Now that Yogi Bhajan turns out to have been human, all too human, many kundalini yoga teachers have been plunged into a deep, dark well of despair. Not only has their idol fallen from grace, they also feel the foundation under their very life has been swept away.
The source can no longer be trusted, but they have built their practice, their coaching of students, and their livelihoods around “Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan.”
The cottage industry of yoga teachers sprung up around the world is straining under the weight of the allegations against its founder. And the Kundalini Research Institute (KRI), the official body that certifies yoga teachers by standards their founder does not appear to adhere to, has lost all believability, leading many to question: what is my yoga certificate even worth anymore?
It’s what we in the biz call a teachable moment.
I’ve had a call with a yogi friend not long ago who is facing precisely this situation. “I’ve built my business around this,” he said. “But now that the root teacher turns out to be a rapist, a homophobe, a child molester, and a crook, I feel that I can no longer keep on teaching.”
“For years, I have worked to build my yoga-school, but now I doubt it. Ready to let it all go. How the hell am I supposed to face my students? How can I still teach, and not feel like I am just like this fake guru from that Kumare movie?”
These are all valid questions. And I think there is something seriously wrong with teachers that have not had these or similar misgivings. It’s very, very healthy.
But if we want to continue on the path, we must gain a new understanding of who we are in relation to that man and his teachings.
I would like to open the conversation by discussing what Yogi Bhajan actually did when he constructed his particular brand of yoga.
Yogic construction work
It’s fundamental to realize that ‘Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan’ is very much something CREATED. This much is now known by most.
But what I think goes underappreciated is how far he went with this. Not only did he create the exercises and the teachings, but he even created HIMSELF.
Somewhere in my papers, I found an address of Yogi Bhajan to the Dutch Kundalini Yoga Sangat from 1985.
The Dutch Sangat at the time were divided over how to run the Amsterdam ashram (I think they still are) and were quibbling over many things that prevented the center from prospering.
Yogi Bhajan told them to sit down and work it out, to which a slightly rebellious Dutch student said:
“Yes, but that would mean that everybody has to listen to each other.”
(Ah, how I miss sangat life)
Yogi Bhajan’s (somewhat Trumpian) reply:
“As you say so. Everybody has to listen. Everybody does listen. Everybody is listening to me. I don’t see anybody not listening.
Dutch student: “Of course you are an authority.”
“There is no such thing as an authority. How many people in Amsterdam are my relatives or my friends or even know me? What do they know whether I am a bogus man or a right man or a wrong man?
I am a man, and I am a right man, and for years experience, they start trusting me. It cannot happen in one day. Everybody has to work for himself.
I have to work for myself to be Yogi Bhajan. I have to cut down my hanky-panky, purify myself, present myself, work it out. It takes years of effort. It doesn’t happen in one minute.
It has taken me 15 years to stand the attack and then give and give and give, and that makes me Yogi Bhajan.”
The point is made, but the rest of the quote is too delicious to leave out:
“I am not Yogi Bhajan who is sitting here. Yogi Bhajan is those 15 years of pure honest constant service. It is not me. I go to bathroom. I have a pound of shit in my stomach. That doesn’t make Yogi Bhajan. I blow my nose. That doesn’t make Yogi Bhajan. I sweat. That doesn’t make Yogi Bhajan.
Yogi Bhajan is that truth, that inspiration, that selflessness, that service to each other, the uplifting the people, that is the Yogi Bhajan that people love and trust, not me.
Who the hell loves me, nobody, I know that. Are you kidding? I know, I know I am not Yogi Bhajan. I carry Yogi Bhajan. The day I’ll drop Yogi Bhajan I’ll be gone with it.”
(To the translator:)
“Translate. You promised them to translate. You failed them.”
Translator: “Can you say it again?”
“He got involved in listening. He should have been translating.
“Me carry the Yogi Bhajan”
“What I said is that me carry the Yogi Bhajan. It is 15 years of honesty, selfless service, sharing with people their pain, displeasure and discomfort, uplifting their spirit, teaching them the great secret of kundalini yoga, loving them, coming through, and all that total sum of 15 years makes the Yogi Bhajan the Yogi Bhajan.”
“I carry that. If I drop it I’ll be gone with it. So I understand nobody loves me, nobody listens to me, I am not an authority for anybody. But it is that 15 years of honest work which has brought people to trust me, respect me.”
“If I start goofing around tomorrow in two weeks or one month everybody will say no, get out. It takes time to build a mirror and you can totally reflect the sun through it. It takes one second to crack it. That is how delicate is spiritual life.”
There is so much to unpack in this, but I will limit myself to one point only.
It is to see how aware he was of the fact that he was creating an entity called Yogi Bhajan. That was his teacher persona, and it was an entity of light.
The people drawn to this light, like those innocent kundalini yoga teachers, were people honest in their search for something genuine and pure.
Seeing the whole story
And they were not misled. They were only told part of the story.
Were the people in Plato’s cave who saw the shadows on the wall, and took them for real, misled by the shadows? No, the shadows were only part of the story of light. The light just remained hidden to them.
In the same way, but in reverse, many came to kundalini yoga and to Yogi Bhajan and were so fascinated by the light, that the shadows, a necessary complement of light, remained out of sight.
Even when Yogi Bhajan would tell them who he really was, they would simply envelop that in their high regard for him, and proceed. It must have been baffling to behold, perhaps even for Yogi Bhajan himself, but such is the power of projection.
But now it seems the tires have come off, the veil has been at least slightly lifted. It does not mean that Kundalini Yoga has become a hoax. It means we now have a chance for a complete understanding: we no longer see just one side.
Although one has only to check Facebook to see that many, today, have swung to the other side, and can now only see the shit, whereas before they could only see the light. These are the ones who are really trapped.
I am always reminded of a story a tantric teacher told me about an encounter he had with students of Yogi Bhajan.
“I was invited to teach a group of Kundalini Yoga teachers,” he said.
“And of course they were all dressed in immaculate white. But I was dressed in black as I often wear black when I am traveling, it’s just less hassle with stains and dust.”
“So I come up on the stage, and I start teaching my course, and while I am up there, I can see: they are only thinking of one thing. So I finish my class, and in the end, I ask if anybody has questions. A student raises her hand. Here comes the inevitable. ‘Why do you wear black,’ she asks?”
“So I tell her: When you wear black, everything looks white. When you wear white, everything looks black.”
I am not sure if I need to explain the point of this story, but I find it funny as hell.
A forceful antidote
I think one of the reasons people come to Kundalini Yoga is that they discover that they have behavior patterns that are not truly their own.
Some of their coping strategies in life have gone off the rails, and they wind up working too hard or partying too hard and eventually burn out either way.
Kundalini Yoga offers a kind of forceful antidote to this. It replaces black patterns by white ones. But they are still patterns! And that is why Kundalini Yoga, as taught by Yogi Bhajan, is, in a sense, incomplete.
With new light yogic patterns you are still automatically ignoring part of your reality. Just a different part than before.
Kundalini Yoga does not bring you out of the matrix, but it can bring you right to the edge of it. We are on the precipice of a massive black hole. We have reached the event horizon of kundalini yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, the point where we can at once see all the light and all the darkness it has to offer. And every teacher must decide for herself to step through the gateway that is now being offered.
And I believe many are ready, which is why I am publishing this now.
How teachers are created
For this it is essential to understand how constructed this type of kundalini yoga is and how kundalini yoga teachers are constructed.
Teacher training, or at least this is the way it’s classically done, is a process by which people that have succumbed to the weight of their own negativity are offered candlelight by which they may find their way out of the darkness.
They are offered the idea that there is such a thing as an ‘inner teacher’ that they can contact, strengthen, and develop, and upon whose wisdom they can call whenever they are in trouble. And what is so cool about this is that it actually works. Because everybody, deep down, knows what is good for them.
In Kundalini Yoga, the teacher is constructed as a more or less coherent inner entity that allows us to give a name and a shape to intuitions that we would otherwise brush off or push down. This teacher construct is then used by the aspirant to pull herself up by her bootstraps.
But the next stage, whereby people are coaxed into teaching others, is where things can become pretty hairy. Because what is good for me is not necessarily good for you. But from our teacher construct, we project out the panacea for the ailments of the world.
After all, if it worked for me, why would it not work for everybody else?
But we must understand that the teacher is not there. We made him up, and he is now talking with our voice.
And we tell people things like: if you do this meditation, you will develop positive quality X.
Some of us have become real solid in this, and have even built up a real profitable business.
But this is the lowest rung of teaching, not much different from advertising lipstick or diet pills. It’s promising teaching. It is not without its uses, but it can only take you so far. And now is the time to extend that into realms that bring us closer to reality as it is.
At the aphoristic level of teaching, which is where most kundalini yoga teachings are taking place today, is where we take the teachings literally, the teacher for real, the kriyas for unchangeable, and the principles of ethics for more valuable than the messy experience of daily life.
To give you an example of this type of teaching. When I was working with my first teacher, I was struggling with anger issues. And he told me flat out: “Truth told with anger is a lie.”
So now, whenever I would feel anger flare up in me, I would remember this aphorism, and it would prevent me from speaking my mind even though I thought that I was right.
This helped me tremendously. Because the automatic link between feeling anger and the need to be right and say something, was broken. I now had a chance to resolve my anger for myself, and then, from the ashes, decide if there was still anything worth saying.
So this is aphoristic teaching. It helps remind us of useful spiritual cliches, and we can get lots of positive progress in this way.
But there comes a moment where we must transcend aphorisms and go back to the complexity of living reality. This is the next level of teaching, which I call transformative teaching.
An example of transformative teaching is this article, for example. When confronted with a particular polarity, we consciously bring the next polarity into play. Transformative teaching is about always keeping the polarities in play.
This rotation of consciousness that takes place through this type of teaching is the real movement of the Goddess. It is an inner path that traverses the groundless existence, like a bird that never rests.
This teaching is a paradoxical oscillation of the mind and heart, one that is inherently integrative in nature. It weaves a tapestry that has no beginning or end. For this kind of teaching, hope and despair are equivalent; they both consist of a refusal to accept reality as it is.
The movement to transcend each state to come to a higher understanding of both is essential to it.
This level of teaching you will find in genuine student – teacher relationships, and they are typified by a kind of intimacy that you will rarely find in the context of commercial teacher trainings. (And when you do, it’s a huge red flag).
Teaching of sacred spaciousness
In the third level of teaching, which is the level of sacred spaciousness, nothing that appears, needs to be transformed. It is the level where we realize the inherent justice in all phenomena.
This is a teaching that is so encompassing that there can be no difference between meditation and non-meditation. There are no special states of consciousness, and there is no way to tell if someone is practicing it, as there are no special clothes to wear, no special mantras to recite, no special postures to hold.
The emphasis here is on understanding the nature of all phenomena as they are. Anything may be brought into contemplation, and everything that is observed may simply be enjoyed as a play of energy. We don’t need to do anything with it. This type of teaching, for me, brings about the highest level of mental relaxation. And it is the spaciousness where I most like to hang out, liberation by observation.
But the distinction here between the three levels of teaching is one that must be taken with a grain of salt. In the practice of education, as in life, these three levels can be complementary, and the divisions not always so clearcut.
Stuck at level 1
I think that Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan, mostly by those passing it on, has been stuck at the first level of teaching for too long, especially in Teacher Trainings. It’s a kind of ‘monkey see monkey do’ affair that leads to the student-teacher in question winding up with a severe bout of impostor syndrome. Something that only the self-assured can eventually turn into a profitable spiritual persona, but that I believe most people would do well to lay aside.
The aphoristic nature of this type of teaching is precisely why it lends itself so well to be condensed in spiffy mottos on Yogi Teabags. It’s why it’s relatively easy to train kundalini yoga teachers that blurt out ‘realize that the other person is you’ on every occasion they perceive an inkling of interpersonal conflict. It’s limited in scope, and that is why it has worked so well.
It is, as I have said, a useful antidote to the dark patterns that many people build up in modern society, but it is by no means natural. Because if we replace darker patterns with lighter ones, we are still constructing. And what’s worse, we are creating teacher identity vessels that will only take us so far in our journey but will eventually be a hindrance to becoming who we truly are.
So my call to you is: unstructure yourself, cast off your constructed teacher persona, stop promising people their problems will end if they just do X, and start relating to people in a real way. If you are a natural teacher, you cannot help to continue to teach. If not, nothing is lost. There are many other avenues of existence to explore.
Bless you all