Master is coming to town." Dawson, my yoga teacher, announced
one day after class. He said it with as much awe as if the Christ
himself had risen from the dead and was coming to visit us in Tucson,
Arizona. Dawson was referring to his teacher, Yogi
Bhajan, Master of Kundalini
Yoga, and supposedly an enlightened Yogi. His stern face stared
out from his meditation picture
on the altar at yoga class. Dawson was so excited he could barely
contain himself. To him it was nothing short of a visit by the Pope.
To me it was a curiosity. Sure I wanted to see him. After all, he
was the man who brought from India the type of yoga I was practicing.
Plus, he was an enlightened yogi. Well, at least Dawson insisted he
was. It was worth checking out. Who knows, I might even learn something.
If this yogi turned out to be really cool, maybe he could be like
my guru or something.
In February of 1970 I was eighteen years old and a complete novice.
My participation in Dawson’s yoga class was as much motivated
by a sincere desire to understand my True Self as the fact that there
were many fine looking women in the class. I knew nothing of a spiritual
life and even less of a spiritual teacher. The fact that I was about
to have a head on collision with my future was a far from my mind
as was the moon.
As I contemplated the upcoming visit of the Yogi, the biggest question
in my mind was should I see him high or straight? Today this choice
seems totally absurd. I must have been crazy to have even considered
it. But back then my most insightful moments had been chemically induced.
I actually thought that a little high would enable me to really see
where this Yogi guy was coming from. In retrospect, this so called
conscious decision of mine was about as dumb as dressing up in a Nazi
uniform to meet a rabbi. The sad thing about it was that the one thing
I wanted to do, better see the Yogi, completely backfired. I missed
him completely. He, of course, did not miss me.
yeah, come in, come in!” he yelled when I stumbled into class,
late, stoned but with the excited anticipation of getting to know
an enlightened man. I expected a sweet little yogi sitting there with
a sparkle in his eye and nectar dripping from his words. I wanted
him to be my friend, to help me navigate the ocean of life with a
smile, with a deep understanding of who I was and an appreciation
of my longing to grow. Most importantly, I was looking for a teacher
who would reveal to me the mysteries of higher consciousness while
supporting my fragile ego. Ah, the naïveté of the uninitiated.
As my eyes adjusted to the soft candle light and I worked my way across
the crowded room, I looked at the Yogi, searching for some spark of
recognition, some hint of the compassionate mentor who would be my
guide. He glared at me and growled, “Hurry up! Come on, sit
down!” Jeez, he was rude, impatient, and bossy as hell and those
eyes were positively scary.
Yes, I was a Hippie. Many of the Yogi’s first students were
hippies, children of the counterculture and deeply involved in drugs.
We were the ones who turned up in droves for his earliest yoga classes:
nervous systems blown out, drowning in a counterculture of sex, drugs
and rock and roll, who had rejected the war mongering, materialistic,
dog eat dog dominant culture but had nothing real or positive with
which to replace it. We had a sincere longing to experience life as
true, meaningful, beautiful and filled with love. But the hippie lifestyle
was leading instead to death, depression and arrest. Our souls were
crying out for help. He saw it, understood it and knew that he had
to deliver. He had the tools, he could see the potential and he never
hesitated. He openly taught Kundalini Yoga.
Yoga is everywhere. It is very popular and the Kundalini experience
is even discussed on daytime television talk shows. But in 1970 it
was taboo. It was mysteriously alluded to in spiritual writings as
the “secret teachings” or couched in symbols and metaphors
such as “the serpent power”. Nobody actually taught it.
And, for good reason, it was forbidden. For thousands of years of
yogic tradition it was kept secret, whispered from the mouth of the
guru to the ear of the most worthy disciple. There was even a curse
attached: One who breaks the secret of Kundalini Yoga and teaches
it openly would die within the year.
These traditions, taboos and curses weighed heavily on the Yogi when
he saw his first students in Los Angeles
in 1969. They needed Kundalini Yoga. Anything else would have been
a sham. With full knowledge of the consequences and convinced that
he would die within the year, he taught Kundalini
Yoga freely and openly to anyone who wanted to learn. He broke
the taboo. He figured that in one year he could introduce the basic
teachings, raise the consciousness of the counter culture generation,
break them out of the drug dependency and set them on a path to a
healthy, happy and holy lifestyle. The benefits outweighed the detriments,
even if it meant his death.
A year after he started teaching he became very sick. He faced death
with courage, put himself into a deep meditative state and embraced
his final release. The Yogi had overcome his attachments to the earth
and was ready to join with the Infinite. His students, however, were
not so ready to see him go. We began non-stop chanting to heal him.
In ashrams and yoga centers around the world small and large groups
of his students gathered, prayed, shared food and chanted the soft
melodies of Ek
Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru. We would not let him go. To the
end of his life he maintained that his time on this earth was complete
on that day in 1970. He was supposed to die. It was our prayers that
did not let him go then and it was our prayers that sustained him
through the rest of his life. He never asked anything from anyone,
except, simply, “Pray for me.”
Not surprisingly, it was the traditional yogis from India who were
most upset by his decision to openly teach Kundalini
Yoga. They ostracized him, branded him a renegade and spoke of
him in the most disparaging terms. Yogi Bhajan used to joke about
them. “These so called yogis,” he laughed. “It’s
all business to them. They want the power and control. Kundalini Yoga
gives the power and control to the one who practices. Kundalini Yoga
gives the experience of reality. There’s no middle man. These
yogis are out of a job. No wonder they don’t like me to teach
Meanwhile, back in Tucson the only available space on the floor was
right in front of the teacher’s platform. I was close enough
to smell him. As I plopped down directly in from of him I was engulfed
by the rich fragrance of sandalwood. Unfortunately, this probably
meant that he was close enough to smell me. There was no question
of what I reeked.
I found myself sitting uncomfortably, cramped for space, looking up
at him and trying unsuccessfully to figure him out. He was huge. An
enormous white turban with neat folds created a perfect triangle of
his forehead. His beard was jet black, long straight nose, heavy eyebrows
and ferocious eyes. This guy was no humble, blissful yogi. He wore
a white Indian shirt that barely covered his prominent belly and tight,
skinny pants. How could he even do yoga in those pants?
I had been coming to our local Kundalini Yoga classes now for about
a month. I was getting stretched out and relaxed. My lung capacity
was increasing. I could maintain the more difficult postures with
some degree of finesse. And, I was learning to keep my mind focused
in meditation for longer than a single breath. All in all, I thought
I was getting to be a pretty good yogi. It took Yogi Bhajan about
thirty seconds to blast that notion to pieces.
“Come into Kundalini Lotus Pose,” he bellowed. Dawson
demonstrated the position with ease, balanced on the sacrum, legs
up, straight and spread wide at sixty degrees, fingers wrapped around
the toes, spine straight, totally relaxed.
of Fire!” barked the Yogi. Dawson held the position, pumping
his navel with the breath of fire. For all the strain on his face
and in his body he could have been relaxing in a Jacuzzi.
Piece of cake, I thought and struggled into a poor facsimile of the
position. After twenty seconds I lost my balance, rolled back into
the person behind me, causing him to fall. I imagined the whole class
going down like dominoes.
“Keep up!” screamed the Yogi.
All right already! Once again I struggled into the position. I couldn’t
get my legs straight, kept losing my balance and my breathing was
out of rhythm. It may have only been three minutes. To me it seemed
“Inhale!” The whole place became perfectly still, lungs
filled to capacity, concentration focused at the third eye, straining
but trying to stay relaxed. Into this moment of sheer intensity, I
hear him whispering. Huh? He’s talking to someone! I’m
ready to pass out and he’s talking to someone? Didn’t
this guy even care enough to stay focused on the class?
“Exhale!” he thundered. Thank goodness, I was ready to
“Inhale!” Yikes, we’re not finished yet. More talking.
I put it out of my mind and tried to stay focused on my third eye.
“Exhale! Relax.” There was a rush of energy up my spine.
It seemed pretty powerful. But it could have been just the simple
flood of pure relief at being released from the uncomfortable position.
This was not an enjoyable class for me. The Yogi was more like a drill
sergeant from hell than a blissful yoga teacher. He seemed angry,
rushed, distracted, impatient, and that teaching a yoga class to a
bunch of losers like me was the last thing he wanted to be doing.
Of course I was stoned, hiding behind a chemically induced euphoria
that effectively shielded my fragile ego from any challenge. No wonder
I missed it. No wonder it was a negative experience. I think he could
have delivered God on a silver platter and I would have missed it.
Maybe he did.
He talked a lot about drugs, surprise. Quite possibly I was not the
only one in that class who was stoned. “Kundalini Yoga and drugs
do not mix,” he said emphatically. Oh no, I thought. He’s
talking to me. I looked up, expecting him to be glaring at me. Instead
he was gazing over my head to the group.
“Oh, I’m in ecstasy.” He mimicked a spaced out hippy
with amazing accuracy, head rocking back and forth and eyes rolling
up. “Yes, you are in ecstasy, but you have a hundred dollars
less and you are stupid forever.”
I didn’t like where this was going. I had ingested enough psychedelics
over the past couple of years to qualify for institutionalization.
Nobody said anything about stupid forever.
He continued. “It is good to get sick and fall apart once in
a while. A car does it, why not you? But the problem is, your parts
are not replaceable. You can’t go to a gas station to lube you
up. Do you know what I’m saying? Once you lose a part of you,
folks, you are gone.”
I imagined parts of my brain floating off into the void. I wondered
if there was enough me left to salvage.
“One part that you are losing these days with drugs is called
What? Impactuous Sensitivity? I had studied psychology. There was
no Impactu…whatever sensitivity. He’s making this stuff
“Your generation, the Sixties generation, has lost it. I saw
the tragedy of it. I saw how damaged you were. That’s why I
started Kundalini Yoga. Drugs may do good to you for a while, it’s
your money. I’m not asking you not to use them, but you shall
never be you again.”
How can he say that? Of course I’m me. Who else can I be? My
defenses were kicking in full blast. Everything he was saying was
way too personal, my over sensitive ego was pushing back big time
and I was going into total denial.
“But what is a drug? When you take any drug which makes you
hallucinate, it means your brain cells are stretched to the area and
extent beyond what they should be. So the chances of developing sensitivity
and experiencing infinity are lost.”
I experienced infinity. I was not lost.
“So people have acid and cocaine and all these drugs, but the
worst of all is marijuana. That’s the worst.”
No way! Pot is nothing. It shouldn’t even be considered a drug.
“Every drug has a limited feature and flushes out through the
urine. Marijuana does not get out through the urine. Actually marijuana
is an herb which is used for stomach ailments. It numbs the internal
wound of the digestive system. That’s what it was used for.
But the moment you smoke it, it hits your pituitary and that’s
it, you’re gone. It freezes the serum in the spine, and you
will never have gray matter of the quality that you had, doesn’t
matter how you think you may be.”
This was way too much for me. I just turned him off. I didn’t
want to hear any more.
After class a small group of people surrounded him, asking questions.
Dawson and Bill were in the center of the activity. Two people had
traveled with him from Los Angeles: an elder lady dressed in a sari,
with a gray bouffant hair style and a slightly over-weight, clean
shaved man who seemed more lost than I. I later learned the lady was
Parwha, Yogiji’s first student. Many years later she explained
that the overweight man was her son. The group seemed pretty closed
and the Yogi gave no indication he was interested in a spaced out
hippy like me. Besides, I had heard enough and just wanted to get
out of there.
Once outside the class I pondered the events of this very strange
evening. The reason I had been late was that I was nearly busted while
driving across town to class. In all of my years of taking drugs I
had never even once had a close brush with the law until this evening.
Andy and I were driving in my little Hillman, smoking pot. Unknown
to us, the clouds of tell-tell smoke that billowed from my car attracted
the attention of the local police department. We were pulled over
and I ate the roach. Within 60 seconds 5 different police vehicles
surrounded our little car. They obviously thought they had a serious
drug dealer on their hands and organized a big bust. We were asked
to get out of the car and assume the position. We were searched. They
found nothing of interest in our pockets. Five minutes later a sixth
vehicle pulled up, this one unmarked. The officer produced a search
Four different officers attacked my little Hillman. They took off
door panels, lifted out seats, cleared ashtrays, emptied the contents
of the glove compartment and inspected every nook and cranny. All
I could see were the dark blue derrieres of officers as they sniffed
around for something to justify their existence.
I was not worried. In fact, I felt a sense of relief as the officers
tore apart my car. I knew that they would find nothing. Two days earlier
I had cleaned my car. I had vacuumed the floors, cleaned out the ashtrays
and removed trash. I threw away 2 years worth of incriminating evidence.
The contents of the garbage can into which I dumped it all could have
put me away for a long time. The fact that I cleaned my car a couple
of days before a serious bust attempt could be called plain good luck.
And the fact that on the same evening I nearly got busted and I met
a yogi who yelled at me about taking drugs. What’s going on?
Was all of this just coincidence?
Later that evening as my buzz began to wear off and the Yogi’s
words lost some of their emotional impact, things began to make better
sense. The universe was speaking to me. I’m pretty thick headed,
so God had to use extreme measures. The bust was a shot across by
bow. I knew that pot and drugs was not my path. I knew I had to stop
taking them. My inner voice had been telling me clearly for some time
but I had not been listening. Time in jail could have been my fate.
As it was, I ended up in a yoga class. Just in case the bust attempt
had not been clear enough, I had to sit for an hour listening to this
big Yogi yell at me to stop taking drugs.
Okay, I think I got it, finally. It was time for me to get my stuff
together. The universe was communicating, if I would only listen.
I also knew that if the universe had to tell me again, I would not
get off so easily. -- Chapter 2