In Sunday's editions, The Washington Post reported that Donna Seidenberg, now a Hare Krishna devotee, shared an apartment with the Hare Krishno chaplain two years ago during her senior year at the University of Maryland. This report is incorrect.
In her mother's eyes, Donna Seidenberg is virtually two different persons - the much-adored free spirit who was the family's "baby," as well as the Hare Krishna religious convert who refuses to accept worldly responsibility.
"Oh, that's Donna, and that's Donna's smile," Pearl Seidenberg said lovingly as she gazed at the picture of her smiling daughter in the newspaper.
Then her face changed, the words turned icy, and she shook her head bitterly. As a Hare Krishna, she noted, all that was left of her daughter was her smile.
"If anyone knows Donna, it's me," said Mrs. Seidenberg, a silver-haired Baltimore widow. "Kids change, of course, but not his drastic.
Mrs. Seidenberg's story is one that has become painfully familiar to many anguished parents who are trying to make sense of their children's abrupt conversion to radically unconventional religious sects like the International Society of Krishna Consciousness.
"We had a confrontation a year ago," Mrs. Seidenberg recalled, "one of her sisters, Donna, and me. You see, the Krishnas believe you're not in your own body, but your soul could be in a rock or a tree.
"I said, 'Donna, how would you feel if I died?' I had a heart attack about three years ago. Now what would you say if your mother asked you that? You'd say something like, 'Oh mother, don't talk like that,' or, 'Gee, the thought of it . . .'
A look of disbelief flashed across her face. "But her reply was - absolutely with no affect whatsoever - 'Mother, I could only tell you your sould would be in someone else's body.' Now what kind of answer is that? That's mind control," she said.
After two years of watching Donna rock her head back and forth and chant "Hare Krishna" over and over, of knowing she was collecting $100 or more a day selling Hare Krishna literature in airports, of not being able to discuss anything with her but Hare Krishna of thinking about her sleeping on the floor and eating "awful" vegetarian foods, Mrs. Seidenberg made her move.
Believing firmly she was doing Donna a favor, that she was giving her a chance to think for herself for a change, Mrs. Seidenbert obtained temporary legal custody of her daughter without her knowledge, lured her home for a nonexistent bridal shower, and then drove her off to a Baltimore motel where, for four days, Donna underwent "deprogramming" to rid her of her Krishna beliefs.
When Donna begged to come home during the next stage of the deprogramming - the four-week "rehabilitation" period at a New Hampshire home for ex-cult members - Mrs. Seidenbert stood firm, although she said it hurt.
"I said, 'Donna, it's like surgery. First you get the IV fluids, later the stitches come out, and so forth. It takes time,' I said. 'Your best bet is to make the best of the situation,' because I knew in due time she would begin thinking on her own. Sometimes love is not giving in."
So Donna stayed the four weeks, and the day after she returned home she went into Montgomery County Circuit Court with her mother and Mrs. Seidenberg's lawyer, J. James McKenna, and she testified that she was not being held against her will. Judge Richard Latham dismissed Mrs. Seidenberg's temporary legal custody over her daughter.
The next day, on her mother's birthday - always a festive occasion in the Seidenberg home - Donna disappeared while shopping with a friend and contacted the Hare Krishna temple in Potomac.
Last Sunday, Donna, now known as Megha Devi Krishna, married Ed Bavis, the Krishna devotee to whom she had been betrothed since early February.
"Donna wants to play house," said her mother. "Every girl wants to. And she wanted to get married."
"What do you think I did this for?" asked Mrs.Seidenberg. "To give her the opportunity to think . . .I understand very well . . . I understand what she's rebelling against. They're being protected in there. They don't have to think for themselves.
When Donna was a junior in college, she transferred from Northeastern Univeristy in Boston to the University of Maryland because of her mother's heart attack."She was indecisive about what she wanted to do, but my heart attack forced the decision," Mrs. Seidenberg said. "Here I was practically dying. I think she blamed herself for it, though she shouldn't have. She felt responsible. She never accepted her fathers death." Donna was 15 when her father died after an unsuccessful heart transplant operation.
During her senior year at Maryland, Donna was unhappy with her roommate and moved in with two men who had advertised for a "roommate with Eastern philosophical ideas." One was the Krishna "chaplain" at the university.
Reared in a moderately observant Jewish home and bas mitzvahed at 13, Donna soon came home reading the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. She told her mother she was going to study with the Krishnas for a week - and with that Mrs. Seidenberg did not see her for six months.
"They teach you that the outside world is the materialistic world and that your parents represent that. You're not supposed to have anything to do with them . . I didn't put up a fuss. She wanted to try it. But she didn't have the guts to come back. It was an escape . .. She was vulnerable. SHe was ready . . ." was in Washington (at the Krishna temple), I tried to call her. They'd never let her on the phone. They'd say she was sleeping. I tried at all hours, but she was never there." Mrs. Seidenberg eventually visited her daughter at the temple and, she said in retrospect, she should have taken her out then. "But, you know, every parent wants her kids to experiment on their own."
About a year ago when the conversation about death occurred, Mrs. Seidenberg and one of Donna's sisters began challenging the Krishna devotee about her religion.
"I called her the next night and asked her what she thought (about remaining a Krishna). She told me when she gets back with the Krishnas she can't think. Like a stupid person, I didn't know she was under mind control." That, to Mrs. Seidenberg, is a "form of hypnosis where the person can only think the way they're told to think."
"I consulted a psychiatrist, and he said, 'Let her go.' That was the end of that . . . I thought she'd get out of it."
Donna did not, and her plans to marry Ed Bavis set Mrs. Seidenberg into motion. "The deprogrammers were so kind to her. They offered her anything she wanted. Sure, they showed her discrepancies (in the Hare Krishna religion). That's what deprogramming is all about."
When that four-day intensive session was over, Donna went off to the "rehab," and Mrs. Seidenberg was thankful that she had not had another heart attack.
"I put life on the line for her. That's a terrible thing for a parent to say, but I could have blown it," she said.
During her "rehab", Donna wrote her mother about her confusion, her ambivalence, her boredom. Then she talked about her future, philosophized, asked about her mother's health, thanked her mother. Those moments, Mrs. Seidenberg said, were the ones when of Donna was thinking."
There is a sentence in one letter from Donna that Mrs. Seidenberg will never forget. It reads: "I gotta tell you I'm extremely grateful for the chance to experience freedom once more, to be able to see the forest from the trees."
On March 29, Mrs. Seidenberg's birthday, when she walked into another daughter's house and was told that Donna had disppeared earlier that any, she recalls, "You know, it wasn't like I expected it, but it was a shock. I knew the possibility existed that she would go back."
"She is now completely under mind control. She doesn't believe it. It's like an alcoholic who says, 'I'm not an alcoholic.'"
"I do want to see her, to hear from her, and all I want to do is to hug her and kiss her and know she's well. I don't want her back. She's not mine to have back.I just want her to know I love her. I'll never close the door."