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The following article began as a brief history of my relationship with Yogi Bhajan during the years 1970-71. I started writing it last Summer at the request of friend and teacher, Christopher Hareesh Wallis. Hareesh posted the article on his Facebook group, Tantra Illuminated: Tantrik Yoga Now. The response from some members of that group encouraged me to write a bit more. Therefore, I’ve added relevant events that I hope will give the story greater context.


As I began writing I started wondering about what stories I want to tell. Should I include some I considered especially significant or wait and tell them in future writings? After wrestling with it for a while I just said ‘f… it’, I’ll put in as much as I can in order to give a more complete picture of what was going on in my life before and during my time with Yogi Bhajan. What I ended up with is a condensed version of the early years of my spiritual journey.


This includes two major events in my life: the experience of Awakening and meeting my Guru.


I say the experience of Awakening, even though I don’t consider Awakening to be an experience per se. Experiences come and go, but an Awakening remains with you.


People take mushrooms in order to have experiences. When the experiences are reduced to memories, they have to once again take mushrooms in order to have more experiences. This is not the case with an authentic Awakening.


In yoga and tantra terminology, Awakening is known as śaktipāta or Kundalini Awakening. You could just as easily call it the Awakening of Innate Intelligence.


This is the same Innate Intelligence at the core of everything. From this core of unlimited potential, It becomes manifest. It is the architect of the Universe, and at the same time, It has become the Universe. You and I have sprung from that same Source.


You weren’t created by a Power outside yourself. That Power has actually become you. Once you figure that out, then you’re on your way toward recognizing It. Recognition comes in the form of Intuitive Insight, and Intuitive Insight is a vital step toward Realization.


When this Power becomes a human being it conceals itself behind a veil of false identifications. Effective spiritual practice peels away our attachment to these identities. The key term here is effective spiritual practice! I’ll refrain from unpacking that here. I’ll let your teachers explain that.


At the root of our identities we exist in that Original State, only we’re unaware of it due to our various engagements in the world. Perhaps entanglements would be a more appropriate term. And yet, we’re completely at ease beneath it all - as the Witness.


And here’s the deal: In this state of potential It can’t know Itself. That’s how come you and I are here.


The uniqueness of the human body lies in its nervous system. If you want to look at life from a little different point of view, you could say that evolution is all about the development of the nervous system. And of course, the body to house it.


Our nervous system, in concert with the endocrine system, is what enables us, as human beings, to achieve Self-awareness. Awakening is the beginning of this process. Other life forms on our planet do not have this capacity. Only a human birth is capable of Self-Awareness. There are many ways you can look at the phenomena of our existence. This is just the way I see it.


When you reach a point where you are ripe for awakening to take place, then That which has become you, awakens. Due to the fact that you’ve been identifying yourself as only an individual, you’re not aware of this.


You can liken awakening to a seed that has begun to sprout. Using this analogy, the awareness or knowledge of our True Self exists in a state of potential - just as a plant or tree exists as potential within a seed. Once conditions are right, life begins to unfold out of a mysterious and apparent Nothingness inherent in an otherwise inert object. It now begins the journey of becoming what it was designed to become. Our awakening is something like that.


Getting back to the story, my original intention was to simply write the history of my time with Yogi Bhajan without adding a commentary. However, as the story began to unfold in its larger context, I decided to chime in with my opinion of him as a spiritual teacher.


As far as my own case is concerned, Yogi Bhajan appeared in my life at exactly the right time for what I needed. He served as a valuable link in the chain of events that's gotten me happily to where I am today. The following is a somewhat complete narrative of how my relationship with him began, developed, and eventually disintegrated.


For a more comprehensive picture of Yogi Bhajan's story, Philip Deslippe has written an in-depth academic paper that is well-researched, detailed and an excellent portrayal of his life and teachings. It’s entitled: From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan's Kundalini Yoga. I highly recommend it to anyone wishing to more thoroughly examine the life of Yogi Bhajan and the tradition he branded as Kundalini Yoga.


I also recommend Premka: White Bird in a Golden Cage: My Life with Yogi Bhajan, by Pamela Saharah Dyson. This book was written by one of Yogi Bhajan’s closest students going back to the beginning of his teaching career. It will give you an up-close look at Yogi Bhajan, viewed from inside his inner circle. Trigger warning: sensitive content.


Now, my story…






Ron standing upper left, Joel reclining in front.



Let me set the stage by taking you back to 1967.


I’m halfway through my Spring Semester as a photography major at Santa Monica City College. I’m about to have a spontaneous awakening that forever changes the direction of my life.


Not all awakenings are going to be dynamic. Mine certainly was. It struck me like a bolt of lightning. Someone else’s might arrive like a gentle breeze.


We generally think of awakenings in terms of dynamic events, because those are the ones that get talked about. The ones we hardly ever hear about are the ones that come to us quietly - then reveal their secrets over a period of time - sometimes years!


Our awakening will be unique to our particular circumstances. It’s a most intimate and mysterious process. Your Awakening is built into the subtlest code of your DNA.


Think about this:


My awakening brought with it a flood of insights. One of these insights revealed to me that every single event in my life was absolutely necessary in order for me to become awakened. One such event was singled out to me.


It was an incident from my early teens when I was caught stealing 45 rpm records from our neighborhood drug store. My aunt and uncle happened to walk into the store just as the police were holding me. It thus became known to our extended family members. This saddened my parents.


In my awakened state I re-lived this memory, along with the revelation that without it having occurred, there would be no awakening. This gave me a new perspective on the concepts of “good and bad”.


There’s a mysterious dynamic that links the activity of each and every moment of our lives. This process dictates the manner in which our lives unfold. It’s also a crucial element in what allows awakening to take place. Some refer to this process as karma.


Your world and all that it entails, including yourself, has all sprung from the same Source. Awakening is what lifts the veil that keeps us from seeing what’s right in front of us. What the Sufis say, is “hidden in plain sight”. What you’re looking for is what is looking. If you deeply contemplated this statement and did no other spiritual practice, that would be enough. It has the power to open the door to Awakening.


Here's how it happened for me:


One day a fellow photography student approached me in the cafeteria.


This is Joel’s first semester at SMCC, having recently moved to Southern California from New York City. He has long reddish hair, somewhat longer than the recent trend of Beatle-inspired hair do’s. He’s a bit off-beat. He characterizes what I think someone from the Lower East Side might look like. He's a little effeminate in his mannerisms and has an air of the dark poet about him.


It turns out that Joel is a very talented guy. He’s the creator and host of the newly-launched college radio station. His photography work is quite extraordinary and he writes deep and beautiful poetry. For some mysterious reason he’s attracted to me. This makes me uncomfortable.


Joel begins joining me each day at lunch. On one such occasion he tells me I remind him of Demian, the character in the novel of the same name by Herman Hesse. He’s surprised when I tell him that I don't know who Demian is, and even more so when he discovers that I’ve never even heard of Hesse. I’ve never been a "book reader”.


The next day Joel shows up at lunch with the book. I assure him I’ll read it, but have no intention of doing so.


The book gets tossed behind the seat of my red Triumph TR-3 and remains buried there for the next several weeks as I make one excuse after another as to why I haven’t started reading it.






It's a Friday evening in May, and I’m alone at my house in Beverly Glen Canyon.


Normally on a Friday night I'm out on a date or with friends at a local club. However, on this particular Friday evening, I’m in a strange and slightly disoriented mood. Feeling uneasy, I decided to stay home.


I’m sitting on top of my bed, when suddenly Demian comes to mind. I immediately go down to the carport and dig the book out from under the clutter in the back of my car.


Resuming my position on the bed, I hold the book in front of me and gaze at the illustration on its cover. I takenote of the ambiguous genders of the figures portrayed there. I’m a bit intrigued by the images, and a littleuncomfortable at the same time.


Opening the book to the very first page, I read the following excerpt: “… It was not a boy's face but a man’s; I also felt or saw that it was not entirely the face of a man either, but had something feminine about it, too.”


With the images on the cover fresh in my mind, these words add a bit more intrigue and a bit more to my discomfort. Has the prospect of ambiguous gender triggered some hidden phobia? Or is it something transcendent - beyond appearances? Whatever the case, a rumbling begins to slowly develop down in my depths - like the early stages of a volcano preparing for an eruption.


Reading novels has always been a struggle for me. However, beginning with Thomas Mann’s Introduction, leading right into Hesse’s Prologue, I’m almost hypnotically drawn into the story - drawn in with mixed feelings of excitement and fear. Something tells me I'm about to embark on a journey fraught with danger. A journey that I won't be able to back out of so easily.


As I get deeper into the story, anxiety begins to build. I'm identifying with the main characters, primarily Sinclair, the young protagonist and narrator of Demian. Sinclair is in the midst of one psychological crisis after another, which weighs heavily upon him. Things begin to shift when a new boy enrolls in his school. That would be Demian, who takes on the role of Sinclair’s guide and protector.


Demian is of extraordinary character - wise beyond his years, with a detached, other-worldly presence. Deep down, I identify with Demian as much as Sinclair, but Sinclair's continued struggles dominate my mind. I find it almost impossible to separate my own mounting anguish from his.


Hesse wrote Demian after undergoing a deepening sense of personal crisis, followed by intense psychoanalysis with J.B. Lang, a close disciple of Carl Jung. It’s generally believed that the novel came about as a result of this undertaking.


Consequently, Hesse has unloosed his demons and they appear to be heading in my direction.


My literary trauma continues, yet I can’t seem to put the book down. In an almost trance-like state I continue to read on as my mind begins to conger up all kinds of erotic and frightful images. My breathing intensifies and I sense a panic attack coming on. I have to take a break so I can slow things down.


I get up off the bed and go into the bathroom. I stand in front of the mirror and try to talk myself down off this ledge. This is the ritual I previously went through the few times I had struggled with psilocybin or LSD. On those occasions I would assure myself that I’d taken a psychedelic and would be going through unusual experiences for a couple of hours before returning to normal.


However, I can't give myself that pep talk right now. The knowledge that I haven’t taken anything only adds to my anxiety.


As I gaze at my image in the bathroom mirror, I take note of the heightened awareness of my senses. Looking at my face I can see acute details of each blemish, hair follicle, pore and capillary. I’m fearful, yet amazed by the intricate patterns of my eyes, which stare back at me like textured jewels. An unwarranted psychedelic experience seems to be coming on.


Troubled and confused by what’s happening, I return to my position on the bed and resume with my reading. With mounting anxiety, I'm flooded by wave after wave of disturbing thoughts and images. Helplessly I continue as the terror mounts. Am I going insane? Is this the result of a previous bad trip? Am I ever going to come down from this?


Fueled by fear and uncertainty, these questions hit me as the anxiety mounts. At the same time my heart begins to beat faster and faster. Now it becomes difficult to breathe. Approaching full panic mode, I struggle for air. I'm on the verge of screaming out, when suddenly everything stops.




I lose consciousness of the book, the room, my bed, my body, my mind, my individuality! All that remains is what I’ll call a state of Pure Awareness. Awareness of what, I’m not able to say. I don’t have the words. You could say it’s Awareness being aware of Itself. But those are just words.


I can think of many terms in both English and Sanskrit to use in an effort to tell you what happened in that moment, but I’m not going to try to do that. Some time ago I stopped trying to describe it. Past efforts have only left me with an empty feeling. No words, however eloquent, and in whatever language, are going to do it justice. Words are just pointers, giving hints as to how you might get a glimpse of that State.


To cite one of my favorite quotes: For those who know, no explanation is necessary, for those who don’t, none is possible.


After some time I regained consciousness, and awareness of myself as an individual. If I had to describe my state at that point I would use the word Illumined. My mind was Illumined! There were no answers because there were no questions. However, there were many insights into the nature of Reality. And Bliss!


The Awakened State is really the Natural State. It’s the most relaxed and carefree you’ll ever be. It’s the role you were born to play! It’s Home!


It’s the State that exists when all your false identifications fall away. You still have a distinct personality, it’s just that you don’t have to identify exclusively as it. The increase in awareness that comes as the result of a mild or gentle awakening can be seamlessly integrated into your lifestyle, whereas one of a more dynamic nature can sometimes shake things up quite dramatically.


In some cases an awakening is so dynamic that it changes the course of your life overnight. That’s what happened to me.





The Awakening dramatically changes almost every aspect of my life. I’m going to school during the day and living a Hollywood/Beverly Hills lifestyle at night. I live in one of the coolest areas of town, drive a new British sports car, date actresses and Centerfold models and by the standards of the day I've been living the dream. The awakening changes all that!


This was to become my last day of school, my last day of work in my father’s business and the last day of my playboy-like lifestyle. To my family’s dismay, I will leave my home and previous life behind. My only interest now is to re-capture the State revealed by the Awakening.


Sensing the need to get out of Los Angeles, I soon headed north out of Southern California and took a job working for the Park Service in Sequoia National Park. In my off-hours I read from the several spiritual books I’ve brought with me, and meditate in my cabin or among the majestic Sequoia Trees.


During this period there are some wonderful meditation experiences, but there are also states of confusion anduncertainty. After several months I realized that I must come down off the mountain in pursuit of a teacher whocan provide me with more guidance than the books offer.


I return to Southern California in search of someone or something that will help me stabilize my rollercoaster-like spiritual pursuit. I need to find a teacher who is familiar with the Awakened State and can serve as a guide. But how can you tell whether or not a particular teacher is Awake or at least familiar with the Awakened State? Not an easy task for a novice.


I began to study with a variety of teachers. Using my intuition to guide me. When I come to realize a particular teacher is not what I’m looking for, I move on. From that point forward there’s a period of limbo, wherein I wait for a sign as to what my next move is.


This is the situation I found myself in as 1969 comes to a close. I’m waiting for a sign.







It’s now four or five days into the new year of 1970, and several months removed from an extended period in Scientology. I’m living in West Hollywood without any direction or sense of what to do next with my life.


Throwing myself completely into the culture of Scientology almost extinguished the flames of my passion for spiritual matters. Then one day a profound flash of insight resulted in my sudden departure from the organization. Four months later, I’m still in limbo - still waiting for a sign.


On this particular morning, I’m sitting on my living room floor impatiently listening to FM radio while restlesslyturning the radio dial in search of something to connect with. Suddenly I hear a compelling voice that stops me dead in my tracks. Immediately my hand comes off the radio dial.



Swami Satchidananda

It’s Swami Satchidananda being interviewed. He’s talking about yoga. At one point the interviewer asks him, “But isn’t yoga difficult?”, to which Swamiji answers, “Not when you know the greatness of the Goal.”


The conviction and calm presence in Swami Satchidananda's voice have a profound impact on me. Renewed clarity and a deep yearning for what Swamiji is alluding to stirs within me. Having lost most of the passion for my spiritual quest over the past year, Swamiji's words are received with renewed promise. At the conclusion of the interview, I make note of the announcement that Swamiji will be speaking on January 9th at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles.


Yogi Bhajan’s ashram, located at the southwest corner of Melrose Avenue and Robertson Boulevard, previously served as a storage facility for celebrity antique dealer Jules Buccieri. Buccieri currently occupies a larger building on the property, which serves as his showroom. A dedicated student of hatha yoga, Buccieri provides the space for Yogi Bhajan to hold classes. The location is convenient for me, as I only live 10 minutes away.


The ashram is a single large teaching space of about one-thousand square feet. Just to the right, as one enters the room, is a table containing various printed materials covering topics such as mantras, asanas, diet, recipes, the Sikh tradition, and Kundalini Yoga - “The Yoga of Awareness” as Yogi Bhajan promotes it. There’s also a sheet of paper with information about the Aquarian Age, which is supposed to be the current time of enlightenment here on planet Earth. Another print-out provides information about the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) - Yogi Bhajan’s non-profit, in which Yogi Bhajan is referred to as “The Teacher for the Aquarian Age”.


Swami Satchidananda is Yogi Bhajan’s guest today and the program has just convened as I pull up to the intersection. I immediately park my car and join the crowd. Before I know it, I’m corralled into attending classes, and as fate would have it, Yogi Bhajan becomes my teacher - not Swami Satchidananda.


While visiting a health food store later that day, (that’s what we called them back then) I saw a poster displaying Swamiji’s photo and the announcement of his upcoming talk. I now have a face to go along with the voice.


Returning home the next day from a visit with my parents in Culver City, I noticed a throng of people dressed all in white exiting a small building. Leading the pack is a striking figure in bright orange who I easily recognize from his poster as Swami Satchidananda. Walking alongside him is a large and imposing figure dressed in white. This is Yogi Bhajan.






On one of the printed sheets Yogi Bhajan writes about his Guru, Maharaj Virsa Singh (Maharaji). In this testimonial, he tells a story about the time in his life when he was a Customs Officer at Palam Airport in Delhi. Often after work he would go to Gobind Sadan - Maharaji’s ashram, and clean the bathrooms. He did this while still wearing his Customs Officer’s uniform.


One day, according to Yogi Bhajan, when he was down on his hands and knees cleaning the floor, Virsa Singh entered the bathroom. Maharaji was so pleased with Yogi Bhajan’s humility that he put his hand on his head, transmitting to him the experience of ‘Cosmic Consciousness’. He went on in the piece, extolling his Guru’s virtues.


Maharaj Virsa Singh (Maharaji)

Next to the testimony lay a stack of Virsa Singh photos - a striking image of Maharaji standing, dressed in white, with a white turban atop his head and his customary set of prayer beads in hand.


In class, Yogi Bhajan often speaks of Virsa Singh in glowing terms. It’s well understood among the many students that Maharaji is Yogi Bhajan’s Guru - his "Master" as he refers to him. We all assume that the yoga we are learning has been passed down from Maharaji to Yogi Bhajan.






From the time of my awakening in May, 1967 until now (early 1970), I’ve studied and/or practiced a number of spiritual disciplines. Aside from a single class attended in the back room of a New Age newspaper, taught by an East European by the name of Yarosha, yoga has remained a relatively unknown commodity to me.


Now I find my entire lifestyle is rapidly transforming under the tutelage of Yogi Bhajan. There are changes to the clothes I wear, the types of food I eat, the time I wake up in the morning to the time I go to bed at night. I stopped shaving and cutting my hair. There’s a new method to the way I get out of bed in the morning, a way of shielding my eyes when turning on the lights, a way to brush my teeth, take a shower and even a new way to sit - no, I mean squat atop the toilet seat.




On top of this, I now have an entirely new circle of friends. It’s as though I’ve stepped into a brand new culture. BTW, this jumping from one lifestyle into another is something I’ve done a number of times in my life.


The bulk of my days are dedicated to the study and practice of yoga, done mostly with other students. Yoga practice consists of various postures (āsanas) and breathing techniques (prānāyāma). These are often combined into what is called krīyas.


Many of these practices are accompanied by the recitation of a mantra, which is coordinated with the breath. Mantra repetition is an essential component of Yogi Bhajan’s teachings. This is either done silently (jāpa) or sung and chanted along with a group of students.


The primary mantra given by Yogi Bhajan is Ek Ong Kār Sāt Nām Sīrī Wāhe Guru, or simply Sāt Nām. Sāt Nām is also used as a greeting.


This mantra was given to Yogi Bhajan by Maharaj Virsa Singh. It’s in the Punjābi language and is revered by Virsa Singh’s many followers. As a young child Virsa Singh received the mantra in a dream/vision by Baba Sīrī Chānd. Sīrī Chānd was one of Guru Nanak’s two sons. Considered a Siddha (adept) he lived his life as a reclusive yogi. In Virsa Singh’s ashram in India, the main temple of worship is dedicated to Baba Sīrī Chānd, his initiation (dīksha) Guru.


The highlight of my day is attending yoga classes at the 3HO ashram, most of which are taught by Yogi Bhajan himself. Approximately six weeks into an intensely dedicated period of time, Yogi Bhajan asks me to begin teaching classes. This results in me doubling down on my dedication to the practice.








It’s now April, and Yogi Bhajan invites me to join a small group of students at his home for morning sādhana sessions (yoga practice). These sessions begin during the dark hours of the early morning and last 2-3 hours. I’m joined by a small group of 7-8 fellow students.


These early morning gatherings are Yogi Bhajan's first teacher training sessions. We’re getting personally trained by the boss himself. The sessions primarily consist of krīyas, chanting and meditation, along with instructions on how to facilitate a yoga class.


After attending a number of these sessions, Yogi Bhajan asks if I would like to open a 3HO Ashram in Chicago. When I balk at his request, he suggests Carmel, California. This is much more to my liking!


The sessions conclude in the living room with an informal gathering (sātsang). Here Yogi Bhajan serves us breakfast. Breakfast usually consists of grated garlic toasted on rice cakes, with fresh alfalfa sprouts sprinkled on top.


Sitting cross-legged on the sofa, Yogi Bhajan holds court with his teachers-in-training sitting on the floor before him. This is a very casual time where he speaks to us about a variety of topics. Usually he talks about yoga and teaching dynamics, but sometimes he talks about Maharaji or relates personal stories about his wife and children back in India. Occasionally he reads from family letters. When referring to his wife, he often speaks lovingly of her devotion to Maharaji. Sometimes, he relates tales of Maharaji's exploits as conveyed in her letters.






During one of these informal gatherings Yogi Bhajan says something that gives me a jolt. As time goes on, it begins to eat away at my trust in him.


On this particular morning, as we sit eating our rice cakes, he reads us a letter that’s recently arrived from his wife in India. As usual, she’s writing about Maharaji. However, rather than reading her letter with his usual tone of admiration, he admonishes her for writing about Maharaji in such glowing terms.


Instead of praising her as he normally does, Yogi Bhajan now refers to his wife as a foolish woman. With mocking words and gestures, he asks a rhetorical question: "Why is she saying, ‘Maharaji is like this, or Maharaji is like that’? He's not a God, he’s just a human being!”


All of a sudden Yogi Bhajan’s words regarding Maharaji have a completely different tone to them.


Though I don’t yet fully understand the nature of the Guru/Disciple relationship, I have some sense of it from the poems appearing in the Sikh Holy Book, Guru Grānth Sāhib. There’s been a major change in Yogi Bhajan and something tells me that it’s a big deal.


I can't quite figure out what all of this means, but I know it's important - to what extent, I’m not sure. This much I do know: the moment has come where I begin to doubt Yogi Bhajan.


Soon, the handout praising Virsa Singh disappears from the takeaway table, as does his photo. Yogi Bhajan is now claiming that Guru Ram Das (the fourth Guru in the Sikh lineage) is actually his Guru, and we’re not hearing Virsa Singh’s name mentioned any more. The name Guru Ram Das Ashram will soon be prominently displayed over the entranceway of 3HO’s new and larger quarters.


I continue to practice and teach, but something has changed. I’m having doubts, yet I’m not quite sure what to do about it. I’m not ready to move on, as I’m enmeshed in the community and still benefiting from the practice.

Soon plans get under way for the Summer Solstice Celebrations taking place outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. There’s excitement in the air and my doubts go underground for a while.





Ron, standing, second from right.

Santa Fe, New Mexico



Summer Solstice Celebrations are a big deal for Yogi Bhajan. On top of this, he’s building a strong community base in Santa Fe. The celebration coming up in June has several significant moments for me. I’ll mention one in particular.


Among the many Solstice participants is a young man with a cassette tape recording of a recent lecture by Baba Ram Dass. Ram Dass left for India in 1967 as Dr. Richard Alpert, a discredited ex-Harvard University professor, fired as a result of his LSD experiments along with his colleague, Dr. Timothy Leary. He returned to the United States in 1969 as Baba Ram Dass, a cultural phenomenon, enrapturing audiences with his beguiling tales of India. The prominent story in this recorded lecture (and each subsequent lecture) is the extraordinary initial meeting he had with his Guru, Neem Karoli Baba. He also speaks a lot about what it was like “hanging out” with his Guru.


Ram Dass’ lectures are more like performance art than philosophical presentations. He has a unique quality that’s part stand-up comic and part Master of Ceremonies for hippy love-in’s. There’s also a good mix of chanting and meditation. Ram Dass delivers a broad range of teachings with wit, wisdom and authenticity. He has a wonderful talent for connecting with people. Just the right blend of humor and spiritual insight. Most importantly for me, he takes the seriousness out of spirituality and makes it seem like fun.


As I listen to Ram Dass on the tape I begin to reassess my attitude toward spiritual matters and the way in which I have been trying to emulate the yogi/Sikh image portrayed by Yogi Bhajan and his followers. Listening to the stories Ram Dass tells about his Guru, makes me all the more want to meet someone like Neem Karoli Baba. With plans already underway to move to Carmel, I don’t think too much about what steps to take regarding a change or finding a new teacher.





Upon returning to Los Angeles from Santa Fe, I continue my morning sessions with Yogi Bhajan as I prepare for the move to Carmel. In preparation for my trip, I paid a visit to H.E.L.P., the iconic health food store in Los Angeles, owned by Warren Stagg. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Warren had hosted Yogi Bhajan not long after his arrival in the United States. The reason for my visiting the store is to stock up on dried fruits and nuts for the journey up to Carmel. I’m making the trip in my VW bus where I plan to sleep until I find appropriate quarters.


Accompanying me to the store is John Franzoni, a friend and fellow student of Yogi Bhajan, lovingly known around LA as “Yogi John”. John is not a 3HO kind of guy (although he wears a Sikh-like turban). He is a bit of a rebel and has his own unique style - a free-wheeling character who I love hanging out with. As we get in line to pay, John recognizes the cashier as a friend and fellow seeker.


Phillip Goff, later known as Nala, has recently returned from India and coincidentally had met Yogi Bhajan and his family at their home in Delhi.


John introduces us and tells Nala that I am on my way to Carmel and will be looking for a place to live as well as a place to teach yoga. To my surprise, Nala tells me that he had previously lived in Carmel and will soon be going back to open a vegetarian restaurant. He then provides me with a list of friends to contact when I get there and suggests that one of them might help me in my search.




I arrive in Carmel in early July and immediately begin reaching out to the people on Nala’s list. Within a week I found a place to live and a studio in which to teach - both in Carmel Valley. Inspired by the tape of Ram Dass, along with my ever-growing disconnect from Yogi Bhajan, I began to tweak what I'd learned at 3HO and develop my own style of teaching.


It’s early July, 1970 and I’m the only yoga teacher on the Monterey Peninsula. Word of my classes begins to spread and I become a somewhat known entity around the area. Devi Davis, founder of The Pilgrim’s Way Bookstore, an iconic little shop in Carmel, hangs a framed photo of me on the wall and begins to promote my classes.

In August, I’m interviewed on Monterey’s newly launched cable television network and in September I began teaching what is to become a popular yoga class in the Humanities Department at Monterey Peninsula College (MPC).


Nala has now opened his restaurant in the village of Carmel and has become my closest friend. He’s a disciple of Maharaj Charan Singh, head of the Radha Soami Lineage based in Punjāb, India.

Nala had traveled to India the previous year to spend time with his Guru.


Another newly established friend, Ed Jarvis, a popular Chiropractor in Pacific Grove, is also a disciple of Charan Singh. Charan Singh, like Yogi Bhajan, is a Sikh but more in keeping with the tradition (he doesn't teach postural yoga). Unlike Yogi Bhajan, he is much loved among fellow Sikhs in his homeland. He is beginning to look more and more like a viable option to become my Guru and although I’m not truly inspired by him, I can sense that he’s authentic and an easy transition from Yogi Bhajan.


As well as things seem to be going for me, I’m now feeling more than ever the need to find my Guru. Though my heart is not completely there, I’m beginning to talk myself into accepting Maharaj Charan Singh.





Aside from my weekly class at MPC, my daily routine at this point is to teach 1-2 morning classes at my studio in Carmel Valley, then drive the 12 miles to the village of Carmel-by-the-Sea where I eat lunch with Nala at his restaurant.


It’s now mid-September. Nala and I are having lunch one day when an old friend of his comes into the restaurant to see him.


Don Harrison has come to Carmel to check the status of some property he owns in the area. He and Nala have been friends for several years, going back to the time they were both living in Carmel. The previous year they had run into each other while traveling in India. Shortly thereafter, Nala returned to the US and Harrison continued with his Indian travels, where he went on to meet his Guru, Swami Muktananda (Baba).


Harrison has recently traveled to California from New York, where he has been spending time with Baba. Baba is on his first tour outside of India and is the guest of Albert Rudolph (Rudi). Rudi is an oriental antique dealer and a teacher of consequence. It is Rudi who has invited Baba to come to America.


Rudi had received shaktipāt initiation (transmitted awakening) from Bhagawan Nityananda in Ganeshpuri. This was on one of his antique gathering visits to India. That was early 1961. On Rudi’s next visit, Nityananda told him to go see Baba, whose small ashram was just a half mile up the road.


Baba’s teaching style was quite different from Nityananda’s, as he was more accessible to those looking for things to be explained.


Nityananda was a mysterious being, often silent or cryptic in his words and actions. Baba, on the other hand, was more adept at social skills and easier to engage with. When Nityananda passed away, Rudi quite naturally shifted all his attention to Baba.


Baba is currently being hosted by Rudi at his apartment in New York City. On the weekends he stays at Rudi's upstate New York ashram in Big Indian, not far from the town of Woodstock. Many people have been coming to meet him at both places.


Besides checking in on his Carmel property, Harrison has come to California to do advance work in setting things up for Baba's upcoming month-long visit here. Harrison has dropped by Nala’s restaurant to ask him to travel with Baba during the month and cook for his staff.


As the three of us eat lunch, Nala and I are entertained with amazing stories of people’s kundalini awakenings that are taking place in Baba’s presence. I’m becoming more and more intrigued. Harrison goes on to tell us that Ram Dass is traveling with Baba and giving the introductory talks at all of his programs. When Harrison invites me to also join the tour as a member of Baba’s staff, I don’t hesitate to accept.


Harrison leaves shortly after lunch and I immediately begin working on finding teaching replacements from among my students. With great anticipation, I make plans for Nala and I to head down to Los Angeles in time for Baba’s arrival on October 9th.


As a point of interest, while Baba is in New York, Swami Satchidananda comes to meet him and offers his ashram in Los Angeles along with its staff to be used as a home base for the California leg of the tour. I have a feeling that something wonderful is about to happen and my excitement grows with each passing day.






Meeting Baba was one of the highlights of my life. It was magical, mystical and is still a major influence on me. His first visit to America - with Ram Dass, Rudi and a number of other celebrated personalities - was an historic event. His impact here cannot be overstated.


As seekers here in America during the late 60’s and early 70’s, we had an influx of spiritual teachers representing a variety of different traditions. Like a number of others, I went to see almost every one of them.


Swami Muktananda (Baba)

Baba was different!


He was cool. He wore shades, even indoors - and almost always wore a different cap on his head - often knitted beanies that were presented to him by devotees and admirers. Ram Dass had said that the first time he laid eyes on Baba he thought he looked like a jazz musician. He had that cool, hip look and vibe.


But most importantly, there was a quality he possessed that immediately endeared him to you. He was so real and engaging. You couldn't help but smile when you were around him. And of course it was his shakti - the spiritual energy that followed him wherever he went and left awakenings in its path.


Being in his presence was intoxicating. Many people experienced an awakening just being around him. Others, during meditation periods or attending one of his talks. He was a storyteller who engaged us with tales that were humorous, yet deeply profound.


And he was a lover of divine poetry. He didn’t just recite poems to his audience, he serenaded us with a deeply rich and melodious voice. He also led us in rousing chants, accompanying himself on ektāra, tambourine or symbols.


Nala and I arrived in Los Angeles the day before Baba’s arrival and went straight to Swami Satchidananda’s ashram to meet Harrison, Ram Dass and other members of the staff. There was excitement in the air as everyone was getting ready for the tour to begin. Ram Dass’ presence added to the excitement. There was a mix of Swamiji’s students, along with those who were recruited (by Ram Dass and others) to lend a helping hand. A mix of individuals from different traditions. There was incredible excitement in the air as we all joined forces in order to serve on this unique tour.


Nala and I spent the first night at Swami Satchidananda’s ashram, then early the following morning we went to the house in Pacific Palisades where Baba will be staying. Pacific Palisades is an upscale community bordering the coastal region of Santa Monica.


Baba’s hosts in Los Angeles are Bob and Markell Raymer. Bob is a retired airline pilot. He was a close disciple of Paramahamsa Yogananda, and authorized by him to teach Kriya Yoga. Markell is a devotee of Anandamayi Ma. They are a warm, loving and generous couple.


As we all wait for Baba to arrive, I sit on a short wall in front of the house. All of a sudden Rudi comes to sit by my side. As he engages me in conversation, he takes my hand in his and I can feel a surge of energy.


Rudi’s a rather imposing figure, with his sizable girth and glistening shaved dome. He stands out among the rest of the crowd - a mixture of young, lean yoga students with shoulder-length hair and loose-fitting apparel or middle-aged folks in conservative dress.


I can’t quite figure out this larger than life individual, with his striking features and unusual mannerisms. If that weren’t enough, his no-nonsense style of speaking with its distinct New York accent sets him apart from the easy California style I’ve grown so accustomed to. Every now and then as we talk, he begins moving his head and neck in a rotating motion, all the time holding onto my hand with a secure grip. His hands seem enormous!


To be honest, at first I’m a little put-off by these head and neck movements. I later come to understand that this technique of rotating his head is employed by Rudi as a means of allowing energy (shakti) to flow in an upward direction.





All of a sudden there’s a commotion as Baba’s car pulls into the driveway and everyone gathers around to greet him. When he exits the car I get my first glimpse. Baba is striking in his bright orange clothes, which appear even brighter against the backdrop of his dark skin. He wears atop his head, one of his signature knit caps, along with his customary dark glasses. His smile is both infectious and disarming.


After walking through the crowd greeting people, Baba comes into the house. You can feel the energy intensify as he enters. The atmosphere around him is electric! There’s an undeniable force field that accompanies him wherever he goes - and a feeling of euphoria being in it.


Along with the other 15-20 people at the house, I follow Baba around as he surveys the premises and greets the kitchen staff. Baba then comes into the front room and sits in a chair as we all gather around.


After sitting for a while and chatting with various people, he affectionately tells us he’ll see us soon and retires to his room for rest. Once he leaves, the rest of us gather in small groups to discuss what we’ve just witnessed.





The following day is a day of rest for Baba. I’m plugging into various tour duties that need to be done, traveling back and forth between the house and Swami Satchidananda’s ashram. Much of the tour planning takes place at the ashram. At the house I see Baba now and then, but I’ve still had no opportunity to personally interact with him.


Day two at the house begins with a pre-dawn meditation in the living room. Baba is sitting in his chair meditating along with the rest of us. My meditation is deep and peaceful.


Meditation is followed by breakfast for staff and guests. I’m sitting at a small round table with three others drinking chai and eating hot cereal. The person sitting opposite me is Ravi Shankar, sitar player extrordinaire. What strikes me about this individual is his extreme humility. There’s no sense of celebrity about him whatsoever. At the table he’s just a very sweet and polite gentleman, grateful to be here with Baba.


At mid-morning there’s a question and answer session with Baba in the front room. Having brought a small cassette tape recorder, I sit directly in front of Baba’s chair in order to record the session. Sitting next to me on the left, is Laura Huxley, widow of Aldous Huxley. To my right sits Professor Jain, Baba’s translator. There are maybe 40-45 people in the room.


As the Q and A session progresses, I feel an urge to ask a question. But I’m not thinking of asking the kind of question that would help me in my spiritual practice. Rather I want to show Baba that I know a little something myself. A question forms in my mind. Sensing the session might be coming to an end soon, I gather up courage and raise my hand. Baba calls on me.


Based on something I read somewhere, I ask: “When does the Guru see fit to take on the karma of the disciple?” Baba seems amused by my question.


After a brief pause, and with a mischievous look on his face, Baba responds, “What kind of justice is it for an old man like me to have to suffer for the things that you’ve done?”


Everyone in the room immediately breaks into laughter. I too laugh, but in a self-conscious way.


Before I can answer, Baba turns his gaze toward the ceiling, as if looking for a follow-up question. Leaning forward in his chair and with an impish grin on his face he continues, “The question now arises, do you come to the Guru to give yourself, or only to give your karma?”


Once again laughter breaks out in the room and once again I join in, but I’m now feeling very uncomfortable. I hang my head and stare at the floor in front of me, while my mind drifts into a mental fog in an effort to escape the immediacy of the situation.


I’m brought back into the present moment when Professor Jain taps me on the shoulder and says, “Babaji wants you to answer his question.”


Coming out of my temporary stupor I meekly respond, “You should give yourself to the Guru.”


Baba leans back in his chair and with a big smile on his face he says, “Very good! If you give yourself to the Guru completely, he will take your karma also.”


A collective ‘ahh’ breaks out as the room seems to recognize the truth in this statement.


Baba now concludes the question and answer session by stating that the questions today were very good. Looking back, I sometimes wonder whether or not he was referring to his own questions?


As Baba retires to his room everyone rises and mingles about, joyfully discussing the morning's events. Everyone that is, but me.


I’m stunned by what just happened.


Baba’s right, I think to myself. I’m always going to different teachers in order to receive something. Never once have I thought that there was something for me to give. I’ve come to Baba, lured by the prospect of having an experience of some kind - never considering how I fit into the equation.


Giving to the Guru never crossed my mind. And, what did he mean by giving yourself to the Guru? I can understand bringing gifts and giving stuff, but give myself to the Guru? What does that even mean? I recognize that there’s truth in what he said, but I haven’t a clue as to how to do it.


Not coming up with an answer, I rise from my position on the floor and move to a spot just outside his room. This is the only thing I can think of right now - this feeble attempt of placing my body outside his doorway. As I sit here, I try to figure out what Baba meant by giving yourself to the Guru?


After some time, Baba comes out of his room and heads for the kitchen. As he passes me he slows down, makes some sort of grunting sound, then continues on his way.


I slowly get up and follow him as he makes his way to the kitchen. Standing outside the kitchen door I observe him engaging with the cooks. When he’s finished, he goes outside and stands in the garden chit-chatting with guests. Once Baba returns to his room I again position myself outside his door. After a while, I got up and returned to whatever duties I was assigned.


Early the next morning as I sit for meditation with the group, I become aware of sensations taking place within me. There’s a tingling throughout my body, as if each cell is alive with energy. Along with this, I become aware of a luminous presence within. These experiences are accompanied by a blissful feeling that lingers throughout the morning.


Still in a bit of shock from my experience the previous day, for this morning's Question and Answer session I now sit opposite Baba with my back against the far wall. I want to observe him from a safe distance.


As the session gets under way, Baba is asked a question about the effects of meditation. While answering, he suddenly points in my direction and says, “for example, that boy over there had a good meditation this morning. He saw lights and experienced energy throughout his body.”


I’m stunned by Baba’s statement! I wonder if this is really happening? How can he know this?


Before I can wrap my head around it, Baba asks me to come up and sit in front of him again. Abandoning the Q and A session he begins a dialogue with me. “What kind of car do you drive? Can you sleep in it? (I’m sure nobody told him I’m driving a VW Bus equipped with a bed, refrigerator, etc.) What is your diet?


All of Baba’s questions are answered in a straightforward manner, without any surprises. Finally he inquires what kind of spiritual practices I perform?”


When I tell him that I regularly practice bhāstrika (Yogi Bhajan’s “Breath of Fire”) every morning, he tells me that I shouldn’t be performing this practice - that it’s meant to awaken the kundalini. He then matter-of-factly tells me that my kundalini is already awakened.


When Baba utters these words, a wave of bliss spreads throughout my being. This is the first time my awakening has ever been alluded to by anyone. And Baba has brought it up unsolicited. What started out as a normal conversation just turned surrealistic. At the same time, it’s very real and very intimate.


No teacher has ever shown that they know me as intimately as Baba knows me. This one statement about my awakening acts as a bonding agent between us. He lets me know that he’s aware of the moment my life turned around, and what motivates me above all else!


I’ve never been able to give my full trust to anyone. Trust is at the very heart of every type of relationship. This is especially true between a student and spiritual teacher. A deep bond has just been established, and trust is an essential component of it.


Baba now turns to Don Harrison and says, “You make sure he comes to India”. Harrison nods and lets Baba know that he will. Then turning to his secretary Amma, Baba says, “I’m going to give him an ashram!” I take all this in quite matter of factly, but I still can’t comprehend exactly what’s happening.


What I do know is that I’m now inextricably connected to this unique individual!


The days that follow take on a whole new flavor for me. I’m experiencing a deep, personal connection with Baba, and have a wonderful sense of belonging. Baba makes me feel like I’m an integral part of his world, as he engages me in conversation or refers to me on a daily basis. In the coming days he will introduce me to some of the people who come to meet him - especially those who are teachers in their own right.


Each day is filled with excitement, laughter and bliss. There are public programs, with Ram Dass’ participation attracting large crowds. At the beginning of each program Ram Dass tells stories about his own journey, highlighting the relationship with his Guru. He always segues into our good fortune to be with someone like Baba - who he likens to Neem Karoli.


Ram Dass goes on to explain that beings like Neem Karoli and Baba Muktananda rarely venture out of India. When he met Baba he recognized an opportunity to share the experience with others.


Each day follows the same schedule: early morning meditation, breakfast, Q and A, tour related work and Baba’s outside public programs.


After four days in Los Angeles, Baba leaves for the San Francisco segment of his tour. He’s traveling up the California coast in a 27-foot Recreational Vehicle. Tour staff follow behind caravan style. I’m driving my VW Bus. All in all, there are maybe 15-20 of us traveling with Baba. We're making our way along Highway One, with Baba’s RV stopping here and there so he can do a little sightseeing.


Rudi is around for much of the West Coast portion of the tour, but with few apparent duties. However, his presence is strongly felt by all. Ram Dass on the other hand, plays a significant role as part of our staff. Others making key administrative contributions are Sridhar Silberfein, Krishna Green (co-director of Swami Satchidananda’s ashram) and Don Harrison. Ram Dass is involved with a lot of day-to-day tour planning, but his main duty is providing Baba with a warm-up act.






Heading north up Highway One, our first overnight stop is Esalen Institute in Big Sur. It’s a 24-hour stay, with Baba holding a small evening program inside one of the cabins. It’s October 14th, my 28th birthday.


Several incidents take place during the day that are particularly memorable for me.


Perhaps it’s the boldness derived from it being my birthday, or perhaps my naive innocence, but after our arrival, when everyone has been informed to rest, I wander over to the cabin where Baba is staying and quietly enter through the unguarded door.


Peeking into each room, I come upon the one in which Baba is staying. He’s asleep on his bed with a blanket pulled over him. Without consideration of protocol I tip-toe into his room and quietly sit down on the floor with my back against the wall. The energy in the room is palpable. I close my eyes and glide into meditation.


Shortly afterward I’m brought out of my meditation by Baba’s characteristic humph, as he arises from his slumber. This sound signals Amma into the room, bringing Baba a warm drink of some kind. As Baba sits up in bed, he gazes at me sitting on the floor and immediately says something to Amma in Hindi. She leaves the room and returns a moment later, handing me an article written by Baba.


The title of the article is Pleasing the Guru: The source of all attainments. As I begin reading, I feel my heart open and tears well up in my eyes. I begin to weep. At this moment I’m filled with so much love and gratitude that my cup literally overflows and the tears come pouring out.


When I finish reading the article I dry my eyes, pay my respects to Baba, and return to my cabin to meditate and rest in anticipation of the evening program.





People have come from all over Big Sur and the Monterey Peninsula to see Ram Dass and Baba. The cabin is packed. Those who can’t fit in the room, are crowded around the doors and windows. Everyone outside the room is straining to catch a glimpse of Ram Dass or Baba.


The program is very casual - Big Sur style! It begins with Ram Dass telling everyone what to expect once Baba comes out to speak. At the end of the introduction Baba enters the room and sits on his seat. Baba’s seat consists of two eight-inch thick foam cushions placed on the floor - one to sit on and the other as a back rest. They’re both covered in orange silk, with two orange silk-covered bolsters on either side for Baba to lean on. Flowers have been scattered on the floor in front of his seat. As the crowd leans in to hear what Baba has to say, they’re met with silence. He just sits there.


Baba seems to be oblivious of anyone else being in the room. He now begins to play with some of the flowers - picking off petals and letting them drop in his lap or onto his seat. You can feel the intensity mount, as everyone waits in anticipation of Baba speaking. But Baba continues to just sit there picking at flower petals. Occasionally he looks around, his eyes shielded by his dark glasses.


It’s just a wild guess, but I imagine most of the local folks that came this evening are under the influence of some sort of plant medicine.


The intensity in the room continues to mount as Baba methodically picks up one flower after another. He still hasn’t uttered a word. The energy in and around the cabin is so thick, it’s hard to keep my eyes open. After about twenty minutes Baba gets up off his seat and leaves without word being spoken. Everybody appears to be either stunned or in deep meditation.


After Baba leaves, Ram Dass awkwardly tries to explain what just went down. I think this is the only time I ever witnessed him at a loss for words. I cringed listening to his explanation.


The locals might not have gotten a lecture from Baba, but they sure must have had some interesting meditation experiences.


After the program, we all go down to sit in Esalen’s hot sulfur baths, high atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with the Full Moon and stars lighting up the California coastline.


The following morning, Baba is driven to the Monterey Airport where he flies to Oakland in Bob Raymer’s private plane.


Ram Dass has arranged for Baba and staff to stay in a magnificent oriental mansion in Piedmont, located in the hills above Oakland. Piedmont is a short distance across the bay from San Francisco. This will be our home while Baba visits the Bay Area.


Once Baba’s plane takes off, the staff embark on the three-hour drive up north, toward Piedmont. Instead of joining them, I stay in Carmel overnight so I can teach my yoga class the following day at Monterey Peninsula College.






The following day I arrived early for my class at the college. For my seat, I place a blanket on top of a table in front of the room. I then place in front of me a small photo of Baba along with a votive candle and incense holder. Before any of the students have a chance to enter, I sit on the blanket, light the candle, wave a stick of incense before Baba’s photo and close my eyes.


I immediately sink into deep meditation.


The next thing I know, a small voice from out of the depths reminds me I have a class to teach. As I struggle out of meditation, my eyes slowly open to find a dozen students, all sitting perfectly still with eyes closed. I close my eyes again.


After some time the small voice reappears, reminding me that there’s a class to teach. I slowly re-open my eyes to find that the room is now fully packed. Everyone is sitting perfectly still. The atmosphere in the room is thick and highly charged. There’s a familiar quality to the energy that I immediately recognize as similar to what I experienced while meditating with Baba.


I’m so deep in meditation that I can’t speak. Once again, I close my eyes.


The class ends sometime later with me softly beginning a melodic chant. As best I can tell, everyone is singing along.


Afterwards, there are questions about what just happened. I tell the others about my experience with Baba over the past week and suggest that the powerful meditation everyone experienced is the result of my time with him. Some of those present will come to be with Baba in the Bay Area and some will attend the retreat held in the Santa Cruz Mountains.


Early the next day, I drove to Piedmont and rejoined Baba’s tour.

When I arrive at the house, I immediately send a message to Baba, letting him know I’m back. Soon Baba calls for me to come to his room. He asks about my class and seems quite pleased when I tell him what happened. He tells me that I will no longer teach yoga, but will now teach meditation instead. He gives me a multi-colored knitted cap and sends me on my way to resume my duties.


It’s abundantly clear that I can no longer teach Yogi Bhajan’s yoga. I now have a tangible experience of the possibilities in teaching meditation while connected to Baba.

During our stay in Piedmont I have a good number of engagements with Baba, as well as meditation experiences. After some days we all head back to Los Angeles for the remainder of the tour.


On the morning of Baba's departure, I’m asked to join Don Harrison for a meeting with Baba in his room. The subject matter is the location of an ashram in California. Harrison asks Baba where he would like it to be located: Los Angeles or San Francisco? Baba tells him to find a suitable location in San Francisco. When the question of teaching arises, Baba tells me to come to Ganeshpuri, where he will train me to come back and be the teacher there.


After a brief conversation we take Baba’s leave and join the rest of the group escorting Baba to the airport. At the airport we all sit with him one last time before he boards his plane. As Baba rises to leave, his last words to me are, “Meet me in India.”





Now that Baba has left, I begin to plan for my trip to India. This presents me with a number of things to do. One of which is to go to Yogi Bhajan and tell him about the changes in my life. I hope those of you who have met Yogi Bhajan or feel like you know him, can appreciate the courage that took.


When I get to his home a couple of days later, Yogi Bhajan welcomes me in. I’m nervous but resolute in my conviction that as to what needs to be done. I tell him that Baba is now my Guru and I will no longer be teaching his (Yogi Bhajan’s) form of yoga.


His response: “So, Muktananda has awakened your kundalini?”

This is not a question begging for an answer. It’s one thrown at me like a dart. He can barely hide his anger and contempt.


Yogi Bhajan tries to convince me that I’m indebted to him for what he’s taught me, as he attempts to bring me back into the fold. No matter how much pressure he applies, I hold firm to my conviction.


When he finally realizes that I’m not going to budge, he tries a final act of desperation. He instructs me to sit opposite him and look into his eyes. He’s going to give me an experience of kundalini. From a distance of three feet away, and with eyes wide open, he gazes into my eyes. But nothing happens.


Yogi Bhajan designed a regimen of yoga that he branded as Kundalini Yoga. I’m curious as to how many people have actually had a kundalini awakening practicing this yoga? And if there are some who have experienced an awakening, what literature or guidance does the organization offer? Just wondering…





So, what is kundalini?


According to Tantrik sources (where kundalini is first mentioned), it is defined as the Power of Enlightened Consciousness or Innate Intelligence. Ultimately, it is the creative power of our Essential Nature.


It is referred to as kundalini (that which is coiled) likely due to its being the aspect of our own consciousness that exists as potentiality until it begins to awaken and rise (like a coil that springs forth into action). Of course, this is conceptual.


The important thing is not to just learn how to talk about it, but rather to come to know it intuitively through our own experience. Conceptual knowledge is not enough. It can only be known through direct experience (i.e. Awakening).


One of the terms used to describe this awakening is shaktipāta (the descent or transmission of Grace). Kundalini awakening is a life-altering experience. The awakening is transformative in nature, and constitutes initiation into the spiritual path. It is usually accompanied by a paradigm shift, which leads one to greater and greater awareness.


Authentic Tantrik sources state that shaktipāta comes either as a transmission from a qualified Guru (one who is vested with the power of lineage and established in the Awakened State) or it may come spontaneously without the apparent agency of a Guru (as in my case). In cases where a physical Guru is not part of the equation, it is stated that after Awakening one should seek out a qualified Guru to further guide one as the process unfolds. It was three and a half years after my awakening that I met my Guru.


This is why it’s important to seek out a teacher rooted in the Awakened State. The spiritual path really begins with awakening. Practicing techniques such as postures, breath control and concentration are not in themselves enough to ensure awakening.


In fact, unless the teacher is themself Awakened, it’s unlikely that those techniques will bring about Awakening. The practice of postural yoga and the techniques taught in conjunction with it (chanting, meditation, breath control, scriptural study, etc.) can be of great benefit, but won’t necessarily lead to Awakening. Techniques alone don’t ensure that Kundalini Awakening will take place. Yogi Bhajan was a teacher of techniques.


As Philip Deslippe chronicles in his paper, Yogi Bhajan has no historical link to any authentic Tāntrik lineages. The Kundalini Yoga created by Yogi Bhajan, does not transmit awakened energy. It may be of benefit to those who practice it, but as far as being an authentic vehicle for kundalini awakening, it is just a clever brand name. It has little or nothing to do with kundalini.


In the presence of Baba I witnessed hundreds of people experiencing kundalini awakenings. Around Yogi Bhajan I never witnessed even one. Looking back, I tend to think of Yogi Bhajan in much the same way I view athletic coaches. In this regard, he was very effective.


To learn more about what Classical Tantra says about kundalini, I invite you to check out the work of Christopher Hareesh Wallis - an excellent scholar and practitioner.

His website is:


As I leave his house, I’m relieved that my relationship with Yogi Bhajan has officially come to an end. I did the right thing by speaking with him face to face. There’s no need for me to look back.


In retrospect, Yogi Bhajan was a strong-willed, powerful hatha yogi and nothing more. No, I take that back, he was something more - he was a very charismatic and astute businessman.





On December 31, 1970, I boarded a train from Los Angeles to New York, where I spent the next three days as a guest of Rudi at his Greenwich Village apartment.


Rudi was a highly respected teacher in his own right. He was a close disciple of Baba, and was the person most responsible for bringing him to the West. He was an authentic teacher in whose company kundalini awakenings often took place. His association with Nityananda and Baba, coupled with a rigorous spiritual practice, allowed for the transmission of awakened energy to flow through him.


It’s most likely the manner in which Baba embraced me, and the fact that I was about to become the teacher in hisashram, that prompted Rudi’s invitation for me to stay with him. Aside from his Sunday morning meditationsfollowed by brunch, his private residence was open to few people. It gave me an opportunity to spend some qualitytime with this unique individual.





My departing flight took me to Paris where I met a young Dutch couple who had once traveled overland to India. My conversation with them inspired me to cash in my remaining ticket and purchase transport on the legendary Orient Express, which travels from Paris to Istanbul.


I had very little knowledge of the geography in this part of the world, but the prospect of adventure (and to be honest, according to the Dutch couple - hashish in Afghanistan) secured my decision. I had no clue what countries lay ahead, nor what documentation aside from my passport was necessary for this kind of travel. Nor did I know how I would proceed beyond Istanbul. However, I naively assumed that I could just go for it and that my continued good fortune would somehow deliver me to my destination. Though not without incidents, I eventually made it.


Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

The month-long journey brought me across the northwestern border of India into the state of Punjab, homeland of the Sikhs. As wonderful as it was to finally be in India, I was still far from Maharashtra State, and my destination of Baba’s Ashram.





With two weeks to kill, I took from my wallet the address of a close devotee of Maharaj Virsa Singh that I’d gotten from one of Yogi Bhajan’s students.


Nirlep Kaur is a Member of Parliament, similar to being a Member of Congress in the US. I arrived at her residence in New Delhi seeking information about how to reach Gobind Sadan, Maharaji’s ashram. Nirlep comes to the door and I introduce myself, telling her I was a student of Yogi Bhajan. I assume this will impress her. She invites me in.


Once inside, she asks me many questions about Yogi Bhajan, referring to him as Harbhajan Singh - his given name. She asks me if people in America touch his feet. She seems somewhat relieved when I inform her that I've never witnessed it. She makes it a point to let me know that Yogi Bhajan is not a Guru - that the real Guru is Virsa Singh and that Yogi Bhajan is a pretender. She goes on to say that he is simply taking advantage of naive Westerners. She invites me to stay the night, and tells me she will drive me to Gobind Sadan in the morning.





Gobind Sadan is located in Meroli, a farming community on the outskirts of Delhi. When we arrive at the ashram,Maharaji is in the fields attending to his rose garden. Virsa Singh has a special fondness for roses.


The ashram is clean, simple, and appears to be well managed - an ideal environment for performing spiritual practices. There are several dozen disciples in view and as far as I can tell, they are predominantly Sikhs.


Everyone is going about their ashram duties and it's evident that most are deeply absorbed in their work. Service to the Guru and silent mantra repetition (jāpa) are prominent spiritual practices here, along with the chanting of sacred hymns. Upon close observation, I notice that some of the devotees are silently moving their lips as they go about their work.


Maharaji has been informed of my coming and is quite eager to meet me. As we walk toward each other I am struck by his saintly appearance. Maharaj Virsa Singh is a tall, majestic figure, with a radiant countenance.


We carry on a brief conversation in the field before settling inside for tea. He is curious about Yogi Bhajan and wants to know what he is teaching people in America.


Maharaji doesn’t speak English so Nirlep translates for us. He informs me that Yogi Bhajan told him he had been invited to teach in America and requested his blessings and guidance. Maharaji explains that he instructed Yogi Bhajan to simply teach people about the power of the Divine Name (mantra) and to follow the teachings of the Sikh Lineage. That means, devotion to the Gurus and following their teachings, accessed primarily through the poems and songs portrayed in the Guru Grānth Sāhib. Nowhere in the teachings is there an emphasis on postural yoga.


Being in Maharaji’s presence leaves no doubt as to his authenticity as a holy man. He is very simple and continuously radiates peace, love, joy and tranquility. His laugh is infectious. He’s extremely gracious and attentive to me for the entire two weeks I spend with him. I will be forever grateful for the many blessings I received during this period.


On the second day of my stay he sends two of his disciples to accompany me to a local village in order to help me buy a set of prayer beads (māla). He then proceeds to use them for his own mantra repetition over the next several days before returning them to me. Once I get them back, I can sense an extra charge in my own jāpa practice.





A week into my stay at Gobind Sadan, word comes that Yogi Bhajan has arrived in India with a large group of Western students and will be bringing them to the ashram. Maharaji calls for me, then says that he wants me present when he and Yogi Bhajan meet.


The small room where Virsa Singh holds private meetings is clean, simple, and unadorned. There are plain white walls, with thin sheet or kilim covered mattresses spread across the floor. Pillows lean lazily against the walls with a set of bolsters indicating Virsa Singh’s spot. Everyone, including Maharaji, sits on the floor. Other than the pillows, there are no furnishings in the room.


As Yogi Bhajan enters I can see by his glance in my direction that my presence has caught him off-guard. He approaches Maharaji with folded hands, then kneels to touch his feet. I note his immense discomfort in doing so.


Yogi Bhajan is alone when he enters the room. This is a private meeting, so other members of his group are not invited to attend.


Present in the room with Virsa Singh are: Colonel Gurnam Singh (a Colonel in the Indian Army), Nirlep Kaur, myself, and Yogi Bhajan. The Colonel is wearing his military uniform and translating the conversation for my benefit. At times, Nirlep chimes in to further clarify a point in English.


Maharaji wants me to understand every word, and occasionally looks at me with a sheepish grin on his face. He’s enjoying the moment. Every now and then as he gazes in my direction, he makes a head movement tilting upward, using facial expressions and body language to inquire whether or not I understand what is being said. Yogi Bhajan is visibly ill at ease - something I’d never witnessed before. The self-assured Teacher for the Aquarian Age that I knew back in the US now looks like a petulant child trying to conceal his frustration.


Yogi Bhajan has come to propose to Maharaji that a relationship be established between 3HO and Gobind Sadan. His intention is to link his organization with the highly respected institution that Virsa Singh has established, thus giving 3HO added credibility. He tries to make the point that it’s in their mutual interest, but from the outset it’s clear that Maharaji is not buying it.


When Yogi Bhajan makes his proposal, Maharaji simply laughs it off. He reminds Yogi Bhajan that he never supported the creation of his system of yoga. Maharaji makes it clear that he disapproves of the way Yogi Bhajan has been misleading people in America.


During the entire meeting, Maharaji is his usual calm and radiant self, as he sits methodically fingering his prayer beads. Throughout the meeting, Maharaji often laughs, with the rest of us following suit. This doesn’t include Yogi Bhajan, who fails to hide his discomfort throughout the entire



After Yogi Bhajan departs, Maharaji inquires whether or not I understand all that was said. When I acknowledge that I do, he smiles and nods his head in satisfaction.


This proved to be my last encounter with Yogi Bhajan. I very much enjoyed my remaining time at Gobind Sadan, and on the day of my Guru’s arrival in Delhi I secured Maharaji’s blessings, and departed to meet Baba at the airport.


Coming soon - with Baba in India.

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