Swami Bhaktipada and the West Virginia Hare Krishnas
a decalogy by
Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada receives a birthday gift—a golden crown and mace, similar to the royal acouterments offered to the murti of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in his Palace of Gold, expertly crafted by master jeweler Ishani dasi (Ellen Schramm), the head of the New Vrindaban Jewelry Department—during Bhaktipada’s vyasa-puja celebration commemorating his 49th birthday, at New Vrindaban, West Virginia (September 1, 1986)
Ten volumes of Gold, Guns and God are published, plus Killing For Krishna and Eleven Naked Emperors.
Gold, Guns and God Abstract
Swami Bhaktipada (1937-2011)—also known as Kirtanananda Swami—was the charismatic and highly controversial Hare Krishna guru who established in 1968 what became the largest Krishna community in the United States. The son of an Upstate New York Baptist preacher, Bhaktipada (then Keith Ham) met Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), the Indian guru and founder of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), in 1966 and became one of his first American disciples.
During the 1970s and early 1980s Bhaktipada was recognized as a key leader of the movement and, after Prabhupada’s death in 1977, became a guru in his own right. At New Vrindaban, Bhaktipada presided over the construction of the opulent Palace of Gold, billed as “America’s Taj Mahal”—a memorial shrine for Swami Prabhupada dedicated in 1979—which became the second-most popular tourist attraction in West Virginia.
In 1987 Bhaktipada was excommunicated from ISKCON “for moral and theological deviations” after he became a prime suspect in a conspiracy involving the murders of two dissident devotees who had threatened to reveal his secret involvement in homosexual activities and sexual child abuse. He refused to step down as the leader of New Vrindaban and formed his own splinter movement separate from ISKCON. In 1996 he pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering charge, was fined $250,000 and sentenced to twenty years in prison. He was released after only eight years due to poor health and spent the last eight years of his life in New York City and India.
Despite his expulsion from ISKCON, his criminal conviction and sexual deviance, Bhaktipada is still worshipped by hundreds, if not thousands of followers in India and Pakistan who consider him a “holy man” and follow his teachings as promulgated in his two dozen books.
Bhaktipada is a study in contrasts: he is adored as a saint by some and reviled as a psychopath by others. The author will attempt in this biography to reveal the many sides of his complex personality.
July 5, 2020, Vrindaban, India: I consider your work very important, a necessary archive to cover an particularly significant moment in history, which will be very useful to sociologists and psychologists of religion in the future. I hope that you can get your books to be accepted in university libraries. Perhaps if you can find some scholars who work in those fields to support it, you will have the chance to see your work have more influence.
October 8, 2020
I’m enjoying reading this first volume (or rather Vol. 3) of Gold, Guns, and God on my Kindle reader. Your work is tremendously relevant and the historical value is immeasurable. I appreciate you so much and all the hard work that you are putting into this project. I’m looking forward to writing another stellar review for Amazon when finished.
November 11, 2020
Oh, Henry. Oh my God. I was on my way to work at 1 am in the morning, and I saw your book, Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 5 sticking out of my mailbox. After my shift was finished, I began almost running back home, and I thought, “I’ll just glance through Henry’s new book, and have a coffee.” I was very anxious to “dive in” into this extraordinary blast-from-the-past story of the deranged devoted devotees of the New Vrindaban community.
The next thing I know, several hours had passed, and I finished reading 90 pages: until just after they killed Chakradhari. Oh my God, Henry, it’s such a detailed explanation and expresses the viewpoints of all the characters in this story. You’re taking this to the next level. You took it to the next level. You’re a truth seeker, exploring the truth, revealing the truth. I admire your cojones. I truly and deeply appreciate your detailed style of writing, dear friend. You definitely make sure that “no stone is left unturned,” with excellent documentation: references, letters, quotes, etc. You have no hidden agenda. You simply present the plain facts, which basically speak for themselves.
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this enormous and absolutely vital historical biography of Swami Bhaktipada. I also hope that your books will help others to heal the wounds of deranged devotion, as they helped me. Om Shanti. Om Tat Sat.
Former ISKCON devotee and former disciple of Indradyumna “Swami”
PS I have all four of your books, as seen in the attached photo.
November 15, 2020
Thank you for doing this [researching and writing Gold, Guns and God.] I truly believe that the importance of your work will grow exponentially in time. P.S. I just purchased ten copies of Vol. 3 for family and friends.
Jason Detamore (Kiba-Jaya dasa)
Santa Monica, California
Former resident of New Vrindaban
December 12, 2020
Henry’s books are fascinating. I think they’re important to American religious history, and I think they’re important to anybody interested in Christian apologetics, specifically with regards to the dynamics of cults.
Rev. Jack Davila-Ashcraft
From an interview with Henry about Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 5, at Expedition Truth Radio.
May 6, 2021
The books of Henry Doktorski are very popular among devotees who “were there.” That is because not only are the books well written, and subject to meticulous research, but Doktorski was also “there.” But, most of all, these testimonies to a period of history are a message to any future egoistical and self-appointed “leaders,” who think that their crimes against Vaishnavas can be swept under the rug and that sins at the lotus feet of Krishna’s devotees carry no repercussions. Let the future generations of bhaktas read these accounts, and let them take note that the eyes of the all-pervasive Supreme Lord are everywhere. As Prabhupada used to say, “Be very careful, you are dealing with Krishna.”
Patita-Uddharana dasa Adhikari, ACBSP (Miles Davis)
(Initiated September 1968, Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Photo caption: Patita-Uddharana dasa with a statue of the famous Bulgarian artist Vladimir Dimitrov (1882-1960), Frolosh, Bulgaria (Spring 2021)
June 17, 2021
Henry Doktorski’s Gold, Guns and God series represents an exhaustive compendium of information about one of the most compelling stories of the late 20th century: the meteoric rise and gradual decline of the Hare Krishna movement in America and elsewhere around the globe, but especially at the West Virginia New Vrindaban community.
Rather than a concise summary, these books draw on literally all existing sources of information about the Hare Krishnas, including the voluminous personal archives of Swami Bhaktipada himself. Personal reminiscence and oral history is another significant source. Doktorski himself was a devotee at New Vrindaban for more than a decade and a half. His personal experiences and observations are compelling testimony, as well as those of fellow devotees (some) with whom he interacted for more than four decades.
It is a story of absolute power corrupting absolutely.
John A. Cuthbert, Director and Curator
West Virginia and Regional History Center
West Virginia University
Morgantown, West Virginia
Photo caption: John Cuthbert and Henry Doktorski at the West Virginia and Regional History Center (June 17, 2021)
October 22, 2021
Hello, I heard your interviews on Expedition Truth Radio and I was fascinated. I wanted to know more. I ordered volumes 1-3 of Gold, Guns, and God and was glued to them. I wanted to know when volume 4 might become available. I really enjoy your books and your work as a historian on this group is very important and to be commended.
I visited (or at least walked around outside) the Palace of Gold when I was visiting a friend in Moundsville a few years ago. I am very excited that you are writing a comprehensive history of a religious movement told in a biographic way. That is EXACTLY what we have been trying to accomplish (with little success) about the religious movement I am involved in, the Asatru Folk Assembly. The scope and scale is obviously very different but our founder resurrected Asatru as a living faith in 1968 and it has grown and developed since then and we are trying to write that history. Your books are the closest thing I have found in similarity to what we are wanting to do (thankfully without the same type of scandals).
Matthew D. Flavel (Alsherjargothi)
Asatru Folk Assembly
June 12, 2022
The hidden message behind Henry’s books is the Bhakti Yoga process, a process which I see as a type of self-improvement process which can transform people for good. Honestly, I think the message of Bhakti Yoga is blatant in Henry’s books, and despite all the negative in the story of New Vrindaban and Swami Bhaktipada, Henry’s books still give a positive take on the Bhakti Yoga process, and also on the dynamics of cults and the general cultural dynamics of what was happening in America at the time. This is because Henry’s books deal with real human struggle and flawed people making mistakes. I am skeptical of power structures, so all the corruption he uncovered is not surprising to me. Nor does the corruption diminish what I interpret as how Bhakti Yoga generally helped the people Henry writes about in a self-improvement process
David A. Calton (Doooovid)
Host of the Doooovid Internet Streaming Show
July 29, 2022
There are lots of lessons to be learned about cults reading the books of Henry Doktorski. . . . If there’s one thing to learn from the books of Henry, is that you have to take care of your heart. You have to take care of your mind. You do not give your life and power to anyone except God himself. Henry speaks with experience, because he was himself deeply brainwashed by the Hare Krishna movement. And it takes a lot of effort to deprogram oneself from a cult that you’ve been involved for years. It’s possible, as Henry Doktorski is a shining example of one that has now a very successful life, a very positive life, helping others to see what the truth is all about.
formerly Hanuman Swami, ACBSP
from a review of Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 6 on YouTube.
October 18, 2022
Hare Krishna, Prabhu. I just sent you $60.00 U. S. by Western Union. Please send me Gold, Guns and God, Vols. 5, 6 and 7. The total cost for me is $94.65 Canadian. Thanks and please keep on writing and publishing your books. I’m certain Srila Prabhupada is pleased because your books have potency to lead sincere souls to Prabhupada instead of the fake gurus.
Daryl Mark Johnston
December 22, 2022
Henry Doktorski’s books are well researched and are daunting to read, but in them you get to see what was really going on behind the scenes. ISKCON leadership had a big PR act for us and the public. Most of them worshiped and glorified Kirtanananda, knowing all the sordid details lots of which are in Henry’s books. . . . It’s very low and weird. Henry’s books are not easy to read. There are so much details of the sick weird schemes and active deception, you just won’t believe it, but it’s worth it to really get the full picture what was going on in ISKCON. It’s not pleasant reading, but will give you a glimpse of the depraved and abusive mood of the leaders’ real games and motives. We are conditioned souls; it’s our fallen nature to sully real spiritual life.
Clifford Kirk, former ISKCON devotee
January 15, 2023
It is my opinion that every person interested in Krishna Dharma, especially if you are a long time in ISKCON, should read these books, Gold, Guns and God, by Henry Doktorski. They are to be read as a duty; not an easy read, because they give laser-beam truth of what was really happening behind the scenes. All beings do that to some extent; they pretend they are fine and happy, etc., but religious groups usually put on a big show of pretense. It’s human nature. These books show very clearly what was really going on and reveal so much hypocrisy which we can all learn from. And we can choose to not follow blindly with pop-star worship of spiritual teachers. Often the negative experiences are the best teachers. Nothing has been held back here; everything is the naked truth. Most folks want tea-cup spirituality. If that’s your thing, don’t read these books. The awful truth is like bitter medicine. Well, Henry’s books are like that.
Clifford Kirk, former ISKCON devotee
January 15, 2023
What I find most interesting in your writings, and that is different from other ex-Hare Krishnas, is that there is no criticism of Krishna consciouness. Only the historical facts of what happened. In this view, I see it as a great service to the Hare Krishna Movement, as to become aware to not become a cult as it happened in New Vrindavan and still happens in many cases in the present time, where people serve bogus gurus who in reality are sense enjoyers.
February 1, 2023
Henry’s Gold, Guns and God decalogy is like the Mahabharata!
ISKCON sannyasi, formerly from New Vrindaban (Name deleted to avoid retribution from the institution)
July 9, 2023
I just finished reading Gold, Guns and God, Volume 10. I’ve followed this complete journey now and have to commend you on doing such a wonderful job. When all is said and done, I think you treated Kirtanananda Swami fairly. I hope that you can now go on with your life, leave some of that behind you and just be happy. I’m forever indebted to you for your insights which helped me avoid mistakes I otherwise would certainly have made.
I don’t know what your spiritual condition is, but this much I know; God loves you and wants the highest for you. I hope you receive that. Thank you so much for permitting me to be of service to you (even though it was a very small way) and thank you for undertaking a daunting task. I’m happy to have known your association, my friend. If I can ever be of help again, please let me know.
Jagadananda Gauranga Swami
August 1, 2023
My dear godbrother Hrish,
l have now read all twelve volumes of your books: Killing For Krishna, Eleven Naked Emperors, and Gold, Guns and God. What a massive and highly commendable effort you have made. As more people read your literatures, it will shed a lot of light for many.
Your idea to have the Timeline of Important Events at the end of Vol. 10 is a good idea. I am also impressed that you so honestly presented letters from people who disapprove of your work, also in Vol. 10. A couple of them were way over the top with their stupidity.
So you should rest assured that you have awakened people to the fact that having a certain position in an institution does not justify bad behavior. Will you write more?
Glories to your writing service.
If you want to post this online, no need to mention my name. I prefer to remain anonymous, being the nobody that I truly am.
August 7, 2023
My dear Hrishikesh dasa Prabhu,
Dandavats to you and all glories to Srila Prabhupada.
Your very generous gift to this poor brahmana has arrived and I am so grateful to have this library. The thirteen books are sitting before me and, when the Deities of Radha and Lord Krishna open later, will be offered.
You always say that you are not a devotee—which is fine with me because that is a means of protecting your professional status as an even-handed writer/historian. Nonetheless, this is a work of devotion.
Your readers are not coming to you to find their “siddha-dehas” and “submerge in prema.” Rather they come to you to be protected from charlatans who claim to submerge them in a fabricated prem and false spiritual status. This is important, and is very much an important aspect of devotional service in this day and age.
You have always displayed Vaishnava qualities inwardly, rather than the big show devotees are apt to settle on nowadays. When you are insulted on Facebook, you simply take it in stride and do not strike back. Then when the astonished party offers apologies, you always accept and move on. These are more important qualities of a devotee than merely being an ISKCON groupie though few these days are sufficiently pensive and introspective enough to see the obvious.
The dull-headedness of the ISKCON Community is astounding, yet it can only be attributed to the class of so-called “gurus” and the quality of “disciples” they attract. Basically, they have forgotten the Founder-Acharya and are like Christians begging for their daily bread from ordinary men who put on a song and dance and are attired in saffron cloth.
Best always to you,
Humbly your servant,
[Name deleted by request]
Prabhupada disciple living in Slovenia
September 1, 2023
Thank you for your books. They are like the sun purifying the Krsna consciousness movement’s dirtied waters as it flows along revealing specks of gold.
Overland Park, Kansas
September 16, 2023
You have done a fantastic job, putting in books all those Kirtanananda and ISKCON stories. I joined ISKCON in 1969 and I heard all those rumors about the crimes of pedophilia of Keith Ham and the murders of New Vrindavan. And you have written those stories honestly in books form for the whole world to know about gravity of those crimes. Now thanks to you it is clear and recorded. Anyone that wants to argue must read your books first.
They are the new authority, and that is what I told the Kirtanananda devotees in India when I visited Bhaktipada’s “samadhi” in Vrindaban a couple months ago. I said: “RIGHT NOW, Read Henry’s books and you will find out that you are worshipping a pedophile a murderer and a scammer.”
Possibly reading your books has also given me the courage to expose the MISTAKES of my ex-guru Swami Bhaktivedanta in my videos. Writing so many books in so little times its simply AMAZING to me who as a hard time putting my knowledge of things in a book form. Plus you are an AMAZING musician. All I can say to you in ONE word—BRAVO—And keep going.
Henri Jolicouer (formerly Hanuman Swami, ACBSP)
September 21, 2023
Henry’s writings let the genie out of the bottle. ISKCON, whose motto has been that our ignorance is its bliss, will not be able to put the genie back into the bottle and neither will some Rtviks.
Overland Park, Kansas
September 21, 2023
Your books will be a benchmark for many years to come. Without them so many people would still be living the life of delusion. I applaud you for all your hard work and dedication you have invested in your writings and much needed historical research for future generations to come. Without truthful and factual historical accuracy, we become embedded in ignorance.
October 19, 2023
It is nice to spend one’s time gardening. It’s a lot easier than farming but you can still grow a surplus that the kids can sell at market and some you can take to the temple for offerings to Krsna. I think Henry is gardening too, his books are the bitter fruits of the truth as the devotees experienced it. They are like the proverbial apple, awarding knowledge of the good and the evil that the human spirits rose and sometimes descended to in ISKCON.
The safest thing is that I haven’t found any success stories in them, nothing about anyone becoming Krsna conscious or even self realized. Considering the aims of Krsna consciousness, such a monumental failure is tragic, but not perhaps extraordinary in the history of religious movements, so a nice spring wine celebration is more heartening. I am not surprised at how badly Krsna consciousness failed, it’s that it doesn't seem to have worked for anyone is an indictment, either of the religion itself or the ones presenting it, which include Prabhupada apparently as what he meant to create, has still not come about, leaving us with hard questions, “Why not?”
Overland Park, Kansas
November 23, 2023
This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for your nice books. I have had many hours of enjoyment reading them.
Weirton, West Virginia
November 23, 2023
Thanks for attempting to present the history of ISKCON and its critical evaluation in a balanced and respectful way. It is an important contribution despite of inevitable shortcomings that an endeavor like this would obviously have.
In these histories some will find closure, others will find justification for why Hare Krishnas are bad, that their philosophy is simply speculative or that their founder was perhaps a great prophet but ultimately an ordinary mortal on the level of a conditioned soul. What people find I these stories is their prerogative, I might not agree with them and I have no control over them.
However, in these stories and excerpts which you post on Facebook, and in the reaction of readers of these stories, I find important learnings which can help avoid costly mistakes of both the deranged devotion, and the deranged dejection for practicing devotional service that must follow on the oscillating pendulum of dualities.
For more information:
• The Myth and the Man: Swami Bhaktipada’s Obituary (September 2011)
• Two Podcasts About Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada (March 2019)
• Henry appears on Doooovid’s Internet streaming show (November 2020)
• Gold, Guns and God: No. 3 in Amazon Hot New Releases (December 2020)
• Henry speaks about Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 5 on Expedition Truth Radio (December 2020)
• Henry speaks about Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 1 on Expedition Truth Radio (February 2021)
• Preface to Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 4 (July 2021)
• Henry speaks on Expedition Truth Radio about Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 4 (December 2021)
• West Virginia libraries purchase Henry’s books (March 2022)
• Foreword to Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 2 now online (May 2022)
• Henri Jolicoeur reviews Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 6 (July 2022)
•Henri Jolicoeur reviews Gold, Guns and God, Vol. 7 (August 2022)