Longform

Tortured Souls

Page 5 of 9

David says he was always a religious man, searching for "a form of God to visualize and suddenly finding it in Krishna." At the Dallas temple he became head pujari, high priest, and as long as he and his wife could care for the deities together, he was content. For him, the movement had powerful practices, offering him a way to experience God. But from the day he joined the temple in 1975, "money was its biggest priority," he says. "You could smell the push for money in the air."

Things got worse for them by 1979 after Tamal Krishna became zonal guru over Dallas, his reputation for being a strict fundamentalist preceding him. Doris was instructed to do sankirtan, leaving the temple and her family to work the "women's parties" at the airports. But doing sankirtan wasn't just a matter of selling books anymore. It meant getting donations by any means possible. "It didn't matter how we did it," Doris recalls. "Dressing in street clothes, telling people they were raising money for kids with cancer, cheating them on their change." Prostitution, however, was where Doris drew the line.

With her mother gone, Ananda Tiller, who was only 4, was placed in the new Dallas gurukula. "It was very hush-hush," her father says. "The leaders didn't want the state authorities knowing they were running a school." Some of the living conditions had improved. There were far fewer children, and they lived in the temple's ashrams (dormitories), not its basement. They slept in sleeping bags, not blankets. But the oatmeal was still watery, the showers still cold, and the cockroaches still abundant. There was no toilet paper (use your left hand); there were no toothbrushes (use your right hand).

Tiller was a tomboy, rebellious and always getting into trouble. She wanted to hang out with her big brother, and remembers being drawn to the boys' ashram one night when she heard him screaming while being molested by his teacher. Most of the sexual abuse in the girls' ashram, she says, was done by the older girls on the younger. "It was mostly sexual play," she says. "I felt bad about it, but it was something I wanted--the only way I had to feel close to another human being."

Her guilt was compounded when a devotee in the temple's candle factory sodomized her. He said he would teach her how to make candles. She knew it was wrong; all play was forbidden as maya, but she would play with the wax, play with the man who played with her. He named the game "gingin"; he had no name for the time he placed his penis in her mouth.

No way she would tell her mother what happened; she was far away, a material illusion. Her father was pujari and might as well have been with Krishna. She only saw him in the temple room, but she never caught his eye. If a sannyasi stared at her even for a second, he would spit, cleansing himself of the impurity. Somehow being a cute little 6-year-old was enough to tempt men into damnation. "I knew I was a prostitute. I knew I was going to hell. I knew I would be reborn as a tree."

For five years, Tiller remained in the Dallas gurukula, until the first allegations of sex abuse surfaced. A teacher in the boys' ashram, Fred Clark, known as Gostabhihari, had sexually brutalized the children under his care. In 1984, two brothers who now live in Mesquite filed criminal charges against Clark. He is currently serving 30 years in the state penitentiary.

Tiller's father knew it was time to leave the movement, but was afraid. It was drilled into his head that the outside world was demonic and would destroy his spiritual life. But why would this religion of love and devotion teach him to be hard and cold? It railed against materialism but shunned many who refused to turn over their possessions. It railed against sexuality but stood silent when its children were being molested. After three years of soul-searching, he finally decided. "I turned to my wife and said, 'This can't be spiritual. This can't be God,' and we split."


David Briscoe was not alone. With each new guru scandal or governing board edict that seemed particularly hypocritical or absurd, such as a religious ban on chocolate, devotees left the temples in droves. "At its peak in the mid-'80s, there were 5,000 devotees living in the U.S. temples," Nori Muster says. "At least 90 percent of the original members left the movement." Some didn't go too far, remaining on its fringes, maintaining a safe enough distance to be critical of its power structure but still worship in its temples. Others divorced themselves from every vestige of Hare Krishna and entered the karmi world with a vengeance.

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Mark Donald
Contact: Mark Donald