Harbhajan Singh Khalsa

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa (born Harbhajan Singh Puri)[1] (August 26, 1929 – October 6, 2004), also known as Yogi Bhajan and Siri Singh Sahib to his followers, was an Indian-born American entrepreneur, yoga guru,[2] and spiritual teacher. He introduced his version of Kundalini Yoga to the United States. He was the spiritual director of the 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) Foundation, with over 300 centers in 35 countries.[3]

Harbhajan Singh Khalsa (Yogi Bhajan)
Yogi Bhajan 1985.jpg
In 1985
Born(1929-08-26)August 26, 1929
Kot Harkarn, Punjab, British India
DiedOctober 6, 2004(2004-10-06) (aged 75)
Española, New Mexico, United States
EducationPanjab University, New Delhi, India (Master of Economics, 1952), University for Humanistic Studies, Solana Beach, CA, USA (PhD, Psychology of Communication, 1980)
OrganizationHealthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO), Sikh Dharma International, Kundalini Research Institute, Siri Singh Sahib Corporation
Known forMaster of Kundalini Yoga, interfaith pioneer, Sikh missionary
TitleYogi, Siri Singh Sahib, Bhai Sahib, Panth Rattan
Spouse(s)Bibi Inderjit Kaur
ChildrenRanbir Singh, Kulbir Singh, Kamaljit Kaur
Signature of Harbhajan Singh Khalsa.svg

Harbhajan Singh has been accused posthumously of sexual abuse by hundreds of his female followers; an investigation called the Olive Branch Report found the allegations most likely true.[4][5][6] Three members of the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation Board, objecting to the hiring of An Olive Branch, an entity not licensed to conduct investigations, resigned their positions. One of them commissioned the Thompson Report, which found serious failings in both the methods and the presentation of the Olive Branch Report.[7]


Early lifeEdit

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 raised 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, Sant Bhai Fateh Singh. Theirs was a well-to-do landlord family, owning most of their village in the foothills of the Himalayas.[8]

Khalsa's 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 was an active member of the Sikh Students Federation in Delhi.[9] Four years later, he graduated with a master's degree in economics.[10]

In 1953, Harbhajan Singh entered the service of the Government of India. He served in the Revenue Department, where his duties took him all over India. Eventually, Harbhajan Singh was promoted to a customs inspector at Delhi airport.[11] He married Inderjit Kaur Uppal in Delhi in 1954. Together, they had three children, Ranbir Singh Bhai, Kulbir Singh and Kamaljit Kaur.[12]

By Khalsa's account, his most influential teacher during his formative years was his paternal grandfather. He subsequently studied Kundalini Yoga at a boarding school of Sant Hazara Singh.[13] In his adult life, Harbhajan Singh's government duties often facilitated his traveling to remote ashrams and distant hermitages to seek out reclusive yogis and swamis. These included Sant Ranjit Singh, Acarya Narinder Dev and the facilities of Sivananda Ashram. Harbhajan Singh learned yoga therapy from Dhirendra Brahmachari at the Vishwayatan Ashram in New Delhi.[14] In his final years in India, he also learned from Baba Virsa Singh at Gobind Sadan Institute.[15] As a devout and much-decorated Sikh, all of Khalsa's teaching was deeply influenced by Guru Nanak and his spiritual tradition.[16]

Coming westEdit

In 1968, Harbhajan Singh emigrated to Toronto, Canada equipped with an endorsement from that country's High Commissioner to India, James George, who was also a student of his,[17] and the promise of a position as director of a new Yogic Studies Department at the University of Toronto. While that position did not materialize because of the death of his sponsor in an auto mishap,[18] 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.[18][19][20]

Soon after arriving in Los Angeles, California in December 1968, Harbhajan Singh met Judith Tyberg who operated the East-West Cultural Center and Osu, who would become his first student, renamed "Shakti Parwha Kaur." Tyberg invited Khalsa to speak at her center on January 6, his first lecture in the West. After that, he became a regular presenter with a growing following from within the hippie movement.[18][21]

Healthy, Happy, Holy OrganizationEdit

1970 gathering at Santa Clara Canyon, New Mexico

In 1969, Harbhajan Singh established the 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) Foundation in Los Angeles, California to further his missionary work. His 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 was 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. He offered them all these things with vigorous yoga, an embracing holistic vision, and an optimistic spirit of sublime destiny.[22] Interest in yoga increased worldwide at this time.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

Aquarian age timelineEdit

Harbhajan Singh incorporated the storyline of the dawning new age into his teachings, a case of melding Western astrology with Sikh tradition. He proclaimed that "Guru Nanak was the Guru for the Aquarian Age." It was, he 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.[26][27] His 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.[28]

Inter-faith workEdit

Meeting Pope John Paul II 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—another Eastern yogi who has been accused of sexual abuse of his students, Stephen Gaskin of The Farm in Tennessee, Zen Buddhist Jakusho Kwong, and other local spiritual leaders. A few weeks later, he organized a gathering of spiritual teachers to engage and inspire the 200,000 attendees of the Atlanta International Pop Festival on the stage between the performances of the bands.[29]

All through the 1970s and 80s, in his role the Siri Singh Sahib of Sikh Dharma,[16] 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.[30] In 1999, he gave a presentation at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Cape Town, South Africa.[31]

Political influence in U.S.Edit

As early as 1970, Khalsa was known to call on members of Congress in their Washington offices.[32] 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.[33]

Healing artsEdit

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.[34] 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 and taught hundreds of techniques of yogic exercise 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.[35]

Obituaries and memorialsEdit

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

Harbhajan Singh 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.[36]

His passing was widely noted in the press, with obituaries appearing in The Los Angeles Times,[37] the Times of India,[38] The New York Times,[36] and Yoga Journal.[39] A number of these articles remarked on the entrepreneurial spirit Khalsa had encouraged in his followers, resulting in a legacy of successful business enterprises. In addition, Khalsa's passing was noted by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, which closed its offices to commemorate his death.[40]

The State of New Mexico honored him by renaming State Highway 106 as the Yogi Bhajan Memorial Highway.[41] The New Mexico Government 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, and declared Oct 23 "Yogi Bhajan Memorial Day".[42]

On January 25, 2005, Senator Jeff Bingaman introduced "A concurrent resolution honoring the life and contribution of Yogi Bhajan, a leader of the Sikhs, and expressing condolences to the Sikh community on his passing" in the United States Senate The Senate Resolution was co-sponsored by Senator Pete Domenici and Senator John Cornyn An identical Resolution was introduced in the United States House of Representatives by Representative Tom Udall.[43] The Joint Resolution passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House by a recorded vote of 405 to 0, on April 5 and 6.[44] Its passage was marked on May 5 with a special reception at the U.S. Capitol attended by more than 100 honoured guests. These included Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Representative Tom Udall of New Mexico, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, and Representative Thad McCotter of Michigan. The Indian Government was represented by Deputy Chief of Missions of the Embassy of India Ambassador Raminder Singh Jassal and Minister Counselor of the Embassy of India Krishan Varma. World Bank Representative Gurcharan Singh, former U.S. Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall of Arizona and former First Lady of New Mexico Clara Apadoca were also in attendance together with Khalsa's widow, family and friends. The Joint Resolution was lauded in the Sikh and Indian communities where it was noted that Khalsa had joined the exclusive ranks of Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II in being so honoured.[45][46][47] Christian apologist Dave Hunt published a dissenting article on thebereancall.org[48]


Media coverageEdit

Harbhajan Singh received significant coverage in the North American media, particularly in the early 1970s. His 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.[49][50][51] Others focused on Singh's holistic approach to drug addiction.[52][53][54] Some writers reported on Singh's officiating at mass marriages where many couples were betrothed at once, and everyone wore white.[55][56][57] Others reported on the issue of Sikhs up against the US Army dress code.[58][59] While Newsweek, USA Today and Maclean's 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". 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 Singh the title of Siri Singh Sahib.[60]

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.[61][16]

Harbhajan Singh is mentioned in reference works including the New Age Encyclopedia.[62] Western scholarly appraisal of his work may be found in Hew McLeod's Who is a Sikh?[63] and Sikhism,[64] and Verne A. Dusenbery's article "Punjabi Sikhs and Gora Sikhs: Conflicting Assertions of Sikh Identity in North America".[65]

The BBC interviewed Singh at the 300th anniversary celebration of the Baisakhi holiday at Anandpur Sahib, India in 1999.[66] Harbhajan Singh is featured in books discussing the successes of Sikhs who migrated from India to the West, including Surjit Kaur's Among the Sikhs: Reaching for the Stars.[67] and Gurmukh Singh's The Global Indian: The Sikhs.[68]

Sikh scholars' views on Singh's missionEdit

Kapur Singh, 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 furtherance of the Guru's mission."[69]

The historian Fauja Singh 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."[69]

In his 1994 book, The Heritage of the Sikhs, 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."[70]

Scholars including Verne A. Dusenbery and Pashaura Singh have concurred that Harbhajan Singh'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 a race with a shared history in India.[71]

The historian of Sikhism Trilochan Singh offered a contrasting perspective in his critical work entitled "Sikhism and Tantric Yoga." "I am extremely worried about the manner in which Yogi Bhajan teaches Sikhism to American young men and women whose sincerity, nobility of purpose, and rare passion for oriental wisdom and genuine mystical experiences is unquestionably unique. I do not care what fantastic interpretations of Kundalini Yoga he gives, the like of which I have never read in any Tantra text, nor known from any living Tantric scholar. I am not prepared to take seriously his newly invented Guru Yoga in which his pious and uncritical followers must concentrate on a particular picture of Yogi Bhajan, which practice is called mental beaming."[72]

Philip Deslippe, a historian of American religion, wrote a 2012 article "From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan's Kundalini Yoga", using 3HO source archive material and news articles to reveal how Harbhajan Singh recreated his own story after his first trip back to India:[15]

I set out to answer the question "where did Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan (KYATBYB) come from?" and not much else. I tried to support my findings with as much evidence as possible, and for that evidence to be as clear, specific, verifiable, and close to the source, such as interviews with first hand witnesses (Pamela being one of them), quotes from Yogi Bhajan, contemporary newspaper accounts, and exercises taken from manuals. I concluded that in the early years of 3HO, Yogi Bhajan was using the physical yoga of Swami Dhirendra Bramachari and the persona and mantra of Baba Virsa Singh, and that the figure of Sant Hazara Singh only became prominent after the first trip to India in 1970-1971 when Yogi Bhajan had a falling out with Virsa Singh.

— Philip Deslippe.[15]

Alleged sexual abuse of womenEdit

In 2019, Yogi Bhajan's former secretary Pamela Saharah Dyson published the book Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan, reporting that she and other women had sexual relationships with Harbhajan Singh.[73] In March 2020, anti-cult activist Be Scofield published an article in her magazine The Guru reporting sexual abuse and rape of female followers and assistants including Dyson by Harbhajan Singh, based on "over a dozen original interviews".[74] That same month, the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation commissioned An Olive Branch (AOB) to look into the allegations. The AOB report, published in August, found that it was "more likely than not" that Yogi Bhajan raped three women, injured eight women during sex, engaged in nonconsensual touching of nine people, showed pornography to minors, used sexually offensive language, directed women to shave their pubic hair, directed women to have sex with other women, that his followers' claims that he was celibate were inaccurate, and that he "employed a variety of methods to control his students including compartmentalization, quid pro quo, promises, threats, slander, phone calls, guarding, and/or telling women they were his wife."[75] The report acknowledged "the convictions of Yogi Bhajan's Supporters as accurate representations of their beliefs" rather than deliberate falsehoods. Soon after, other media published stories based on the report that considered the allegations to be true.[76][77][78][79][80][81]

Upset by the commissioning of the report by An Olive Branch, three members of the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation Board resigned in June.[82] One of them, Guru Amrit Singh Khalsa, commissioned Barbara W. Thompson, a private investigator and former attorney, to write an assessment of the AOB Report. The result, "The Thompson Report", released on December 31, 2020, did not address the substance of the AOB investigation's findings, but asserted that the AOB authors were insufficiently qualified, and that the methodology of their report was deficient. It stated that the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation deviated from normal practice by instructing AOB both to conduct a survey and to evaluate and determine the final implications of their own report; and it criticized the report's definition of "investigation".[7]


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


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