At The Feet of The Yogi
By Kirpal S. Khalsa, Ph.D.

Chapter Seven
Spiritual Charlatans

Patrick went to Los Angeles for a weekend and returned with a beautiful and very charismatic woman who asked us to call her Mataji. She wore long white gowns, her dark hair hung loosely down her back, she smiled often and looked at us with the deepest brown eyes I had ever seen. She hugged everybody and often touched people as she spoke with them, on the cheek, shoulder or hands. It was not sexual but felt very intimate. She was a gifted teacher and took over yoga classes, adding new exercises and group activities. Patrick seemed like a boy in love, following her every move and losing himself in her eyes. 
I had never met a woman who was beautiful, feminine and affectionate and, at the same time, powerful, focused and a strong teacher. All she had to do was smile at me and I was ready to follow her anywhere. I was convinced she was some kind of goddess. 

One day Yogiji’s picture on the altar at the ashram looked different. It appeared to be Yogiji but his beard was a little lighter, he did not look so angry and his turban was not as crisp. Patrick explained that the picture was of our new teacher, Babaji, and that we were no longer students of Yogi Bhajan

Oh, wow, just like that, I had a new teacher! Wait a minute. Can you do that? What would Yogiji have to say? Could one so easily change teachers like a new set of clothes? It didn’t seem right, but what did I know? I was still very much a novice and this whole ashram, spiritual lifestyle thing was new. Besides, Patrick was my yoga teacher and head of the ashram. If he said it was so, it must be true.   

So we embarked on the weirdest two weeks of my spiritual journey. But for my faith in God and the grace and protection of my teacher, I easily could have lost everything.

Who was Babaji? Mataji explained. Babaji was her husband and her spiritual master. He was one of Yogiji’s first students who had surpassed his former teacher and had achieved enlightenment. He was a clear link to the Infinite and had channeled special mantras and the “Exercises for the Aquarian Age." We would begin practicing these immediately.

First we learned “Star Pose." We stood with our legs spread wide apart, our arms stretched out to the side. We were to inhale and exhale deep and powerfully. The usual result was after three to five minutes of the deep breathing we simply passed out and fell down. In another exercise we started sitting on our heels with our head down. With a powerful inhale we stood up on our knees, arms up and leaning back, then exhaling powerfully back down. After three minutes we were to inhale and hold. The result was almost everybody passed out. Sometimes we fell in awkward positions, often jerking for a few seconds, while the oxygen imbalance adjusted itself. Mataji explained that three minutes of one of these exercises was more powerful than a full hour of Kundalini Yoga

I remember a yoga class in the park with about thirty people. We sat in a circle and did one of the exercises described above while holding hands. We inhaled together, came up on our knees, raised our arms and leaned back. Then we exhaled, bent forward and placed our foreheads on the ground. After three minutes of deep breathing we were already dizzy.  Patrick told us to inhale up and hold. I came up but did not inhale deeply or hold. Everyone else did. The whole class came up on their knees, raised their arms high, leaned back and held their breath. I sat there and watched. Most people in the class passed out. It was sort of like watching a line of dominoes fall. Most ended up on the ground, some convulsed for a few moments while the oxygen re-balanced in their system. 

The result of passing out due to oxygen imbalance was a dizzy, spaced out feeling. Some in the class really liked it and were convinced they were experiencing an elevated state of consciousness. I did not like it at all. I was taught that Kundalini Yoga was the Yoga of Awareness. What we were practicing seemed to me to be the yoga of unconsciousness. These types of exercises became known as “jerk yoga." Not only did it cause people's bodies to jerk when they passed out, but in my case, I felt like a jerk doing it.   
One of our new mantras was, “God help me." I tried it once then refused to do it again. It had no resonance. It made me feel separate from God rather than one with God. I did not like the idea that I needed help. During this time I continued to go up to the mountains by myself and do the long Ek Ong Kar chant.

Patrick and Mataji announced one morning that they were returning to Los Angeles to be with Babaji. They encouraged us to join them. None of us were able to leave on a moment's notice. They left Babaji's picture on the altar and told us to continue to practice the "
Exercises for the Aquarian Age." 

We felt like abandoned orphans. What should we do? Over the next couple of days half the ashram residents left. Those of us who stayed drifted apart. We maintained the afternoon Kundalini Yoga class in the park. After a few days we called the Phoenix ashram and told them what had happened.

Next day Babadon, the teacher in Phoenix showed up. He was a large man with a full brown beard. He walked around the ashram barely disguising his disgust. We told him the whole story and demonstrated the "Exercises for the Aquarian Age." He must have thought that we were total fools who had abandoned Yogiji and somehow disgraced our teacher.  

He explained that Babaji was Jim Baker, founder of Source Restaurant in Los Angeles and leader of the Source Family. He was an early student of Yogiji's who had turned away from his spiritual teacher. His ego was too big. He could not accept Yogiji's teaching or commit to a spiritual practice. He was caught in the biggest trap of the spiritual path, spiritual ego. He thought he was more advanced than his teacher. 

Jim Baker aka Yahowha

(L) Jim Baker prior to the '60s with his mother (R) Jim Baker aka Yahowha

Source Family Residence

This was not the first time I had heard of spiritual ego. Dawson used to talk about it in his classes. He warned that it was the worst pitfall on the spiritual path. The only way to avoid spiritual ego was to develop true humility. Otherwise you think you are becoming a great spiritual being and people should worship you. He even said that one who falls into spiritual ego is reincarnated in the next lifetime as a cockroach.   

In the words of Yogiji, "When a teacher misses the style of life bestowed on him, the path of being a teacher, next life is a cockroach. There is no bigger ego, insanity, logic, reason, than a spiritual ego. A man with spiritual ego will put forth all the logic and reason to justify that which he already knows is consciously wrong."

Wow!  How easily we were duped, but what a relief. The lovey-dovey, touchy feely, goo-goo eyed spirituality that Mataji showered us with never felt right. The exercises were forced, the mantras concocted and even Mataji, as much as I thought she was beautiful, seemed to be putting on an act. It wasn't real.

How long would it have taken me to figure it out for myself? I wondered if I would have ever figured it out. Even if I had figured it out, could I have turned away? How easily I fell prey to their sugar coated spirituality. I felt betrayed. They had deliberately misled me, tried to sway me to their trip and I had been a willing participant. There were dangers on this spiritual path. I had jumped in with a naïve faith in the goodness of spiritually minded people with my eyes wide shut. It was time to wake up and get real. 

This was my first brush with spiritual charlatans. It opened my eyes to the fact that students on the spiritual path need to beware. There were all kinds of nuts out there who may appear spiritual but instead take advantage of the openness and innocence of the spiritual seeker. How does one protect himself? How does one know? 

Of course it led to my questioning my own path. Was Yogiji real? Was my practice of Kundalini Yoga real? For that matter, was I real? How could I know? I waded through a molasses of confusion, questions and self doubt. There was no one to turn to for answers and I didn't have the self confidence or experience to make those judgments myself.  
What I did was keep up. Yogiji always said, "Keep up and you will be kept up." Andy, I and a small group from the ashram kept up our spiritual practice. We did yoga together in the afternoon and chanted long Ek Ong Kar in the morning. It worked. Nobody freaked out. We had energy and elevation to carry us through this difficult period. 

We did the right thing. But before we get too self-congratulatory, let us not forget Yogiji. His protection and grace surrounded us, even if we were not aware of it. When I was convinced Mataji was some highly evolved spiritual being and I would have followed her anywhere, Yogiji was there, guiding us and helping in subtle and unknown ways. Such is the blessing of a real spiritual teacher.  
We did the right thing. But before we get too self-congratulatory, let us not forget Yogiji. His protection and grace surrounded us, even if we were not aware of it. When I was convinced Mataji was some highly evolved spiritual being and I would have followed her anywhere, Yogiji was there, guiding us and helping in subtle and unknown ways. Such is the blessing of a real spiritual teacher.

A couple of years later I was in Los Angeles for Yogiji's birthday party. It was a big feast at a local auditorium with lots of singing, stories and, of course, an inspiring talk by Yogiji. During the meal Jim Baker with fifty or more of his followers marched in all dressed in long white robes and made their way to Yogiji's seat. Oh, beautiful, I thought, Jim Baker brought his whole flock to honor Yogiji. Unfortunately this was not the case. As the group approached Yogiji, all talking stopped and a heavy tension filled the room.

Yogiji welcomed the group and invited them to sit down and enjoy food. Jim, still standing, announced that he was God and that Yogiji should recognize him. I was appalled. It was pure spiritual ego and nothing else. “Yogiji put his palms together and said, "Sat Nam, I recognize the God within you as I recognize the God within all." Then he said pointedly, "It is good to act as God and serve the God in all. Then the blessings of God will be with you. But if you claim to act as God and expect everyone to bow to you, then the wrath of God will be upon you." I shuddered to think what the wrath of God was. After a few minutes Jim Baker and his followers left.

Yogiji stepped up on the stage and led the singing of his poem, "We are the people, the people of love. Let us people love today." We all joined together in an open hearted and moving rendition, singing for more than an hour and transforming the tension into a beautiful experience.

Jim Baker and his group moved to Hawaii where one difficulty followed another until Jim fell to his death in a hang gliding accident and the group dispersed. Yikes! Spiritual ego, the wrath of God, the spiritual path had a dark side. Yogiji used to say the spiritual path was finer than a hair's breadth and sharper than a razor's edge. How easy it was to fall. The story of Jim Baker made it real.

Meanwhile, back in Tucson, the remnants of the ashram struggled to hold it together. Several days after his first visit, Babadon showed up again, this time with a young man named Sandy along with his wife. Sandy was to be our new teacher. He and his wife moved into Patrick's old room at the ashram. 

Sandy had been practicing Kundalini Yoga in Taos, New Mexico for four weeks. By this time we had been practicing for 3 months. Was this guy qualified to be our teacher? His repertoire of yoga exercises was limited. He was not very well stretched out. He was no Patrick. School would be out in a couple of weeks. I could handle that. Then I would be off to New Mexico.

His wife never did yoga. She did not dress in white and seemed to come from a very straight background. Her passion seemed to be stray animals. Within a week of their moving in, the back yard was full of dogs collected from around town. She spent a good portion of each day taking them on walks. During the warm spring nights we used to sleep in the back yard. Now you could barely walk back there without stepping in poop. How she ended up in a yoga lifestyle still baffles me. Needless to say, she did not last. 

Sandy's first order of business was to repaint the sadhana room. White represents purity. The ashram is a spiritual place and should be white. It was only 30 days earlier that we had painted the trim with all the colors of the rainbow. It was with some sadness that we climbed back up the ladders to white out our beautiful colors. His saving grace was his beautiful guitar playing and heavenly voice. He reestablished group sadhana and energized yoga classes by singing mantras accompanied by his guitar. Music can touch people, even a negative camper like me. 

Jemez Mountains

Within an hour of the end of my last final exam for the semester I was out on the road hitchhiking to Santa Fe. I arrived in the middle of Dawson and Karen's yoga class. They welcomed me and drove me out to their property south of town. I set up my tent, meditated and watched the sun set behind the Jemez Mountains to the west. Finally I was at Maharaj Ashram. I was home. -- Chapter Eight is next.



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