I'm new to the forum, but have been reading for a while. I thought I would finally post here. I'm a ex child member of the Chris Butler cult, or SOI. My name's Lalita Mann, my dad is Hare Rama Das (Harvey Mann) and mum Jamuna Dasi (Josie Mann). My dad is one of the musical ones from SOI, doing most of Chris Butlers and Wai Lana's music in the past. My brother and sister and cousins (Pedersen family) are also involved. I got out 20 years ago, ended up having to cut off contact from my parents for a while, and then got in contact with them recently, but all the secrecy and craziness was still there (I was hoping they'd moved on), and I am done with it all. I'm sick of Chris Butler hiding behind a veil of secrecy and lies while many innocent people suffer (mostly the kids that didn't choose this life). I recently released this statement to my Facebook page, which has meant they have stopped talking to me. Which is the norm when you dare to say anything bad about the group and Chris Butler:
It is with a heavy heart that I write this. What I have to say is not easy, and it’s why I’ve not said anything for over 20 years. Writing this will come at great personal cost, one that I’ve struggled with the last couple of months, with many sleepless nights. But I’ve made the decision to speak up because the cost of not speaking up is far greater than my own personal loss.
I want to preface what I say next with this. I do not believe my parents or siblings are bad people. I love them all more than they realise, this is why doing has been so difficult. I’ve never, ever wanted to cause them any pain, but by keeping this secret, it has been hurting me over and over again for a very long time, and I can’t do that anymore. I just want this out so I don’t have to keep ahold of it anymore.
In the early 70’s my parents joined the ISKCON (International Society of Krishna Consciousness - or Hare Krishna's in layman's terms), living a life based loosely on the Hindu faith. The founder of that movement passed away in 1977, a month before I was born, without leaving a successor and the foundation split off into different factions. My parents decided to follow a self-appointed guru by the name of Chris Butler, aka Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa, aka Srila Prabhupada. I was brought up in the new group, called the Science of Identity Foundation (SOI from hereon in) from birth. As were my brother and sister, my cousins and a large group of other children across Australia, New Zealand, the US, UK and Philippines.
As a child growing up in SOI, I had no freedom, no space to grow emotionally. I was told how to dress, what to think, and there were serious consequences to not conforming to this. I saw kids refused access to their biological parents, and who were told that their parents were demons because the parents didn’t want to be part of SOI. And while I don’t have proof, I am fairly certain that some kids were kept hidden from their biological, non-follower parents for this reason. I’ve seen other kids be emotionally and verbally abused for asking questions and trying to speak out. One person I know was told by his mother that her obligation to him as a parent ended the day he spoke out. There is an unspoken rule that if you step out of line, say anything bad about Chris Butler, your whole family will cut you off and disown you, and that is what is probably going to happen to me by writing this. I hope not. But that is the most likely personal cost I will have for speaking out.
SOI and Chris Butler do not want their existence known. There are groups of followers who search online 24 hours a day (considered part of their devotional service), shutting down anything that is seen as threatening Chris Butler’s credibility, usually by threatening to sue for defamation. This also happens on the forums of their various forays into mainstream media. I've seen my own mother doing this as a moderator on some of their forums (little ninjai I think). This has happened a few times before and it will happen again. As it stands now with my family, they are secretive around me, to the point they hide their Facebook friends list on their profiles from me (even though their friends were also my friends growing up) because I am now an outsider. I wasn’t invited to my sister’s wedding, or my cousin’s, and the most hurtful thing is being told that people who my family and extended family, but don’t even know I exist. I’m a dirty little secret all because I went out and made a life for myself, something most parents would normally encourage and be proud of.
There is a lot of psychological abuse within the group. Parents are taught to disconnect from their kids, that family is just a temporary state, so to not get emotionally attached. As a child growing up in that it leaves you feeling rudderless and lost, and on top of that you have these incredibly strict rules. Everything you do is monitored including letters to friends, diaries, posts online, and if it doesn’t conform, you have to face the consequences. I know personally, when I was 17, I had written down in my diary that I had doubts, that I wanted to leave SOI. My mum read this and I overheard her tell my dad loudly that she didn't want me in the house anymore because I didn't respect their beliefs. I didn’t know anyone outside of the group, so you can imagine the impact that threat had on me, not to mention the violation of trust by having her reading through my private thoughts and punishing me for having them. And I am not the only person who has faced this. It’s everywhere. Depression runs rampant, but because therapy is seen as an outside influence, the kids who need it are denied that too. I have heard of people taking their own lives, or turning to drugs to cope. Instead of being shown compassion, they were seen as too weak and looked down on.
We were also denied an education. I was one of the lucky ones, in that I got a public school education from years 2 to 5 (age 8 - 11). I was taken out after that, and had to fight to be allowed access to a correspondence course that would give me my year 10 (basic high school) equivalency. Most SOI kids get even less useable education than that. After I left the group I worked my butt off putting myself through University preparatory classes, audio school and finally gaining a post grad diploma in acoustics. And while I am so proud of that achievement, I know that the damage has been done, and I can’t overcome my upbringing enough to free myself of the thought that I’m doing something wrong fighting for a better life for myself, because it’s outside of SOI. So I stick to a job I have no love for, that was the only job I could get when I first got out because I had no education, because ultimately I’m not strong enough to completely overcome my upbringing. No amount of education now will allow me to feel like I’ve caught up or that I will ever be smart enough to compete with everyone else, because it took me so long to catch up, I feel like I have nothing to offer. It’s really hard to live with that sometimes.
As I said, most kids that are growing up in SOI have no education. When they are old enough, they are shipped off to a boarding school in the Philippines (usually between 12-14 years old) where they are subjected to extreme living conditions, which one can only assume is there to break and mould them into more compliant followers, and they see very little of their own families after that. I believe the schools are run by an ex-military follower. It was only recently that it clicked how wrong that actually is. I was conditioned to think these things are normal.
Women in SOI are taught we are less than men. We’re told what to wear (long skirts/dresses, long sleeve tops, hair back, no makeup – dress up a bit too “nicely” and you’re verbally abused) and we wait for a husband. Kids are segregated at a young age, and we’re not allowed to communicate with the opposite sex without a chaperone. This means there are a lot of arranged marriages, girls as young as 16 were married off to 30+ men they barely knew. For myself, it took me a lot of years to be able to have something resembling normal relationships with people.
Children are expected to do everything in service of Chris Butler, including working hours that would border on slave labour. I have had friends who were working 11 hours out of 24 when they were 17, washing Chris Butler’s clothes and preparing his food, and it was all free labour. Kids as young as 14 are labouring for him. For free. I'm fairly certain this breaks a number of child labour laws.
SOI are also extremely homophobic, to the point that when I was younger, I saw followers encouraging children to go around putting stickers on random parked cars that said things like “GAY – Got Aids Yet” and other lovely things like that. I heard lecture after lecture of Chris Butler saying how much he hated gay people and egging all of his followers to hate them too…
Chris Butler is the leader solely responsible for all decisions made within the group. He demands complete blind obedience from his followers, and they follow him without question and sacrifice the well-being of their children readily in order to serve him. In return he berates and verbally abuses his followers for the tiniest infractions and constantly demands money from them so he can keep up his lavish lifestyle (my parents were giving him money even though they could barely feed and clothe us). He tells people he is their only way to God, and that he is so close to God he can choose the moment of his death, and yet he has a house lined with tin foil, special kitchens with tasters to ensure he isn’t poisoned, special air conditioning in his homes, teams of followers called “Air patrol” that sniff the air for toxins to ensure that where he travels to (always in a mask to protect himself from the toxins) is always free from life threatening toxins (did I mention the toxins??)… This is the man who is supposedly so unafraid of death he can choose when it will happen. Right, because all evidence supports that... not. I also heard him speak once about his reasons for following the path he did. To cut a long and boring story short, it was because he was dumped by a girl for rich guy, and he couldn’t take that (I’m sure it had to do with him hating to feel someone was better than him) so I spent years of my life oppressed for being a woman because of this… person. I would like to use stronger words but I won’t. It just makes me so angry thinking about what he has gotten away with for the past 40 years and what people refuse to open their eyes to or question. For this reason I believe he is an evil and dangerous man who will do anything to protect and expand the empire he has built for himself.
On top of everything are recent allegations that SOI was funded by a drug cartel. I would have laughed it off, but I knew of one of the main players and I know that he had drug charges pending against him all the way back in the 80’s. With everything that I now know, a lot of things are starting to make a lot more sense. The hypocrisy of it all is just terrifyingly mind blowing.
This is a deeply secretive, subversive group, I cannot say this enough. I haven’t worked up enough courage yet to speak out about this in public, which is why I am starting with you, my friends. It has been a huge step to even say this much.
When I left SOI at age 19, I had to literally leave everything I knew behind me and start again. I didn't know anything, I had no education, no support, and I didn't know how to ask for help, because I was taught not to. It has been a long, hard struggle to become the person that I am today.
I’ve had a lot of people over the years tell me I’m brave and strong, but I don’t feel that I am. Writing this was terribly hard because in spite of everything I’ve written above, I feel so much guilt over revealing the existence of this group. I know as soon as I hit “post” I will be switching everything off including my phone because I am terrified of the response. The conditioning I grew up with is so strong, that even now, 20 years after getting out, I am still terrified of the backlash that is coming for speaking out. That everyone I know will abandon me because I was honest about my feelings and my experiences. The trauma is so strong, that seeing a picture of Chris Butler recently had me shaking and feeling ill. Even just hearing his name is enough to trigger a pounding headache. I haven’t slept properly in a couple of months now because life has a way of swinging back around and making you face things you previously weren’t ready/able to face. That's what's happened now and it's time.
There is so much I want to say but this is already excessively long. I just had to get this off my chest. I have no doubt that after exposing the existence of this group and what they do, that my family will cut off contact from me, and/or send me a bunch of abusive messages. I just hope that one day they wake up to what is going on and stop following Chris Butler. They don’t have to give up their faith. There is a lot of beauty in the Hindu faith, but he has corrupted it and turned it into something awful, secretive and destructive, and if I can have a hand in stopping him, I will do that. I’m a survivor of Chris Butler's cult, and I’m not going to stay silent about it anymore.
So that's what I wrote. Predictably, I got the usual "stop making us feel bad, our fingers are in our ears lalalala" response from my parents.
I'm also starting a Youtube channel talking about my experiences growing up in the group. The link is here [www.youtube.com
]. there isn't much up there right now, but there will be soon.
Thanks for listening.