Memorial Service for Steven Bryant

Steven Bryant/Sulochan dasa (1952-1986).

May 22, 2018: A memorial service for the American Hare Krishna devotee and initiated disciple of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada—the Founder/Acharya for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)—who was brutally assassinated on May 22, 1986, was held on the 32nd anniversary of his murder. The ceremony, held under a huge banyan tree in the picnic area of Cheviot Hills Park in Los Angeles, California (a few miles from the ISKCON temple), began at 3 pm and ended around 5:30 pm. Godbrothers in attendance sang the Song for a Departed Vaishnava, offered flower petals to the pictures of Srila Prabhupada and Sulochan dasa, recited oral tributes and honored prasadam. The memorial service was repeated five days later on Sunday, May 27.

In 1985, Steven Bryant had written a book, The Guru Business, which exposed rampant corruption within the Hare Krishna movement. He had targeted two ISKCON gurus in particular, Kirtanananda Swami and Ramesvara Maharaja, whose followers and disciples (including sannyasis, administrators and hit men from West Virginia, Ohio and Southern California temples, under orders from their “gurus”), stalked the passionate reformer in West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and California, and eventually hunted their quarry down and murdered him in Los Angeles near the ISKCON temple. Sulochan was shot twice in the head with a handgun by a disciple of Kirtanananda Swami, the ISKCON “guru” for West Virginia, at the intersection of Cardiff and Flint Avenues.

Sulochan was hardly a perfect example of a strict Vaishnava, and he did advocate violence against the gurus, but despite his faults he is nevertheless lauded for his courageous attempt to expose corruption in the Hare Krishna movement. After his murder, one police officer noted, “Bryant was a martyr for his faith. He was one lone voice in the wilderness and he was killed because he talked about corruption. He went up against the heavyweights and lost.”

Speakers at the memorial service included Henry Doktorski, the author of Killing for Krishna, a book about the conspiracy to murder Sulochan; Mahatma dasa (Mario Pineda), who joined ISKCON in September 1977 and was initiated on May 22, 1986 (coincidentally on the same day Sulochan was murdered) as a ritvik disciple of Srila Prabhupada by Bhaktisvarupa-Damodara Goswami; Dharmabhavana dasa (ACBSP), who flew in from Dallas to attend the service; and Bhakta Marcos, a devotee who lived at the Frederick Street temple in San Franscisco for six weeks during the summer of 1967.

A souvenir booklet was produced for the memorial service which included tributes by Nori Muster, formerly Nandini devi dasi, a disciple of Ramesvara, secretary to Mukunda Goswami in the ISKCON Public Relations Office, Assistant Editor for ISKCON World Review, author of the book Betrayal of the Spirit, and friend of Sulochan; Kailasa-Chandra (ACBSP), initiated in 1972, who became disillusioned with the eleven zonal acharyas and challenged them in Vrindaban, India, in 1979, after which he was shunned by the Society. In 1985 he became editor for Sulochan’s book, The Guru Business. Others who presented tributes were Bhakta Eric Johanson (formerly Vrindaban-Chandra Swami—a disciple of Hamsadutta Swami), who served as Kailasa-Chandra’s secretary for 26 years; and Janmastami dasa (John Sinkowski), a former disciple of Kirtanananda Swami who hunted for Sulochan in California, in the company of the hit man Tirtha dasa (Thomas Drescher), during January and February 1986.

It is hoped that this memorial service, and others to follow, will help future generations of Gaudiya-Vaishnavas to remember the unfortunate events which culminated in this tragic loss, in an effort to help insure that it will never happen again. One who forgets the past is doomed to repeat it. A video of the service will be uploaded to YouTube. To read some of the tributes, go to Tributes for Sulochan. To hear Kailasa-Chandra read his tribute, go to Tribute to Sulochan.

Mahatma dasa (Mario Pineda), Dharmabhavana dasa, Bhakta Marcos and Henry Doktorski at the 2018 memorial service for Sulochan dasa.