I’m coming up on the 13 year mark of blogging about growing up in Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO Kundalini Yoga cult.
I left the cult in 1994 (got kicked out actually). I could have fully walked away and just never looked back. Sometimes I question why I didn’t do just that. But, I didn’t. I spoke up. I spoke out.
I do want to acknowledge gratitude to the people who have been taken the time to research and shine more light on the 2nd gen story: Philip Deslippe and Stacie Stukin. Also, gratitude to GuruNischan for hosting the Uncomfortable Conversations podcast and for creating a space for shining some sunlight on so many 2nd gen. stories. And, of course, sending so much gratitude to the SGA’s who posted their story here. Thanks guys.
My first experience with re-connecting with ‘indiakids’ was on a chat forum on Yahoo in 1998. We mostly just got into messy arguments and flame-wars. Once I encouraged a guy to choose his own path and not to worry about what his parents would think. What happened when I said that? Someone from that group called up my grandmother and told her that I was “dealing drugs to the kids in India“. That’s a wild accusation. My mom calls me up, wanting to know what’s going on. This was a mom that barely ever called me, never sent me financial help, never checked in on me. But ‘dealing drugs to the kids in India’? Okay. Spare me the faux-concern. I was just hurt and I was incredulous. The message: You’re on your own, kid. Don’t try to ‘help’ the indiakids that are still out there. It WILL come back to you.
Damn. What’s it going to take.
About a decade later… 2008 maybe? Facebook was introduced. Which meant that old classmates could just find you, or worse, ‘tag’ you turban and all. This annoyed me and triggered me. I considered these to be micro-aggressions. These were trespasses. Photos of me wearing cult getup that my current non-cult friends and colleagues would see. Just. No!
Then, someone posted the famous Dirty Socks photo. This was a clear documentation of straight-up abuse. Here is this photo of 9-10 year-old boys being humiliated like that. For what? For not having clean clothes. Little boys being punished just because an adult didn’t do their job. This, though, wasn’t enough to cause enough 2nd gen folks to get serious. Some of the older 2nd gen GNFC “seniors” (as I called them when I was little) defended, diminished and dismissed anyone, any time they expressed a sense of pain. If a chat thread went deeper than bro-y nostalgia, it wasn’t deemed “positive” enough. They shamed anyone who dare say anything critical of 3HO, Yogi Bhajan, his yoga, or his boarding schools. So, yeah. Those groups ultimately fell apart, and as time went by these SGA’s essentially muted other SGA’s with whom they didn’t want to hear anything ‘negative’ (or the other way around).
After I saw Dirty Socks I cratered. But also I started going to Therapy. My own Therapist shared a blog by Gina Catena who is someone who grew up in the TM cult. I liked that idea. So I decided to start the Indiakids Live Your Life blog, now rishiknots. It would be a place where I could just write free form, with no chat threads, and no duty or responsibility to anyone except myself. Some 2nd gens found it refreshing, and wrote me privately to testify to their pain and their experience. But if I ever did ask them to share a story on the blog their signal would go silent. There were 2nd gens who wrote me private notes that were critical of what I was doing. No, not thoughtful critiques on my writing style. Repudiations of my position and gaslighting of my first-hand experiences, a la “I don’t remember it that way”, “not everyone remembers it like you do”, or even “how dare you“.
Thirteen years doing this, my indiakids inbox is just looking like a dumpster for people’s messy Trauma. I’ve absorbed and held all of it. Even the criticisms and the repudiations. And at the same time I’m holding our generations baggage, I’m becoming a magnet for the Wacko-World people… the “graduates” as some of them call themselves. These are 1st generation boomers who exited 3HO in the 80’s & 90’s but remained in contact over the years. Their forum started out navel gazing at their own pathos, gossiping about current 3HO and -sigh- completely ignoring what they did to their children. For that, I checked them hard. All it did though, was make me a magnet for more of their dumping and to try to get me embroiled in their world. I also somehow became a magnet for people who take issue with 3HO Sikhs “not being true Sikhs”, who mistook my criticisms of the cult I was raised in as–oh I dunno–tacit enrollment in their cause? Nah. I’d say “I’m not a Sikh. I never was a Sikh. I’m just not interested in this as a cause.”
[I am interested in de-colonizing our past though, and in dismantling the racist and culturally appropriating aspects of growing up “gora sikh”. More on that another time]
When we were children, we were conditioned to understand that it wasn’t ever about us and our needs. We were conditioned to serve other people’s needs. We were consistently abandoned for the cause and the mission. And abandoned again if we didn’t go along. So as an adult, to make the affirmative decision to make it about myself–my needs, and how me and my cohort were treated–means I have to understand there’s going to be more relationship abandonment. Even from people who claim to care. Even when–no, especially when you assert some boundaries. All those hanger-oners who wanted something from me but didn’t get it, they’ve “peaced” outta here.
In 2014 a man named Angelo Lancaster (Kartar Khalsa MPA class of 1999) murdered his dad Simran Khalsa, who used to live in Española. This happened in the Bay Area where I lived so I actually saw it in the news. I was like WHAT! I rattled something off on FB and made my post public: “THIS right here is 3HO’s fault”. Here was a child with known mental health struggles that they wantonly shipped off to a place with NO help for him. Here was a young adult who had to hear “if only you’d meditate and wear your turban more, you’d be better” BS. And in my post I said, “Boycott all of it–the Yogi brand tea, the Kundalini Yoga stuff, the Music labels, ALL of it. It’s ALL contributing to this ongoing horror show”.
What I’m trying to talk about is the way that mental health is ignored in this community. Did I say ‘ignored’? How naive of me. No. Mental health care is actively hindered. By Kriya Kapitalism–the shilling of wellness products and branded new-age remedies and devotional mantras and kriyas and kirtans. And it’s why it’s part and parcel of the ignorance. It is Light-Washing and Spiritual Bypassing. Quackery–which is what this is–actively contributes to the needless suffering that so many of our cohort have experienced.
Psychotic episode, after psychotic episode. Children who’ve reached the ultimate limit of their suffering to the point that the only fitting response is full-blown incoherent violence. Those of us 2nd gen within earshot must bear witness to the pain, and we feel it sympathetically. Yet most of it could be prevented IF this community could muster up some empathy for their children.
But what happened when I spoke to this issue? I was called… Crazy.
Simply for daring to call out a clear and present pattern: Trauma-related psychosis in SGA’s recently returned from boarding school in India. More people since then–at MPA and at home–have needlessly suffered, and have even died. Some have taken their own lives. All of it is 3HO’s fault.
By 2018 I was getting extremely weary of that text… the “did you hear” text. WTF was I supposed to do. Just hold it in my pocket until someone wants to actually deal with it? And then what. Put myself in the firing line for people who just want to label me as crazy? Why would I do that.
And in early 2020, more trouble at 3HO HQ meant more triggers and more of the same. A cascading shit-storm of sexual violence, abuse and misconduct allegations against Yogi Bhajan–many of them coming from women born and raised in 3HO–created a PR nightmare that they couldn’t (fully) ignore.
And then, my dad started giving my number out (without my permission). I was like NO WAY. I’m not doing this. FUCK if I care. No more repeatedly bearing witness to unspeakable horror. I was so sick of nothing changing, and of being scapegoated by every corner of this cult from the die-hards, to the ‘graduates’, to the documentary filmmakers who think cults are cute, to the current MPA kids (who would rather come at me than at their own derelict parents).
It’s now 2021, a year later. Upon reflection, yep, I got pulled in to the whirlpool, I did. In 2020 I re-booted this blog, and I started an Instagram account. I accept that it’s been, well, unavoidable. And yet, I feel like part of me got involved simply to say, “don’t get involved”, “Live your Life”. But it’s a whirlpool, do it doesn’t matter what the motive is for sticking your toe in. No matter what, you’re circling the drain with everyone else.
The past year has been the hardest, most gut-wrenching period of online forums for 2nd gen. On one-hand I am relieved that people are beginning to come out. On the other hand, there’s the part of me that feels like I’m seeing history repeating itself. SGA’s are pouring their hearts out, discussing and exposing mountains of abuse, heaps of suffering. Child sexual abuse. Physical abuse and Torture. Neglect. Abandonment. Lies. Manipulation. Deceit. Grift. Coercion. Ex-communication. Sexual misconduct. Homophobia. Racism. Abuses of power.
So much of which has been shared before, yet handily ignored. These tracks are developing some deep ruts. And it’s scary and re-traumatizing to share stories, hear stories. It gets increasingly difficult to hold space for all that while maintaining a life.
And alongside these deeply rutted tracks of pain is an even deeper rut of ongoing light-washing, diminishing and dismissiveness a la “I had a good time in India” or “it wasn’t all bad” or “it was worth it”. It might seem well-intentioned. But when I hear this, what I’m interpreting is: It’s okay that some people end up the collateral damage for a select few brainwashed schmucks to convince themselves they “benefited” from the “unique experience”. That’s what I hear. And that is SO twisted.
Diminishing is Damaging.
And with what we know? At this point, anyone having difficulty saying out loud: “This is not acceptable”, then they are tacitly normalizing rampant Abuse. And by normalizing abuse, they are enabling future abuse, and they are perpetrating future abuse, and they are participating in a culture of abuse. Full fucking stop. Demonize and scapegoat me all you want. Because, you know what? That tracks. It’s what abusers do. They’d DARVO for eternity if they could (that’s Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. See Institutional Betrayal)
This whole blog post got started because I got thinking on the 2nd gens’ seemingly masochistic penchant for focusing on ‘the positive’. I’m seeing people express a need for a group effort to show some gratitude. Already? Perhaps there’s a feeling that in order to keep the ball rolling forward 3HO needs to be coddled and praised. Oh that familiar feeling creeping up again… if 3HO boomers don’t receive sufficient praise, they may just revoke everything.
Do you see how this is your own wellbeing getting dangled in front of you and held hostage by a false dichotomy?
For example, the (up to) $10K reimbursement for Therapy costs that were just made available. Progress noted. Limitations, also noted. The offer doesn’t date back prior to September 2020. It certainly was not available to me when I started therapy 14-15 years ago. Hoo-ee. When I first spoke openly about being in therapy, my trolls actually weaponized it against me. Don’t ever let anyone say to you “you need therapy”… That’s abusive talk.
Broadly speaking on the whole, the reimbursement is a pittance.
Still, use what’s available to you, so long as it doesn’t conflict with any legal stuff you might be engaged in, or doesn’t put you in a place of not feeling safe.
Here is the link to the forms.
This pittance though.
It illustrates perfectly how this culture of abuse has managed to perform the minute calculus on just how little they must do in order appease those who are conditioned from birth to not ask for anything. There is no-one more acutely aware than this cult is that a boundary-less refugee child has no foundation, no rights, no home, and no community. And that this boundary-less refugee child will cross oceans and mountains in search of some scrap of belonging in the world. Maybe even would crawl back to their war-torn home if it meant a glimmer of hope of being seen just for a second.
What I’m trying to say is, this kind of trauma-bonding mechanism was the intention all along.
And all throughout 2020 it was on full display.
Make them tell their stories… again… again… again. We didn’t get that last part, tell us again… We didn’t write it down. Oh well. We didn’t record it. Oh well. Here’s a pittance. I know it’s money you’re after… What are you complaining about now? Liars. Stop living in the past… Go away… Or stay… And tell us again… We never knew … It’s not our fault… I was an idealist… Karma… You looked so regal… Your cheeks were so rosy… Look at you now. You turned out fine... Tell us again…Tell us again… I didn’t get that… Tell us again… I’m sorry if you think it was bad… I’m sorry you think I’m a bad parent… Oh woe, I’m such a bad parent… My childhood was traumatic too… Don’t you think it was hard for me too?… Collapsing now… No more… I can’t hear any more of this… Go away… You’re hurting me. No. Come back… Tell us again… again… again… Oh well… May the loving grace of the guru surround you in blissful light and love and loving light… May your karma be cleared so that you may serve me in my dharma. Again.. Again… Tell us again.
This cult–that from day-one demands full commitment to the ideology and the mission–deserves no gratitude for their faux-machinations, or their pittances. We should all know enough by now to understand how this works–that a corrupted institution with a vast history of institutional abuse would only be expected to make loud self-congratulatory waves even on the most minor efforts. And that this self-congratulatory exercise shall be extended ad nauseam in order to re-position and re-affirm their spot as the ones who decide the rules of the game, and who will continually look for ways to slide-back the goal posts in their favor.
The remarkable absurdity in this–this past years’ exercises by us 3HO’s SGA’s–is that we are essentially asking a cult to stop being a cult.
Unless we wake up to that absurd reality, we will remain trapped in their mirror. If we are going to get out, we need to free ourselves from the pain-trauma-pain cycle. In which the people in our lives who were supposed to care for us did not care for us, and yet who continue to have no problem trespassing on our carefully built lives. They scratch at our scabs or they outright rip open our wounds, and then flee as fast as they can. Leaving us once again to patch ourselves up all on on our own.