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Monday, December 04, 2017
Who is Gabbard's Guru?
By Selected News Articles @ 2:09 PM :: 2293 Views :: Congressional Delegation, Politicians, Religion

Butler's Web, Part 2: Who is Gabbard's Guru?

by Christine Gralow, Meanwhile in Hawaii, December 3, 2017 (excerpts)

KAILUA, HI - To his disciples, Kris Butler is a bona-fide Bhakti yoga guru who has helped them live healthy, God-centered lives free of drugs, meat, and sexual deviance. To his detractors and former disciples, he is a deeply homophobic cult figure who has misappropriated ancient Bhakti tenets to achieve financial and political power.

In the Bhakti yoga tradition, which stems from India’s Southern Tamil Nadu region, yogis practice loving devotion to a personal God. The practice reached Hawai'i in the late 1960s with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), to which Butler briefly formally belonged in his 20s….​

As detailed in Part One of this series, Butler’s disciples have included at least five elected officials in Hawai'i, and his Science of Identity Foundation (SIF) maintains legally questionable international financial ties. Butler’s most politically successful disciple, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, grew up deeply within SIF’s fold and remains actively involved. Her father, Hawai'i State Sen. Mike Gabbard, ran a SIF school and served as Butler’s personal secretary in the 1980s. At least five of Rep. Gabbard’s current, key Congressional staffers are also Butler disciples.

While Butler and SIF have remained largely unresponsive to local press inquiries amid Rep. Gabbard’s national political rise, former Butler disciples have grown increasingly vocal about negative experiences, and mainland reporters have begun asking questions.

Gabbard’s political supporters – including those hoping she’ll make a 2020 U.S. Presidential run – argue that her relationship with Butler will prove no more politically significant than Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, proved. Reporter Kelefa Sanneh, who has explored both relationships in articles for The New Yorker, wrote in his recent Gabbard profile piece, “But Wright represented only a small slice of Obama’s life, whereas Gabbard’s life would be unrecognizable without Butler’s influence.”

Rick Alan Ross, who runs the New Jersey-based Cult Education Institute (CEI), says he rarely receives complaints about leaders of Hindu-based organizations, but he has received many complaints about Butler. CEI’s discussion thread on Butler and SIF contains significantly more posts than other threads, and the discussion has been ongoing for 14 years.

While some posts on the CEI discussion board contain inaccurate information, others include verifiable documents detailing the history of Butler’s activities. Former SIF members have joined the CEI discussion forum to express concerns about Butler’s political involvement, his treatment of disciples, and his hatred of homosexuals. Current SIF members have joined to claim religious bigotry and to defend Butler as a benevolent spiritual leader. Others have chimed in with evidence of Butler’s apparent eccentricities, such as the tin foiled walls of his home and his requirement that disciples wear respirator masks in his presence….

Childhood classmates and his older brother Kurt say Kris was an average student, a solid surfer, and a star Little League shortstop. He may have taken his first guru name (Sai Young) from professional baseball pitcher Cy Young. He told the Honolulu Advertiser in a 1977 interview that he got into a lot of trouble as a teenager and was expelled from Kailua High School. He attended Kalani High School for his junior and senior years, graduating in 1966.

Maui resident Kurt Butler says his younger brother Kris was “a playboy type” in high school, “very popular with the girls.”…

After high school, Kris began classes at U.H. Manoa. He became deeply involved in the late-'60s psychedelic counterculture scene in Honolulu, heavily using LSD. He also explored yoga and meditation for a few years before he dropped out of college, started going by Sai Young, and declared himself a guru in his early 20s.

Kurt and Kris Butler have long been estranged, and Kurt says they are “philosophical polar opposites.” Kurt believes Kris rebelled against their non-religious, communist-minded father by embracing religious fundamentalism and right-wing politics. Kurt disagrees with his brother’s portrayal of himself as a guru and expressed concern for his brother’s followers.

“He is indoctrinating his followers into a life of know-nothingism and ignorance, while giving them the delusion that they know everything that really matters,” Kurt Butler said of his brother.

Kurt also said his “biggest beef” with Kris - back when they still communicated - was Kris’s staunch anti-science stance.

“He used to believe there is abundant life on the moon because the scriptures say so,” said Kurt. “Ergo, the U.S. moon landings must be a hoax. I don't know whether he still believes such nonsense.”….

“He was very good-looking and knew it,” Wolf said of Butler. “Very charismatic, a chick magnet. All these young people just worshiped him. He was the center rather than the religion. I remember walking away thinking, ‘There’s something icky about this.’”

“I didn’t see Butler as a spiritual person.” Wolf added. “I saw him as living the good life with all this power and control. I never expected to hear he had thousands of followers. I guess I really underestimated that one, but I didn’t see how they could support themselves.”

Two months after the Advertiser published Wolf’s article, a reader who identified as “Mrs. Joseph Ryan” expressed further concern about Butler in a letter to the editor. Mrs. Ryan critically compared two talks she had attended – one by ISKCON founder Swami Prabhupada, the other by Butler. Mrs. Ryan wrote that she enjoyed Prabhupada’s talk and found him to be wise and well-versed in Sanskrit passages from the Bhaghavad Gita. A week later, she attended a Butler talk, where she reported encountering a group of teenagers - some she thought to be as young as 15. She described her attempt to discuss the Bhagavad Gita with Butler.

“Apparently, he hadn’t read it,” Mrs. Ryan wrote. …

Letters preserved by the Bhaktivedanta Archives in Sandy Ridge, NC, detail how Butler traveled to New Zealand and Australia during his time with ISKCON. In New Zealand, Butler began a long business/spiritual partnership with David Muncie, aka Tusta Krishna das. Around this time, another New Zealander, Patrick Bowler, also began a close relationship with both Muncie and Butler. Bowler, aka Paramahamsa das, would later become SIF’s primary financial supporter in the '80 and '90s. (Bowler would also, incidentally, get arrested in 1997 for running a major, decades-long international hashish smuggling ring.) 

In 1973, Prabhupada wrote that Butler and an associate stole and sold ISKCON’s Hawai‘i temple and “went away with all the money without taking any permission from me.”….

In a hard-hitting, three-part investigative series in 1977, Wright exposed Butler’s close connection to a new political party called Independents for Godly Government (IGG)….

“What struck me was the small, very tight, intricate network of business and politics,” Wright said. “Almost all the money was coming from about 20 people.”….

Note: Neither Gabbard nor Butler responded to requests for interviews. Last week, Meanwhile in Hawai'i reviewed a letter purportedly written by a Washington, D.C., publicist hired by Gabbard. The publicist claimed in the letter that he recommended Gabbard not speak with Christine Gralow, because he believes Gralow is, "a harsh and uncompromising critic of Tulsi." The rather mysterious letter contained multiple grammatical errors, as well as factual errors about Gralow. The publicist, who was apparently paid to write the letter, also attempted to convince another news organization not publish an article by Gralow. Meanwhile in Hawai'i continues to welcome all perspectives….

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