Can you take the Sikh religion out of Kundalini Yoga?

In the course of our Teachers Training sessions, I think one of the Sada Sats – either Kaur or Singh – mentioned that somebody had asked Yogi Bhajan if you could do Kundalini Yoga with other religions. My recollection is that he said yes, you could use any religion, but he’d used the Sikh religion because he thought it was the easiest fastest path to God.

I suspect he also chose it because it was what he’d known best. The research people have done suggests that he combined his Sikh meditation training with Maharaj Virsa Singh with his Yoga training with Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari. His Mahan Tantric training, legend tells us, came from Sant Hazara Singh. Trilochan Singh, while obviously confused about the substance of Yogi Bhajan’s teachings, claimed that the Sikh religion not only has no interest in any form of yoga, but Guru Nanaak actually said it wasn’t necessary, and discouraged it completely. I’ve frequently been told that Indian Sikhs are horrified at the idea of anyone practicing yoga in a Gurdwara, while it’s common among 3HO.

My experience has been that Indian Sikhs often seem less than interested in teaching Americans about their religion. They seem to look askance with bemused expressions when I tell them of my – to them elementary – interest, although sometimes they have said they appreciate how Yogi Bhajan has introduced their faith to westerners. The language barrier – and my difficulty sometimes even understanding their English accents – makes it hard to really know how much of what I’m practicing is authentic Sikh practice. Their morning banis are different from the Aquarian Sadhana mantras Yogi Bhajan prescribed.

While I’ve found solace and inspiration in my 3HO Sikh indoctrination, often feeling, believing, and experiencing that Sikh chants have a substantial positive impact upon my life, I’m also starkly aware that I have only a dim understanding of what I’m chanting. No matter how much of my life I spend deepening this knowledge, I doubt I will ever have a full experience of it.

A Google search for kundalini yoga combined with other religions reveals as much whackery as you could dream up; Christian fundamentalists who swear the bedevilment of those who practice any yoga, studios teaching Christian yoga, confusing tales of disruptive kundalini awakening, Iyengar’s dismissal of Kundalini yoga as unhealthy; the more links you read, the less clarity you end up with.

I remember talking with the Chaplain at Calvary Hospital while my dad was in hospice there. She was quite interested in my Sikh and Yoga morning sadhana practices, and wanted to know more about them. She made a remark about how she was often skeptical of religious practice in a language foreign to the practitioner, which I thought somewhat amusing coming from a Catholic, when so much of the liturgy there seems to be in Latin. But there’s a point of truth in the statement. The Sikh perspective I’ve heard is that by making the same sounds in Gurmukhi that Guru Nanaak made while chanting, we physically aspire to experience the same state of enlightenment he experienced while chanting Japji. I’m “on board” with that. For some reason I was drawn to Japji from the start.

Yet I’m left wondering if there’s a way to combine the Kundalini Yoga Yogi Bhajan taught with Christianity, Judiasm, Tibetan Buddhist, or Islamic doctrine or practice. Could the scriptures from each be incorporated into the yoga sets and meditations? How would you choose which to use or replace? Would this undertaking require the deep religious experience of a saint within that religion in order to make the right choices? If the more open-minded perspective that we’re all worshiping the same God using different practices is true, then it must be possible. But how would you go about it?

Where did “Long Time Sun” come from?

When I first began practicing Kundalini Yoga, I kept wondering what the “original” version of “May the Long Time Sun Shine Upon You” was. One of the manuals mentioned that it was originally by the Incredible String Band, so I searched around and finally found a recording of it, on vinyl. It was on an album they did called, “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter.” I couldn’t seem to find it on CD anywhere, although now YouTube has several copies of it. (Many people aren’t aware that the video formats on YouTube encode the audio/music of the video in an mp3 encapsulation, depending upon which format of the video you load) Here it is in mp3 form. I think it was part of a track called “A Very Cellular Song” on that album.

I have to say it didn’t thrill me. Actually, if they played that version at the end of a yoga class, I might’ve walked out and not come back. I’m so glad there have been so many beautiful recent renditions of it. Sat Kartar said she dug a bit deeper when she put it on her Sadhana CD, for copyright reasons, and found out it was actually a public domain folk song which she tracked to Europe.

I was really struck by the clarion call of her beautiful voice when I first heard her at summer solstice, and got to hear her group in Phoenix during my return trip home from NM. She told me stories of the Khalsa String Band, I think she called it, which included many who are now veteran musicians and teachers in the community, among them Krishna Kaur and Guru Singh. She said they traveled around the country performing with Yogi Bhajan.

At present, one of my other favorite versions of the song is by Snatam Kaur, but the most rockin’ version I’ve heard of it was performed a cappella by Krishna Kaur for our teacher’s training class – I keep hoping I’ll find it in my cassettes of the training sessions again, but I haven’t been able to. I wish she had a recording of it – or maybe she does and I haven’t come across it yet.

3HO – Cult or Spiritual Environment?

Despite the remarkable help I’ve experienced from my Kundalini Yoga practice, I often wonder if I’m stuck in a cult. I was out with some friends having dinner, and one guy remarked that his ex had been a dedicated Kundalini Yoga practitioner. He made an off-hand comment about it being a cult. Is it?

Just where do you draw the line? Even if it IS a cult, can it still be beneficial? There are a number of embittered “ex-3HO” discussion groups, and Rick Ross maintains a group of articles about 3HO claiming the horrible abuses it inflicts. But the stories he relates are indicting for the individuals involved more than the community as a whole.

A woman I know says she did spiritual counseling for women (plural in her story) whom Yogi Bhajan instructed to be celibate within the 3HO community, but he “made them have sex with him.” Apparently they were scarred for life. The questions that immediately came to mind were; was it an ego trip for them? For him? Was their self-esteem so damaged they needed that interaction? Does his wife know? Is there any possible way it could have been beneficial to the women? Or did Yogi Bhajan just blatantly abuse his powers without regard for their good? Is there some spiritual level at which it’s all inconsequential? Do our moral laws and judgements so thoroughly color our perception of the encounter that it obscures the power and esteem issues involved? Such questions immediately draw into mind the “defense of the cult by those blinded by their involvement in it” issue as well. I don’t have any clear answers. Of course any women will be insulted by open-minded examination of the issue, and most 3HO people will probably be defensive.

I heard so many horrible stories of the Hare Krishnas abducting people during the 70′s and not letting them leave after they had their free meal and were worked to the bone. Moonie stories abound as well. Both organizations have done wonderful things for various communities; Culver City’s Hare Krishna community seems wonderful, and boasts one of the best vegetarian restaraunts around. A friend of mine travelled to spiritual temples all around the world with a program sponsored by the moonies, and another worked for the computer animation lab they ran. Is a cult a black and white issue? Recent articles have condemned the Kabballah Center in Los Angeles for cult-like practices. Many people I know have met their “soul-mates” there or at least praise their spiritual growth and how much it’s helped them. A friend left the Scientology community and had people pursuing him through visits to his home and family. Others claim it’s helped them immensely, although some have lost family inheritances through shyster investment advisors that preyed on the community. Who am I to say? That one hasn’t held any attraction to me.

Steven Hassan has a website called the Freedom of Mind Center. In it, he’s examined some of the issues involved. Forthwith:

Questions to Help the Assessment Process

from Spiritual Responsibility: Avoiding Abuses and Pitfalls Along the Path

1. Who is the leader?

What are his/her background and qualifications?

Have you relied solely on trust that all of the information you were given is true or have you done independent investigation?

Do you feel pressure to accept and not question at all?

Is it possible that there are misrepresentations or falsehoods?

Is there external corroboration for extraordinary claims of accomplishment or are they simply his/her say-so?

If “miracles” have been performed, can they be replicated under open observation or even under scientific conditions?

Are there other explanations for the “miracles,” such as magic tricks, hypnosis, etc.?

If there is a former leader or member, have you sought him or her out to hear for yourself critical information? If not, are you afraid to trust your ability to discern the truthfulness of what you learn?

If you find yourself saying that you don’t care if there are major deceptions, ask yourself if you knew this information before you became involved, would you have even bothered to make a commitment of time and money?

2. Are there exclusive claims made to wisdom, knowledge, love, and truth? If so, the burden of proof is on the leader to demonstrate his or her superiority, not on members to disprove it. A truly “developed” spiritual being exudes love, compassion, and humility. Any person who claims to be “superior” but does not practice what they preach is of questionable character. There is never incongruency between words and deeds. A person who uses fear and phobia indoctrination to control followers demonstrates insecurity and lack of spiritual maturity.

3. Is total submission and obedience required? Any relationship that demands giving up one’s personal integrity and conscience is dangerous and leads to totalitarianism. Be wary of those who advocate “the ends justify the means,” especially when it clearly serves their own self-interest. Also, make sure that your desire “to believe” doesn’t simply activate the common psychological defense mechanisms: denial, rationalization, justification, and wishful thinking. If a doctrine is true or a person is truly spiritually advanced, they will stand up to the scrutiny of objective evaluation. If they do not prove themselves, they are probably not worthy of your commitment and devotion.

4.    Does he/ she have a criminal record, a legacy of allegations against him/her or a history of misconduct? If there are allegations of misconduct against the leader, the responsible follower must seek out the negative information and the sources of that information to evaluate the truth. If a leader claims to be celibate and allegations are made that the leader engaged in inappropriate sex, this is an extreme violation of integrity. It must be investigated vigorously. It is never appropriate for teachers, therapists, or spiritual masters to take advantage of a power differential over followers. This is especially true in the area of sexuality. It is grossly unethical to engage in sexual relations with someone who has placed their trust in as a teacher/advisor/master. Many followers are incredibly vulnerable to this and unable to resist sexual intimacy. Anyone should be able to say “no.”

Is he or she a “trust bandit,” stealing hearts, souls, minds, bodies, and pocketbooks for his or her own ends?

5. Does the leader demonstrate psychological problems and awareness of their existence?

Does the leader have addictions to power, drugs, alcohol, sex, even television or shopping?

Does the leader have emotional outbursts?

Does the leader physically abuse followers?

Does the leader drive expensive cars and wear expensive clothes while extolling the virtues of renunciation?

Does the leader financially exploit followers by expecting them to live in poverty while he or she indulges in luxury?

Is the group or leader’s driveway habitually filled with luxury cars while ordinary people find him or her inaccessible and unreachable?

Does the leader ever encourage deception or use deception as a “technique” to trick followers into so-called correct thinking and understanding?

Codependent behavior by a spiritual teacher should be a warning sign of danger. Codependency includes: obsessively trying to control others; allowing people to hurt and use them; lack of clear boundaries; being reactive, not proactive; tunnel visioned; obsessive worrying and denial; expectations of perfection and suppression of human needs. (Beattie, Beyond Codependency, Harper/Hazelden, 1989)

6. Are questions and doubts permitted within the organization?

A healthy spiritual environment must engage individual followers at their level of experience and should encourage them to feel and think and therefore question their beliefs and exercise good decision-making. In this way, the follower can investigate, discriminate, and test the dogma and the environment they are being asked to accept, between what his or her personal issues are and what might be an unhealthy environment. If intense pressure is used to dissuade people who wish to talk with former members or critics, it is a clear sign of information control. Controlling information is one of the most essential components of mind control.

7. Is the organization open or closed?

Are there organizational secrets?

Are there “in” groups and “out” groups?

Are there restricted teachings for initiates only?

Are there secret texts and publications “for your eyes only”?

Is there real financial accountability?

If a group says that you can look at its accounting records, does it actually provide access?

The only way to know is to ask to see the records. If you are afraid to ask, what does this say about the atmosphere of the group?

8. What structural checks and balances exist within the organization to prevent abuse of power?

Are there divisive sectarian biases, even in the name of interdenominational ecumenicism and universality?

Is there an independent “ethics”committee to challenge and change policies of the group?

If there are abuses or injustices, what structure exists to correct them?

Can anyone legitimately question the actions of the leader without threat of emotional withdraw or fear of expulsion to “hell”?

Do the rich and powerful get preferential treatment?

Are “indulgences” (spiritual pardons) sold?

Is there a “code of silence” against unethical behavior of leaders?

Shakti Pad: The Stage of the Practitioner

From The Five Stages On The Path of Wisdom

in the older, now defunct, Teacher Training Notebook

The third stage of the practitioner is the most crucial, transitional, and challenging of all the stages. The choices made in this stage and the transformation of the student’s capacities that occurs determines whether the practitioner will progress toward mastery, stay at apprentice levels or quit the study altogether. It is a stage at which either a transformation or a discontinuity occurs. In the spiritual disciplines, shakti pad is known as the test of ego or the test of power.

At this stage the student has accumulated a lot of experience. He has tested the rules, stored up conscious and unconscious abilities and habits, and is overwhelmed by possibilities. What is required of the practitioner is the ability to choose a goal, fix on a motivation, and consciously commit to a set of values. The practitioner must also develop the ability to establish a hierarchy of choices. The practitioner must have a faculty to prioritize complex sets of tasks and decisions and to notice what is significant to the goal and what is not.

Imagine the driver who has learned the basic skill of guiding the car as a novice. He learned the art of driving and explored many different routes and types of vehicles as an apprentice. Now as a practitioner a new level of skill is demanded.

How do you choose between the many possibilities you are tactically qulified to execute? As a practitioner, you must choose a strategy. You must assume responsibility to choose between all the trails that take you along your journey. The driver may have 50 ways to drive into Boston. Putting all those choices in mind without a method to restrict and direct a decision would be confusing, overwhelming, and time consuming. The practitioner instead chooses the way into Boston based on a particular goal or value for the trip.

Each route satisfies a different value. Route 1 is the “quickest” and “saves time.” Route 2 is the “most beautiful.” Route 3 is the most “social” since it goes by friends’ houses. Route 4 is the most “historical” as it goes by monuments. Route 5 is the most “challenging” due to the varied landscapes and driving conditions.

The choice of value and of route must occur before leaving for the trip. If you start on the route of beauty, you can not change and still accomplish the least time.

As an apprentice each journey was assigned by the mentor. As a practitioner, the choice is now yours. You learned as an apprentice that there are many rules for different situations. As a practitioner you must now formulate rules about which set of rules to apply. The rules for beauty, speed, challenge, and newness are different.

This stage is similar to the developmental stage of adolescence. The novice is like the newborn. The apprentice is like the young child. The practitioner is like the adolescent who is ready to challenge the rules, to risk new combinations, and to act in patterns that are unlike the past. It is a creative and dangerous stage. Just as an adolescent wants the power of choice without the dangers of responsibility, the practitioner wants to make a choice without commitment. The practitioner that learns to command commitment, to overcome doubt and to discern the proper values, conquers this stage of learning.

The adolescent driver may decide that “speed” is the most important value. The driver then tailgates, risks high speed turns and darts between other car in traffic. If the practitioner becomes attached to that value, he will be insensitive to situations that do not fit it. He may spend time in court, kill himself or endanger other drivers.

If the practioner enjoyed sped and was willing to be a novice about that value, he might enroll in a speed driving course for cars in race tracks and begin professional training.

This is the test of power in shakti pad. The practitioner looks at the whole situation, at the panorama of facts and choices. He must then consciously act from the whole or from a part of the whole. This is a critical ability. The cognitive ability needed at this time is the capacity to perceieve the implications of the whole collection of choices and information. To act unconsciously or incorrectly from a small piece of the whole is a fatal error. A practitioner fails if he chooses the value or goal which he enjoys or which he finds most interesting or stimulating rather than the value that continues to serve the larger project, task or study that he entered training to attain.

The experience of this type of decision making is often unpleasant and frightful. It is beset with uncertainty and often fills the practitioner with doubt. It is a perilous and existential moment. It is as agonizing as the decision of a Hamlet – a question of identity and commitment. It is as grave as the decision of an Oedipus. The decision is made through deliberate effort to reach the correct perspective of the whole and to discern the true significance of the decision.

The ego or attachment of the student becomes the biggest block at this stage. Imagine the driver who so loves the feeling of the car as it moves that he refuses to study maps or make plans. The sensations of driving are so enthralling that the next capacity can not develop. This happens in games. I recall a video game player who couldn’t get above a certain score. I told him I knew how to do it, but he had to let the shooting of certain video demons become automatic. He said he knew that, but he enjoyed the feeling of confrontation too much to simply let it become automatic. His attachment to that sensation blocked him from moving to the highest level of performance. The love of confrontation was stronger than the commitment to increase speed. So the original goal, to win the greatest number of points, was not achieved. Neither was the experience of mastery which required him to surrender his own attachment to the requirements of the game.

At that point my friend redefined the game and found what he had done before to be false. This is equivalent to denying th guidance of the mentor who tells you to keep going and not to stop if you want to reach the end. A practitioner who does not pass the test of shakti pad denies the teacher or mentor. He is filled with doubt about the value of what he did before and he doubts the wisdom of the teacher.

The real test at this stage is the test to overcome doubt. To create an action where all the parts of your mind are behind the original path you chose. This sage requires commitment. It requires involvement in the sense that you are focally responsible for the choice. The results of the choice, for better or worse, are your responsibility. Success and failure become portentous and filled with consequence. It is similar to adolescence, when the smallest rejection or acceptance by others is met with enormous reactions of grief or ecstasy. Each action, since it is truly yours, is encased in amplified impacts and effects.

This choice of values cannot be done non-personally. It is always a personal choice that we make. It is not possible at this stage to take a cosmic perspective of detachment. The choice cannot be avoided without halting learning and growth. This is because the choice must be made first, before moving ahead.

In spiritual disciplines, this is the leap of faith. This is the moment where you choose to follow your own desires and limited perspective or you choose the higher values established by the path or teaching that you began to study. Up to this point the student is detached from the choice. As a novice you just follow the rules. As an apprentice you are busy learning new perceptions. As a practitioner you are competent to do most tasks related to the skills you are learning. You must choose where to use those skills and to what end.

On the path of yoga, many students leave the path at this point because they feel some part of themselves has been neglected or rejected by their own earlier efforts. Others gain spiritual ego and fancy themselves complete even though the teacher and teachings warn them against such a position. Others fade away slowly because they decide they are the exception to the rules and they need not follow the original disciplines any more.

Those students who can act with faith and wholeness do well at this stage. Students who can search for differences from the main goal and correct their direction pass through this stage the most easily. It is easy to forget yourself at this stage and become hypnotized by the satisfaction and power of the skills you have gained so far. If you surrender to the path and goal you began your study to fulfill, you will emerge with strength and empowered with an unshakable direction.

Resistance

So once in class Guru Singh was saying that he’s seen a lot of people come and start doing Kundalini Yoga, and the growth and change happens too fast, and they can’t handle it, and then they stop.

I’ve been wondering about that claim. I talked with one friend who became a student, and she said she switched to hatha for just that reason.

But I had a feeling after a while that change wasn’t happening.  I was going to sadhana daily, and was really stuck. The actions from yoga weren’t going to solve the problems I was facing in life, and I was expecting them to. Everyone else was shipping off to summer solstice, and I was stuck in LA. I looked at the damn pictures of Muniji and Yogi Bhajan, and I was pissed. I’d been had. Scammed.

So that intensified until I said, “to hell with this.” Quit – as much as I could. Although the yoga sort of has become integral to me being able to function. So I’d do a set here and there if I was uncomfortable.

I frequently run into people who say, “Oh yeah. I used to do Kundalini. But now I do… [insert various hatha forms here]” I never get a clear answer why they stopped or switched. Maybe there isn’t one – a conscious one, at least. So far no one’s told me the growth happened too fast. Several have told me they couldn’t stand the politics at the studio where they were practicing.

Dammit Singh claims the people who can’t stand yoga studio politics are amusing, because they’re so much more inconsequential than what you encounter anywhere else. But if it’s your world, (and it’s said that first you practice yoga to help your life, and then you practice life to help your yoga) then the politics DO matter, unfortunately.

Kirtan Singh told me that people who practice sadhana without Gurdwara tend to become very ego driven or self-centered, and the Gurdwara helps to counter and balance that. I thought that was interesting, and wonder why Golden Bridge and Karuna haven’t made an effort to offer that aspect to students.

Georg Feurstein: The Deeper Dimension of Yoga

Obstacles on the Path According to Patanjali

Illness

Apathy

Doubt

Heedlessness

Sloth

Dissipation

False Vision

Nonattainment of the Stages

Instability

Pain

Depression

Tremor of the Limbs

Faulty Inhalation and Exhalation

I’ll have to read that thoroughly and get back to you on it…

Kriya Yoga

So, in Autobiography of a Yogi, the author repeatedly talks of the practice of kriya yoga but never tells you how to do it. When I was going through a rather rough time, I went over to the Lake Shrine in the Pacific Palisades to do some kundalini yoga, writing, and meditation. I found it so refreshing I came all the way home and returned to the Sunday services the next morning. I only found one woman I felt like talking to there afterwards, an Indian woman who lived out near Fullerton or Pomona or someplace (and I thought the drive from Hollywood was far!). She’d been practicing the kriya yoga meditations seriously for several years, and told me she had a job, but really lived to do the kriya yoga. I asked at the bookstore about what it was and how to do it. They were evasive, to put it mildly. Finally they dug out an application form after I persisted. You have to pay $40-50 to receive the weekly lessons to learn it. The form went into the yoga papers and manuals pile.

Recently, one rainy Sunday morning, I decided to visit the Hollywood Self-Realization Fellowship temple that the autobiographical Paramahansa Yogi established. I’d stumbled upon the Autobiography of a Yogi in books-on-tape form at the La Cañada public library sale rack for a buck, and have been engrossed in them ever since. Suddenly nothing else is very interesting, spiritually speaking. I got another copy of the application form. “Is finding God the most important thing to you?” read one of the questions, or something similar. Well, frankly, no, but I’ve really been feeling like there isn’t much choice in life anymore. Or perhaps I’m deceiving myself.

I started digging around the web for information on Kriya Yoga. Some Christian organization in Europe had a site that ragged on Self-Realization Fellowship a bit, and there was this YouTube link, but it wasn’t really clear if it was the same Kriya Yoga or not.

This site seemed more promising, although again it isn’t clear if it’s the same Kriya Yoga or not. Then I got side-tracked into some silly YouTube videos of people telling the world what yoga is. But I revisited the last site yesterday.

The layout of the site is frankly, off-putting. All the ads and childish doo-dads make it hard to take it seriously. But the information seemed worthwhile. It uses a six chakra model, as opposed to the seven chakra model we use in Kundalini yoga. So I printed out the instructions, and it has some information relating to the aphorisms of Patanjali. There’s a god yoga meditation, chanting, “Dear God, please love me free.” Yesterday I couldn’t sleep again, and finally was in bed, starting to meditate on that. As I focused on it, moving down the chakras from the crown chakra, which isn’t actually how you’re supposed to do it, I felt myself relax completely, and the tension in my belly released, resentment slipped away, and it moved down my legs to my toes. What was this? It was interesting, that’s for sure. But then I was asleep.

Today I’ve found myself trying to recall that stupid silly phrase, with it’s bad English. I have to keep looking at the instructions again to remember it. I tried before the Kundalini meditation to do it again, but it didn’t do much. So we’ll see where it leads.

Perhaps I’ll send the application in to Self-Realization Fellowship for their lessons soon.