Here I am again with another “lost” article, this one from the pre-Internet year of 1982. Tulsi Gabbard was just a one-year-old way back then (born April 12, 1981) and Chris Butler was 32, Tulsi’s current age by coincidence. But, I’m guessing that Tulsi has never read this story and perhaps she’ll be alarmed that Butler’s old quotes might now be used to expose her i.e. the church-school Identity Institute that she attended in the Philippines. I have transcribed the clippings so terms like “Bhakti yoga”, bandied about by Tulsi Gabbard, will now link her name to Chris Butler. Hopefully some journalist (if there are any in Hawaii) will see the opportunity to quote the facts from this article. I’ll make a few more comments at the bottom of this post.
• Chris Butler: About this Guru Business, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, November 23, 1982
By John Christensen Star-Bulletin writer
The first time Chris Butler a/k/a Siddhaswarupanabda Paramahansa tried to gets his tapes on TV, a TV executive said “The guy looks like a mechanic who just got off work and somebody put flowers over him”. He didn’t like his teeth, either. Butler went into the bathroom and looked into the mirror and thought, “God, what am I gonna do about my teeth?”
What he did was sidestep the TV guy and put together his own show. It’s called “Jagat Guru, Chris Butler,” and it appears on channel 13 at 11:30pm each week night. It also shows in San Diego, San Antonio, and Austin, Tex, and in the Philippines. “Jagat guru” means “world teacher,” and Butler’s got something to say about everything from reincarnation to over-eating, from crime to nervous breakdowns, from flies to God. Draped and leis and cosmic seriousness, surrounded by bucolic beauty, he delivers stemwinders in the compressed sing-song characteristic of eastern gurus and holy men.
Viewers roaming the dial one night early this month would have found him cross-legged in front of a wide tree saying, “Flies and maggots in stool may think they are happy, but they are in hell.” They would have heard reflections on sensuality, on transcending “the wheel of birth and death” and a funky show-ending chant that goes “Gopala Govinda Rama/Madana Mohana.”
This is not the kind of stuff that got Oral Roberts a university named after him, but it seems to have an audience. Marilyn Thompson, the promotions director at Channel 13, says the station has received numerous calls about the show “and most of them want to talk to him or meet him. I’d like to meet him myself.” Butler estimates his audience at “about four or five thousand.” The response surprises him. Jokingly, he suggests “Maybe it’s because I’m on every night, like Johnny Carson.”
Butler is no stranger to Hawaii. He is the son of Dr. and Mrs. Willis Butler of Kailua, a couple long known for civic activism. Butler grew up an atheist with a legacy of left-wing politics, graduated from Kalani High School and attended the University of Hawaii “until I ran out of interesting courses.” He has been in the news since 1970 when he went by the name Sai Young and ministered to a devoted band of yoga devotees. A stint in India followed, during which he apprenticed himself to a holy man named Shiva Bhaktivendanta Swami. He returned a guru with a handful of catchy names, including Siddhaswarupanabda Paramahansa, Goswami, Maharaj and Siddha.
A few years ago, he fired a volley of lawsuits at the media for linking his followers with the Hare Krishnas, a group with which he says he has major philosophical differences. Three of them were dismissed and Butler dropped the fourth. He is also the guru of Wayne Nishiki, the outspoken Maui County Councilman and Rick Reed, right-hand man to city prosecutor Charles Marsland. Reed does the voice-overs on Butler’s TV show.
Butler was interviewed recently at the home of disciples in Kaimuki. He is trim, engaging, articulate, and has a well-developed sense of humor. He enjoys a good laugh. Asked where his headquarters are, he jokes, “Pan Am”. He also is furtive and can be reached only through intermediaries. He calls it “realistic behavior.” As holy men who have trained in India go, he is easier to understand than most. This, remember, is a line of work which often translates as mixed metaphors, impossibly florid allusions and senseless prattle. Butler tends to be overly expansive, but not even gurus are perfect.
Also there are the stylistic touches that might make westerners blanch. For example, Butler’s followers touch their heads to the floor when they enter or leave a room he occupies. “That is how we pay our respects to our spiritual teacher.” Butler says. “I bow to a picture of my spiritual master. We are not ashamed to be a servant. We are not ashamed to be low. It is not a weakness to bow or be humble. Humility is a virtue.”
Butler follows a philosophy that he calls “Bhakti yoga.” Although grounded in the Vedas, four Hindu holy books, Butler says, “It does not conflict with Christianity, with Islam, with any bona fide religious system. We’re trying to teach the essence of Bhakti yoga without having anyone say ‘Oh, that’s Hindu’ or “Oh, that’s Christian.’”
In a publicity handout, Butler is identified as the “foremost authority on the question of identity.” Asked about it, Butler contorts his brow in his best meditative frown and launches into a lengthy explanation. The thrust of it is that humans are essentially “spirit soul or life force,” not matter; that the soul is dominated by, but not part of God; and that “Real religion… is loving service to God.”
As for being the “foremost authority,” Butler chuckles and says, “I don’t know that many people who are teaching these three points clearly and absolutely.” He’s certainly got a head start on Johnny Carson.
Later on, he adds “I’m not telling people to join a monastery and leave the world behind. I’m telling them to get into the world and serve God according to the best of their ability and…
Turn to page B-2
Continued from Page B-1
…position." At 32, Butler is significantly younger than most gurus. Asked about it, he furrows his brow and swings into guru sing-song, saying, "The body is young; I not young. We are all the same age. We are all eternal.” Teaching is the duty of every disciple, and the disciples in turn should have disciples. Accordingly, he has "about 1,000" disciples of his own, and figures he has a few thousand other followers and devotees. Initiates, he says, agree to be vegetarian, and not to gamble, smoke, drink alcohol, take drugs or have “illicit sex.”
They also contribute to what Butler calls his "teaching apparatus"--- the Science of Identity Institute and Identity Foundation. The former is a tax-exempt educational outfit; the latter a tax exempt religious organization.
In contrast to the swami in Oregon who has 21 Rolls-Royces, Butler says his "apparatus" a low-buck operation. The institute runs church-school type operations in leased buildings in Los Angeles, the Philippines, Peru, Australia and New Zealand. The foundation put up the "seed money" for the TV show, getting a one-year agreement for $1,000 a week. "We've been saving about three years for this," he says, "but we're going to start asking for donations. We want to make sure there are enough people watching to justify the program."
Butler criticizes groups similar to his for what he calls ”over-endeavoring. They have to keep what they've got afloat. They’re top heavy. They have to perpetuate their own existence rather than pursuing the original purpose, which was to find a vehicle for an idea. If the Science of Identity put $200,000 into land or buildings, it would be safer and tangible. You buy TV time and it’s gone, but I’m making that choice. I’m a little paranoid about buildings and temples. I don’t want people to think that God is only in that building; I want to spray the message, not contract it.”
The “apparatus” also holds the rights to the books and pamphlets he writes (example: “Dear Friend: You Are Not God”), the songs he writes, sings and records (example: "Dear Fanatic: Take It Easy.”) and the videotapes which were the forerunners of his TV show. He likes TV because it requires "less commitment." “A lot of people would like to hear what I'm teaching, but are not about to join something. I'm not about to take your money. You can listen to what I’m saying and apply it in your life." And, he adds, “Nobody knows you’re watching. Different people who not agree with me, or who might like me, can watch and nobody knows." He also likes it because there is no mediary. "It's just me speaking," he says. That, of course, does not mean that everybody likes what they're hearing. He says one TV station turned down his show because "it was not good for family viewing. Here I am a spiritual teacher he didn't think it was good for family viewing.” He ponders that for a moment and adds “I guess it’s because I speak very heavy and directly on very heavy subjects like old age and death and sex and communism and capitalism and war and things most people maybe don’t like to think about.”
For Christmas, he says he’s pondering a lecture entitle “Gift Wrapped Emptiness.” He chuckles and says, “I just want to ruin everybody’s Christmas.” He adds “Basically I’ve always been a trouble-maker and I still am and probably will always be, you know?”
“Guru business” was an excellent headline since this whole Butler scam had nothing to do with religion but everything to do with generating money to support the Guru. Money from contributors was used to buy TV time that no one watches. Like the fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, followers wouldn't tell Butler that his TV show sucks.
Have you noticed that every pre-Internet article about Chris Butler treats him with suspicion, disdain, and bewilderment? It seems Butler never did a single thing worthy of praise i.e. donate to a hospital, organize a charity drive, clean up a beach, or create a scholarship. Butler is all about Butler and those old school journalists figured that out. The reporters love to quote him directly when he spouts incoherent nonsense (this reporter calls it senseless prattle). If Butler knew anything about PR, he might not have become so paranoid and antagonistic towards the Press.
Chris Butler comes across as an uneducated opportunist. I have my doubts that he spent any time in college in spite of his boast that he attended the University of Hawaii “until (he) ran out of interesting courses.” Let me end this with a good laugh by having you listen to Chris Butler singing “Dear Fanatic”, (mentioned above) stealing the style of Arlo Guthrie. Jagad Guru, the egotist, spent his devotee’s money to produce that crap. That is reason enough to quit the cult, isn’t it? Mike Gabbard probably played this for baby Tulsi in her cradle.
"Dear Fanatic, Take it Easy" by JagadGuru Siddhaswarupananda
That’s enough of my cynicism. I’d love to get your reaction to the clippings, so please speak up.