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From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan's Kundalini Yoga

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This article details the influences upon and the construction of Kundalini Yoga as introduced, taught, and propagated in the West by Yogi Bhajan (1929–2004), by delving into the lost history of the practice's earliest years through previously neglected sources such as its documentation in rare early texts and interviews with early students and associates. As opposed to the official history of Kundalini Yoga that claims it as an ancient and secret tradition prior to Yogi Bhajan's open teaching of it, this article argues that it was a bricolage created by Yogi Bhajan himself and derived from two main figures: a hatha yoga teacher named Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari (1924–1994) and the Sikh sant Maharaj Virsa Singh (1934–2007). It is the aim of this article to provide clear evidence as to what Yogi Bhajan's Kundalini Yoga is and what it comprises, put forward the historical and cultural contexts in which it was developed and presented by Yogi Bhajan, and ultimately offer possible conclusions that could be drawn from this revised understanding.1 Followers of Yogi Bhajan commonly refer to him by the title ‘Siri Singh Sahib’ as a matter of deference to a title that he claims he received in early 1971 at the Golden Temple that made him the Sikh authority of the Western Hemisphere. Critics of Yogi Bhajan often refer to him by his birth name, Harbhajan Singh Puri, as a way of consciously stripping him of the titles that they consider fraudulent. He is referred to as ‘Yogi Bhajan’ in this article to primarily reflect the way he was most popularly known and to also stand distinct from both views. The figure of Virsa Singh was referred to as Maharaj in his earlier years and Baba Virsa Singh in his later years. While both ‘Maharaj’ and ‘Baba’ are respectful titles, in this article, he will be referred to as Maharaj Virsa Singh, in keeping with references made to him both within 3HO and at Gobind Sadan during the time period focused upon. The phrase ‘Kundalini Yoga’ will be capitalized to denote the specific practice that Yogi Bhajan taught and to keep references distinct from other practices that were referred to as kundalini yoga. Finally, the term ‘3HO’ will be used as an umbrella term to encompass the various organizations created by Yogi Bhajan and his followers, since this was the first organization and it, along with the variation ‘3HO Family’, has been used in a similar way within internal literature. View all notes
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Philip Deslippe
FROM MAHARAJ TO MAHAN TANTRIC
The construction of Yogi Bhajans
Kundalini Yoga
This article details the influences upon and the construction of Kundalini Yoga as intro-
duced, taught, and propagated in the West by Yogi Bhajan (19292004), by delving
into the lost history of the practices earliest years through previously neglected sources
such as its documentation in rare early texts and interviews with early students and associ-
ates. As opposed to the official history of Kundalini Yoga that claims it as an ancient and
secret tradition prior to Yogi Bhajans open teaching of it, this article argues that it was a
bricolage created by Yogi Bhajan himself and derived from two main figures: a hatha yoga
teacher named Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari (19241994) and the Sikh sant Maharaj
Virsa Singh (19342007). It is the aim of this article to provide clear evidence as to
what Yogi Bhajans Kundalini Yoga is and what it comprises, put forward the historical
and cultural contexts in which it was developed and presented by Yogi Bhajan, and ulti-
mately offer possible conclusions that could be drawn from this revised understanding.
1
Introduction
On 6 October 2004, the man born as Harbhajan Singh Puri and popularly known as
Yogi Bhajan died of complications from heart failure at his home in Espanola, New
Mexico. The obituary that ran in the New York Times a few days later called him the
Boss of Worlds Spiritual and Capitalistic, a fitting title for someone who in the
course of three and a half decades had built up numerous large businesses, counted
politicians and dignitaries as close friends, and was held as a spiritual leader.
Despite their size or their many facets, Yogi Bhajans legacy and empire were decid-
edly built upon the practice of Kundalini Yoga. Wherever his students located them-
selves, as primarily Sikhs, employees of the businesses, healers, yoga teachers, yoga
practitioners, or a combination thereof, virtually every single person was introduced
to Yogi Bhajan and his Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) through the practice
of Kundalini Yoga.
Previously untaught to the public and presented as distinct from other forms of
hatha yoga being taught, Yogi Bhajans Kundalini Yoga was a vigorous and intense com-
bination of postures or asana, rhythmic movement, chanting, meditation, and intense
breathing exercises or pranayama. Within the framework of an ancient, sacred, and
ISSN 1744-8727 (print)/ISSN 1744-8735 (online)/12/030369-19
© 2012 Taylor & Francis
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17448727.2012.745303
Sikh Formations, Vol. 8, No. 3, December 2012, pp. 369387
previously secret yogic tradition that uniquely claimed ties to Sikhism and its 10 human
Gurus, Kundalini Yoga offered its practitioners powerful experiences and a lifestyle that
went well beyond yoga and meditation to encompass everything from diet and sleep to
dress and relationships.
2,3
If it is difficult to conceive of Yogi Bhajans legacy without
Kundalini Yoga, then it is just as easy to see how many of its practitioners placed it
at the very center of their lives.
A few months after newspapers and wire services ran their obituaries of Yogi
Bhajan, Aquarian Times, the official magazine of 3HO, ran an obituary of its own in
the form of a tribute issue to honor its spiritual guide. Nestled between the personal
memories, tales from 3HOs early years, and dozens of old photographs was an article
written by Shanti Kaur Khalsa, one of Yogi Bhajans senior students, titled My Tea-
chersTeacher(Khalsa 2005). Crafting a smooth narrative from fragments of Yogi
Bhajans lectures that had been retold and passed on by his students for decades,
Shanti Kaurs piece told of Yogi Bhajans training in Kundalini Yoga from his
teacher Sant Hazara Singh. While just a young boy, the privileged and spirited Yogi
Bhajan was sent to study under his teacher, a Sikh sant and mystic who had memorized
the 1430-page Siri Guru Granth Sahib and was a master of the martial art of Gatka,
White Tantric Yoga, and Kundalini Yoga. Sant Hazara Singh was a strict disciplinarian
and brutally demanding, often putting his young student through exhaustive trials and
yogic training that molded his character. At the age of 16, and just before Partition
would tear India apart, Sant Hazara Singh declared Yogi Bhajan a master of Kundalini
Yoga, ended his own role as his teacher, and told him that the two were never to see
each other again.
For the students of Yogi Bhajan, the history of Sant Hazara Singh is more than a
matter of simple genealogy or lineage. Yogi Bhajan taught that that in Kundalini Yoga
the link that stretched back to antiquity from student to teacher formed the Golden
Chain. Every time Kundalini Yoga is practiced, whether privately or in a public
class, the mantra Ong Namo Guru Dev Namois intoned three times to tune in
to this Golden Chain and to be guided and protected by it (Khalsa 1996, 14). Sant
Hazara Singh is the only tangible person offered who precedes Yogi Bhajan in the
lineage of Kundalini Yoga. The idea of the Golden Chain also helps to bolster the
accepted belief in 3HO that Kundalini Yoga was an ancient practice that was forced
into secrecy for centuries until Yogi Bhajan taught it openly in the West. The secrecy
explains why nothing predating Yogi Bhajan seems to mention the specific details of
Kundalini Yogas practice in the same context, while the Golden Chain of masters
and their students explains how such a practice could be passed down and remain
intact until the late 1960s.
But when the Golden Chain of Kundalini Yoga is investigated rather than invoked, it
unravels. Within the first 2 years of 3HO is a hidden and vigorously revised history that
stands in stark contrast to the accepted understanding of what Yogi Bhajans Kundalini
Yoga is and where it originated. A 3-month trip that Yogi Bhajan took to Indiawith 84 of
his students in December 1970 can be seen as the dramatic, demarcating pivot that
ended the initial understanding of Yogi Bhajans Kundalini Yoga and birthed its
current, popularly understood mythology. Instead of a single unaltered lineage, there
lies a progression of forgotten and abandoned teachers, figures invented and introduced,
and a process of narration and mythologizing born out of cultural context, temporal
events, and pragmatic necessity.
370 SIKH FORMATIONS
The Sant and the Swami
When Yogi Bhajan first began teaching his Kundalini Yoga in Los Angeles, he did not
mention Sant Hazara Singh as his teacher and guide, rather he deferred to a Sikh sant
named Virsa Singh. Born in present-day Pakistan about 8 years after Yogi Bhajan,
Virsa Singh moved with his family to the Indian-controlled section of the Punjab
during the Partition of 1947. Soon after the move and at the age of 10, the young
Virsa Singh became quiet and introspective, detaching from worldly life and meditating
for 12 hours a day. He then had a vision of Baba Siri Chand, the son of Guru Nanak, who
appeared to him in physical form. Baba Siri Chand instructed the young Virsa Singh to
repeat the Naam of Ek Onkar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru, and later, Guru Nanak and Guru
Gobind Singh also appeared to Virsa Singh (Fisher 1992, chap. 20). Virsa Singh became
itinerant and miracles and healings were done through him. As the renown of his spiri-
tual power spread, he was referred to as Maharaj. By the late 1960s, Maharaj Virsa
Singh was living in New Delhi at 9 Teen Murti Street in a house given to his student
and member of Parliament Nirlep Kaur, and by 1968, a farm and spiritual center to
be known as Gobind Sadan was being constructed on the outskirts of the city, inspired
by the models of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh and with the Siri Guru Granth
Sahib at its center.
Yogi Bhajan was living in New Delhi at this time, but it was his wife, born Inderjit
Kaur Uppal and popularly known today as BibiJi, who was the initial devotee of Maharaj
Virsa Singh. A student of Maharaj Virsa Singh was told by Maharaj himself how BibiJi
would carry bricks and dirt on her head to help the construction at Gobind Sadan and,
before there were buildings on the land, would sleep on the ground after a day of service
there.
4
It was BibiJi who told Yogi Bhajan to go to Maharaj Virsa Singh and receive
darshan from him (Khalsa 1970b, 2). In time, Yogi Bhajan himself would bring
others to Maharaj Virsa Singh, including Major Sahib, the man who gave Gobind
Sadan its name (Singh 2010). During his first few years in the USA, Yogi Bhajan
would often repeat a story of how he would visit Maharaj Virsa Singh after he finished
his days work as a customs officer at Delhis Palam airport. Still in his uniform, Yogi
Bhajan would dutifully clean the toilets at Gobind Sadan until one day Maharaj Virsa
Singh was emotionally touched by his students devotion and then physically touched
Yogi Bhajan at his third-eye point between his eyebrows, inducing an ecstatic and enligh-
tening state of cosmic consciousness. This story was written up, printed, and offered as
one of the few pieces of 3HO literature available to students and guests in the early days
in Los Angeles.
5,6
While there is no secondary confirmation of Yogi Bhajans story of being touched on
the forehead and becoming enlightened, Maharaj Virsa Singh himself stated that he gave
Yogi Bhajan the Naam of Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru in 1968, something that Yogi
Bhajan himself recounted in an early lecture that he gave in Los Angeles and was often
repeated within 3HO (Yogi Bhajan 1969; Anonymous 1970a). According to devotees of
Maharaj Virsa Singh, the Naam of Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru can be traced back
to Guru Gobind Singh and a Janamsakhi from Bhai Ram Koer, a Sikh from the Court of
the Tenth Guru (Singh 2008, 115). Maharaj Virsa Singh would give Naam openly and
publically, often to large crowds of people, but at times he would give it directly to indi-
viduals. Outwardly, the process of giving Naam is simple: the Master recites the mantra
FROM MAHARAJ TO MAHAN TANTRIC 371
Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru to the student in three parts and the student repeats
each section back to the Master in turn, and the whole mantra is repeated back and forth
in this way for three rounds. Inwardly, the giving of Naam is described as a much deeper
and powerful mystical experience. A former student of Yogi Bhajan who went on to
study with Maharaj Virsa Singh after Yogi Bhajans death, Bhai Himat Singh, described
the experience of receiving Naam from Maharaj Virsa Singh as something encompassing a
blessing and a transmission of spiritual power. Just before Bhai Himat Singh was given
Naam, Maharaj Virsa Singh told him, I am going to give you the same Naam I gave your
teacher before he went to America!(Singh 2009). It was the chanting of this Naam of Ek
Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru that was at the center of the practice of Yogi Bhajans
Kundalini Yogi during its first 2 years, and constantly reprinted posters of this mantra
would claim that chanting it for 2½ h a day for 40 consecutive days would liberate
the practitioner.
Yogi Bhajan also claimed that he was sent to the West by Virsa Singh and that shortly
before departing he was presented with his masters sandals in a ceremony. In his earliest
days in the USA, as a matter of deep respect, Yogi Bhajan would place these sandals on
his altar, and a photograph of these sandals was included on a brochure printed to
promote a celebration of Maharaj Virsa Singhs birthday.
7
Warren Stagg, Yogi
Bhajans second host in Los Angeles after Doctor Amarjit Singh Marwah, remembers
that Yogi Bhajan would place the sandals on the bed that he was given and sleep on
the floor.
8
While, again, there is no secondary confirmation of the narrative involving
the giving of sandals, the term which Yogi Bhajan repeatedly used to describe
Maharaj Virsa Singh was clear: Master (Yogi Bhajan 1969, Khalsa 1970a) (figure 1).
Figure 1 Maharaj Virsa Singh standing in the freshly ploughed fields at Gobind Sadan, outside of New Delhi,
circa 1971 (Image with permission of Gobind Sadan archives).
372 SIKH FORMATIONS
Beyond the term Master, there is a wealth of further evidence documenting the
relationship that Yogi Bhajan claimed to have with Virsa Singh. A photograph taken by
Lisa Law in 1969 at the New Buffalo Commune in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico,
clearly shows an image of Virsa Singh placed on an altar of one of Yogi Bhajans students,
above a photograph of Yogi Bhajan and below a poster of the Code Mantraof Ek Ong Kar
Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru.
9
The 3HO ashram in Tucson, Arizona, was named the Maharaj
Virsa Singh Ashramin honor of Yogi Bhajans teacher.
10
One of Yogi Bhajans senior tea-
chers during this time, BabaDon Conreaux, claimed that in helping 3HOs rapid
expansion during its earliest years, he was helping to fulfill the Hookum (Holy
Order) given to him by Yogi Bhajan from Maharaj Ji, to train 108 teachers to open
108 Ashrams(Khalsa 1970c, 11). The birthday of Maharaj Virsa Singh was celebrated
by Yogi Bhajans students in February of 1970 as a holiday with a week of around-the-
clock chanting of Naam in 2½-h shifts leading up to the day itself (Khalsa 1970a, 2).
While chanting the Naam of Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru was essential for the
students of Yogi Bhajans Kundalini Yoga, the physical elements of the practice did not
come from Maharaj Virsa Singh, but rather came from a Hindu yogi named Swami Dhir-
endra Brahmachari, 5 years older to Yogi Bhajan. When he was just an adolescent, Dhir-
endra met his guru, Maharishi Kartikeya, in Bihar and began to study yoga and related
subjects under him (Brahmachari 1973, xiii). By the time he was in his forties, Swami
Dhirendra Brahmachari was a teacher in his own right and based out of his Vishwayatan
Yogashram in New Delhi. In addition to growing acclaim, he counted Jawaharlal Nehru
and his daughter Indira Gandhi among his students. It was at this center in the early
1960s where Yogi Bhajan began to study with Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari. The
former director of the ashram, Mrs Vanmala Vachani, described Yogi Bhajan as a fre-
quent visitor to Dhirendras classes, but not a very close student or acolyte.
11
While Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari was viewed as a teacher of hatha yoga, the
essence of his teaching was Sūks ̣
ma Vyāyāma, described as a subtle practice aiming at
cleansing the nervous, nadi, and glandular systems in order to achieve higher aware-
ness in the body.
12
It is within the Sūks ̣
ma Vyāyāma and Swami Dhirendras unique
teachings that the defining physical characteristics of Yogi Bhajans Kundalini Yoga
can be found.
13
The most significant of the numerous similarities between the two
include the use of the rapid diaphragmatic breath through the nose known as Bhastrikā
Prāṇ
āyāma (renamed as Breath of Fireby Yogi Bhajan) while holding postures, the frequent
use of the posture Uttānapādāsana in which the buttocks rest on the floor and the head and
feet are raised off the ground (renamed by Yogi Bhajan as Stretch Pose), the holding of
postures for extended periods of time which Dhirendra would teach to enter a state of
trance and meditation, and the retention of the breath and the application of internal
bodily locks known as bandhas at the conclusion of an exercise or pose (figure 2).
14
DhirendrasSūks ̣
ma Vyāyāma was also the source for several of the unusual and
numerous rhythmic, callisthenic back-and-forthexercises that Yogi Bhajan taught as
Kundalini Yoga including turning the head left and right, rotating the head and neck
in circles, extending the arms straight out in front of the body in punching, jerky
motions, rotating the arms in circles forward and backwards, standing and stretching
the arms up and back while stretching the body backwards and inhaling (renamed by
Yogi Bhajan as Miracle Bend), alternately kicking the buttocks with the heels of the
feet to stimulate the kundalini energy, and squats with the arms extended straight out
in front of the body (renamed by Yogi Bhajan as Crow Squats).
15
FROM MAHARAJ TO MAHAN TANTRIC 373
The influence of Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari was not only absorbed through Yogi
Bhajans time at the Vishwayatan Ashram, but also taken literally by the book. The two
English-language titles of Swami Dhirendras teachings were included in the bibliography
of a 2003 book of photographs and poetry dedicated to Yogi Bhajans hatha yoga practice
and claimed expertise in the late 1960s (Khalsa 2003, 204). In 1975, the 3HO magazine
K.R.I. Journal of Science & Consciousness published its special Summer Solstice issue, which
would later be reprinted as an instructional manual titled Kundalini Yoga for Intermediate
Practitioners. Both printings included a section written by Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, a
student of Yogi Bhajan and director of the Kundalini Research Institute, titled The
Navel Pointthat was a crude and unaccredited reworking of the chapter Nabhi
Cakrafrom Dhirendras earlier work Yogic Sūks ̣
ma Vyāyāma. The 3HO publications
included a four-part Navel Adjustment Kriyathat was presumably offered as a Kunda-
lini Yoga exercise, but was taken directly and in the same sequence as Dhirendras four-
step Self-Treatment of the Navelexercises.
16
The construction of Kundalini Yoga
When placed alongside the teachings of Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari and Maharaj
Virsa Singh, it becomes strikingly apparent that at least in its earliest years, Yogi
Bhajans Kundalini Yoga was not a distinct practice, but essentially a combination of
yogic mechanics learned from the former and the Sikh-derived mantras and chanting
from the latter. Sometimes, these two practices would be juxtaposed, and Kundalini
Yoga students would chant Naam immediately following a yoga set. They were also fre-
quently intertwined, and rhythmic yogic exercises were coordinated with mantras such
as Sat Namand Wahe Guru, and the chanting of Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wha
Guruwas done with deep breathing and the application of internal body locks
known as bandhas. Yogi Bhajan himself acknowledged this coalescence in an early
lecture, saying
There are two ways to find the Divine. One way is that you open the solar plexus
and charge your solar centers. You get direct with the Divine. The other method is
Figure 2 Yogi Bhajans teacher Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari demonstrating the posture Utta
̄npa
̄da
̄sana in the
mid-1960s (Image from Plate 59 of the 1970 edition of Yogāsana Vijña
̄na: The Science of Yoga).
374 SIKH FORMATIONS
that you concentrate and meditate and get this sound (Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wha
Guru) in you, and it directly charges your solar centers and in this method you get
the Divine light to you.
Yogi Bhajan (1972, 7)
While this mélange was presented as a seamless form to students of his Kundalini Yoga,
Yogi Bhajan was radically combining two disparate practices and making significant
modifications to each. Maharaj Virsa Singh did not believe in yoga as a spiritual path,
and his followers at Gobind Sadan did not practice any form of physical yoga. Yogi
Bhajans references to Maharaj Virsa Singh as the inspiration under which he learned
Nam Yoga, Laya Yoga, and Mantra Yogawere rhetorical, trying to include Maharaj
Virsa Singh within his system by way of a very broad definition of the word yoga
which itself was never used at Gobind Sadan (Khalsa 1970b, 2).
17
Similarly, Swami Dhir-
endra Brahmacharis teaching of yoga and Sūks ̣
ma Vyāyāma was done firmly within the
context of the Yamas and Niyamas, or the codes of conduct found within the Hatha
Yoga Pradipika, particularly complete sexual continence and a strict interpretation of
Mitahara or diet that would have forbid the trinity rootsor garlic, onions, and
ginger that Yogi Bhajan promoted to his students. In the process of combining the teach-
ings of Maharaj Virsa Singh and Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari, Yogi Bhajan also made
his Kundalini Yoga more palatable and appealing to his young audience in the USA.
While Kundalini Yoga comingled elements from both Maharaj Virsa Singh and
Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari, each these two figures was represented in distinctive
ways that point toward a conscious and deliberate construction by Yogi Bhajan of
himself as a leader and Kundalini Yoga as a distinct practice. For Yogi Bhajans initial stu-
dents, Maharaj Virsa Singh was openly acknowledged as the teacher of Yogi Bhajan and a
powerful, mythologized touchstone for their practice. Many early students, unaware of
one another, echo the claim that the early years of 3HO were all about Virsa Singh.
18
In stark contrast, the same students knew little about Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari,
hearing about him as an associate of Yogi Bhajan or the head of a yoga center that
Yogi Bhajan taught at, if at all. To an outside audience, it was just the opposite. Yogi
Bhajans connection to Maharaj Virsa Singh was never mentioned to the press or
public, while he constantly used the professional credential of being of Swami Dhiren-
drasHouse of Yoga of Vishwayatan Ashramand pointed out its two most famous
pupils, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
The reasons for claiming Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari publically and Maharaj
Virsa Singh privately make sense in the context of the time. The respectable and pro-
fessional credential of the former would make Yogi Bhajan look more serious and note-
worthy for newspaper readers and the general public. For his young students, most of
whom were primed on the lore of Carlos Castaneda, Paramahansa YoganandasAutobio-
graphy of a Yogi, and tales of Zen masters, a teacher who was a student of a great teacher
had a stronger claim to spiritual knowledge and power than an orphanedor self-
realizedteacher without a pedigree that pointed to an established lineage or antiquity.
Yogi Bhajan would paradoxically be more significant as the student of a great master than
as the head of his own singular and contemporarily constructed practice.
But lineage was a double-edged sword. Most spiritual teachers who came to the
USA from the East in the late 1960s had received their position after the passing of
their own teacher and, mundanely speaking, risked none of what they built in the
FROM MAHARAJ TO MAHAN TANTRIC 375
West by praising their forbearers. As attested to by the students of Baba Ram Das who
went to India to find his teacher Neem Karoli Baba or the readers of Carlos Castanedas
works who ventured into the Mexican desert to find his alleged and elusive Yaqui guide
Don Juan, a living teacher of a teacher who was even remotely accessible could prove to
be a legitimate rival. Yogi Bhajan was in the awkward position of having not one, but two
of his teachers alive, well, and available to his own students. Additionally, there were
serious disconnects between what he taught his students and what his claimed teachers
taught. This tension would grow within the rapid expansion of Yogi Bhajans first 2 years
as a teacher in the West and would foster a radical shift in how he portrayed himself and
his students understood him in the wake of a catastrophic and dynamic 3-month trip that
Yogi Bhajan took with his students to India in late 1970 and early 1971.
The raising of Kundalini Yoga and the India trip of 19701971
The late 1960s were an incredible boom time for Eastern spiritual teachers in the West.
For someone like Yogi Bhajan, charismatic, physically imposing, and offering the secrets
of the mythical and dangerous kundalini energy, Los Angeles in 1969 was the right place
at the right time. While Yogi Bhajans initial plans in America were to sell items to
Hippies as part of an import/export business (fitting for a customs officer), he
quickly made yoga his business.
19
There seemed to be no limits to his growth among
Hippies as a teacher in his own right, and with an almost franchise-like pattern, Yogi
Bhajan offered an accelerated teacher training program lasting only a few weeks and
then quickly dispatched his newly minted teachers across the country to open satellite
3HO ashrams. Soon, there were Kundalini Yoga teachers in a rapidly expanding list of
college towns and major cities.
In this atmosphere of seemingly limitless possibilities for a yoga teacher, Yogi
Bhajans view of himself and role as a teacher began to quickly shift. As the year
1970 unfolded, Yogi Bhajan began to modify his previous claims and distanced
himself from Maharaj Virsa Singh in three main ways: the reverence of Maharaj Virsa
Singh was diluted as he became the most important teacher within an ever-expanding
list of teachers whom Yogi Bhajan claimed; the figure of Guru Ram Das, the fourth
Sikh Guru, was introduced as Yogi Bhajanspersonal Guru, and Yogi Bhajan himself
was increasingly placed in the role once reserved for Maharaj Virsa Singh, often in
the same terms.
In July of 1970, Beads of Truth published a one-page article titled Who Is Yogi
Bhajan?, which reads as part biography and part resume, with a lengthy list of the tea-
chers from whom Yogi Bhajan learned. This article, nearly a year and a half after Yogi
Bhajan began to teach Kundalini Yoga in the USA, appears to be the first mention in print
of the figure of Sant Hazara Singh, who in two brief lines is mentioned as the teacher of
Kundalini Yoga and other various yogas. The list continued with Yogi Bhajans grand-
father Bhai Fatha Singh, Sant Ranjit Singh, who taught universal spiritualityand com-
parative religions, Swami Devmurti under whom Yogi Bhajan obtained mastery of
Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga, Acharya Narinder Dev of Yoga Smitri in New Delhi who
taught Yogi Bhajan hatha yoga and the impact and balance of the nervous system,
the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh where Yogi Bhajan was able to drink deep and
fill his mind and heart with the Sanatana Dharma, and Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari
376 SIKH FORMATIONS
who taught Yoga Therapyand at whose ashram Yogi Bhajan claimed to be Senior
Professor of Yoga.
20
The early account that Yogi Bhajan offered of washing the bathrooms for Maharaj
Virsa Singh was changed to him finishing his duties at the airportand going directly
to the famous Golden Temple at Amritsar where his wife would bring food and with the
children, join him for dinner, before he started his daily routine of scrubbing the floor of
the temple(Khalsa 1970b).
21
While Maharaj Virsa Singh was still revered as Master,
he was viewed more as a capstone to Yogi Bhajans lifetime of spiritual searching, which
was curiously a process of searching that now had mastery of Kundalini Yoga at its
mid-point.
In the spring of 1970, photographs began to be sold of Yogi Bhajan, clad in all white,
seated in full-lotus with his palms together at his chest, staring deeply into the camera
lens (3HO 1970).
22
Around the same time, an enthusiastic Kundalini Yoga student
encouraged readers of Beads of Truth to meditate on your Gurus picture, see
through his eyes, and another student who taught Kundalini Yoga in Memphis remem-
bers being told to bow before the picture of Yogi Bhajan and seek guidance from him
before teaching each class (Anonymous 1970a).
23
By the summer of 1970, Yogi
Bhajan was regularly flanked in print by the titles spiritual guiding force of 3HO
and Master of Kundalini Yoga. The sandals of Maharaj Virsa Singh no longer had
their place on Yogi Bhajans bed; in both a literal and a symbolic sense, that space
was now his.
24
In the last few days of 1970, Yogi Bhajan took a group of approximately 80 students
for a 3-month spiritual pilgrimage to India. Yogi Bhajan told a reporter shortly before
the trip that the group was on a fact-finding mission to India to research how to best get
the youth of America off drugs via yoga (Claiborne 1970). For those within 3HO, the
point of the trip was to visit and stay at Gobind Sadan, home of Yogi Bhajans beloved
master, Maharaj Virsa Singh Ji(Khalsa 1970c, 11). Yogi Bhajan told Jim Baker, one of
his senior students in Los Angeles, to come on the trip for the purpose of getting the
blessing of his teacher (Aquarian 2007, 46).
The trip would end up radically shifting its focus, and on the groups return 3
months later, Maharaj Virsa Singh would be persona non grata, the figures of Sant
Hazara Singh and Guru Ram Das would become central, and Yogi Bhajan would auda-
ciously claim titles of Sikh administrative authority over half of the globe and Tantric
mastership. In light of his growing following and shifting view of his role as a leader,
even if Yogi Bhajan did in fact leave India in the fall of 1968 as a devout student of
Maharaj Virsa Singh, then it is doubtful that he returned to India 2 years later as
one, given the shift in the portrayal of himself and Maharaj Virsa Singh.
25
It is also doubt-
ful that he would not have foreseen a conflict with the major differences in what he was
teaching his students and what Maharaj Virsa Singh was teaching at Gobind Sadan. If Yogi
Bhajan was not intentionally looking for a break from his master, then it was a develop-
ment that he would have welcomed.
Almost immediately upon arrival, the jetlagged group was welcomed by Indira
Gandhi at the gardens of the prime ministers palace, where one of Yogi Bhajans stu-
dents, Andrew Ungerleider, demonstrated hatha yoga postures for her and Swami Dhir-
endra Brahmachari. Indira Gandhi, moved by the interest that the young Americans had
in India, spoke to the group, and then they all held hands and chanted Om
together.
26,27
The group then went outside the city to Gobind Sadan, but in less than
FROM MAHARAJ TO MAHAN TANTRIC 377
a week, Yogi Bhajan dramatically broke from Maharaj Virsa Singh and the group quickly
left Gobind Sadan and relocated to a mango farm. One American student remembers
the group being suddenly told that Virsa Singh was not Yogi Bhajans teacher and that
the departure was political, with Maharaj Virsa Singh wanting Yogi Bhajan to support
someone politically, although it is hard to imagine Yogi Bhajan, a mid-level customs
officer over 2 years removed from India, having any amount of political influence
worth fighting over in the elections that were taking place at the time.
28
Yogi Bhajan would later claim that he left because Maharaj Virsa Singh wanted to be
recognized as Yogi Bhajans teacher, which seems strange since Yogi Bhajan claimed as
much time and time again. Yogi Bhajan insisted in later retellings that the fourth Sikh
Guru, Guru Ram Das, was his true teacher. According to Yogi Bhajan, Maharaj Virsa
Singh asked if in keeping with having a guru, if Guru Ram Das gave Yogi Bhajan a
mantra, and the next morning during his personal meditation, Guru Ram Das tangibly
appeared in front of Yogi Bhajan and gave him the mantra Guru Guru Wahe Guru Guru
Ram Das Guru.
29
The story was frequently repeated by Yogi Bhajan over the years and
seemed to serve several ongoing purposes simultaneously: solidify the claim of Guru
Ram Das as Yogi Bhajans personal Guru, position Guru Ram Das as the patron saint
of 3HO, further link Yogi Bhajan and Kundalini Yoga to the Sikh tradition, and put dis-
tance between Yogi Bhajan and his previously claimed devotion to Maharaj Virsa Singh
(Yogi Bhajan 1987, 1990b, 1995).
Those who were closest to Yogi Bhajan and Maharaj Virsa Singh recount much more
material and directly embarrassing reasons for the former breaking from the latter. Early
devotees of Maharaj Virsa Singh recall him telling the group of students in front of Yogi
Bhajan that he never taught anyone yoga and that yoga had nothing to do with Sikhism.
Rather, for Maharaj Virsa Singh, Gobind Sadan and its inspiration from Guru Nanak and
Guru Gobind Singh were the model for the spiritual path: hard work, remembrance of
God, taking money from no one, and sharing with others in need. Yogi Bhajans sec-
retary during the trip, Premka Kaur, said he had to be in a lineagehe couldnt
let someone else have it anyway because he would lose that control.
30
Another
person present recalled Yogi Bhajan wanting a type of territorial agreement in which
Yogi Bhajan would keephis students and Gobind Sadan would become a type of
3HO East.
31
Yogi Bhajans proposal was laughed at by Maharaj Virsa Singh, and
with self-induced pressure, Yogi Bhajan left soon after in a huff.
32
Keeping the mango farm as a base, the trip dramatically shifted, and despite no pre-
viously mentioned intention of Sikhism being a focus on the trip, day after day the group
went to one Gurudwara after another. Students were dressed in white Punjabi clothes,
performed basic kirtan, and were told to not mention yoga. One participant remembers
being told, If Indian Sikhs ask you anything about what youre doing, just say Naam
Japo”’.
33
The idea of American Gora Sikhswas unimaginable in the Punjab, and
Yogi Bhajans students drew large crowds where they went. The buzz around the
group grew, and in early March, the group was hosted at the Golden Temple in Amritsar
where Yogi Bhajan presented himself as a Sikh missionary and was feted. Some members
of the group were married and others took Amrit, although it is doubtful that they knew
the details or larger implications of what they were doing. One recalls that they were
told what to do and how to carry themselves. Basically none of us knew what we
were even doingwe were just silent pawns in however we wanted to be portrayed
just following the instructions of (Yogi Bhajan).
34
In a bizarre crescendo, the India trip
378 SIKH FORMATIONS
ended with Yogi Bhajan being arrested on charges of defrauding a man named Amarjit
Singh for 10,000 rupees, quickly being bailed out, and then fleeing the country with his
students after being nearly stopped at the airport (Anonymous 1971; Sharma
1971).
35,36,37
Sant Hazara Singh and the title of Mahan Tantric
In the spring of 1971, shortly after returning from the India trip, Yogi Bhajan announced
to his students after his morning meditation that he had been passed the mantle of
Mahan Tantric. According to Yogi Bhajan, there was only a single Mahan Tantric on
the earth at any time, and his earlier pride meant that the title was previously passed
to another student of Sant Hazara Singh, the Tibetan Lama Lilan Po, before coming
to him (Khalsa 1995, 15). As understood in 3HO, it is only under the watch of the
singular Mahan Tantric that White Tantric Yoga can be done, a non-sexual form of
yoga in which his students would sit in rows facing each other in male/female pairs,
staring into one anothers eyes and, under the supervision of the Mahan Tantric,
perform exercises lasting up to an hour or more.
38
Both the timing and the title
were curious, since at the very least Tantric courses were taught in both Los Angeles
and Arizona in the Fall of 1970, well before the title of Mahan Tantric was supposedly
bestowed, and early teachers of Kundalini Yoga also taught classes of the same type of
yoga before they were told that it took too much energy out of Yogi Bhajan(Schneider
2003, 71).
39
The discrepancies make sense in light of the historical housecleaning that was
quickly done in early 1971 in the wake of Yogi Bhajans break from Virsa Singh.
Maharaj Virsa Singh was struck from the record within 3HO, as were the minor
living teachers who were listed in the July 1970 Who Is Yogi Bhajan?article in
Beads of Truth. If Maharaj Virsa Singh was referred to, it was never by name and
always as a type of boogey-man who in numerous recountings challenged Yogi
Bhajan, tried to keep Yogi Bhajans students from becoming Sikhs, and was covertly
responsible for any dissonance between Western and Punjabi Sikhs (Khalsa 2010).
From the first India trip onwards, all of the influences that Yogi Bhajan claimed and
placed with the lineage of Kundalini and White Tantric Yoga became inaccessible:
from Sant Hazara Singh to the Tibetan Lama Lilan Po to the Sikh Gurus themselves.
As the former executive secretary of 3HO has described it, All of Yogi Bhajans
claims about lineage or teachers were not able to be substantiated since all teachers
that he referred to were (conveniently) expired.
40
Guru Ram Das and the figure of Sant Hazara Singh took center stage, and any def-
erence or mythologizing given to Maharaj Virsa Singh was now cast onto them or onto
Yogi Bhajan himself.
The original story of Yogi Bhajan cleaning toilets for Maharaj Virsa Singh, which was
turned into washing the floors at the Golden Temple after work, was again recast into
part of Yogi Bhajans claimed narrative of studying under Sant Hazara Singh (Yogi Bhajan
1996a, 1999). The description of the Mahan Tantric, a unique title held by only one
person on earth at a time, echoed Yogi Bhajans previous description of Maharaj Virsa
Singh as the master of the time. Yogi Bhajans dress of flowing all-white clothing
and the even way he sat bore a striking resemblance to how Maharaj Virsa Singh
FROM MAHARAJ TO MAHAN TANTRIC 379
carried himself.
41
The Naam that Yogi Bhajan said he received from his former master
was now referred to in 3HO publications as our Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru
(Khalsa 1971a). In October of 1971, 3HO began the practice of celebrating the birthday
of Guru Ram Das, and soon that annual celebration would revolve around chanting the
shabad Dhan Dhan Ram Das Guru for 2½ h just as Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru was
chanted to honor Maharaj Virsa Singh on his birthday (Khalsa 1971b).
While the figure of Sant Hazara Singh became central, when all of Yogi Bhajans
claims about him are brought together, it seems highly improbable that if such a
figure existed that he would not have been documented elsewhere.
42
In addition to
being a master of Sikh martial arts, Kundalini Yoga, and White Tantric Yoga and
someone who had memorized the entire Siri Guru Granth Sahib, Yogi Bhajan claimed
that his Sant Hazara Singh organized an armed defense of the city of Anandpur
during Partition, remained ageless, and had over 250 students including the Tibetan
Lama Lilan Po who would have been remarkably studying under a Sikh teacher in the
Punjab at a time when Tibet was closed off (Khalsa 1979, 29; Yogi Bhajan 1983,
1996b). The man Yogi Bhajan appointed as his biographer, Guru Fatha Singh Khalsa,
has by his own admission never found outside information on the figure of Sant
Hazara Singh.
43
Beyond the late introduction of Sant Hazara Singh and the convenient timing of his
elevated importance, perhaps the strongest evidence against his existence comes from
Yogi Bhajan himself. The accepted narrative within 3HO, taken from Yogi Bhajan
directly, is that he trained under Sant Hazara Singh from the age of 7 until sixteen
and a half, when he was declared a Master by his teacher (Yogi Bhajan 1990a).
44
However, on numerous occasions during his first few years in the West, Yogi Bhajan
himself dated the beginning of his yogic study to a time after he would later claim to
have finished his studies under Sant Hazara Singh. Yogi Bhajan initially told reporters
that he had been studying yoga since he was eighteen, and in interviews in both
1968 and 1969, he claimed to have studied for 22 years, and in 1970, this number
was adjusted to 23, which at 1946 and 1947 would have made him either 17 or 18
years old when he began to study yoga (Hampton 1968; Altschul 1969; Gray 1970;
Anonymous 1970b). An early article by the mother of 3HOShakti Parwha Kaur
also describes Yogi Bhajans meeting with Virsa Singh as the apex of the formers22
years search for Truth, once again placing the beginning of Yogi Bhajans spiritual
quest at a post-Partition time following his claimed completion of studies under Sant
Hazara Singh (Khalsa 1970b, 2).
With decades to solidify, this shift has become the accepted standard within 3HO
today, where nearly all practitioners know of the claimed connections that the practice
has with Sant Hazara Singh and Guru Ram Das, but hardly anyone is aware of Maharaj
Virsa Singh or Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari.
Conclusion
When viewed openly, the early history of 3HO is remarkable in the extent to which it
was so thoroughly revised and replaced as the organization aged, with a figure so initially
revered as Maharaj Virsa Singh eliminated and a theoretically essential figure such as Sant
Hazara Singh introduced only after a year and a half of going unnoted. One explanation
380 SIKH FORMATIONS
of the successful revision of Kundalini Yogas history is simply timing. Since these
changes occurred in the first 2 years, there was less of a past to revise, and the
passing of time helped to further solidify the new narrative as many of the earliest
people in 3HO cycled out of the group. In later years, many students who joined
after the first 2 years were recognized as old-timerswith decades of experience,
and their understanding was given merit even though they were ignorant of 3HOs ear-
liest and most formative years that often contradicted its later understanding of itself.
The most significant aspect of the hidden history of Yogi Bhajans Kundalini Yoga is
the central epistemological problem at the foundation of 3HOs understanding of Kun-
dalini Yoga and its own lineage. Like a small restaurant that places mirrors on opposing
walls to create the appearance of depth, it is from the singular person of Yogi Bhajan that
all information about the lineage and practice of his Kundalini Yoga originates. From the
lectures of Yogi Bhajan and notes taken in his classes came the instruction manuals,
books, and 3HO periodicals such as Beads of Truth and the later Aquarian Times that elu-
cidated the practice of Kundalini Yoga. In time, despite contradictions within Yogi
Bhajans statements and a lack of supporting evidence from secondary sources,
outside writers and scholars relied on 3HOs own materials to describe the composition
and lineage of Kundalini Yoga to wider audiences, creating a long and citable bibli-
ography that seems to verify the claims made about the practice.
Yogi Bhajan was free to revise the understanding that his students had of Kundalini
Yoga, its origins, and his own personal lineage, since like many other charismatic leaders
within New Religious Movements, his word was accepted prima facie by his followers
without any need for outside confirmation. While Yogi Bhajan himself can be seen as
the primary editor of the understanding of his Kundalini Yoga and its claimed lineage,
this filtering was reinforced by figures close to him who wrote and edited 3HOs period-
icals and literature. By eliminating certain events and quotes and emphasizing others,
they often revised history and gave a more consistent form to the narratives within
3HO. Shakti Parwha Kaur would say in late 1972, despite everything she wrote in
Beads of Truth about Maharaj Virsa Singh in 1970, that when she first met Yogi Bhajan
he had placed his total faith, his total dependenceon Guru Ram Das (Khalsa
1972). With more rank-and-file members, this process of resolving conflicting and dis-
parate information could be more subtle, even to the point of being unconscious. An
unwitting description of this approach can been seen in Ravi Har Singh, who in describ-
ing the process of writing a book based on Yogi Bhajansnon-linear and multidimen-
sionallectures recently admitted,
I found that he (Yogi Bhajan) rarely develops a concept completely in one place, at
one sitting. Instead he often delivers fragments of concepts across a wide number of
lectures. It is up to the researcher to apply a good dose of intuition to bring these
fragments together into a coherent whole.
Khalsa (2011)
Adding another dimension to Yogi Bhajans role as the filter of knowledge in the earliest
years of 3HO were the barriers of language, culture, and personal experience. On the
first trip to India, none of Yogi Bhajans students spoke Punjabi or were familiar with
Sikh customs, let alone with Indian culture at large. While some of Yogi Bhajans stu-
dents would describe firsthand his break with Maharaj Virsa Singh or the events at the
FROM MAHARAJ TO MAHAN TANTRIC 381
Golden Temple in 1971, it is doubtful that they themselves understood what was occur-
ring at the time independent of what they were told via Yogi Bhajan. Even a student who
was nearby when Guru Ram Das supposedly appeared to Yogi Bhajan on the 19701971
trip and reverentially verified his story did not see the fourth Sikh Guru with her own
eyes and could only find proof through her own interpretation of what she saw in Yogi
Bhajan and what he related (Khalsa 1978).
A close inspection of the events between 1968 and 1971 suggests that Yogi Bhajan
was acutely aware of the ways he was presenting his yoga and often reimagined it to suit
his audience: at times for long-term goals and at other times to suit immediate needs.
The figures of Sant Hazara Singh and, to a lesser extent, Lama Lilan Po were used to
cover for the actual personages and influences of Maharaj Virsa Singh and Swami Dhir-
endra Brahmachari, giving a provenance to Kundalini Yoga that also secured Yogi
Bhajans possession of it. Without the lineage that he claimed and without creating Kun-
dalini Yoga out of whole cloth, Yogi Bhajan is best thought of as neither a lineage holder
nor an inventor, but as a bricoleur who brought together elements of different practices
and presented them to his students as a distinct entity with a romantic mythology sur-
rounding it. Perhaps this says as much about Yogi Bhajan as it does about the expec-
tations and hopes of those who believed him.
While this article suggests a radical shift in the accepted understanding of what Kun-
dalini Yoga is and who Yogi Bhajan was, in one sense it also suggests a lateral shift. When
the popular mythology of Kundalini Yoga is inspected and dismantled, an ancient lineage
of Kundalini Yoga and the figure of Sant Hazara Singh are lost, but we are still left with
esoteric yogic practices and a powerful teacher in the Sūkṣ
ma Vyā
yāma of Swami Dhir-
endra Brahmachari and the figure of Maharaj Virsa Singh. This provides both a truer
sense of Kundalini Yoga and a more realistic explanation of why it works as it does
for its practitioners.
Some critics and ex-members of 3HO try to dismiss the practice of Kundalini Yoga
entirely, often basing their view on contradictory evidence within Yogi Bhajans claims or
by contrasting the practice with accepted Sikh orthopraxy. But with vast numbers of tea-
chers and students of Kundalini Yoga over the decades, it is unrealistic to think that all of
them were deluded, found no benefits through its practice, or did not have profound
experiences through it. Kundalini Yoga was often described by Yogi Bhajan and 3HO
as The Yoga of Experience. When viewed critically and historically, perhaps the indi-
vidual experience of its practitioners, and not the figure of Yogi Bhajan or the mythology
of the Golden Chain, is the most honest and fruitful vantage from which to view it.
Notes
1 Followers of Yogi Bhajan commonly refer to him by the title Siri Singh Sahibas a
matter of deference to a title that he claims he received in early 1971 at the
Golden Temple that made him the Sikh authority of the Western Hemisphere.
Critics of Yogi Bhajan often refer to him by his birth name, Harbhajan Singh Puri,
as a way of consciously stripping him of the titles that they consider fraudulent. He
is referred to as Yogi Bhajanin this article to primarily reflect the way he was
most popularly known and to also stand distinct from both views. The figure of
Virsa Singh was referred to as Maharaj in his earlier years and Baba Virsa Singh in
382 SIKH FORMATIONS
his later years. While both Maharajand Babaare respectful titles, in this article, he
will be referred to as Maharaj Virsa Singh, in keeping with references made to him
both within 3HO and at Gobind Sadan during the time period focused upon. The
phrase Kundalini Yogawill be capitalized to denote the specific practice that Yogi
Bhajan taught and to keep references distinct from other practices that were referred
to as kundalini yoga. Finally, the term 3HOwill be used as an umbrella term to
encompass the various organizations created by Yogi Bhajan and his followers, since
this was the first organization and it, along with the variation 3HO Family, has
been used in a similar way within internal literature.
2 While Kundalini Yoga has simply been described as ancientby 3HO for the last
several decades, through the 1970s an approximate date of its birth was given by
3HO as 26,000 BC. See Yoga: The Origins and Development of Yoga and the
Science of Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajanby Rama Kirn Singh and Guru-
charan Singh Khalsa in Kundalini Quarterly, Summer 1976, 28, and a mention of
Yogi Bhajan in the 28 November 1970, issue of Arizona Republic.
3 Some of the many instances in which Yogi Bhajan asserted that the historical Sikh
Gurus practiced the same Kundalini Yoga that he taught include classes on 10 June
1971, and 12 January 1976, and undated Kundalini Yoga exercises such as Indra
Nittra Meditationand Ong In Virasan (For Negativity). In the summer of 1976,
an article was written in Kundalini Quarterly by Gurucharan Singh Khalsa and Rama
Kirn Singh that claimed that not only did the Sikh Gurus practice Kundalini Yoga,
but also the very yogic practice predated them and gave rise to a group of prac-
titioners known as Sikhs.
4 Interview with Bhai Himat Singh, telephone, 16 June 2011. Bhai Himat Singh was a
practitioner of Kundalini Yoga and a direct student of Yogi Bhajans for approximately
two decades, beginning in 1983. After Yogi Bhajans death, Bhai Himat went to
Gobind Sadan where he spent time with Maharaj Virsa Singh and was given Naam
by him.
5 Interview with Ron Brent, telephone, 6 January 2011. Brent was an early student of
Yogi Bhajans in Los Angeles. In late 1970, he left to become a student of Swami Muk-
tananda and traveled to India to spend time with him. By coincidence, he was staying at
Gobind Sadan when Yogi Bhajan and his students arrived in late 1970. He not only saw
the group at Gobind Sadan, but during that time was one of the five people in a small
meeting between Yogi Bhajan and Maharaj Virsa Singh and, at Maharaj Virsa Singhs
insistence, had the Punjabi conversation translated into English for his comprehension.
6 Interview with Antion Vic Briggs, telephone, 5 July 2011. Also known as Vikram
Singh Khalsa, Briggs was in 3HO for approximately two decades starting in
January of 1970 and was a Mukhia Singh Sahib (or senior minister) within the group.
7 Interview with Antion Vic Briggs, telephone, 5 July 2011.
8 Interview with Warren Stagg, telephone, 8 June 2011. In the mid-1960s, Stagg owned
and operated H.E.L.P. on Third and Fairfax, one of the first health food restaurants in
the city, which quickly became a meeting place for New Age people, teachers arriving
from the East, and everyone on a health trip. Stagg described himself during this
time as the guru greeter of Los Angeles.
9 Available for viewing on the online Communal Livingexhibit on the website of the
Smithsonian: http://americanhistory.si.edu/lisalaw/6.htm#h05.
10 Interview with Andrew Ungerleider, telephone, 23 June 2011. Ungerleider began
practicing Kundalini Yoga in the fall of 1969 in Arizona and then later in the spring
FROM MAHARAJ TO MAHAN TANTRIC 383
of 1970 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was present on the 19701971 trip to India and
left 3HO in the mid-1970s after 3HO made its turn toward strict discipline and the
reorientation toward Sikhism.
11 Correspondence with Reinhard Gammenthaler, 21 September 2011. Gammenthaler
was a close and the final student of Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari. His tutelage is
described at length in an interview with Schweizer Yoga-Journal from 2003 that is avail-
able at http://asianyogaholidays.com/interview-gammenthaler-DB_en.html.
12 Correspondence with Reinhard Gammenthaler, 21 September 2011.
13 Descriptions of Swami Dhirendra Brahmacharis yogic teachings are based on his two
books that were translated into English, Sūks ̣
ma Vyāyāma (1973 edition) and Yogāsana
Vijñāna (1970 edition), and correspondence with his student Reinhard Gammenthaler.
14 Correspondence with Reinhard Gammenthaler, 23 and 21 September 2011.
15 Parallels to these rhythmic exercises can be found in Swami Dhirendra Brahmacharis
Sūks ̣
ma Vyāyāma (1973 edition) as exercises #9, 10, 13, 16, 22, 41, and 43.
16 Compare images #510 in Kundalini Meditation Manual For Intermediate Students with
images #105108 in Sūks ̣
ma Vyāyāma (1973 edition).
17 If the practice of Naam was common among students of both Yogi Bhajan and Maharaj
Virsa Singh, the mechanical and technical practice by the former clearly set it apart
from the devotional and emotional practice by the latter.
18 Interview with Antion Vic Briggs, telephone, 5 July 2011. Interview with Ron Brent,
telephone, 6 January 2011.
19 Interview with Warren Stagg, telephone, 8 June 2011.
20 There is also evidence from a student who spoke at length with Yogi Bhajan for the
very logical possibility that Yogi Bhajans knowledge of yoga, meditation, and
related subjects was not entirely based on these teachers but also heavily supplemented
by books and other minor figures. See Harrysingh1 (pseud.), comment on The Sikh
Connection, The Wacko World of Yogi Bhajan, comment posted on 8 February 2005,
http://forums.delphiforums.com/KamallaRose/messages?msg=579.39.
21 Considering the 300 miles that separates the airport in New Delhi from the Golden
Temple in Amritsar, the possibility of such a commute is extremely unlikely.
22 This photograph was also sold in a cropped version with only Yogi Bhajans face in
what seems to be a prototype of the Tratakamportrait of him.
23 Interview with Jim Migdoll, telephone, 7 September 2011. Migdoll was involved in
3HO from early to late 1970 and was sent to Memphis, Tennessee, during that time to
teach the flagship Kundalini Yoga classes there.
24 An account of Yogi Bhajans sleeping habits was given by early students of his in Florida
in their account of an early 1970 visit. See Early History of the 3HO Foundation
According to Hari Singh and Hari Kaur Bird Khalsa, last modified 19 July 2012,
http://www.harisingh.com/3HOHistory.htm.
25 In the commemorative book The Man Called The Siri Singh Sahib, the Punjabi-born and
London-based journalist Gurucharan Singh Khalsa described meeting with Yogi Bhajan
at Swami Dhirendra Brahmacharis Vishwayatan Ashram in early 1968, well before
supposedly being told to go to the West by Maharaj Virsa Singh, in which he heard
from him that inspired by some mysterious call from withinhe was planning to
leave his job and go to foreign countries as a yoga teacher.
26 Interview with Andrew Ungerleider, telephone, 23 June 2011.
27 A photo of Yogi Bhajan, Indira Gandhi, and Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari at this
gathering was reprinted in the December 1972 issue of Beads Of Truth, page 28.
384 SIKH FORMATIONS
28 Interview with Rahmaneh Meyers, telephone, 18 August 2011. Meyers was involved
with 3HO during its earliest years and was a participant on the 19701971 trip to
India.
29 The most striking element of Yogi Bhajans claimed encounter with Guru Ram Das is
how closely it paralleled the story that Maharaj Virsa Singh told of receiving Naam
from Baba Sri Chand and Guru Nanak, a story that Yogi Bhajan was doubtlessly
aware of and his students almost certainly were not.
30 Interview with Pamela Dyson, telephone, 23 September 2011. Also known as Premka
Kaur Khalsa, Dyson was involved in 3HO from 1969 until 1985 and was the tour sec-
retary for the 19701971 trip to India. Highly significant in the growth and history of
3HO, Dyson compiled English translations of Sikh sacred writings, wrote numerous
articles both for and on behalf of 3HO, and was the editor of Beads of Truth for a dozen
years, Secretary General of the Sikh Dharma Brotherhood, Vice President and Direc-
tor of the 3HO Foundation, and a high-ranking minister, with the title of Mukhia Sar-
darni Sahib.
31 Intriguingly, this idea is echoed in the January 1970 issue of Beads of Truth, in which
Shakti Parwha Kaur hopes to publish an account of the trip in the next issue and
refers to Gobind Sadan as 3HO India.
32 Interview with Ron Brent, telephone, 6 January 2011.
33 Interview with Rahmaneh Meyers, telephone, 18 August 2011.
34 Interview with Pamela Dyson, telephone, 23 September 2011.
35 Interview with Antion Vic Briggs, telephone, 5 July 2011.
36 Later, the blame for the arrest was implicitly laid at the feet of Maharaj Virsa Singh and
the debacle was cast as the negative work of the jealous egos of so-called holymen
in India (who) created almost insurmountable barriers to Yogi Bhajans safe return to
America. See Shakti Parwha Kaur, Guru Ram Das Jis Birthday Celebration, letter
dated 23 September 1971, printed on page 48 in the Autumn 1971 issue of Beads of
Truth.
37 An intriguing possible connection to this event, or perhaps Yogi Bhajans initial trip to
West, can be found in Khushwant Singhs 2005 collection of obituaries titled Death at
My Doorstep, in which he described Yogi Bhajan being confronted at a gathering by the
daughter of a man who 20 years earlier loaned Yogi Bhajan Rs. 10,000 to pay for his
air ticket to Canada when fleeing from India(114).
38 Yogi Bhajan originally taught these White Tantric Yoga classes in person, and later
with declining health, the courses were done through video tapes and in-person repre-
sentative Tantric Facilitators, a format that continues today, years after Yogi Bhajans
death.
39 Interview with Antion Vic Briggs, telephone, 5 July 2011. Interview with Jack Sokol,
telephone, 7 September 2011. Sokol was an early student of Kundalini Yoga and
studied under BabaDon Conreaux at Arizona State University in early 1970
before teaching and going through a 10-day teaching training in Los Angeles in the
summer of 1971.
40 Interview with Pamela Dyson, telephone, 23 September 2011.
41 Interview with Antion Vic Briggs, telephone, 5 July 2011.
42 There were notable Hazara Singhs who were outside the timeline that Yogi Bhajan gave
for his claimed teacher: a Bhai Hazara Singh who was killed in 1921 and made one of
the first two martyrs of the Gudwara Reform Movement, and a Baba Hazara Singh
Sevawale, who supervised the building of the Gudwara in Taraori, north of Karnal,
FROM MAHARAJ TO MAHAN TANTRIC 385
in 1970. If there was in fact a reality-based source for Yogi Bhajans early teacher, the
most likely suspect who comes remotely close to the timeline that Yogi Bhajan estab-
lished for him was a Sant Hazara Singh from the village Chhote Ghuman. According to
the author Dr Kulwant Singh Khokhar, who frequently met with him and mentioned
him in the acknowledgments section of his 1999 book Way of the Saffron Cloud, this Sant
Hazara Singh was an uneducated, retired farmer who lived very modestly and barely
spoke, a sharp contrast with the tales that Yogi Bhajan told of his Sant Hazara Singh.
43 Correspondence with Guru Fatha Singh Khalsa, email, 15 June 2011.
44 This contrasts with the earlier claim made in the July 1970 issue of Beads of Truth that
this mastery was obtained by Yogi Bhajan at the age of 18.
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Philip Deslippe.Address: University of California, Religious Studies Department, 4001
HSSB, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9670, USA. [email: pdeslippe@umail.ucsb.edu]
FROM MAHARAJ TO MAHAN TANTRIC 387
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Gammenthaler was a close and the final student of Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari. His tutelage is described at length in an interview with Schweizer Yoga
  • Reinhard Correspondence
  • Gammenthaler
Correspondence with Reinhard Gammenthaler, 21 September 2011. Gammenthaler was a close and the final student of Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari. His tutelage is described at length in an interview with Schweizer Yoga-Journal from 2003 that is available at http://asianyogaholidays.com/interview-gammenthaler-DB_en.html.
and Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari at this gathering was reprinted in the December 1972 issue of Beads Of Truth
  • A Photo Of Yogi Bhajan
  • Indira Gandhi
A photo of Yogi Bhajan, Indira Gandhi, and Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari at this gathering was reprinted in the December 1972 issue of Beads Of Truth, page 28.
Tense housewives, businessmen try relaxing Hindu way
  • Marty Altschul
Altschul, Marty. 1969. Tense housewives, businessmen try relaxing Hindu way. Los Angeles Times, June 22.
Guru and mantra yoga
  • Anonymous
Anonymous. 1970a. Guru and mantra yoga. Beads of Truth, vol. 1, no. 2, March, p. 1. Anonymous. 1970b. Yogi on yoga. Santa Fe New Mexican, March 20.
Yogi bailed out, flies back to US. Hindustan Times
  • Anonymous
Anonymous. 1971. Yogi bailed out, flies back to US. Hindustan Times, March 20.
The source: The untold story of Father Yod, YaHoWa13 and the source family
  • Aquarian
Aquarian, Isis [pseud.], ed. 2007. The source: The untold story of Father Yod, YaHoWa13 and the source family. Los Angeles, CA: Process Media.
Yoga ̄ sana Vijña ̄ na: The science of yoga
  • Swami Brahmachari
  • Dhirendra
Brahmachari, Swami Dhirendra. 1970. Yoga ̄ sana Vijña ̄ na: The science of yoga. New Delhi: Asia Publishing House.
Yoga: Yogic Su ̄ ks ̣ma Vya ̄ ya ̄ ma
  • Swami Brahmachari
  • Dhirendra
Brahmachari, Swami Dhirendra. 1973 [First English edition published 1965]. Yoga: Yogic Su ̄ ks ̣ma Vya ̄ ya ̄ ma. New Delhi: Indian Book Company.
Yoga students set India trip for drug study
  • William L Claiborne
Claiborne, William L. 1970. Yoga students set India trip for drug study. The Washington Post, December 23, B2.
Everyday miracles in the House of God: Stories from Gobind Sadan
  • Mary Fisher
  • Pat
Fisher, Mary Pat. 1992. Everyday miracles in the House of God: Stories from Gobind Sadan, India. New Delhi: Gobind Sadan.