FROM KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS TO KILLING: A REPORTER TELLS THE TALE
Scripps Howard News Service
Release date: 12-1-88
With review, bc-krishnas(sh)
By MARK WOOD
Scripps Howard News Service
John Hubner remembers well his first exposure to the Hare Krishnas
in the 1960s.
"I used to see them chanting on the University of Arizona campus
when I was a student there," he said. "They were the bridge between
East and West. I knew it was a fundamental form of Hinduism."
What Hubner didn't know was that their paths would cross again more
than 15 years later when he began working with New York Times reporter
Lindsey Gruson on an article about the Krishnas for Rolling Stone
That article led to their book "Monkey on a Stick," which tells
how a frail Indian swami's efforts to spread "Krishna Consciousness"
throughout America were destroyed by power-hungry gurus who turned to
fraud, drug-running and murder.
Krishna Consciousness is strict religion. Its basic tenet is
service to Krishna, an important Hindu deity; everything is done in his
name. Followers are forbidden to indulge in any intoxicants (including
caffeine), to have illicit sex, to eat meat or to have extensive contact
with non-devotees. And devotees should always chant and sing Krishna's
For many people, this austere lifestyle seems to suggest the
Krishnas are a religious cult, but Hubner, a reporter for The San Jose
(Calif.) Mercury News, thinks the movement is a true religion with
"Krishna consciousness is unique in that they came to this country
as a fully formed, fundamental form of Hinduism," he said in an
interview. "And that's not a cult ... that's an ancient religion that's
very beautiful, very compelling."
He said many Westerners who joined the movement in its early days
in America remain in it today "because they still believe in it. That's
the thing that's really amazing."
But the 11 gurus appointed in the mid-'70s by Swami Prabhupada to
govern Krishna Consciousness worldwide instead "turned their _ for lack
of a better word _ fiefdoms into cults," Hubner said.
Hubner became friends with Gruson in 1979 when both were covering
the shooting deaths of five Communist Party members by a group of
Klansmen and Nazis in Greensboro, N.C.
When Gruson called Hubner about working on the Rolling Stone
article, Hubner said he took a look at the stories Gruson then was
writing about the Krishnas for the Times. "I couldn't believe that all
this stuff Lindsey was writing about was happening," he said.
Nor could he understand why it was happening, but he wanted to try.
"Right from the start, it was how does good become evil, how do you
kill people in God's name. I really wanted to understand that," he
Now Hubner believes that what happened had, in part, to do with
what religious scholars call anti-nomianism _ the belief that faith
alone, not obedience to moral law, is necessary to salvation.
"What that means is that when you have God on your side, when you
truly believe that you are acting in God's will, you can do no wrong,"
he said. "The Krishnas became, over the years, a separatist movement.
It became us vs. them, `Karmis' (non-devotees) against the devotees,
demons against the devotees."
At its most extreme and paranoid, Hubner said, this mentality led
American-based gurus such as Hansadutta (Hans Kary) and Kirtanananda
(Keith Ham) to begin stockpiling weapons to defend themselves against
what they believed would be the inevitable attack of the non-believers.
Nevertheless, Hubner said, the devotees of these gurus continued to
follow them. In fact, Hubner and Gruson write, many didn't even know of
their gurus' misdeeds.
Hubner attributes this blindness to several factors. First is the
religion's basic tenet: that everything must be done in Krishna's name.
No matter how bad your life is, he said, "you tell yourself that
you're doing it for Krishna. And because your life is hard, because it's
austere, you're making progress. And the more austere you are, the more
progress you make. Therefore, it just goes around and around and around,
and the guru is there to tell you you're doing right."
Also, the type of people who joined wanted someone to tell them
what to do and to encourage them, he said. Some didn't want to make
their own decisions, while others came from bad families and felt the
Krishnas offered a better alternative.
Today there are far fewer American Krishnas than in the `60s and
early `70s, the movement's heyday, but Hubner believes the movement and
others like it are important cultural bridges that "help people
understand that we're all in this together ... that there are many ways
to approach God, Hinduism being one."
In fact, Hubner wants the Krishnas to have the chance to help
people cross that bridge.
"I hope the movement will survive. There's a lot of good people in
it today," he said. "The interesting thing is that they've kind of
taken control of it today. The good guys are in charge."
(Mark Wood is a reporter for Scripps Howard News Service.)