In 1991, American writer Karen Jonson wasn’t in love and was in a dead-end job when she joined an ashram, the Jagadguru Kripalu Parishat (JKP) in Austin, Texas, attracted by local guru Prakashanand Saraswati’s talks “about god and loving god”. The JKP proclaims the divinity of Kripaluji Maharaj. In the beginning, she was happy to be among a group of people who had the same feeling and purpose, picking green beans by the moonlight, cooking meals, acting in skits. After living in the ashram for 15 years, she quit in 2008, three years before Prakashanand was found guilty on 20 counts of child sex abuse. Jonson published a tell-all book, Sex, Lies and Two Hindu Gurus, which JKP followers dismiss as a ‘Christian conspiracy’. Here Jonson tells Debarshi Dasgupta how her spiritual quest went awry:
In hindsight, I always had some small doubts about both Kripalu and Prakash. But I had no proof of anything. I was also very religious and wanted to believe what they were telling us, about achieving God realisation and becoming a gopi in divine Vrindavan. All we had to do was ‘surrender’ to them, they said. So I tried really hard to do that, and whenever I stumbled, I believed it was because of my own lack of devotional qualities. So whenever I had doubts, I would push them back into the corners of my mind.
But the major onset of scepticism occurred when Kripalu was arrested in Trinidad for raping a young woman in May 2007. It was while he was on a ‘world tour’ that year for a few months. He had just spent about four weeks in the JKP ashram in Austin where I had lived full-time since April 1993. His plan was to go to Trinidad, then Canada, then come back to Austin.
Some uncomfortable events took place when he was in the Austin ashram, called Barsana Dham at the time (the name was changed to Radha Madhav Dham later, after Prakashanand fled to Mexico on his own cases becoming public). For the first time ever, I was invited to Kripalu’s bedroom to perform a secret ritual they called ‘charan seva’. I had never heard of it before. But I later learned that many of the women in JKP’s ashrams participated in this ritual, which took place several times every day at specific times.
During this ritual, 5-6 women are brought into the guru’s bedroom. He is lying on his back in the middle of his bed on several pillows with his arms and legs spread out. The women each climb up on his bed and kneel near one part of his body, the thigh, calf and feet. (At that time, one foot was not available for massaging due to an injury, which I later learned was tuberculosis that had gone into his bone.) We had been instructed to “press him very hard.” So we just pressed hard on whatever body part we had.
My first time was his left thigh. The room is very dark so it was hard to see what else was going on. Also, my attention was very focused on massaging him correctly, as instructed. While pressing him as hard as I could, his hand reached down to mine and tried to nudge my hand up to his groin. At the time, I naively thought he wanted me to massage him higher on his thigh, so I tried, but there was really nowhere else to go. He nudged me again. And again I went a tiny bit higher, but that was it. Then it was over and we were told to leave. “Jao!”
I had four more pressing sessions. In two, nothing that I know of happened. But then I wasn’t really expecting anything. But one time, when I was on the left thigh again, I saw movement on his groin from the opposite side. While focusing on my pressing, I also kept glancing over. It looked like another woman, who I knew, was massaging his penis. I really could not believe my eyes. I kept glancing, but was in shock. But I now knew that is exactly what was happening.
About a week after his arrest in Trinidad, one of the preachers gathered us together one night to inform us. After spinning the story in Kripalu’s favour (she didn’t use the word rape), she told us: “Do not go on the internet and read about this.” I think that was the exact moment I got my mind back under my own control and snapped out of my cult delusion. Because I decided that is exactly what I was going to do: I went online, typed in ‘Kripalu’ and ‘Trinidad’, and started reading. I was in complete shock.
That’s when I learned the truth. So many people from around the world were commenting on the real JKP and Kripalu. I just knew they were telling the truth. Everything. The sex, the money collection, the abuse. That’s when I started putting together pieces of the puzzle—including my past doubts and recent experiences during “charan seva”.
It took me a little more time to accept that Prakash was as bad as Kripalu, because I knew Prakash first and had hardly known anything about Kripalu until the fall of 1999. Prakash had stopped talking about him after Kripalu’s first arrest for raping two underage girls in India in the early 1990s (I joined in 1991). That case has never been resolved. He ‘reintroduced’ us to him in late 1999, saying he was the fifth jagadguru, an incarnation of Radha-Krishna and Chaitanya, and a lot of other fairy tales.
One day, I realised that Prakash had to be as bad as Kripalu, because he served him and brought us to him. Within a couple of months, I heard from the young women who had been molested by Prakash as children while living in the ashram.
I’m not sure why certain people calling themselves “gurus” in India are so popular among Indians. I don’t fully understand the beliefs, culture and history surrounding this relationship. I’ve been told by some of my Indian friends living in the US that to worship so blindly is an aberration of the traditional guru-disciple relationship. In fact, an Indian man living in Austin wrote a chapter in my book on that subject. He stressed that there should always be an element of verification on the student’s part. In other words, be sure the person is a true guru. But it seems that some people have completely abandoned this step.
I believe that conmen gurus don’t leave any room for verification. In my case, Kripalu and his preachers went out of their way to teach that it’s a sin to doubt the guru, question him or second-guess him. The only option is 100% unquestioning belief. I now know that this is a red flag. Only a cult would not want a person to use their reasoning mind to make an informed decision.
If a person stays in such a situation, well then they are just sitting ducks. This unquestioning attitude gives the conmen complete control and allows them to shape the followers’ minds anyway they choose. The conman has effectively stolen the individual’s personal power and used it for their own purposes, much like a vampire sucks a person’s blood to stay alive.
At the same time, they claim a kind of shield. Just before his arrest in Trinidad, one day at the Austin JKP temple, Kripalu said: “The actions of a saint may seem more worldly than the most worldly person’s actions. But you cannot judge them, because you are worldly and a saint is divine.” That’s the kind of thinking that gives a person a licence to kill. Very scary.
Apropos Life at an Austin Ashram, A First-Person Account, one important feature of Hinduism is that even gods and saints make mistakes and face punishment. This is unlike other faiths where messengers of God do no wrong. Asaram should face legal action, but there’s no reason to link him to Hinduism: he does not represent Hinduism, just as Indian politicians (with some terrible traits) do not represent what Indians are.
I wonder what attracted the writer to Sant Kripalu! Isn’t it apparent even to a casual observer that he is no saint?
Pradip Singh, Stafford
It takes a thousand idiots to make a conman.
K. Suresh, Bangalore
18 D Ramki
"...feature of hinduism is the concept that even gods and saints do mistakes and are punished."
"...feature of hinduism is the concept that even gods and saints do mistakes and are punished."
Why does that exclude puppy Modi?
"The first thing anyone should know about Sanathana Dharma is that it rejects the concept of Dogma - blind belief in something without questioning", This not what Krishna says in the Gita, which is the pillar of Sanatana Dharma.
One of the most important feature of hinduism is the concept that even gods and saints do mistakes and are punished. Countless hindu myths speak of this theme.
This is unlike the semetic/abrahamic faiths and also buddhism where the supreme messenger of god does no wrong.
Given this, asaram babu should be treated as per law but there is no reason to link him with hinduism. These false babas dont represent hinduism, just as anti india politicians like the CON party do not represent all Indians.
one of the defining principles of advaita vedanta which is the dominant philosophy in india is that 'even the vedas cannot make fire cold'. there are clear definitions as to what makes a real guru : one who is free from desire, one who is free from anger etc ... though there are numerous gurus and babas, still they do not really represent the orthodoxy, which to a great extent has preserved itself without too much stain.
Fact >> All religions have their share of frauds and perverts. But in India's pseudo-secular media, only Hindu deviants are highlighted.
Hinduism is the common target of pseudo secular frauds in all aspects. Take this news that Indian govt is planning to take over the gold assets owned by temples of India. Churches and Mosques own lot of prime real estate in big cities in the name of burial grounds/cemetries . Jesus Christ or Prophet mohammed never said that christians/muslims should be buried in middle of big city. If this real estate were used to build low cost housing for poor, and burial grounds shifted away from city, lot of money could be saved. But why is it that Seculars are only targeting hindu faith?
The secular frauds of India have a systematic agenda (guided by CON party) to destroy hinduism in india. They are no different from the NAZIS of germany.
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