Chakra Discussions

Peers Remember Life of Gurukula Alumnus

by Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News under copyright.

Posted July 14, 2008

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

On June 29, 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 dasi, his sister Jayanti dasi and his brother Nanda Kishore das.

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 das, 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 lightning 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 rehabilitation 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 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 lifelong effort for everyone involved. I am hopeful that some positive dialogue 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 intended to 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.

Editor's Note: Chakra joins with Gokulananda's friends and family to express our dismay and regret at Gokulananda prabhu's suicide. To anyone who may be feeling deeply depressed or suicidal, we would like also to recommend the efforts of local suicide prevention hotlines, mental health clinics and support groups, which can be found in many major cities. See, for example, the article Suicide Prevention & Support by Bhaktin Sara.