When I Stopped Chanting Hare Krishna

Hrsikesa and I were living with the Hare Krishna community in Lake Huntington, New York where a temple and a school had been established.  The property had once been a summer camp and was nestled in a rich, green valley in upstate New York. A small farm was situated on the property with lush vegetable and flower gardens and a couple of cows who roamed freely.  It was a lovely property in the country with dirt roads and summer cabins and rabbit hutches in the neighbors’ yards.  Hrsikesa had saved some money and secured a loan to purchase a mobile home for us, thanks to the help of his father.  The home was installed on a small hill across from the temple building, and we were welcomed as members of the community. The plan was for Hrsikesa to help with temple matters, and he also hoped to start a granola bar business.  I would care for the children and be a good wife.  We were off to a good start, even though our Hare Krishna friends teased us, calling our home “The Yellow Submarine” because, well — it was yellow — but more so because it was considered opulent, despite its simplicity and sparseness. The few other married couples who lived in the community shared space with each other in one of the old camp buildings.  We, on the other hand, had our own private home with a small kitchen, a tiny bathroom, and two bedrooms — one for Hrsikesa and one for me and the children.

Baby Kana

Before moving  to Lake Huntington, we had lived in many different locations, moving from Seattle to Port Royal, PA to Pittsburgh to Puerto Rico to New York to Bellingham, WA and back to Seattle where my second child was born.  We scoped out the famed temple in West Virginia, a temple in Tennessee and other places I don’t even remember.  We had been married for under four years, and we seemed to always be on the move.  Often when we moved, we did not even know where we were going next, and we would land in New York to stay at Hrsikesa’s father’s house until he sorted it out.   Hrsikesa had a hard time staying put and getting along, and eventually, wherever we were, he would come up with a reasonable justification to leave and go somewhere else, finding fault with something or someone, or believing another place would be better. To say the least, it was tiring to persistently go from one place to the next, especially with young children, and much of the time me being pregnant.  My duty as his wife, though, was to follow my husband, to abide to his authority, not to question his decisions, and to willingly, without complaint, go along for the ride.  Even though I was feeling increasingly unnerved with every move, and I was extremely tired, I suppressed my discontent and forced myself to remember that my role was to be submissive and subservient.  If I chanted hard enough, I could make the discontent disappear for awhile.  I was supposed to have blind faith.

We lived in Lake Huntington for almost a year.  Except for our time in Seattle, this was the longest we had lived anywhere during our marriage.  Hrsikesa was working at his granola bar business and attempting to get along with the temple authorities. I kept busy taking care of my little ones and helping in the kitchen when I could.  We had also conceived our third child.  There were a few other women with small children who I became friends with, whose children were not yet old enough to send away to school.  We were expected to do this — to send our children away to a school somewhere geographically far from where we lived so that we would not interfere with their spiritual growth, and they would not interfere with ours.  The school of the Lake Huntington temple was located at the far end of the property, and the only adults who were allowed in the school buildings were the teachers.  From a distance, the children appeared animated and fun-filled, but close up, you could see how skinny they were, how regimented they were, and how sad they seemed.  They looked run-down; they looked beaten.  Sometimes, the children were visited by their parents on weekends, but most parents lived too far away to come very often, if at all.  The pressure was mounting for me to send my oldest daughter away to school, but I had seen the abuse of children in Seattle, and I could see the sadness in the eyes of the children in Lake Huntington.  I never succumbed to the belief that these little people were simply material attachments and were satisfying some need in me to play with dolls for a while.  It was my job to protect them, and I was beginning to suspect that their safety was at stake, and so was mine.

After some months in Lake Huntington, I could see Hrsikesa beginning to itch with dissatisfaction.  The granola bar business idea was not getting off the ground, and the tension was rising.  The temple leaders were becoming more and more displeased with him and he with them, and they all seemed at odds with each other.  We were finally asked to vacate the property.  Hrsikesa told me we would be moving back to the Port Royal, Pennsylvania temple and farm, so I packed up our things and got ready to move again.  By now, I was seven months pregnant.  I was sad, frightened, and I was beginning to genuinely question his ability to be a good husband and father.  I had made a little home for myself and my children, I had made a few friends, and now I was uprooted again and on the road.  I asked one of my friends what I should do, but she only reaffirmed that I should follow my husband, that this is the role of the wife – to be submissive and to serve her husband, and that is how the wife would grow spiritually.  Hrsikesa snarled, “Trust me” when I whined to him a little about moving again, and so I kept quiet and followed. Something had broken in me, though.  It didn’t make sense that I should have to keep dutifully following this man when nothing seemed to work out.

Once we arrived in Port Royal, we learned there was no room on the farm for us, or at least, that is what Hrsikesa told me.  I suspect we were not welcome at this point.  For about a month, we stayed in the attic of a married couple whose house was located just outside the farm property.  I spent most of my time in the attic with my children.  When my children napped, I cried.  When they slept, I cried.  I cried hard, uncontrollably, violently, every single day.  Oh, how I worried that the baby in my womb would be damaged by my distress!  I had no idea where I would give birth to my baby or where we would ultimately wind up.  I wasn’t without a place to stay, but I was homeless.  I tried to comfort myself with chanting, turning my prayer beads between my fingers, but the words would not form in my mouth; I could not chant.  I slowly stopped going to temple services with Hrsikesa, using the excuse that I was too tired, too pregnant, and I was sick.  This was terrifying because I had been programmed for years to believe that if I did not chant for at least two hours every day, if I did not worship Krishna every day and eat holy food and drink holy water, I would be doomed and my spiritual life would be ruined.  I was convinced that I was on my way to hell, and I was taking my children with me.  I had horrifying nightmares about driving stakes into my childrens’ necks and killing them.  My world and belief system had been shattered, and I felt I was falling into a confusing abyss of nothingness.  It is amazing, dumbfounding, in retrospect, to think how deeply programmed I was.

It is difficult to go back so many years and remember the details of these events, and especially challenging to remember how I felt because I had been well programmed not to feel, but this experience has not faded.  I was devastated and felt like I had been kicked one final hard kick in the gut, and I could barely breathe. Here I was, a very faithful and trusting Hare Krishna devotee, following a man who I was told to marry and who was entrusted with my care and with my children’s care, who could not stick to any thing or any place, who had been kicked out of the temple because he could not get along with people, who I had to follow – with my two toddlers and my belly about to burst with my third baby.  It all seemed illogical.  We Hare Krishnas expounded the idea that we were the most compassionate people in the Universe, and here I was — a Hare Krishna devotee — I was one of them, and I was being treated with the most intense lack of compassion I could imagine.    This didn’t make sense to me.  I had bought into the idea that the Hare Krishna community was my new family.  I had been ordered to give up my biological family – my father, my mother, my brothers, my sister, my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, my high school friends, my dog – I gave up everyone because I had been convinced that my attachment to them and interactions with them would cause me spiritual harm.  Then, I was abandoned by the family I had adopted and believed in.  This was the ultimate betrayal.

I wish I could tell you I stopped chanting Hare Krishna because one day, I simply woke up and had an epiphany, realizing the tenets of the Hare Krishna philosophy were wrought with twisted and distorted ideals, recognizing that the guru and his appointed leaders were manipulative and abusive.  I want to be able to tell you I stopped chanting Hare Krishna because I was intelligent enough to understand how vile and corrupt the leaders were and how exploited and deceived I was.  But I can’t tell you these things because I was chanting, every day, for hours, and my thinking was entirely clouded.  It wasn’t until I stopped chanting that I started, slowly, to realize how horrible the Hare Krishna movement really was.  To this day, decades later, I am still unraveling the programming.  I admit, I had personally witnessed and experienced things that were despicable and awful, but I managed to push those images and experiences out of my mind as I had been trained to do.  If ever I doubted the guru, the leaders, my husband, the philosophy, or anything I was told, I found fault with myself, believing I was being influenced by evil.  The mental programming was intense, all pervasive, and difficult to overcome, as Anke Holst describes so well in her lecture, Hare Krishna is bad for your health.  For years, I had been rigidly programmed not to think, not to feel, not to doubt, and I had learned to block any misgivings by chanting loudly, maniacally, and for long periods of time.  I was fairly adept at clouding my own thinking.  As much as I would never want to relive the pain of being abandoned by the family I believed in, trusted and entrusted my life to, I am grateful that I was shaken into thinking again.

6 thoughts on “When I Stopped Chanting Hare Krishna”

  1. Laurie– This is so revealing–when you listened to your inner voice you knew what was the right path for you no matter how clouded your thoughts had become. So glad you made it back from that Hare Krishna hell!

  2. Your life sounds so much like mine! I also live at Lake Huntington for a year with my husband and children and taught at the school. Over the years I have grow up and away from ISKCON as have many others from our generation.

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