Gold, Guns and God: Vol. 2—A Pioneer Community
Henry Doktorski’s landmark 447-page non-fiction book about Swami Bhaktipada and the West Virginia Hare Krishna commune called New Vrindaban, can be purchased in several ways:
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Vol. 2 of Gold, Guns and God covers a four-year time span from 1968 to 1972. During this period, New Vrindaban was established by Kirtanananda Swami (Keith Ham) and his former (we assume) lover, Hayagriva (Howard Wheeler). The founding of the community was hardly auspicious; both disciples had defected from ISKCON and were attempting to start an ashram in direct competition with Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and ISKCON. Years later, Kuladri (Arthur Villa), who served as the New Vrindaban temple president from 1976 to 1986, told the author, “New Vrindaban has always been the black sheep of ISKCON.”
During their defection from ISKCON in 1967 and 1968, Hayagriva had kept in touch with his spiritual master (he was not as fanatically independent as his rebellious godbrother), but Kirtanananda, on the other hand, had completely severed and abandoned his relationship with Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and ISKCON. In his heart, it appears, Kirtanananda wanted to become a big guru himself, and he pursued his grandiose dream to the best of his abilities.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), Kirtanananda discovered that he could not attract spiritual seekers to even visit his “ashram” in a rundown, nineteenth-century farmhouse without running water, electricity, or even insulated walls, in the hilly backwoods of Marshall County, West Virginia. The frigid winter winds blew through the cracks in the walls. The farmhouse was isolated at the end of a two-mile mud road which was inaccessible, except possibly for the most-powerful four-wheel-drive vehicles.
After a few months living in seclusion, Kirtanananda finally understood that he did not have the spiritual potency, acumen, magnetism and exoticism which came so easily and naturally to Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. While Kirtanananda suffered in isolation at the remote farmhouse in the Allegheny Plateau, ISKCON had been expanding by leaps and bounds. Prabhupada’s many disciples had established vibrant and dynamic preaching centers in Boston, Buffalo, Hollywood, London, Montreal, New York City, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Seattle.
Kirtanananda was forced to admit defeat, swallow his pride, grovel at the feet of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and beg forgiveness. He and Hayagriva traveled to Montreal to meet their spiritual master, and Prabhupada “forgave his renegade disciples in Montreal with a garland of roses and a shower of tears.”
Although Richard Rose, the owner of the Marshall County, West Virginia property, refused to grant long-term leases to tenants, Kirtanananda and Hayagriva encountered a stroke of luck when Rose ran into grave legal problems and needed immediate cash to hire a lawyer. Rose reluctantly agreed to lease his 132.77 acres property to Keith Ham and Howard Wheeler for ninety-nine years for four thousand dollars, with an option to purchase for ten dollars when the lease expired. Hayagriva put down a $1,500 deposit.
After the lease was signed, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada approved of the West Virginia New Vrindaban ashram as a bona fide ISKCON project, and gave instructions for its development. New Vrindaban, he explained, was to become a self-sufficient, agricultural community dependent not on industry, but on farming and dairy cows. The residents would worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Shri Krishna, chant Hare Krishna, and eventually build seven temples named after the seven major temples in Vrindaban, India. New Vrindaban would become, as noted in the ISKCON Articles of Incorporation, “a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the Personality of Krishna.”
The first year, however, was difficult. Few ISKCON devotees came to help, and the winter of 1968-1969 was grueling. West Virginia weather could be severe, and the nineteenth-century farmhouse had no electricity, running water, nor insulation. The frigid winds blew through cracks in the walls. But the handful of stalwart residents survived the first winter, and in the spring of 1969, purchased their first cow and welcomed their spiritual master, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who graced the humble rural ashram “inmates” with his presence for more than a month. He gave his association freely to residents and visitors, and also gave instructions on how to develop the community.
Little by little, strong and stalwart ISKCON devotees (and a few mentally-disturbed crazies who had been kicked out of ISKCON city temples) arrived and helped build cabins for residents. They planted gardens and tended cows. In August 1971, large and beautiful hand-carved marble deities named Shri-Shri Radha-Vrindaban Chandra arrived, and were installed with much fanfare. Things were finally starting to look good for the two-dozen or so residents of the primitive Krishna conscious village.
Soon after the installation festival for the new deities, Kirtanananda Swami left New Vrindaban and established a traveling preaching program featuring music, singing, chanting, dance, drama, lectures and prasadam (vegetarian food offered to Krishna) which became known as the “Road Show.” Talented singers, musicians and actors rehearsed, produced, promoted and performed a show which was both educational and entertaining, and eventual became known as the “Transcendental Rock Opera.” Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was pleased by the reports he heard about the preaching successes of the show.
However, in Kirtanananda Swami’s absence, the New Vrindaban residents had gradually become morose, and there was talk about disbanding the community. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada became concerned, and ordered Kirtanananda Swami to return to New Vrindaban immediately, assess the damage, and institute a program to save the community. Kirtanananda immediately recognized what he believed was the source of the difficulty: the deities were being neglected.
Kirtanananda Swami had the deities moved from the Vrindaban farm to the Bahulaban farm—a recently-purchased property on the main road which had become the center of the community—in a big festival. When the residents once again resumed their devout worship of Shri-Shri Radha-Vrindaban Chandra, the community was again united in love for guru and Krishna. Kirtanananda had saved the community by rekindling the Brijabasis’ love for Krishna.
Unfortunately Kirtanananda Swami, with the assistance of his followers, created a “Cult of Kirtanananda.” The residents began to worship their shiksha guru (instructing spiritual master), Kirtanananda, on an equal level as their diksha guru (initiating spiritual master), Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This co-dependent relationship might have worked if Kirtanananda had actually been a humble, self-realized, uttama-adhikari servant of his spiritual master, but this was not the case, as time later revealed.
When a neophyte devotee pretends to be a self-realized soul, all havoc ensues, and Kirtanananda and his followers eventually deviated from the path of strict devotion and created their own fantasy world of pseudo-bhakti. This was, however, not apparent to most in the beginning. Even Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, when he visited New Vrindaban for the second time in August and September 1972, profusely praised his first sannyasa disciple and showered him with great affection. If Prabhupada was aware of the sinister and secret interior motives of his most-popular and charismatic disciple, he did not share his misgivings with others. In fact, during his second visit to New Vrindaban, he told his high-ranking GBC representatives that, “He [Kirtanananda] is worth ten of you.”
Gold, Guns and God: Swami Bhaktipada and the West Virginia Hare Krishnas is a story of spirituality and love and high ideals, but it is also a story of corruption, sinful activity and cheating. As Kirtanananda said, “The devil and the devotee reside in the same body.” Will balance be achieved in the future? Will good triumph over evil?
May 6, 2021: I’m so happy! I’m relaxing on my garden hammock starting to read Gold, Guns, and God, Volume 2. Looking forward to another great read by Henry Doktorski!
May 25, 2021: HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA: that may spark memories of peace, saffron robes and airports, but what about murders, drugs and tax evasion? Gold Guns and God .... an ashram I spent a couple years at. Henry Doktorski is putting them out faster than I can read them.
Jeff Claussen (Janardan dasa)
Sioux City, Iowa
Chapter 13: Establishing the Caste System in the Modern World
Swamiji becomes Shrila Prabhupada
ISKCON farm communities
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada proposes a country ashram for ISKCON
Swamiji proposes Pennsylvania ashram
Bhaktivedanta Swami coins the name “New Vrindaban”
A non-denominational ashram in West Virginia is proposed
Kirtanananda writes to Rose
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada proposes a New Vrindaban in West Virginia
Kirtanananda and Hayagriva visit Richard Rose’s West Virginia farm
Rose achieves notoriety with help from Kirtanananda and Hayagriva
Chapter 14: Plain Living, High Thinking
Kirtanananda attempts to reconcile with Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Janardan intercedes on Kirtanananda’s behalf
Hayagriva visits Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in New York
The prodigal son begs forgiveness
The main business of New Vrindaban: raising cows
Chapter 15: The Prodigal Sons Return
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada proposes a New Vrindaban in Florida
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada orders Kirtanananada and Hayagriva to give up
The “shoot out” at Rose’s goat farm
Kirtanananda sees his spiritual master again
The lease is signed
Now we can work with great enthusiasm for constructing a New Vrindaban in the United States
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada allows ISKCON devotees to live at New Vrindaban
Little Radha-Krishna deities acquired
Hayagriva becomes president of New Vrindaban
Chapter 16: Hayagriva Ties the Knot
Kirtanananda’s reputation for austerity becomes legendary
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada asks Hayagriva to take a wife
Hayagriva refuses to marry
The marriage of Hayagriva and Shama dasi
A recipe for disaster? arranged marriages with homosexual men
Chapter 17: We Must All Follow in the Footsteps of Kirtanananda
First cow purchased
Swamiji becomes widely known as Prabhupada
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada arrives in Columbus
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Allen Ginsberg chant at a campus engagement
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada arrives at New Vrindaban
Richard Rose meets Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Four major purposes of New Vrindaban
New Vrindaban not different from Goloka Vrindaban
New Vrindaban better than Vrindaban, India
“I am always thinking of your New Vrindaban”
Chapter 18: Growing Pains
New Vrindaban is closing?
Conflict between Kirtanananda and Hayagriva
Kirtanananda and Hayagriva’s love-hate relationship
New Vrindaban traveling preaching parties
The community expands
New Vrindaban residents begin rising early in the morning
Chapter 19: A Great Sinister Movement
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada takes immediate action to save his Society
First annual New Vrindaban Janmashtami festival
Crisis at New Vrindaban
Hayagriva leads battle against errant sannyasis
Errant sannyasis banned from ISKCON
Kirtanananda preaches in India
Pittsburgh ISKCON established
Giant Lord Jagannath appears
Incense factory established
Madhuban farm purchased
Bahulaban, Guruban farms purchased
Enmity with neighbors
Brijabasis travel to Detroit to see their spiritual master
Shri-Shri Radha-Vrindaban Chandra arrive
Hayagriva glorifies Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and New Vrindaban
Chapter 20: In Every Town and Village
Radha-Krishna deities acquired for the Road Show
August-September 1971: rehearsals begin at New Vrindaban
Gospel church performance
School buses purchased
Vishnujan Swami invited
December 1971-January 1972: Orlando
Deities are named “Radha-Damodar”
Road Show racism?
January 1972: Gainesville and Tallahassee
February 1972: Mobile, Alabama
Chapter 21: A Transcendental Rock Opera
February 1972: Louisiana
An imaginary feast
March 1972: New Orleans and Houston
April 1972: Atlanta
Blitzing small towns
Washington D. C.
May 1972: Boston
June 1972: Brooklyn, New York
Kirtanananda chants on new initiates’ beads
August-September 1972: Pittsburgh
Chapter 22: Under New Management
An unmarried mother tied up in the barn; expelled from the community
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada asks Hayagriva to leave New Vrindaban
Hayagriva’s leadership abilities lacking
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada asks Hayagriva to edit fulltime
Kirtanananda diagnoses the problem at New Vrindaban
Radha-Vrindaban Chandra move to Bahulaban
The formation of the New Vrindaban Governing Board
Kirtanananda had the last say in everything
Chapter 23: The Cult of Kirtanananda
Kirtanananda’s walking cane
Kirtanananda repeats purely the message of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Kirtanananda highly respected throughout ISKCON
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada shows confidence in Kirtanananda
Kirtanananda’s charismatic authority
The uttama adhikari
Chapter 24: He Is Worth Ten Of You
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada returns to New Vrindaban
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s birthday celebration
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada exhibits symptoms of ecstasy
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s cake destroyed by “wild animals”
“Kirtanananda is worth ten of you”
Road Show performance at New Vrindaban
Road Show disbanded
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