This is the third and last part of the article named:
From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga
Journal: Sikh Formations, 8(3)
Author: Deslippe, Philip Roland
Publication Date: 2013-03-14
Sant Hazara Singh and the Title of Mahan Tantric
In the spring of 1971, shortly after returning from the India trip, Yogi Bhajan announced to his students after his morning meditation that he had been passed the mantle of “Mahan Tantric.” According to Yogi Bhajan, there was only a single Mahan Tantric on the earth at any time, and his earlier pride meant that the title was previously passed to another student of Sant Hazara Singh, the Tibetan Lama Lilan Po, before coming to him (Gurutej S. Khalsa 1995, 15). As understood in 3HO, it is only under the watch of the singular Mahan Tantric that White Tantric Yoga can be done, a non-sexual form of yoga in which his students would sit in rows facing each other in male/female pairs, staring into one another’s eyes, and under the supervision of the Mahan Tantric, perform exercises lasting up to an hour or more.(38) Both the timing and the title were curious, since at the very least, Tantric courses were taught in both Los Angeles and Arizona in the Fall of 1970, well before the title of Mahan Tantric was bestowed, and early teachers of Kundalini Yoga also taught classes of the same type of yoga before they were told it “took too much energy out of Yogi Bhajan” (Schneider 2003, 71).(39)
The discrepancies make sense in light of the historical housecleaning that was quickly done in early-1971 in the wake of Yogi Bhajan’s break from Virsa Singh. Maharaj Virsa Singh was struck from the record within 3HO, as were the minor living teachers that were listed in the July 1970 “Who Is Yogi Bhajan?” article in Beads of Truth. If Maharaj Virsa Singh was referred to, it was never by name and always as a type of boogey-man who in numerous recountings challenged Yogi Bhajan, tried to keep Yogi Bhajan’s students from becoming Sikhs, and was covertly responsible for any dissonance between Western and Punjabi Sikhs (S.K. Khalsa 2010). From the first India trip onwards, all of the influences that Yogi Bhajan claimed and placed with the lineage of Kundalini and White Tantric Yoga, became inaccessible: from Sant Hazara Singh to the Tibetan Lama Lilan Po to the Sikh Gurus themselves. As the former executive secretary of 3HO has described it, “All of Yogi Bhajan’s claims about lineage or teachers were not able to be substantiated since all teachers that he referred to were (conveniently) expired.”(40)
Guru Ram Das and the figure of Sant Hazara Singh took center stage, and any deference or mythologizing given to Maharaj Virsa Singh was now cast onto them or to Yogi Bhajan himself.
The original story of Yogi Bhajan cleaning toilets for Maharaj Virsa Singh, which was turned into washing the floors at the Golden Temple after work, was again recast into part of Yogi Bhajan’s claimed narrative of studying under Sant Hazara Singh (Yogi Bhajan 1996a, 1999). The description of the Mahan Tantric, a unique title held by only one person on earth at a time, echoed Yogi Bhajan’s previous description of Maharaj Virsa Singh as “the master of the time.” Yogi Bhajan’s dress of flowing all-white clothing and the even way he sat bore a striking resemblance to how Maharaj Virsa Singh  carried himself.(41) The Naam that Yogi Bhajan said he received from his former master was now referred to in 3HO publications as “our Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru” (Khalsa 1971a). In October of 1971, 3HO began the practice of celebrating the birthday of Guru Ram Das, and soon that annual celebration would revolve around chanting the shabad Dhan Dhan Ram Das Guru for two and a half hours just as Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru was chanted to honor Maharaj Virsa Singh on his birthday (Khalsa 1971b).
While the figure of Sant Hazara Singh became central, when all of Yogi Bhajan’s claims about him are brought together, it seems highly improbable that if such a figure existed that he would not have been documented elsewhere.(42) In addition to being a master of Sikh martial arts, Kundalini Yoga, White Tantric Yoga, and someone who had memorized the entire Siri Guru Granth Sahib, Yogi Bhajan claimed that his Sant Hazara Singh organized an armed defense of the city of Anandpur during Partition, remained ageless and had over 250 students including the Tibetan Lama Lilan Po who would have been remarkably studying under a Sikh teacher in the Punjab at a time when Tibet was closed off (Khalsa 1979, 29; Yogi Bhajan 1983, 1996b). The man Yogi Bhajan appointed as his biographer, Guru Fatha Singh Khalsa, has by his own admission never found outside information on the figure of Sant Hazara Singh.(43)
Beyond the late introduction of Sant Hazara Singh and the convenient timing of his elevated importance, perhaps the strongest evidence against his existence comes from Yogi Bhajan himself. The accepted narrative within 3HO, taken from Yogi Bhajan directly, is that he trained under Sant Hazara Singh from the age of seven until sixteen and a half, when he was declared a Master by his teacher (Yogi Bhajan 1990a).(44) However, on numerous occasions during his first years in the West, Yogi Bhajan himself dated the beginning of his yogic study to a time after he would later claim to have finished his studies under Sant Hazara Singh. Yogi Bhajan initially told reporters that he had been studying yoga “since he was eighteen” and in interviews in both 1968 and 1969, he claimed to have studied for twenty-two years, and in 1970 that number was adjusted to twenty-three years, which at 1946 and 1947, would have made him either seventeen or eighteen years old when he began to study yoga (Hampton 1968; Altschul 1969; Anonymous 1970b; Gray 1970). An early article by the “mother of 3HO” Shakti Parwha Kaur also describes Yogi Bhajan’s meeting with Virsa Singh as the apex of the former’s “22 years search for Truth,” once again placing the beginning of Yogi Bhajan’s spiritual quest at a post- Partition time following his claimed completion of studies under Sant Hazara Singh (S.P.K. Khalsa 1970b, 2).
With decades to solidify, this shift has become the accepted standard within 3HO today, where nearly all practitioners know of the claimed connections the practice has with Sant Hazara Singh and Guru Ram Das, but hardly anyone is aware of Maharaj Virsa Singh or Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari.
When viewed openly, the early history of 3HO is remarkable in the extent that it was so thoroughly revised and replaced as the organization aged, with a figure so initially revered as Maharaj Virsa Singh eliminated and a theoretically essential figure as Sant Hazara Singh introduced only after a year and a half of going unnoted. One explanation  of the successful revision of Kundalini Yoga’s history is simply timing. Since these changes occurred in the first two years, there was less of a past to revise, and the passing of time helped to further solidify the new narrative as many of the earliest people in 3HO cycled out of the group. In later years, many students who joined after the first two years were recognized as “old-timers” with decades of experience, and their understanding was given merit even though they were ignorant of 3HO’s earliest and most formative years that often contradicted its later understanding of itself.
The most significant aspect of the hidden history of Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga, is the central epistemological problem at the foundation of 3HO’s understanding of Kundalini Yoga and its own lineage. Like a small restaurant that places mirrors on opposing walls to create the appearance of depth, it is from the singular person of Yogi Bhajan that all information about the lineage and practice of his Kundalini Yoga originates. From the lectures of Yogi Bhajan and notes taken in his classes came the instruction manuals, books, and 3HO periodicals such asBeads of Truth and the later Aquarian Times that elucidated the practice of Kundalini Yoga. In time, despite contradictions within Yogi Bhajan’s statements and a lack of supporting evidence from secondary sources, outside writers and scholars relied on 3HO’s own materials to describe the composition and lineage of Kundalini Yoga to wider audiences, creating a long and citable bibliography that seems to verify the claims made about the practice.
Yogi Bhajan was free to revise the understanding his students had of Kundalini Yoga, its origins, and his own personal lineage, since like many other charismatic leaders within New Religious Movements, his word was accepted prima facia by his followers without any need for outside confirmation. While Yogi Bhajan himself can be seen as the primary editor of the understanding of his Kundalini Yoga and its claimed lineage, this filtering was reinforced by figures close to him who wrote and edited 3HO’s periodicals and literature. By eliminating certain events and quotes and emphasizing others, they often revised history and gave a more consistent form to the narratives within 3HO. Shakti Parwha Kaur would say in late-1972, despite everything she wrote in Beads of Truth about Maharaj Virsa Singh in 1970, that when she first met Yogi Bhajan “he had placed his total faith, his total dependence” on Guru Ram Das (Khalsa 1972). With more rank-and-file members this process of resolving conflicting and disparate information could be more subtle, even to the point of being unconscious. An unwitting description of this approach can been seen in Ravi Har Singh, who in describing the process of writing a book based on Yogi Bhajan’s “non-linear and multidimensional” lectures recently admitted, “I found that he (Yogi Bhajan) rarely develops a concept completely in one place, at one sitting. Instead he often delivers fragments of concepts across a wide number of lectures. It is up to the researcher to apply a good dose of intuition to bring these fragments together into a coherent whole” (Khalsa 2011).
Adding another dimension to Yogi Bhajan’s role as the filter of knowledge in the earliest years of 3HO were the barriers of language, culture, and personal experience. On the first trip to India none of Yogi Bhajan’s students spoke Punjabi or were familiar with Sikh customs, let alone Indian culture at large. While some of Yogi Bhajan’s students would describe firsthand his break with Maharaj Virsa Singh or the events at the  Golden Temple in 1971, it is doubtful that they themselves understood what was occurring at the time independent of what they were told via Yogi Bhajan. Even a student who was nearby when Guru Ram Das supposedly appeared to Yogi Bhajan on the 1970-71 trip and reverentially verified his story, did not see the fourth Sikh Guru with her own eyes, and could only find proof through her own interpretation of what she saw in Yogi Bhajan and what he related (Khalsa 1978).
A close inspection of the events between 1968 and 1971 suggest that Yogi Bhajan was acutely aware of the ways he was presenting his yoga and often reimagined it to suit his audience: at times for long term goals and at other times to suit immediate needs. The figures of Sant Hazara Singh, and to a lesser extent, Lama Lilan Po, were used to cover for the actual personages and influences of Maharaj Virsa Singh and Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari, giving a provenance to Kundalini Yoga that also secured Yogi Bhajan’s possession of it. Without the lineage that he claimed and without creating Kundalini Yoga out of whole cloth, Yogi Bhajan is best thought of as neither a lineage holder nor inventor, but a bricoleur who brought together elements of different practices and presented them to his students as a distinct entity with a romantic mythology surrounding it. Perhaps this says as much about Yogi Bhajan as it does about the expectations and hopes of those who believed him.
While this paper suggests a radical shift in the accepted understanding of what Kundalini Yoga is and who Yogi Bhajan was, in one sense it also suggests a lateral shift. When the popular mythology of Kundalini Yoga is inspected and dismantled, an ancient lineage of Kundalini Yoga and the figure of Sant Hazara Singh are lost, but we are still left with esoteric yogic practices and a powerful teacher in the Sūkṣma Vyāyāma of Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari and the figure of Maharaj Virsa Singh. This provides both a truer sense of Kundalini Yoga and a more realistic explanation of why it works as it does for its practitioners.
Some critics and ex-members of 3HO try to dismiss the practice of Kundalini Yoga entirely, often basing their view on contradictory evidence within Yogi Bhajan’s claims or by contrasting the practice with accepted Sikh orthopraxy. But with vast numbers of teachers and students of Kundalini Yoga over the decades, it is unrealistic to think that all of them were deluded, found no benefits through its practice, or did not have profound experiences through it. Kundalini Yoga was often described by Yogi Bhajan and 3HO as “The Yoga of Experience.” When viewed critically and historically, perhaps the individual experience of its practitioners, and not the figure of Yogi Bhajan or the mythology of the Golden Chain, is the most honest and fruitful vantage from which to view it.
~~~ End of article ~~~
< previous: his Janus-face between Sikhism and Yoga
coming up: the dark side of Yogi Bhajan
My personal 2cents:
- Maybe Y.B.’s transformation towards Sikhism had something to do with the US-laws which grant religious workers green cards.
- The ones who don’t believe this article may the read how he came to his conclusion by reading the entire original here,
or simply look at the extensive research done as documented in the Footnotes and References below:
(38) Yogi Bhajan originally taught these White Tantric Yoga classes in person, and later with declining health the courses were done through video tapes and in-person representative “Tantric Facilitators,” a format that continues today, years after Yogi Bhajan’s death.
(39) Interview with Antion Vic Briggs, telephone, 5 July 2011. Interview with Jack Sokol, telephone, 7 September 2011. Sokol was an early student of Kundalini Yoga and studied under “Baba” Don Conreaux at Arizona State University in early 1970 before teaching and going through a ten-day teaching training in Los Angeles in the summer of 1971.
(40) Interview with Pamela Dyson, telephone, 23 September 2011.
(41) Interview with Antion Vic Briggs, telephone, 5 July 2011.
(42) There were notable Hazara Singhs who were outside the timeline Yogi Bhajan gave for his claimed teacher: a Bhai Hazara Singh who was killed in 1921 and made one of the first two martyrs of the Gudwara Reform Movement, and a Baba Hazara Singh Sevawale, who supervised the building of the Gudwara in Taraori, north of Karnal, in 1970. If there was in fact a reality-based source for Yogi Bhajan’s early teacher, the most likely suspect who comes remotely close to the timeline that Yogi Bhajan established for him was a Sant Hazara Singh from the village Chhote Ghuman. According to the author Dr. Kulwant Singh Khokhar, who frequently met with him and mentioned him in the acknowledgements section of his 1999 book Way of the Saffron Cloud, this Sant Hazara Singh was an uneducated, retired farmer who lived very modestly and barely spoke, a sharp contrast with the tales Yogi Bhajan told of his Sant Hazara Singh.
(43) Correspondence with Guru Fatha Singh Khalsa, email, 15 June 15, 2011.
(44) This contrasts with the earlier claim in the July 1970 issue of Beads of Truth that this mastery was obtained by Yogi Bhajan at the age of eighteen.
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