Yogi Bhajan was born Harbhajan Singh Puri on August 26, 1929 in Kot Harkarn, Gujranwala district in what is now Pakistan. His father was a medical doctor and a Sikh, his mother Hindu, and his early education was in a Catholic school run by nuns. The family was well-to-do landlords, and his paternal grandfather was his primary teacher in the Sikh tradition.
In 1947, Harbhajan’s education and life were interrupted by the violent partition of India, and the family fled to New Delhi. He completed his studies and graduated with a Masters degree in economics. He entered government service in 1952 in the Revenue Department, and then as a customs inspector at Delhi airport. During this period, he married Inderjit Kaur Uppal (1954) and they had three children. Harbhajan continued his studies of yogic disciplines at various ashrams with a number of teachers and swamis.
In 1968, Harbhajan Singh migrated to Toronto, Canada, and after several months, went on to Los Angeles in December 1968. There he met Judith Tyberg (renamed Shakti Parwha Kaur) who invited him to teach at the East-West Cultural Center, and on January 6, Yogi Bhajan was launched and became a regular presenter. His teachings, melding Kundalini Yoga, the Sikh tradition, and a bit of astrology resonated well with the hippie lifestyle and spiritual aspirations of the developing youth culture.
Adopting the modest title of “Yogi,” Yogi Bhajan said that he did not come to gather students, but to create teachers. He described himself as the Postman, delivering the teachings of Kundalini Yoga, and for the next 3½ decades, that is what he did. Thousands of lectures, yoga classes and meditations were delivered and fortunately, recorded. Subsequently, these teachings were digitized and preserved in the extensive Yogi Bhajan Library of Teachings available online today.
In 1970, Yogi Bhajan established 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization), bringing together vigorous yoga, vegetarian diet, a Western brand of Sikhism, and a vision of destiny in a changing world. From counter-cultural beginnings, 3HO now includes over 300 centers in 35 countries. Subsequent non-profits were created to foster and oversee the progressively global Kundalini Yoga community: IKYTA (International Kundalini Yoga Teachers’ Association), KRI (Kundalini Research Institute) overseeing teacher training, publications, and the Yogi Bhajan Library of Teachings, and Sikh Dharma.
Yogi Bhajan’s economics background found expression in the creation of 17 for-profit businesses, some of which, like Akal Security and East-West Tea Company / Yogi Tea, continue to thrive as large and successful endeavors.
Yogi Bhajan made his presence felt in the larger world of spirituality and politics. Starting with the “Holy Man Jam” in 1970 and continuing to the Parliament of World Religions in 1999, he engaged with various inter-religious councils and forums. Politically, he befriended successive governors in his home state of New Mexico, which flew flags at half-mast for two days following his passing.
Yogi Bhajan died of complications of heart failure at the age of 75 on October 6, 2004, at his home in Espanola, NM. His passing was widely noted in major media including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Times of India, and Yoga Journal.
Fifteen years after his passing, allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of power arose with publication of a memoir by Yogi Bhajan’s secretary, Pamela Saharah Dyson. As other women stepped forward with similar experiences, an inquiry was launched by the major non-profits. SSSC (Siri Singh Sahib Corporation), 3HO and KRI formed a Collaborative Response Team, which commissioned An Olive Branch (AOB) to pursue an inquiry. Their report, affirming the likelihood of the alleged behaviors, sparked reactions ranging from praise of the process to challenges to AOB’s legitimacy.
Action has progressed to a phase of Compassionate Reconciliation, and again the Collaborative Response Team has sought expertise from Just Outcomes, a group drawing on principles of restorative justice. While this has been a traumatic process for the Kundalini Yoga community, it has been carried out with respect, diligence and commitment to transparency.