Book Review: The Inner Circle

The Inner Circle – Book One: My Seventeen Years in the Cult of the American Sikhs

by Peter Blachly

Peter Blachly, or ‘Sat Peter Singh’ as he came to be known in 3HO, joined the cult in the early 1970’s and lasted 17 years. This book does a good job of recounting how he got involved, why he stayed as long as he did, particularly with a gruellingly awful marriage that YB set up for him, and how he finally extracted himself from it.

This memoir is evocative and well-written, giving the sense of adventure and fun that was possible at various times in 3HO. It also highlights the inequities built into 3HO’s hierarchy and the way the cult functions in cutting off people’s ties from friends and family. Blachly finds himself with limited outside career opportunities because of the general public’s reaction to the strange clothing of turban and traditional Indian dress on white Westerners. 

The author has a detailed section on a group trip to India with Bhajan, the one where 3HO’s leader was almost killed by angry followers of a competitive guru. The details in this portion of the book, which happened almost 50 years ago, suggest that Peter Blachly either has an exceedingly good memory, or he journaled his experience well at the time and kept his notes.

He talks about the joy of creating and playing music with the Khalsa String Band, highlighting the ‘fun vs piety’ thread that continues to run through 3HO. 

Gurujot’s marijuana bust in Washington, gets a quick mention, but strangely Gurujot is referred to as ‘Kamal’. It is not clear why this choice was made.

Moving to L.A. from Washington, DC, Blachly, experiences first hand the GRD ‘boiler-room’ sales business. GRD was one of the scamy businesses that Bhajan encouraged his followers to engage in. Bhajan repeatedly declaring that there was ‘No Karma on the telephone’, allowed low-morality 3HO members to engage in fraudulent business practices. GRD sold overpriced office supplies to gullable buyers in school districts across the USA. They would offer the buyers small incentives and mail them directly to the buyers homes. These organizations could probably ill-afford the fraud that cult members in 3HO were perpetrating on them.

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.

In the end, Blachly, finally gives up on his dismal marriage, though two much-loved daughters came out of it. Driven by love and lust, he severs ties with the 3HO group and is left cut off from his family, without friends in LA, with little money and no career prospects. He assures us in the end it all worked out, but we have to buy Book Two to find out how that played out.

This is a small book, in the sense that probably not that many people will read it, but it does give an interesting perspective on life inside the cult of 3HO and how seemingly intelligent and creative people can get drawn into high-demand groups.

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