Seeking The Essence

Clearing Life's Webs and Weeds….

ISKCON School Alumni Takes Own Life at Thirty-Six


Below is an article written by Madhava Smullen and published at the ISKCON News Weekly website on July 12th, 2008.

On June 20th 2008 Gokulananda, a second generation ISKCON member—or gurukuli—died by suicide in Marina Del Rey, California. His death was reported to his family and Gurukuli peers by his girlfriend of five years, Michelle Lemay.

On June 29th, about ten of Gokulananda’s gurukuli peers gathered with other friends to honor his bright spirit and to pray for peace and happiness on his journey. The memorial at Lemay’s residence featured a communal drum ceremony led by a Native American shaman, kirtan, prasadam and exchanging of memories.

Thirty-six years old, Gokulananda had been living in Los Angeles for the past five and a half years. His mother is Mahidhara, his sister Jayanna and his brother Nanda Kishore.

During the 1970s and ‘80s, Gokulananda attended ISKCON’s gurukula boarding schools in New Vrindaban, West Virginia and Mayapura, India. “As a child he was bright, smart and daring,” says fellow gurukuli Chaitanya Mangala, who attended the New Vrindaban gurukula with Gokulananda. “He was always pushing the boundaries. He could be a lot of fun, adventurous and exhausting. He was a good and loyal friend to those close to him.”

After gurukula Gokulananda went to college, where he worked towards a degree in business administration.

But there was a darker side to Gokulananda’s life. As a child, he had an exceptionally hard time in gurukula. Because of his outspoken and boisterous nature he was often singled out by school authorities and became a lightening rod for corporal punishment.

Afterwards, Gokulananda chose drugs as one of his coping mechanisms. Over the years he struggled with addiction, going in and out of rehab and back and forth on drug use.

When he first arrived in Los Angeles, he had cleaned himself up and was sober for an extended period. But according to his girlfriend Michelle LeMay, Gokulananda again began using drugs and alcohol after filling out the questionnaire for ISKCON’s settlement to abused gurukulis. This was the beginning of a slow and steady decline that ended with his suicide.

His childhood friend Chaitanya Mangala says, “It is a sad time when one of our peers chooses to end their life in such a drastic fashion. Gokulananda’s passing is another reminder that there is still so much unresolved in regards to the gurukuli generation and that dealing with the after-effects of the ‘gurukula experiment’ will be a life-long effort for everyone involved. I am hopeful that some positive dialog and action will come in the wake of his death.”

Some already has, with Chaitanya Mangala helping to plan the 2009 Los Angeles Kuli Mela, a festival that will inspire and offer practical help to the gurukuli community. Attendees also plan to hold a Gurukuli Memorial Ceremony to honor peers who are no longer with them.


July 29, 2008 - Posted by | Gurukula, Gurukuli, Hare Krishna, India, ISKCON, New Vrindaban, Vaishnava Youth


  1. Dear Chaitanya Mangala,
    Please accept my humble obeisances. I wrote to you a few days ago and wondering if you received my message. I would like to contact Gokulananda’s brother Nanda Kishore as I knew them at Mayapur Gurukula in the 1980’s. They knew me then as Dhira dasi (one of the Australian girls0. I am really upset to hear this news and would like to know if his family is okay and is there anything I can do for them. Thank you. Doyadhara dasi

    Comment by Doyadhara dasi (Dhira Dasi) | September 30, 2008 | Reply

  2. So very sad to hear this news. I left the Hare Krishna movement shortly after Prabhupada died, in 1978. I was a teenager and aspects of the Krishna conscious philosophy didn’t seem to add up when put into practice, ie: that mrdangas, dogs and women were to be beaten, that women had merely half the brain capacity of a male (yet it is these brilliant men who sexually abused gurukula kids, taking them from their mothers) and these “brilliant men” then sitting pompously in the temples giving the daily lectures on avoiding illicit sex and shunning sense gratification. Apalling hypocricy.

    After I left I didn’t follow the goings on, just chalked up my experience to youthful folly, but I was shocked when 31 years later, I stumble onto some online articles about horrendous scandals within ISKCON, including sexual abuse of children, murders, gun running, drug dealing. It just made me sick.

    I must say that Prabhupada would have been truly disgusted if he had witnessed these things. His original efforts were noble, although the philosophy itself has some flaws. ie: I began to notice that some devotees would become cold hearted and lack empathy if someone were sick, injured or suffering, because they would just say, “this is their karma”. I began to see cold and cruel behaviour. This is why I left. I also noticed that some devotees would begin to do things like steal, and justify it by saying that it was done “in the service of Krishna” … which is what all criminals do, they find a way to justify their crime, then they can be guilt free afterwards. This is when I knew it was time to make my exit from the Movement.

    I have the deepest sadness and empathy towards those innocent children who suffered and grew up with such trauma and disillusionment. I read one article where one of the students apologizes for no longer being a devotee, after experiencing such abuse. It is such a shame that this person now feels guilt for rejecting the teachings. If there really is a Krishna who is merciful, I am 100% certain that each of these precious precious people will go directly back to Godhead, for it is not their fault in the least and they have every right to reject the Movement entirely, and without any need to feel one iota of guilt. The Movement failed them, not visa versa. They are completely 100% blameless.

    I feel complete disgust at these people who were in positions of power, leadership and trust who either themselves caused abuse or who turned a blind eye. These people should spend the rest of their lives behind bars, and even that is not enough to atone for the crimes that were committed.

    Comment by Gale Franey | December 26, 2008 | Reply

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