Senior Students of Yogi Bhajan Give a Master Class on Abuse Minimization and Deflection, and Carrying On

Abuse crisis statements from senior teachers in yoga groups provide a rich vein of data for research. By laying bare the mechanisms by which a high-demand group and its beneficiaries protect themselves under stress, they also reveal the foundational tools upon which the group’s relationships are built.

These statements, delivered as sombre reaffirmations of faith, strip everything down to the bone and show what’s really operational: what got the group going, what kept it alive, what will persist —and perhaps glow brighter — through fire and famine. In times of uncertainty and stress, judges fall back on the law, lawmakers fall back on constitutional documents, and doctors fall back on basics like sanitation and hydration. High-demand group leaders have little to fall back on but habit, myth, and pious affect.

I’ve written about the formal rules of these statements here. I’ve also analyzed specific statements from Susan Piver and Judith Simmer-Brown of Shambhala International, and most recently from Reggie Ray of the now-defunct Dharma Ocean organization.

This one comes from  Satya Kaur and Shiv Charan Singh of the Karam Kriya School in Portugal. They are responding to the publication of Pamela Dyson’s memoir, in which she describes 3HO founder Yogi Bhajan abusing her. They also hint that they are responding to ongoing revelations make in the Facebook group dedicated to her book.

Like anyone I can google Singh’s bio, but I don’t know anything about these teachers personally: their backgrounds, how they teach, how they’re regarded by their students. I’m also relatively uneducated in the byzantine details of the global “Kundalini Yoga as Taught by Yogi Bhajan” network, which consists of several intersecting institutions and multinational businesses — some of which, like Akal Security — are overwhelmingly wealthy and powerful. So I’ll limit my annotations of the transcript below to the structural elements that are clear to me as outside observer and high-demand group researcher. I’ll ask some questions that are often invisible to the indoctrinated.

The original video was posted to YouTube on February 28, 2020. I’m archiving it here for preservation, because these statements often deleted as the crisis deepens, and they come to be seen as additional evidence of institutional abuse.

 

Transcription, Annotated:

Satya (00:00):
What are the directors of the Karam Kriya School. I’m Satya Kaur and Shiv Charan Singh. The Karam Kriya School is one of the main teacher training schools in the world, training, Kundalini teachers at level one and two.

The opening positions the speakers as qualified representatives of the culture. However, it also identifies them as beneficiaries of the culture’s branding and teaching content. Everything that follows can therefore be considered through the framework of what they have to lose socially and financially in the current abuse crisis. This will not be mentioned.

So for this reason, a lot of people look up to us as to what we have to say. What is our opinion, what is our stance in relation to what’s going on in the Kundalini yoga world.

Note how the language shifts here. After claiming centrality as informants, they now have a separate “stance in relation to” the culture. They are both inside and outside.

And as many of you are watching this are aware of, there’s been some recent allegations as to what Yogi Bhajan did and how he conducted himself towards certain people when he was alive. Talking about some 40 30, 20 years ago.

“Allegations” is a dogwhistle term for “claims to be doubted or tested in court.” But what they are really referring to is Pamela Dyson’s comprehensive first-person account of sixteen years of Yogi Bhajan sexually, psychologically, and financially abusing her. Note that the content is not only detailed, but is immediately diminished by vague dating.

Shiv (00:51):
It’s not the first time there’s allegations of been made. They’ve just, everything has come up to the surface again.

Wait. What? This would be a good moment to explain what happened the last time(s). The speaker here is framing reports of institutional abuse as if it were periodic or cyclical bad weather, instead of the systematic suppression of voices and obscuration of patterns.

Satya (00:59):
Because of the publication of a book of one of his early students called Premka Kaur. So we both had the good fortune of Yogi Bhajan when he was alive and learning directly with him. As far as I’m concerned, none of these allegations, or what’s coming out and the reactions that masses of people are having doesn’t change in any way the way I see Yogi Bhajan as a great teacher and master and my relationship with the teachings that he generously and profusely shared, which have impacted my life and impacted so many people’s lives in the world. So for that I’m eternally grateful.

This is as succinct and shameless an I-Got-Mineism statement as we’re likely to ever see. The speaker’s affirmation of “good fortune” instantly frames testimony against him as ungrateful or ignorant. The conflation of testimony with reactions to it put both into the category of chatter. “Reactions” itself is a dogwhistle dharmasplaining term: yoga practitioners are not supposed to be reactive. The sombre somatics of the speakers model a “non-reactive” affect for the viewer. 

Shiv (01:43):
From the beginning for myself. And also for you it was clear that the focus was on the teaching on the practice and not necessarily on, Yogi Bhajan. He’s the master, he was the postman, as I’ve said, or the channel.

A major theme initiates here: Bhajan the man was not really important. What he carried was. His body, personality, identity — all unimportant.

What this theme begins to do is to erase the bodies, personalities, and identities of those who testify he abused them. Because if Bhajan’s body, personality, identity and actions are not important in relation to his holy teachings, neither are their impacts. Survivors describe the teachings being used to obscure his actions, but it’s the actions themselves, flowing from his body, personality, and identity that abused people.

And I look over the years and see how people have very much idealized or glorified Yogi Bhajan as representing, you know, their higher sense of self, the highest self or that you know, their aspiration of, of a great being projected that onto him. For me that was never really necessary and never the case.

The speaker here elevates himself above all survivors, dissidents, and complainants, by explaining that he really got it. He wasn’t fooled by idolatry. Notice the infantilization here: students were naive to project greatness onto Bhajan.

However, lower down, Shiv will reassert that the yoga he teaches must continue to be branded as “Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.” This is one of many dual messages in the statement: It’s not about Bhajan, but it’s all about Bhajan. Further: it’s not about Bhajan when we’re talking about abuse, but it’s all about Bhajan when we’re talking about the “technology”.

Anyway for myself he pointed to the Guru Granth Sahib really as as the guru. And so that was always my primary reference to the technology. And he was always a great, uh, gave so much insight to understand the teachings of the guru and the ancient teachings of yoga that came from thousands of years and he gave his, his, um, the spectrum on that. So the, the people are crying about it’s time to end the personality cult. Some people maybe have that issue.

The claim that Bhajan is not important is now substantiated with the claim that the Guru Granth Sahib is the real focal point of Kundalini Practice. My limited understanding is that the Guru Granth Sahib is the master-compendium of Sikh teachings that also records the lineage tree of Gurus going back to the 15th century. The book is accorded a kind of śruti status, going beyond narrative and argumentation to embody the living tradition itself.

I don’t personally know how to evaluate Shiv’s claim; what’s important to know is that the putative connection between Kundalini Yoga and traditional Sikhism is vigorously contested by some Punjabi Sikhs, and increasingly by 3HO dissidents.

The speaker presents the Guru Granth Sahib as not only the real reference point for Bhajan’s content, but also the source for the “technology” of the practice. “Technology” is a distancing word, like “software”, seemingly separate or separable from the systems that run it — in this case, the social system that runs Kundalini techniques.

The speaker’s quiet affect conceals punishing patronization. “Some people maybe have that issue,” he says, referring to the “cult of personality” that is the real problem — not the fact that Bhajan was a real leader with lasting impacts on people’s lives.

Satya (02:58):
I think there’s a, there’s a difference between those people who are very close to him on a very regular basis in the United States and Canada and Mexico perhaps. And those of us who are in Europe who are, who have the opportunity to sit and learn with him maybe once or twice a year. So we were much more independent of what was going on in his daily life. And we had our own way of relating to the teachings much more directly rather than via Yogi Bhajan as a teacher personality or filter.

This is not uncommon as a distancing technique during an abuse crisis: to claim that one was always on the periphery, that they maintained good boundaries, and therefore always had a healthy perspective that they have presumably taught from ever since. This has been notable in abuse crises I’ve studied and published on in Ashtanga, Iyengar, Shambhala, and Rigpa communities. The overall effect is to foreclose discussion of systemic abuses involving enablement, bystanding, intergenerational abuse, moral injury and secondary trauma, and to paint the abuse of a leader as a bad apple that can be plucked out of the bushel.

Notice the casual, Euro-pompous slagging of Americans.

I recognize that for those people who have come forward, especially recently, such as Premka and others since her, uh, and who have disclosed their experiences of private time with Yogi Bhajan and they disclosed the hurt and the sense that of the exploitation that they were subject to, then I acknowledge.

Very mixed language here. “Private time with Yogi Bhajan” sounds at first like a special privilege that the victims misunderstood. What is actually being described by Dyson and Katherine Felt is abuse perpetrated because the victim is isolated. “Hurt” is also euphemistic, and the passive of construction of “that they were subject to” is also noteworthy.

This is a healing process and that’s to be treated with respect and as to be, um, honor the courage to come out and say things as they were as they are. I acknowledge that as that’s a good thing that these things have come out, that there’s no secrets, there’s no taboos. There’s no, silencing of women’s voices. I think this is very important. And, um, and if with it comes like a breakdown of an illusion and if there’s a shattering of projections that were you know, throwing to onto Yogi Bhajan that he was, he was beyond this, it was beyond that. If this kind of illusions are broken and if the raw reality comes through, I think this is a fantastic, uh, fantastic times, fantastic opportunity to, um, come closer to the reality to see things more clearly. And to grow up.

Instead of contemplating and absorbing the reality of criminal actions perpetrated by her guru, the speaker proposes that the principle of disclosure (as opposed to the content) is potentially a new spiritual gift. That Dyson and others are not silent anymore is good for the group, not because the group now knows that the founder was an abuser, but because now the group can engage a deeper level of illusion-smashing. Satya is coming close to arguing that the abuse crisis is a good thing — not for the survivors, but for the group itself, because it will presumably allow those members who expected there not to be abuse in a spiritual group to “grow up”. The abuse crisis, in other words, doesn’t reveal criminality and fraud, but how true adults will respond to criminality and fraud.

Shiv (05:09):
And also to not turn those projections onto any other teacher, male or female, you know that teacher is just the teacher, messenger and the teachings are beyond that. And the other questions that people are inquiring about, like the Golden Chain for example, you know, is it still, is it still a valid, yeah. And suddenly our understanding is that the Golden Chain…

Satya (05:40):
…is the Golden Chain, is the Golden Chain.

Big pause here. What is the “Golden Chain”? Unlike the Guru Granth Sahib, the Golden Chain is a fictitious legitimization reference. It’s the epithet that Bhajan and the group has used to claim that his teaching content has passed through the ancient system of experiential testing that is Indian wisdom culture. All we need to know about this is that it’s a bullshit idea, deconstructed by the polite but razor-like scholarship of ex-member Philip Deslippe in his groundbreaking 2012 article, “From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga.”

“For the students of Yogi Bhajan,” Deslippe writes,

the history of Sant Hazara Singh [Bhajan’s putative guru, for which there is scant material evidence] is more than a matter of simple genealogy or lineage. Yogi Bhajan taught that that in Kundalini Yoga the link that stretched back to antiquity from student to teacher formed the ‘GoldenChain’. Every time Kundalini Yoga is practiced, whether privately or in a public class, the mantra ‘Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo’ is intoned three times to ‘tune in’ to this Golden Chain and to be guided and protected by it (Khalsa 1996, 14). Sant Hazara Singh is the only tangible person offered who precedes Yogi Bhajan in the lineage of Kundalini Yoga. The idea of the Golden Chain also helps to bolster the accepted belief in 3HO that Kundalini Yoga was an ancient practice that was forced into secrecy for centuries until Yogi Bhajan taught it openly in the West. The secrecy explains why nothing predating Yogi Bhajan seems to mention the specific details of Kundalini Yoga’s practice in the same context, while the Golden Chain of masters and their students explains how such a practice could be passed down and remain intact until the late 1960s.

But when the Golden Chain of Kundalini Yoga is investigated rather than invoked, it unravels. Within the first 2 years of 3HO is a hidden and vigorously revised history that stands in stark contrast to the accepted understanding of what Yogi Bhajan’s KundaliniYoga is and where it originated. A 3-month trip that Yogi Bhajan took to India with 84 of his students in December 1970 can be seen as the dramatic, demarcating pivot that ended the initial understanding of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga and birthed its current, popularly understood mythology. Instead of a single unaltered lineage, there lies a progression of forgotten and abandoned teachers, figures invented and introduced, and a process of narration and mythologizing born out of cultural context, temporal events, and pragmatic necessity.

It’s notable that not only do the speakers use circular logic to invoke (rather than investigate, as Deslippe says) the Golden Chain, they also speak the sentence together like some ouroboros of indoctrination. Circular logic is reinforced by somatic mirroring.

Shiv (05:42):
So that goes on and everybody can tune into it. The mantras of [mantras]. This gives us always a link to that lineage. And you might feel that link through your local teacher. You might have felt through Yogi Bhajan, you might continue to or not, but the Golden Chain continues to exist. The consciousness of Guru Ram Das prevails in this age that we live in and, and anybody can tap into that. And so the mantras are still completely valid, relevant. And the Golden Chain is a very real phenomenon if one chooses to connect with it and our commitment.

On faith alone, the Golden Chain is asserted to be real, and again linked into traditional Sikhism. But the speaker goes farther here and makes the reality of the Golden Chain contingent upon the students belief, which is compared to the teacher’s commitment. The subtext is that loss of belief will be responsible for the destruction of something thought to grant salvation. The choice to disbelieve is flagged as dangerous.

This goes further. One might say:. I don’t want to mention Yogi Bhajan in my classes. Of course you can teach a whole Kundalini class, just the kriyas and the meditation and never mention his name. But if you’re asked, you know, you’re not gonna hide and lie and pretend otherwise. That is the source of the teachings as we have them. And also, not wanting to quote Yogi Bhajan: It’s Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. Now we recognize that he may from a variety of different means gathered together his own synthesis. But kundalini yoga is thousands of years old. There’s lots of references to show that the concept of Kundalini has been, uh, known in traditional cultures throughout the world also thousands of years.

Here’s perhaps the crux of the speaker’s branding challenge. Having spent considerable energy attempting to separate the man from the teachings, the speaker must now reassemble the teachings with the brand, which happens to contain the man’s name, while also emptying that name out of its human reference. You can almost here the “TM” being attached to the name. This allows the speaker to both further separate from the relationship and stake ownership over the (now presumably neutral) content.

Shiv (07:04):
So clearly what Yogi Bhajan has also done here, by putting his name to it, is taking his own responsibility for the fact that he was told, “Don’t teach this or you’ll be dead in a year.” But he taught it and he survived that. So he took all his risks, put it together in the best way he felt was to serve the, the, uh, the age, the change of the age we live in. And the Western society that was, as he spoke about: all these hippies going to India, coming back with suitcases of trinkets, but no real spirituality in the inside. The fact that he came to make teachers not to collect students, made them stand out quite clearly amongst many other great yogis, swamis, gurus as it came from India at that time. So he chose a very remarkable path and took a lot of risks. And In a way he even crucified himself before all this current crucifixion is now going on by just stepping forward and saying, I’m going to do it. I’m going to make teachers, I’m not looking for the students and I’m going to teach at the risk of my own life, and this needs to get out there and it needs to get out there now.

Even though Bhajan has been said to be irrelevant to the content, he is now re-invoked for emotional impact. This alternation between detachment and attachment, between neutrality and investment, equanimity and devotion, is a big red flag for both cognitive dissonance and aiding in the inculcation of disorganized attachment, wherein the group member is never quite sure what they are being offered, because the goalposts continually move.

And in case you missed it, the speaker compares Dyson and her supporters to the Sanhedrin and Pilate who together crucified Jesus.

And one of his very early lectures he described why he chose to teach Kundalini yoga and not Hatha Yoga. He’s made many references. If you read the library of teachings that he acknowledges some kriyas, he put them together in his morning meditation that came to him or what he had to teach that day and so on. So he put his name to it and that was his crucifixion from the very beginning. So it is Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan. If anybody wants to go and do others kind of Kundalini Yoga they can do it. Put their name to it, put some other name to it, that’s their choice. But this teaching that we have received and the we pass on, continues to be on that, uh, that with that reference to it

Note that the library of teachings is currently being scrubbed of passages like this one, recently erased by admins, but captured and quoted throughout Kundalini dissident circles:

“Rape is always invited, it never happens, a person who is raped is always providing subconsciously the environments and the arrangements. If you do not provide the circumstances and arrangements it is impossible. ” — Yogi Bhajan April 26, 1978 Espanola, NM

The library will disintegrate publicly, even as it’s surely been downloaded for future scholarship. It will be hard for teachers like Shiv and Satya to refer to it in the future with any credibility.

Satya (08:49):
If there’s anything that should be concerned, if there’s anyone that should be concerned with these allegations is really Bibiji his beloved wife who I greatly respect and love. Um, these disclosures might affect her and be hurtful for her. Her life has already been very hard as it was.

Note: Bibiji is still a leading figure in the movement. I don’t know anything about her, except that she is being used here as a symbolic figurehead, the embodiment of the organization.

So I don’t think it’s so much everyone’s concern what did happen didn’t happen. It’s 16 years ago for God’s sake what is there to change now? What matters, what you change about yourself. And how you conduct yourself. That’s what really matters. There will continue to be abuses. There will continue to be a desperate women who put themselves in very vulnerable positions, who will be taken advantage of. This will continue to happen. The new age feminist movement is coming in hard, thank God, but it takes generations. So, but each step forward, each step that we dare to be more ourselves is a great step.

I’ve highlighted the obvious rape-culture affirmation. What’s extremely manipulative about it is that it is immediately followed by a pseudo-feminist shout-out, as though feminism was Satya’s central concern.

Shiv (10:05):
Very interesting, people saying: Okay, so now we realize that Yogi Bhajan was just a man. But I think that might be interesting to separate Harbhajan Singh. He was the man, and when they took on Yogi Bhajan. Actually that is where he’s saying, “I stand under to understand the teaching and to pass that teaching on. So Yogi Bhajan was the teacher, but there was a man there and the man did what the man did.

As if it wasn’t hard enough to sever Yogi Bhajan from his teachings, students are now asked to sever “Yogi Bhajan” as a persona from his birth identity. Now there are three entities over which culpability can be dispersed. Who committed clerical sexual misconduct against Dyson? If it was Harbhajan Singh, we shouldn’t be surprised. If it was Yogi Bhajan, well that was a hollow idol. And — it couldn’t have been the teachings themselves, of course. 

So I think these are little details like that. Just a little way of thinking that turns everything around.

This is a huge tell. Consciously or not, the speaker is admitting that thought manipulation is required to weather the abuse crisis.

And a lot of people are saying a lot of things on the internet and it really shows not so much about actually what really happened. And it doesn’t necessarily even show a healthy way forward. It’s just showing that people have agendas and they’ve been waiting for this kind of door to open and suddenly they all want to throw up all kinds of stuff, whether it’s trying to fight and defend his name, whether it’s trying to, to say I knew it, I knew it and therefore this and that and the next thing, it’s all actually says more about the people who are speaking out than it necessarily says about actually what has happened. And when saying that, not with any, uh, position ourselves to deny what has happened. We do know that, um, an independent inquiry has been started and of course we fully support that and also very welcoming the statements that have been made by a KYTAB, KRI, 3HO and Sikh Dharma International.

Survivors and group members are to be doubted in that less-than-real-place called the internet, while the group should be supported in investigating itself. Remember back the top, where he says that the “allegations” have been recurrent through 3HO history. Why would the organization investigate itself now?

That, uh, we are committed to uphold the code of ethics to continue training teachers to the highest standard possible. And our challenge is to take it all forward, as Yogi Bhajan said himself: be 10 times greater. So that commitment is ongoing and it’s a very important commitment as Satya said, because shadows are within all of us. Naive students are everywhere, tendency of projection on putting teachers on pedestals, all those kinds of things goes on and it’s not going to stop overnight just with these allegations.

Again: abuse testimonies are minimized to allegations, and then conflated with the naïveté of students. With abuse and the response to it conflated, the speaker determines that neither can be resolved.

So continuing to push forward with the code of ethics to uphold the highest standards as best we can and keep, keep passing that on to others. Please talk to your communities, talk to your national associations any opportunity to join conversation. Feel free to do so. We’ve been having a meeting with a lot of trainers and mentees this weekend and we’ve gone through a lot of what we might call frequently asked questions that, um, trainers or teachers might feel might be coming from their classes. And we’re putting that together and we’re discussing and sharing what is a honest and healthy response to some of these questions. And we’ll be sending that document out. It’ll be a public document in the next few weeks. Sat Nam. Thank you very much.

The speaker concludes with another dubious statement, conveyed through jargon designed to instil emotional allegiance. The mantra “sat nam” is typically translated as “Truth is my essence.”  

9 Comments

  • Thanks Mathew for putting in so much effort into this difficult subject. It seems that a lot of people want to just be positive and see all this as a gift. Acknowledging the horrors of YB and the people that enabled him is important to be exposed and realise this abuse and silencing is embedded in our culture and needs to change. That is where I believe real healing can happen.

  • It would be interesting to hear your analysis of the concept of karma. Have you written on it?

    I have never seen a blatant statement about rape like the one above quoted. That a rape is somehow caused by the victim, as if destined by karma. But I’m not surprised. It feels like a core belief has been revealed.

    • Thanks for commenting. I think the concept is too vast and culturally/historically diverse for me to have any useful view on it, although clearly it can be used to rationalize abuse.

  • HI,
    It is good that you’re bringing this up, but I wish you’d have studied the subject and the situation a bit more thoroughly, because there are some mistakes and mistaken assumptions in your report…
    Just to give some examples:
    – regarding the group investigating itself: the group will not investigate itself, they are hiring a 3rd party for the investigations.
    – And it is true that teachers and leaders in Europe never have relied on Yogi Bhajan as much as people who were closer to him. So the distancing is not happening just for this purpose now, but it has always been there. And some countries/areas of the world just happen to be more prone to put people on pedestals (such as India, China, Russia, USA…..etc…) than people in Europe anyway. Of course you can interpret this as Europeans think they’re better than the people from those other countries, but you can also see it as a fact without any judgement.
    I think matters this severe should be treated with a bit more care from your part as well, not to give a taste of badly done journalism.

    • This isn’t journalism, but analysis of minimizing and deflective jargon, which you’ve sidelined in favour of two minor points. One of your points, regarding the status of 3rd party investigations commissioned by religious institutions is contested enough that the Sivananda community is crowdsourcing their own: https://www.gofundme.com/f/bk6gs-project-satya. Nobody on the outside knows how independent the KY investigation will be until its results are published.

  • This is an irresponsible post. I’m sorry for you that you have to attack two honest teachers that speak from their hearts about a very complicated situation. Sad for you that you are no longer a credible source. But less to read online is always good in this age of over information and fake truth.

  • Excellent analysis, Matthew. Thank you. All their words about the students projecting just appalled me. Er, irony much?

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