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Tue, 09 Apr 2019 07:05
Former Hare Krishna Henry Doktorski talks about what led him to join the faith, day to day life on the West Virginia commune, and why he finally left.
Read more about the Hare Krishna’s in Henry’s book, Killing for Krishna: The Danger of Deranged Devotion.
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From Wondering, I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American Scandal. Over the past six episodes, we followed the story of an elderly swami from India who captured the zeitgeist of America's 1960s counterculture with his message of peace and love. It's also the story of his western disciples who took to the faith but also had a hunger for power. Devotees like Keith Ham or Kirtana Nanda, who decided to build a commune of his own in West Virginia and how it all started to unravel into petty crime than felonies and the eventual murders of Steve Bryant and Chuck St. Dennis. Join us on today's show is Henry Dock Torsky. He was a Harry Krishna devotee and lived at New Vrendauban from 1978 to 1994. His book, Killing for Krishna, The Danger of Darranged Devotion, covers the history of the Harry Krishna's in the United States and the murders within their ranks. Henry was a consultant on our series and we've invited him on the show to talk more about what led him to join the Harry Krishna's, what day to day life on the commune was like, why he finally left, why he thinks this story must be told. Lots of people don't know it but autumn is an ideal time to plant. Shorter days and cooler nights create ideal conditions for the plants to get established. If you're looking to spruce up your home, proven winners color choice shrubs has an amazing selection of flowering shrubs and evergreens for planting and gardens and landscapes. With around 320 different proprietary varieties including classics limelight hydrangea and little Henry sweet spire, all of their shrubs are trialed and tested for 8 to 10 years to ensure they outperform anything else on the market. Look for proven winners color choice shrubs in the distinctive white containers at your local garden center. Learn more and find a local retailer at proven winners color choice dot com slash one tree. That's proven winners color choice dot com slash one tree. If you're into true crime, the generation why podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the generation why podcast on Amazon music or wherever you listen to podcasts. Henry dock Torsky thanks for joining us on today's show pleasure's mind Lindsey. So you are a harry christina and a resident of new vrndobben for 14 15 years right right actually 15 16 years. Okay. Let's let's discuss the circumstances that around your joining the movement. As I understand it, it was just right after your graduation from college and you are in parkville, Missouri. How did you find the christian is and then moved to West Virginia? Well, it's I suppose you might say it's a long story, but I'll try to make as speak as briefly as I can in college. My sophomore year. Somehow I saw an advertisement for the transcendental meditation people. That's Marishi ma shogi and I thought and it was about meditation and I said, oh, this is pretty cool. You know, I had a affinity toward that and I joined and paid my $35 fee and I would do their mantra like for 20 minutes silently twice a day. And I enjoyed that. And then maybe a year later, my junior year, I heard that the Baba Ramdas, he was formally known as Richard Albert at Harvard, who experimented with LSD and then met this guru in India and became Baba Ramdas and became a Ramdas and began preaching that Hindu philosophy. He was going to give a lecture at the University of Kansas and Lawrence, which is not terribly far from parkville where I was attending college. So I went to hear him and I bought his book, be here now. And that was the first time I heard about reincarnation. And I said, well, that's, you know, pretty interesting. I think it seems to make a lot more sense than than the Catholicism that I grew up in basically saying, you know, that, you know, good, if you obey the laws of God, you go to heaven. If you disobey, then you go to hell or a purgatory or this or that for for the rest of eternity. And I thought reincarnation was pretty cool because you always get a second chance, you know, it's not like you're damned for eternity. And I also found out that these yogis were vegetarian. And I said, well, that makes sense to me too. So I started actually looking for, I was interested in that I was looking for a spiritual commune where I could learn more about these spiritual topics. And after I graduated with a degree in piano performance, I began to driving back home to West, excuse me, to New Jersey. I began driving home to New Jersey where I grew up. And on the way I stopped in Iowa where Maharishi had this university. And I wanted to check it out and I visited and it wasn't for me. Because it was just too clean cut and like conservative it looked, I mean, the students there, the male students, they were shirts and ties. And they had nice short haircuts. And I was never a hippie, but I liked that idea. And I had long hair. And I wasn't a pothead or anything, but I certainly wasn't conservative. So I kept driving back to New Jersey. And I was disappointed in the Maharishi University. I had a buddy, a high school buddy who had a summer job that year in Wheeling, West Virginia. And we were sitting in his hot and stuffy apartment with nothing to do. And he suggested, why don't we go visit the New Vandav and Hari Krishna community. It's only like 10 miles from here and they're building a palace to their founder. It's pretty cool. So I did, we went to visit and we are there several hours had some very interesting philosophical discussions with some of the residents. And I was impressed. I thought, here's a community of people who practice what they preach. It was pretty radical. I mean, the men shaved their heads and the single men were celibate, you know, no stacks of any kind. And they were vegetarians. And the the men, the single men in the ashram, they, there is about 30 guys. And they just slept on the floor and they're sleeping bags and at three o clock, they all woke up and went to the temple and chanted in a tent of the services. I said, these people are like the green burrays of all the spiritual movements. They're like tough like the Marines. And I liked that because I guess in certain ways, I am tough also. But, but anyway, it resonated with me and then went back to New Jersey for the summer. And I was on my way to graduate school, driving to North Texas state where I was going to study piano. And I planned the trip so that I would spend a couple days at New Vrendauban in West Virginia. And just to finish up on this story, as I was driving down interstate 70 in the the wheeling exits coming up. And right before the exit ramp, this voice spoke to me in my head. And the voice said, if you turn off this highway, you're never going to get back on again. And I, it was kind of ominous. And I hesitated to turn off because I love music. I, you know, I loved it then I love it now. I'm good enough at it that I've made my living my whole life as a professional musician and teacher. And I hesitated to turn off. And then at the last second, I remembered how delicious their vegetarian food was and I was pretty hungry. So I spun the steering wheel and slammed the brakes on and I took the exit. And that's that. And then I arrived at New Vrendauban around 9 p.m. The sun had already said it was twilight. Anyway, so I never got, I never got back on the road, you know, and it took all I did get back on the road, but, but it was 16 years later. It's amazing how small the drivers are of our biggest decisions in life. You were just hungry. Agreed. One thing you said that probably sets up the tone of your entire journey with the christian is that you were attracted to them, not just for the vegetarian cuisine, but that they practice what they preached that they were the green burrays of spiritualism. And I think probably we'll get to this later that it is your discovery that that was not true at the upper echelons that makes this story so disappointing and horrendous. But before we get to that, I want to talk about the type of person who landed at New Vrendauban. You mentioned you were a Catholic growing up, but were you particularly religious in your Catholicism? Did you believe? Not at all, not at all, but then you were you were definitely seeking something and it occurs to me that most people at New Vrendauban, certainly when you arrived in in 1977 or 78, they aren't born into the Christian religion. It's something that they they sought. And so I wonder if you could just tell tell me a little bit about the character of of seekers. So boy, my first response is that it may be very difficult to find a common character because the seekers come from so many different types of lifestyles and occupations and socio economic backgrounds. I grew up in a middle class family. My parents were kind of devout, at least we went to mass every day, but add New Vrendauban, we found one of my friends was his parents were atheists. And as far as background goes, we had truck drivers that that joined there, we had homeless people that would join and also college professors also the director of public relations at New Vrendauban during this time in the mid 80s was economics professor at West Virginia University in Parkersburg. And he came and he shaved his head and you know gave up his life as a college professor and came came to join this commune to Chad harry Krishna and follow the principles of godia vyshenivism, which is the actual name of the religion that swami Prabhupad brought from India back in 1965, 1966. Having said that, Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita tells our June that virtuous persons of four kinds worship me, those in distress, the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of wealth and the man of wisdom. So we had all different types of people coming there for different reasons, I mean, I think I might have mentioned earlier that some were homeless people that came to the christmas because because they can get food every day and a place to put their you know sleep at night. And all they had to do was chant harry Krishna and do some service and then we had very scholarly people who who come maybe they were searching for the absolute truth now. I know I'm talking too much, but if you're looking for a common denominator for people who joined, who joined the harry Krishna or for that matter from what I've heard any charismatic cult. I think you're going to find that they are unhappy with their lives at the present. All right, nobody who was happy with the way their life is going is going to go join a commune like that, you know, it, it, speaking for myself. All right, my last couple of years in college, I had some reversals in my life, some negative relationships with women. I did not get into the graduate schools that I wanted to get into and therefore that was like a big blow to myself a steam. And I began to realize that I wasn't such a great musician that I thought I might become. So my life was very unsure. In fact, I was driving to North Texas state. I had been accepted there, but I had no financial aid and I had no idea how I was going to pay for my tuition. So there was a lot of uncertainty in my life and a lot of lack of self confidence and I was unsure what the best course of action would be and I was pretty unhappy. Although it wasn't like an overriding, I wasn't depressed, but I knew that there was a thorn in my, in my foot that was pricking me and bothering me. And so when I met the, the Hare Krishna devotees, I thought, well, let me try this. They promise eternal bliss, you know, Krishna consciousness, love of God, that transcends any material pleasure. And the material miseries disappear for the self realized soul who has achieved perfection. And I thought, maybe I should try this, you know, so I did. Did you imagine yourself staying 15 years? The rest of your life or was this just something to do in the interim while you figured things out? When I, when I, the second time I visited New Brindab, and which was in August of 78, I was on my way to graduate school. I only intended to spend a couple days, check out the scene, you know, become more familiar with what, with what they do. So I was interested in, in following this practice. However, soon after I arrived, I met Kirtan Anandaswami, and he's in, in this podcast, he's no, called Keith Ham by his legal name, but we all called him Maharaj. And he had such a charisma, and I was affected by that. I, I saw him as a loving wise father figure. And years later, I came to realize that my relationship with my own father, when I was growing up, I did not satisfy the emotional needs that I had for a wise loving father. Now, my father was terrific, but we were very different. His son and he were very, very different persons. He was more mechanically inclined. We loved to garden, and I hated gardening, and I wasn't mechanically inclined, but I liked intellectual things like reading and music and things like that. So I, I think I might have been on a subtle platform, maybe a little disappointment for him. He didn't, you know, wasn't the kind of son he wanted. And consequently, I felt some void. Let's put an emotional void. And then when I met Swami Bhaktipad at the age of 22, here was this wise, artistic music loving man, who became a substitute father for me. And he convinced me that I should set aside my graduate studies and devote my life to Krishna. And the, the benefits and the rewards would be out of this world. So at first, I decided, okay, well, I can go stay here for a semester at least. I'll stay for three months if I like it fine. If I don't, I can just finish going back to school, but, but I had a conversion experience during that time and wound up staying there for 15, 16 years. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together. And we'd love for you to join us. Generation Y is one of the longest running true crime podcasts out there. And we are still at it, unraveling a new case every week. We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery. And lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence and interviewing those close to the case. And with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or every listen to podcasts, or you can listen ad free by joining Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. Well, let's talk about the charismatic leader of Newverin Daven, Keith Ham or Kirtana Nandaswamy. In appearance, it sounds like he was a very good leader, a very good spiritual guy. People looked up to him, admired him, revered him, worshiped him. Give it, give me a bit of a description of how he first won you over and then we'll go into how perhaps that facade cracked. Well, I had just, it was my first morning there. I spent the night in the ashram and I was went to the temple with the other devotees and somebody gave me some beads and someone gave me a doaty and curta, which is the traditional Bengali Vaishnav dress. And I went there and I chanted. I attended the morning service. I listened to the Shumad Bhagavatam class. And afterwards I was sitting outside the temple on a bench, just chanting the Japa on the beads. You know, it's an individual type of chant. And Kirtana Nandaswamy comes over. He must have noticed me and he came over and he just started a conversation and asked me, you know, about myself. And I told him I was a musician, you know, I was interested in studying piano and composing. And then he went on to say that in the future, he was planning on having a symphony orchestra based at Newverand Daven. Even producing a great operas based on the Vedic figures such as Lord Ramachandra, Krishna, of course. And I mean, the histories in the Vedas are quite extensive. And there's great stories there about battle and adventure and love. And at the time, that was kind of exciting to me. Looking into the future. Of course, I could see that the community was just a pioneer village. I mean, it would be a decade or more than a decade before they got to the point where they could even have symphony concerts there because it was a very rural backwards place. So I told Maharaj, I said, yeah, it's a great idea. I'd love to be part of that. But for now, I'm going to continue on to graduate school and, you know, study and become a better musician and composer. And then, and then when you're ready for to produce your operas and, you know, I'll come over here, you know, but he discouraged me from even thinking about that. He said, your spiritual life is here. You know, Krishna sent you here. You should, you know, just give up everything and just dedicate your life to Krishna. And I argued with them. We were sitting in his truck and he was driving me around the community and, you know, giving and what we had an argument there. You know, a very pleasant argument, but neither neither of us was going to budge on our on our viewpoint. And then at that time, probably pods, palace of gold was under construction. It hadn't been completed, but it was still kind of impressive. And there was this dirt road he took me on in through the woods, beautiful forests and hills and gorgeous, gorgeous country. And we're driving driving on this dirt road and we're arguing. And then suddenly the palace appears in front of us up up higher on the ridge and it's quite striking. And he he he stopped the vehicle and he turned to me and he said, what is the use of being the greatest musician on the earth if you lose your immortal soul? And by that's by saying that I felt I had been defeated by his logic. And so I decided, okay, I'll stay for, you know, three months for a semester. And I it's not going to hurt me to put off school for three months. But as I said earlier, I wound up staying for 15, 16 years. Well, then let's discuss how this moment of surrender to to Kirtana Nandaswami and the movement changed. You became a devotee and integrated yourself into into the life of the commune, helping build the temple itself. But I think this story, the core of it really is one of something more sinister. Where did your suspicions begin? Well, you know, I was I was what some people called a bliss boy. There's all sorts of type of people at New Vardam. But a bliss boy is, you know, a celibate brahmachary student, brahmachary means celibate student. And all I like to do is hang out with my brahmachary buddies when I was, he listened to Darshan's and classes from the spiritual master, eat Krishna Prasadam, which is the vegetarian food and dance during the temple services and chant our Krishna and we're taught, we're taught like that to refrain from mundane talks. It is said and and I enjoyed it. You know, I really, I really liked being a bliss boy. But around 1983, I'd been there what five years or so. I heard some rumors that the spiritual master had been having some homosexual relations with some of the illegal Mexican workers that New Vardavan had hired as undocumented immigrants to do construction and work in the gardens and things. But but I dismiss these just as rumors. I didn't see any proof about it and the temple leaders of course, old denied any, you know, rumors like that. And so, and I was happy doing what I was doing. I really enjoyed helping build the community. And I had a quite a sweet loving relationship with the African and the Swami and that was a source of great pleasure, pleasure to me like a like a father figure, you know, a relationship between father and son. And however, it was a few years later, I think it might have even been around 1990. I had just, or as time passed, I began to see inconsistencies in what they practiced and what they preached. And I, you know, began to have some doubts. And but I, you know, I kept, I loved what I was doing there. At that time, I was a minister of music. I was the organist, the composer and residents. I directed the the temple orchestra. I taught music and really loved what I was doing. At that time, I had a wife and two children. My second child was born in 1992. And I had a pretty nice situation there. However, you know, it seemed to me that my spiritual master was becoming more and more erratic. He would say things that were like just off the wall. And most of my god brothers and god sisters would say, you know, jai bak di pad, whatever damn old thing he said. And I just didn't it was just like inconsistent with me. It was like I was maybe I maybe my brain was not quite as brainwashed as theirs at this time. You know, I began to really question whether this guy is really what he what he seems to be. And then finally in 1993 in September at his birthday party, one of my god brothers, who I knew very well and we were friendly with happened to be returned to Newvendab and he was by T. Puts driver. And he had come back from the world Parliament of religions, sentennial celebration in Chicago and that night. As he was driving the privacy curtain of the winnebego accidentally opened and when trucks passing trucks headlights, shine into the winnebego, he could look in the rearview mirror and see that his spiritual master was in bed with the teenage. Malaysian male disciple and they were performing some amorous activities which are not. Becoming for a relationship of spiritual master in disciple, which is not centrally based at all it's based on the spirit so he my friend came back and he started telling people about what he saw and I believed him. I had heard rumors for years, but I I discounted them as rubers, but I believed my friend. You know, so basically after that I did some research myself and I talked to some of the boys who were students at at Newvendab and then there were children born into the into the community from parents who had converted to the harry christian of faith. And I talked to some of them and they said yeah, you know, I mean this was sometime later, you know, they weren't living at the community anymore, but I tracked them down and talked to them and they said yeah, bati pod used to give us a philatio, you know, at night in the ashram like that and I believed them. So finally, October 93, I went to see my spiritual master, he was at that time living in a cabin about 20 some miles south of the of the community at an abandoned stone quarry and I talked to him and I, you know, respectfully told him I said, is it true that you've been all these years been having elicit sex with the with the boys and the young men and he denied it. But as he's always denied it, but at this time, I did not believe him, I knew he was lying because I had done my research and that's when I rejected him and I stopped serving at the community and soon after, you know, I left. So you you left in the early 90s, but it was 10 years prior that Charles St. Dennis and Steve Bryant were killed. Did you hear any rumors of their deaths and the person who was responsible Thomas Drescher or Teer to well, let's say that I had I knew who tiered to Thomas Drescher, who he was, although we did not have a relationship. He was the bus driver around 1982, New Verdavins, a large community, maybe even 4,000 acres and people had to get from one place to another. So we had a shuttle bus and he was the driver. I remember seeing him as the bus driver, even helping some of the women with their baskets of laundry when they're bringing, you know, back home and stuff like that. So he was, I thought he was, he was rather kindhearted. Now, now I must, I must point out that I was a strict brawmachery that's celibate student and I followed, I followed all these principles, no meat eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling. However, there was a fairly large segment of the community, which did not follow these rules and they were known as fringes. Now, they did not live at the, in the temple or at Bati Puts House, like I did or nearby. They lived on the fringes of the community in cabins or something out in the woods. And I was taught early on not to hang out with these people because as a novice, as I was when I first joined, your association is very important. You kind of like become who you hang out with. So I only hung out with those devotees who were serious. And, and so I didn't know Drescher because I knew he was a fringy. And I didn't know Chuck St. Dennis, Chuck or Dary because he was a fringy also. And I didn't know Steve Bryant, Salo Chon, because he also drank beer and took cocaine and, and, and may have gone to parties like that. I didn't, I did not know these people. I had seen them around, but I did not know them because I purposely isolated myself from people who might be bad influence on me. So when, when St. Dennis was murdered, I was out on the road. For seven years, I, I lived in a van with one or two other Brahmatory buddies and we'd, we'd, we'd, we'd, we'd, we'd, we'd go find a supermarket parking lot or a shopping mall. And weekends, we'd go to football games and NASCAR races and sporting events and we'd hawk these bumper stickers with, and, and get donations for charities. And I was really good at it. So I was out there for seven years. And we'd come back to the community only once a month for three days for a festival. And then we'd be back out again. I really don't remember hearing about Chuck St. Dennis's murder. And that may be because the people I hung out with, like Boc De Pod, for instance, my spiritual master, when I, when I was back on the road, I'd sleep in his basement with all the other Brahmatories. And we would like, you know, hang out with them like you, like a son would hang out with their father or something, you know. And, and he would, if I heard anything, it was that Chuck St. Dennis had just left and went on disappeared somewhere. And, and I believed what I heard. And then when Steve Brant was murdered in Los Angeles in 86, I was out on the road again. See, there was a big buzz about it that the morning that had happened at the community at the temple. And I've since then talked to people who said that even a cheer went out, but, but I was away, you know, and I didn't hang out with this. So, in a sense, I was protected from all of this because see, I was, I was a dedicated by the pod follower at that time. And if I had been called to assist in this murder, I think I probably would have gone along with it, you know, and assisted because of my devotion to my spiritual master and my desire to protect him. But I was protected from that, you know, I wasn't involved. And that's why I could write this book, killing for Krishna today because it's all news to me, you know what I'm saying? I wasn't implicated in it. That book that you wrote, the danger of deranged devotion, it's, it's large. It's 600 pages about the scandal surrounding the Hare Krishna's in New Vrindavan. What is important about this scandal for people to learn? Well, yes, it is, it is a large book. But I, the story is so complex and detailed that I really felt compelled not to admit any of the details. The book was not written for the general public. It was written for Krishna devotees in their language because I just felt it was, it was, this was a part of history that I did not know of until recently. And I think most people did not know the extent of this murder plot and who was involved in it and how it transpired. And the more I did research into these, I had, I was granted access, accidentally granted to, to be frank, if, if they knew what was in these archives, they wouldn't have never given it to me because these archives held trial transcripts, tens of thousands of pages. And I was right of internal New Vrindavan documents and publications and investigative reports and trial transcripts and, and Bokti Pads correspondence hundreds and hundreds of letters. But anyway, so this was given to me because I was writing a history of New Vrindavan and, and there was, and it took me 10 years to read through these tens of thousands of pages and what I discovered in them regarding the plot to murder Steve Bryant. And I was completely shocked. This, these people that I knew that I was even friends with, that were my, my superiors, the higher ranking people at New Vrindavan, reading these documents which implicate them in this murder conspiracy was like a revelation to me. I pretty much decided that, you know, Krishna has given me this, these archives for a reason. And I saw it as my sacred duty to write this book incorporating all this information and publishing it for the benefit of the world. And especially for my god brothers and god sisters in the Hare Krishna movement. And the, I discovered that the key factor which made this murder conspiracy possible. And, and also the murder of, of Charles St. Dennis, but my books about the murder of Steve Bryant, the, who had criticized Swami Bokti Pad, all right. So the, the point that I felt that allowed this to happen indeed it, it even forced this murder to happen was something I called deranged deviance. And that is that, that charismatic bond where the follower attributes divine and supernatural powers to the charismatic leader. And, and because of the leader's supernatural powers, they allegedly supernatural powers that, that they attribute to the leader that, that they lose all their sense of rational self and become obedient servants to this leader. And whatever this leader wants becomes the supreme law to these people. And, and I call that deranged devotion because I mean, it's, it's twisted. You know, it's really twisted. And, and nearly all of these people, by the way, who were involved in the murder conspiracy. Recognize this later. All right. And then they knew that they were in big, SHIT because they had given their lives and followed orders to protect this man who they thought was God's gift to the world, but was actually a cheater. So that, that's my main purpose in writing of this to, to warn others of the danger of deranged devotion and charismatic relationships and to keep a person to just keep their intelligence. You know, don't give up your intelligence. You know, I, I did, I did for 10 or so 12 or 13 years and then gradually, maybe due to things that I had seen, my intelligence began questioning. So that's, that's why I wrote this book to help avoid this from happening in the future. Henry Dr. Skate, thank you for consulting on this series and thank you for talking to me today. Hey, my pleasure, Lindsey. From Wondery, this is episode seven of eight of the Harry Christian murders for American scandal. Next on American scandal, a special episode on Michael Avonotti, the lawyer who chased scandal and found himself embroiled in his own. If you'd like to learn more about the Harry Christian murders, we recommend the book killing for Krishna, the danger of deranged devotion from Henry Dr. Skate. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details and while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham for Airship, sound designed by Derek Perens. This episode is written by Steve Chivers, edited by Andrew Stels. Second producers are Stephanie Jens, Marsha Louis, and her nonlopes for Wondery.