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Communications Ministry Statement to ISKCON Devotees in Relation to Peacock Studio’s Trailer & Film “Krishnas: Gurus. Karma. Murder.”

ISKCON News

(iskconnews.org) – ISKCON News | Communications Ministry Statement to ISKCON Devotees in Relation to Peacock Studio’s Trailer & Film “Krishnas: Gurus. Karma. Murder.”

October 12, 2023

Dear Devotees of ISKCON,

Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

Many devotees have contacted the Communications Ministry in the last day or two with concerns regarding the Peacock Studio’s film that will be released on October 24, 2023. It is named “Krishnas: Gurus. Karma. Murder.”

The film is a 3-hour, 3-part production that Peacock has been working on for well over a year. We were told that all three parts will be released at once, via a streaming service. Peacock likely spent millions of dollars making this film, so they will promote it widely.

We understand that the film started out as a balanced documentary on the history of the ISKCON, or the Hare Krishna movement. But, with the media climate being what it is today, and with viewers clamoring for controversy and a thirst for negativity–we perceive that much of the show, especially the second section, will focus on the demise and criminal acts of the former Kirtanandana Swami, aka Keith Ham, the deposed former leader of New Vrindaban.

For those who don’t know the history, the film’s negative portrayals could be especially disturbing. Those familiar with ISKCON history may find it less so, knowing that 1) these events happened more than 35 years ago; 2) the GBC was proactive in expelling Kirtanananda Swami/Keith Ham in the 1980s when it learned of his immoral and criminal acts; 3) ISKCON was instrumental in assisting the government in their prosecution, and eventual jailing of, Keith Ham.

We hope the following facts will be clear in the film:

1. ISKCON’s Founder-Acarya Srila Prabhupada brought the respected Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition from India and took it around the world. Prabhupada is lauded world over for his academic contributions, his personal character, and his founding of ISKCON, a society that has grown to over 800 temples.

2. ISKCON is a bona-fide religious community making positive contributions throughout the world, including our distribution of millions of Vaishnava literatures, our many temples, our free food distribution programs, our eco-farms, our cultural festivals, and more. ISKCON has drawn the praise of Prime Ministers, scholars, social leaders, and others worldwide.

3. After Srila Prabhupada’s passing from this world in 1977, his disciples—mostly young men and women in their twenties–struggled with the challenges of the departure of their guru and founder. The society has survived and even thrived despite these challenges. At the same time, ISKCON acknowledges that we have faced grave issues including widespread abuse of our children in our boarding schools, and the fall of some of our leaders from positions of respect and authority. These problems have sorely tested our communities and led to serious soul searching and reform.

4. Keith Ham, or Kirtanananda Swami, was the leader of the New Vrindaban community when Prabhupada passed away. It was discovered by the GBC that Ham was involved in immoral and criminal activities, and he was expelled from ISKCON in March, 1987. ISKCON cooperated fully with the government in the US which eventually jailed him.

5. New Vrindaban was later expelled from ISKCON, but the community fully disconnected itself from its former leader soon afterwards, and was reconnected with ISKCON. Since 1996, New Vrindaban has been fully integrated back into ISKCON. Today, it is a thriving and spiritually strong community, hosting 40,000 pilgrims and visitors per year.

In addition, devotees and friends should know some additional context.

So far, we have only seen the trailer for the film. Trailers are always dramatic and seek to draw viewers by graphic portrayals of controversy and violence. This trailer has certainly done its best to attract viewers in that way.

ISKCON Communications, ITV, and New Vrindaban cooperated with Peacock in the hope they would portray the full story of ISKCON–not just the challenges and crises the movement has faced, but our successes and positive contributions as well. Whether Peacock has done that or not, we won’t know until we view the entire film. Based on that, ISKCON Communications may choose to make a more formal and public statement.

In America, there is no scope for directly controlling, or vetoing any of the content of a film like this. It is our experience that to be open, to provide spokespersons, and to provide access to our communities and other background information, can help provide balance to any negative stereotypes that may be portrayed. (ISKCON Communications and New Vrindaban officially provided some spokespersons. Most interviews were arranged independently by Peacock.)

What we know for certain is that ISKCON is founded on, and aspires for, the highest principles of Vaishnava ethics and values. We also know that we are a society, like every society and religious community, made of human beings with flaws and the human tendency to be covered by material consciousness.

From the story of Kirtanananda Swami, and other early struggles ISKCON has faced, we know that we must always be on our guard against the great pitfalls of the material world–lust, anger, and greed.

As individuals, as communities, and as leaders, we must always be wary of these allurements, and the pride that leads us to thinking we are beyond maya’s grasp, or beyond reproach. If we do so, Krishna will protect us and guide us in the progressive path to awakening our love for Him, and in developing and expanding the ISKCON society in a way that pleases Him, and our previous acaryas.

Anuttama dasa
ISKCON Minister of Communications

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