Former followers say he abused his position for power, money and sex
A slow, painful awakening led Premka Kaur Khalsa, a top secretary in Yogi Bhajan’s Sikh organization for almost 20 years, to leave the religious group in 1984, she said.
Premka Khalsa, 66, said she could no longer participate because of the inconsistencies she said she had witnessed between the yogi’s behavior and his teachings — the deception and abuse of power.
In 1986, she sued Yogi Bhajan and his Sikh organizations, settling out of court. In court papers, she alleged that the married yogi had sexually and physically assaulted her, that he was sexually involved with other secretaries and that, as the head of his administration, she worked long hours for little or no pay.
The organization’s religious leaders vehemently deny those allegations. Its business leaders did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Kamalla Rose Kaur, 55, another former member of Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) who wrote for a grass-roots newsletter in the community, said a light switched on for her when she was researching and writing about religious groups and thought, “Hey, we’re acting a lot like a cult.”
Former member Guru Bir Singh Khalsa, 60, who had been appointed a “lifetime minister” by Yogi Bhajan, said he received a wake-up call in the early 1990s, when Sue Stryker, then an investigator with the Monterey County District Attorney’s office, laid out evidence linking members of his spiritual community to criminal activity. Stryker, now retired, said a member of Yogi Bhajan’s Sikh community pleaded guilty and served time in prison for a telemarketing scam that bilked seniors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
These and other ex-members of Yogi Bhajan’s organization say they aren’t surprised by events unfolding now, six years after his death. Legal disputes threaten to splinter the community. Allegations of the yogi’s past wrongdoing are resurfacing. And the future of the Sikh organization’s businesses are in question.
The outcome will ripple far beyond the religious group, whose companies have become intertwined with the local economy and business community.
In Multnomah County Circuit Court, the group’s religious leaders are suing the group’s business leaders over control of the community’s multimillion dollar businesses, including Golden Temple natural foods in Eugene and Akal Security in New Mexico.
“Organizations/cults that have charismatic leaders and their followings, once their charismatic leader dies, this is generally the kind of thing that occurs,” Premka Khalsa said.
“It’s the meltdown of a cult,” said Kamalla Kaur, who spent nearly 20 years in 3HO, and now runs an Internet forum for ex-members. “They actually kept it together longer than we expected.”
“The group, from my point of view, was always about power and money,” he said. “(Yogi) Bhajan is the consummate … cult leader. By not specifying someone to take over, there often are these kinds of political battles and meltdowns — people basically being greedy like Yogi Bhajan was and wanting more of a slice for themselves.”
Attorney John McGrory, who represents the religious leaders in the Multnomah case, said his clients strongly disagree with the description of their organization as a cult. They “believe very strongly that it’s a religion,” he said. “They practice and follow it, and they are ministers.” The proof, he said, is in the thousands of adherents who still practice it.
McGrory said the real source of the discord in the community appears to be that the assets Yogi Bhajan built up over the years are being taken for private use, with the blessing of the managers the yogi appointed to safeguard them.
Gary Roberts, attorney for the business leaders, has said they’ve done nothing wrong and have acted in the interests of the Sikh community.
When a founder of an organization, or the head of a family, passes away, disputes among successors are common, said Krishna Singh Khalsa, a Eugene Sikh for 40 years.
“There’s nothing spiritual or charismatic or cultlike about that,” he said. “It’s simply where interests clash.”
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