Harbhajan Singh Khalsa

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Harbhajan Singh Khalsa
Yogi Bhajan 1985.jpg
Harbhajan Singh in 1985
Born (1929-08-26)26 August 1929
Kot Harkarn, Punjab, British India
Died October 6, 2004(2004-10-06) (aged 75)
Espanola, New Mexico, United States
Residence India, United States
Known for
Notable awards
  • Bhai Sahib title at Akal Takhat (1974)
  • Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award (1995)
  • Panth Rattan title at Takhat Keshgarh Sahib India (1999)
  • U.S. Congress concurrent resolution honoring his life and accomplishments (2005)[1]
Spouse Bibi Inderjit Kaur
Children Ranbir Singh, Kulbir Singh, Kamaljit Kaur

Harbhajan Singh (born as Harbhajan Singh Puri)[2] (August 26, 1929 – October 6, 2004), also known as Yogi Bhajan and Siri Singh Sahib to his followers, was a yogi, spiritual teacher, and entrepreneur, who introduced Kundalini Yoga to the United States.[3] He was the spiritual director of the 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) Foundation, with over 300 centers in 35 countries.[4]

Life in India[edit]

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa was born on August 26, 1929 into a Sikh family in Kot Harkarn, Gujranwala district, in the province of Punjab (now in Pakistan). His father, Dr. Kartar Singh Puri, served the British Raj as a medical doctor. His mother, a Hindu, was named Harkrishan Kaur. His father was born in the Sikh tradition and young Harbhajan was educated in a Catholic school run by nuns. Singh learned the fundamentals of Sikhism from his paternal grandfather, Bhai Fateh Singh. Theirs was a well-to-do landlord family, owning most of their village in the foothills of the Himalayas.

His schooling was interrupted in 1947 by the violent partition of India, when he and his family fled to New Delhi as refugees. There, Harbhajan Singh attended Camp College – a hastily put together arrangement for thousands of refugee students – and led the Sikh Students Federation in Delhi.[5] Four years later, he graduated with a master's degree in Economics.[6]

In 1953, Harbhajan Singh entered the Indian Civil Service. He served in the Revenue Department, where his duties took him all over India. Eventually, Harbhajan Singh was promoted to the post of customs inspector for the country's largest airport, outside Delhi.[7] He married Inderjit Kaur Uppal in Delhi in 1954. Together, they had three children, Ranbir Singh Bhai, Kulbir Singh and Kamaljit Kaur.[8]

Throughout his life, Harbhajan Singh continued his practice and pursuit of yogic knowledge.[9] Singh's government duties often facilitated his traveling to remote ashrams and distant hermitages in order to seek out reclusive yogis and swamis. In the mid-1960s, Harbhajan Singh took up a position as instructor at the Vishwayatan Ashram in New Delhi, under Dhirendra Brahmachari. This yoga centre was frequented by the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter, Indira Gandhi, and diplomats and employees from a host of foreign embassies.[7]

Migration to North America[edit]

Harbhajan Singh emigrated to Canada in 1968.

Although a promised position as director of a new yogic studies department at the University of Toronto did not materialize because of the death of his sponsor, Harbhajan Singh made a considerable impact in the predominantly Anglo-Saxon metropolis. In three months, he established classes at several YMCAs, co-founded a yoga centre, was interviewed for national press and television, and helped set in motion the creation of eastern Canada's first Sikh temple in time for Guru Nanak's five hundredth birthday the following year.[10]

Late in 1968, Harbhajan Singh went to visit a friend in Los Angeles, but ended up staying to share the teachings of Kundalini Yoga with members of the counterculture of California and New Mexico.[11]

Kundalini yoga[edit]

Main article: Kundalini yoga

Although Yoga practice and philosophy is generally considered a part of Hindu culture, as "Yogi Bhajan," Harbhajan Singh Khalsa distinguished himself as a teacher and practitioner of yoga and a Sikh. He quoted Bhai Gurdas to say, “The Guru's Sikhs, who are Yogis, they get up in the morning and in the maya, the hustle-bustle of the world, they are unattached.” (Var 29, Verse 15)[12]

While adhering to the three pillars of Patanjali's kriya yoga system: discipline (tapaḥ), spiritual study (svādhyāya) and devotion to God (iśvarapraṇidāna) (PYS, II:1), Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan does not condone extremes of asceticism or renunciation. He encouraged his students to marry, establish businesses, and be fully engaged in society.

Rather than worshiping God, Harbhajan Singh insisted that his students train their mind to experience God.[13] Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, the Siri Singh Sahib, explained Raj Yoga, which is extolled in Sikh scripture, as the yoga of living detached, yet fully engaged in the world.[12] In respect of the rigor of his teachings, Harbhajan Singh would find kinship with other 20th century Sikh sadhu saints, such as Sant Baba Attar Singh, Sant Baba Nand Singh, and Bhai Randhir Singh. In the outreach of his teachings, Singh's contributions are unparalleled in modern times.[14]

Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization[edit]

Main article: 3HO
1970 gathering at Santa Clara Canyon, New Mexico

In 1969, Harbhajan Singh established the 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) Foundation to further his missionary work. It served his premise that every human possessed the birthright to be healthy, happy and holy.

The Yogi's brand of Sikhism appealed to the hippies who formed the bulk of his early converts. The Sikh practice of not cutting one's hair or beard were already accepted by the hippie culture, as was Sikh vegetarianism. They liked to experience elevated states of awareness, and they also deeply wanted to feel they were contributing to a world of peace and social justice. Yogi Bhajan offered them all these things with vigorous yoga, an embracing holistic vision, and an optimistic spirit of sublime destiny.[15]

By 1972, there would be over one hundred 3HO yoga ashrams mostly in the U.S., but also in Canada, Europe and Israel. Student-teachers would rise each day for a cold shower and two-and-a-half hours of yoga and meditation before sunrise. Often, they would spend the rest of the day at some "family business", be it a natural foods restaurant, or a landscaping business, or some other concern. A Sikh was supposed to earn honestly "by the sweat of their brow" and many did just that.[16]

Meanwhile, the surviving communal businesses had incorporated and many had grown exponentially to keep pace with the rising demand for health-oriented products and services. This period also saw an increased interest in yoga worldwide.[17]

To serve the changing times, Harbhajan Singh created the International Kundalini Yoga Teachers Association, dedicated to setting standards for teachers and the propagation of the teachings.[18]

In 1994, the 3HO Foundation joined the United Nations as a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council, representing women's issues, promoting human rights, and providing education about alternative systems of medicine.[19]

Aquarian age timeline[edit]

In spring of 1969, soon after Harbhajan Singh had begun teaching in Los Angeles, a hit medley "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" was topping the music charts and being played everywhere. The performers, The 5th Dimension, happened to be signed to a record label owned by one of his students (and his green card sponsor), musician and entrepreneur Johnny Rivers.[20]

Yogi Bhajan incorporated the storyline of the dawning new age into his teachings, a case of melding Western astrology with Sikh tradition. He proclaimed "Guru Nanak was the Guru for the Aquarian Age." It was, Harbhajan Singh declared, to be an age where people first experienced God, then believed, rather than the old way of believing and then being liberated by one's faith.[21]

Yogi Bhajan's timeline for the arrival of the Aquarian age varied over the years, but in 1992, he fixed it at 2012 and gave his students a set of morning meditations to practice until that date to prepare themselves.[22]

Native American connections[edit]

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa with Hopi elder 1970

Some of Harbhajan Singh's earliest students in Los Angeles had spent time in New Mexico influenced by Native American, especially Hopi teachings. To fulfill their wishes, he accompanied them in June 1969 to their summer solstice celebration at the Tesuque Indian reservation outside of Santa Fe.[23]

Seven years later, Harbhajan Singh purchased a large parcel of land in the Jemez Mountains where the Hopis had indicated sacred gatherings had taken place for thousands of years. The elders had said this land needed to be prepared so "the Unified Supreme Spirit can once again be experienced by the great tribes and spread through all the people of the world." The land was named "Ram Das Puri" and annual solstice prayers and festivities have been celebrated there every summer since. Since 1990, these have included a Hopi sacred prayer walk.[24]

Pilgrimage to Amritsar[edit]

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa with Sant Fateh Singh 1971

In the winter of 1970-71, Harbhajan Singh brought an entourage of eighty-four Americans on a pilgrimage to the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, India. The Punjabi Sikhs had never seen Westerners in turbans before, and at first, they were suspicious. The Sikh administration in the holy city of Amritsar was in a turmoil. Once they understood that the devotion of the Westerners was genuine, they approved of the visit. Of the eight-four Americans, twenty-six took vows to join the Order of Khalsa as full-fledged Sikhs.

On March 3, 1971, outside the Akal Takhat (the traditional seat of Sikh temporal authority in Amritsar), Sant Fateh Singh and Sant Chanan Singh bestowed on Singh a ceremonial sword and a robe of honor and a unique designation. They had reasoned that Harbhajan Singh had indeed created "Singh Sahibs" (noble lions), and to continue in his work he would need a higher designation. For this reason, they gave him the unprecedented title of "great, noble lion": Siri Singh Sahib.[25] Because no one before in all of Sikh history had received this title, it would ignite controversy in years to come.

Inter-faith work[edit]

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa and John Paul II meet at the Vatican 1984

In the summer of 1970, Harbhajan Singh participated in an informal "Holy Man Jam" at the University of Colorado at Boulder with Swami Satchidananda, Stephen Gaskin of The Farm in Tennessee, Zen Buddhist Bill Quan-roshi, and other local luminaries. A few weeks later, he carried that inspiration forward and organized a gathering of spiritual teachers to engage and inspire the 200,000 attendees of the Atlanta Pop Festival on the stage between the performance of the bands.[26]

Antion Vikram Singh Meredith aka Vic Briggs, a well-respected top leader within the Yogi Bhajan organization during the 1970’s & 80’s says about Harbhajan Singh's participation in the Atlanta Pop Festival, "He (Yogi Bhajan) was really just a sideshow, a little gap between the rock bands, (and he wasn’t that well received) but his secretary took photos of the huge crowd. When he went to India in 1971, he showed these photos to everyone and told them that these were young Americans who were becoming Sikhs." This was just not true.

These seminal events served to awaken interest in inter-faith discussion such as had not been seen since the 1920s. In 1972, Harbhajan Singh participated as the Sikh representative on religious panels at Harvard University, Cornell University, Boston University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That same year, he visited Pope Paul VI and advised him to convene a gathering of friendship and understanding for representatives of all religions. In his role as Siri Singh Sahib, Harbhajan Singh Khalsa reminded Paul VI that catholic meant "universal" and suggested that, as head of the world's largest religious organization, he would be the most suitable leader to host such a meeting.[27]

Harbhajan Singh maintained his relationship with the Catholic Church under Pope John Paul II. In 1983 and again in 1984, they met. When the Golden Temple came under assault from the Indian Army with the loss of life of many hundreds of pilgrims, the pontiff offered his official condolences.[28]

During the United Nations Year of Peace 1986, Harbhajan Singh instituted a yearly Peace Prayer Day for people of all denominations at the Summer Solstice near Santa Fe.[29]

In that same year, Pope John Paul II convened a gathering of religious representatives of the world such as Harbhajan Singh had proposed fourteen years earlier. He participated in a ceremony held the same day in Los Angeles.[30]

All through the 1970s and 80s, as the Siri Singh Sahib of Sikh Dharma, Harbhajan Singh actively engaged in and chaired numerous inter-religious councils and forums, including the Inter-Religious Council of Southern California, the World Conference for the Unity of Man, and the World Parliament of Religions.[31] In 1999, he gave a presentation at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Cape Town, South Africa.[32]

Gender relations[edit]

At Khalsa Women's Training Camp

Harbhajan Singh was deeply shocked and offended by the exploitation of women in America. In 1971, he taught a gathering of his female students that they were the "Grace of God." Thus began the Grace of God Movement for the Women of America. Strip clubs in San Francisco were briefly picketed, but Harbhajan Singh's real emphasis was on re-educating America's largest exploited class.[33]

In the summer of 1975 Yogi Bhajan held an eight-week camp in New Mexico where he taught the psychology of a successful woman. Successive camps included subjects such as martial arts, rappelling, fire arms training and healing arts to build the character and confidence of the women in training, which is why the camps were designated "Khalsa Women Training Camps." [34]

Although Harbhajan Singh did teach a few weekend courses for men, his emphasis was on women because he recognized in them the foundation of any society, and he wanted to fundamentally end the disempowerment of Western women and the destruction of families.[33] In his words: "God lives in a cozy home."

While encouraging his female students to practice natural childbirth and to breast-feed, practices which were not widely adhered to in the early 1970s, Harbhajan Singh also revived the ancient Indian custom of celebrating the arrival of the new soul at the one hundred twentieth day of pregnancy. This laid emphasis on the dignity and divinity of motherhood.[34] By adhering to this historic custom, Harbhajan Singh also encouraged his women students in family planning. (In Catholic tradition, which is very significant to this issue in the West, the belief that pregnancy actually begins at the quickening, around the fourth month, was adhered to up to the time of Pius IX.) They should only to embark on motherhood if they were fully prepared to accept the responsibilities – and if they were not, then to terminate a pregnancy before the second trimester was far preferable (and certainly not a sin) to bringing a soul into ungraceful circumstances.

Yogi Bhajan also encouraged mothers to swaddle their infants and families to sleep all together, another traditional practice, although he afterwards stated that he lost nearly a third of his students over this one teaching.[35]

Sikh rights in North America[edit]

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa played a role in having the right of practicing Sikhs to keep their distinctive turbans recognized in the United States and Canada. When, in 1973, three men serving in the U.S. Armed Forces took up the Sikh faith, they faced harsh discipline for maintaining their beards and turbans contrary to military regulations. Harbhajan Singh arranged for religious authorities in Amritsar to take notice of their cases, which caused the U.S. Armed Forces to change its policy in regards to the keeping of beards and wearing of turbans, so as to accommodate Sikhs in the service.[36]

This development led to a similar case launched by a student of Harbhajan Singh in 1977, a test challenge involving the Canadian Armed Forces. The Canadian Human Rights Commission decided the case in favour of the Sikhs.[37] A number of subsequent cases in Canada led to widespread acceptance of the wearing of turbans in a number of uniformed services, including municipal transit companies and police forces, most notably the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, where Baltej Singh Dhillon became the first turbaned member of the national police force in 1990.

During the 1980s Unrest in Punjab[edit]

With Sikh Students Federation President Bhai Amrik Singh and Baba Nihal Singh Nihang in Amritsar 1980
Stroll around Harimandir Sahib in 1981 with Baba Kharak Singh, SGPC Secretary Giani Mohinder Singh, and others.

During the 1980s Sikh struggle for civil rights in Punjab, Harbhajan Singh Khalsa strove for peace and attempted to mediate between the Sikh leadership in Punjab and the Indian government under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 1980, he warned the Sikhs of 'terrible consequences' if they did not unite and later advised Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to work peacefully when the movement turned violent. Harbhajan Singh tried, in vain, to mediate peace between the members of Indira Gandhi's government and the Sikh leadership in Punjab.[38]

Harbhajan Singh played a unique role in the unfolding cataclysm. He was familiar with people on both sides of the conflict. Through his time in Delhi, teaching at the Vishwayatan Yoga Ashram of Swami Dhirendra Acharya, he had come to know the ruling Nehru family who were patrons and students of the swami.[39] Harbhajan Singh was also well-connected with Sikhs, holy men and politicians alike.

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa also brought a visionary sense and a global perspective to the situation. In the first month of 1980, he was visited by a terrible vision of destruction at the Golden Temple. In response, Harbhajan Singh had 250 letters sent to Sikh leaders in India urging them to unite in order to avoid a tidal wave of destruction within two years. He also spent January and February of that year in India meeting with leaders on all sides with a view to preventing that outcome.[40] This effort continued in his annual visits to India through 1984.[41]

As it turned out, the Sikhs belonging to the Congress party, namely Giani Zail Singh the Home Minister, Darbara Singh the Chief Minister in Punjab, the Maharaja of Patiala - Amarinder Singh, and Buta Singh kept apart from their Akali party counterparts until June 1984, when Amarinder Singh turned in his party membership and, for a time, joined the Akali party. On the Akali side, by August 1980, it was divided into two factions. That rift endured for two years, until the two groups joined with the group led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to prosecute the civil disobedience campaign against the Central Government under the leadership of Sant Harchand Singh Longowal and six other members of a designated high command, namely Parkash Singh Badal – former Chief Minister of Punjab, Gurcharan Singh Tohra – President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Jagdev Singh Talwandi, Surjit Singh Barnala – former Union Agriculture Minister, Sukhjinder Singh – former Punjab Minister, and Ravi Inder Singh – former Speaker of the Punjab Legislature. This coalition held together until September 1983, when the increasing frustrations of negotiating with the Prime Minister began to take its toll in a growing division between hardliners led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Jagdev Singh Talwandi and the moderates led by Harchand Singh Longowal.[42]

In early 1982, Harbhajan Singh met with the Akali high command in Teja Singh Samundri Hall at the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar. On that occasion, he warned them of the danger in the international community of Sikhs being labeled as terrorists. Harbhajan Singh also advised the Sikh leaders that in Indira Gandhi's gambit to win popular support she could either send the Indian army into Sri Lanka to protect the Tamil minority there or she could target the Sikhs. Either way, she could come out as “saviour of the Hindus”. According to Harbhajan Singh, the choice belonged to the Sikh leaders. He advised they conduct an information campaign using the Sikh President of India, Giani Zail Singh as a symbol to show the world Sikhs are peaceful people. The leaders, all of them members of the Akali party, however could not fathom using their long-time political foe as a positive instrument for peace and self-preservation. Harbajan Singh also suggested highlighting the tradition of Bhai Khanaiya as the first Red Cross Society in history and the tradition of Guru Gobind Singh whose arrows were embedded with gold so even enemies who died could have their last rites done gracefully. He proposed that Baba Nihal Singh, the leader of the Taruna Dal of Nihung Sikhs based in Harianbela be made the head priest of the Akal Takhat, the Sikh seat of temporal authority. Harbhajan Singh also promised that if they did this and afterwards anything untoward happened to the Nation of Khalsa, he would present himself before them to receive any punishment they would like to award. Rather, he promised that if Baba Nihal Singh were made Jathedar of the Akal Takhat, Sikhs would come through their trial with victory and grace. This proposal was also unacceptable to the political leadership. For all Harbhajan Singh's advice and consideration, the leaders did not alter their tactics.[43]

On Harbhajan Singh's visit to Amritsar in 1983, he was summoned by Baba Kharak Singh, the elderly and widely respected builder and maintainer of holy places. Then, in the presence of Sant Harchand Singh, Sant Jarnail Singh, and Abhinashi Singh, the SGPC Secretary, Baba Kharak Singh gave him two blankets, four embroidered sheets, and 800 rupees as an offering of appreciation. He then predicted that there would be a time of great pain in the west and the east. As a remedy, Baba Kharak Singh dispensed a mantra for Singh to recite: “Aap sahaa-ee ho-aa, sachay daa, sachaa DHo-aa.” Baba Kharak Singh said to him: “In the west, you are going to be hit with a lot of pain, but these Sikhs may not be ready to take that pain. Therefore, chant this mantra: 'Aap sahaa-ee ho-aa, sachay daa, sachaa DHo-aa.'” Harbhajan Singh took it and then he said: “Don't doubt me. You think I am an old man? I don't know anything?” Harbhajan Singh said: “No, no, no. I don't doubt you. It's alright. What kind of hurt?” Baba Kharak Singh said: “None of your business! Don't ask questions. But I will tell you a story. In such-and-such a Gurdwara there was a man who made our life miserable and I went to Santji (my respected teacher). I told him, this man is making our life miserable, teasing us, beating us, and trying to do all kinds of treacheries. And then he said, “Chant this verse: 'Aap sahaa-ee ho-aa, sachay daa, sachaa DHo-aa' and the enemy dissolves.””[44] Harbhajan Singh subsequently urged all his students to chant the verse each day during the heat of the crisis.

When the mobilization against India's Central Government turned ugly with the targeted killing of six Hindu bus passengers at Dhilwan, Punjab on October 5, 1983, Harbhajan Singh sent money to the victims' families and a telegram to the Sant Harchand Singh Longowal to call a halt to the campaign for a few weeks, until peace returned. In response to the Sikh militants withholding the Golden Temple complex, the Indian Army carried out Operation Blue Star, Harbhajan Singh proclaimed that the event marked the end of a dynasty.[45] He also uniquely advised that the Akal Takhat had martyred itself to awaken the Sikh nation.[46]

Harbhajan Singh's contact with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in the summer of 1983 may have instrumental in the pontiff's awareness of Sikhs and his timely proclamation of goodwill at the time of the Golden Temple attack and massacre.[47] Harbhajan Singh was also persuasive in keeping India's Sikh President, Giani Zail Singh from resigning his position in protest, a move that he anticipated would bring on even greater disunity and bloodshed. Singh encouraged his students to send telegrams to the President, urging him to stay on.[48]

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa convened a conference in New Mexico, June 23–25, 1984 to chart a response to events in India. The outcome of the gathering was an agreement on a series of objectives including an international investigation of the disaster, free media access to Punjab, proper medical care to the wounded, the return of Sikh temples to Sikh control, the release of Sikh prisoners, withdrawal of the army, police and paramilitaries from Punjab, and restoration of civil rights to Sikhs throughout India.[49] Harbhajan Singh suspected a larger Soviet agenda behind the humiliating destruction, which he termed the “martyrdom of the Akal Takhat”. The Soviets and their influential Marxist allies in India needed to eliminate or demoralize the Sikhs in order to achieve their objective of a secular, Communist state in south Asia. The Sikhs were targeted because they found to be prosperous, essential to India's agriculture and its armed forces, and proven opponents of political oppression. The first objective of the Soviet plan was to discredit Sikhs as violent terrorists. In a November 1984 interview, Harbhajan Singh described Jarnail Singh Bindranwala as an “armed plant”. He also accused the KGB of involvement in Mrs. Gandhi's assassination, saying the Soviet Union preferred a weaker Rajiv as Prime Minister over his powerful, independently-minded mother.[50]

Unlike many Sikh leaders in the west, Harbhajan Singh Khalsa was cool to the idea of a small separatist homeland where Sikhs might find security. He pointed out that whenever Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, the so-called “President of Khalistan” would be at his post in London, but when she was out of power, he would come to India. Why, Harbhajan Singh asked, was this?[51] Singh's vision was vast, global, and inclusive. Rather than Khalistan, he vouched for “Duniastan” - the World as a homeland for all Sikhs (in Punjabi: "dunia" = world, "stan" = land).[52]

As the international media and human rights observers were kept out of Punjab, indiscriminate arrests, tortures and killings by the police left an estimated 10,000 civilians dead, and hundreds more of the visible minority Sikhs disappeared or detained without charges or trial.[53] Harbhajan Singh continued throughout the crisis to press for justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.[54]

Work for nuclear disarmament[edit]

In 1982 Harbhajan Singh Khalsa joined other civil leaders in demanding mutual nuclear disarmament. Yogi Bhajan's efforts took the form of his speaking at a number of disarmament rallies and his mobilization of his students, encouraging them to talk to their friends and relatives about the dangers of nuclear war.[55] Shortly after Harbhajan Singh began his activism again the U.S. government's defense policy, the special Sikh exemption which allowed Sikh males to serve in the armed forces wearing their distinctive turbans and beards was disallowed.[56]

Sikh unity[edit]

In 1974, a distinguished delegation of Sikhs from India toured North America and Europe and offered their approval of the Siri Singh Sahib's work. The group consisted of Gurcharan Singh Tohra, President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Mahinder Singh Giani, Secretary of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Sardar Hukam Singh, President of the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Shatabdhi Committee (and former Speaker of the Indian Parliament and Governor of Rajasthan), and Surjit Singh Barnala, General Secretary of the Shiromani Akali Dal.[57]

In 1979 the Professor of Sikhism designated by the Akal Takhat, Bhai Sahib Sardar Kapur Singh ICS,[58] came from Amritsar and addressed the Khalsa Council, Singh's governing council, and assured their practices were well within the parameters of Sikh tradition.[59]

In 1986, as the Khalistan movement (Sikh separatist movement within India) exerted an increasingly divisive role in the Sikh community by splitting Sikhs between those who demanded an independent homeland using violent means if necessary to achieve that goal and Sikhs who wished to work toward a peaceful resolution, Harbhajan Singh acknowledged Bhai Sahib Bhai Jiwan Singh of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha as Jathedar (Secretary) of Sikh Unity.[60]

According to Harbhajan Singh's disciples, although Harbhajan Singh Khalsa was instrumental in creating a new global culture of Sikhs – Gursikh yogis speaking English, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese and Mandarine – he did not appreciate artificial divisions dividing Sikhs from one another, whether based on caste, race, nationality or any other grounds. The Siri Singh Sahib valued Sikh unity and always considered himself a Sikh first and last. This was ably and aptly reflected in the new media of Sikhnet.com which today serves Sikhs around the globe. It was begun by students of Harbhajan Singh in 1983 while the internet was still in its infancy [61] – and has since grown to be the largest Sikh resource in cyberspace.[62]

Political influence in U.S.[edit]

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa was not in the least naive about the importance of being politically connected if one wanted to succeed in the United States, and did not shy from political functions. While he opposed the Reagan government’s economic policies, Harbhajan Singh appreciated a strong foreign policy and especially U.S. efforts to dislodge the Soviet Union from Afghanistan.[63]

As early as 1970, Yogi Bhajan was known to call on members of Congress in their Washington offices.[64] He also befriended successive governors of the state of New Mexico. Harbhajan Singh was known as a Democrat. Since 1980, he was both friend and adviser to Bill Richardson, who served variously as New Mexico governor (2003–2011), U.S. Energy Secretary (1998–2001), U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (1997–98), and member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1983–1997). Bill Richardson was also a candidate for the Democratic Party's nomination to run for the office of U.S. President in 2008.[65]

Healing arts[edit]

When U.S. President Nixon called drugs America's "Number one domestic problem," Harbhajan Singh Khalsa launched a pilot program with two longtime heroin addicts in Washington, D.C. in 1972.[66] The next year, a full-blown drug treatment center known as "3HO SuperHealth" was launched in Tucson, Arizona. The program used Kundalini Yoga, diet and massage therapy to treat the addicts. According to the 3HO website, the center was at one time rated in the top 10% of residential treatment programs in the U.S.[67]

Early on, when the term "stress" was still practically unheard of, Yogi Bhajan warned his students a tidal wave of insanity would soon engulf modern industrialized societies.[68] As a remedy, Yogi Bhajan taught hundreds of techniques of yogic exericise and meditation. Many have been catalogued by their traditionally known effects in calming and healing the mind and body. Some of those techniques have been scientifically studied and applied in clinical practice with favorable results.[69]

Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., has taken a holistic approach to treatment of Alzheimers disease using yoga with other therapeutic modalities, an approach which he says is gaining increasing recognition.[70]

Media coverage[edit]

On April 15, 2015, Anju Kaur of The Sikh Free Press published a scathing investigative report on Harbhajan Singh which claims that Harbhajan Singh lied about receiving the title of "Siri Singh Sahib" from the Akal Takhat (the highest seat of Sikh religious authority). The article "American Yogis Distort Sikh Scripture" also alleges many other frauds and distortions of the Sikh religion attributed to Harbhajan Singh in order to elevate his credibility and assert his own personal power and control over his western yoga students and Sikhs living in the west.[71]

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa's received significant coverage in the North American media, particularly in the early 1970s when yoga was still a matter of general curiosity.

Yogi Bhajan's message of no drugs, family values and healthy living was widely popular, and many of the media stories were positive, serving not only to educate the public, but also to publicize the work of the 3HO Foundation. Some focused on the lifestyle, others on the inspiration behind the organization.[72][73][74] Others focused on Singh's holistic approach to drug addiction.[75][76][77] Some writers reported on Singh's officiating at mass marriages where many couples would be betrothed and everyone wore white.[78][79][80] Others zeroed in on the issue of Sikhs up against the US Army dress code.[81][82] While Newsweek, USA Today and Macleans Magazine in Canada published favorable articles about Harbhajan Singh in 1977, James Wilde of Time wrote a critical article that year, titled "Yogi Bhajan's Synthetic Sikhism".[83] Wilde alleged that Gurucharan Singh Tohra, former President of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), had stated that Harbhajan Singh is not the leader of Sikhism in the Western World as he claimed, and that Tohra had denied the SGPC had ever given the title of Siri Singh Sahib to Singh.[83]

The Time article was followed by emphatic rebuttals from Tohra. There was also a demonstration held outside Time's London office and a detailed demand for a retraction published under the title "Time Will Tell" in the 3HO publication Beads of Truth, Issue 36, Fall 1977.

Harbhajan Singh is mentioned in a range of reference works, including the New Age Encyclopedia.[84] Western scholarly appraisal of his work may be found in Hew McLeod's Who is a Sikh?[85] and Sikhism,[86] and in Verne A. Dusenbery's article "Punjabi Sikhs and Gora Sikhs: Conflicting Assertions of Sikh Identity in North America".[87]

BBC interviewed Singh at the 300th anniversary celebration of the Baisakhi holiday at Anandpur Sahib, India in 1999.[88]

Harbhajan Singh is also featured in books discussing the successes of Sikhs who had migrated from India to the West, including Surjit Kaur's Among the Sikhs: Reaching for the Stars[89] and Gurmukh Singh's The Global Indian: The Sikhs.[90]

The 1973 documentary Sunseed stars a number of teachers of eastern wisdom, including Yogi Bhajan. The Sunseed crew accompanied him to India in 1970-71 for the filming.

Notable students[edit]

Obituaries and memorials[edit]

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa died of complications of heart failure at his home in Española, New Mexico, on October 6, 2004, aged 75. He was survived by his wife, sons, daughter and five grandchildren.[3]

Congressman Tom Udall with Harbhajan Singh Khalsa's widow, "Bibiji"

His passing was widely noted in the press, with obituaries appearing in The Los Angeles Times,[91] the Times of India,[92] The New York Times,[93] and Yoga Journal.[94] In addition, Singh's passing was noted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which closed its offices to commemorate his death.[95]

The State of New Mexico honored Yogi Bhajan by naming of a highway after him. State Highway 106 which ran in front of his home was renamed the Yogi Bhajan Memorial Highway.[96] The New Mexico Government which took the unprecedented measure of flying its flags at half-mast for two days (Oct 7-8) in honour of Yogi Bhajan after his death on Oct 6, also declared Oct 23 ``Yogi Bhajan Memorial Day. [97]

Sikh scholars' views on Singh's mission[edit]

Bhai Sahib Sardar Kapur Singh ICS, a Sikh scholar recognized by the Akal Takht as the National Professor of Sikhism, praised Singh highly for his work in spreading Sikhism in the West. In his words, "Glory be to the Guru who performs His work in the Western Hemisphere through this instrument. Blessed be those who have learned from him the teachings of the Guru, to accept and follow those teachings in unswerving faith and in humble recognition of the good that Harbhajan Singh has done in furthrance of the Guru's mission."[98]

Dr. Fauja Singh, M.A., Ph.D, Professor and Director, Department of History and Punjab Historical Studies, Punjabi University, Patiala, India praised Singh's marriage of yoga and religion, saying "he has helped to retrieve [yoga] from its distorted image of the medieval period and has restored it to its original and meaningful usage and purpose, that is to say, the desire to attain union with God through its agency."[98]

In his book, The Heritage of the Sikhs (1994), Dr. Harbans Singh mentioned "the extraordinary dissemination of the Sikh faith through the work of Yogi Harbhajan Singh in the United States of America. This true import of this must extend into and be unravelled by future history."[99]

A number of scholars have concurred that Harbhajan Singh Khalsa's introduction of Sikh teachings into the West helped identify Sikhism as a world religion while at the same time creating a compelling counter-narrative to that which identified Sikhs solely as race with a shared history in India.[100]

Dr. Trilochan Singh, author of over twenty books on Sikh history, offered a contrasting perspective in his critical work entitled "Sikhism and Tantric Yoga."[101] In James Wilde's Time article of September 5, 1977 “Yogi Bhajan's Synthetic Sikhism,” he proffered his opinion that "Bhajan's synthesis of Sikhism and Tantrism is a sacrilegious hodgepodge."[83]


  • Yogi Bhajan, The Teachings of Yogi Bhajan, Santa Cruz, NM, Kundalini Research Institute, 1977.
  • Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji (Yogi Bhajan), Furmaan Khalsa: Poems to Live By, Columbus, Ohio, Furman Khalsa Publishing Company, 1987.
  • Yogi Bhajan, The Master's Touch, Santa Cruz, NM, Kundalini Research Institute, 1997.
  • Yogi Bhajan with Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, The Mind: Its Projections and Multiple Facets, Espanola, New Mexico, Kundalini Research Institute, 1997.
  • Yogi Bhajan, The Aquarian Teacher - KRI International Kundalini Yoga Certification Text and Manual, Santa Cruz, NM, Kundalini Research Institute, 2003.
  • Yogi Bhajan, The Game of Love, A Book of Consciousness: The Poems and Art of Yogi Bhajan, Espanola, NM, Sikh Dharma International, 2007.
  • Yogi Bhajan, Man to Man: A Journal of Discovery for the Conscious Man, Santa Cruz, NM, Kundalini Research Institute, 2008.
  • Yogi Bhajan, I am a Woman: Book and Yoga Manual, Santa Cruz, NM, Kundalini Research Institute, 2009.


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  41. ^ Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa, “High Times,” Beads of Truth Magazine, Summer, 1980, II:5, pp. 17-21; M.S.S. Gurutej Singh Khalsa, “When I Touched the Heart of Mother India,” Beads of Truth Magazine, Fall, 1981, II:8, pp. 4-20; Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa, “High Times,” Beads of Truth Magazine, Fall, 1981, II:8, p. 27; Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa, “High Times,” Beads of Truth Magazine, Summer, 1982, II:9, pp. 18-21; Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa, “High Times,” Beads of Truth Magazine, Summer, 1983, II:10, pp. 27-28; Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa, “High Times,” Beads of Truth Magazine, Summer, 1984, II:13, pp. 22, 24-25.
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  68. ^ quote: "So normally on this Earth, 90% of people will be crazy. I am not making a prediction. It is a truth that will be seen by any of you living to that age. Everybody will be funny, you know. You will never be in a position to determine why somebody is angry, why somebody doesn't want to see you, why somebody doesn't want to love you, why somebody has come and given you two or three slaps and kicked you out of the house... nothing you will be in a position to imagine. Unpredictable actions of the human being will be the common trend in social living. This will be the new human race." Yogi Bhajan lecture April 12, 1973, published as "The Blue Gap" in Beads of Truth, Issue 22, March 1974, p. 25
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Further reading[edit]

  • Khalsa, Guru Fatha Singh, The Essential Gursikh Yogi: The Yoga and Yogis in the Past, Present and Future of Sikh Dharma, Toronto, Monkey Minds Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9682658-1-9
  • Khalsa, Guru Fatha Singh, Five Paragons of Peace: Magic and Magnificence in the Guru's Way, Toronto, Monkey Minds Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-9682658-2-6
  • Khalsa, Sat Kirpal Kaur and Sardarni Premka Kaur Khalsa, editors, The Man Called Siri Singh Sahib, Los Angeles, Sikh Dharma, 1979, no ISBN
  • Khalsa, Shakti Parwha Kaur, Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power, New York, Perigree Books, 1998, ISBN 978-0-399-52420-2
  • Khalsa, Shanti Kaur, The History of Sikh Dharma of the Western Hemisphere, ISBN 978-0-9639847-4-6
  • Lal, Harbans, "Celebrating the Life of Yogi Harbhajan Singh Ji", Kolkata, The Sikh Review, October 2007.
  • Laue, Thorsten: Tantra im Westen. Eine religionswissenschaftliche Studie über „Weißes Tantra Yoga“, „Kundalini Yoga“ und „Sikh Dharma“ in Yogi Bhajans „Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization“ (3HO) unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der „3H Organisation Deutschland e. V.“, Münster: LIT, 2012, zugl.: Tübingen, Univ., Diss., 2011, ISBN 978-3-643-11447-1 [in German]
  • Laue, Thorsten: Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Tee und das Wassermannzeitalter. Bibliografische Einblicke in die Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) des Yogi Bhajan. Tübingen: 2008. Online at "TOBIAS-lib - Zugang zum Dokument - Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Tee und das Wassermannzeitalter: Bibliografische Einblicke in die Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) des Yogi Bhajan - Laue, Thorsten". Tobias-lib.ub.uni-tuebingen.de. 2008-10-31. Retrieved 2011-01-02.  [in German]
  • Laue, Thorsten: Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Tee und das Wassermannzeitalter. Religionswissenschaftliche Einblicke in die Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) des Yogi Bhajan, Münster: LIT, 2007, ISBN 978-3-8258-0140-3 [in German]
  • Shameel, Balraam: Singh Yogee - Pachhmee dhartee dee sikh lehar. Bhaaee Harbhajan Singh Yogee Jee dee roohaanee jeevan, Lokgeet Parkashan, Chandigarh, 2005 [in Punjabi]

External links[edit]