On Tolerance

For anybody that’s been able to catch the recent flick “Milk”, there’s probably no doubt that questions of the tolerance within your own family, friends, religion or culture would arise. Growing up in the ashram, I had to listen to a lot of homophobic, ignorant and intolerant remarks about homosexuality. To be fair, I had to listen to a lot of ignorant comments about people living in mainstream society – people who drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and do recreational drugs, people who listen to heavy metal, rap or techno. And, it was mostly from my own family that I heard the homophobic sentiments and ignorant name calling.

3HO describes itself as a “tolerant” community. I’m not really sure what exactly they mean by this, because there is little diversity within 3HO. In the 70’s it grew out of the conversion of white, christian-born hippies of the 60’s, and has since spread through different regions of the world, mostly within christian cultures. They preached tolerance for other religious beliefs, while maintaining rigid superiority for their own faith, and a VERY rigid attitude towards lifestyle. Lifestyle choices were not among the list of things to be tolerant of.

Once a person joins, and becomes assimilated with 3HO, any chance for real development and growth ceases, and the individual is left to grapple with (or ignore) his or her hang-ups, phobias, neurosis, and even mental disorders. If one was homophobic before entering the group, chances of changing his attitude mid-way through life among the group are unlikely, and lingering sentiments remain and continue to be perpetuated.

While I don’t think it’s fair to label every member of 3HO a homophobe, I do think there is a shared responsibility. As an adolescent, 3HO really hit me hard was when one of my own generation acknowledged that he was gay. He was cast out by his mother and step-father and left to support himself in his late teens. Never having been given a foundation in the first place to live in mainstream society, in addition to being told he had no place among his family because of his sexual orientation, he floundered and suffered with addiction for quite some time. The community was not there for him. Even with empathy, if he didn’t feel he had a place among the elder generation, how could he have confided in his own?

This is when the question started coming up among 2nd generationers: Where exactly does 3HO stand on the issue of homosexuality? When a 2nd generation member asked Bibiji (Yogi Bhajan’s wife and current authority figure on policy) about the official policy towards gays in the community and whether gay marriage could be administered in the sikh temple, the answer was: “We welcome people of all lifestyles, but we will not perform a same-sex marriage in our Gurdwara”. That’s the litmus test on tolerance.

Since a member of 3HO’s lifestyle is dictated to them by Yogi Bhajan, who has lectured on pretty much everything from brushing your teeth, to sex, food, thoughts, etc, they began to truly believe that homosexuality is wrong for some but okay for others. Among the sex talks he does go into why gay sex for men isn’t yogic, but why gay sex for women is sublime by citing some hokus pokus mystical yogic gobbledy-gook. Unwilling to look further, the community does not see that it has nothing to do with being gay, nor are they able to identify that these are his fetishistic issues.

By blindsiding otherwise tolerant individuals with myths, he’s done actual harm by generating an entire community which has been okay with institutionalizing homophobia. The blame lies in him and his “policy team”, aka Khalsa Council – for even one second generation child, teen or adult who has been disenfranchised for who they are, and had to suffer for it. It’s the kind of pain that no one ever deserves, yet perpetuates among so many cultures, and needs to change especially among any “new religious movement” that preaches tolerance.

But it’s a cult, so how can one expect anything other than absurdity? True, they don’t even come close to right wing christian groups or the mormons who have done immense damage, but I do think that individual damages do need to be accounted for.

6 Replies to “On Tolerance”

  1. At the SSS funeral services in NM, I listened as several teenage girls, born into the community, talked about how the Sikh community (converts from the early days mostly) were referring to the non-Sikhs in attendance, the yoga students who were not *born* into the community but rather chose to be there. They called them ‘students’ – ‘oh, them, they’re just students’ like it was some kind of derogatory term. The girls were insulted at having been mistaken for ‘students’, having gone out without their turbans. I just said ‘Aren’t we ALL students here?’ I think that put it in perspective for them…

    The next day I ran into an old friend of the family’s – someone closer to my mothers age, who had always treated me like a little princess. This time it was quite different. Although modestly clothed for a funeral, I made no attempt to hide my cut hair, my earrings, I wore my makeup… And so, instead of the usual warm greeting, what I got was ‘oh. It’s *you*,’ in a disgusted tone. The sudden sharp realization that the way I was treated before had absolutely nothing to do with who I actually was, was quite an eye-opener.

    Working at a summer camp in the mid-nineties, I also observed/experienced the same kind of favoritism to people ‘born’ into the Dharma, although at the time I didn’t realise that was the way it was – I thought it was the exception not the rule. I was given the cushy jobs and praised, while the ‘students’ who chose to be there of their own accord (not because they were stuck there with their mother), were given the hard jobs – the kids in diapers and such – and were criticized and put down although they worked very hard…

  2. Whenever I go back someone random (who knew me “when I was this big”) usually says: “Oh, your’e back!”

    One time I wore a turban to service to please the folks, and everyone was gushing at how “beautiful” I looked.

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  3. Kelly, thank you for your thoughtful exploration of “tolerance” within the 3HO community. Great post.


  4. This topic of intolerance has always been what struck me as the most obviously hypocritical in 3HO (and through the entire sikh religion). The blatent homophobia and sexism (and even racism) and general intolerance towards anyone who expresses themselves outwardly in any form other than a bigger turban is the main reason I chose to live outside the community as soon as India was over.

  5. I was in 3ho for 20 yrs before I left. After leaving and going back to the the people of my generation, I thought they all must be crazy because they occasionally drank or ate meat, listened to rock and roll or who knows what? I was surprised to see that in the town where I moved to the divorce rate was actually lower than 3ho and most of them were doing fine. It was a lot to digest all at once.

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