism. He deserves praise for it, and that is what is given to him in this section.
“Consider 'Em the Rotary Club”
“The bona fide spiritual master in that bona fide chain of disciplic succession never claims to be the Lord Himself, although such a spiritual master is greater than the Lord in the sense that he can deliver the Lord by his personally realized experience.”
“ . . . the King consulted, and was advised by, learned brähmins, who said, 'You are an usurper and faulty for enjoying the property of your elder brother.'”
“. . . the reformers agreed that the zonal guru system was a mistake, the level of worship too high, and the gurus were too powerful within the G.B.C. A motion of no confidence was issued to the Governing Body Commission with a demand that all power be returned to the direct disciples of Prabhupäda.”
Kértanänanda and the other ten were not ordinary men, but they were certainly not Vaiñëava äcäryas, either--not in the true sense of the term. They were usurpers. Via arbitrarily designated zones, they had exploited a crack in Prabhupäda's movement in order to promote themselves to the position of so-called uttama-adhikäré. They did this by parlaying and converting the appointment of rittviks in July, 1977 into an appointment of Successor Äcäryas. They became, in effect, eleven popes ruling eleven zones.
It was a colossal hoax, a big lie, but it could have been perpetuated indefinitely as long as cracks did not appear in their new paradigm. Unfortunately for them, soon enough, some cracks did appear. Kértanänanda had forced the hand of the G.B.C. to make this initial arrangement, and, as such, he had the most to lose if it was changed. Consequently, he resisted mightily any such effort to approximate a transformation. However, these zonals, to greater or lesser extents, also were competitors and envied one another, to the point of some heavy-duty enmity between two of them on the Left Coast.
Rationalizations could only go so far. Unstoppable events would eventually stack, and the cracks would thus automatically expand. The whole pretense could eventually become endangered and even shatter. That outcome did not appear at all likely at the beginning of the Eighties, but that's when some of the first fissures appeared.
A handful of devotees had been rebelling against the arrangement from the start (your author being one of them), but the resistance would have to reach within “ISKCON” itself for any such discontent to actually create institutional change, even though it would probably not be root change. One thing led to another. There was the winter face-off in Våndävan in 1979, in which Pradyumna challenged the opulent worship of the eleven in a debate with The Scholar, which soon ended after he emoted the issue. Nevertheless, it was a start.
In 1980, the movement's most famous female devotee, one of Prabhupäda's initial initiates in New York, became disillusioned. She was a vociferous preacher who traveled, and she made her way to the Moundsville compound. Her message was not well-received there, and she was beaten to a bloody pulp after (rightly) charging that the new gurus of “ISKCON” were not bona fide. Soon afterward, she produced tracts backing her conclusions, primarily via çästra and Prabhupäda's quotes on guru (including a transcript of the so-called “Appointment Tape,” which proved it was anything but). Word got around.
As aforementioned last month, two of Ocean's Eleven were put on probation for various reasons in 1980, all of them serious in the eyes of the other zonals and the G.B.C. Yet, this had a counter-productive side effect for the “ISKCON” leaders: How could a genuine guru, an uttama-adhikäré, have his status suspended? It was a big crack in the “ISKCON” edifice, because it forced some to ask difficult questions they had avoided, particularly when they couldn't any longer swallow the institutional rationalizations offered as explanations.
Then came the split of 1982 with the Navadvépa mahant. Swämi B. R. Çrédhar had been very instrumental in the creation of “ISKCON” and its new zonal äcäryas. He had sanctioned and encouraged their being worshiped as jagad-gurus. Now, “ISKCON” engaged in a nasty divorce with him, and some stalwarts left the cult, crossing the river to join him and forming the Mahä-maëòala. It was a big-time schism, with negative repercussions.
At Kértanänanda's playground (highlighted by “The Palace of Gold”), 1983 marked the beginning of a slide into the abyss of criminality, especially after Cakradhäré was murdered. It took a few years for the hit to be proven--after his decomposed body was fetched from a nearby creek, when an accessory to the murder gave up its location as part of his plea bargain. However, previous to that, there were devotees at the compound who knew the man had been whacked, especially his wife, who doggedly pursued the case with the cooperation of Sargeant Thomas Westfall of the Marshall County Sheriff's Department.
A new and darker atmosphere had invaded “New Våndävan.” The Year of Our Lord 1983 also marked the first blemish on the inviolable and perfect profile of Kértanänanda. He had been referring to himself by the title Founder-Acarya of New Våndävan, and that was not appreciated by many outside of the compound. Just as importantly, not everyone in “ISKCON” approved of Prabhupäda REX.
That particular issue was brought to the attention of Swämi B. V. Näräyaëa in Mathurä, head of, arguably, the only Gouòéya Mutt that had been favorable (and mildly helpful) to Prabhupäda back in the day. Swämi Näräyaë did not at all approve of Prabhupäda REX. He said it was an offense to Çréla Prabhupäda. He said that converting him into, and worshiping him as, a monarch was a degradation. A sannyäsé is always superior to a monarch. He said that the arcana performed in such worship amounted to an anachronism.
The G.B.C. convened its annual Mäyäpura conclave in a hot mess, and both issues were placed on the front burners. The result was a resolution challenging Kértanänanda's claim as Founder-Äcärya of “New Våndävan” or of anything:
“RESOLVED: The title Founder-Äcärya (and Founder) can only be used in reference to Çréla Prabhupäda. Çréla Prabhupäda's name must be prominently displayed with the title 'Founder-Äcärya' on all printed materials, signs, buildings . . . and letterheads.”
Although there was no resolution passed at the synod referencing Prabhupäda REX, the commissioners made it known that they disproved of His Divine Grace being clothed to regal attire and worshiped as a monarch. Kértanänanda, sly man that he was, knew he had to finesse this negative development. In April, he ordered the crown, cape, and scepter removed from that mürti in The Palace of Gold. However, he had to save face, so he told all of his disciples and inmates, some of whom disapproved of the change, that Prabhupäda had come to him in a dream and told him to remove the accouterments.
The G.B.C. convened a preliminary emergency meeting at “New Våndävan” in August, 1985, prodded to do so by a couple of previous American Temple Presidents meetings. Those were supposed to have been routine, but they turned out instead to set the stage for an eventual firestorm. The temple presidents had unexpectedly voiced their collective displeasure of the zonal äcärya system, bringing their disapproval out in the open for the first time and up to the next octave. The only temple president not to agree with this new mentality, fittingly and predictably, was the one representing the Moundsville compound.
Productive devotees at “ISKCON” temples, particularly commanders in charge of various departments, depended upon the temple presidents to keep them fired up, organized, and seen as bona fide by the real workers. The G.B.C.s, in turn, depended upon effective and productive temple presidents in order to keep their zones. The pressure from the zonals was mostly felt by the presidents and the commissioners (those who were not gurus), because the hoi-poloi was gravitating toward the “ISKCON” äcäryas, the great men delegated with the power to initiate. The workers were becoming slack, neglecting local institutional authority, which still was needed to serve as a buffer between them and the great enjoyers.
Even after there had been a limited expansion of the gurus, this crack was deepening. In 1984, one of the most prominent temple presidents, Professor Blueblood, wrote a tract with a limited distribution (mostly to Party Men), but it nevertheless lit a fuse.
He had street cred that almost no other president had, because he was an esteemed member of Western academia. He followed it up with another, more effective missive in 1985, and the G.B.C. was forced to act. It knew its chief stumbling block was dug in up there in the foothills of the Allegheny Plateau. So, late in the summer of 1985, the commissioners set their controls straight to the heart of the sun, in effect, throwing a one-two punch right at Kértanänanda. Things would soon get very heated.
He was nobody's fool. He informed his disciples, many of whom were fanatically devoted to him and loved him dearly, to basically ignore his godbrothers. Let them have their convention. New Våndävan may technically be an “ISKCON” center, but its real controller was known by one and all. His disciples were informed to boycott all association with the G.B.C., as well as any like-minded temple presidents. Kértanänanda was the real guru, and this desperate, last-ditch attempt by the institutionalists was proving that.
They were trying to water down guru, and their version was, according to “Bhaktipäda,” a slap in the face to Çréla Prabhupäda. According to the spiritual master of New Våndävan, if you were guru, you acted exactly as your guru acted. Institutional guru on the intermediate platform had no place in this movement. His minions were informed to consider these people just another version of the Rotary Club. They were coming to his domain with all of their new proposals in order to solve so many problems of their own creation. The whole farce would amount to nothing more but another change to their ever-changing system, creating but another set of new problems.
There was one confrontation between the great man and the commissioners. He sat on an elevated seat, while they all sat on the floor. Not mincing his words, he informed them that their conclave was nothing but another version of mäyä. They were in mäyä, and their idea to create a new status and manner of conduct for “ISKCON” gurus was also mäyä.
There were some G.B.C. resolutions passed, as could only be expected. One zonal äcärya was disciplined, but nothing really important went down there in September of 1985, despite some superficial mixture of resolve and bickering. The can was kicked down the road once again, right in tune with the fix-it-as-you-go style that the G.B.C. had patented over the years. The chief issue was put on a back burner, to be taken up at the Mäyäpur conclave in the spring of the next year. From the perspective of the inmates of New Våndävan, Kértanänanda had come out on top, and that would soon be recognized by one and all.
The Shockman Cometh
So, after few days, "Sir, again I am in trouble."
“Although Yamaräja is a G.B.C., but he made a little mistake. He was punished to become a çüdra. So, those who are G.B.C.s, they should be very, very careful to administer the business of ISKCON. Otherwise, they will be punished. As the post is very great, similarly, the punishment is also very great.”
“Harikesh Swämi came and delivered his lecture at New Vrindaban, blaming the violence on the meeting that had created such chaos and anxiety and offense.”
Most definitely, the September, 1985 Emergency Meeting of the G.B.C. at the Moundsville compound left bitter feelings and chaos in its wake. But, was it only the G.B.C. that had made offense to Kértanänanda? Would there be other punishments, determined by forces far superior to mere human beings, in its aftermath? The post of genuine guru is very great, but there were no gurus in “ISKCON.” The G.B.C. had made more than “a little mistake.” Each of the gurus--and another “ISKCON” leader was awarded the post of institutional initiating spiritual master at that meeting—was still rooted in the original 1978 deviation. They were not honest men. It was the G.B.C. versus the powerful guru of “ISKCON,” and something had to give. As it turned out, that something was Kértanänanda's skull.
The North American G.B.C. and Temple Presidents Meeting had been well-advertised. Many “ISKCON” devotees sensed its importance, and they flocked to “New Våndävan” in order to see what would go down. Sulochana also came, but he took shelter of Sheriff Bordenkircher at the Marshall County Sheriff's Department (under protective custody) in order to have his input and presence recognized. That ploy was utterly unsuccessful.
One of those who drifted in was Tré-yogé däs, an initiated disciple of His Divine Grace Çréla Prabhupäda. Tré-yogé's Western name was Michael Shockman, which turned out to be very fitting indeed. Doktorski describes him as follows:
“He appeared to have some prominent personality dysfunctions, he was sometimes observed muttering under his breath to himself, and the New Vrindaban residents who had occasion to associate with him considered him mentally unstable.”
A rumor circulated that the Guru Reform Meeting would vote to make it easier to become an initiating spiritual master in their movement, and Tré-yogé was interested. Allegedly, if you were a Prabhupäda disciple with no blemishes on your record, and you received three endorsements from G.B.C. members, you would get the authorization. Well, it would be hard for Shockman to secure those endorsements, because his track record in the movement, although clean, did not include much tangible service rendered. He also had drifted in and out of many different centers throughout America.
His strategy was first securing sannyäsa status. After the G.B.C. and “ISKCON” presidents departed West Virginia, Tré-yogé requested Kértanänanda to give him sannyäsa, and, not at all surprisingly, the great man refused to do so. This left Tré-yogé in a state of borderline despair, and it also made him angry. According to reports detailed in Killing for Krishna, he vacillated back and forth as to how he should handle the rejection. He decided to take one last shot before departing the compound. Shockingly, he again approached Kértanänanda, more or less demanding that he be given sannyäsa. Obviously, that went nowhere, and, according to Killing for Krishna, the two had a final, acrimonious exchange.
However, Tré-yogé did not depart the premises.
On Sunday, October 27th, late in the afternoon, the devotees were engaged in an outdoor bricklaying marathon near the temple—more or less, a routine function held for the pleasure of “Bhaktipäda.” The great man was there, silently watching and expressing his approval. Tré-yogé was also there, but in the background. With stealth, he approached Kértanänanda from behind and whacked him hard on the head with a twenty pound iron stake which was used to hold curb molds. He also struck him twice on the upper back, but the blow to the skull was the big one. It appeared to be fatal, causing severe, bloody head trauma.
The temple president rushed Kértanänanda to a local hospital, but the emergency room there immediately concluded he needed more advanced facilities. One of their ambulances took him to Wheeling just in time to perform emergency brain surgery in order to relieve hemorrhaging. However, soon enough, further complications ensued, and a helicopter flew him to the Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where a blood clot was removed from his brain. Kértanänanda was listed in critical condition for three weeks. He had fallen into a coma during this whole travail, and he remained in it for ten days.
While hospitalized in mid-November, his first initiated disciple at the compound once again placed a crown on Prabhupäda's head in the Palace, stating that he would accept death before anyone would be allowed to remove it ever again. Kértanänanda came out of the coma on November 6th, and he returned to “New Våndävan” on November 22nd. When informed that the crown, cape, and scepter were once again adorning the mürti, he approved of it, despite other temple authorities urging its removal. Kértanänanda praised the intelligence of his disciple for putting the crown back on, saying that he was right and the G.B.C. was wrong. He also added that, now that it was back in place, that would solve all problems.
Meanwhile, Tré-yogé was put on suicide watch at the Marshall County Jail, from which he unsuccessfully attempted to escape in late April of the next year. Near the end of May, he was sentenced to fifteen months in County for unlawful assault. The original charge had been malicious assault, but it was reduced under terms of a plea bargain. He was sentenced to an additional ninety days for the jail break attempt. That carried a felony charge, but the sentence was suspended, and he was placed on three years probation.
Kértanänanda would later, in his “great magnanimity,” forgive Tré-yogé for the attack, but, in actuality, the great man had no such sentiment. He was aghast that Tré-yogé was charged with only unlawful assault, and he stated unequivocally that the charge should have been attempted murder. Even with his make-show display of forgiveness, Kértanänanda added that it was only on the spiritual plane that it was granted; he wanted Tré-yogé prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and under the most severe charge possible.
The damage to Kértanänanda's brain and nervous system was quite severe, and he never fully healed. He developed lung difficulty. For many months he could barely walk or talk, his left vocal cord became dysfunctional, he lost all hearing in his right ear, and his vision was impaired. His was afflicted with anterograde amnesia, making it difficult for him to recollect statements he had previously made, including advice and promises. Although these setbacks were inconvenient for him, he was not in denial about their cause, admitting in mid-December to a reporter from “The Intelligencer,” a local newspaper, that, “You must bear with me. I suffer from a little brain damage.”
These were the physical symptoms. More importantly, his astral body was also traumatized, and that led to a noticeable personality change . . . for the worse. Even as a young child, he was known for an inflated sense of self-importance, manipulative tendencies, and childhood tantrums when his desires were frustrated. That narcissism ramped up when he became an L.S.D. guru in New York City after leaving college. We can only imagine how it increased exponentially once he became a self-appointed, God-realized soul . . . allegedly. His personality disorder crystallized to an extent never before witnessed at New Våndävan. As could only be predicted, the fanatics devoted to him there imagined the change to be a manifestation of the next stage of his pure devotion and spiritual power.
The fact is that it was all an exhibition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and a psychopathic narcissism at that. All eleven of the original pretender mahäbhägavats were narcissists and sociopaths; there is no need to spend all kinds of font space in order to show how it was so, as that history is self-evident. However, not all of them were psychopathic, but Kértanänanda had degraded into that condition.
He had become callous, abandoning the compassion he formerly demonstrated. He was now abusing his disciples at a level never before experienced. His self-aggrandizement reached new heights (read, depths). His decisions were unsound, and all of this was negatively impacting the community, and it was afflicting those who thought him a friend:
“But after he got hit on the head, everything changed. He was not the same person. He got hard and calloused. It seemed that there was another entity in his body, like he was possessed. He lost his pious side. Dark energy came out.”
Psychopathic narcissists often exhibit extreme lack of remorse, i.e., they are very, very hard-hearted. He would play that card in relation to the desired hit on Sulochan, both before and after. Kértanänanda was a sly man. He understood cause and effect better than the overwhelming majority of his godbrothers and godsisters. He had achieved great power, and with that came tremendous manipulative skills along with other abilities, such as how to effectively feign innocence. He now added another weapon to his arsenal, viz., the aforementioned anterograde amnesia. He could and would dovetail it in pursuing his chief nemesis, Sulochan. Henry Doktorski gives us a hint about it:
“Bhaktipäda on occasion attempted to use his memory loss to his own advantage. He discovered that he could conveniently forget something when he wanted to forget.”
The temple president of New Våndävan, whose quick thinking and effective actions saved Kértanänanda's life (after what looked like a certain deathblow), also noticed:
“After the attack, he was never the same. I didn't want to face it at first, but, after awhile, I could not ignore it. . . After he had been hit on the head, he had told me that this injury was very convenient for him, because he could lose his memory whenever he felt like it.”
Quotes from the books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada are copyright by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust