By Asia Samachar Team | UNITED STATES |
The avalanche of outpouring continues to build up as the Kundalini Yoga world comes to grip with the devastating impact of Yogi Bhajan’s alleged sexual and other abuses.
Teacher after teacher went online to connect with their yoga students on the pointed allegations made by a former staff member and long-time devotee of the late yoga master in newly released book ‘Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage (My Life with Yogi Bhajan)’.
“Yogi Bhajan wasn’t the white wizard that, perhaps, we believed he was or that we hoped he was,” mulled Spain-based KY teacher Aimee (Indra) Rai in a social media entry.
Like Aimee, many kundalini yoga teachers were clearly anguished and devastated with the revelations that tarnished the reputation of Yogi Bhajan, the self-styled yoga master who had brought Kundalini Yoga to the world from his base in Los Angeles.
“It’s heartbreaking for me and it’s been difficult reading the book. I did have an image of Yogi Bhajan. I used his quotes, I used his image a lot. I won’t be doing that anymore,” said Valinda Cochella who runs Los Angeles-based South Bay Yoginis.
Still reeling from the revelations, the teacher with two decades of experience has decided to suspend some of her classes as “I don’t know what I’m teaching right now.”
A yoga teacher for the last seven years, Lotus Dayánde said Yogi Bhajan was never an important part of her of my Kundalini Yoga journey, that her training did not involve watching hours of his teaching on video as was the norm for many others. “My journey was the love for the Kundalini technology.”
However, the Copenhagen-based teacher was clear about what Yogi Bhajan did. “He abused his power and the people who knew about it kept it a secret for a long time.”
Some Kundalini Yoga centres are making a clean break with Bhajan and his legacy organisations.
“Sat nam! We have amended our website to reflect our stance. YB was a horribly flawed, unenlightened man,” Andrea Fiondo from the Kundalini Yoga in Detroit told Asia Samachar in an email response when asked to comment on their position in light of the new revelations.
“We are independent kundalini yoga instructors who teach what has resonated with us personally as healing and healthy.”
There were some voices in support of Yogi Bhajan. Scanning for the various responses, Asia Samachar came across one respond that was rather dismissive of the issue.
“It’s 16 years ago, for God’s sake. What is there to change now?” said Satya Kaur, a director of Portugal-based Karam Kriya International School of Kundalini. “There will be continue to be abuses and there will continue to be desperate women who put themselves in very vulnerable positions will be taken advantage of.”
She appeared in a sharing along with a fellow director Shiv Charan Singh. Unlike most teachers, they have had personal engagements with Yogi Bhajan as and when he visits Europe.
Bhajan, whose real name is Harbhajan Singh Puri and worked as a custom officer in India, moved to the United States in 1968.
He died in 2004, leaving behind thousands of yoga students, a thriving yoga business network and a host of businesses, most of them connected to organisations like the Kundalini Research Institute (KRI), Sikh Dharma International, Siri Singh Sahib Corporation and the 3HO Foundation International.
He is also credited to have brought the Sikh teaching to Westerners as a band of white, black and coloured men and women, not of Punjabi origin. Many traditional Sikhs were impressed to see the legion of Westerners, donning an all-white attire, doing kirtan and reading the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sahib.
But the January 2020 release of the book by Pamela Sarah Dyson, who was known as Premka Kaur Khalsa during her involvement with the 3HO community since the 1970s when she was in her mid-20s, has taken the community by storm.
The book, and the subsequent response from the Kundalini Yoga community, is believed to have prodded the 3HO group leadership to launch an official investigation into the allegations against Yogi Bhajan, which has since see more women coming forward with their own grievances.
The Bhajan-linked organisations have formed a so-called ‘collaborative response team’ (CRT) to ‘officially represent our community organizations’ as ‘credible allegations concerning sexual misconduct by Yogi Bhajan have come forward’.
There was also the visceral anger towards long-time ‘insiders’ at the Bhajan outfits as some of the newer teachers learn of the earlier allegations which had been hushed up.
“The difficult thing for second and third generation teachers is that the inner circle knew and yet continued to teach,” said Valinda in her online outpouring. “Yes, there were rumours that there was abuse and there were things going on in the Dharma. I was never in there, I never became a Sikh. I’ve been teaching what worked for me.”
Pamela had taken a court case against Yogi Bhajan and his organisations in 1986, which was settled out of court. It was headlined by Oregon newspaper The Register-Guard in a story entitled ‘Yogi’s legacy in question’ that was published on 9 May 2010. See here.
In a second video sharing on the issue, Aimee said: “She (Pamela) had been telling her stories for too many years and too many people did not want to listen, too many people did not want to believe it. She fought. For that, I bow to her. She had opened the gateway to so many other women to come forward and say that ‘this happened to me, too’. She broke the silence.”
On KRI, she said she was now no longer sure if she wanted to maintain her affiliation with them. ”I’m also seeing many ‘senior’ teachers, for a lack of a better word, and members of the primary, older generation – that learnt directly under Yogi Bhajan – I’m seeing a lot denial.
“And a lot of victim shaming and blaming. And a lot of apathy being disguised as neutrality. It’s not comfortable for me. I believe that apathy is very dangerous thing in our world. It’s not something that I can condone or continue to be affiliated with.”
She questioned if the Bhajan-linked organisations were doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do or their hands were forced. She wondered if there was a generation that can undertake an “internal revolution” or that “it was too corrupt to the core. I don’t know at this point.”
Yogi Bhajan’s sexual exploits under investigation (Asia Samachar, 7 March 2020)
Tainted by sexual abuse, Yogi Bhajan’s legacy in jeopardy (Asia Samachar, 7 March 2020)
When I was growing up, white/American Sikhs were a strange phenomenon (Asia Samachar, 11 March 2019)