3HO--is it a Toxic Faith System?

October 1998
Submitted by former 3HO member--"Now Aware Kaur"

"Religion is nothing, folks. Nor are you anything as a human being. You are just a human bag, if you do not establish the generational cycle of dharma [spiritual lifestyle] of righteousness." Yogi Bhajan, January 31, 1977, pg. 130, Winter Lecture Series, 1977

The 3HO lifestyle lies seemingly within a dysfunctional system. Known by its followers as "Happy, Healthy and Holy," it may instead breed toxic faith amongst its adherents. A number of years ago, a young man named Jap Ji from the Berkeley, California area, tried to reach out to members of 3HO by writing about ashram family issues. He proposed that the group was acting like a large, collective, dysfunctional family. He wrote a newsletter and circulated it among 3HO members at a yearly function--Summer Solstice Camp. Jap Ji procured testimonials from many ashram members who were trying to reach out and communicate with other 3HO’ers--that the 3HO "family" was failing in its group dynamics, family units and community identify . Of course, he and his newsletters were quickly, officially "banned" by 3HO thereafter. It seems as if Jap Ji was "crushed" by the 3HO "party liners" for telling the truth.

Does 3HO fall under the label of a "destructive cult"? Each individual who is taken in by its system seriously becomes a member of the group. And that person then has a role within the "Happy Healthy Holy" organization. But many former 3HO devotees feel that the organization seems to survive through a system of dependency, strictly proscribed behavior patterns and toxic faith relationships--rather than a system that encourages independence and an individual interpretation of spirituality.

Once an individual is recruited they can be trapped within this unhealthy system. This may cause behaviors and altered beliefs that probably would not have been exhibited under normal circumstances. If a 3HO member does not adhere to the proscribed behaviors or belief system, they cannot belong, nor long survive in 3HO.

3HO inductees, as well as long-term members are told that being "happy", "healthy" and "holy", as stated by Yogi Bhajan is their "birthright". A birthright, by actual definition is any right acquired by birth. The belief that an individual birthright is found within the 3HO lifestyle and Yogi Bhajan--is a sneaky way of replacing individuality and personal spirituality with dependency on a set of rules, behaviors and beliefs as dictated by Bhajan. The faithful of 3HO's "birthright" lifestyle are required to accept this narrow interpretation of terms and convince others. But an individual's rights of birth are given by providence or their creator/God--not a toxic belief system that demands its followers adhere to proscribed, programmed, spiritual rules, behaviors and relationships in order to make a "birthright" possible.

"The teacher must confuse and test you, but, if teacher gets confused, he becomes a cockroach"

Yogi Bhajan, "You are Ugly, Be Beautiful" Lecture, 1977.

3HO seems to be full of abusive games that are used to "confuse" students. Yogi Bhajan has said that it is OK to "poke, provoke and elevate" as a teaching tool. His devotees are often singled-out and reamed for behaviors that he, his inner circle, and/or ashram directors feel are inappropriate and/or disobedient to the 3HO code of conduct. Then not unlike the process of being pardoned of one's sins by a confessor--the student is instructed as to how to act in accordance with his or her "birthright". This is reminiscent of what some Christians have called "spiritual abuse" (see the "Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse"). The abuse of power to "poke, provoke and elevate"--can push the lowly, unconscious, negative people, away (e.g. those who ask too many questions, criticizes or devalue the Bhajan's doctrine).

Many people in 3HO feel they dare not come too close to Yogi Bhajan or someone within his inner circle-- because they might receive a rude tongue-lashing. Instead of faith in oneself or some higher power (e.g. God) to help with personal shortcomings--the system of "poke, provoke, and elevate" takes hold as an individual's seemingly only hope for redemption. 3HO rules, beliefs, and its student-teacher dynamic often replace everything else with a seeming series of abusive games to achieve a kind of programmed, patterned sort of behavior. There are no open-dialogues when it comes to 3HO lifestyle, rules of conduct.

"There can be no happiness in your relationships if you do not establish who commands and who obeys" Yogi Bhajan, "The Giver and the Taker" Lecture, April 1976

The "Obey to Command" game seems to be one of Yogi Bhajan's favorite teachings. The game requires a passive enabling-type of personality (the student) to exhibit what appears to be blind faith in Bhajan’s leadership. The game is played out over and over again. It is taught slowly, methodically, as it is a foundational aspect that maintains the authority for much of the manipulation of Bhajan's followers. Because of this blind faith in his authority members of 3HO will do his bidding without question. The "Obey to Command" game is for advanced devotees and it is dished out over a long period of time. This process encourages listening to Bhajan, following his edicts, submission and molding yourself with Bhajan as your model.

Eventually, the devotee's personal power is typically projected upon and taken by Bhajan. Yogi Bhajan and the group become omniscient, not God or some spiritual truth. This can in turn create a kind of toxic faith that may poison the potential for a meaningful journey towards spirituality. This game often requires its victims to do and say rather extreme and extraordinary things that they would not consider under normal circumstances. But people frequently feel trapped and caught up in the group mindset--unable to resist the commands of Yogi Bhajan.

Each serious 3HO devotee becomes part of this "happy, healthy, holy" game/process that turn Bhajan's often-harsh teachings into a seemingly palatable, sweet and seductive form of supposed "gifts". Devotees are required to endure and convince others to do the same. It is a seductive recruitment/indoctrination program designed for naïve idealists, unsuspecting yoga students, "New Age" enthusiasts and Tantra Yoga participants. It can be observed at the 10 day solstice camp, the 3 weeks of Women’s’ Camp and other 3HO programs. At such staged events participants are expected to pay to play the game with Yogi Bhajan and 3HO. These classes and camps exist essentially as recruitment tools and sources of cash for the organization. Through such programs and subsequent devotion Yogi Bhajan has become a wealthy man.

Yogi Bhajan is known for his lectures about the failure of people to comprehend a truly pure, fulfilling identity. His definitions are always complicated, rambling, ever changing, and virtually impossible to understand. Of course there are Yogi Bhajan's over-simplified one-liners and his quaint sayings--which are often repeated as golden words and almost, chanted like mantras by 3HO devotees. Some might call these sayings "thought terminating cliches or "loaded language".

Bhajan often berates, puts-down, and loads guilt upon his students. He condemns Americans for having insecure identities, ego trips and "interlocked neurosis". He admonishes individual personalities with sayings that can induce a sense of guilt, but he’s not responsible for how 3HO people turn out. There are always rationalizations for their failures such as they didn't really listen to him (see "From the Masters’ Mouth").

Bhajan attempts to redefine a devotee's thinking about his or her identity and spirituality. Often through this process of redefinition people become extremely self-critical, confused and/or depressed. But any negative results of Bhajan's teachings again must always be attributed to their personal failure and/or inability to understand or live up to their "birthright". And of course that "birthright" is proscribed and defined by Bhajan. Around and around the game goes--ever circling and confusing--finally the only solution is surrender and submission.

Bhajan may taunt his students if they don’t listen carefully to understand the "gifts" he offers. Once a student believes Bhajan has the answers to the questions of life--that person is essentially trapped. Then the 3HO follower will vow to do more, pay more and perform more--whatever Yogi Bhajan may require. 3HO devotees have been known to wrap themselves up in the organization--living in ashrams and anxiously waiting for more of his "gifts". But through these seeming endless mind games Bhajan plays--his followers often feel they can never be good enough. They must try harder and always be corrected through Bhajan's process of "poke, provoke and elevate". This encourages low self-esteem, dependency and submission. 3HO members often become dysfunctional, unbalanced and unhealthy as a direct result of this process.

"Those who tune into him are tuned into HIM in return and this union is the Yoga of Awareness called Kundalini Yoga. Those who practice this will stand liberated." "Beads of Truth", Lecture "The Aura or Magnetic Field", 1972

The statement above is a guarantee that 3HO Foundation will not last forever. It will fall because its members have turned from their own personal spirituality and awareness to depend upon a leader--Yogi Bhajan. They are dependent upon him, his yoga and the 3HO as their source and focus for the answers to life’s questions. 3HO will fall because it promotes unhealthy relationships between its followers and families--often destroying personal growth, individual expressions of faith and genuine spirituality.

Eventually, 3HO can even destroy an individual’s relationship with God--if they become too busy running around serving Bhajan. Such devotees are so obsessed with the organization, they don't reflect upon God or their own sense of personal identity. These people become trapped in a toxic belief system dependent upon a leader and obedient to his commands. And they don't realize that they actually help enable Bhajan to play his games--as pawns playing roles according to their "birthright". They are essential components in reinforcing his authority, which makes the toxic faith system possible.

It must be said that for many, in the early stages of 3HO, these relationships were not clear. Perhaps in the beginning such relationships seemed healthier than the drug culture or certain unloving situations. In the beginning there seemed to be a sense of purpose, of finding oneself and the role of spirituality in one’s life. However, it ultimately appears to have become a cruel joke. Everyone fell in love with the giver of the "gifts" instead of finding meaningful answers to life's questions or greater spirituality. People began to idolize "Yogi Bhajan"--someone who in truth we knew very little about. The focus shifted from spirituality to his Kundalini Yoga, his 3HO and Bhajan himself. There was no spiritual insight without his knowledge and/or permission. Bhajan’s "birthright" seemed to create a kind of addiction for all of his little "gifts"--they became the beginning and end of any analysis--answers to everything (e.g. personal identity and a spiritual way of life).

Yogi Bhajan has created a false reality. And a false reality is the purpose of ANY addiction. He used all of his (and other's) talents, to create and feed a false reality that drove the addiction of many former "druggies" and "hippies" from the 60’s and 70’s to become addicted to his supposed 3HO reality. He then used power, given to him by those addicted, to gain ever-increasing control over 3HO member's lives and their environments. He seems to have knowingly watched this process draw a crowd of supposedly willing victims--addicts to his "gifts" hungering to develop their spiritual lives. He appears to offer relief from feeling worthless, a sense of safety and surety in a troubled world, but Yogi Bhajan's followers often become addicted to new "highs" of trance induction through "meditation"--a kind of hypnosis that seemingly eases their pain. This is a false reality.

One of his best known false reality addictions is Tantric Yoga. Tantric Yoga is often very painful; sitting on a floor for hours on end, holding positions until the arms give out, being yelled at to hold your breath until told to let go. But, remember addicts can love pain and the rituals, which surround it. Bhajan's followers who are hooked--seem willing to pay hundreds of dollars for courses to achieve these hypnotic "highs".

The bottom line

I could go on about other areas of the 3HO lifestyle to further prove my premise--that 3HO is a toxic belief system seemingly destined to fail and fall. But if you are considering some involvement with or continued support of 3HO--you should ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you want to spend the rest of your life and your money--providing for Yogi Bhajan?
  • Is the meaning of life, your life--protecting him, his lifestyle and loving him unconditionally through blind devotion?

Because, that is what it seems to boil down to and what you should understand.

Copyright © 1998 Rick Ross

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