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Zabel Article, Part 2: Cult Control

I don’t like writing this, but the roots and context of Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan are far more simple than Rob Zabel makes it sound: the practice was designed, implemented, standardized and disseminated worldwide in order to create and control a cult. The reason I don’t like writing that is because I was a practitioner, which means I fell for it. The reason I created this blog is that good people are still falling for it.

A major investigation that focused on Bhajan’s sexual improprieties, which were many, also found that he imposed an extraordinary amount of control on his community and students. The yoga practice he prescribed to people was outside the scope of the study, but Bhajan’s cultlike control over individuals and groups is built into the yoga teachings that attracted people in the first place.

For example, many community members and students “were inhibited from speaking out by Bhajan because they feared the consequences of doing so. They had observed that those who did speak out were usually shunned, shamed, or driven from the community. [They] understood that Yogi Bhajan was God, or had been raised to see him that way. This view led them to compromise their own agency in service of someone they saw as all-powerful.”[1]

It is still the case that this yoga and its teachers are seen by most practitioners as above criticism. It works, they say, and that’s good enough. Yet the practice came from Bhajan alone, despite what KRI wants us now to believe, and Bhajan was a cult leader. The experiences of many who have practiced KYATBYB conform to what authoritative sources list as characteristics of cults and how people are impacted in cult-like organizations.[2]

“After weighing all of the relevant information available to us,” the investigators wrote, “we have sufficient evidence to conclude it is more likely than not that Yogi Bhajan employed a variety of methods to control his students including compartmentalization, quid pro quo, promises, threats, slander, phone calls, guarding, and/or telling women they were his wife.”[3]

Rob Zabel’s article refuses to consider that the roots and context of KYATBYB could be this kind of cult-like control. Instead it relies heavily on the theory of Guvinder Singh, a 23-year-old Britisher, that Bhajan could not have single-handedly created this yoga system. “One trumped-up individual coming to the west couldn't invent an entire system by himself,” said Singh. “It's impossible.”[4]

Actually it's not, and he did. Nevertheless, the Zabel article attempts to explain the historical roots of the practice.[5] We will explore how he does that, but not before asking the first and most important question: Why?

Why prove a historical basis for the type of yoga that KRI wants badly to continue spreading far and wide, throughout the world? Many of those who never stopped practicing it say that lineage doesn’t matter. Some people have continued to practice this type of yoga, they say, because it works. It’s not the teacher, they say, it’s the teachings.

The most compelling counter to that argument is that hundreds of thousands of people have discontinued the practice in the past year, once they realized that it was created and propagated not to make them healthier, but to make them more dependent on a criminal and his organization.

Because of that, a lineage and legacy needs to be established by those who want to expand this form of yoga beyond those who are satisfied to be doing it simply "because it works." In other words, to sell things like teacher training again, for thousands of dollars per student. These three questions need to be answered before 3HO and KRI will be able to regain lost business, listed here in no particular order, as they are equally important:

  • What is the connection between this yoga practice and its Sikh mantras?

  • Was the yoga practice Bhajan left behind more than an extension of his cult-leader behaviors that have now been exposed?

  • Was Bhajan legitimately authorized to be considered a master of kundalini yoga, to have the title Mahan Tantric, and to formulate thousands of yoga sets for students to follow?

In upcoming blogs, we will take a look at how Zebel deals with this set of questions.


[2] Olive Branch, p. 60. For example, see Tilgner L., Dowie T.K., and Denning N. Recovery from church, institutional, and cult abuse. Integrative Psychology, July 2015, page 8; and Freedom of Mind Resource Center.

[3] Olive Branch, p. 60.

[4] Gurmukh Yogis Q & A with Guvinder Singh (December 24, 2020).

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