Kundalini Yoga’s #MeToo Moment?
Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan
by Pamela Saharah Dyson
- Paperback: 204 pages
- Publisher: Eyes Wide Publishing (January 8, 2020)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0578621886
- ISBN-13: 978-0578621883
Let me state up front, I am a biased reviewer of this book, having spent many years in 3HO doing Kundalini Yoga.
Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan, (YB) is written by Pamela Dyson, Premka Kaur, who was there from the start, at the very centre of things when Yogi Bhajan was starting his cult 3HO. She was his first secretary, the first of many, and the person YB was positioning to succeed him, after he died.
Hints and Allegations
Long after leaving 3HO I heard stories that YB was a serial sexual predator from people who had left the group or on the internet, and that his ‘secretariat’ was basically his ‘harem’, but I had no direct experience of this. As with many of his followers, I was far from the action—I lived far away and saw him infrequently at Solstice events or when he came through town to teach a Tantric Yoga course.
At the first meeting the author and YB had foreshadows future problems, when in a private yoga lesson YB places his hand on her breast. Fairly soon she is living in his ashram house and is assigned to sleep on a bedroll at the foot of his bed. From there, she is regularly summoned to his bed for sex, supposedly to ‘fulfill her destiny’. Despite her stating that she did not want sex, he said to her:
“The Yogi had often told me, “Premka, you and I have a karmic relationship from many lifetimes…I am just fulfilling an obligation to you because of past karma. I have no need of any sexual relationship. I am beyond all that.”
3HO/Kundalini Yoga #MeToo
The White Bird book is a long-awaited #MeToo moment for the 3HO community, it is interesting to see how it is being received by people still loyal to the cause. The story has touched a nerve. I am following a Facebook group called ‘Beyond the Cage‘ dedicated to the book and it has blown up over the past year. I think when I joined there might have been a couple of dozen people, in just a short time, it had grown to over 5,000 people. The discussion is supportive of Dyson’s book and includes many ex-3HO people expressing their regrets and anger.
Numerous other stories have come forward from women who felt they were being groomed by YB. Some ran away and others acquiesed. Another lawsuit accusing YB of rape from the 1980s was also discussed.
Then there are the personal stories of people who had been in and left 3HO because of the illegal activities YB and his students were involved in — telemarketing scams, phone boiler rooms, tricking older people out of their savings or selling overpriced office supplies to businesses and arranging to mail bribes to the home of office supply purchasers. There were federal cases against these businesses. Then there are documents that a high level YB acolyte was arrested, charged and served time for smuggling guns and drugs into the US from Thailand. This story overlaps with some of the details in the book.
From the comments on this Facebook group, there appear to be many current 3HO teachers, trying to figure how to move forward from this. It is striking how many of the newer yoga students and teachers are talking about cancelling courses, asking for refunds, declaring that they want nothing more to do with the group and removing all reference to YB from their teaching. Many giving up yoga entirely.
The central 3HO body, who now manage the group, seems to have gone into damage control mode, setting up conference calls with their yoga teachers to try and contain the issues. After initially stonewalling, they hired a private firm to do an investigation of the allegations. The report came out in August of 2020 – An Olive Branch Report. It is pretty devastating, detailing numerous and frequent abuses of those women who strayed too close to YB.
Many old time 3HO people, who may have joined in the 60s and 70s are in full on denial. Many of these people are in their 70s and are finding it very difficult to adjust. I know from experience that belief systems are hard to shake when you have built your life around a uniform and lifestyle. When I was in the group, when questions came up, as they often did, we told ourselves many lies that allowed us to keep doing what we were doing for so long. YB was an expert at twisting logic and victim blaming. He trained his students well.
Gaps in the Book
Left out of the book is the story of Premka/Dyson’s lawsuit against YB after she left the group, the resulting settlement and her return to the community a year later. Dyson has responded to these shortcomings with some interesting blog posts:
Is the book any good?
With so many of the gurus from India from the 60’s and 70’s turning out to be horrible people who abused their students sexually, financially and emotionally, this is a worthwhile book for anyone interested in how the teacher/student relationship often goes horribly wrong. I read this book in one go and was moved, angry, and ultimately happy to hear that she has been able make a good life for herself.
Dyson has a great story to tell, and that makes this book a worthwhile read. She gets to the heart of why she looked to YB as a surrogate father. She is honest about her own weaknesses and desires. It is also a love story, of her and the man who ultimately helps her get out of the group. Most of all her story is believable. I expect many readers will be moved by her story.
Unfortunately, her book, welcome though it is, comes 20-30 years too late to serve as a warning for the women who got too close to him. Yogi Bhajan died in 2004. Then again, perhaps this story could only come out and be useful now when social media is here to amplify and extend its reach to people within and on the edges of the group. 20 years ago, this book would never have reached its potential audience.
Want to Know More?
After you have read the book, if you want to know more about the damage that this man did, and the organization he left behind, don’t trust the Wikipedia article on Yogi Bhajan, as it is maintained by YB’s official biographer, a devout follower. (Fun fact: to see who is editing a Wikipedia entry, click on the tab called history.) To get a more accurate picture, check out some of these Resources.
An interesting, well written and seemingly unbiased, academic paper called “From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini“ explains the origins of YB’s version of Kundalini Yoga.
1 thought on “Book Review: Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan”
[…] The book brings forth another side of Bhajan’s abuses. Since he is not a woman, Blachly doesn’t have to deal with sexual harassment, but he does experience abuse, shame and exploitation at the hands of Bhajan. The story he tells is a good compliment to Premka’s book, White Bird in a Golden Cage. […]