OK I was young. But I still wonder how I could have been so stupid for more than twenty years. I mean, I believed every word of bologna that Yogi Bhajan spoke. Well, maybe not at first--in the beginning he seemed like a stern yet seemingly magical old man. But as I became more involved in his group--this yogi seemed so hypnotic and commanding.
The other yogis I had met were willowy, and evasive. And of course they had their insidious yogi rules--like when they would walk in the room your head had to be lower than theirs. Not this guy--he knew all of our American slang, had a sense of humor and really asserted himself. At first I thought he was mean. He would "read" peoples "auras", and tell them everything that was wrong with them. Like there was nothing wrong with him at all. In fact, his followers believed he was an absolute perfect human being. Like Jesus--but alive on earth today. He said stuff like--"I am the Mahan Tantric" and "If you ask me a question, the first answer I give you will always be truth, after that, Ill discuss and argue all you want".
place this photo on an altar
Wow, truth? I asked him what color my aura was. He looked down like he might swat me and said--"Green, youre very sick. You are an escapist". A sick escapist doesnt hold much water when asking any critical questions, do they? That didnt stop me though, I asked many questions. Often, what he said didnt really make rational sense. For example--he would praise every person that did yoga with him--claiming they were now more pure and superior through doing Kundalini and Tantric Yoga as he instructed. Then he would say no unmarried females and males were allowed to be alone together. So, I asked my new yogi the obvious--"If everyone is so pure, why cant they be trusted to be in a room together for a conversation"? He responded, "Ask my secretary"--as if my question was just too stupid to be answered through his holy lips.
I was a member of 3HO and followed Yogi Bhajan for more than twenty years. How did I get sucked in? Slowly. Id do yoga, chant for hours and visit the ashram--getting to know everyone. Slowly, the influence accumulated and everything seemed to add up. Ive often heard people say--"if a cult told you their whole philosophy all at once, youd just get up and leave". Well, they most often never do. First 3HO gave me a "family"--when I was lonely and in college. Then they made me feel important and "high" from all the yoga and meditating. I enjoyed the singing in the group and every time Id hear "the yogi" speak it was like a revelation--"the yogi" was revealing the most important secrets ever known to humanity. But only just a little bit at a time. I always needed to tune in next week for more. I thought that some day I would finally be "pure" enough to understand it all. Maybe I would be truly liberated in this lifetime if I chanted and prayed hard enough! For more than two decades spiritual fulfillment seemed just beyond my grasp
Looking back though, it was like George Orwell's "1984"--everything was a bit contradictory. We would meditate long hours for prosperity, but most of us couldnt get a real job. It was often difficult to obtain work because we dressed so differently, had such long unusual names and typically discontinued our education once we joined the "ashram". But we were the "Pure Ones"--who would lead all of humanity after Western Civilization fell apart. However, if you really looked closely at our lives--we were just struggling to survive.
3HO gave marriage and relationship classes, but our divorce rate was high. It seemed like everyone had swapped spouses at least once after awhile. Part of the reason for this may have been because Yogi Bhajan would often arrange marriages. It was part of that "aura" thing again. He said he could see everyones auras and destinies and would match people up accordingly. During one Tantric Yoga course he asked all the single people to stand up and just pointed people out saying "you and you"--and just like that people were engaged. Can you imagine that?
Well, that doesnt explain why people like me gave power over to him, does it? Perhaps, he just took it I guess. He acted as if he was omniscient--that if we didnt accept his claims and guidance he would crush us--making us feel like wounded animals. He was good at what he did--a real talker and a total destruction and then inspiration artist. We were young, idealistic and naïve and he would pick us up, dust us off, and promise us greatness. All this was done through a façade of holiness, eastern mysteries, and mantras with answers to almost everything. And of course, while all this was happening--he kept us busy, very busy.
There were rules for everything. There was a way to cook and chew your food. There was a way to wake up in the morning, take a cold shower and oil your body. Heck, there was even a correct way to urinate and relieve yourself in the bathroom. So we memorized all the rules of life--hoping someday we could teach the ignorant masses who were just waiting for enlightenment. Well, at least we thought they were waiting for our yogi to utter his next pearl. But when we tried to share the truth--somehow not that many people seemed to care, or appreciate this knowledge. But we just kept trying to teach, teach and teach. Of course this was not proselytizing or recruiting--just "teaching". Like in Orwell's classic "1984" our yogi had defined certain language and words meant what he wanted them to mean.
And what were our yogi's "holy lips" actually doing while we were so busy purifying ourselves? That depends on whom you ask. Many 3HO women have stepped forward and said that he had sex with them. Some have sued this "holy man". It seems these suits were settled quietly out of court--complete with gag orders. After all, our yogi was a "warrior"--and perhaps some people didn't want to spend their lives fighting with him.
There were strange business deals swirling around the ashram too. Followers of Yogi Bhajan were busted --charges of illegal drugs, guns and boiler room phone scams. And then there was the jewelry. Yogi told us one day his special jewelry would be put in a museum for all to see --like the artifacts or legacy of a Pope. Yogi Bhajan wears jewels and tells his followers with money to buy jewels too--"for their aura". Some people say he may have benefited from gem sales to members. Of course the true believers within 3HO would never even suspect this. He has had or has--Mercedes, sport utility vehicles, a Rolls Royce and a stretch limousine. Imagine that--all this from teaching "yoga".
Well, Im out of 3HO now and have very little to show for more than twenty years of following my one-time "yogi". But hopefully by telling my story I may prevent people from coming under the hypnotic spell of "the master"--or someone else like him.
This world can be a cold place and the answers to lifes questions are often illusive. Like why are we here and what is the purpose of life anyway? God is so large and awesome to comprehend. But isn't it better to have an open mind and lingering questions than a few pat answers from some supposed "holy man"? Just because a charismatic leader has influenced you to believe those answers doesnt mean that's "the truth".
Do yoga if you wish, but please learn where the yoga ends and mindless devotion & religious fanaticism begins.
And please, if you want to know the secret to life, the first thing you must have--is a life. And it must be your own, not someone else's idea of what it should be.
Copyright © 1998 Rick Ross
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