Sep 20, 2015

3,500 Sikhs petition Akal Takhat against Bhajan’s yogis

Anju Kaur
Sikh Free Press
September 18, 2015

Members of Bhai Makhan Shah Lubana Seva and Welfare Society of Mohali gather signatures from sangats around Punjab asking the Akal Takhat jathedar to stop Bhajan's yogis from dancing and yoga-ing to Gurbani.
Members of Bhai Makhan Shah Lubana
Seva and Welfare Society of Mohali gather
 signatures from sangats around Punjab
asking the Akal Takhat jathedar to stop
 Bhajan's yogis from dancing and
 yogaing to Gurbani.
The Akal Takhat jathedar and the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee warned Yogi Bhajan’s family and followers over the summer to reign in their anti-Sikh practices.

Jathedar Gurbachan Singh was alerted to a petition, on June 28, from about 3,500 Punjabi Sikhs asking for a "ban on dancing and yoga on Gurbani, which is being performed and promoted by 3HO foundation USA and Sikhnet USA," says a statement on the "Wake Up Sikhs" Facebook page.

The page on the social networking website is the brainchild of Surjit Singh, president of Bhai Makhan Shah Lubana Seva and Welfare Society in Mohali, Punjab. It is a repository of videos and images from Bhajan’s yogis that show numerous transgressions committed by them in the name of Sikhi.

Among the videos are those of Bhajan’s well-known disciples, Snatam Khalsa (link is external) and Gurumukh Khalsa (link is external), singing and yoga-ing to Gurbani songs in concerts and large yoga classes; and also Gurumustuk Khalsa and Guruka Khalsa (link is external), leaders of, justifying dancing to Gurbani.

Surjit Singh and his associates showed these videos around Punjab to encourage Sikhs to sign the petition. The grass-roots signature campaign began at Punjab University, in Chandigarh, and received nearly 600 signatures from students, both Sikh and non-Sikh, he said in his own video. News reports of the signature campaign, including the videos, were broadcast on the student-run “Campus TV (link is external).” The rest of the signatures were collected from sangats in Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Jalandhar, he said.

“The jathedar sahib assured us he would correct this as soon as possible,” Surjit Singh said.

The Happy, Healthy, Holy Organization, or 3HO, and are among the many nonprofit organizations founded by the late Yogi Harbhajan Khalsa, popularly known as Yogi Bhajan. After immigrating to Los Angeles in the late 1960s, Bhajan made himself the Mahan Tantric, leader of a spiritual movement he called Sikh-Dharma. He mixed Hindu Tantric Yoga philosophy and practices with Gurbani and Sikh practices, and taught it to his disciples as the only authentic Sikhism. Although Bhajan used “Sikh” in the name of this organization and “Khalsa” as the surname for all his followers, they do not follow Gurbani or the Sikh Rahit Maryada. They also have altered the Guru’s Bani in their English translations to justify their own beliefs and lifestyle. Bhajan kept his community inaccessible to Sikhs, and successfully networked with the Sikh leadership. But with the advent of the Internet, Sikhs are beginning to take note of Bhajan’s yogis. They are complaining.

[For more information, see “American yogis distort Sikh scripture,” by Sikh Free Press.]

“Yogi Bhajan’s followers in 3HO have given Sikhi a different swaroop in which they use Gurbani as the foundation for dancing to Gurbani and using verses from Gurbani to do yoga,” Surjit Singh said. “They are disrespecting Gurbani… Yoga and dancing should be stopped... The main motive of Miri Piri Academy (Bhajan’s school in Amritsar) is to create yoga teachers and propagate falsehood around the world,” he added.

Also on Wake Up Sikhs are images of the spiral staircase and floor leading to Yogi Bhajan’s Yogazentrum Hoheluft Kundalini Yoga center in Hamburg, Germany.

On Aug. 11, the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee threatened to take legal action against the Hamburg yoga center for engraving the Manglacharan on the stairs and Ik Ongkaar on the floor. The Delhi committee gave the center one week to remove the tiles. The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee also threatened legal recourse. Its chief, Avtar Singh Makkar, said he would discuss this issue with Sushma Swaraj, India’s minister of external affairs, according to the Hindustan Times.

The owner of the yoga center apparently did not understand the wrongdoing, and neither did Gurujot Khalsa (link is external), leader of Yogi Bhajan’s spiritual organization called Sikh-Dharma International.

“This engraving, while having been there for over 20 years, was suddenly objected to by the local gurdwara in Hamburg,” she said in her Sept. 5 letter (link is external) to the Khalsa-Council, the policy-making group of the dharma’s top ministers. Sikhism does not have ministers.

“News of this was posted on Facebook and was carried on multiple Indian TV stations,” she said. “The ashram community quickly responded and the situation has been resolved.” An ashram is a Hindu monastery.

The spiral staircase and floor leading to Yogi Bhajan’s Yogazentrum Hoheluft Kundalini Yoga center in Hamburg, Germany. Ik Ongkaar is engraved on the floor, and the Manglaacharan is engraved on the stairs. The yoga center agreed to remove the Gurbani after the DSGMC threatened legal action, in early August.

The spiral staircase and floor leading to Yogi Bhajan’s Yogazentrum Hoheluft Kundalini Yoga center in Hamburg, Germany. Ik Ongkaar is engraved on the floor, and the Manglaacharan is engraved on the stairs. The yoga center agreed to remove the Gurbani after the DSGMC threatened legal action, in early August.

Gurujot Khalsa called these transgressions “an aggressive slander campaign aimed at damaging and discrediting the teachings and legacy” of Yogi Bhajan and his organizations. The campaign is led by a former student of Yogi Bhajan and has escalated through his social media efforts, she said.

Although she did not mention him by name, the former student is Gursant Singh of Northern California. He was Bhajan’s bodyguard for 30 years, who later wrote about his experiences in his 2012 autobiography “Confessions of an American Sikh.” He is continuing his campaign against the dharma, online.

“They try to block my YouTube videos and Facebook pages,” Gursant Singh told Sikh Free Press.

“I don’t hate them,” he said. “I want them to change and become good Sikhs. …But they won’t talk to me.”

The jathedar informed Yogi Bhajan’s wife, Inderjit Puri, of the complaints, Gurujot Khalsa said in her letter.

“He said he did not wish to issue a formal edict (hukamnama) against us, but he wanted to be sure that we have proper decorum in regard to the Guru, Gurbani and Gurdwara protocol,” she said.

Gurujot Khalsa called for the council ministers to address these “serious matters” and form a “collective strategy” at their next council meeting, beginning on Sept. 23, in Espanola, New Mexico, Yogi Bhajan’s headquarters.

“Our non-profit organizations (Sikh-Dharma InternationaI, Siri Singh Sahib Corporation, Sikhnet, SDEI, KRI and 3HO) have been meeting together to identify and discuss the issues, and come to a common understanding of how we can move forward collectively,” she said.

But there are many more issues that “challenge the teachings and legacy of our beloved teacher,” said Satpal Khalsa (link is external), Yogi Bhajan’s son-in-law, in a letter to the council ministers (link is external), which followed Gurujot Khalsa’s letter, the same day.

He and the rest of Bhajan’s family have been battling Bhajan’s disciples in court for control of his empire since his death in 2004. Gursant Singh and other former followers allege the letter is a power play by Satpal Khalsa to garner a leadership role in the dharma.

“I get many reports, complaints, pictures, letters and proof of Sikh Code violations by Sikh Dharma International members and teachers from Siri Akal Takhat Sahib, SGPC, DSGMC and other Sikh organizations in India and USA,” Satpal Singh said in the letter.

“These (complaints) include:
  • the photo of the naked lady portrayed (with recording artist) Snatam Kaur’s Kirtan Sohila Bani; 
  • worship of Hindu deities publicly and in homes of leaders of Sikh Dharma and their students; 
  • several complaints against practices at MPA (Miri Piri Acadamy, Yogi Bhajan’s school in Amritsar) and various Sikh code of conduct violations by MPA students and staff; 
  • complaints against MPA students smoking and drinking liquor in public; 
  • many instances of dancing on Gurbani Shabads including to Snatam Kaur and (Hollywood yoga teacher) Gurmukh Kaur’s chanting of Guru’s Bani; 
  • idol and stone worship by Sikh Dharma members / teachers and many more such practices.”
But Satpal Khalsa did not mention any of his, Yogi Bhajan’s or his family’s violations, including participation in Hindu pujas and having Hindu last rites for Yogi Bhajan performed by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati at the world famous Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, India, in 2005.

Yogi Bhajan built strong connections with the Sikh leadership in India. Satpal Khalsa took over that role and continued with those connections, particularly with the Akal Takhat jathedars. In 2000, Jathedar Joginder Singh Vedanti appointed him as representative of all Sikhs in the United States. Jathedar Gurbachan Singh continued the appointment when he took over in 2008. Satpal Khalsa often tours with the jathedar when he visits the U.S.

“I personally received the initial complaints from the office of Siri Akal Takhat Sahib and spoke to him extensively during my travel with him across USA recently,” Satpal Khalsa said in his letter (link is external).

“He has assured all support but warned us to take control of these complaints and rectify them. I am in constant touch with Sri Akal Takhat, SGPC and DSGMC on these issues and will be meeting their key representatives at an upcoming international inter-religious conference.”

While Satpal Khalsa asked Bhajan’s yogis to uphold Sikh tenets and the Rahit Maryada, he also urged the council of ministers to create a separate public relations division that would court the Sikh leaders with speaking arrangements and saropas, and plan damage control strategies to contain complaints from the Sikhs. Satpal Khalsa would be their leader, acting as a liason between the yogis and the Sikh leadership. Their target would be Gursant Singh, but also “certain Sikh groups in India and USA,” particularly in Northern California, New York, and also Canada, he said.

“I do know of these groups, which can be handled to stop further damage to our organizations,” Satpal Khalsa said. The only group he mentioned by name was Wake Up Sikhs.

When Yogi Bhajan was in control, “these issues were never major problems, and if there was a slight problem, it would be remedied promptly,” he said, referring to the yogi as their “Teacher and Master.” Yogi Bhajan was the master of public relations.

“If we just sit without taking any action and ignore these negative campaigns, people will start thinking that these are true and allegations will turn into facts in their minds,” Satpal Khalsa said.

But even without a formal PR campaign in place, and before the petition was delivered to the Akal Takhth, 3HO began distributing video clips in Punjab of their followers saying they do not do yoga, or at least minimizing their dedication to yoga, according to Wake Up Sikhs.

But all other 3HO/SDI videos and images tell a different story. And they are on the Internet for the world to see.

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