Interview with Steven Hassan about Killing For Krishna
December 13, 2018: Steven Hassan, the Founding Director of the Freedom of Mind Resource Center, and a former member of Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, who has worked for decades to help people understand and escape from dangerous cults, published an interview with Henry about his book, Killing For Krishna. Hassan praised Henry’s book as “scholarly, and extremely well-researched.” Highlights from the transcript of the interview follow. To hear the complete interview, go to YouTube.
Hassan: I am here with Henry Doktorski, a musician and composer, but most importantly, the author of this new tome called Killing For Krishna. It is scholarly and extremely well researched. First, how long were you with the Krishnas?
Doktorski: Fifteen years: 1978-1993. I had lots of good experiences, some not so good experiences. Obviously I’m not with them any longer, for the past 25 years. I’ve moved on from that stage in my life. This book was actually written for my godbrothers and sisters, because I had discovered so much during those years since I left that I wanted to share it with them, for their benefit. As an introduction, before I joined ISKCON, I had just gotten my undergraduate degree in music, I was going to graduate school to study piano, but during the last few years of college I had become interested in Eastern thought and philosophy. At that time I was 22 years old, my future was very uncertain, I had a lot of self doubt, some bad experiences. I was consciously trying to find some way to escape from this unhappiness. Then I met the Krishnas, and wow! It just seemed like the way to go. And I did for 15 years.
Hassan: Why is this book, Killing For Krishna, important?
Doktorski: It’s important for people, whether they are Krishna devotees, or Christians, or Muslims, or Hindus, to understand and recognize what I call “deranged devotion.” That is worshiping, and giving your life, your heart and your mind, to an unworthy charismatic leader.
Hassan: That’s exactly what I thought you would say, because that is the reason why I wanted to do this interview. A lot of people think the Krishnas are reformed, and they’re fine, but I happened to have met people who were sexually abused in the Krishnas. I’ve spoken to people who told me, “Oh no, there are ISKCON swamis running different projects, all claiming the same level of spiritual purity, and they’re criminals; they’re narcissists, they’re not enlightened masters.”
Doktorski: Yes, it’s very dangerous for disciples to accept as their lord and master a charismatic leader who is implicated, let’s say, in the murder of a follower. Like today, there are a number of ISKCON leaders who were involved in that conspiracy to murder Steven Bryant, as described in my book, and the ISKCON organization doesn’t really seem to care about it, because they (those who were involved in the murder conspiracy) are popular people, they’re bringing in millions of dollars, they have tens of thousands of disciples.
Hassan: One prominent person, Radhanath Swami, who you talk about throughout the book, has projects in India and thousands of followers, but from what I read in your book, he was friends with the murderer, Thomas Drescher, who pulled the trigger and shot Steven Bryant twice in the head.
Doktorski: I believe they are still friends. I corresponded with Thomas Drescher in prison for about ten years, 200 letters, and he told me that Radhanath Swami is his “best friend.” No one else wants to talk to the guy, Drescher. He was in illusion like the rest of us, but he happened to be the guy who pulled the trigger, and so, he was rejected by everyone, or nearly everyone.
Hassan: Radhanath was never indicted and held accountable, he fled to India. Is that correct?
Doktorski: More or less. After the arrest of the murderer, practically all the leaders at New Vrindaban and Southern California ISKCON who were involved in the murder conspiracy, jumped ship. Radhanath was sent to India. I think Bhaktipada sent him there to start a preaching center. Of course, at the time, I was a rank-and-file devotee, I wasn’t privy to the behind-the-scenes stuff which was known to the higher echelon and the hit man. We just assumed that Bhaktipada was expanding his preaching by sending Radhanath to India. However, Radhanath does periodically come back to the U.S. I don’t think he was hiding in India. He was one of the three conspirators that the government, for whatever reason, decided not to prosecute. The government really wanted Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, who was the head man in charge. Yet the evidence implicates Radhanath Swami in the murder of Steven Bryant without question, and yet he denies it, because, I think, he doesn’t want to become known as a guy who participated in a murder.
Hassan: Now I’d like to get back to this theme in destructive cults, that the ends justify the means: because we’re doing this holy work, it’s okay to break the laws, it’s okay to harm people, because it’s for a good cause. When I was in the Moon cult, the Unification Church, once Reverend Moon spontaneously gave a talk about how, in the future, when we take power in America, we would amend the Constitution, and make it a capital offense for people to have sex outside of Unification marriages. And how we would be helping these people by taking away their physical body and sending them to the spirit world. When I was reading your book, that was the same language, “Steven Bryant needs a new body. Let’s help him get reincarnated quickly.” It’s the same mentality: we have the truth, we’re doing God’s work, everyone else is basically just a pawn.
Doktorski: Since I left New Vrindaban, I have really come to distrust fundamentalists who say that their way is the only way. There’s something about human nature: why is this idea so popular? It’s not just the Krishnas or the Moonies, the Muslims do the same thing. The jihadists say, “This is for Allah!” It’s something we have to be on guard against.
Hassan: As a mental health professional who has studied this, I see it more as a mental health issue. People at very low stages of development, such as a child, who thinks only in black and white, all or nothing, you can’t see nuances, you’re not equipped to do what’s called social perspective taking, and look at the big picture. That’s something that should happen later on in a person’s mental development. It’s a very childish mindset which is at the heart of a cult persona, or their cult pseudo-identity, that’s very rigid, calling the authority figure as if they were “Daddy” or “Mommy,” doing what they’re told, or else.
Doktorski: The funny thing is, there is some pleasure in that, surrendering your life to a charismatic guru. Giving up your individual responsibilty. Len Oakes, a psychologist in Australia writes in one of his books, that the bond of love in charismatic relationships can be so strong that it transcends earthly concerns. There is a type of enjoyment which I experienced, but in order to keep that moving, to keep this blind faith, you have to put blinders on your eyes and disregard all the evidence that shows you’re living in a fantasy.
Hassan: I’ve come to believe that people in a cult project their love on to the object of the leader. It’s not that the leader loves them, or that there’s a real friendship, a real affinity, but it’s a lot of projection onto the leader of your own goodness.
Doktorski: I agree completely. As human beings, as the creature Homo Sapiens, to develop, as you indicated, a sense of maturity, you must understand things as they are without projecting your own fantasies onto the world around you.
Hassan: My memory of the Krishnas is that “Thinking is a sin.” There were several things that were not to be done, such as being skeptical. Remind me.
Doktorski: The disciple is taught that the spiritual master is as good as God. Even if the spiritual master goes into a liquor store (alcohol is prohibited by the Krishnas), you have to assume that he has some preaching purpose to go into there. You’re not allowed to doubt. If you doubt the spiritual master, you’re going to hell; you’re not going to achieve Nirvana.
Hassan. Exactly. In the Moonies we were trained that if we saw a leader going in the liquor store, or having sexual improprieties, it was Satan testing us. Evil entities were testing us. If we said to a leader, “You’re not supposed to do that,” then we would be demoted or kicked out.
Doktorski: If we, Krishna devotees, went into the liquor store, as you said, we would also be demoted to the level of a “Fringe Devotee.”
Hassan: In your book, you talk about Bhaktipada molesting boys.
Doktorski: He had been doing it for decades, and we didn’t know about it.
Hassan: Bhaktipada, the head guru who took over after Prabhupada died, had a multi-million dollar temple in West Virginia. He was harming people, and people—his victims—weren’t able to report him to the authorities.
Doktorski: The boys who were molested were afraid they were going to get killed if they said something negative about the spiritual master. One of my friends, one of those teenagers who was molested, he tried to say something. He knew it was dangerous to speak ill of the spiritual master, but he tried to talk to a few people, and he told me that within a day or two, big heavy guys were coming up to him and threatening his life. He left New Vrindaban. He fled.
Hassan: It’s a horrible thing. On another note, I understand you’re a successful musician. Tell us about your music.
Doktorski: Yes, I love music, I have some ability to do it, I’ve been able to make a living as a musician since I left New Vrindaban 25 years ago. It’s something I do because I love it and it pays the bills. But this book, Killing For Krishna, and two more books which will follow, those are the things I have to do before I die. That’s my bucket list, because I think it’s very important, not only for my godbrothers and sisters, some who are still serving in ISKCON, but also for others.
Hassan: Thank you for agreeing to spend this time for an interview; the time flew by. Continued success, Henry.
Doktorski: Thank you for inviting me.