Who is Yogi Bhajan?

Yogi Bhajan, a Master of Kundalini Yoga by the age of 16 – itself a rare feat –gave his first lecture at a Los Angeles high school gym on January 5, 1969. Then a 39-year-old recent émigré from India, he left behind a government career in order to realize the vision of bringing Kundalini Yoga to the West. No matter that not a single person was present that evening; he came to teach and he proceeded to speak to the empty hall.

Today Kundalini Yoga is everywhere. It is very popular and the Kundalini experience is even discussed on daytime television talk shows. But in 1970 it was taboo. It was mysteriously alluded to in spiritual writings as the “secret teachings” or couched in symbols and metaphors such as “the serpent power”. Nobody actually taught it. And, for good reason, it was forbidden. For thousands of years of yogic tradition it was kept secret, whispered from the mouth of the guru to the ear of the most worthy disciple. There was even a curse attached: One who breaks the secret of Kundalini Yoga and teaches it openly would die within the year.

These traditions, taboos and curses weighed heavily on the Yogi when he saw his first students in Los Angeles in 1969. They needed Kundalini Yoga. Anything else would have been a sham. With full knowledge of the consequences and convinced that he would die within the year, he taught Kundalini Yoga freely and openly to anyone who wanted to learn. He broke the taboo. He figured that in one year he could introduce the basic teachings, raise the consciousness of the counter culture generation, break them out of the drug dependency and set them on a path to a healthy, happy and holy lifestyle. The benefits outweighed the detriments, even if it meant his death.

A year after he started teaching he became very sick. He faced death with courage, put himself into a deep meditative state and embraced his final release. The Yogi had overcome his attachments to the earth and was ready to join with the Infinite. His students, however, were not so ready to see him go. They began non-stop chanting to heal him. In ashrams and yoga centers around the world small and large groups of his students gathered, prayed, shared food and chanted. They would not let him go. To the end of his life he maintained that his time on this earth was complete on that day in 1970. He was supposed to die. It was their prayers that did not let him go then and it was their prayers that sustained him through the rest of his life. He never asked anything from anyone, except, simply, “Pray for me.”

He sparked a movement whose many tendrils have wound their way into our culture. Yogi Bhajan blazed a trail, which today, after more than 30 years of determined effort on the part of 3HO and the Kundalini Research Institute, yoga and meditation have gained widespread acceptance in the West. This popular attention speaks not only to the proven benefits of yoga and meditation, but to the increasing public interest in spirituality and a healthy lifestyle.

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