What happened to the BBT

Originally posted by Hansadutta das on August 1, 2010

My dearest Urdhvaga Prabhu,

Obeisances, all glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I owe it to Srila Prabhupada and to the devotees, to yourself, as having been appointed by Srila Prabhupada to act as trustee for life, to clarify what happened with the BBT.

In your post “Copyrights Transferred to the BBTI?”, published up on the Sampradaya Sun, you’ve understood correctly that BBTI is not the same as Prabhupada’s BBT. BBTI (Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.) is a California corporation (non-profit) that was registered in 1988, in a deliberate attempt to bypass the legal trust.

Immediately thereafter, ISKCON GBC voted to assign the copyrights from BBT to BBTI. However, they had no legal authority to do so, because Prabhupada gave express instructions in the trust document that ISKCON was to have no jurisdiction over the trust.

But that’s not all… for years Ramesvara operated a shell as if it were the actual BBT – used ISKCON of America and later another ISKCON registered in California for which he applied to the local authorities for the dba (“doing business as” otherwise known as a fictitious business name) “Bhaktivedanta Book Trust”. For so many years he and the GBC bypassed Srila Prabhupada’s actual trust and trustees.

Devotees did not know it, but Ramesvara was never a BBT trustee – he was only ever appointed secretary by Prabhupada. He might have been a trustee of the Indian Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, which was really only a publishing trust and did not hold the copyrights to Prabhupada’s books.

So you can see that the term “BBT” has been loosely applied to any one of a few different legal entities, a convenient smoke screen for ISKCON to take over the trust.

First of all, stop here and understand what is a trust. A legally constituted trust consists of the Settlor, or the person who is making the trust; the property vested in the trust; a beneficiary, or the party who benefits from the trust; and trustee or trustees, who carry out the terms of the trust.

Prabhupada’s trust, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, is no different. Prabhupada is the Settlor and was, until his departure, one of the trustees. He made ISKCON the beneficiary of the trust.

And he vested all the copyrights to his books in the trust. As for the trustees, he designated that there be no more than three at any time. Initially there were just Srila Prabhupada, Karandhar and Bali Mardan. Later, when Karandhar resigned, Prabhupada appointed me to replace him.

Prabhupada inserted a provision in the Trust Agreement (pdf, 540 KB) stating that the BBT existed independently of ISKCON and that the trustees were bound to carry out the duties of the BBT separately from and not depending on the ISKCON GBC.

But even without such a provision, by law the beneficiary of a trust has no legal right to direct the trustees or to take over the trust assets. So what ISKCON did is actually illegal.

ISKCON bypassed the trustees and took over the operation and property of the BBT. Let’s say a father sets up a trust for his children, and vests all his property in it, and appoints a trustee to look after it in the interests of the children.

But somewhere along the line, the children decide they want direct control over the property and so they scheme to get rid of or go around the trustee and seize the assets for themselves. Why is this so wrong? After all, they are the beneficiaries, and the trust is supposed to be for them.

But no, the court takes the view that the trust belongs to the Settlor, not the beneficiaries, and although the Settlor may have departed, his expressed wishes live on in the terms of the trust document, and so the court upholds the trust, and finds that the children have attempted to convert the trust res illegally. This is exactly what has happened in the case of Prabhupada’s BBT.

Or another example to illustrate – which is what I presented to Amarendra. Amarendra asked me, during settlement negotiations, “What does it matter to you if BBT exists or not as long as BBTI carries on the BBT’s work? The books are being published, they’re being distributed. What’s the difference?”

So I asked him, “Suppose I take your wife, I do all those things that you do with her – maybe even better than you do – what does it matter to you?” Poor Amarendra was shocked. The point is: BBT belongs to Prabhupada, not to ISKCON. Prabhupada set it up to work in a particular way, and ISKCON has no right to interfere or to take over, as they have done.

Going back to 1988, the time when BBTI was incorporated, devotees may remember that around that time ISKCON began blacklisting devotees who were outspoken against GBC or official ISKCON policies, especially with regard to the policy of forced reinitiation.

Some devotees had gone through four Gurus! Many left ISKCON and went back into material life; and the few who tried to go it on their own were subjected to a campaign to extinguish them – they were made unwelcome at ISKCON temples, they were unable to buy Prabhupada’s books at wholesale rates for sankirtan, and ISKCON devotees went out of their way to sabbotage their preaching efforts.

This is what happened in Singapore to Bhima das, who, with one other brahmachary, had been distributing Prabhupada’s books in Malaysia and Singapore, even Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan, at least 1.5 million books from 1978. But from 1988 the regional “BBTs” refused to sell to him, and he was refused even when he approached “BBT” in Australia.

Not only this, but the BBT was letting so many books go out of print, and publishing only Jayadvaita’s new and improved books.

In 1990 I approached Tamal Krishna Goswami to buy chinese Bhagavad gitas from him, he refused , telling me he would sell them to me only at the retail price. OK, I said I’ll buy two copies, thinking enough is enough. So in 1990 we printed Bhagavad-gita As It Is in Chinese. Within a few months, Bhima received a letter from a lawyer alleging copyright infringement.

The lawyer’s client was none other than Sundar Gopal in Singapore, then still working under Tamal Krishna Goswami. Shortly afterwards, BBTI brought a lawsuit against Bhima in Singapore, claiming their copyrights had been infringed and asking for damages.

We challenged BBTI to prove ownership, and they came back with a fake, back-dated document signed by Svavasa, supposedly assigning BBT copyrights to BBTI. But we presented the original Trust Agreement for Prabhupada’s Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and the resolution bearing Srila Prabhupada’s signature appointing myself as trustee, and demanded that BBTI prove its legal connection with the original BBT. When they couldn’t do that, they all at once backed out of the lawsuit.

That’s when ISKCON and BBTI sued Hansadutta, myself, in 1997. It was not actually a lawsuit against myself personally. It was a direct attack on Prabhupada’s original BBT.

ISKCON and BBTI were seeking a court declaration that Prabhupada’s BBT was never a legally valid trust and thus never held the copyrights to his books; or in the event that it was once valid, that it had ceased to be valid; moreover, that Hansadutta, myself, was never a trustee of that trust, or if I was, then I had ceased to be or should be removed and new trustees appointed. Download the complaint (pdf, 3.2 MB).

Over the course of more than 1-1/2 years, much came to light. For instance, ISKCON claimed that Prabhupada had never owned the copyrights, that they were “works for hire”, meaning that Prabhupada was ISKCON’s hired worker – they supplied Prabhupada with room and board, dictation machine, paper, pen… and whatever he wrote was the property of ISKCON. Read it yourself what ISKCON said (pdf, 1.5 MB).

I did not relinquish my position as BBT trustee lightly. It was a grave decision. I understood very well that Prabhupada had appointed me for life to safeguard his books, and I would never have simply thrown it away. But after 17-18 months of litigation, we had no financial resources to continue the legal battle into trial. Our lawyer, Fedorowsky (Gupta das), required us to come up with another $100,000 in advance payment to go to trial.

Contrary to what has been reported by some, I did not leave ISKCON with money, and I have never done business or been gainfully employed, so I had to rely on Krishna to send help in defending Prabhupada’s BBT. Bhima had spent more than a million dollars fighting the BBTI courtcase in Singapore. Then when ISKCON – BBTI changed course and filed legal action against me, again Bhima came to the rescue, but by then he was pretty much tapped out.

He scrambled to put up the money to retain Fedorowsky. Veda Guhya also contributed – a quarter of the amount Bhima gave. But when Fedorowsky called for more money for trial, we just didn’t have it, and no one responded to our appeals for help – not one of the Prabhupadanugas. Everyone just kept silent. No one came forward, and former friends retreated.

Talk of betrayal… I felt betrayed at that time, deserted by godbrothers who would not support the defense of Prabhupada’s BBT. (I remember in those days you wrote to me your disappointment that Chakravarty did not want to communicate with me because it might compromise his job with BBTI under Harikesa.)

Moreover, Fedorowsky advised me that even if we were to proceed to trial and if we should prevail, there was every likelihood that ISKCON and BBTI would appeal and that ISKCON would petition the court to remove me from the trust in any case, and the matter could drag out for years. We didn’t know it at the time, but Fedorowsky had already misappropriated money that was principal in an investment scheme that was to pay his fees.

Had we known that, we would not have trusted him, but we did trust him, and we had no other option for an attorney – Fedorowsky knew the ins and outs of ISKCON, he had a grasp of the legal issues, which baffled all other attorneys we consulted, and he had made us an offer impossible to refuse – very discounted fees.

And so it was that 18 months into litigation, I was corralled into accepting a settlement, crafted by Fedorowsky and Amarendra. Fedorowsky promised me that in exchange for stepping down from the BBT trustee position, BBTI and ISKCON would give me an “unfettered” license to publish all of Prabhupada’s original books (pre1978) pretty much worldwide. This turned out to be otherwise, but at the time I trusted Fedorowsky’s legal advice.

I had to consider that if we went to trial and lost, BBTI and ISKCON would get away with everything, spelling the end of Prabhupada’s original books and depriving many devotees of access to buying books for distribution. And I had to consider that even if we went to trial and won, it would not be the end of it; ISKCON and BBTI would fight on and eventually I would be removed as trustee.

Then too, Fedorowsky spoke of the cost of protecting the copyrights, how if the BBT did not file legal action for each and every copyright infringement, then they would be lost to public domain – which might have been done anyway. So thinking to make the best of a bad bargain, I made the decision that I felt would protect the integrity of Prabhupada’s original books and enable their publication and make them accessible to the devotees everywhere regardless of their affiliation with ISKCON.

I considered also ISKCON’s and BBTI’s assurances that the BBT would be left intact. It was for Prabhupada that I did what I did. For Prabhupada and the devotees. In the end, I could only hope that the settlement would resolve our differences, and so I took a leap of faith to trust our godbrothers at their word, give them a chance to make it possible for us to participate in serving Prabhupada and his mission by printing and distributing his unadulterated books.

I did not do so with personal profit in mind. That was not the case at all. For that reason I did not object when Fedorowsky added his own name as member of the board of the licensee.

Out of gratitude to him for his services, and desiring to include the persons who had sacrificed money, time and energy to defend Prabhupada’s BBT and the purity of Prabhupada’s original books, I consented to the naming of Fedorowsky, Veda Guhya, Bhima and his wife all as members of the board. As for the settlement money, it was initially agreed that the money would be used as startup capital for printing Prabhupada’s books.

However, Fedorowsky laid claim to it, and a dispute arose. As it turned out, Fedorowsky, with the support of Veda Guhya, Bhagavan and Niscintya, pulled the carpet out from beneath us, and took control of the licensee, ousting myself, Bhima and Das devi dasi.

But I assure you, I did not ever intend to betray Srila Prabhupada or his Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. I acted in good faith. Fedorowsky and others took advantage of my trust and good will. If you are looking for those who betrayed Prabhupada, look to them, look to ISKCON and BBTI.

As you have pointed out, I have since put ISKCON and BBTI on notice that their failure to pay out the settlement monies as per the terms of the settlement means that the settlement has been breached, and so I have rescinded my resignation as trustee of the BBT. As far as I know, the BBT is intact. But ISKCON and BBTI continue to produce and distribute counterfeit books, and the BBT courtcase has been swept underneath the bed.

To check them with legal action is prohibitively costly. But if the devotees rally and demand remediation, that Prabhupada’s BBT be restored and that BBTI cease all revisions of Prabhupada’s books, then it’s possible that one day things will be right again with the movement. This is my stand. And I call for all Prabhupada’s faithful disciples to stand with me, to stand by Prabhupada’s Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, to stand for Srila Prabhupada and his books.

Remember the Alamo! But devotees need to do more than talk. Many devotees have strongly protested the changes to the books, but BBTI and ISKCON turn a deaf ear to them and will continue to do so unless and until they are faced with real consequences such as court action. This costs money. So put your money where your mouth is, and let’s see who is willing to do for Prabhupada.

I know that I have disappointed you and so many other devotees. I am very sorry for so many things I have done recklessly and for having failed to live up to all our expectations. All I can do is ask again for forgiveness from you and from the devotees everywhere, and for your blessings to be allowed to serve Prabhupada alongside his faithful devotees.

We are meant to follow Prabhupada, all of us as members of his entourage, as his servants, in this life and in the next and the next after that, forever, and this is all I look forward to – meeting up with Srila Prabhupada wherever he may be and being counted once again as one of his disciples. Please do not think too badly of me and cast me out from your association.

Your servant, Hansadutta das

P.S. In hindsight, I see now there was a collusion between Gupta and the ISKCON attorneys to sideline my legal position. You may know that Gupta aka Joseph Fedorowsky was indicted for, ”CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT MURDER” back in the 1970’s.

He escaped prosecution because he cut a deal with the Federal authorities by ratting everyone out. Many believe that he remains a FBI informant to this day. These are things I came to know later on. I have the documents, if you care to see them.

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