September 13 1968 - Before 3HO
The Yogi Bhajan Story
Sat Nam. Harbhajan Singh Yogi, now thirty-nine years of age, waited his turn in the line-up that had just disembarked at Toronto's international airport. In the queue were tourists, professionals, government people and hopeful immigrants. Gradually, Harbhajan's place in line moved up, as people were cleared at the front by the customs inspectors.
Himself having so recently been the chief customs officer at India's busiest airport, Harbhajan Singh savoured the sweet irony of his new status. Finally, the people in front of him were cleared and it was his turn to step forward and engage the officer at his desk. The inspector's eyes took in the papers placed in front of him.
"I am a yogi." Harbhajan Singh the former customs inspector had decided to make a break with his past. A new future required a new identity and this was it.
"I am a yogi. You can say it is like a priest. I am a man of God."
"Do you plan to work here?"
"Yes. I have been offered a job at the university here as a teacher of yoga. You can see from the letter here."
"I see. What do you have with you?"
"Only this handbag. My luggage went missing in Amsterdam."
"All right, then. Welcome to Canada."
The arrivals lounge was packed with people pushing to and fro. You could hear French and English being spoken. There was a cluster of Czech refugees, just arrived, with their precious bundles and suitcases. At six two, Yogi Harbhajan Singh towered over the milling crowd, looking for a familiar face. It was not there.
Yogi Harbhajan, master of patience, went within. An hour he waited, then reached in his pocket for the number of the man from the university who was to receive him. It was Friday afternoon, and he called the office of his sponsor. The secretary who picked up the phone had been expecting his call. She did not have good news. The professor had been involved in a serious traffic accident and died just the day before.
Harbhajan thanked the secretary and offered his condolences. Hanging up the pay phone, he reflected on the briefness of life and the inscrutable course of destiny.
What was he to do now? His employment and all his plans were up in the air. His luggage, so carefully selected and packed, was gone forever. There was not even anyone to receive him at the airport.
At that moment, the Word of the Guru came to Harbhajan Singh. The lines were from Guru Nanak's Japji Sahib:
Fall was in the air. Soon the leaves would be changing colour. The Canada geese would be flying south. It would be Thanksgiving, Hallowe'en, and soon after, the snow would fly.
Yogi Harbhajan Singh had arrived in another hemisphere, very different to what he had been accustomed to. The people here looked strangely blanched compared with the coffee-skinned people of Delhi. They spoke with a different accent, sometimes difficult for Harbhajan to understand. There were lots of cars here, but fewer people.
There was a whole new world for Harbhajan Yogi to explore, but after a little dinner with his hosts and a Kirtan Sohila to himself, it was time to put all this aside and rest for the coming adventure. See 3HOLegacyLinks.com. Also see The Essential Gursikh Yogi.
Yogi Bhajan's next stopping off place was with relatives who lived in Toronto. They did not understand or appreciate what the Harbhajan Singh they had known in India was doing in Canada at all. Why wasn't he back in Delhi with his wife, his family, his government job? They put him up in the basement in their home at 325 Hillsboro Avenue, a quiet residential street not far from the downtown. A plywood bed was hammered together to suit the dimensions of the Yogi. But things were not easy.
His relatives would ask, "What do you want to do?"
The Yogi would reply, "Nothing."
"You don't want to earn money?"
"You are come here as an immigrant. You've got to make your life!"
"It's already made! It's set!"
"You are crazy!"
"Who made me crazy? Death or no death, health or no health, food or no food, I am not going to do a thing!"
"I have come here to teach. Why should I learn?"
"You've got to learn something!"
One day, the Yogi clashed with the woman of the house. She liked to complain that he always stayed out late and never came home on time for dinner.
"I hope I will be coming back soon," he said on his way out the door. To finance the new yoga centre, Yogi Bhajan was working as a bookkeeper during the day and as a janitor at night. Moreover, his evenings were increasingly filled with yoga classes, so he knew the chances of returning in less than twelve hours were not very good.
"Come at dinner time and don't come very late." she insisted.
When Yogi Bhajan had finally done his work, he was driven home by a student. There was no doubt that it was late. The door to the house was locked. It was cold and there was snow all around.
The student offered, "Can I take you to my house?"
"No, I can't do that," the Yogi declined.
They decided to doze in the driveway with the engine running and the car's heater on. Finally, at about eight o'clock the door was unlocked and Harbhajan Yogi entered the house. The first thing he did was to take a bath. Then he sat for a time and meditated. Afterwards, Harbhajan went to look for something to eat.
In the kitchen was a pot of his favourite dish. Black garbanzo daal had been prepared. Harbhajan eyed the delectable meal. He was hungry, and this was a wonderful kind of breakfast, like he had had at home. But then he saw something that spoiled his mood and made his appetite vanish. A big piece of meat sat in the middle of the pot of curried beans. Harbhajan the Yogi understood right away that his relative had put that meat into the daal so he could not eat it.
Harbhajan Singh remembered well what respect he had received from these relations when he had been a servant of a mere government. Now that he had set out in a humble way to be a servant of God, they despised and resented him. How false, he thought, were these worldly relations! What mocking cruelty they were capable of!
The Yogi contemplated the pot of curried black garbanzos. Three thoughts came to his mind. The first idea was that the piece of meat had been put over half of the dish, but half of it was untouched and pure, so he could eat that half. The second thought was that he could spoon out daal from the bottom of the pot. It should be alright, and he could eat that. The third thought was, "To hell with the whole thing! I can bless it by putting my kirpaan through it and eat it. What does it matter? I haven't eaten in three days!"
Then a fourth thought came to Yogi Bhajan's mind, "God has put this piece of meat here to let me know I am not supposed to eat it. It is also attachment." Harbhajan retired hungry to the place in the basement that had been relegated to him. He picked up his Gutka volume of Guru's Songs and allowed the pages to fall open to consult it, to see what Guru expected of him.
The Gutka spoke in the divine voice of the Tenth Master:
"Dear Lord, You are the Preserver of my honor, Blue-throated Shiva and the Manlion, Krishna, Dweller in waters and forests, Supreme Being, Supreme Lord and Master, Living on air, Sweet Lord, Great Light, Destroyer of the pride of Vishnu, Liberator, Vanquisher of demons, Everlasting, Unaging, Unaffected by sensation, Unsleeping, Deliverer from hell, Ocean of mercy, Seer of past, present and future, Eraser of the outcome of mindless actions, Bearer of the celestial bow, Embodiment of patience, Support of the Earth, Changeless, Wielder of the sword. I of faulty mind seek the sanctuary of your Lotus Feet. Please take my hand and save me!"
The words so touched the Yogi's heart that his eyes began to tear up. After a time, Harbhajan realized his tears were flowing from his cheeks down onto his Gutka. Only then did he daub his eyes dry. Not wanting to spoil the pages, he took the opened Gutka and covered it with his only towel so his tears might dry. But the damage had been done. From then on, whenever Yogi Bhajan consulted that Gutka, it would always open to the same pages and the same verse would present itself.
Harbhajan Singh sat in resignation, but he was not entirely resigned to starve like this. Another verse of the Guru came to his mind; "O mind, why do you scheme so, when the Lord Himself is providing your care?
From rocks and stones, He created living beings and before them He places their food."
Inwardly, Harbhajan was taunting his Guru, "So where is the food?"
It was not long before he could hear the ring of the phone upstairs, then a voice calling, "Hey Bhajan! Telayfo-nah! Telayfo-nah!"
Harbhajan climbed the stairs to take the call. On his way, he noticed that the daal with the meat in it had been thrown into the garbage. On the phone was a yoga student of his. She said, "Sir, where are you?"
"Where can I be? I am at home."
"I understand they didn't let you enter the house last night."
"Yeah, I slept in the car. It was pretty warm. No problem."
"Do you want to come out?"
"No. I don't feel good. My whole body has stiffened up. To be very honest, I have not eaten and I feel very weak."
"Food is no problem."
"Not for you. For me, as far as I am concerned, it is the only problem I am facing," Harbhajan replied.
"Oh, didn't you eat your donuts?"
"No, I told you that day I have given them up. You told me they are so bad. You are the one who lectured me, and I said I won't eat donuts from that day, but I don't know what to eat. You go out and you ask for bean soup and they say, 'Well, it is made with beef, and this is made with chicken and this is made with fish and this is made with this…' What you can eat?"
"Tell me where you want to eat."
"I just want to eat through the telephone. Do you understand?"
"I don't want to bring food to that house, but we have got some food. Can you make it to the yoga centre?"
"Another twenty five cents on the subway?"
"Well, we have found something that will never, ever allow you to be hungry again."
"Alright, if this is the situation, I will come."
Harbhajan could not help feeling that his prayers had just then been fulfilled. He dressed himself to go outside again and with his weakened, hungry steps made his way to the subway station and paid his last twenty-five cents as fare. Harbhajan Yogi felt cold, dehydrated and disoriented. It was difficult telling north from south. Perhaps, he thought, some carbon monoxide from his night in the car had gone to his brain. Arriving at his subway stop, Harbhajan barely could summon the energy to climb the stairs to street level and on to the yoga centre.
At the House of Yoga on Church Street, he found a number of students celebrating his arrival. And there was an array of nine large flattened boxes with chapatis known as "pizza" – vegetarian and of nine different kinds. Some of the students had even brought Indian food from sympathetic families who had heard that Harbhajan was not being fed and was growing weak. There were about twenty dishes in all – a real feast by any standard!
Yogi Bhajan picked a large pizza and ate the whole thing himself. Having taunted his Guru just an hour earlier, now he gratefully accepted the bounty of the Preserver of his honor. --
The Artist and the Yogi
Ron and the Yogi remained in touch through the following weeks and the changing of the seasons. One day, Ron confessed to Yogi Bhajan that his conscience had been troubling him ever since he had spent Thanksgiving with his family. The centrepiece of the feast were some Cornish hens his mother had gone to some trouble in preparing. Ron had been trying to give up eating meat, but after some initial hesitation, he had succumbed to the familiar pressures and joined the rest of his clan in gorging on the tasty flesh of the hapless hen. He shared his predicament with the Yogi and wondered aloud what he might have done.
Yogi Bhajan's response was a heaping helping of enlightened common sense. "In a case like this, it is one's duty to eat what one is served - then to go outside and throw it up!"
That Halloween, Ron and a few friends spent an evening carving faces into pumpkins to make the season's festive jack-o'-lanterns. The end-products were all singularly spooky and enchanted.
One, however, stood out from the rest. Like the others, it had a wide, infectious grin. Unlike the rest, it was marked by a large, discerning third eye in the middle of its brow.
Yogi Bhajan visited an innovative eighteen-story free school called "Rochdale College". There, he had his first experience of the "flower power" culture -- the paisley, tie-dyed, long-haired, half-crazed, half-enlightened movement toward love and peace and blissful nonconformity that was sweeping college campuses, providing creative expression for the pent-up idealism of an entire generation. LSD was its proclaimed avatar. Its creed was: "Turn on. Tune in. Drop out."
In a way, the eccentric-looking yogi fit in perfectly with all the other "groovy cats" in the building. Its upbeat culture disavowed superficial judgements based on appearances. It professed everyone's right to "do their own thing".
Yet, Yogi Harbhajan Singh's enlightened point of view derived from a profound inner discipline, not from a flash of psychedelic euphoria. He was a man with a mission. He had a family of his own. He was twice the age of many of the hippies. All these things marked him apart from the "free love" generation.
The Man In Blue
One day, Yogi Bhajan was very hungry. He told a couple of his yoga students, "Let's not eat here. Let's go to the Gurdwara today and join their prayers, and eat langar. I'll show you how generous Sikhs are.
The Yogi had visited the Sikh services with some of his students before. Occasionally, two or three young students would go with him and sit and silently meditate as the Songs of Guru Nanak were recited or sung in the congregation. Sometimes there would be a piano for accompaniment.
This time, they just arrived in time to hear the last minute of keertan. Then, after sitting through a boring speech, and once the ardaas was done and the prashaad all given out, everyone sat in lines and was served the Guru's langar.
Just then, to everyone's surprise, a certain gentleman with a perfect blue turban came up to Yogi Harbhajan Singh, picked up his plate, and said, "Yogis have no right to join a Sikh langar." He took the plate and walked away.
Harbhajan's students offered him their own plates, but he told them, "No, you keep it." Instead of eating with everyone else, he just sat very calmly and quietly studying the fate of the people there. After langar had been served, a kindly old woman came up to the Yogi and put a large plate of langar in front of him. He said, "No, you should not get in trouble for me."
She replied, "Some people have taken that guy and straightened him out. Please eat this, and give us your blessing."
When everyone had eaten, Yogi Harbhajan Singh got up to leave. Along the way, he met with the man in blue. Both his eyes had been blackened. It appeared as though he had been taken to the washroom and beaten up.
The Yogi asked, "Can I do anything for you?"
"I've had plenty."
"Thank you. You deserved what you got. You took that plate from me in front of my guests."
"Yeah, I felt I needed to do that."
"You think you are powerful, and you want to challenge me. Never mind what has been done to you. I will show you how to beat someone without leaving a mark on their body."
"You mean you know how to fight?"
"God, you just don't understand me. Some day..."
After some time had passed, God provided the Yogi with an opportunity. There was a games competition on a Sikh holiday. The main game was kabaddi, a Punjabi team wrestling sport. Harbhajan Yogi joined the team opposing the other man. In the first round, he flattened him and carried him to his side of the field, where he threw him to the ground. Then, Harbhajan stretched out his hand to help the man up.
The man said, "I never knew you were so strong!"
Yogi Bhajan replied, "I may look lousy, but test me out. Put your money on the table, and I'll put mine. We will have an arm wrestle, you and I, and God will be the witness."
"Okay, just for once."
"No, three times." Harbhajan the Yogi wanted to make him understand it as not necessary for him to belittle other people. The man had a psychological problem, and the Yogi was doing all he could to help him. So, when they gripped each other's hands, Yogi Bhajan squeezed the other man's hand so hard that it turned blue. He had no strength left to even hold Harbhajan's hand, let alone resist.
Yogi Bhajan asked, "How many times do you want to go? One, two, three, four?"
"Well, I have lost the money..."
"You take the money and go. That was not my intention. I just wanted you to know that the way you use brute force has no human intelligence to it. And the way you act is without human courtesy." Surprisingly, that man was a university mathematics professor, an intellectually sophisticated being, but his behaviour was graceless and neurotic.
Since the time that he had begun to teach, some devoted students had started looking after the needs of this disciplined, and very determined yogi. He, who would not ask for food and who kept to a strictly vegetarian diet, was now being regularly treated to pizzas and other wholesome Canadian fare.
Often, there was more than enough. The remainder would go to the homeless people who gathered evenings in the nearby park. Sundays, one big pot of beans and another of rice would be cooked and distributed to the park people. Fifty to two hundred people would sit in rows on the park benches to be served this vegetarian banquet. To be honest, not everyone was entirely satisfied with the yogi's largesse. Once, a man inquired whether next time the Yogi's students might not also provide some wine with the feast.
These street people, who lived a sparse existence in the parks and hostels of Toronto, held a certain fascination for Harbhajan Singh. He studied and appreciated them. He noticed that many of them regularly gathered at a mission church downtown. They would finish their bottles of cheap wine outside, then go in and sing their inebriated hearts out.
Yogi Bhajan marvelled at the good humour of the pastor of this peculiar congregation. He had never seen anything like this in India. Moreover, the pastor shared with him an unexpected insight. When the collection plate came around, these simple-looking men were more generous than their well-outfitted suburban counterparts. When it came to matters of the spirit, these "winos" were prosperous indeed!
The Yogi's Dilemma
In November, on the occasion of Guru Nanak's birthday, Harbhajan Yogi drove to the Canadian capital of Ottawa with a couple of his students. After finishing a letter, having a party and attending a reception, they were ready for the long drive back to Toronto. It was very early in the morning, but they were rested, so off they went.
Some hours later, as they approached the burgeoning city of nearly one million people, the Yogi suggested they have breakfast with a certain acquaintance. Everyone was hungry, and so it was agreed that the three would go there for breakfast.
It was a Saturday and their hostess was very happy to receive them. It was eleven o'clock. She could guess what was on the minds of the weary travellers. In no time, a delicious home-made breakfast was served.
As the guests enjoyed their late breakfast, their hostess asked them, "What is the next program?"
Harbhajan Yogi replied, "Just to relax here for a while, then take the car and go to London, Ontario in the evening. There is a lecture there. I have to go there."
"Can I go with you?"
After they had finished their meal, their hostess asked Harbhajan, "Can I speak to you for a minute, for heaven's sake?"
"Sure. Go ahead."
In another room, she asked him, "What did you do today?"
"What is wrong with you? What did I do?"
His hostess went on, "You know if you would have knocked, I would have opened the door. Instead, you came all the way up the drainpipe, through the window, pulled me out of bed, and took me to the shower. And then you disappeared the same way. If anybody would have seen you jumping over the wall and coming in, there would have been a lot of problems here. People don't do these things here."
She took him to the window. "This window was open. You came in and you were going like this. I know you are a yogi. You can do these things, but please don't do it here! There are six people living in this house."
Harbhajan Yogi was astonished. "You are imagining things! I never came here."
But she was adamant. "No! Look, you are not supposed to tell a lie!"
"Wait a minute." The Yogi thought of a way out of his predicament. He called to his travelling companions. "At three-thirty this morning, where were we?"
"We were driving between Ottawa and Toronto."
"While I was in the car, did I disappear?"
"No. You were there with us the whole time. I'm sure of it."
"Are you sure? Can you say it on oath? She says I came through the window. You say, two of you, that I was in the car. Now which one is true?"
Unfortunately, the Yogi's guest had read some odd things in books about yoga and the power of yogis. "No, no," she said. "A yogi can be in three places, four places, it doesn't matter. You were there and you were here too!"
Yogi Bhajan was shocked. Here he was being disbelieved by four mature adults! None of them would believe him. "Look, ladies and gentlemen, I'm not going to drive with you any more. You can go and disperse. I'll walk. I'll take the train. I'll just go to my house. You are the craziest people! I was driving with you and she was hallucinating, and now you are totally abandoning me!"
"No, no. You were with us," said the student, "but you were also with her."
Harbhajan Yogi summed up his feelings, "I worked for so many incarnations to get this human body, which holds the identity. I did it just to identify the Infinity which created it, and because of one hallucination, now you just have taken away from me the very basic right of being human. It is too much!"
Sometimes the misplaced faith of raw and inexperienced students could try even the patience of a Master.
One day, Yogi Bhajan planned to set out for London, Ontario with three of his students. It was about a three hour drive in the direction of Detroit, south-west of Toronto. Preparations were made, everyone loaded into the car, and they set off.
Half an hour out of Toronto, the car suddenly came to a halt on the side of the road.
"What happened?" asked Harbhajan.
"No gas," replied the embarrassed driver.
"You were reading empty as full?"
"That's right," was the sheepish reply.
They sat there for a time by the side of the road. Snow fell. Wind began to blow the snow in powerful gusts. A half hour passed. Snowdrifts settled around them. The car was being steadily submerged in an ocean of frosty whiteness.
"I am going to get out," Harbhajan Yogi finally announced.
"I don't think it is good," replied one of the passengers.
"What is good? We are going to die here? This car is going to be a refrigerator soon and this is going to be freezing section top level one. When they are going to find us we will be smiling here, and we will be dead. I have got to get out."
"It is very dangerous outside."
"Outside is God. In the car is death. I can't stay in!"
"What do you mean?"
"If I go out and snow falls on me and I freeze, then somebody will think there is a snowman. That's better. But if we sit in this car, nobody is going to look around. People might be thinking we are making love and parking and doing all that kind of stuff. I have to get out. Watch me! Something will happen."
The four of them got out of the car. They were not warmly dressed, so they all started exercising to keep their circulation going. The four exercised for a couple of hours, never wanting to stop because they knew if they stopped they would freeze, or at least catch frostbite.
Almost two hours later, Yogi Bhajan and his students were still exercising when a big gas truck pulled alongside their car, half-buried in the snow.
The trucker rolled down his window, "Hey man! You don't have gas? Why didn't you check at home?"
"I don't know. It's my trouble. The driver..."
"Who drives? Your driver? You are without gas? You are a rich man?"
"No, I am a poor man, but the car doesn't have gas."
"You mean you don't have money?"
"Had there been money, I think she would have got the gas."
"Oh, don't worry! Don't worry!"
The trucker got out and went to the back of his truck, disappearing for a minute in the frenzied snowstorm. Then he came back, trailing a hose behind him. He unscrewed the car's gas tank and let loose a flood of precious fuel.
Within a few seconds, the car's tank was overflowing and a noxious, highly flammable pool of gas had formed, swelling in every direction from the car. At last, the trucker managed to put a stop to the gushing stream of gasoline.
As their trucker friend disappeared into the blizzard again, returning the hose to its mount at the rear of the truck, Yogi Bhajan said to his student behind the wheel, "Dummy! Drive and run! God knows what will happen to this pool he has made."
The driver motioned to them from the window of his cab, and said, "Come here!"
Harbhajan Yogi said, "I'm sorry. I have to thank you."
The trucker said, "No. No. Don't thank me. Here's twenty dollars."
"What's this for?"
"Oh, you know. You don't have money. You have to eat."
"Did you ever give money to anybody?"
"No, no, no, no... I want to give it to you. I just want to give it to you."
"Don't give it to me. Give it to that girl who is driving."
The trucker got out once more, and headed to the driver's side of the car in the middle of the gas pond.
"Honey, here's twenty bucks!"
She replied, "No, no, no. We don't need money."
"Either show me twenty bucks, or take it!"
An embarrassing moment followed.
He smiled warmly, "Take it!"
Gratefully, she accepted the twenty dollars.
"I am a restless man."
As the thousand, nine hundred and sixty-eighth year of the Christian era drew to a close, the small community of East Indians in Toronto felt a deep sense of pride. Next November, they knew, would be Guru Nanak's five hundredth birthday celebration.
There was even talk of buying and renovating a building in the great Guru's name. The Yogi himself took the initiative by contributing a dollar. The rest of the community raised another seven thousand to buy and renovate a building, thereby creating the first Gurdwara in eastern Canada.
Yogi Bhajan had accomplished much during his brief stay in Toronto. He had given the science of yoga national publicity. He had co-founded a yoga centre. He had taught large classes at the House of Yoga, and at four YMCAs.
For everyone with eyes to see, Yogi Harbhajan Singh was a new, different kind of Sikh. He had shown himself to be out-going, self-confident, and deeply devoted to the form and spirit of his faith. The Yogi lived his religion and, rather than being sucked into the vortex of money-based Western culture, he had managed to successfully share the sacred teachings of the East with the people of a cosmopolitan North American city.
Yet, as he told those who wanted to know him, he was a restless man, a man with a mission and so much more to do. In December, when Harbhajan Yogi received an invitation and a ticket to Los Angeles to visit an acquaintance of his from New Delhi, the messenger from the Guru's House did not hesitate. His most regular student, named Terri, saw Harbhajan to the airport.
The Yogi took only a light travel bag and thirty-five dollars. It was Friday, and he planned to come back Monday after a couple of days' visit in Los Angeles. In fact, he would not be returning for weeks.
The Master of Coax
Yogi Bhajan was a true "fisher of men" – a teacher finding his students, a master recognizing, building and inspiring mastery often where none else could see it. Even his best students might be less than willing to recognize their destiny.
Michael Fowlis was a graduate student in mathematics at the University of California. For some time, Michael had been dreaming he was going to meet someone special, someone that would change his life. But feeling quite comfortable with his life and not wishing to change a thing, Michael had virtually locked himself in his office and refused to go out.
That was until a student came in and gave Michael a newspaper with a picture of Yogi Bhajan indicating he would give a lecture on Kundalini Yoga just across the street in half an hour. This was too much of a coincidence to let go by. Michael finally relented and left his office to take in the class.
Michael Fowlis had already learned Hatha Yoga and thought he was becoming very accomplished with his poses. He had also learned to meditate already. Lastly, Michael considered himself to be a very good academic.
In all events, Michael thought he would be sure to come up with some good questions to ask the yogi after the lecture. Though he had never learned anything about Kundalini Yoga, he went to the class feeling quite self-assured.
The experience with the yogi turned out to be much more engaging, much more inspiring, and entirely different from anything Michael had ever done. He sensed a new relationship to his body, to energy, and to the joy of life itself. Michael loved the feeling and it loved him back.
After the class, he went before Yogi Bhajan to ask some intelligent questions he had thought of. Michael would never have a chance to ask those questions.
The Master leveled his student with a barrage of accusation, "You idiot, you're late! I've been coming out here for three months. I hate the smog. I don't like traveling. Why are so such a non-intuitive klutz that you didn't show up on time? Look, I don't have time to fool around with your nonsense! Are you coming with me or not?"
For a few moments, Michael stood aghast before this heavily accented yogi. Then, his body relaxed. A far off memory arose and began penetrating his conscious awareness. "This is my teacher," it said, "I've been with him for lifetimes." As the fog lifted in his brain, Michael's tongue became animated with that dawning realization. It replied, "Uhh, yeah."
"Okay, come. Have a Coke!" said the Master.
"I don't drink Cokes."
"You do now."
Michael Fowlis had just found his spiritual teacher. The next day, he was teaching his first Kundalini Yoga class.
The 366th Day
On January 6th (1970), Yogi Bhajan had entered his second year of teaching Kundalini Yoga in the West, as it had been on January 5th that he had given his first talk at the East West Cultural Center.
The date passed uneventfully, which was actually a relief to the Yoga Master. He had been warned there was a curse on anyone who openly shared the sacred, and till then sacred, technology of Kundalini Yoga. Whoever defied the restriction was supposed to die before the coming of the second year.
On his 366th day of teaching, Yogi Bhajan remarked to his student, Gerry Pond, "I knew that was a load of nonsense. I am who I am, and that is that!"
There had been no curse, or if there had, it had proven ineffectual in the face of the love and devotion of this special yogi.
Lawton Bozeman had grown up in Orlando, Florida and was almost nineteen (December 1969). He had met Yogi Bhajan in Orlando, then made his way to Los Angeles in January of 1970 to connect with the source of the teachings.
Lawton took a train to Phoenix. Then his hitch-hiking luck served him well. Alone in Los Angeles at 11 p.m., with no idea where he was, the driver dropped him just two blocks from the Phyllis Ashram.
There, Lawton settled into the rigorous daily routine that had evolved. It started each morning, rising at 2:30 am for a shower and an hour of Kundalini Yoga, followed by two and a half hours of the "long" chant: Ek Ong Kaar Sat Naam Siri Whahe Guru till daybreak. Then there would be a morning class and an evening class, with occasional yoga through the day, just for fun.
Sunday evenings were special occasions for music, food and celebration, when guitars would come out and students would remain after until well after class. Lawton and Gerry Pond others would engage their musical hearts in putting together all kinds of Sat Nam tunes and music - rocking, rolling, joyful and inspiring.
When classes were not going on, a core of volunteers at the Ashram – Mark Lamm, Craig and Diana Schnurr – was busy compiling community news, exercises, recipes, teachings, stories of Guru Nanak, wisdom from the Guru, quotes from Yogi Bhajan, and organic gardening information for a newsletter. Their inspired creation was fittingly called "Beads of Truth," each issue a bead on a string of growing self-awareness.
Beautifully illustrated and designed, and starting with just eight pages, a new issue was mailed out each month to inform and unite Kundalini Yogis, wherever they might be.
Beads of Truth
Twice a day, Yogi Bhajan would challenge his students at the Phyllis Ashram with inspiring stories, as well as hard truths and unpleasant wisdom, so they might grow in grace and glory as spiritual teachers.
"It is a great privilege to understand the life, but every understanding has to be lived, and the greatest understanding is that every life has to be lived very normally, but has to be lived in higher consciousness.
"It is a kind of joke that we run on a path to know the truth. The reality is that we all are aware of it. None is unaware about truth, but to live up to the truth by our own self-projection is what is normally difficult for us. Talking on truth, having a library on it is all an easy thing, but molding yourself a way of life where you live with such a standard that there should be no ego that you are a different being than a normal human being, that's a very important point.
"We find a little bit of truth and then start living like it is really something. Then we find a little bit more truth, then we raise our chair up there. We do not live like normal beings, and that is where our weakness lies, and that is where our progress stops completely. Each one of us has to acquire the maximum of the light around us, but he has to live as a more humble being than the beings around him. That will give him a push to reach the higher consciousness.
"By knowing yoga postures, what can you do? I have got two albums and we got them snapped in one hour, and I went through like a snake and did all one hundred and eight postures. There it is, but what does that mean?
"Does it mean that I have just become God, that I am one with God, and that I have got total fulfillment of mind and nothing wrong can happen to me? I know all the kriyas. Does that mean that I am free from karma? I have mastery over all pranayam. Is that a surety that now the god of death can't come near me? Nothing. I have to keep myself always guarded against my own weakness and I have to live more humbly, lest I may become trapped in my own ego.
"We have written letters to all teachers, we have told them that Kundalini Yoga is a practical thing, it is a knowledge of the human beings. It is not a talking matter.
"By these exercises, what can be accomplished in one thousand years, does get accomplished in one thousand minutes. The ratio is very fast. What happens normally to us is when we achieve something little, we go crazy. We think we are great, then we fall in the trap of different things. We get involved in certain things, thinking that is the destination, but that is not. Many more things are on the way…
"Remember one thing. I don't want to bug you on this issue, but if up to this day you have never learned to respect yourself, forget it! You're not going to reach any God, whatever you say. You will always be run by the cycle of time. A man who does not know what assessment he has of himself and how great he is, and what he is, what do you mean?
"What about the Supreme Lord in you who is the light within yourself? The beauty, the quietness, the calmness can be achieved on the face of that grace which you can achieve as the outcome which they call "God's light." It only comes when one learns to meditate on himself and feel the flow of the divine light within him.
"These yoga sutras and yoga are not a joke. It is not an art to convert a Christian into Hinduism. It is a science and a factual realization for the uplift and for the awareness of the man. We are not here to convert people or to do that kind of stuff. There are already so many religions, there's no fun in making twenty more.
"Purifying yourself will give you a help. Purifying yourself will give you a happiness. By meditating on yourself, you will be rid of greed and lust. Your behavior will become sweet and you will trust others, and others will trust you. And all you have to do is you have to meditate on yourself. You have to consider yourself as a pure channel of the Universal Spirit.
"Now what trip I this? Have I said, "Do this, do that…"?
"No mantra. Nothing of the sort. Simply sit down calmly and bring your mind energy on one point: that you are a pure channel. It may not happen in the very first moment, but you keep on doing it. It is your sadhana, the been mantra, Sat Nam, I am Truth, I am Truth, I am Truth.
"Those people who condemn themselves are the worst people. When God has made you as his projection, and you - because you have been given a free will - vibrate negative toward you, do you think you do a favor toward him? Are you aware of that?
"And now sit down this morning and think how many times you have condemned yourself. By condemning yourself, you are condemning God.
"You might not have chanted that much. By thinking, "I am this, I am that..." you don't do anything but invite sickness.
"The best day to be clean and pure is to meditate on the self constantly and feel that you are very pure and you are a channel of the Creator. Do it for three days and see what result you will find. See what beauty will come to your face...
"May the longtime sun shine upon you,
"May your eye see the pure light of God, your ear hear nothing but the name of God, your tongue speak nothing but the glory of God. Then, if you are not a living god, there is no God! Sat Nam."
Yogi Bhajan was a discerning student of the human condition. Again and again, he found himself amazed by the social conventions of California society. In the India he had known, people cherished long-term, nurturing relationships. They had families, and belonged to communities. Here, he saw that many Americans lived alone. Families in California's trendy social scene were sadly riven by separation and divorce.
Yogi Bhajan recognized that many of the people he met were also driven by a blinding, impersonal ambition. Relationships, so far as they existed, were often mutually exploitative. Pretty, unmarried women were called "chicks". A good-looking man would be called a "stud".
Yogi Bhajan went to the movies. There, he saw the cutting edge of America's social drama, with its full complement of sex and gratuitous violence. On the streets of Los Angeles, he marveled at the gaudy, bubble-like quality of the American dream gone sour: its endless supermarkets and stretch limousines, its vast car parks and spiraling freeways, its smoky bars and shiny skyscrapers, its topless clubs, pornography, casual sex and bottomless morality.
Old Friends Lost
In those days, Harbhajan Singh the Yogi saw little of his old friends from India in Los Angeles. They wondered what he was doing with all those young Americans. Rumours back in Delhi were not any more inspiring.
What was the former customs inspector up to? The status-conscious immigrant community considered their old friend had no qualifications for success in their adopted homeland. Why, he had no job, no car - Harbhajan Singh couldn't even drive! What was he doing? Had he lost his mind? To their minds, Harbhajan Singh's prospects looked very bleak indeed.
Yogi Bhajan's home, at 9006 Phyllis Avenue, was a hive of activity with people coming and going, people working, people visiting, and people just passing by. The Master took inspiration from the dollar bill with its motto: "In God We Trust" – but dollar bills were not in abundance. Yogi Bhajan and a few volunteers who did the correspondence and other office work took turns using a well-worn blanket to catch a couple of hours sleep. They affectionately called it the "holy blanket."
The kitchen of the Phyllis Ashram could be a very busy place indeed. Daily, Ganga engaged in the alchemy of making "something" from "nothing" to feed the guests. The need for groceries was so great that a student whom Yogi Bhajan had named "Premka" sold her cherished record collection to stock the kitchen with food.
Ganga had once complained to Yogiji that she would have preferred to leave the kitchen, wear a pretty nice dress, and join the guests in the living room. He advised her that if she just chanted and cooked and did the dishes, she would wash her karmas away. And that is what Ganga did.
The people who came to see Yogi Bhajan would come with all sorts of motivations. Some wanted guidance. Some wanted gratification. Some were confused and didn't really know what they wanted. And then, there were "yogi hunters" who also wanted his time and attention.
On one occasion, Yogi Bhajan interrupted a woman who had come with a proposition for him, "I would like to ask you a question."
She said, "What?"
He replied, "Are you a hooker?"
"Huh? How can you say that?"
"I don't know what it means to you, but I am just asking a simple English… I speak English English. I am not American."
"What do you mean by 'hooker'?"
"You know the fish? You take the fish, you take the reel and you put that hook? And one who puts that hook is called "hooker."
"Well, in this country, they call a prostitute a "hooker.
"No, you are not a prostitute! Prostitutes are very honourable, so you are not a prostitute. A prostitute is honourable. I have all respect for a prostitute. You know, they sell themselves, they charge the money, they give you in return, and that's it. It's a business. They sell their body. You give them money. It's very 'unfairly fair' I call it. But these hookers, God knows where they first are going to stick that thing into you, and then how long you are going to do like that, you know. You know what I mean? And when are they going to put you in a bag and how you are going to be treated? I mean, you can't predict anything! By 'hooker,' exactly I mean that."
"Do you know how many million dollars I want to give to you.?"
"I definitely know that I am a man in a very shallow pond, okay? But I am not willing to take your bait."
Yogi Bhajan was a learned man. In his learning, he was very well aware that the greatest consciousness and divinity and morality and strength and power of a man is knowing the bait. An ordinary man thinks he has the power to bite, not knowing that once he bites he may never bite again. A yogi, therefore, knows he should never bite. He should read between the lines and find the bait... and let it stink.
The House of Shiva
Yogi Bhajan met a young lady outside the Phyllis Ashram. It was an unusually quiet day. The student who usually came to answer the phone and do the secretarial work was dozing, and there was no one around.
Yogi Bhajan recognized the woman. He had seen her coming and going from one of the houses across the street. They introduced themselves. She said she worked for a company that arranged hospitality and accommodations for Hollywood's many actors and performers. To Yogi Bhajan, it sounded like a reasonable occupation.
The lady invited her yogi neighbour to visit across the street where she worked. Inside were apartments, where apparently the denizens of the Hollywood scene might spend a night or catch a few hours rest between shootings. It was clean and tidy. It also looked fairly ordinary from the outside. The stars sometimes seemed to enjoy a few hours out of the limelight.
Everything seemed fine and ordinary and reasonable enough. Then, this hospitable woman asked, "Do you worship Shiva, in India I mean?"
"Many people worship Shiva. He is a God of gods."
"I mean how do people worship Shiva?"
"People chant mantras. They practice yoga. They bring garlands to the temple. People have many ways of dedicating themselves to Lord Shiva in their love and meditation."
"You know, many of our clients are really into Shiva. We have a room in the house next door which we call our "pooja" room. Would you like to see?"
It seemed a little odd. Shiva, the great ascetic, with devotees in this harem of Western superficiality.
But when Yogi Bhajan saw the room, he began to understand. The pooja room was adorned with a large image of the dancing Shiva and a solid Shiva "lingam". There were flowers too, and candles, and many other, smaller lingams. These, his hostess helpfully informed Yogi Bhajan had been formed with plaster of Paris from the members of her select clientele. She named some of them. They were all well-known on the American entertainment scene.
Since the young woman had first mentioned the name of Shiva, Yogi Bhajan had sensed they was something terribly wrong here, and when later on his hostess directed her oddly familiar gaze into his, he recognized that it had become rather late, and that he had better be returning to his work at the ashram, in the name of Shiva, for the sake of the Indian God's reputation, and for the sake of this and every fallen angel.
Teacher and Students
About this time, Jules arranged for the garage with its antiques to be renovated, the better to serve as a place for Yogi Bhajan's classes. Classes were bustling. About eighty students regularly came out for the evening class. Some also came for the class in the morning.
Shakti Parwha Kaur would drop into the Phyllis Ashram every day from her morning job at the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel coffee shop. She was the only member of the growing family with a regular job at that point. Shakti supported the Ashram in more ways than one.
Of course, Yogi Bhajan had his own way of showing concern. One day, he told his student not to park her car in front of her Santa Monica apartment. Instead, Shakti moved it and parked in front of the Ashram, half a block away. The next day, when Shakti looked out into the street in front of her home, she found her neighbour's car demolished exactly where her car would have been.
Another time, Shakti scalded her foot in a cup of hot tea. Yogi Bhajan sent a woman student over and told her to put salve on it. After spending a fitful night, Shakti awoke to find her foot as good as new.
"I can't believe it!" she exclaimed all that day. By late afternoon, the foot was as red and ornery as the night before. Such, apparently, was the power of disbelief!
In those days, there was a definite push to empower and rebuild from within these drop-outs from the American nightmare. Yogi Bhajan's often repeated formula was "Sadhana, Aradhana, Prabhupati" - Self-Mastery through self-discipline. The great mantra of the Aquarian Age, was "Keep up!" he told his students. "Keep up and you will be kept up!" he would say with a fierce smile.
The Master declared, "I have not come to gather disciples. I have come to create teachers ten times greater than myself!" He also told them, "If you want to know a thing, read that. If you want to understand a thing, write that. If you want to master a thing, teach that!" By October, a number of students were sent to establish ashrams in Berkeley, Washington, D.C. and Orlando, Florida.
In early December, Yogi Bhajan and Premka went to Washington, D.C., his second visit there, this time to support the founding of an Ashram at 1704 Q Street NW.
When a reporter from a local paper came to cover the event, the Master assured him, "God is vibration. The divinity in you is in control of the breath... Kundalini means to uncoil the coiled energy within a human being which will raise his consciousness so a person will not have any negativity."
Yogi Bhajan kept in touch with his teachers, wherever they were, and in more ways than one. He was once heard to pause in the middle of a class to caution a student-teacher, "No John, not this way!"
At that time, John Twombly happened to be teaching a yoga class thousands of miles away in Florida.
To San Francisco
Sat Nam. A good day's drive north of Los Angeles lay San Francisco, hub of the alternative culture. By 1970, that culture had peaked and was in sordid decline, but what a ride it had been! In 1964, the nearby University of California at Berkeley had served as the lively center of the student-driven free speech movement. The summer of 1967 was dubbed the "summer of love." Psychedelics were pure and cheap then, and the innocent and idealistic were arriving in droves with flowers in their hair. This was the time of Allen Ginsberg and Richard Brautigan, poetry in the parks and indescribable Be-ins.
San Francisco was politically aware and decidedly dissident. The city rivalled New York for the size of its peace marches. Nearby Oakland was headquarters of the Black Panther party. Berkeley was a constant hotbed of discontent.
Buddhists and Sufis, hippies and Alan Watts configured the alternative spiritual landscape of the city of the Golden Gate Bridge. The music could be hard and loud or just gently psychedelic. This was the home the Fillmore Auditorium, the biggest rock palace in the world, but by now, especially after the Altamont festival disaster, things were going down. There was more drugs and less art, less free-spirited expressionism and more party line. God - the joyful trickster - was on the run.
The day after Earth Day, Yogi Bhajan set out north to give a week of classes in San Francisco, at the University of California at Berkeley and the Sausalito Community Center. He was hosted there by Steve and Leigh Samuels, his teachers in the Bay area, whom he had just married at the previous Summer Solstice in New Mexico. As well as giving classes, Yogi Bhajan performed another wedding during his tour.
In Yogi Bhajan's classes, he covered laya yoga, mantra yoga, mool bandh and maha bandh, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and gave vigorous exercises for transmuting sexual energy. Yogi Bhajan counseled his student teachers against fanaticism and judging others. He also encouraged them to think before speaking and to be humble. These are some of the other things the Master said:
"Sadhana is never do what is "right for you." Always do what is right…
"I fully understand people do not like discipline and everyone wants something else, but out of the lot, maybe somebody can make it. Teaching en masse is so that some few may come forward and be the leaders of the public when the hard times come…
"When an individual doesn't keep up their sadhana, the teacher suffers. That is the reason why others do not teach Kundalini Yoga. The teacher becomes the center of an energy complex and he pays the toll for the fault of his students…
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