In the time between school in India and my leaving 3HO for good, I lived in the Española ashram, and briefly worked for the Khalsa companies. This was the most difficult time in my young 3HO life. By order of the Siri Singh Sahib (aka Yogi Bhajan), I was ordered to leave college, and told to work for one of the 3HO companies – for $5.00 per hour, no benefits, and a strict “bana” dress code. This happened at a time when many of us 2nd generation young adults were being instructed on how we were supposed to approach our futures, and many of us young women were winding up with the worse fate of an arranged marriage. We were ALL told that we would one day “own all of this”, that these companies would someday be in our hands, that we would be the ones running them, earning income for ourselves, our families, and the community. The future of 3HO was idealized. The Siri Singh Sahib told us that all his wealth would someday be “ours”, that it never really “belonged” to him, that it belonged to “the Khalsa”. He told me, personally, that college was a waste of time, and that I could learn all I wanted at his companies AND be rich, and that college would not guarantee me a future like these companies would.
But the truth was that my job at the company turned out to be mind-numbing, and almost immediately after I started it, I felt like a corporate shill, and I felt like I had no future. My worst days were when I had to work with any of Yogi Bhajan’s personal staff. But it was those days living in New Mexico that it occurred to me that there was a deep economic disparity between him (and his inner circle) and the rest of “the Sangat”. 3HO is one of those groups that can proudly boast financial successes among many of its members, but the other side of that story is that many many members of the New Mexico community lived for a very long time in poverty and volunteered much of their free time to make him and his inner circle comfortable while they stayed at “the Ranch”. The majority of New Mexico Sangat did not enjoy the luxuries at the Ranch, like the swimming pool, but did work to maintain its beautiful facade, spent nights in the security booth, and many late evenings fixing meals and cleaning up. I remember that the volunteer force was large, and well coordinated by the community leaders and his inner circle. As a young adult, I was expected to volunteer on a weekly basis, wether it was fixing meals or cleaning up.
When I began to lose interest in the community, I was called into his living room, and he yelled at me, calling me a “fucking bitch” and a “prostitute drug dealer”. One of his staff members pulled me aside and told me that “he’s telling me this because he loves me”. Her name was Siri Karam, and I’ve resented her ever since, for being an accomplice to this man who was berating me and humiliating me.
In recent news, Siri Karam is now one of the leading figures in a hostile corporate take-over of the 3HO companies since the death of Yogi Bhajan in 2004. She, and three others took over Golden Temple for $100, and have since been firing workers, and locking members of the community out of their common spaces. It’s a long, drawn out legal battle, and it’s ugly.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but I’m deeply angered and dismayed by these turn of events. I know I have mentioned this in my blog before, I do believe most of the members of 3HO are good, honest, open-minded people, who’s honest intention is to have a close community where they can share religious and spiritual experiences. For them, their worst mistake was to put their trust in an authoritarian man who did not have their best interest at heart, and who benefitted largely off their hard work and 10% of their income.
The sad truth is that Yogi Bhajan’s rhetoric meant nothing in legal terms, and now that the companies are in dire straits, it’s those hard-working, community minded folks whose futures are in peril. The part that angers me the most is that for much of the 2nd generation adults who have stayed and worked for these companies, and for some it has been since they were in their teens, they will have no education and no savings to fall back on if they lose their jobs. There are no 2nd generation executives at any of these companies, to date. We were treated like shills this whole time, and while I may have been able to leave, get an education, and find success, my peers who were not able to do so, have lost out. For the many 2nd generation adults who were instructed to marry very young, who have been put into arranged marriages, who had children when they themselves were children, they were being pimped out by not only Yogi Bhajan, but our parents too.
Our parents pressured us daily to follow “the Siri Singh Sahib”, to trust him, and to obey and serve him. To them, that would be our coming of age. Our parents so blindly followed him, that they couldn’t see the forest for the trees – that he was living in exorbitant wealth, using their hard-earned money to fund his and his inner circle’s lavish and luxurious lifestyles, and pimping off young women to men ten years their senior, and exploiting our cheap labor.
I’m hoping that after all this passes, that the 3HO community can begin to build a truly democratic community, one that is focused on some of the more universal tenets of sikhism, not Yogi Bhajan’s twisted and dogmatic version of it. I’m hoping that folks will truly provide their children with a sustainable future, and encourage higher education, critical thought and independent thinking. I’m hoping that they will see that their children do not need to be shipped off to Miri Piri Academy, and that when they stay home with their parents, they will reap the benefits of particpating in a constructive community, not one that is subservient to the needs of one, sole authoritarian presence.
4 Replies to “They pimped us out”
May I ask what caused Yogi Bhajan to yank you out of college? Did your mother complain about you? What caused him to notice you? Thanks
He was noticing everyone my age at the time. In NM, if one wanted to remain in college, one would have had to advocate strongly for his/her case, and even still probably would have worked part time.
kelly, thank you for saying this, and for saying it so passionately and articulately.
I am only passing by on this site. I was in 3HO (1st generation) for 17 years – no marriage, no kids. I want to say how happy and glad I am that you people managed to find your own identities after such difficult experiences. I am an English teacher and it really makes me feel great to see how well you have expressed yourselves in print.
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