By Hb Singh | OPINION |
Yogi Bhajan was no ordinary man. You have to hand it to him that much. That makes his fall from grace all the more spectacular.
I first met him in person during the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa in Anandpur Sahib in 1999. He was surrounded by scores of majestic looking white men and women, all wearing white flowing kurtas. There would have been an equal, if not more, women amongst them. Most donned turban, again all white. Dashing!
Needless to say, they awed the crowd. Here you have gorey and goriaa (white men and women) from the West who are fluttering about confidently as Sikhs of the Guru, while many of us are still uncomfortable under the skin being Sikhs. Almost everyone was at his beck and call. His power, prestige and paisa easily allowed him to exert influence on the Sikh authorities.
A few years earlier – in the mid-1990s – I was part of a Malaysian Sikh organisation that was planning a big Sikh event. Yogi Bhajan topped the list of potential people to invite. Also on the list was the jathedar of the Akal Takht. As part of the programme secretariat, we were in communication with Yogi Bhajan’s team in the United States.
Our team was excited with the prospect of securing a big name like Yogi Bhajan — born Harbhajan Singh Puri and who worked as a customs officer before moving to the US in 1968. We were mostly people who had years of involvement in running Sikh camps. And truth be told, I was excited about getting the ‘gorey‘ Sikhs to give our Sikhi parchaar (preaching) work a boot. We can showcase the Western Sikhs as examples to our youth. Yes, meet one of the Sikhs still uncomfortable with his identity!
I remember scouring the net for his articles. I would lap them up. He would use words like ‘Shabad technology’. Impressive for impressionable minds. I would print his lectures and shove them into the hands of friends.
But none of us were aware of the sexual abuse allegations against Yogi Bhajan. We were mindful that some were critical of the Sikhi and yoga cocktail that he was peddling. He badged it as Kundalini Yoga and built an enterprise around it. You could relegate it to a theological debate. But sexual abuse? No, that didn’t really crop up. In the end, we couldn’t secure him for the event.
Now, fast forward two and half decades. This year, the Yogi Bhajan legacy organisation called the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation (SSSC) – the umbrella organisation for 3HO and running multi-million dollar enterprises like Akal Security – had decided to deal with sexual abuse allegations against its leader who died in 2004. They roped in a Buddhist peace and reconciliation organisation An Olive Branch (AOB) to conduct the investigation.
The report was damning. It found the yoga master ‘more likely than not’ to have ‘engaged in sexual battery, other sexual abuse specifically, exposing minors to pornography, sexual harassment, and unethical behavior’. It carried graphic accounts that makes it a difficult read.
So, what made SSSC undertake the report? We can speculate on the reason. No doubt, the published outcome is damaging to Yogi Bhajan’s reputation. But what is missing may be more telling.
Allow me to share two pertinent observations made by Matthew Remski, a Toronto-based cult researcher and co-host of the Conspirituality Podcast. In a Facebook entry after the publication of the 72-page AOB report, Remski had this to say:
1. The details paint an even more depraved picture than what emerges from the Joseph Epstein files, in that the abuse was multigenerational and systematically weaponized family bonds.
2. Tragically, this report was limited in scope to testimonies about Bhajan. It didn’t touch his fraudulent spiritual claims, his extensive criminal enterprises, his colleagues and beneficiaries, his groomers and honeypotters. It failed to cite Philip Deslippe’s extensive deconstructions of the Bhajan myth. It doesn’t touch the generation of children who were separated from their parents and sent to faux-Sikh residential schools in India.
Yes, the fact that the 3HO community came around to deal with Yogi Bhajan’s sexual abuses is a major step for them. For years, they have denied them and attempted to shame those who brought them forward. But they have sidestepped the larger issues, and it may have everything to do with them wanting to keep their money-churning Kundalini Yoga enterprise.
Remski urges us to read Deslippe, a yoga historian who has written extensively about Yogi Bhajan. He wrote: “What Philip Deslippe has done, with painstaking research and peer-reviewed accountability — just like the physician-expert that would testify on Nassar’s practices — is to show that Bhajan’s entire corpus was a con job (not Deslippe’s term of course).”
So, we now have some documented evidence of Yogi Bhajan as a sexual predator. But there may be a bigger story at play still.
Hb Singh is a Kuala Lumpur-based journalist with some experience in dealing with Sikh organisations, both from within and outside.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Yogi Bhajan ‘more likely than not’ raped his followers (Asia Samachar, 15 Aug 2020)
Yogi Bhajan investigation: What are they telling us (Asia Samachar, 23 March 2020)
“Rape is always invited. It never happens.” Say what? (Asia Samachar, 24 March 2020)
Yogi Bhajan sexual allegations rock Kundalini Yoga world (Asia Samachar, 18 March 2020)
Yogi Bhajan’s sexual exploits under investigation (Asia Samachar, 7 March 2020)
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