Sat Nam, Gentle Readers.
In the last months and weeks, and even today, I have received inquiries about the veracity of this story - the parts to do with the Siri Singh Sahib's (Yogi Bhajan) relationships with Sant Hazara Singh ji, Master Virsa Singh and Swami Dhirendra Brahmacharya. Some would say that to engage these questions is to feed controversy. My reply to them is to say that a little bit of truth goes a long way - and frankly I feel there is nothing to hide.
Let's go back a bit. It was about 3 years ago that someone called Philip Roland Deslippe emailed me and wanted to know what I knew about the Siri Singh Sahib and Sant Hazara Singh ji. I told him that I knew only what the Siri Singh Sahib told us. Philip, who was a PhD student in religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara then went and published his skeptical account of the Siri Singh Sahib's relationships with Hazara Singh, Virsa Singh, and Dhirendra Brahmacharya. It has caused a few people to email me for my opinion, though everybody so far has taken the article with a grain of salt.
There is good scholarship, academic work that casts the Siri Singh Sahib's work in a more positive light. Jivan Mukta Singh in Finland, for example is writing his thesis on the Siri Singh Sahib's life and work. And there are good people like Sat Mukh Singh who emailed today asking about the paper and about the film that was made during the Siri Singh Sahib's 1970-71 tour. I mention this film because - though it covers ten spiritual teachers in all - the film crew traveled with the first 3HO India tour so whatever they may have captured is sure to be of historic value. Even their outtakes would be great to have.
The film is called Sunseed.* Director: Frederick Cohn, Producer: Ralph Harper Silver, Distributor: New Age Productions, Rama Films, Inc. Released: 1973. Here is a review of a recent screening in NYC. Here is a short clip focusing on Swami Satchidananda, with a couple of glimpses of the Siri Singh Sahib. Please let me know if you are able to locate a copy of the film.
There are controversies and there are other controversies. I remember Ganga Bhajan Kaur telling me when I interviewed her for this bio that the Siri Singh Sahib, as much as he loved to seek out other people of reputed holiness, he would also love to poke, provoke, confront, and elevate them - to the chagrin of his staff who Ganga said would have preferred him to "make nice" with his apparent peers.
Then there is the famous "sex scandal" and the legal case of the mid-80s. Some people I have interviewed in the hope of gaining valuable perspective have clearly wanted to degrade the Siri Singh Sahib. Though I live thousands of miles away from the supposed events, I have figured that out, now. The other day, a friend I know and trust told me how they were with somebody alleged to be a part of the big scandal when the story first came out in print. On having it read to her, this person expressed astonishment, then went ahead and joined the suit as a plaintiff.
In my simple way, what I am hoping to do here is clear the air. My feeling is that, aside from good - web - sites, the best way to counter a lot of these accusations would be to have an authoritative biography. By her grace, the Bhai Sahiba (Yogi Bhajan's wife, Inderjit Kaur Khalsa) has already arranged a Punjabi biography, but we are lacking bios in English and at least a dozen other languages.
The story of the Siri Singh Sahib is the story of how one man overcame all kinds of obstacles and by the grace of Guru Ram Das, founded a spiritual nation in the America with seeds now blowing around the world. It is a powerful story that deserves to be better told and better known. --
Sat Nam, EveryBody!
Today I received a timely email from Gurumarka Singh in Germany advising that:
Those of you who know me a little will realize that where a simple answer does not present itself, I will go into context for a contextual answer, and that is where we are going today...
First of all, while Yogi Bhajan was a fine storyteller, I have never known him to make up a story, so I am going to assume there was a Sant Hazara Singh ji and that he was his teacher. Philip Deslippe will argue the other side, but I will stick with my assumption.
Had he merely taught physical poses like Pattabhi Josh or B.K.S. Iyengar, the exact physical lineage of his teachings might have been very important. It would have explained “where he was coming from” and also given him legitimacy. But our Siri Singh Sahib was not just a physical mechanic. By his account, he studied widely and garnered his teachings from a number of teachers. Moreover, I feel our teacher derived his legitimacy foremost by his heartfelt service and relevance to our needs. Of course, Guru Ram Das was and is also in the picture, not so much as a legitimizer but as a gracious guardian spirit.
I don't pretend to know all the swamis and teachers whose brains the Siri Singh Sahib picked to arrive at the mix, which he conveyed to us as 3HO teachings. As well as Swami Dhirendra Brahmacharya and Baba Virsa Singh, a yoga writer named Georg Feuerstein claimed that he also learned from someone named Dev Atma. Some of us might also remember the story of how officer Harbhajan Singh delivered his own carrot pudding to a reclusive yogi for forty consecutive days to receive the yogi's teaching. In his recollections, I believe he also visited Swami Sivananda and Satya Sai Baba. Though the Siri Singh Sahib tactfully wove the story so as not to mention their names, he also clearly was not impressed.
The bigger question, which is raised by Deslippe's paper, is why Virsa Singh and Dhirenda Brahmacharya, especially Virsa Singh, were written out of the 3HO narrative and Sant Hazara Singh ji entered apparently in his stead. While this was an important change, no doubt, let us remember that the Siri Singh Sahib was not impervious to self-examination and that he did occasionally correct himself. Those on his staff might be experts on this subject, but from my humble point of view I can point to two instances where the teachings were changed significantly.
One case where the Siri Singh Sahib changed things was in naming his students. When the Siri Singh Sahib named me and wrote my name out on a piece of paper, it was unmistakably “Gur Fatha Singh.” It was not until some weeks later that I received a letter from Shakti Parwha Kaur telling me Yogiji had recently announced that all those who had been given a name beginning with “Gur” should actually use the spelling "Guru". "Gur" means technical know-how and "Guru" means one who imparts the technical know-how.
Why the change? I can't say if anyone asked, but this is what I can tell you: using “Gur” at the start of a name and blending them together, as in “Gurcharan” has been the traditional practice among Sikhs, although I did find a historical reference once to a Sikh named “Gurumukh.” Changing from this abbreviated form to the fully spelled out form of “Guru,” and perhaps making two words out of it is very radical. (Note: In her letter, Shakti Parwha said they should be one word and I did that for a time, but a number of us do not.) It reminds us that the Guru made us to stand as his equal – and that is a powerful statement. For the Sikh nation that suffered a century under the heel of colonialism, it was too powerful really, but that's what the Siri Singh Sahib did. Another exercise in poke, provoke, confront, and you know...
Another case was where the Siri Singh Sahib instructed us to change our pronunciation of the mantra we had always known as “Wha Guru” to “Wahe Guru.” (See Notes.) Frankly, I do not have details on exactly why that was done, although it did differentiate us from the Akand Kirtani Jatha's loud, animated style of chanting, which the Siri Singh Sahib did not favour.
Really, in those first years, I don't think anybody, even the Siri Singh Sahib, knew where we were going. There was no map for where we were headed because what we were doing was unprecedented. Meditation and the guidance of God and Guru led the way.
My sense is that in the course of his first years in North America, Harbhajan Singh Puri saw and experienced the Guru's hand at work in a new culture, a subculture really, at a time of social upheaval in a way he could never anticipate and only barely understand. By the time he returned to India, Harbhajan Singh had been an unfathomable instrument of the Guru's will for many months. As Ganga Bhajan Kaur put it, the hopes of a generation rested in him. The longhaired, psychedelic flower children had found a kickass, gentle saviour in a turban and curly-toed shoes – and they loved him.
In coming to Gobind Sadan, home of Baba Virsa Singh, there were a number of challenges. One was that the money that had been wired ahead to secure their accommodations at the ashram had mysteriously disappeared. The cultural and linguistic divide between Virsa Singh and the Yogi's students must have also been huge, even unbridgeable. Again, Ganga Bhajan recalled that whereas Yogiji as always the “cool cat,” charming, humble, disarming, this Virsa Singh had a very hard time connecting. Not that he did not try
Alan Singh Weiss, now a doctor, recalled how Virsa Singh took a steel tube of water and chanted over it with a sword, making a kind of Amrit, and how drinking that enchanted water gave him an experience of transcendence unlike any he had ever known that stayed with him for days. Baba Virsa Singh was powerful, no doubt, and a dedicated man of hard work and devotion, but he did not care for yoga and, according to our narrative he wanted Yogiji's students to himself. This, Ganga Bhajan recalled, would have been a betrayal and the Yogi remained true to his students and his teachings.
Yogi Bhajan was in a dilemma however. He had realized the excellence of kundalini yoga, likely in increasing degrees during his time in America. He had seen what it could do, how it could move and change people, even the most unenlightened. Moreover, through his sadhana, he was charged like a spiritual version of the Energizer bunny. He hardly slept.
But where could he bring these trusting students of his? Where could he bring them for refuge and inspiration? Swami Dhirendra was a hatha yogi. There was nothing doing there. Baba Virsa Singh would not acknowledge the power of yoga and moreover wanted authority over Yogiji's students. And Sikhs in general did not care for yoga either, though their scriptures overflowed with visionary poetry about chakras and the unstruck melody. While their Gurus had clearly practiced powerful meditation techniques, those techniques had long been lost, lost to the Mughals, lost to the British, lost just managing to survive.
That is when Guru Ram Das stepped in and gave Yogiji his mantra. That is also where Krishna Kaur observed the candles melted and the cloth on Yogiji's altar burnt to ashes without any fire being lit. It is also where Guru Gobind Singh appeared to the Yogi Bhajan to give him guidance.
If you have any doubt about the integral part of yoga and meditation in the essential Sikh experience of Chardee Kala, please access my research on this subject in The Essential Gursikh Yogi: The Yoga and Yogis in the Past, Present and Future of Sikh Dharma.
The rest is history really. Sant Hazara Singh ji filled a useful role in the Siri Singh Sahib's stories as the teacher's teacher. Even if they were only half true, I would not care. There is a Sufi saying which I believe that if a story exalts the spirit, it is true.
The Siri Singh Sahib was recognized in Amritsar as a teacher of dharma, hence they gave him his title. Many people in the East and West since have not known what to make of him. Some have disparaged his yoga teachings. Some have disagreed with his dharma lessons. Yogiji, the Siri Singh Sahib said they were practically one and the same. Many fail to get this, expecially since both call for discipline which is not very much in favour these days.
There are problems too with weak teachers and watered down teachings. Nowadays I understand you can do just five sadhanas and shave your head and still be certified as a kundalini yoga instructor. In the old days, a teacher kept their crowning glory and sadhana was the centerpiece of their daily life
Someone once asked our teacher, “Why do you want to create Sikhs? Why do you want to do this?”
He replied, “I am not doing anything. But if I teach kundalini yoga and do not give people dharma, it means making somebody a home and putting no roof on it. I can't do that. And if I give them dharma and I do not give them discipline hard enough and they can't crystalize themselves, then everything will be lost because it's the crystal that shines, not the person.” (Los Angeles, October 15, 1984, GTE tape 411)
I think there is a problem in transmission. It is not only a problem with Philip Deslippe's interpretation. I do not believe the folks at the Kundalini Research Institute want to be known as people who teach and inspire people in dharma. And the people at Sikh Dharma International don't generally teach yoga, so there is a bifurcation now that was not there when Yogi Bhajan started teaching.
A Garland For Guru Nanak
Sat Nam. Yogi Bhajan was known to have an exterior of stainless steel and a heart soft like gold. Late one Saturday evening at the Sikh Study Circle, Yogiji looked to a picture of Guru Nanak hanging on the wall. It was the night before Guru Nanak's birthday was to be celebrated.
"Why isn't there a garland of flowers on Guru Nanak?", he demanded from Baba Singh who happened to be there.
"I don't know, sir."
"What do you mean, you don't know? There should be a garland on Guru Nanak by morning." It was an order.
"Yes, sir," replied his devoted student.
After Baba Singh had driven Yogi Bhajan to their home at the ashram where they both lived, he went out combing Los Angeles, looking for flowers. It was about midnight. No flower stores were open. Baba went to the wholesale market. A sign said it would not reopen until Monday.
Baba Singh became depressed. The prospects did not look very good. He did what he usually did under those kinds of circumstances, and checked into an ice cream place where he downed nearly a quart of "pistachio dream" to cheer himself up. It did not help matters much. Next, he went into a doughnut shop. The doughnuts didn't offer any consolation. He felt terrible. What would Yogiji say? There was simply nowhere he could go to buy flowers.
Finally, it dawned on Baba Singh that he might find an all-night supermarket that sold flowers. Sure enough, the Mayfair Market had just what he was looking for. Baba bought a few bunches and, with a needle and thread and an air of grim determination, headed for the Sikh Study Circle to sew a garland out of the flowers.
Some Indian ladies were already there. They offered Baba Singh encouragement and showed him how to properly thread the flowers together. He began. By four thirty or five, it was done. At last, Baba Singh hung the garland around Guru Nanak. It looked wonderful!
The thought crossed Baba Singh's sugar-frazzled mind that he still had to go home and return for the actual celebration. It seemed like such a long way to come and go. Exhausted from a lack of sleep and an overload of junk food, he dragged himself home, back to the ashram.
Quietly, he opened the door and went in. To his surprise, he found the tireless Master sitting on Baba Singh's bed. Yogi Bhajan ordinarily never sat on his student's bed. He had a bed of his own. But there he was, propped up with his eyes half open and half shut. The Master looked as though he had himself been up all night.
As his student entered the room, Yogiji looked up. He said nothing, but warmly opened his arms. The young man came and fell into those welcoming arms. As Yogiji held him close, his wearied student fell asleep, his head embedded in his Master's shoulder.
As Baba Singh sank into that very deep slumber, he felt as though God himself were welcoming him into his arms. He also felt that Yogiji had known the whole night what he was doing, had in fact been with him the whole while. Only he had been too foolish to be aware of his most compassionate Master's presence.
They must have remained like that for an hour or so when the Master stirred him awake, "Okay Baba Singh, get up! Get your shower! Let's go to the Sikh Study Circle!" --
Sat Nam. On April 20, Yogi Bhajan had a wonderful and much-anticipated announcement, which he delivered to his students during his UCLA class at Guru Ram Das Ashram. “There are many books in this world, and in this country there are books and books, but there was a need for a book. I'm not very much for books, but there was a need for a book when you got bugged somewhere, you have to talk to something and that something should be inspiring, should relate to your consciousness, and it should drive you to your destination which is your higher sense.
“One of our students made a painting of Guru Nanak and we have printed that in this book. We have a copyright over it and that is the most beautiful painting we have of Guru Nanak, and we gave it to our Maharaj Ashram in Santa Fe. One thing about this book is it is not written by a fanatic and it is written by a person who has practised Sat Nam, the real sense Guru Nanak taught.
“There is a saying of Yogi Bhajan in it which says, 'Only that man who has experienced the state of true love in the human body...' You know, sometimes I listen to my own sayings. Excuse me. I love it because most of the time I do not know what I am talking about. Sometimes I walk down without wearing shoes, thinking I am wearing shoes and that kind of stuff. My apologies for my state of consciousness. That's the way I am. So, sometimes I love to even listen to my own tape.
“You know, the oil pipeline is not the oil, so don't take the pipeline for oil. When a teacher gets into an ego that he is a teacher and not a channel, he is the greatest fool. And that is his downfall. And that is why all these teachers die a miserable death, because they are cockroaches for the next life to come.
“I don't kill a cockroach. Why to kill a brother of mine? Because when you are enlightened and you behave once in ego, you become a bug of darkness, that is what a cockroach is. You see how many cockroaches there are? They are all teachers. Don't have any misunderstanding about this. It's a matter of fact.
“A teacher has to choose very carefully whether he wants to be liberated or he wants to be a cockroach. You know, it's not fair. You can get caught into ego at any level and you have to guard yourself at every level of life. There's no fun and the teacher is the most vulnerable person.
"These teachers, you know, they start learning a few words, then they start expanding themselves until they are great. You're asking for a hell of a trouble because you can't have truth in you and you can't have a lie existing side by side. You have to be very humble. Truth is carried by a channel of humility. Man has to boast only once and God is going to throw him on his nose.
“'Only that man who has experienced the state of true love in the human body can sing the praise of his love, which Guru Nanak sang in his native language, a song of the truelove and ecstasy which he felt with his one God. And only that love inspired this translation of the language into American English...'
“It was a necessity. English English has a very wrong meaning in American English. 'Gay' means a happy person, and in American English you know what 'gay' means. And I have found so many words that carry different meanings that finally we decided if we have to have scriptures here, we have to have them in American English. We can't afford scriptures in English English for American students. That was the one reason this Peace Lagoon has to come out. That was the real reason. There was no other reason for us. This book is being sold just for the cost that has gone in, so it is not a profit venture or that kind of stuff.
"This is for the children of the Age of Aquarius, so they can look to it for a spiritual guide. This is the song eternal, song of love, and song of spiritual wisdom. This book has the power that when somebody will meditate and open it up, it will give them direct guidance. Now this is my declaration. I stand as a written guarantee by this and I know it is true, and if I am a pipeline then it must be true. Otherwise, I should withdraw being so. 'If somebody will meditate upon this, it will talk wisdom to the person's heart. The beautiful children of the Age of Aquarius who are the children of higher consciousness and love shall find it a companion to their soul and heart.' This is a few words which I could say at that time and I'll ask Premka to read the prayer and the Kalijug and one more thing which I love.
“She did a sadhana where you control all your vibrations from this world, when something in you happens. When I went on that university tour I left her behind and one day she rang me up. I was in Florida perhaps, yeah.
She said, 'I want permission for a few hours to go out and see the sun and be in some park.'
“And I said, 'The only permission I can grant is that you get out of your house. There is a green lawn and there is a tree and there is a hedge around. And you can stay there for thirty minutes, not more than that, and that is your park. Then get back to your room and be at your work and I should listen to the typewriter working right here.'
It took her forty-five days of very intensive sadhana to bring this what we have today in hand. It didn't come just as it is.”
Yogi Bhajan was effusive in his praise of Sardarni Sahiba Premka Kaur and her accomplishment. Then, at his direction, the students closed their eyes and Premka read out the dedication and prayer she had written as preface to the book, and a brief passage on the Kalijug, the Dark Age we live in. Thereafter, she allowed the Peace Lagoon to open itself, revealing a certain passage destined by God, and she read those special words of counsel as well.
That day was the first public reading of the Peace Lagoon, the original rendering into American English of some of the essential guiding words of Siri Guru Granth Sahib. --
Showdown at the Yogi's Corral
Sat Nam. Sat Nam Singh had become a regular at Yogi Bhajan's classes. He had gone to India and taken Amrit too. Sat Nam played a guitar, sang wonderfully, and made enchanting melodies. Aside from the rigorous yoga and cold showers every morning, life was sweet and easy.
But life was never sweet and easy for long in the company of the master of ordeals, Yogi Bhajan. One day, Yogiji dropped into the house where his student stayed. The Master posed a question. "Do you love me?"
"Yes," came the reply.
"I want you to teach in Tucson. Pack up and be out of town by sundown!"
It was a classic showdown. The budding ego of the new student versus the cataclysmic force of the Master. Luckily, the ego bent to the Master. “Maha Deva Ashram” at 819 North Fourth Avenue in Tucson was the fortuitous outcome. --
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