Tag Archives: Religion

Lessons from a Curious Spiritual Movement

One thing I would like to use this blog for is to write down my thoughts about the books that I am reading and/or have currently finished. I have been reading a lot over the past year, and though I am sure I am picking up useful information from each book I read, I feel I am doing nothing to systematically take that information and put it to good use. I need a way to ensure that I am cementing the understanding I gain from the books I read.

Today’s book is Monkey on a Stick by John Hubner and Lindsey Gruson, and it is about the rise and fall of the Hare Krisna movement. I became interested in this book because of the proximity to my childhood home to New Vrindaban (a.k.a. the Palace of Gold), one of the most prominent Hare Krisna temples in the United States.

In short, Hare Krisna is a Hindu sect that came to prominence in the United States in the 1960s, when A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Pradbhuhupada endeavored to spread his brand of Hinduism across the world. He found his first followers in New York City, and a mix of forces allowed the movement to flourish shortly thereafter.

His original followers became greedy, power hungry and delusional and helped to all but destroy the movement by the 1980s.

Here are a couple of things I learned from the book:

A few bad apples can spoil the bunch. Hare Krisna, the spiritual movement itself, is not really cult-like. It seems to be a legitimate variation of the Hindu religion with beliefs, rituals and practices that you might find in any religion. I don’t think its founder realized he recruited a bunch of ’60s acid-heads to be his disciples (imagine Charles Manson as a religious disciple). The movement is still around today, and has presumably corrected its course.

Sweeping one’s problems under the rug will just exacerbate the problems. The founder did not do enough to purge the bad apples from the movement before he died (many of these bad apples were regional leaders). He knew that these leaders hadn’t attained the spiritual development required of religious leaders, and he was aware of their power struggles and indiscretions. Instead of removing them from the movement and/or appointing one worthy successor, he tried to create a power-sharing situation in which 11 delusional gurus shared equal power, each with a bit lower status than a supreme leader. This led to a fracturing of the movement, and the gurus just voted themselves more power anyway.

This book was a highly informative, highly entertaining read. It read like a novel and contained all the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll you could want from a counter-culture thriller (the authors originally covered the Hare Krisna movement for Rolling Stone); and it managed to do all of this while also being well researched and footnoted.