By Asia Samachar | UNITED STATES |
The sexual exploits of Yogi Bhajan are being investigated by his followers, 16 years after the death of the Los Angeles-based yoga guru famous within the Sikh community as the person who brought Sikhi to the westerners.
“Credible allegations concerning sexual misconduct by Yogi Bhajan have come forward,” declared a statement by outfits connected to the yoga master Harbhajan Singh Puri who left India for the US in 1968.
The letter, dated 28 Feb 2020 and made public recently via a dedicated website, comes on the heels of a newly released book detailing Yogi Bhajan’s alleged sexual and other abuses.
In ‘Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage (My Life with Yogi Bhajan)’, Bhajan’s former staff member Pamela Sarah Dyson alleges that he coerced her and other staff members into sex.
The 3HO Foundation, Sikh Dharma International and Kundalini Research Institute have formed a so-called ‘collaborative response team’ (CRT) to ‘officially represent our community organizations’ in dealing with the allegations.
The website carries five names: Sahaj Singh Khalsa from Siri Singh Sahib Corporation, Nirvair Singh Khalsa (Kundalini Research Institute), Gurujot Kaur Khalsa (Sikh Dharma International, Siri Singh Sahib Corporation), Pritpal Kaur Khalsa (3HO Foundation International) and Shanti Kaur Khalsa (Dharmic Office of Public Affairs).
Among others, the organisations are connected to a multi-billion dollar private military and security company called Akal Security, which its website claims to be one the largest U.S. owned security service providers to the U.S. Government.
In its initial step, the CRT has engaged a third party to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations.
An Olive Branch, the appointed third party, is now gathering background information and is expected to begin speaking with individuals on March 11, according to the latest update at the CRT website.
The development surrounding the charismatic spiritual leader is coming at a time when the #MeToo movement – a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault – is making headway globally with the conviction of the likes of film producer Harvey Weinstein.
The latest follower to add her voice to the investigation is Snatam Kaur, an American Kirtan singer raised in the Kundalini Yoga tradition, the primary teachings of Bhajan.
“I have dear friends that I grew up with who have in the past few weeks, conveyed to me varying degrees of sexual abuse that they experienced with Yogi Bhajan. I have been deeply affected and shaken to the core in hearing their stories, and I believe them,” she wrote in a lengthy Facebook entry on 5 March.
She said that did not have any such encounters with Bhajan, whom she described as her ‘spiritual teacher’.
“My prayer is that the work of this committee is not only a source of truth, but also of healing for my friends, and for anyone effected by these actions.”
A few days earlier, Spirit Voyage CEO Karan Khalsa, who own multiple businesses that share Kundalini Yoga teachings, wrote an ‘open letter’ to the CRT.
“In the last 2 weeks, I have personally heard from 7 women whose stories of being abused by Yogi Bhajan have been heartbreaking. They are horrifying. Having been raised in this Kundalini Yoga community, many of the women who have come forward are my childhood friends.
“I believe most of them would never have shared their stories in order to protect those they loved. Pamela’s book started this, but this is not about her story alone. More women are now rising up to support truth by sharing their stories. Truth is truth and can be uncovered no matter how much time has passed,” she said.
“After learning of these allegations, I can no longer connect to Yogi Bhajan when I practice. I will no longer be responsible for sharing his name and likeness with the world. Yogi Bhajan may have been the vessel that carried these teachings to the west, but I believe it is time for me to remove him from the Kundalini Yoga shared at Spirit Voyage, Sat Nam Fest and Kundalini Yoga U,” she adds.
She said that she and her team were now ‘removing him from our various websites and social media. It is both an emotional clearing and a statement of sovereignty from him’.
The allegations have been swirling around for years and not everyone is convinced that the matter would be handled independently.
“Those aware of abuses have been called ‘heretics; when bringing information to the governing members in the past. Many in leadership have known of the abuses but have actively been covering them up,” said one former Bhajan follower when news of the investigation emerged.
Gursant Singh, author of ‘Confessions of an American Sikh: Locked up in India, corrupt cops & my escape from a New Age tantric yoga cult!’, also has his doubts.
In a recent Facebook entry, he dealt with the question: “Why did you wait so long to speak out?”
He said he had spent 30 years working for Bhajan, but started speaking out in 2009 when he met ‘traditional Sikhs’ in India and read accounts like Pamela’s of Bhajan’s alleged abuses and frauds on the internet.
“You must understand the dynamics of a cult. When you have family and friends who are loyal to Yogi Bhajan to the death, it becomes extremely difficult to speak out. If you do speak out or question anything the ‘master’ Yogi Bhajan said, you are immediately branded as a ‘slanderer’ and shunned and labeled as a traitor.”
Commenting on Snatam’s Facebook page, yoga instructor Valinda Cochella also questioned the silence of Yogi Bhajan’s inner circle over the years.
“THAT is what many of us are struggling with, after teaching for 20 years! The inner circle KNEW and kept perpetuating these lies….The minute we (as 2nd/3rd generation teachers) found out the truth we stopped everything and made announcements and started the discussion…that’s what killing us. AND the abuse survivors stories are breaking our hearts….how could the “old timers” let this continue?,” she wrote.
Born in 1929, Harbhajan graduated in Economics and joined India’s Internal Revenue Department before being moved to the Customs Service.
In a biography at the 3HO website, it says: “When he was just eight years old he began his yogic training with an enlightened teacher, Sant Hazara Singh, who proclaimed him to be a Master of Kundalini Yoga when he was sixteen and a half.”
It adds: “In 1971, in acknowledgement of his extraordinary impact of spreading the universal message of Sikhism, the president of the SGPC (governing body of Sikh Temples in India), Sant Charan Singh called him the Siri Singh Sahib, Chief Religious and Administrative Authority for the Western Hemisphere, and he was given the responsibility to create a Sikh Ministry in the West by the Akal Takhat, the Sikh seat of religious authority in Amritsar, India. He was honored with the title Bhai Sahib by the Akal Takhat in 1974.”
The claims to the Akal Takht titles have been disputed by a number of sources.
On his teaching, it says: “Breaking the centuries old tradition of secrecy surrounding the empowering science of Kundalini Yoga, he began teaching it publicly. With the yogic sciences of yoga, meditation, yogic philosophy, and loving acceptance, he gave the soon to be called “Baby Boomers” an effective alternative to the prevalent drug culture. He called it the “3HO” (healthy, happy, holy) way of life.”
On sects and denominations in Sikhi (Asia Samachar, 27 Sept 2015)