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A new book with shocking revelations reveals the shadow side of a holy man who many thought was infallible. In this blog, I look at why, as Westerners, we are so taken with teachers from traditional cultures:
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In our Western culture, we’re drawn to the exotic approaches in other parts of the world that hold the promise of helping us get in touch with our Inner Self. We embrace medicine men from South America and Africa – a lot of it having to do with psychedelics. We dip into the spirit medicine of indigenous peoples in North America. And, of course, our long and steadfast pursuit of “holy men” from India and other parts of Asia.
I can’t speak to the motivation over all of why we do this. But for so many of us, religious and spiritual approaches in our Western culture have failed us. And when we’re seeking “wellbeing” – whatever that might be for you – peace, meaning in your life, emotional healing, we’re often desperately seeking answers to how we can find it.
And this hunger is why exotic holy men like Yogi Bhajan were so captivating. He arrived from India in the turbulent ’60s when young people were foundering and wanting direction. He gained quite a following – as THE teacher of Kundalini Yoga and the whole lifestyle associated with it. And now, a book recently released, exposes the devastating shadow side of the charismatic Yogi Bhajan. He died back in 2004 at the age 75.
The book, Premka, My Life with Yogi Bhajan, is authored by a former follower, who was swept into his world in 1968 at the age of 25. For 16 years she devoutly served him in an existence buffeted by on-going manipulation, emotional and sexual abuse and betrayal. So scarred from that experience, that only now, all these many years later, has she summoned the strength to share her Truth. And she probably knew what a firestorm would be triggered within the “Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan” community of tens of thousands of teachers and students around the world. As a result other women are coming out of the shadows to share similar stories about him.
Now, Yogi Bhajan is far from the only spiritual teacher from the East who took advantage of his revered position. Many others – for example, the infamous Bikram of Bikram yoga fame, revealed as an abuser and sexual predator, there’s Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche who the revered American teacher Pema Chödrön has distanced herself from because of his reported abuses and raging alcoholism and Amrit Desai, who was the leader of the Kripalu Center, and kicked-out because of sexual and financial improprieties.
These men took advantage of the devotion of so many of their students who followed them, often, uncompromisingly. That’s easy to understand – as these men stand or stood as role models – and coming from the East, possess esoteric knowledge that we Westerners see as holding the ticket to transformation. Premka wrote that “finding her guru”, in her words, would be like having her own personal guide through life, an enlightened being who knew the right way to live and who would be dedicated to keeping her on track and safe.
Yes, having a trusted guide to help us along the path – to show us the way makes good sense. At the same time, no one else can go inward for us. We need to do the work ourself. It’s a fine line of not putting all our power in another person’s hands. So in this respect, we are naked and alone. And that is very scary for a lot of people.
Premka herself acknowledges how her unhealed childhood wounds of not feeling wanted and her desire to be loved drove her to idealize and trust the parental role of Yogi Bhajan. Many with unhealed childhood wounds are drawn to the guidance of a paternal or fatherly figure. Back in the day, I had a huge gapping Father Wound, which played out for me in different ways inappropriately with men. And we know in the study of trauma, that contrasting personalities are drawn to one another like interlocking puzzle pieces. We can call them “givers” and “takers” … where givers are so desperate for attachment because of the fear of not being loved that they’ll do whatever it takes to stay in the relationship. And “takers” benefit from this dynamic of getting so much more than they give while trying to avoid emotional connection at all costs. Of course, all of this is happening at a subconscious level. This could very well be a dynamic that you’ve struggled with or currently struggling with in your relationship.
But back to the “holy men”, as Westerners, so often we put them on pedestals because they bring us ancient honored teachings and practices that have great wisdom in them – just as Yogi Bhajan did. But we overlook the fact that these “holy men” have shadow sides that they’ve not healed. It’s like being a professional in our society – a doctor or a lawyer for instance – where people look up to them. But when they’re not doctoring or lawyering, they can be in great pain and suffering themselves, even though they are very good at what they do. Perhaps through this latest revelation concerning Yogi Bhajan, we will be left with more clarity that great teachers are also human beings with unhealed wounds, that they may hide very well.
Having said that, I believe a new day is dawning. We’re just now understanding – and much thanks to my teacher – that difficult emotions actually serve as our Inner Guidance system. And when we learn the language of emotions, we can heal ourselves from whatever is holding us back. You can become a master of your emotions. This is Self–therapy. This is the way of the 21st century and beyond. Becoming a master of your emotions is learning to surf the waves of uncertainty with grace and perseverance. And just like regular surfing, the more you do, the better you get at it. If something knocks you down, you know how to get up and recover very quickly … until you get so good at it, you’ve surfed yourself into total and absolute well being …. the definition of becoming a fully awakened being.
Wow! Where are you on this path? Drop down to the comments and let me know. I love hearing from you. I’m BW, and I want you to lead a magnificent loving, generous, calm, abundant life. And I wanna help you do that.
6 thoughts on “Painful Lessons from Kundalini & Yogi Bhajan: Our Human Drive for Inner Growth Outside Ourselves”
Thank you Becca for putting this subject in such a transparent and helpful manner!! You have tied the psychology of this subject together perfectly with enlightening context. Of course you do it with such “grace” and transparency as well! In my seeking, I have learned that all gurus, spiritual leaders, so called prophets, etc. are human beings and will eventually let you down if you put them on a pedestal. Our gift is on the (inside). You should be on a daily YouTube site–
TRUTH! “Our gift is on the (inside)”. The pressing question is how to get at it! (I have definite ideas about that 😉
Thank you for your kind words.
Amen (ur, um … Namaste, a, um, Sat Nam … um, a Aum 😬)
Thank you Becca, well said; in the end our teachers are just as human as we are. But I feel the yoga that YB taught, as I have experienced it, is very effective. I often wonder how much he added or modified what existed for thousands of years.
David, I agree. It is very effective – I guide and teach a kundalini-like approach called Emotional Liberation that was created by a student of YB’s, who is brilliant in his own right ( I have referred to him as YB 2.0.).
In my own teaching of Emotional Liberation, I have added cannabis plant medicine to amplify the work, making it more efficient and effective. Many of my students and clients believe this is the component that puts them over the top for Inner exploration and emotional healing.
At any rate, in regard to YB’s practices, a researcher, Philip Deslippe explored the origins of Bhajan’s yoga and concluded that YB created his method by combining techniques from two teachers: Swami Dhirendra Brahmachari (1924–1994) and the Sikh Sant Maharaj Virsa Singh (1934–2007).
Thank you Becca for this insightful video. Many of these teachers with “holy teachings” are human beings with unhealed emotions, particularly attachment wounds. The YB revealings provide another insight into how any human being with unhealed wounds and given power over others can create last damage for the many followers. We are our own guides and events like this point to our own shadow sides that willingly give our power to another in order to seek enlightenment. There are no short cuts to a fuller way of being; we are all pilgrims on the same path. Love to you,
So great to get your trained therapist’s eye on this – as well as your heart-centered perspective. “There are no short cuts to a fuller way of being; we are all pilgrims on the same path.” Elegantly said. xoBecca