An Introduction to Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga/3HO Cult
In early 2020, one of Yogi Bhajan’s, founder of 3HO and teacher of Kundalini Yoga, original ‘secretaries’ published a memoir and it brought forth a flury of accusations from other women who say they were sexually abused by the group leader. The yogi has been revealed as having been a serial sexual predator, a conman and crook. 3HO, the group Bhajan founded, is struggling to adapt.
I started this web site and a series of YouTube videos because of some frustration about the current Wikipedia entry on 3HO and Yogi Bhajan. Both those entries are managed by 3HO cult members who haven’t acknowledged the abuses. Many good people within 3HO are waking up to the facts, but some are ‘double-downing’ in their fanaticism.
Yogi Bhajan himself has been dead since 2004, but the truth about his many misdeeds are finally coming out. In early 2020, his first secretary, a woman he named Premka, released a tell-all book entitled “Premka-White Bird in a Golden Cage“. It has come out 30 years after she left the group. This wasn’t her first effort to reveal the truth about the yogi. She had sued him back in the late 1980’s but lacked the resources to fight his numerous legal delays. She ended up settling out of court back then. Because there was no Internet or social media at the time, many in the 3 H O community didn’t hear about it, or if they did, were fed an alternate truth by the group’s leadership.
In early 2020, the book, “Premka-White Bird in a Golden Cage” by Pamela Saharah Dyson, found an audience. Because of social media the news about the yogi’s sexual predation could no longer be contained by 3HO. The reaction to the book grew particularly strong in a private Facebook group called “Beyond the Cage”. By offering a safe space to talk, the Facebook group drew people out and the stories started to flow. So much so that many people within 3HO could no longer ignore the truth about their once revered leader.
Let’s back up a bit.
What is 3HO?
That is the name of the cult Bhajan set up. He declared it was short for the “Healthy Happy Holy Organization”, (granted, a dumb name for a group, it leads to redundancies like “3HO Organization” or the group’s web site ‘www.3ho.org’). Within a year of starting the group, he had his followers, a lot of them former hippies, wearing white turbans and all-white traditional Punjabi clothing. Despite Bhajan’s claim to having hundreds of thousands of followers, some estimates suggest that the group never had more than 3,000 to 5,000 converts. Many more people have practiced ‘Kundalini Yoga’, the group’s brand of yoga.
Who was Yogi Bhajan?
In 1968, when he first came to America, he was a middle-aged former customs officer from India. According to Dyson’s book, he began sexually abusing followers almost immediately upon his arrival.
Yogi Bhajan was dishonest and predatory in a number of ways. Despite admonishing his followers to not use any drugs, he may have been involved in drug trafficking . His immediate associates were involved in telemarketing scams, selling overpriced office supplies, illegal lottery tickets and worthless gems to gullible buyers. He told the employees of these ‘dharmic businesses, that there was ‘no karma on the telephone’. He coerced at least one woman out of a million dollar inheritance and took control of several community-owned companies in the name of his organization, ultimately benefiting himself. Some of these companies — Akaal Security, Golden Temple Foods and the Yogi Tea Company — went on to become very successful.
One of the most damaging things that Bhajan did to his followers beyond sexual abuse, was to separate children from parents. He would often send children away from their parents, eventually founding a school in India. The schools were underfunded and not well run. Many children experienced physical, psychological and even sexual abuse, traumatizing them for years afterwards.
Through the years, many students have left the group after experiencing abuse, or seeing the hypocrisy in Bhajan.
What were his teachings?
According to Philip Deslippe, a historian of Yoga teachers coming to the west, Bhajan’s pilfered his physical yoga moves from a Swami Dhirendra in Delhi. The chants and meditations for which 3HO is well known, came from a Sikh teacher named Virsa Singh. Once he had these two aspects, chanting and yoga, as a base, he improvised. From many reports of his former students Yogi Bhajan does not appear to have done much yoga or meditation himself. He also did not seem to follow the nutritional guidelines he told his students to adhere to. When he died in 2004, it was from heart disease, self-inflicted diabetes and after having had a kidney transplant in India.
Why does any of this matter?
Many of his former students are still teaching his line of yoga (Kundalini Yoga As Taught By Yogi Bhajan). In the late 1990s, the public’s interest in yoga grew exponentially and 3HO’s leaky, barnacle-encrusted boat, went along for the ride. 3HO teachers could suddenly charge $3,000 – 5,000 dollars for a 300-hour ‘teacher’s training course’. This turned out to be a highly profitable for some in the group.
So what is happening now?
After the book ‘Premka‘ was published, the group couldn’t ignore the horror stories coming out on social media and hired an organization called ‘An Olive Branch’ to do a report. Their report “An Investigation into Allegations of Sexual and Related Misconduct by Yogi Bhajan” came out in early August of 2020 and concluded that based on the stories from close to 300 people reporting, with 25 reports of sexual battery and other sexual abuse, that there was a very good chance that Bhajan was a serial sexual abuser of his students.
They conclude “it is more likely than not that Yogi Bhajan engaged in several forms of sexual and or ethical misconduct with 36 of his followers. Specifically, it is more likely than not that Yogi Bhajan engaged in sexual battery and other sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and conduct that violates Sikh vows and ethical standards. Taken together, these actions constitute abuse of power by a spiritual teacher.
Long time 3HO members are split in their responses. Many of the second generation children who had suffered horrific treatment at the 3HO school in India are much more inclined to believe the stories of the abused women. Old guard 3HO members, some who have been in the group for 50 years or more, have been indoctrinated to take any criticism of Bhajan as a sign that they are being tested. They just close their eyes and ears to new information and go back to chanting. As a result of the COVID epidemic and then the sex abuse disclosures about Bhajan, some 3HO yoga studios have shut down and the teachers are retooling, trying to find ways to teach Kundalini Yoga without the Bhajan.