My initial interest in Jonestown was sparked by watching various documentaries presented on television. Seeing these led me to seek out more information via the internet, thus leading me to the Alternative Considerations website. I was very intrigued by the fact that there had been surviving audio recordings available to the public. The desire to hear the recordings for myself prompted me to request the tapes. I had questions that I thought might be answered by hearing Jim Jones’ message. What was it about this man that attracted so many? How could so many people just give everything to one man?
I did not know what to expect from these tapes and at first listening to them was much like when I saw the most recent movie about the Titanic in that I knew the boat was going to sink, but I wanted to know the story. Likewise, with Jonestown, I knew what ultimately was to come, but was so interested to try to understand, to piece the story together. Listening to these tapes was like a good book you don’t want to put down and, as I heard one session after another, I found myself wanting to know more about the timeline of Jim Jones’ movement leading to Jonestown. I read a few books and found, with that knowledge, I was able to put the recordings into some order.
As was originally intended for the community in Guyana, I have some understanding of this desire to live simply, let go of the material and adopt a spiritual lifestyle from my involvement in Krsna Consciousness. However, from the Jonestown documentaries I watched and with the recordings, I have come to understand that Jones’ message went from one that was spiritual and communal in nature to one that was socialist and politically driven. The organization that was founded by Srila Prabhupada, The International Society for Krsna Consciousness (ISKCON), in which I am involved, has always been and remains one that is spiritual and communal. It has never been politically motivated. One is not asked to give up everything and move into an ashram to become a member of ISKCON and the message remains the same today as it was when Srila Prabhupada came to this country to preach it in the 1970’s. This is where my curiosity lies.
As a devotee of Krsna and being involved in a practice of faith that is not mainstream, I have been criticized by those who did not and do not understand. Having my family take issue with my decision made me discontented and I could not understand why they were so afraid for me to be involved with something that looked, to them, like a “cult.” I only had my experience from childhood to reflect upon. I remember following my parents from one church to another until Catholicism was found to be the most appealing. Listening to these tapes and learning about Jonestown made me think of the concern that relatives have had about my decision to practice Krsna Consciousness. It overwhelmed me to understand from this very public event, the massacre at Jonestown, how it had influenced my parent’s idea of what a “cult” was all about and their views of any religion outside that which is considered “normal” in this country.
Ultimately, my studies into this tragedy have broadened my understanding for my parent’s point of view, though I still do not share their opinion of Krsna Consciousness. My questions have not really been answered and I don’t know that they ever could be answered. So far, these recordings raise more questions than they answer and I still cannot comprehend the attraction to Jones. Hearing these tapes and learning about Jim Jones has deepened by faith in Krsna. In this audio, Jones at one point claims to be God and Srila Prabhupada taught that anyone who claims to be God is under illusion and will only serve to confuse and exploit others. In Krsna Consciousness the goal is to not to be God, but become godly.
I believe that these recordings are a valuable resource to maintaining history. There are many young people today who do not realize or know what Jonestown is. Many don’t know who Jim Jones was because a search on the internet of Jim Jones will lead you to a music artist, not the leader of a socialist revolution. Of course, the information is there, time just has a way of distorting things like a child’s telephone game… oh, how the story grows and becomes skewed. However, with the hard copy of recorded sounds from Jonestown there can be a glimpse into that time and place, a glimpse that is unaltered.
The words posted at Jonestown over the stage, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” resound with me. I feel that my conclusion, so far, is that these recordings are a valuable learning resource and that the web site where they can be found, Alternative Considerations of Jonestown, is very important now and for the future, so that something like this might never have to occur again. Hare Krsna.