Yogi Bhajan was teacher for his time, but the times have changed

If there is one thing that many yogis agree upon, it is that Yogi Bhajan was a master. They are just sharply divided over whether he was an enlightened one, or a master crook. 

What seems evident to me, in hindsight, is that his behavior is not consistent with how we like to view what enlightenment is. We don’t want Prince Charming to be a rapist. 

But human history tells us time and time again that the brightest lights cast the biggest shadows. If someone seems too good to be true, they probably are. 

It is a rude awakening for many people that have idolized Yogi Bhajan. 

The movement to ‘demythologize’ him is in full swing. This grand unraveling is a necessary correction too. 

But in talk of the man, his teachings are often cast into doubt as well. And not all of that is wholly deserved.

It is true that, as I have shown elsewhere, there are some dynamics internal to the teaching of Kundalini Yoga that can easily give rise to abuse between teacher and student.*  

But the kriyas and meditations themselves are still amazingly powerful tools for self-initiation and -transformation. So what of the claim that he made them all up?

Understand kriyas for what they are

We must understand the kriyas for what they are. And this requires a new perspective. Or at least a view not commonly found in KRI certified Kundalini Yoga “as taught by Yogi Bhajan” Teacher Trainings.  

It has to do with the nature of kundalini energy.

Kundalini is something spontaneous. Old tantric monks that worked with it spent their first few years meditating on the smoke of an incense stick.

The way it slowly carries itself upwards, but always moving and changing shape, ever new, never old, always in flux. That is the way that kundalini moves. It is a spontaneous, self-renewing, and intelligent energy.  

All a kundalini yoga kriya is, is a way to meet and work with this energy in a fixated form.

A kriya is like a composition

What I mean is this. Compare it to playing guitar. When you play music on a guitar, one of the things you can do is play chords. 

In music, the notes flow into and out of each other in various degrees of tension and release. When some of these notes come together, we call them chords. We can see these chords as stable structures, but in fact, they are only ever part of a larger, more encompassing movement of notes and harmonies.

It is the same with kundalini. Kundalini Yoga kriyas are rather like musical compositions that are meant to evoke a certain mood. The exercises can be seen as frozen moments of release and tension. They are ceremonial in nature. 

And the proper way to approach a kriya is like a ritual, but with feeling.

Empty or meaningful rituals

Like all rituals can be empty or meaningful, kriyas can work more or less depending on the transparency of the teacher, and the devotion of the practitioner. It is how you meet the kriya that determines the measure in which it enlightens you. 

Kundalini energy does not HAVE to be approached or evoked in this way. Other approaches work just as well (or even better), but they require another level of experience and understanding. 

In “Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan,” the aspiring teacher is told to ‘not change the kriya, and not alter the teachings.’ But the reason for this is that you need to crawl before you can walk. 

It was never meant to be a motto that needed to be true across all possible teaching situations, and applied to all teachers.

There certainly comes a moment when the baby has become a child old enough to stand on her own two feet.

This is the moment where she has enough experience with standing upright, that she can take ownership of her own walking. 

You can create your own kriyas

Similarly, a kundalini yoga teacher that has enough understanding and experience with kundalini energy can deeply feel into her own flow. From that experience, she can create sequences that she can share with others and call it kundalini yoga. In other forms of yoga, this is just standard practice. 

Will the yoga be as good as Yogi Bhajan’s? Well, we can all throw ingredients together, but it does not make us a good cook. And we can all hum a tune, but not everyone is a master songwriter. To become that, one must have deep feeling, divine inspiration AND understand something about how music works. 

With kundalini yoga it’s the same thing.

When yoga meets with time

And yes, it’s true, when Yogi Bhajan noticed that rebirthing became something fashionable to do in spiritual circles, he suddenly started giving his students ‘Rebirthing Kriyas”. Coincidence? I don’t think so. But to write it off as a marketing ploy seems grossly misplaced.

Like music, spiritual teaching changes all the time. Like good music, it is always concerned with a sense of eternity, but the form in which it presents itself is different each time. 

That’s the reason why I think that the search for the ‘origins of Kundalini Yoga’ is nonsense.

Traditions have always influenced each other. And yogis have always gone from teacher to teacher and picked up something from here and there.

The desire for a solid reference

I understand the need for a ‘solid’ tradition, I do. It is the hankering for something authentic, something to build upon, a reference. But we live in a different time now, where the traditions give us answers to questions we are no longer asking. We need to recontextualize these teachings to fit with our time.

To be authentic

Authenticity is you, here and now. 

To be an authentic teacher is not to be a genuine follower or copier of Guru-so-and-so, but it is to bring your whole person into it. Your feeling, your divine inspiration, your imagination, and your kind heart. And touch the other as deeply as you can, with everything that you are.

Gurprakash (Jelmar Manuel)

1 Comment

  1. Bri on April 25, 2020 at 6:25 pm

    I have read all 3 parts of your kundalini articles, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us! Resonating deeply with much of what you’ve written. I have been sharing this perspective with various teacher friends, some of whom understand and others who are still in that river of denial. When I suggested we have the authority to present our own Kriyas I was met with quite a bit of tension, but a channel is a channel if it is in tune. I myself have stopped practicing in the “traditional” way but continue to explore the union of my Self through a variety of means, from stretches, to dancing, breathing to bathing, all is included. I’m grateful this has all come up, feeling free in a new way although still processing some of the confusion I feel around associating myself with “kundalini yoga.”

    Blessings to you and your wife.

    With Love, In Love, Thru Love,
    Bri in California