Swami Bhaktipada and the West Virginia Hare Krishnas
a decology 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)
Four volumes of Gold, Guns and God are published
Vol. 4—“Deviations in the Dhama” (available summer 2021)
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)