Monday, October 29, 2018

Halloween, 1984 – an update

It's been ten years since I wrote about what it was like to be in India on the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated. What took place on Halloween 34 years ago still remains a Specter that haunts. It's the specter of memory.

Let's neutralize this ghost with knowledge. Read this book: Amritsar: Indira Gandhi's Last Battle by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob. Because for me, things became a lot more clear.

For one, it fully confirmed that the Dal Khalsa leaders were housed both at Nanak Niwas and Guru Ram Das Niwas at the very same time we were there. Which was the winter of 1982-83 and the winter 1983-84 (when we were mostly in Anandpur Sahib, Damdama Sahib and Fatehgursahib, but made trips to Amritsar on occasion). This must be why I remember seeing men with guns. By the time we were at school in Mussoorie, Bindranwale–along with his people and a massive caché of weapons–moved their HQ from the Niwas to the 3rd floor of the Akal Takht. By the spring of 84, Amritsar had erupted in unchecked violence–much of it at the hands of Bindranwale–and culminating in the disastrous Operation Blue Star. As fall approached, revenge plans were solidified and Indira Gandhi lost her life. And we were up in the mountains, wondering if the riots and war that had broken out would reach our school. We weren't told much. Just to put our shoes and sweaters by our beds in case we had to be evacuated.

I have always wanted to to know more. I have always wanted to connect the dots between what we experienced as young children, and what was actually going on in India at the time. Well this book makes the horror clearer than I have ever known.

And the violence and aftermath at this time was indeed beyond horrific, but the book does not make it propagandistic. It does a good job of providing thorough political, religious and geographical coverage. And Tully and Jacob are equally thorough in outlining the arrangement of the Golden Temple complex–which includes the surrounding hostels–allowing us to appreciate the sense of time and place as we follow the various paths of people and activities that took place during this time.

But, what else can it do?

The book underscores the seriousness of the situation. So for me, it tells me that our parents were woefully misled and therefore woefully ill-prepared to deal with any situation that might have been on this level of violence and catastrophe. It tells me that our parents were given license to downplay, or even rationalize this period of political upheaval. So by the time Ms. Gandhi was assassinated, they were primed and ready to ignore its gravitas. I actually have an old VHS tape in which my father is literally doing just this: distancing, excusing, rationalizing and downplaying. Remind me to transfer it to a digital copy.

No one in their rational mind would send children alone into a war zone. No one. So why did our parents do it? 

One, they had already been conditioned to ignore and suppress their parental instincts. That physical and emotional bond between child and parent had been deprived time and again–through all the camps, family child swapping, and finally boarding school. It's the precipitous journey of a mind being exerted upon through acts of coercion.


I remember the winter of 1983/84. My mother came to India to be a winter break guide for all the little girls. At the end, she took the three of us girls to Amritsar for a week before she was to head back home. We stayed in a room in Nanak Niwas. It was delightful and wonderful. We prayed at the Golden Temple, we ate Langar everyday and our dear Mataji bought each of us a special gift: a harmonium for my older sister, a harp for me, and sword for my little sister. Photos of the trip are happy and cheerful. Sometimes I think: If they wanted us to learn Sikhi, couldn't we have just done it this way? Smaller, more intimate vacations to Amritsar with our parents? 

I also remember the day she left. She was kneeling down toward us and she began to cry. She told us she loved us, and she told us that she would write to us every week (which she always did). Then, we parted ways, and the joy and fun came to an abrupt halt. Our toys were confiscated right away. That special gift from my beautiful and loving Mataji was stolen from me the moment she was out of sight.

When I reflect on the tears in my Mataji's eyes that day, I think about her feelings too, and it's just heartbreaking. Her pain must have been very real. The pain of separation–even if someone was thinking they were doing the right thing–is still very real. It's real, it's horrible, and it's unconscionable.

Thanks for reading. You can hit me up on Twitter if you have comments or questions.

My original post "Halloween, 1984" is here. In it I refer to the Khalistan Separatist Movement, which is more or less synonymous with Dal Khalsa. But please note that there are complexities to all these designations, and it's better to just do the research.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

What 'Normalizing' Looks Like

Are these phrases familiar to you?
"I'm still glad for the experience"
"I wouldn't trade it for anything"
"I'd rather have been in India than in the U.S."
"My parents were worse, so I was better off away from them"
"I'm okay now, so it must have been okay"
"It wasn't all bad"
If stuff like this sounds familiar it's because it is familiar. These are words that get said all the time in relationship to dysfunctional and chaotic upbringings, including our upbringing in 3HO Sikh Dharma.

Thing is, these are philosophically hollow and emotionally dishonest things to say.

Childhoods are full of experiences, both good and bad and which form the basis for development. Whether a child's basic human needs are met or neglected/denied can irrevocably shape how our brains work, for better or for worse. Pertaining to the deprivation of basic human needs, we should not be getting used to saying that we would "rather have it that way". Ever.

What is okay–healthy even–is to be able to recall childhood with a realistic sense of ambivalence. Our difficult childhoods in 3HO and in India were nevertheless filled with ambiguities and contradictions. There were bad times and there were good times. There were tears but there was also laughter. The connectedness between us kids–the play and the laughter in the midst of what can only be compared to Lord of the Flies–was a sure sign of our resilience and determination. This in no way signifies that the decision to send us away was in any way acceptable. That decision was inherently wrong.

And the ambiguity can be explained. Our brains were working really, really hard at creating artificial, internal scaffoldings and supports for ourselves, out of the need for survival. Because the actual reality–the total lack of support and affection– is so bleak and depressing that we wouldn't have survived it if we hadn't invented internal coping skills. Those mechanisims–that might have once been really crucial to survival–do become vestiges later on, and carry over into adulthood and manifest in a myriad of emotionally dysfunctional ways.

Being emotionally honest about this is an important first step in stepping back from your 'normalized' experience, and toward healing, and building a truly healthy sense of self. One in which you are deserving of a good quality of life, self-esteem, self-love, and mutually healthy and beneficial relationships.

I actually coped pretty well in India. I joked around a lot, played a lot, got good grades, kept myself busy and creative, and avoided the big kids and grown-ups as much as I could. And my (personal) outcome after coming home was also pretty good. I went to college, I found love, I got married, made a nice home and I built a rewarding career for myself. None of this negates, erases, excuses, neutralizes or normalizes the actions, the poor judgement and the bad decisions of my parents or their guru Yogi Bhajan.

Put it this way: I'm okay. It wasn't okay.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

That one thing that makes me think MPA is worse:

It's the Yoga.

3HO Youth doing yoga at Miri Piri Academy, Amritsar India

I grew up in 3HO in the 80's and I attended GNFC for six years and GRD Academy for two years. While at GNFC, we did absolutely no yoga. The only time we had to do yoga was in the winter months when school was not in session. At GNFC, while we may not have been fully assimilated with Indian and Thai born students (in that our specially designed 'bana' uniforms made us stand out) our day to day schedule conformed with the school's schedule. Mornings consisted of prayer recital in the dorms for young children and gurudwara for the older children, followed by breakfast, prep (study hall) and assembly. Then we had classes until 4:00pm. Tea time followed school, and after that we had an hour or two of free time, or sports time. Then, gurudwara again (for the big kids), followed by dinner, and more study hall. Lights out was at 10:00pm. There was simply no room for yoga, gatka or much of anything else outside the bounds of a traditional/colonial style boarding school routine. It might have been grueling and filled with drudgery, but at least we didn't have to wake up at 3:30 in the morning.

The 3:30AM sadhanas were part of our winter break, especially during those years we didn't get to go back to the US. It sucked. Some of the guides made us take freezing cold showers before meditation and yoga... all taking place before the sun came up. I won't go into the belief system that led to us being sleep deprived all the time. Let's just say that... yeah. This is cult studies 101. It's easier to control people when they don't get enough sleep.

Okay, so then there was GRD Academy, as sort of intermittent in-between school that only lasted a few years. Here they made feeble attempts at a GNFC-style structure, but since Yogi Bhajan put himself at the center, he was able to mix his own stuff into it. For example, at GRD we had to wake up around 4:30am for sadhana. And our after-school stuff was largely militant–things like gatka, martial arts and calisthenics. And evenings were reserved for 3ho-style, new-age chanting and meditation. The traditional Sikh gurudwara was just on Sundays, at a local temple in Dehra Dun.

Still. At GRD, if you weren't into the devotional stuff you could, with a little effort, avoid it and plop yourself down in the back, put your head down and tune it out. I'm not saying the yoga and meditation wasn't shoved down our throats. It was. But it was just a little bit easier to ignore.

Fast forward to now. I fear that for students of the 3HO run boarding school in India, Miri Piri Academy, this is no longer the case. At MPA it is a graduation requirement to enroll in Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training. This fact alone makes MPA a de facto cult school. End of story.

Kundalini Yoga is not academic. Kundalini Yoga is not extra-curricular. Kundalini Yoga has zero connection to scholarly, historic or traditional philosophies and practices, Indian or otherwise. I've said this before and I'll say it again: Kundalini Yoga is nothing more than a hodge-podge of calisthenics-like movements, mudras and mantras–all completely invented by one person who was never a Yogi to begin with.*

But what horrifies me more than this, the banal scam of Kundalini Yoga, is that the 2nd and 3rd generation of 3HO children–children who did not choose this for themselves–are being told... get this... that Kundalini Yoga "will unblock and heal"... wait for it...

... their trauma.


My head just exploded.

Seriously. There's some very real trauma that is being dismissed and ignored here. And that which is being ignored now will only emerge later on. That which continues to be actively repressed, will likely have a resurgence in another, more destructive form, either inwardly or outwardly.

The risk right now for MPA kids is high. That pesky graduation requirement only seems benign. But is very much malignant. What it actually means is that MPA kids are being corralled as future recruiters for 3HO. And they are being deprived of a real education. Their opportunities in the world are narrower, and they are being cornered into believing that a career as a Kundalini Yoga™ brand instructor/teacher/performer may be one of their only viable occupations. I've observed a host of MPA alumni acting on it too, either working within 3HO itself, or by inserting themselves into the 'wellness' industry. I've observed the towing of a familiar line: that their upbringing with "the technology and tools" gives a semblance of authenticity and 'cred'.

Except... Kundalini Yoga is bullshit. No amount of anything that anyone does in relationship to it will ever be authentic.

Most importantly, Kundalini Yoga is not–nor will it ever be–considered an effective or acceptable treatment for trauma. The only accepted treatment for trauma or a traumatic upbringing (such as ours) is Counseling–under a qualified and licensed Therapist who adheres to mainstream, evidence-based practices, standards and guidelines.

It's hard, but not that hard to reckon with the full scope of our upbringing. Looking at it really broadly and critically helps to really see it for what it was, and allows us to unpack it fully so that we can understand it fully. It's not easy, but it's not impossible either. I know because I've been there. I thought I could take some of it, and leave the rest behind. I even taught a few Kundalini Yoga classes here and there. Then, I looked at it critically, and knew that it's just not copacetic with what it means to live a truly free life.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Miri Piri Academy... Meet your new boss. Same as the old boss.

There are a lot of reasons why I believe things have not changed for the 3HO children at boarding school at Miri Piri Academy in Amritsar, India. There's one reason why I believe it's worse: Mandatory Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training in order to graduate. I'll talk more on that later.

Those 3HO kids over there, all on their own at boarding school in India... it's simply not a safe environment. That is a given. The kids who don't thrive right outta the gate, they really don't thrive. The kids who do thrive, they are navigating a shitty situation the best they can. In these kinds of places the overachievers are rewarded with cues to continue 'performing' for the school (camp, church... what have you), and the underachievers are negatively reinforced, often with things like shame, exclusion from regular participation and harsh punishments. Either way, ask yourself: Is this, even at base-level, a healthy environment?

And that's looking at it as if NOTHING else is going on. Which we know is bullshit. We've had too much post-India hardship. I'm heartbroken every time I learn about someone having a rough time with adjusting to life after going through all what we went through.

Let me just say that it's super common to not even know where to begin. And it's also super common to tell yourself you know exactly what to do–you keep performing, of course! At work, at school, in relationships... you aim to please. And it's super common to suppress or internalize your pain, your confusion and your frustration, simply in order to navigate the world. It's also really common to go back in to the community, even. It's understandable.... because there's deep discomfort and insecurity as a result of being separated from family and loved ones the way we have. And being out on your own... that's a lonely experience sometimes. It's only natural that one would do what it takes to make that uneasy feeling go away, even temporarily.

The above situations I outlined are illustrative of the fundamental and problematic dynamics of being raised in a cult. The hard truth is, our very sense-of-self(s) were not intended to belong to us. There was a man who felt he had the right to own our minds, own our bodies and own our spirits.

Nobody has the right to control your autonomy. Nobody. Remember that.

Those of who survived GNFC, GRD or Amritsar Academy... we want to support. But, we also don't know how to help because a chasm has been carved away between us, and our voices have been suppressed by 3HO and the Miri Piri Academy administrators, teachers and alumni association.

I'm putting out a beacon to let you know that we feel in our hearts that all is not well over there for the MPA kids. But in order to support, we need the stories. And we won't have the stories until you, the MPA kids tell us your stories.

Tell us your story. We're here to help.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Um, what?

How insulting is this:

Yogi Bhajan Separates Families

Hey. Assholes.

RIGHT NOW there are 3HO Sikh Dharma children who are thousands of miles apart from their parents–children who have been separated because Yogi Bhajan told their parents to do it. Told their parents that their "children don't love them". Told their parents that "distance therapy" is a thing. And whose parents put the needs of the cult of Yogi Bhajan and 3HO above the needs of their own children.

There are children who have, who still are, and will continue to experience a profound trauma because of the orders of this man.

A meme doesn't change ANY of this.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Separating children from parents is wrong. Very wrong.

What's happening now–Children being torn from their parents at the US border–might feel all-too personal. It can trigger a lot of unhappy memories.

I have a clear memory of how I felt in my body and in my mind when I was really young and separated from my parents. I remember not feeling, and just being kind of confused and disassociated from reality. And I remember that when I was 'more present', my body and mind were nervous and fidgety. In my first and second years in India, I developed a nervous disorder called Trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling. I pulled out all of my eyelashes. Then I got made fun of, so I forced myself to stop so that I wouldn't get made fun of. No adult, teacher, older kid or nurse ever noticed. All I can say about it–in an internal sense–is that I felt like when I was pulling or picking or fidgeting that I was disappearing into an invisibility cloak of my own invention. No one bothered me when I was scrunched up into a little ball minding my own business. And that felt good. Eventually I started to cope with my nervousness through arts and crafts, knitting and needlework– at least as much as I could make time for. Many of us knitted with found yarn and lollipop sticks. Even if it was to knit something, take it out, and start over, that's what we did. So much of our time was spent with these odd, but self-soothing regimens.

Before the camps, the child swapping and the boarding schools, I was actually a confident, happy child. The separation chipped away at my self-esteem and my feeling of security and safety, both emotional and physical. I was able to fake cheerfulness at times, make jokes and laugh, but inside I was deeply insecure. And, gosh, there were so many unsafe situations. Too many to count really. Children getting struck by lighting at Ram Das Puri, Nav Jiwan Kaur falling to her death at Nambé falls, Ong Kar Kaur nearly drowning at Abiquiu, Me and my sister nearly getting killed in a Flash Flood while camping with "guardians"... Then there was the physical abuse, the emotional abuse, the sexual abuse, the neglect and the TOTAL lack of affection.

That last one, that's a major one. Greater than we ever thought. In the absence of it, you don't even know you need it to survive. In the absence of it–the part of you that makes you you–experiences a profound, physical and emotional loss. Your crucial, human sense of self is put at risk.

All of this, while we were supposedly part of a community that believed in love, and in raising the consciousness of the world through compassion, kindness and selfless service. I can't begin to imagine what the children in the I.C.E. detention centers are going through, while under the guardianship of politically motivated, profiteering xenophobes. Okay. Yes, the circumstances for our separation were different than what's happening now, but the resulting affects were no less profound. Separation affects on the mind, body and spirit are traumatic, not matter the circumstance.

Most of us survived and were able to build happy lives for ourselves, and many of us have had the therapy we needed to understand the long-term affects of family separation. This is all the more reason that as survivors we speak up against what our country is doing. We must be there for these children and their parents, in whatever way we can be–financial, political or vocal.

Let me finish with one last thing. I cannot believe, for the life of me, that people in 3HO Sikh Dharma still believe in sending their kids far away to India to attend Miri Piri Academy. It's unfathomable. It's appalling. It's shameful. It's criminal. It's worth noting that 3HO Sikh Dharma profits from the private I.C.E. Detention Centers. Some of the I.C.E. jails contract with Akal Security for the staffing of Corrections Officers. Akal Security is officially owned by 3HO Sikh Dharma, and the some of the profits from Akal Security are used to promote their new-age arm: Kundalini Yoga, White Tantric, Yogi Tea brand tea company, Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training seminars, and their sappy, saccharine music brands like Spirit Voyage and White Sun. This new-age arm puts forward a progressive image, but within its nesting doll structure of for-profit and non-profit entities, 3HO Sikh Dharma as a whole is benefiting from and enriching itself on the horrific policies of our government and the increasing privatization of government functions. There's nothing progressive about that.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Amritsar c. 1983

Yogi Bhajan, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Nanak Dev Singh, a 3HO child who looks to be no older than ten years, another 3HO child probably a teen, and a 3HO woman.

I can't even begin to make sense of this scene. Can you? Do you have first-hand knowledge of it? Let me know in the comments section below.

Monday, April 23, 2018

There's no deadline for grief

...Meaning, it might take a while.

After years of keeping this blog, I have had the opportunity to speak with a number of ex-classmates, talk to people, and have real conversations about growing up in 3HO Sikh Dharma.

When I do take time out of ordinary life to reconnect or have a conversation, what usually follows is a familiar pattern and string of emotions. First, I experience a little bit of euphoria because I was able to reconnect with an old friend. But after that feeling wears off, I feel exhaustion, thirst and brain-fog. My emotional state is sapped, my thoughts become sort of non-verbal and I don't possess enough brain-power to process my feelings. Then I go through a night (or two) of restless sleep and hypnagogic states of nervous internal dialogue. Still, I go about my day, telling myself This Too Shall Pass.

During this fog-brain state, I will experience a nervous energy and a feeling of true dread. There's a heavy pit in my stomach and a churning pulse in my abdomen, neck and face. My vision starts to feel a little off, glassy sort of. What I am experiencing is a sludgy kind of anxiety, and I have come to recognize as a sign to get myself some self-care.

Even if I get care, sometimes I'll ride the anxiety for a while, trying to process my feelings and sort them out in a coherent way. I might scour the internet for any sign that our story – the un-varnished one, that is – might be getting told by more people. That bit-by-bit we will come forward and speak our truth, discuss our experience, and process it like the fully-aware people that we are (right?).

It's happening now, and I'm hoping more will follow. Sonofasikh is a blog written by one of my schoolmates as he processes his childhood by revisiting the place where it all went down. It's funny, charming and nostalgic. And it is especially poignant. My goodness. His account of being tortured by Nanak Dev Singh–this singular moment among far too many–was nevertheless astonishing and horrifying. And it was heartbreaking. But it was revelatory too, because I found myself able to live inside his experience and fully be a part of it and empathize with it in a way I hadn't done before. I must admit, I had become so familiar with my own family experiences of assault and battery that, well, they just take up more room in my consciousness. This shook me out of that myopia, and for that I am grateful.

But it also made me feel so much sorrow and so much loss.


Our experiences as 3HO children were both collective and individual at the same time. We each experienced and remember slightly varying versions of the same kinds of abuse. At the time, our only way of commingling those disparate forms of antagonism was to form a sibling-like bond, and forge ahead as best we could. But we had so little space to experience the full range of emotions that are so crucial in childhood development. Empathy was often sacrificed in our day-to-day coping. So much so, that it became nearly amputated from our lives. And our parents were cut off from it in their own cultic environment too.

Empathy. It's not the same thing as compassion, love, forgiveness or acceptance (all important faculties). Empathy is the ability to validate another person's feelings by acknowledging their experiences, even when you might have a different point of view. People like us–the indiakids–may not be aware that we might lack empathy. It was actively revoked from us, and we were not shown how to demonstrate it to one another. If we have developed it, we have had to take whatever kernel exists inside ourselves and grow it on our own... and probably as adults, and probably in a very flawed and messy way.

I don't really have a way to end this post... I guess I'm still processing.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Walking away from the bad.

We need to tell ourselves that it's okay to walk away. We are not going to fail. We are not going to collapse. We are going to be okay.

When someone is treating you badly, manipulating you, making you feel less-than, they rely on a prevailing and toxic narrative that there will be dire consequences to you choosing your freedom. This is called Coercion.

The hashtag #MeToo is proving that the number of women who have been harassed, abused and manipulated is near to ubiquitous. And it's proving that the deafening silence around the culture of sexual harassment and abuse has everything to do with this toxic narrative – this coerciveness.

Those of us who grew up in 3HO Sikh Dharma and the boarding schools in India have experienced and witnessed harassment since we were pre-pubescent. This isn't counting the Patriarchal structure, and strict gender roles within the cult even. We experienced crass street harassment. We were harassed and objectified by our classmates at co-ed GRD. Then we were blamed for being ogled by our male classmates. Some of us were harassed by our teachers. Some of our male teachers conducted themselves lewdly in class. We made jokes to minimize the disgusting reality that one of our teachers was probably, well... gratifying himself right there in front of the entire class.

One year, at G.R.D. Academy, I was suspended. I was suspended for confronting one of the teachers' children who had been stealing. I was sent to wait out the end of the school year at the Chancellor's house in New Delhi. With me was one of my classmates – who was a very beautiful girl. We stayed in a unit at the rear of the main house. We had no way of preparing food, no access to restaurants, no transportation, and hardly any money. We were in a residential neighborhood with nothing to do, nothing to eat and no legal guardian or parent to talk to. The Chancellor was rarely around, but his staff was always present. They did not speak to us. They did not ask us if we needed anything, or allow us to use the kitchen. Meal time was at their deciding. The drudgery and boredom became brutally oppressive. We spent all of our Rupees taking expensive taxis into downtown so that we could just eat something, or walk around. It was hot. So unbelievably hot. The chancellor had a pool, but it was empty. One day we thought no one was around, so we tried to fill it with a garden hose. It didn't fill, and someone was around.

That night after dark, my friend left to use the bathroom. She returned in a terrible state. She told me that a man snuck up from behind, wrapped his arms around her and attempted to grab her. She used her elbows to fight him off and he fled the scene. Right away, we barricaded ourselves in our room. We called Siri Akal Singh and Hari Kaur and we told them what happened and that we did not feel safe there. They told us they would do something about it. Nothing happened. And they questioned the believability of our story. Were we to be believed at all? I remember feeling like we were totally on our own. We were not afraid. We were furious and ready to fight. We looked out for ourselves like we had already been trained to do since the age of eight. We were even prepared to run away. I know that in that situation, the hyper-vigilance that had been developing inside ourselves had protected us from far, far worse.

I'm not sure why I am reminded of that incident. Because, well here I am saying "Walk Away", and at the same time re-telling a time when we were physically trapped, a predator man was lurking outside our door, and those who were supposed to be looking out for us wouldn't do anything.

Maybe it's because this was just one incident from an entire upbringing in 3HO Sikh Dharma that was oppressive, coercive and abusive. So when it was time to truly walk away from 3HO Sikh Dharma // Kundalini Yoga, I did not need to go through the motions of weighing the pros and cons.

They expected us, after all what we had been through, to simply stay and accept the drudgery. And they used the toxic narrative – the threat of dire consequences – to scare us into silence. They didn't consider the hyper-vigilance that had been developing while they failed to do their job to raise us. Yogi Bhajan told me, "If you leave you will end up a prostitute lying in the gutter". You don't hesitate when someone says something like that to you. You GTFO.

When I left I lost almost my whole family. I lost any financial support I might have gotten from family. I lost the whole community's support and I gave up the employment that I had when I was part of that community. Aside from the communal support from some of my Indiakids alumni friends and my siblings, I was definitively on my own from the time I walked out the door. But no. I did not "suffer" any of those "negative consequences" that we were told to be afraid of. No, I did not end up a "prostitute in the gutter". Furthermore, if I, or any of my fellow indiakids had ended up in the gutter, it wasn't because god decided to punish them for their sins. It was a result of unfair conditions being imposed on them. It was a result of any sort of familial support network dropping them like a hot-potato soon as things got tough. The failure rests squarely on those who were supposed to show care and love and who didn't.

Despite the tough times... I am here to say that walking away is still a net gain. If you stay, you suffer inside. Even if you get to keep your family, or get to make advances in your career, or climb the social ladder, the psychic pain of living under the umbrella of abuse is too detrimental a cost. When you say "No More", you get that you will gain your freedom just by saying "No More". And it will undoubtedly open the door to new growth and fresh opportunities.

To every survivor of harassment, coercion and abuse who says #MeToo: Know that I am not blaming you. I am super angry that this toxic narrative persists – that some mysterious and spooky fate that will befall you if you speak out, come forward or leave. I am super angry that it gets inside us and eats away at our autonomy and free will. I am super angry that this toxic narrative keeps enabling the creeps, the perverts, the abusers and the harassers.

And to every 2nd generation person, male or female, who was a victim of abuse, and who held it inside, and figured you could just deal with it on your own: If you need to talk, I am here for you. You have a friend in me.

And finally, to every 2nd generation adult born and raised and who then remained in 3HO Sikh Dharma // Kundalini Yoga: It's time to accept the truth about your spiritual leader. He abused his power in every possible way. If you have insulated yourself from the horror stories, it's time to rectify that mistake.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Can someone regret something even if they've never apologized for their role?

Last week, Dr. Dre issued a public apology to the women he beat up back in the N.W.A. times. While it reeks of PR, it's still a step in the right direction. Perhaps now he can put his money where his mouth is and donate to causes that prevent domestic violence, and to those that help victims of domestic abuse.

And here we are. Looking at domestic violence and physical abuse through the lens of Popular Culture, as if it happens elsewhere. No. Abuse in 3HO Sikh Dharma was (and likely is) right in our own homes, schools and institutions.

Yet, to date, not one adult Guide who was in India while we were in school there has ever come out publicly or apologized publicly. Yes, Nanak Dev is deceased, so it's too late to hear those words from the person who was most abusive. But there were plenty others that were both abusive themselves and/or complicit in not doing anything while kids were being beaten.

I find this to be shameful.

If rappers can do it, why can't they? Maybe it has to do with real regret, as opposed to lip-service regret. Maybe none of them really regret their behavior? Maybe they don't think it was wrong? Maybe they are too fragile? Maybe they struggled to get back on their feet after India that they just needed to re-establish themselves, forgetting about all the young adults that had their own futures ahead of them? Maybe it didn't occur to them that the kids they beat and the kids they watched being beaten will take those involuntary scars with them for a lifetime.

Like Dee Barnes said "I have a souvenir I never wanted".

No one wants those kinds of souvenirs. The people who inflict harm on others are culpable until their victims get justice. Bottom line. There is no other way to have a civilized society.

If our childhood Guides think it's okay to simply go on, holding their heads high against the reality of what they have done, they are wrong. One man has chosen to take it to his grave. Will the rest of them follow suit, or will they do the right thing?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

"No one imagines themselves as so fragile to ever let something as sinister as a cult take control of their minds. I didn’t think anyone would ever tell me how to think and when to think it. We all believe we’re above such things and only stupid people could fall for that. "
-- Carmen Llywelyn

Read her entire op-ed piece on leaving Scientology published in Gawker

Sunday, February 15, 2015

And so, here ends a senseless chapter

Nanak Dev Singh, the notorious tormentor of the 3HO children at G.N.F.C. boarding school, has died. Cause of death was apparently a massive heart attack.

My initial reaction to news of his death was "I hope it was neither quick, nor painless".

But vindication does not come in the act of dying. Nevertheless, there are times when you wish there really is a Hell.


Realistically though, wishing there was a special place in Hell for child abusers and sociopaths doesn't do anything but give comfort to us, the walking wounded.

But what brings greater satisfaction is knowing that it's too late for redemption. Because redemption is something one must seek in life. If Nanak Dev Singh had made some efforts to reconcile and make things right with those he hurt – ALL of them – he could have had a chance at forgiveness. Instead, he ran away and hid. Furthermore, he re-framed his narrative. He glorified himself. And in doing so he (and his sympathizers too) denied the experiences of all the children he so profoundly affected. The kids that he abused, traumatized, harassed and yes, tortured, were ignored.

Meanwhile, there was a human heart that was, quite literally, hardening.

Don't let YOUR heart harden. Strive for a better life – a life filled with joys big and small, of compassion, of open-mindedness, and even of redemption.

Take solace in knowing that we can be different from them.

Either way, that's one less asshole on the planet.

Monday, January 26, 2015

So now they have a treatment for Sexual Abuse?

Found this article "Reclaiming Your Innocence"


Would this be the same treatment recommended for the 3HO children who experienced sexual and physical abuse while at 3HO led boarding schools in India?

Would this be the same treatment for 3HO children who experienced sexual and physical abuse at Khalsa Children's Camp?

Would this be the very same treatment for 3HO young women who were emotionally and sexually abused and coerced into sex acts with their spiritual leader Yogi Bhajan?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

What I got from watching The Source Family

I just watched The Source Family, a recent film that depicts the brief life of the cult of the same name, led by James Baker, aka Father Yod, aka YaHoWha. The film labels itself a documentary, but is less so than it is a compilation of old footage and interviews with past members who, to this day, largely believe that James Baker was, and still is, God.

My initial review of the film is that it's a repetition of an old formula: nostalgic and sentimental chronicle of the rock n' roll 60's, starring the 'wierd and wacky' charismatic leader-guru-guy. On another level though, the movie's major failing is that never truly probes the darker side: the casualties of the spiritual movements that swept through the hippie counter-culture scene. This is all-too likely to be because Isis Aquarian (still a true-believer) was Associate Producer of the film, and is in possession of the entire Family archive.

We can't expect to see a true examination in this case. But in this flippant look, there's a mistaken assessment that because The Family didn't end in catastrophic tragedy like Manson Family or People's Temple (Jonestown), that life in The Family must have been a benign frolic. This perpetuates the perception of the 60's counter-culture cults that they were merely a joke. The movie fails at acknowledging the destructiveness of cults, and the devastation that they have had on people's lives. There's a lack of humanity in this approach.

So, what do we – survivors of cults – gain from such works? I have to admit, I wanted to watch it. I was curious. I wanted to see what kind of picture would be painted, and I wanted to be able to address any discomfort with what I would see, both in the footage, and in the crafting of the picture.

There is so little mention of anyone who was born into The Source Family, that it's like watching a generation being erased right in front of you.

It's shocking. We see footage of what looks like a terrifying home birth going very badly, and a very narrowly escaped death. No responsibility taken in their complete negligence. These are people who were ordered to refuse medical care under any and all circumstances, and WE are asked to watch an infant nearly die right in front of our eyes.

Sadly, this is a typical story. With libraries full of literature about cults, there remains a glaring lack of information about the people who were born and raised in them. Many professionals in the field of cult recovery will even admit to not having adequate information or training for the care of second generation adults. And like The Source Family, the story of the second generation children of 3HO hasn't been so much as glanced at. This negligence, or erasure, is that much harder to digest with the obsessiveness with with the fixation on cult leaders and their inner circles and harems persists, seemingly never out-of-vogue. It's as if they're being given a second – and perhaps more glorifying – platform for their misdeeds. And the followers... the plebians? The tone I hear, time and time again, is that there needs not be any sympathy for them, or their offspring.

The upside:
It was helpful for me to see in the footage of The Source Family the many parallels this group had to 3HO/Kundalini Yoga. With these parallels between most cults and charismatic leaders, one can become reassured over time that their respective group wasn't especially clever – that they shared many tactics, and often borrowed and mimicked each other's ways.

In The Source Family, Yogi Bhajan is referred to a couple of times, and it's hinted that he was one of the providers for the template for the charismatic leader. (We also know that Yogi Bhajan borrowed techniques from other Gurus of the time, like Swami Sachidananda, Ram Dass and Maharishi Mahesh). Photographs of early 3HO in Los Angeles were used in the film. One of the archival photographs used was the famous Lisa Law photograph of YB at The Farm in El Rito New Mexico, an early document of YB's emergence on the scene.  It's through these scenes that we can start to build bridges toward conclusions about the human traits and the motives of a these cult leaders – narcissism and megalomania being the driving forces behind the behavior.

And the charismatic leader's unrelenting narcissism can be of value, if only to teach us something in the end (something we should not have to learn, but here we are).  Jim Jones, James Baker and Yogi Bhajan all managed to record copious amounts of footage of themselves, leaving hundreds of hours worth of archives for scholars, historians and documentarians to later pore over. The narcissism is so powerful a force in these individuals that they possess no awareness that any of this footage may one day be the tool that will expose them in their duplicitousness, their myopia, their insecurities, and their absurdities.

Makes one wish someone would make a quality picture with it in the end.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The inventing (and re-inventing) of Kundalini Yoga

For anyone unaware (is there anyone?), Kundalini Yoga and 3HO Sikh Dharma are inextricably linked.

There is no historical, ideological, or anthropological connection–what-so-ever–between the religion of Sikhism and Kundalini, aka Tantra. Yet this link has nevertheless found its way into the common vernacular among many people in the west with little epistemological discourse.

I'm not here to UN-link the two.  That's been done, almost to the point of exhaustion already. I have the benefit of believing in neither. That means I'm free to look at it from a distance, although that distance for me is never too far, having been brought up to have a devout and uncritical belief and appreciation for the ideologie(s) AND the link.  

This brings me to my current topic, which is 3HO's many iterations, or, re-inventions of their ideologies, beliefs, and social positions, and the inherent conflict that this ongoing re-invention presents.

If, during my childhood in the 70's, 80's, 3HO purported an ideology or belief system, it was presented as the truth. It was presented as well that there can only be one truth. And that if this truth was the one truth, there really can be no other truth.  Truth, in the religious sense, is not subjective.

Devotees of Harbhajan Puri (Yogi Bhajan) accepted his teachings as this truth.  It wasn't subjective. It was not up for discussion or debate. (Although many of his lectures were hardly coherent, and often conflicted with other lectures. No matter, his truth was THE truth).

He lectured extensively about sexuality.  He lectured about women's sexuality. He lectured about men's sexuality. And he lectured about homosexuality.

Here are some of so-called truths about homosexuality that I can recall off the top of my head: "Homosexual men are homosexual because their mother didn't love them while they were in the womb"... "Homosexual men were stuck in their first chakra"... "Homosexual men like to wear black leather and studs and have anal sex because they are obsessed with their first chakra, and can't get out of their lower chakra"...  "Homosexual women were homosexual because they hated men"... "Sex between two women is different than being a homosexual".  ...and so on.

Enough.  It's so absurd, and to think it was presented as truth makes me sick.  Because in this case it meant that the devotees had permission from their leader to be homophobic.  And when it came to real life, they acted out their homophobia openly and aggressively.  Make no mistake. I was there. I saw it, and sometimes I was even the recipient of it. And I left because of it.

Even if 3HO is different today, if YB's teachings were the truth (and in this world, remember that the truth is not subjective) aren't they in conflict with his doctrine?  In end, are they openly saying, "Yogi Bhajan was wrong"?

No. Instead, they are revising his teachings, wiping the slate clean of all the crap he said, picking and choosing what, of his many bizarre philosophies to re-iterate, and painting a false picture of a progressive and learned person who really wasn't either.

Religions need to be flexible with the times. And it's way better that 3HO appears to now be on the side of good. Just keep in mind that it was not that long ago that Bibi Inderjit Kaur was asked that she give permission to gay couples to have wedding ceremonies in the Gurdwaras in New Mexico. She denied that request.  This was in the early 2000's.

3HO Sikh Dharma has a very short history, and amnesia only works for those who stand to benefit from it.

I'm no amnesiac.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Upcoming ICSA Events to take advantage of

If you're reading this blog, chances are you are curious about 3HO and Yogi Bhajan.  Also, chances are you were born and raised in this group. And if you were born and raised in this group, there's a 90% chance you were sent away to boarding school in India. And a 100% chance you have a lot of horror stories.

If so, the International Cultic Studies Association may be a valuable resource.

This July there is a workshop for former members of cults. It's in Colorado Springs, and goes from Friday July 26th–July 28th.  Go here for more information:

Then in November, right there in the belly of the beast, Santa Fe New Mexico, is a 'mini' ICSA Conference being held. Go here for more information:

Either way, you should read THIS PAPER just to get started on the process.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

As If I Needed A Reason...

A child separated from his or her parents experiences profound emotional trauma and damage to his or her true sense of security.  This is the fundamental reason not to send children to boarding school.

But in addition to that, there are other reasons NOT to send a child to boarding school in India through the 3HO sponsored schooling system. Here are some.

  • Health risks like Hepatitis, Malaria, and Giardia
  • Physical abuse
  • Corporal punishment
  • Sexual abuse
and now,
  • Death.
To date there have been two extremely unfortunate and tragic ends to young lives at Miri Piri Academy.*
It might not occur to someone reading the Miri Piri Academy brochures, where it's advertised as an enriching and valuable experience.

Take a look at Why Boarding School at the MPA website and you will understand what I mean.

It contains testimonials by proud, flag-waving alumni, as it (hastily and poorly) outlines some of the so-called benefits of overseas boarding school.  Education however, is not referred to, and therefore I assume is not a priority.

I'm not surprised considering the principal of MPA is a former Indiakid, has no formal higher education, and no education in learning and child development.  He was ordered to return to India immediately after completing his own schooling, and he has been there ever since.  Does that sound like someone who is qualified to look after your children?

In addition to the bizarre recruitment, I'm more sickened that there are 2nd generation 3HO adults actually choosing MPA for their children.

Have we not learned ANYTHING?

* In 2010, 27 year old Chilean national Oscar Gálvez Escudero aka Satya Amrit Singh was found unresponsive in his dorm bathroom. His body was repatriated to his parents in Chile with his internal organs removed. Horrific.

Full Story Here:

And, I do not have the name of the second person who died at MPA, but I remember seeing the news a while back that a student had drowned while swimming in the Ganges at Rishikesh.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Giving Back

Chapter 1

As Sikh children, we were told to give back. In fact giving back to one's community, or Dasvandh, was one hallmark among my many memories as a Sikh child. My parents gave ten percent of their income in tithings. It's part of Sikh tradition to give a tithing, even if very small, at every temple.

I have been away from the 3HO Sikh Dharma community for nearly two decades, so it is from a healthy distance that I observe the ongoing legal battles between all of the for-profit companies (Akal Security, Golden Temple Foods, Yogi Tea, etc), non-profit companies (Sikh Dharma International, Sikh Dharma Worldwide, Siblings of Destiny, et al.), the familial heirs to Yogi Bhajan's personal fortune, and his personal assistants, who are staking a claim to the very large sums of money involved among all of these entities.

It's complicated, it's convoluted, and, for many it's infurating! (I think I can say this and be heard by believers and non-believers alike)

One of the reasons these legal battles are impossible to appreciate is that it's about millionaires fighting with other millionaires about who gets to keep the pot of gold. And a pot of gold it is. Akal Security has received about $30 billion in federal contracts in its existence.

And then there are the rest of us. There are those who remain in "the dharma" and continue to work for meager wages. There are those whose homes are the property of the 3HO Sikh Dharma non-profit religious entity. There are those who simply walked away from all of it, and re-built their lives one step at a time. And there are those who were born and raised there and:

1) worked for a 3HO Sikh Dharma business or organization for minimum wage
2) were discouraged from attending college, or
3) attended college eventually, but paid his/her own way, borrowing in order to do so.
4) did not attend college, and fend for his/her selves in what ways he/she can.

and finally,
5) that financially cover one's own therapy and counseling. (I'm hoping everyone is doing this regardless, by the way)

As for me, all of the above.

I am successful and fulfilled in what I do, which is good. But I can't say that going out on my own as a young adult totally alone was not immensely challenging. Or that I didn't encounter some major hurdles. And I cannot say that I would not have greatly appreciated my community giving back to me in some form of support in return for my contributions to them.

But as I left to forge my own path, all I heard was Sayonara. No, what I literally heard was, "you will be a drug-addict prostitue lying in the gutter".

But alas, this is the way of the world much of the time. Religions don't give plebians support, and Tithings aren't a choice. Tithings are an obligation. It's one's holy duty to give to the church. And to ask anything in return other than salvation or pure bliss is showing greed and discontent.

At the Sikh Dharma Worldwide website: you will see information on ways to give, but not much on community engagement and outreach. You will see pages that have been set up to accept donations that will cover their incurred legal fees. There is a website and domain dedicated to Tithings alone called They do, however, "give" in the form of political contributions. To both parties. In large sums. State and Federal.

Chapter 2

After the legal mess, most of us have an idea of the net worth of Sikh Dharma International and all of its "nesting dolls" of non-profits and for-profits. I ask, when are they going to give back? Have they set up a college scholarship fund? Have they set up a fund to help young adults go out into the world to succeed? Have they instituted any sort of support structure for its young members so that they may move forward, move upward, and thrive? Has Bibiji Inderjit Kaur Puri offered up any of her personal fortune to help others? Have Peraim Kaur and Kartar Singh, after receiving their settlements offered to help anyone recovering and surviving this cultic environment? Has the Kettle Foods empire ever offered to help out? Or, for that matter, any one of the multi-million dollar businesses, that benefitted from the hard work and dedication of ashram devotees, who often worked for very little pay, offered up support?

And yet, and yet... there are people right under their noses in Española who live in dilapidated mobile homes.

It's time to give back. It's time to offer to heal wounds and mend hearts.

There is a generation of adults who suffered as children, and there are more generations to come–who as children suffered needlessly due only to your callousness, your narcissism, and your dogma.

And to my 2nd and 3rd generation readers. We can heal our wounds by finding ways to give back to our communities too. I have hope that we can take that grain of advice and we can polish it into a beautiful, shining pearl.

We have come this far.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ram Das Puri

Satellite Google Maps view of the 3HO sponsored summer solstice and Peace Prayer Day events in Northern New Mexico.

Yogi Bhajan's real name was Harbhajan Singh Puri. He named the solstice site Ram Das Puri back in the late 70's. I guess he named it after himself and no one noticed or cared?

Isn't Puri just a tribal name? Doesn't really translate to anything having to do with the 4th Patron Saint of Sikhism, Guru Ram Das... who was born with the surname Sodhi, according to wiki.

On the far, middle right of the picture is a small, bare area. That is where they held firearms training. The spiral pathway is for the ritual peace walk, where, IMHO they trotted out some local Indians to make up some chants so that a bunch of new-agers could feel like they were participating in an authentic tribal ritual.

The claim is that this was sacred Hopi land, and Puri was their so-called "white-clad warrior" (wikipedia, just look at the citation source to clear up any confusion). Prior to it being 3HO owned property, it was actually inexpensive ranch land.

Geography alone would indicate that any pre-columbian inhabitants of the land would have belonged to a different Pueblo tribe, the closest ones being the San Juan or Santa Clara Pueblo. Not sure what they think about all these white freaks stealing their land.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword

Firearms training, and exposure to firearms were normal growing up in 3HO Sikh Dharma. My parents owned two or three handguns and a rifle. Even as a young child I knew where they were stored – inside their bedroom closet, loaded, and inside a padded, brown leather holster. Yogi Bhajan had a 24-7 cadre of armed security guards that were always within arms reach of him.  These guards were mostly men, albeit some very young and inexperienced "men", and there was one woman, named Shanti. These guards openly declared that they were willing to give their lives to ensure his safety.

Every summer the young children (as young as four or five years) lived in tents at Ram Das Puri for 8 weeks of children's camp. Our mothers were "down the hill", undergoing a different kind of indoctrination, a militarized retreat called Khalsa Women's Training Camp. Handgun and Rifle target practice, however, occurred at about 1000 yards' distance from our children's camp. Women from KWTC rode up in orange school-busses. When us children saw the busses arrive we were excited and happy, thinking 'maybe this is when I'll get to see my Mataji, and she'll hug me, kiss me, and maybe she'll even take me home with her'. Alas, the bus never stopped. It drove past us with moms waving, and cheering us, while we cried and begged for it to stop. And while they didn't appear pained, us children were injured by their deliberate show of "detachment".

The ladies of KWTC demonstrating their drill routines, c. 1984

KWTC target practice did not come without its glitches. One of those was fatal, in which a man, who was there to assist KWTC women, was the unfortunate victim of a firearm backfire. The bullet exited the rear of the chamber, entered his neck, hit his carotid artery, and, being 8 miles up a dirt road from the hospital, he bled out and perished. He left behind a two-year old son, a boy of my generation.

Although this man was skilled in the use of firearms, there is no predicting when a tool like this will malfunction. And although we were raised with a certain "respect" for the instrument, we began our own firearms training between the ages of 12 and 16. I shot my first handgun, a Glock 9mm, when I was 15.

But how did this group morally justify the use of weapons of this nature? As converts to the Sikh faith, they had adopted the practice of carrying the Kirpan, a harmless little steel dagger. Even so, how does one make the leap from the Kirpan to a 45-caliber semi-automatic handgun?

Yogi Bhajan, the sole authority of 3HO Sikh Dharma, was playing all sides in the ongoing crisis between the Akali Dal, the Indian Government, and the sikh separatist Khalistan movement led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. At the same time, one of his inner circle devotees was attempting to acquire a large supply of major weapons. He was also possessed by a personal desire for power and wealth, so employed a common strategy in cults: the doomsday scenario. He painted this doomsday scenario to be the transition from the Astrological Piscean Age to the next Astrological age, the Aquarian Age. In this transition, which could last several centuries, would be great suffering and strife. He said, "Most people will be crazy. You must master my meditation techniques that will uplift you from the ensuing insanity. But you must also be prapared. You are Warrior-Saints". A convenient message to the 3HO members – piety without backing down. So they meditated whilst militarizing themselves. They practiced yoga and they practiced shooting guns–at Ram Das Puri, our privately owned, hilltop children's camp-slash-yoga festival-slash-firing range.

Contrarily, contemporary Indian Sikhs are generally not inclined to militancy. My Sikh classmates at GNFC were not even remotely militant. They came from upper middle class Punjab backgrounds that, for the most part, chose Guru Nanak, the pacifist, as their Patron Saint. And at the same time they, like us, were schooled in the history of militancy in Sikhism from the time of Guru Hargobind (1595-1694) to Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), Maharaja Ranjit Singh, etc etc, but while Indian Sikh children are educated, we were indoctrinated, and made to learn and adopt the martial arts and dress of the Nihang sect, a small, male-only class of orthodox and martially inclined Sikhs.




Portraits of 2nd generation 3HO sikh boys in full Nihang regalia.

Historically, from the 17th Century to World War II, Sikhs have enjoyed the warrior class status among the changing and evolving structures of India – from the Majarajas, and the Moghul Empire, to fighting alongside, and then against the British Raj. The history of Sikhs (militant or not) in Punjab and in India is fascinating, and deserves broad, mainstream exposure–if only to serve as a meter for all the complexities of modern Indian history. The most alarming chapter, however, took place while I was in India – the rise of the Sikh separatist movement, and the subsequent Operation Blue Star*, which ended in the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, followed by anti-Sikh rioting, war, and mass bloodshed, and ending in 1989. Thousands of innocent people were massacred as a result of the clash between Indian government and a few self-righteous, agenda-driven ideologues.


Notwithstanding, there's no logical conclusion to make regarding any connection of traditional Sikhism, and it's proud military history to Western Anglo Sikh converts and handgun ownership. Perhaps it's an ideology that conveniently fits with a self-serving and paranoid "all-American" desire to exercise their 2nd Amendment Right to the fullest, and their fervent attachment to a paternalistic figure like a cult leader.

When I was eighteen I made a resolution to never own or even touch a handgun. A friend carried his Colt 45 with him to a party and left it in my car. As I was coming down from LSD, I held the gun in my hand and experienced a chilling and gripping feeling that this was nothing but an instrument of death. Not protection, not self-defense. Death. Hate. Fear. Paranoia. Destruction. I wanted no part of it.

I am grateful for LSD for providing me with this outside intervention. The substance itself became a catalyst for open-mindedness and my eventual path toward tolerance and acceptance. Through this I not only experienced the feeling of turning away from militancy for good, but toward using my creativity and intellect as a force far more effective than any weapon could offer. Then and there I knew I was better than the gun-toters.

My heart goes out to the Sikhs in Wisconsin. You might think this white lady doesn't know you, but I do. Many of you were my friends when I had no parents or family. I enjoyed your selfless hospitality in your Gurdwaras and Langars, and for that I have fond memories. And while I no longer wish to worship with you in your temple, I wish you prosperity and happiness in the country that is my homeland that I do love so.

*The Wiki link to Operation Blue Star may not be entirely neutral, but you can follow citations to learn more about it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Trauma at boarding school and before

For a large portion of my life I managed to satirize my experiences in boarding school in India. In social situations with my "Indiakid" peers, I can keep up with the laughing and mockery and the absurd story-telling... which is usually how most social situations wound up. But then a silence will fill the room when I blurt out something like "... and then I was ankle-deep in shit!" (There was one incidence in which I was truly ankle deep in raw sewage)

By and large it has not been socially acceptable to talk about the difficult aspects of boarding school, and by and large it is avoided. In our early adult lives I had a difficult time expressing my individual feelings, so as a way of coping, I would find something absurd in a shared experience to laugh about.

We are individuals. It's not realistic to expect that we go navigating the world and our lives as if they are common and shared.

In more recent years I have had to get more real about the harmful aspects of 3HO and India boarding school. Understanding the breadth of my experience allows me to examine my own life, my own actions, my own purpose, and my place in the world. Part of examining it is to acknowledge the traumatic aspects. As a young adult, I was under an assumption that trauma, or even post traumatic stress, was the result of one isolated incident that imprints in one's mind and haunts the individual forever. But the more I looked at my own life I came to realize that the situation as children in India wasn't one, singular or isolated traumatic incident. It was the multiplicity of chaotic situations that acted on us as the main stressors. Take the poor conditions of our environment, add the randomness in the kinds of punishments enforced on us, plus the minor but random violence imposed upon by teachers, and you have a institutionally hostile environment that day after day continues to compound the stress.

If this basic outline of our situation isn't traumatic, I don't know what is.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Steven Hassan on Huffington Post

Have you been reading any of the articles about the current schizm in Sikh Dharma? If so, what's your response as a 2nd generation adult?

Here is the op-ed piece by cult recovery expert, Steven Hassan. From there, is a link to a piece in the Santa Fe Reporter. The Eugene Register Guard also has a slew of articles. Below is the comment I left for Steven Hassan at the Huffington Post. I hope he reads it.

I'm often left with feelings of dismay and anger that, although there is word slowly making it to the public that 3HO/Sikh Dharma/Kundalini Yoga is a cult, perhaps now and imploding cult, but a de-facto cult nonetheless, no article has, to date brought up the experiences of those of us who were raised in it, shuttled about, and never even given the choice to "join or not". These articles, over and over, simply express your own schadenfreud for the business-side of 3HO's troubles, and the unfolding drama among its 1st generation baby-boomer converts. Not one mention of Sikh Dharma Foreign Education. Not one mention of GNFC School, or GRD Academy. One mention of Miri Piri Academy, that mentions it is a "training camp". It is not a training camp. It is a boarding school located in India which runs ten months out of the year. To call it a camp is completely misleading.

This implosion is yet another indicator of the 1st generation's callousness toward their 2nd generation - their children - and the 1st gens. willingness to suspend parental duties to please their guru, Yogi Bhajan. It is safe for me to say that 100% of us feel betrayed and abandoned. Perhaps those 2nd generationers who have remained in the Sikh Dharma community are experiencing this sense of betrayal differently, and probably cling to the faith even more. I still have a sense of comraderie with them - because we have all shared the same experiences as children. It hurts me to imagine them hurting over the things we did not start, and that we did not ask for.

So, enough of the schadenfrued. Enough of quoting Kamall Rose Kaur, who I am beginning to think is the leader of "the exes cult". Enough of the fanatics who railroad blogs and forums as a soapbox to preach their version of what "true Sikhsim" is.

If any of us 2nd generation are to participate in the dialogue, it will only be after we are recognized as autonomous individuals, not as puppets. Sherri has asked me to go on the record if she is to write an article about the schools in India. Does she have zero clue about what it means to recover from an upbringing in an abusive cult? Steven Hassan's approach is also problematic. What he seems to not understand is that the more one tries to "bust" a cult, the more divisive you are, and therefore the more futile it is. No one who is in a cult will ever admit that it is a cult! And the world will always have cults. One only realizes something is a cult after one has left - and then, the process of transition is extremely perilous and traumatic, that to have the cult-busters banging down your door to rally around their cause feels like just another version of thought reform.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Remembering US Independence Day in India

The GNFC school year was the reverse of what it is in the States. We got two and a half months off during the winter months, and spent March through November in India. Our July Fourths were not spent cooking out, or going swimming, watching fireworks, lighting sparklers, or feasting on fruit cobblers.

Our parents wanted for us to get far away from what they considered to be American: sex, drugs and rock n' roll. They considered India-- and its culture, traditions and customs--exotic and holy. But the moment we arrived we knew that India was NOT exotic OR holy, and they too had sex, drug and rock n' roll - just a tempered down, more repressed version of it.

The teachers and dorm matrons at GNFC were so unprepared to work with children from different backgrounds, that they often lashed out at us, targeted us, showed belligerence toward us, and used pejorative language at us. Oddly enough, this actually mobilized us to exercise what we considered to be our birth right: questioning authority. Those unrealistic expectations, placed on us so drastically, only felt oppressive and authoritarian. We had an acute intuitive sense that it was supposed to repress our will, and independent thought: wholly American traits in our minds. The thought of giving that up caused deep hopelessness - that we would never go home again, that we'd be "stuck in India".

So, in the only manner we could defy authority, we became overtly proud to be the "obnoxious Americans". And Fourth of July in India motivated us, even if ever so slightly, to embody true American Don't Tread on Me Independence. And yeah, it was often a losing battle, resulting in our faces meeting the stinging hot hand of a school marm.

I'm glad today that our parents were blind to the thought of us clinging to our American traits so hard.

...Got to hand it to GNFC and India - the place charged me to develop my own freedom of thought. And the battery that we were subjected to on a daily basis only fueled it more.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Wahe Guru Ji Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Ki F....

Many of us who chose not to live "in the Dharma" left on our own accord, and are quite happy forging our paths as we see fit. We enjoy autonomy, anonymity, freedom of expression, freedom in our attire, dress, hair, the freedom to consume anything we want to consume, etc, etc. But it's possible that the prospects of more and more children winding up in India, some even 3rd generation children, causes discomfort and distress for us, as we continue in our own lives to process what it all meant. It's not unreasonable to experience a sense of concern over the futures of 3HO 2nd & 3rd genrs. or to care about the welfare of our old classmates who remain in this institutional setting. We know, perhaps with more clarity, that they remain in this setting for a variety of pressures, all of them real. We have all so palpably experienced the nearly crushing pressure to conform and to assimilate.

We all know what this pressure feels like, whether we were able to walk away or not.

But... when I see that this is going on, I am dismayed, and I am angered, and I vehemently oppose any sort of accord that attempts at an unequivocal manifesto that would assume to speak for me.

If you were born or raised in 3HO Sikh Dharma, yet do not subscribe to its tenets, it does not mean that you do not have the inalienable right to voice your concerns, talk about your history within 3HO or India, or advocate for the future generations.

Send your feedback to Sikh Dharma Next Generation: Tell them your story, tell them your experiences, tell them how YOU live your life today. Any "accord" that assumes to speak for the 2nd generation adults born and raised in 3HO Sikh Dharma, whether they are actively engaged in the lifestyle or not, will be met with the reminder that the majority of those born and raised in this group have since left.

Live Your Life Response

Sikh Dharma Next Generation: "Agree that the Siri Singh Sahib bestowed upon us an invaluable legacy in his teachings of Sikh Dharma, Kundalini Yoga and meditation, and White Tantric Yoga, and in the non-profit organizations that he helped to form"

Live Your Life: The Siri Singh Sahib was an authoritarian, charismatic leader of a cult. He claimed to be a yoga master. He invented a series of calisthenics-like exercises and branded it as ancient Kundalini Yoga. He invented "white" tantric, in which he intentionally put his disciples in a trance-like state in order for them to suspend critical thinking, and blindly follow the prescriptions he called lifestyle. He created 501(c)3 organizations under the guise of religious freedom, and enlisted his disciples, and children of his disciple to turn over 10% of their income and volunteer their free time to him through his organizations. He lived a wealthy, lavish and luxurious lifestyle with the use of these funds.

SDNG: Agree that younger generations are the future leaders of Sikh Dharma and the non-profit organizations, and the future of the legacy of the Siri Singh Sahib;

LYL: The 2nd, 3rd and all future generations of the 3HO Sikh Dharma cult were unwitting and unwilling recipients of his authoritarian leadership. He ordered his disciples to swap children between households in different parts of the country. He ordered his disciples to put infants on dangerous diets. He ordered his disciples to send children away to an abusive boarding school in India, sometimes as young as six years old. He ordered young adults to work for his profitable businesses at minimum wage. He ordered and conducted the arranged marriages between young adults, or teen women to older men. The Complex Post Traumatic Stress symptoms experienced by many of the 2nd generation adults is his responsibility.

SDNG: Agree that developing leadership by the younger generations is the way to secure the Siri Singh Sahib’s legacy into the future;

LYL: The Siri Singh Sahib's legacy of abuse and authoritarian rule ends with him in death. He has no power over any of the future generations of 3HO Sikh Dharma, and cannot inflict any more orders or harm on any of his disciples or unwitting victims within the 2nd and 3rd generation. By living one's life as one sees fit, one removes the authority of this cult leader completely, and is able to enjoy the autonomy of a free life.

SDNG: Agree that it is critical to act now to create a smooth transition between current and future leadership;

LYL: What is critical, is to understand that the trauma and abuses suffered under this cult are in no way one's own fault or doing. What is critical, is for the 1st generation to take responsibility in its own part of putting its children in harm's way, despite repeated reports of abuse, sickness, neglect and filth while living in India, and in Ashrams across the world.

SDNG: Agree that this task requires a broad community effort;

LYL: If this indeed requires broad community effort, any task of taking the reigns for the future of 3HO/Sikh Dharma MUST include a clause which speaks of the intentional abuses of the boarding school environment in India, and the 3HO Ashrams. It MUST include a clause that hundreds of 2nd generation adults born and raised in 3HO Sikh Dharma have denounced its principles, its tenets, and especially its leader, Yogi Bhajan aka Siri Singh Sahib, and have undergone therapy and counselling at their own expense for cult recovery and PTSD.

SDNG: Agree that it is essential for established leaders to help develop younger leaders and create pathways for younger leadership;

LYL: It is essential for 2nd generation adults born and raised in 3HO Sikh Dharma to understand that the short term goals of the Siri Singh Sahib and his inner circle was to exploit the hard work and sacrifice of the populace of 3HO Sikh Dharma, and that this short term goal did not account for a future for the next generations of 3HO Sikh Dharma

SDNG: Agree that it is the responsibility of the younger generations to make the commitment to learning, training, and developing the necessary skills to fulfill leadership roles.

LYL: It is the right of all 2nd generation adults born or raised in 3HO Sikh Dharma to live a life of autonomy and freedom, whether or not they choose to adhere to the principles of 3HO Sikh Dharma. It is the responsibility of current members of 3HO who consider themselves the "future" generation to take into account differences in religion and creed, to take into account autonomy and freedom, and to take into account the majority of 2nd generation adults who have adopted the inalienable right to a life free of authoritarian obedience to one person.

Readers have my full permission to forward this response to:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

They pimped us out

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.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Indiakids: Are we "Third Culture Kids"?

I was spending time recalling the many boarding schools in Mussoorie (Waverly, Wynberg-Allen, Woodstock, Mussoorie-Modern just to name a few) and came across this term on Wikipedia: "Third Culture Kid"

Third Culture Kids or Trans-Culture Kids, (abbreviated TCKs or 3CKs,) whom are sometimes also called Global Nomads, "refers to someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture".[1]
Since the term was coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem in the 1960s, TCKs have become a heavily studied global subculture. TCKs tend to have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCKs from their own country.

The article is not fully supported by citations, but has a lot of bibliography and footnotes at the bottom of the page.

Do Indiakids fit into the Third Culture Kid population?

Here's an excerpt, that makes some sense, but also reads more as opinion than data:
TCKs are often multilingual and highly accepting of other cultures. Moving from country to country often becomes an easy thing for these individuals.

Many TCKs take years to readjust to their passport countries. They often suffer a reverse culture shock upon their return, and are constantly homesick for their adopted country. Many Third Culture Kids face an identity crisis: they don't know where they come from. It would be typical for a TCK to say that he or she is a citizen of a country but with nothing beyond their passport to define that identification for them. They usually find it difficult to answer the question, "Where are you from?" Compared to their peers who have lived their entire lives in a single culture, TCKs have a globalized culture. Others can have difficulty relating to them. It is hard for TCKs to present themselves as a single cultured person, which makes it hard for others who have not had similar experiences to accept them for who they are. They know bits and pieces of at least two cultures, yet most of them have not fully experienced any one culture making them feel incomplete or left out by other children who have not lived overseas. They often build social networks among themselves and prefer to socialize with other TCKs.

What do you all think? Is this something you think would be helpful in describing your present situation in life, and when describing upbringing? I think the main difference is that we did not have our parents, as many TCK's did have. But, it's important to note that there were the American Embassy kids at Woodstock boarding school in Mussoorie too.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A brief summary of the India program

The boarding schools I went to were GNFC school in Mussoorie and GRD Academy in Dehra Dun. At first GNFC was the school all the parents collectively sent us to, until about 1989. It was a traditional Sikh boarding school that had a British influence, and had separate campuses for boys and girls. The majority of the students were Indian Sikhs, with some Thai Namtari Sikhs, and us American 3HO Sikhs. The majority of faculty and staff were Indian, and there were about a half-dozen American "guides" with us (incuding the notorious Nanak Dev Singh), and out of those, three were actual teachers and the rest were sort of just assigned to watch over us. One of the guides was made head-nurse by GNFC, and became in charge of the infirmary.

Then there arose a conflict between the 3HO organizers of the India "program" (they were called Sikh Dharma Foreign Education or SDFE) and GNFC. The rumor I got was that SDFE was stiffing GNFC on the bills, and GNFC gave us the boot. SDFE told us however that GNFC was scamming us. I'm really not sure what the real story was, but in 1989 SDFE began constructing its own school in Dehra Dun, called GRD Academy, and was to be structured a lot closer to Yogi Bhajan's idea of a proper school, and was also co-ed. From then on it became a quest of theirs to form a school in their own ideals (or as they said "to have a school of our own").

GRD Academy was funded by a man named Raja Singh who was a rich sikh from Delhi. The school was constructed from the ground up, and we attended class and lived in the dorms all during construction. Food supply was often short, and class was often haphazardly organized. Some of the "guides" who were with us at GNFC stayed along for GRD and played more important roles in the shaping of the school, and many more young adults were brought in from the US, some of whom had attended GNFC and graduated from there. Our Principal, Mr. Waryam, was recruited from GNFC as well. He was a nasty drunk.

There were two guides with US Military backgrounds, and they were brought in to teach us military style drills, something that Yogi Bhajan was particularly fond of at the time. For some reason, the Indian students at GRD were exempt from the military training. The 3HO children were to remain at GRD only for a couple of years, and I really don't know why it didn't work out, because I was back home by then, attending a new experiment for 3HO youth, the New Mexico Military Institute, which also did not last much more than three years. Also in the time of the last years of GNFC and GRD, a state-side school in Albuquerque, NM was founded, called Amritsar Academy, and where Nanak Dev ended up after leaving GNFC in 1986, which also shut down sometime in the early nineties,.

When Punjab became more peaceful and opened up to visitors, SDFE took on the task of moving all the 3HO children to another new, privately owned, and purely 3HO school environment, and that is what Miri Piri Academy is today. MPA is owned by Sikh Dharma-3HO. I never attended MPA, and never visited either. It appears to be more focused on Sikhism and Sikh Culture, and less focused on academics. I know that it still operates the same way that SDFE organized sending guides over: very low pay, in exchange for room and board. They recruit individuals with no knowledge about childcare, or experience with teaching. They plunk these people in positions of authority over many children, and have no business being there. Some teachers or guides at MPA simply graduated from GNFC, GRD or MPA, and went straight into these positions, with no training or higher education, and certainly no education about childhood development or education. I'm unaware of the statistics for graduates of MPA who pursue higher education. My guess is that it's relatively similar to my own generation. The majority of youth who pursue higher education ultimately gain critical thinking skills and independent thought, and pursue their own lives outside the realm of 3HO.

We were beat and slapped by the Indian teachers and guides at GNFC, and were also made to do lots of bizarre corporal punishments, that had lots to do with awkward positioning and endurance. At GRD, the beating was not non-existent, however was rare. The corporal punishment remained about the same as GNFC, and was often inflicted by the guides, and the Indian teachers at GRD rarely ordered punishments. Amritsar Academy had it's own "seva" style, or "karma-yoga" type discipline. I don't know first-hand what the disciplinary style of the staff and teachers is at MPA, and I'm not comfortable talking about the various rumors that circulate, because I have no way of verifying them. Please comment below if you have a first-hand account.