In an interesting and informative profile of Tulsi Gabbard, Kerry Howley looks at her very unusual childhood and family that are followers of a one-time white surfer-dude named Chris Butler who became a self-styled guru called Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa and founded a group called Science of Identity that has pretty weird beliefs and actions.
I had thought that Gabbard’s father was an Indian-American but it turns out that he is a socially conservative Samoan who grew up as a Catholic before becoming a devotee of the guru. Gabbard calls herself a Hindu though the guru’s sect does not identify itself as Hindu. The article says that “Butler taught vegetarianism, sexual conservatism, mind-body dualism, and disinterest in the material world. He taught a virulent homophobia, skepticism of science, and the dangers of public schools… Whenever Butler traveled, he’d have the homes he stayed in lined with tinfoil, to protect against electromagnetic radiation.” He also thinks the moon landing was a hoax.
He also was coarse and abusive.
In 1970, the Honolulu Advertiser published a piece called “One Man Rules Haiku Krishnaites,” with the subhead “Absolute power of devotees.” In the photo beside the piece, Butler is seated shirtless and smoking, hair skimming his shoulders and a sarong around his waist, staring alluringly into the distance, a mischievous smile on his face. It is the expression of less a guru than a playboy, and this is how Advertiser reporter Janice Wolf depicts him, a handsome dictator with the ability to hypnotize the two dozen 18-to-22-year-olds who live with him in his Quonset hut. One of the girls, an 18-year-old who also happened to have the Sanskrit name Tulsi, says he arranged her marriage to another member of the group. She and another girl, who say they would kill for him, describe his teachings. Among them: “Flowers scream when they’re picked. So do trees when they’re trimmed.” (“Tulsi and Boni were sitting on the lawn chewing blades of grass when they said this,” notes Wolf.)
Butler taught vegetarianism, sexual conservatism, mind-body dualism, and disinterest in the material world. He taught a virulent homophobia, skepticism of science, and the dangers of public schools.
The guru would then address the crowd. He was good with the pregnant pause. He had the kind of easy confidence you’d expect from Krishna’s representative on Earth. He was also vulgar and vindictive. “He would start excoriating people for fucking up. Sound systems not working, cups of water not being cleaned, people dressed funny, driving poorly. He would publicly mock people. And when he would do that — that’s a form of Krishna’s mercy.” Everyone I spoke to who was raised in the group described, as children, hearing Butler call men “faggots” and women “cunts.” One time in Malibu, Greg recalls, Butler had passed a man on the beach in a thong on his way to the gathering; Butler then described in graphic detail what that man allegedly wanted his “boyfriend” to do to him. “That’s vivid as a kid,” says Greg, whose name is not really Greg; he does not want to be cut off from his family.
In the videos made available to the public by the Science of Identity Foundation, Butler has cut his hair and donned a collared shirt under a V-neck sweater, and watching him lecture is a bit like imagining Mister Rogers if Mister Rogers were very stoned.
The article sheds an interesting light into one of the many small religious cults that, despite the deeply weird nature of their beliefs, seem to be able to attract followers away from the deeply weird but more familiar beliefs of the larger cults that constitute mainstream religions.