By Shakti Parwha K. Khalsa: It was the summer of 1929. In the little village of Kot Harkarn in what is now Pakistan a child was born who had a great destiny written upon his forehead…
The man we know today as Yogi Bhajan was born Harbhajan Singh Puri. His father, Kartar Singh, was a well-known doctor and healer; his mother, Harkrishan Kaur, was a woman of great strength and righteousness. She kept everyone in the village in line and treated all the young men as if they were her own sons.
His parents decided that he should have the finest education available. The problem was that the best school available was a Catholic Girls’ Convent school, so there he went. (Needless to say, the nuns were a bit unnerved.) As a young man, Harbhajan Singh was in the habit of seeking out and visiting every holy person he could find. He studied the spiritual teachings, scriptures, and technologies of all the religions of the world. He learned Kundalini Yoga with Master Sant Hazara Singh and he became a Master himself at the age of only sixteen.
Of course, along with mastering yoga, young Harbhajan Singh attended high school where he was a star athlete—winning top prizes in track events, served as captain of the soccer team, and played field hockey. While the other athletes ran and did the usual physical training exercises, Harbhajan Singh did yoga! It was his mastery of yoga that gave him the strength and stamina to be a consistent winner.
When India was partitioned in 1947, he was only 18 years old. It was a terrible time as hundreds of thousands of people resettled and many families were torn apart. Even then, he took charge and led his family and over 7000 people from the surrounding areas to safety.
Majoring in Economics at Punjab University, Harbhajan Singh won prizes in Debate, and continued his athletic achievements. He served in the Indian Army. After military service he worked for the Indian Government, until 1968 when he resigned to answer the call of his destiny and travel across the world to serve us here in the West.
The Pundits warned him and the Astrologers said all the signs pointed to a great deal of suffering and hardship if he left India in September of 1968—but as usual, his higher guidance prevailed and he flew to Canada to take a job he had been offered—teaching yoga at the University of Toronto. True to predictions, not only was his luggage lost en route, so that he arrived with nothing but his Air India carry-on bag, but also, the man who had hired him had been killed in an auto accident, just a few days before. No job, no money, except for $35 the Canadian Government supplied, the yogi accepted everything as God’s will. He got a job as a clerk in a bookstore. He ate day-old donuts softened in water, and wrapped newspapers around his thin shoes to keep out the brutal, cold Canadian weather. Then he was hired as a nerve therapist at a yoga center.
Invited to visit Los Angeles for a weekend, he discovered there the souls whose aspiration and longing had drawn him to the West. He gave his first public lecture in the United States on January 5, 1969, at the East West Cultural Center where he stated his firm conviction that it is the birthright of every human being to be “Healthy, Happy, and Holy.” The young people he met wanted to experience God. Unfortunately, many had been using drugs to alter consciousness. Despite the centuries old taboo against teaching Kundalini Yoga publicly, the Yogi knew that it was the most effective technology he could share with them to heal their bodies and their minds, and give them a valid experience. They could get “high” without side effects, and it was legal! Their souls were hungry to be awakened.
He told them he hadn’t come to gather students; he had come to train teachers. In his Kundalini Yoga classes he told inspiring stories about the Sikh Gurus, he talked about the virtues and values that would bring happiness. He made people laugh, never criticized anyone, and though he told them, “Don’t love me, love my teachings,” he touched the hearts of every seeker. A master of communication, whenever he spoke, each person felt he was talking directly to him or her. His words sank in.
In the next few years he sowed the seeds for institutions and events that have multiplied and mushroomed worldwide, attracting thousands of people who embraced the 3HO way of life. He said 3HO was to be a family of people who lived not just “with” each other but “for” each other. To provide a structure for the teachings, the 3HO Foundation was legally incorporated in California on July 29, 1969. Yogiji also founded KRI, the Kundalini Research Institute in 1971.
Yogiji went to Gurdwara every Sunday. Many of his students went with him. A devout Sikh, Yogi Bhajan never tried to convert anyone to follow the Sikh Path. But his faith and devotion, and his deep love of the Guru were contagious. People wanted to learn more about the Sikh religion. Some of his students went to the local Gurdwara in Los Angeles and asked to be baptized as Sikhs. The Granthi (religious official) there didn’t know what to do, because Americans had never done this before, so he called Yogiji for help.
In 1971, Yogi Bhajan was bestowed the title of Siri Singh Sahib by Sant Chanan Singh at the Akal Takhat and was authorized to ordain Ministers and perform the Amrit Ceremony. Through his efforts, Sikh Dharma became officially incorporated and recognized by the US Government as a Religion on April 10, 1973.
Yogi Bhajan encouraged his young students to complete their education and start careers. But many of them could not get jobs because of their long hair and turbans, so he suggested they start their own businesses. Nanak’s Conscious Cookery was the first business they started. Akal Security, Golden Temple, Khalsa International Industries and Trades (KIIT) soon followed with all the products you now see in stores worldwide—like Wha Guru Chews, Peace Cereals, Sunshine Oils, and Yogi Tea.
The transformation of “Chicks into Eagles” was one of Yogi Bhajan’s main stated goals, and in 1976 he started the first Khalsa Women’s Training Camp in New Mexico. That first KWTC lasted for 8 weeks. He taught that woman is the Grace of God, and any country in which she is not honored and respected is going to fail. He empowered women to realize their own worth and potential. Not to leave out the men, he also taught Men’s’ courses. Long before Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus he explained the differences.
In 1971 the mantle of authority and responsibility as the only living Mahan Tantric—Master of White Tantric Yoga—was passed to him when the former Mahan Tantric left his body. Yogi Bhajan personally led this group meditation experience in cities all over the world until 1987 when he was able to transfer the workshops to videotape. He selected representatives to facilitate these courses, while his subtle body continues to direct them.
Pioneer in Interreligious dialogue, outstanding advocate of World Peace, Yogi Bhajan established the first interfaith International Peace Prayer Day in 1985, which now draws thousands to the mountains of New Mexico every summer. In May 1994, his pamphlet, “The Sensory Man” was circulated at the United Nations, when 3HO became an NGO.
A great many of the people who have been impacted by Yogi Bhajan’s wisdom, knowledge, and teachings are sharing the technology of peace, strength, and awareness to the whole planet. His knowledge and his teachings are reaching out through Kundalini Yoga Teachers, through businesses, and through Sikh Dharma. Today, the natural foods, healing herbs, and teas conceived and formulated by Yogi Bhajan are benefiting people all over the world.
May the teachings of Yogi Bhajan be engraved on all our hearts forever and ever.
[Excerpts from from Yogi Bhajan’s 75th Birthday Tribute presented on August 28, 2004, in Espanola, New Mexico, five weeks before his passing.]
Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa was Yogi Bhajan’s first student-teacher in the United States. She has been teaching Kundalini Yoga since 1969. Author of Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power; Kundalini Postures and Poetry; and Marriage on the Spiritual Path: Mastering the Highest Yoga, she is a frequent movie-goer in the City of Angels.