The last point of major concern for me was that the (leader's) past was littered with accusations of sexual misconduct. The leader mostly denied that the stories were true and tried to discredit them by defaming the people that told these stories. On a few occasions, the lader was unable to counter the claims and admitted to his wrong doings, though shifted the blame to the victim.
He often talked about the danger of getting stuck in the role of victim. I now speculate that his rants against victimization was his way of minimizing the hurt he had caused other people.
When an important term (used in law and journalism) such as 'victim' is removed from a discussion, it becomes exceedingly difficult to discuss the topic with the necessary precision.Quote
For the most part, however, the only visible victims (Leader X seriously dislikes the use of "victim" for the people he has used/abused because it automatically makes him a perpetrator, by definition, and he is seriously invested in not taking responsibility for what he does)
Of Urinals and Dark Forces
An essay on harmful cult influence on an artist
Abstract: This essay discusses cultic influences that affected my career as an artist in the late 1970s. I adopt a suggestion by researcher Ellen Dissanayake that a “behavior of art” means “aesthetic making special.” Dissanayake argues for a biological or evolutionary basis for the aesthetic impulse. That impulse to survive through art led to my desire to find the essence of creative inspiration in Theosophy and its sects because the Modern artists I emulated had pursued Theosophical ideas. My discussion of harmful effects centers primarily on a cult headed by Elizabeth C. Prophet. I also discuss related influences from G.I. Gurdjieff and Nicholas Roerich.
Junkyards and ready-made objects are great resources for modern artists. A famous piece from the Dada movement is a white ceramic urinal signed “R. Mutt” and called Fountain. Exhibited by Marcel Duchamp in 1917, today it is worth over three million dollars. What was anti-art yesterday has become art history today. Duchamp coined “ready-made” for his out of context displays of manufactured objects. Another one was an upside-down bicycle wheel mounted on a pedestal. Duchamp intended to challenge the orthodox conception of art. He was not looking to make a fortune but he did get away with a radical statement. He made art history.
“Art is anything you can get away with,” wrote Marshall McLuhan in 1967. That quote has stayed with me since I first read it in McLuhan’s book The Medium is the Massage. For me, McLuhan meant that if it sells, it is art for the buyer. And it may not have to sell for money. It may merely be bought into as when an art critic applauds something special long before the viewing public appreciates it. Critical acclaim helps to influence the buying crowd. I can imagine a modern art museum selling miniature plastic knock-offs of R. Mutt urinals. In any case, Duchamp aestheticised a common object and transformed it into a cult object if only for the modern art collector.
Maybe religion is that way too. What begins as an ordinary vision or dream becomes prophecy in a sacred matrix or narrative. My working idea for this paper is that religions and cults emerge from an aesthetic impulse to make sense of and project meaning on our physical and mental environments. We make something special when we create art (Dissanayake, 1999) and, in my view, religion. We make a transcendental idea or experience special by surrounding it with myth, ritual and devotion. The form and activity it takes is the cult or religion. To me this is similar to a creative impulse that must risk manifestation in form to succeed or fail—to be realized, to mean something, to live or die. Like new art that seems radical, new religious movements can shake up the stodgy establishment and make a mark in history. As time moves on the successful radical group might become the established religion. There are thousands of cults that inform new religions and inspire old ones. Our religious landscape features a complex riddle of cosmologies and theologies with some outstanding examples that range from the sublime to the terrifying to the ridiculous.
So-called “new” religious movements or cults often recycle or re-specialize old ideas and rituals. Most common are the incarnation of an avatar or reappearance of Christ and techniques for ecstasy. Body movements in the world of Gurdjieff, the founder of the Fourth Way schools in the last century, were not merely dances but became spiritual exercises designed to inform the student with a soul. In various New Age groups the common quartz crystal becomes the repository of the life forces of the universe with intelligent power that magnifies thoughts and feelings. Thus the common crystal like the common urinal finds a devotional milieu. Need I mention the stars? In many ancient traditions the moving planets become the gods of fate. Religious meaning appears seemingly out of nothing originally embodied by the object or event as when Christ changed water to wine.
However, like badly wrought artwork, badly conceived religions and cults usually falter and fade from human interest, albeit some create harm and havoc in the process. Art primarily affects our aesthetic values while spiritual values expressed in religion tend to guide our moral choices but both are vital to human social expression. Aesthetics informs both realms if indeed they are separate. Visions, scents, and sounds inspire our myths—the sun, rose perfume, and thunder. Art and spirituality mix intimately in human history from the Lascaux cave drawings to the Sistine Chapel and beyond. Good music can transport us to otherworldly perceptions and emotions. We illustrate our special experiences and our myths to our delight.
We can say that humanity creates galleries of religions that are attached to a great museum of spiritual endeavor. Homo sapiens is Homo religioso as well as Homo aestheticus as argued by Ellen Dissanayake. Origin myths speak to the aesthetic basis of cults that depend on these myths for definition and direction. Seemingly fantastic stories somehow evoke transcendent responses in devotees not so much for what the stories say but for what they imply in interpretation and what they corroborate in spiritual experience. Reliance on authority figures who interpret sacred stories is the key to the process. How else is a Muslim, for example, to make sense of Mohammed’s mystic flight on his horse? How does a Jew make sense of the burning bush as the deity talking with Moses or a Christian the crucified Jew that resurrected after death? How can a Hindu praise a juice called Soma and also call it a god? Without one dominant interpretation devotees of any myth or object may never agree on meaning. The prophet or seer must provide a convincing version of the truth. In the old world a prophet’s life could depend on how well his interpretation met reality—he literally needed to get away with it to keep his life.
Getting away with a fantastic myth or scripture is one thing but how we get away with it is another. What is the motive? What is the source—is it imagination, confabulation, mental illness, an actual event, illumination, or a sacred being? Surely we can believe anything but how do we tend to those beliefs? What behaviors do those beliefs inspire? Is it true? These questions have no simple answers unless a guru’s answer stops us from questioning and applying our aesthetic impulses.
Let me define what I mean by aesthetics. Typically, the term refers to appreciation of the arts and to definitions of beauty. We apply aesthetics to our sensual judgments: It smells good; that is a fantastic landscape; that hymn makes me feel holy; she is gorgeous; or, that is an elegant solution to a math problem. Our aesthetic judgment can refer to taste and to what Renaissance writers called gusto. More so, I adopt a suggestion by researcher Ellen Dissanayake that a “behavior of art” means “aesthetic making special.” Dissanayake argues for a biological or evolutionary basis for the aesthetic impulse. In other words, something occurs innately in the human drive for survival that urges us to seek and recognize beauty, symmetry, and elegance because it appears to enhance our quality of life if not life itself. As art supports religion, our deepest instinct to survive extends even to life beyond death. We arrange and design the environment and our perceptions to support this impulse. We build pyramids, sacrifice animals, compose and chant prayers and we ingest entheogenic substances.
We will act to mimic or own aesthetically pleasing things. We will adapt to what we are convinced is tastefully correct. We have only to think of the latest fads in clothing and hairstyles, the latest architectural themes, or an intriguing if revolutionary philosophy. Our urge to know a transcendent being and the secrets of life draws us to prophets and gurus that say prophetic things and appear prophetic and aesthetically pleasing. In other words, prophets and visionaries also have to be convincing actors. That convincing trait we call charisma and charisma works through aesthetics. Charisma appeals to what we experience, hear, feel, see, and can touch in a person. There is something about a person, we say, that sets them apart and makes them attractive to us. That “about” we interpret through an aesthetic judgment—he or she fits our taste in philosophy, theology, music, looks, or courage. If we limit our taste or aesthetic to please a guru’s pleasure we risk excluding something better. We risk obsession and psychological closure.
Now that we have looked at what I mean by aesthetics, I will turn to a definition of cult, a word that evokes a variety of responses as well as contains a variety of meanings. Cult is a ritualistic system of devotion to a person, object or idea and includes ritual behavior that engages our aesthetic impulses. We fold our hands reverently, bow, make images, write stories, sit in odd positions quietly, dance in a trance, play instruments and compose music, and go on long pilgrimages to worship a person, object, or idea. A less accurate but more common understanding is that a cult is a spurious group. Some of the confusion reflects a cult’s irrational and transcendental nature. Forming a cult around something is like falling in love or becoming infatuated—the sacred or transcendent feeling is the motivation if not the goal or purpose. A cult is not a factory, a laboratory, or a university although one may operate through such a matrix. The irrational is an essential feature of a cult. The American Heritage Dictionary indicates as much—4: A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease; 5: Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing. We can assume that the less reasonable the devotion, the more room for manipulation and abuse because references and judgments tend to be subjective and dependent on a leader’s authoritative interpretation.
It is natural to view a cult with suspicion or as spurious if you are an outsider. The uninformed outsider will not share the feelings nor appreciate the aesthetic appeal, the language, and the meaning behind the devotion. The outsider may even experience revulsion. The scholar and the journalist may strive to appreciate the phenomenon of a cult aesthetically and historically with no intent to convert or “go native.” However, the natives or members of a cult experience a range of satisfying sensual and intellectual responses to ritual and dogma. Satisfying may not always mean entirely pleasurable, for example, in fire walking or fasting and end times myths or demon attack. Satisfaction comes from knowing that even unpleasant revelations and practices augment personal enlightenment or planetary salvation.
Faith provides enjoyment, but suspicion or doubt increases anxiety in the devotee. To sustain homeostasis in devotion, aesthetic judgment must adjust to the demands of the faith. If cults have aesthetic features that enhance their attractiveness, then members will adapt to these features. In other words, to belong to a cult requires certain adaptations and restrictions of aesthetic judgment in the devotee.
My cult passage
This brings me to a personal account of my cult experiences and how my art studies drew me into occult ideas and the cults that promote them. Ironically, my attraction for the freewheeling experimentation of modern artists led to the restrictions of a cult. As a young art student in the late 1960s, I most admired and even imitated the works of Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and William Blake. Later, I mimicked the colorful, iconic illustration of Nicholas Roerich. Except for Blake who followed the theosophy of Emmanuel Swedenborg, all of the artists mentioned drew from the metaphysical well of the Theosophical Society and related occult teachings. Specifically, two leading Theosophists published a small tome illustrated with images of extrasensory reality that inspired early abstract painters. The book Thought Forms by Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater appeared in 1906 with dozens of colorful abstract images. Among western Modernists, historians credit Kandinsky with making the first completely abstract or non-objective paintings around 1911. He was influenced by Thought Forms. He was not alone in this venture. Artists had been experimenting with colors and forms to represent emotion (Van Gogh) and sound (Scriabin) for years but to me Kandinsky became the most important modernist theoretician. He wrote that his art came from a mystical source or “inner necessity” in Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Kandinsky maintained that his approach to painting paralleled new advances in science with Einstein and psychology with Freud. He would “reveal” that same hidden reality explored by physicists, musicians, and psychologists. He often named his paintings “improvisation” and “composition” asserting their musical connection. Kandinsky remains one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.
I wanted to participate in whatever it was that drove Kandinsky to produce his images. If I could tap that source then my art might also be truly “original.” Eventually I began to read the works of Helena P. Blavatsky (1831-1891), the same Theosophist that Kandinsky found so important. Blavatsky (HPB) also inspired a host of imitators that claimed to be mediums or channels for “Masters” that guided the affairs of human kind from spiritual dimensions. These ersatz guardian angels belonged to a secret group called the Great White Lodge (Great White Brotherhood). Occultists and mystics including Emmanuel Swedenborg and the early Rosicrucian Brotherhood that greatly influenced the foundations of Freemasonry also claimed contact with these mysterious adepts and angels. I did not know then that the majority of these adepts have no verifiable historical existence (Johnson, 1994).
Among all the artists I studied, Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) was the most ardent imitator of HPB’s mythological system. His signature art style combined elements of Gaugin’s Post-Impressionism with an Oriental flair for composition. Roerich and his wife Helena (died 1955) established the Agni Yoga Society in the early 1920s in London and New York and later at a residence in northern India. Lately, Agni Yoga has become popular in Russia with millions of devotees (Stasulane, 2005). The Roerichs claimed that Blavatsky’s mysterious Master Morya guided them to form Agni Yoga (AY). The first publication of the AY series of esoteric teachings was Leaves of Morya’s Garden (1924). I bought and read nearly all in the series of fifteen plus volumes.[ii]
In 1978, I learned that Elizabeth Prophet (born 1939) claimed that her daughter Tatiana was the reincarnation of Helena Roerich! Prophet has dementia now but from 1961 to 1996 she led a large New Age cult, Church Universal and Triumphant. Intrigued with the connection to Agni Yoga, I subsequently read several of Prophet’s books and listened to many of CUT’s audio taped dictations. Despite my wife’s objections, I attended a major CUT conference near Los Angeles in March 1979. Several thousands of devotees attended that conference. After four days of chanting, interacting with CUT staff members, listening to channeled lectures from the Ascended Masters, and little sleep, the effect on me was palpable enough. My wife believed that she had lost me to another world. During our divorce process five months later she said, “You are not the same man I married.” We had been together for seven years and our daughter was almost two years old. What happened? Many studied opinions about how cults cause quirky conversions and “sudden” personality changes might apply to me, but I was already primed after years of deep interest in groups that used Theosophical teachings including the “I AM” Activity and Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way.
The year before I went to my first CUT conference, Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman published Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change in 1978. The book was a groundbreaking study regarding cults and brainwashing. I looked to Snapping for help late in 1980 after I broke with CUT. It was helpful—it was a comfort to know that my problem had a name. Despite its inadequate sampling, the mistaken notion that this was a “new phenomenon” and a less than rigorous scientific method, Snapping tackled a very real problem. The authors offered rare insight for ex-members into the current cult member’s experience. The social science community and mainstream psychology had practically ignored the common plight of ex-cult members. Snapping’s authors surmised that under certain conditions of group pressure and altered states of mind a recruit or seeker will “snap” and rapidly adapt to a new way of being. I am not about to argue here about the validity of brainwashing theory; neither am I arguing that sudden change is good or bad. Traditional military training at boot camps, revival meetings during which folks are born again supply enough evidence that the snapping phenomenon is real enough. Whatever the case, I believe I experienced what I. M. Lewis reports as a “mystical experience, [that] like any other experience, is grounded in the environment in which it is achieved. It thus inevitably bears the stamp of the culture and society in which it arises.” (Lewis, 1989, p. 5) My interest here is to examine the psycho-sensual catalysts or environment of intense personality changes.
CUT viewed colors as aspects of cosmic “rays” of energy, some of which elevated consciousness while others trapped awareness in lower states. The color aided in one’s ascension or hindered it. For example, ascension-aiding rays were white/purity, yellow/intelligence, blue/god power, green/supply and health, pink/love, rose/deeper love, and violet/purification. The cult avoided black, brown, silver, gray, checkered or patterned colors, red, and muddy shades. The latter colors polluted the energy of the “lower bodies” or physical self composed of earth, air, fire and water. Classical music, certain hymns, Hindu bhajans, and chanted CUT decrees were good sounds but rock music, jazz, rap, and country music were deleterious. Gold jewelry could touch the skin but not silver. Silver as gray energy was too intellectual and lacked love. An organic, raw food diet was best when I was involved but basic vegetarianism was required. Sex was for procreation only and performed only after certain decrees or mantras. Celibacy was better. Sleeping was better metaphysically if on the back with right leg crossed over left and hands over the solar plexus.
In CUT teaching, certain environments like taverns and rock concerts contained dark forces called entities that could attach to one’s “aura” (a kind of personal force field). Newspapers, movies and television shows bombarded the devotee with psychic pollution. Nicotine, alcoholic drinks, sugar, chocolate, and all drugs could cause an entity or demon to lodge in one’s aura. CUT teachings chided devotees to avoid all negative thoughts, argument, anger, fear, jealousy, lust, doubt, and thoughts of feeling sick or crazy. Men’s hair length should not touch the collar and almost all the CUT men were clean-shaven. Modern or abstract art was not good, but realistic religious art enhanced one’s consciousness—Picasso, Camille Pisarro and Jackson Pollock were out while Raphael, Gustav Doré and Roerich were in. Cult teaching invaded all of my senses and appetites.
Imagine my household. My wife was a smoker and drank wine occasionally. She liked to listen to rock and folk music, ate meat, enjoyed sex normally and appreciated art that was modern as I had up till then. We had friends that drank alcohol and smoked marijuana. I began to imagine entities everywhere. I removed certain pictures from the walls, changed my diet to vegetarian, avoided our old friends, refused alcohol, and would not go to some movies my wife wanted to see. I asked that we not feed meat to our daughter or expose her to certain cartoons but when my wife insisted I let it go. I played “I AM” instrumental compositions on pink, blue, or green vinyl records when I was home to “clear” the bad energy. These insipid harp instrumentals, precursors to modern ambient music, irritated my wife. Within a week after the conference I cut my hair short (for the first time in ten years) and shaved my beard. I felt guilty about having sex for fun. I felt that entities attached to me when I got angry. We argued more and more over what she saw as petty and I saw as sacred. We interacted less to avoid disputes. I wore the required white shirt on Sundays and a purple one on Saturdays. Other days had special colors too. I was caught up in a metaphysical demand for purity.
Then there was my art. At the time, I continued to sell the odd painting through a gallery but I made most of my living sketching portraits of tourists in public. I used black charcoal and a wide range of pastel colors on gray paper. I painted landscapes that required muddy colors as well as reds and sometimes black. Though for one year I tried mightily to conform to CUT’s aesthetic requirements, I never completely resolved my palette with only the sacred colors. When I asked CUT staff for advice, they would only suggest I use “pure” colors or I could “transmute” the bad color energy with decrees. So, there was an out and (as I found out years later from eyewitnesses) the leader used this “out” to justify a double standard: If you cannot avoid it, transmute it! Elizabeth Prophet was having prime cuts of meat, expensive wines and ice creams. She had extramarital sex. She encouraged one of her teenage daughters who had an affair with a black fellow to get an abortion. CUT was adamantly pro-life. Enlightenment apparently meant entitlement in CUT, but I was yet a naïve devotee in 1979. I was not enlightened. I struggled to live according to an utterly complex, impossible to prove system. I struggled daily with guilt and shame while suppressing anger and doubt. How could anyone ever be pure enough to make this work? I could not especially as an artist. I continued to make pastel portraits that required many of the forbidden colors because I had to make a living.
Once I finally admitted that this path was not for me, the way out was not so easy. I needed some proof that I could leave. The admonition for the CUT initiate after all was a harsh one: If you reject this opportunity to ascend now, it might be another “ten thousand lifetimes” until another one comes along. Rationally I knew that the group’s teachings did not add up. I knew the arguments against CUT’s odd interpretations of Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu religion. None of the Ascended Master or Great White Lodge cults squared with one another on essential points and none agreed that Mother Prophet was the true Messenger. Two leaders of rival sects, Torkom Saraydarian of the Aquarian Educational Group and Sina Fosdick of the Agni Yoga Society, told me in person that Prophet was a fake. I knew that Roerich, the artist, used red and black pigments liberally. He dressed in black Tibetan robes. But I needed something more to convince me. I needed an aesthetic and, possibly, a spiritual experience because my conversion started through an aesthetic experience that led to the spiritual one at the conference.
Among a host of events that added up to my defection from CUT and ultimate rejection of nearly all of organized occultism, I will mention two that changed my palette back to “normal.” Please keep in mind that an aesthetic judgment is not necessarily a rational one. Why we prefer one color to another may be as mysterious and mystical as why we prefer one god to another. It may be as mysterious as why an art collector might pay three million dollars for a ceramic urinal displayed once by Marcel Duchamp. The authors of Snapping interviewed many ex-members that described moments of ecstasy and flooding of the mind (brain) with thoughts that reorganized impressions of the cult instantly. Cults labeled these “aha” moments with loaded language: Satori, insight, grace, breakthrough, holy instant, God’s will, etc. The reverse of this conversion process sometimes demands a series of aha moments as well.
My daughter at three years old was riding with me in my green Fiat sedan just one month after I ended my relationship with CUT. It was early autumn. The car had a black dashboard. For some reason I was concentrating on the negative charge of black yet haunted by the cult admonition when my daughter suddenly said, “But daddy, black is good!” Surprised at her comment, I answered quizzically, “Okay…it’s good?” That was the end of the conversation. I do not recall ever saying anything to her about black. I am not claiming that I did not say something sometime to her—I may have dissociated and said something out loud right then— but the coincidence was uncanny nevertheless, even jolting. It may have been a day later, after I dropped her off at her mother’s place and returned to my studio, that I noticed my daughter’s Raggedy Ann doll that she left behind. The limp doll faced me as it leaned over on the small green sofa that served as my daughter’s bed. The stark red hair of the doll grabbed my attention. I began to shed tears. I “asked” the doll to forgive me for condemning it for the color of its hair. That experience penetrated me in what I can only describe as a spiritual insight. I never had a “religious” problem with my palette again.
These two “aha” color events illustrate in a small way how an aesthetic experience aided in my recovery from irrational and practically useless if not debilitating cult ideas. I had a host of these. I wish to point out how sensual signals perform as “triggers” to stimulate compliance to cult milieu and doctrine. Unloading all the cult-induced meaning (all black is bad) from signs in the environment can seem nearly impossible at first despite therapeutic assistance.
To be effective, I think, therapy of any kind should take into account the context and history of the delusional belief that affects a cult member’s aesthetic world. Most therapists I have known are client-centered and try to honor the cultural beliefs of their clients within reason. As an exit counselor, I challenge false beliefs by introducing a wider frame of reference based on reasonable evidence—totalist cults by nature restrict information and choice in closed systems. My role is to encourage psychological and intellectual expansion. For example, one of my clients, a young lady who was a dedicated CUT member for six years, left the cult after talking with me and a colleague for several days. Her parents arranged a non-coercive intervention at their home in Florida. A week later I escorted the now ex-member to the Unbound recovery center in Iowa but it was cold there and she needed a coat. She experienced near panic when, with my encouragement, she tried on a red jacket at a mall. She was not yet ready for red! Recovery required months for that ex-member to restore black and red to a wider and positive frame of reference. She needed to learn more about the source of the color code and its flimsy justification to dispel it. In my case, after making the emotional and intellectual adjustments, I could relate to colors appropriately and individually in short order. In contrast to my client who had little background in comparative occultism, I already knew the history of how conflicted occultists were (and are) over the spiritual effects of color. Goethe saw red as “grave and magnificent” (Goethe, p. 315) whereas the “I AM” cult saw red as anger and charged with inappropriate sexual excitement, and Corinne Heline claims, “Red is the color whereby the Holy Spirit manifests the Activity Principle” (Heline, p. 40). I was struggling with personal conflict: Was there any ideal or Platonic universal regarding color? Might black always be a negative? This weird color revelation through my daughter reestablished my appreciation for color and styles of art like Cubism prohibited by the cult. I grasped that I was not capable of finding a universal theme for black, nor was there any compelling reason for me to pursue an absolute. I was neither God nor a god. Consequently, I could again enjoy a Picasso, a Pisarro and a Pollock if I chose to. However, even if I could afford it, I doubt I would pay millions of dollars for a ceramic urinal even if it is a wonderful, historical joke.
Tangled up in G
Dark forces come in many guises. I want to take a brief look at one more controversial movement I studied as a seeker that has impacted a number of artists and creative designers. During my exit counseling career since 1980 I have encountered members of a variety of cults that used G. I. Gurdjieff’s methods and revelations. Gurdjieff died in 1949 a year after serious complications from a motor vehicle accident. He was in his seventies—no one has established his exact birth date. By all accounts his style as a guru ranged from ambiguous to cruel with enough flashes of brilliance to continually impress his most sophisticated devotees if not his critics. Variously referred to as Mister Gurdjieff and G, Gurdjieff taught through a “crazy wisdom” style (Feuerstein, 1992, pp. 54-9).
Gurdjieff taught that men and women live in a numb psychological bondage as “machines” that need to be jolted into self-awareness by any means to create a soul in this lifetime. To this end Gurdjieff developed a few techniques that tapped music, movement, myth and theater.[iii] None of the ardent Fourth Way students that I interviewed over the past decades seemed to grasp the teaching any better than I did, if indeed there were anything to grasp. Even J. G. Bennett, Gurdjieff’s prime American disciple and founder of an important Fourth Way school struggled. “Bennett comments on something they all observed: that, however much attention they paid, no two pupils could ever agree on exactly what Gurdjieff had said (Washington, 1993, p. 349). That ambiguity coupled with a high demand for self-transformation caused some devotees to suffer in their creative careers. As James Webb reports in the last chapter of The Harmonious Circle, “Imagine the extent of Ouspensky’s chagrin when he realized that the man for whom he had sacrificed a promising career [journalist] and allowed himself to be trapped in Bolshevik Russia was to all intents and purposes a fraud.” However, some Fourth Way devotees thrived in their creativity. The great architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife followed Gurdjieff for a time. Wright’s daughter Iovanna was one of Gurdjieff’s obedient young girl servants at the end of the master’s life. Gurdjieff endearingly called them his “calves” (Webb, 1987). Wright established the Taliesan Fellowship to teach an “essential architecture” deeply influenced by Gurdjieff’s ideas. Gurdjieff visited Taliesan several times in the 1930s.
Gurdjieff designed dances and plays to radically transform his students. He claimed to derive his so-called Movements from a mysterious sect possibly in Syria (Washington, p.344). This sect, the Sarmoung Brotherhood or “Sarmoun” (Webb, 1987, p. 38), had suspiciously similar roots as Blavatsky’s mythic White Brotherhood that was essentially a product of her fertile imagination (Johnson, 1994). Gurdjieff’s dancers (students performing the sacred Movements) performed for audiences in New York in 1924 he directed them unlike any director the audience had seen. In a particular movement dancers would rush to the edge of the stage and stop dead still. During one remarkable performance the capricious Gurdjieff “calmly turned his back, and was lighting a cigarette. In the next split second an aerial human avalanche was flying through the air, across the orchestra, down among the empty chairs, on the floor, bodies pell-mell, piled on top of each other, arms and legs sticking out in silence” (Webb, 1987, pp. 268-9). Amazingly no one was badly hurt.
Gurdjieff moved his devotees around often but his most famous period as with his group south of Paris at the Prieuré in the 1920s. Most of Gurdjieff’s closest followers were people of talent and means—sensitive seekers with money and time to spare. By all reports he treated them with loving disdain. Gurdjieff was known for his real and mock tantrums and an erratic behavior that his students interpreted as a clever teaching style. One would think that the man had no heart but curiously he did when it came to the common folk outside his student circle. When the group left Paris, a large if motley collection of art work was found in the master’s flat. Gurdjieff had a habit of buying bad art from struggling artists to encourage them. On the other hand when he visited America late in his career he criticized the students doing his Movements, comparing them to “worms in shit” (Washington, 1993, p. 350). In Gurdjieff’s circle, art served the master’s whims to craft his devotees in his image.
I began by mentioning Duchamp’s “ready mades” as art. He was intimately involved with an art movement that tried many strategies to tap the inner self or transpersonal worlds for inspiration. Hypnosis and automatic writing were two avenues of experimentation among his peers in the Dada and Surrealist movements. The Dadaists sustained a radical individualism despite their congregation as a movement. They continued to create art and anti-art without regard for a formal self-realization that required a guru and a guru’s techniques. As much as I enjoyed the antics in Dada, I could not identify with that much chaotic creative energy. I sought a style or teacher with clearer direction, and I thought I finally found that in 1975. Nicholas Roerich was most successful among Theosophist artists but too many of his “7,000” paintings depended on “sacred” formulas that used bright orange, purple, green and blue hues. Roerich wore his guru status on his sleeve, so to speak—he often wore a Tibetan costume. His peers in Russian art circles regarded him early on as a “poseur” (Tuchman, 1986) that lived in an elitist fantasy world.[iv] Roerich and Gurdjieff inferred that they were specially chosen by some higher power yet all that their disciples had for proof was the guru’s word and a devotee’s personal experience of charisma. Is the lesson here about what we do for our art and not about what our gurus do for our art?
The lesson for me from the cult experience as an artist is complicated. I can no more blame a group’s influence for my lack of creativity or success as an artist than I can blame my career as an exit counselor or mental health professional. Cults like careers take up a lot of time. I still exhibit a few paintings a year and attract a commission or win an award now and then but my income from art is negligible. The great artists are not distracted from their quest by jobs and family matters much less by quirky cults. Art is their job notwithstanding cultic influences. The damage I think occurs more often to sensitive artists who are either early in their creative careers or struggling to establish an oeuvre or art identity. If a struggling artist buys into the notion that a group or guru’s techniques and influence are necessary for a personal transformation to find one’s artistic identity, then the possibilities of restricting a creative career increase.
A few questions emerged from my struggles under cult influence. When am I adult enough to run my spiritual life? Maturity comes hard if ever in the submissive cultic relationship. Why write a novel or paint fine landscapes when I could be chanting and saving myself, not to mention saving the world? If my creative life proceeds from spirituality, then it becomes a matter of priority. I thought I was into something new, into a cutting edge revelation that required submission first to achieve clarification with deep understanding coming later. In subsequent years I learned that most if not all the “new” religious ideas that so intrigued and attracted me were recycled notions re-presented in modern drag or, if you will, a current aesthetic. Cults continue to reinvent the wheels of human spirituality and too often repeat the mistakes of old and harmful group formations. I also learned that what appears first as a precious opportunity to transform my soul, if that were even possible, can easily convert to a cult of endless submission and mindless ritual. The wheels merely ran in ruts around and around one leader’s grandiose claims. She wore the crown of the Mother of the Universe! She had the stamp of an ascended host on her metaphysical curriculum vitae! She was the most valuable person living on the planet! Was I willing to pay for the privilege of serving her mission with all I had and with my very life? What was I going to get—really? It was a tough lesson that fortunately took me far less time to learn than it could have. And I learned some things about myself as an artist also. Signed ceramic urinals on pedestals worth millions of dollars have less value to me now than finding an unsigned one in a junkyard.
Besant, Annie and Leadbeater, Charles C. W. 1980 (1906 first edition). Thought Forms. Adyar, Madras, India : Quest Book.
Dissanayake, Ellen. 1999 (1992 first edition). Homo Aestheticus: Where art comes from and why. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
Conway, Flo and Siegelman, Jim. 1995 (1978 first edition). Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change. NewYork, NY: Stillpoint Press.
Feuerstein, Georg. 1992. Holy Madness: The shock tactics and radical teachings of crazy-wise adepts, holy fools, and rascal gurus. New York, NY: Arkana Publishing.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. 1973. Theory of Colors. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press.
Heline, Corrine. 1974. Color and Music in the New Age. La Canada, CA: New Age Press, Inc.
Johnson, K. Paul. 1994. The Masters Revealed: Madam Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge. New York, NY: State University of New York Press.
Kandinsky, Wassily. 1977 (1914 first edition). Concerning the Spiritual in Art. New York, NY:Dover Publications.
Lachman, Gary. 2004. In Search of P.D. Ouspensky: The Genius in the Shadow of Gurdjieff. Quest Books.
Lewis, I. M. 1989. Ecstatic Religion: A Study of Shamanism and Spirit Possession (second edition). New York, NY: Routledge.
McLuhan, Marshall and Fiore, Quentin. 1967. The Medium is the Massage. New York, NY: Bantam.
Stasulane, Anita. 2005. Theosophy and Culture: Nicholas Roerich. Interreligious and Intercultural Investigations Series, Volume 8, 2005. Roma, Italia. Gregorian Research Centre on Cultures and Religions.
Tuchman, Maurice, organizer and Weisberger, Edward, editor, 1986. The Spiritual in Art: Abstract painting, 1890-1985. Los Angeles, California: Los Angeles County Museum of Art with New York, NY: Abbeville Press, Inc.
Washington, Peter. 1993. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru. London, Great Britain: Secker & Warburg, Lt.
Webb, James. 1987. The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Work of G. I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Williams, Robert C. 1980 Russian Art and American Money. Boston, MA : Harvard University Press.
“Kandinsky was also spiritually influenced by works of H. P. Blavatsky (1831-91), the most important exponent of Theosophy in modern times. Theosophical theory postulates that creation is a geometrical progression, beginning with a single point. The creative aspect of the forms is expressed by the descending series of circles, triangles, and squares. Kandinsky's book Concerning the Spiritual In Art (1910) and Point and Line to Plane (1926) echoed this basic Theosophical tenet.” [en.wikipedia.org]
[iii] For the sake of economy and if you wish to avoid the bizarre writings of Gurdjieff himself, I refer the reader to three critical sources that describe Gurdjieff and his teachings.: Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon by Peter Washington (1993), The Harmonious Circle by James Webb (1987), and In Search of P.D. Ouspensky: The Genius in the Shadow of Gurdjieff by Gary Lachman (2004).
[iv] The most complete, sympathetic biography is the fine book by Jacqueline Decter (1989) Nicholas Roerich: The Life & Art of a Russian Master, but Decter does report on the controversies as well. The Roerich’s counted Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace and many wealthy Americans as their disciples. For a well-researched history of the controversy surrounding Roerich read The Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the race for empire in central Asia by Karl Meyer and Shareen B. Brysac (1999), Chapters 18 & 19. For an extensive history of Roerich’s influence on Henry Wallace and the U.S. government, read chapter 8 of American Dreamer by John Culver and John Hyde (2000). R. C. Williams (1980) Russian Art and American Money is not sympathetic, but has useful information in a chapter on Roerich.
Biography: Since 1980 Joseph Szimhart has pursued a career in cultic studies through exit counseling, lecturing, writing articles and reviews, maintaining a website and as a media and litigation consultant. Since 1998 he is also employed as a mental health professional for a psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania. Szimhart has produced and exhibited artwork since the late 1960s.
How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body
Danielle Levitt for The New York Times
Members of the Broadway cast of “Godspell” do their flexible best. From left: Uzo Aduba (doing the wheel), George Salazar (extended-hand-to-big-toe pose) and Nick Blaemire (headstand).
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
Published: January 5, 2012
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On a cold Saturday in early 2009, Glenn Black, a yoga teacher of nearly four decades, whose devoted clientele includes a number of celebrities and prominent gurus, was giving a master class at Sankalpah Yoga in Manhattan. Black is, in many ways, a classic yogi: he studied in Pune, India, at the institute founded by the legendary B. K. S. Iyengar, and spent years in solitude and meditation. He now lives in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and often teaches at the nearby Omega Institute, a New Age emporium spread over nearly 200 acres of woods and gardens. He is known for his rigor and his down-to-earth style. But this was not why I sought him out: Black, I’d been told, was the person to speak with if you wanted to know not about the virtues of yoga but rather about the damage it could do. Many of his regular clients came to him for bodywork or rehabilitation following yoga injuries. This was the situation I found myself in. In my 30s, I had somehow managed to rupture a disk in my lower back and found I could prevent bouts of pain with a selection of yoga postures and abdominal exercises. Then, in 2007, while doing the extended-side-angle pose, a posture hailed as a cure for many diseases, my back gave way. With it went my belief, naïve in retrospect, that yoga was a source only of healing and never harm.
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Danielle Levitt for The New York Times
Salazar: I would say I’m a 7 out of 10 on the flexibility scale.
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Danielle Levitt for The New York Times
Aduba: You know when people jump up into those crazy positions, like they stand on their eyeballs or something, while you’re sitting there just trying to figure out which side of the mat you used the last time? I envy them.
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Danielle Levitt for The New York Times
Blaemire: The plow was the easiest position of the day — though it is quite a strange feeling having your face that close to your knees.
At Sankalpah Yoga, the room was packed; roughly half the students were said to be teachers themselves. Black walked around the room, joking and talking. “Is this yoga?” he asked as we sweated through a pose that seemed to demand superhuman endurance. “It is if you’re paying attention.” His approach was almost free-form: he made us hold poses for a long time but taught no inversions and few classical postures. Throughout the class, he urged us to pay attention to the thresholds of pain. “I make it as hard as possible,” he told the group. “It’s up to you to make it easy on yourself.” He drove his point home with a cautionary tale. In India, he recalled, a yogi came to study at Iyengar’s school and threw himself into a spinal twist. Black said he watched in disbelief as three of the man’s ribs gave way — pop, pop, pop.
After class, I asked Black about his approach to teaching yoga — the emphasis on holding only a few simple poses, the absence of common inversions like headstands and shoulder stands. He gave me the kind of answer you’d expect from any yoga teacher: that awareness is more important than rushing through a series of postures just to say you’d done them. But then he said something more radical. Black has come to believe that “the vast majority of people” should give up yoga altogether. It’s simply too likely to cause harm.
Not just students but celebrated teachers too, Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. Instead of doing yoga, “they need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition,” he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. “Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.”
Black seemingly reconciles the dangers of yoga with his own teaching of it by working hard at knowing when a student “shouldn’t do something — the shoulder stand, the headstand or putting any weight on the cervical vertebrae.” Though he studied with Shmuel Tatz, a legendary Manhattan-based physical therapist who devised a method of massage and alignment for actors and dancers, he acknowledges that he has no formal training for determining which poses are good for a student and which may be problematic. What he does have, he says, is “a ton of experience.”
“To come to New York and do a class with people who have many problems and say, ‘O.K., we’re going to do this sequence of poses today’ — it just doesn’t work.”
According to Black, a number of factors have converged to heighten the risk of practicing yoga. The biggest is the demographic shift in those who study it. Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems. Many come to yoga as a gentle alternative to vigorous sports or for rehabilitation for injuries. But yoga’s exploding popularity — the number of Americans doing yoga has risen from about 4 million in 2001 to what some estimate to be as many as 20 million in 2011 — means that there is now an abundance of studios where many teachers lack the deeper training necessary to recognize when students are headed toward injury. “Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people,” Black said. “You can’t believe what’s going on — teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’ It has to do with their egos.”
When yoga teachers come to him for bodywork after suffering major traumas, Black tells them, “Don’t do yoga.”
“They look at me like I’m crazy,” he goes on to say. “And I know if they continue, they won’t be able to take it.” I asked him about the worst injuries he’d seen. He spoke of well-known yoga teachers doing such basic poses as downward-facing dog, in which the body forms an inverted V, so strenuously that they tore Achilles tendons. “It’s ego,” he said. “The whole point of yoga is to get rid of ego.” He said he had seen some “pretty gruesome hips.” “One of the biggest teachers in America had zero movement in her hip joints,” Black told me. “The sockets had become so degenerated that she had to have hip replacements.” I asked if she still taught. “Oh, yeah,” Black replied. “There are other yoga teachers that have such bad backs they have to lie down to teach. I’d be so embarrassed.”
Among devotees, from gurus to acolytes forever carrying their rolled-up mats, yoga is described as a nearly miraculous agent of renewal and healing. They celebrate its abilities to calm, cure, energize and strengthen. And much of this appears to be true: yoga can lower your blood pressure, make chemicals that act as antidepressants, even improve your sex life. But the yoga community long remained silent about its potential to inflict blinding pain. Jagannath G. Gune, who helped revive yoga for the modern era, made no allusion to injuries in his journal Yoga Mimansa or his 1931 book “Asanas.” Indra Devi avoided the issue in her 1953 best seller “Forever Young, Forever Healthy,” as did B. K. S. Iyengar in his seminal “Light on Yoga,” published in 1965. Reassurances about yoga’s safety also make regular appearances in the how-to books of such yogis as Swami Sivananda, K. Pattabhi Jois and Bikram Choudhury. “Real yoga is as safe as mother’s milk,” declared Swami Gitananda, a guru who made 10 world tours and founded ashrams on several continents.
But a growing body of medical evidence supports Black’s contention that, for many people, a number of commonly taught yoga poses are inherently risky. The first reports of yoga injuries appeared decades ago, published in some of the world’s most respected journals — among them, Neurology, The British Medical Journal and The Journal of the American Medical Association. The problems ranged from relatively mild injuries to permanent disabilities. In one case, a male college student, after more than a year of doing yoga, decided to intensify his practice. He would sit upright on his heels in a kneeling position known as vajrasana for hours a day, chanting for world peace. Soon he was experiencing difficulty walking, running and climbing stairs.
Doctors traced the problem to an unresponsive nerve, a peripheral branch of the sciatic, which runs from the lower spine through the buttocks and down the legs. Sitting in vajrasana deprived the branch that runs below the knee of oxygen, deadening the nerve. Once the student gave up the pose, he improved rapidly. Clinicians recorded a number of similar cases and the condition even got its own name: “yoga foot drop.”
More troubling reports followed. In 1972 a prominent Oxford neurophysiologist, W. Ritchie Russell, published an article in The British Medical Journal arguing that, while rare, some yoga postures threatened to cause strokes even in relatively young, healthy people. Russell found that brain injuries arose not only from direct trauma to the head but also from quick movements or excessive extensions of the neck, such as occur in whiplash — or certain yoga poses. Normally, the neck can stretch backward 75 degrees, forward 40 degrees and sideways 45 degrees, and it can rotate on its axis about 50 degrees. Yoga practitioners typically move the vertebrae much farther. An intermediate student can easily turn his or her neck 90 degrees — nearly twice the normal rotation.
Hyperflexion of the neck was encouraged by experienced practitioners. Iyengar emphasized that in cobra pose, the head should arch “as far back as possible” and insisted that in the shoulder stand, in which the chin is tucked deep in the chest, the trunk and head forming a right angle, “the body should be in one straight line, perpendicular to the floor.” He called the pose, said to stimulate the thyroid, “one of the greatest boons conferred on humanity by our ancient sages.”
Extreme motions of the head and neck, Russell warned, could wound the vertebral arteries, producing clots, swelling and constriction, and eventually wreak havoc in the brain. The basilar artery, which arises from the union of the two vertebral arteries and forms a wide conduit at the base of the brain, was of particular concern. It feeds such structures as the pons (which plays a role in respiration), the cerebellum (which coordinates the muscles), the occipital lobe of the outer brain (which turns eye impulses into images) and the thalamus (which relays sensory messages to the outer brain). Reductions in blood flow to the basilar artery are known to produce a variety of strokes. These rarely affect language and conscious thinking (often said to be located in the frontal cortex) but can severely damage the body’s core machinery and sometimes be fatal. The majority of patients suffering such a stroke do recover most functions. But in some cases headaches, imbalance, dizziness and difficulty in making fine movements persist for years.
Russell also worried that when strokes hit yoga practitioners, doctors might fail to trace their cause. The cerebral damage, he wrote, “may be delayed, perhaps to appear during the night following, and this delay of some hours distracts attention from the earlier precipitating factor.”
In 1973, a year after Russell’s paper was published, Willibald Nagler, a renowned authority on spinal rehabilitation at Cornell University Medical College, published a paper on a strange case. A healthy woman of 28 suffered a stroke while doing a yoga position known as the wheel or upward bow, in which the practitioner lies on her back, then lifts her body into a semicircular arc, balancing on hands and feet. An intermediate stage often involves raising the trunk and resting the crown of the head on the floor. While balanced on her head, her neck bent far backward, the woman “suddenly felt a severe throbbing headache.” She had difficulty getting up, and when helped into a standing position, was unable to walk without assistance. The woman was rushed to the hospital. She had no sensation on the right side of her body; her left arm and leg responded poorly to her commands. Her eyes kept glancing involuntarily to the left. And the left side of her face showed a contracted pupil, a drooping upper eyelid and a rising lower lid — a cluster of symptoms known as Horner’s syndrome. Nagler reported that the woman also had a tendency to fall to the left.
Her doctors found that the woman’s left vertebral artery, which runs between the first two cervical vertebrae, had narrowed considerably and that the arteries feeding her cerebellum had undergone severe displacement. Given the lack of advanced imaging technologies at the time, an exploratory operation was conducted to get a clearer sense of her injuries. The surgeons who opened her skull found that the left hemisphere of her cerebellum suffered a major failure of blood supply that resulted in much dead tissue and that the site was seeped in secondary hemorrhages.
The patient began an intensive program of rehabilitation. Two years later, she was able to walk, Nagler reported, “with [a] broad-based gait.” But her left arm continued to wander and her left eye continued to show Horner’s syndrome. Nagler concluded that such injuries appeared to be rare but served as a warning about the hazards of “forceful hyperextension of the neck.” He urged caution in recommending such postures, particularly to individuals of middle age.
The experience of Nagler’s patient was not an isolated incident. A few years later, a 25-year-old man was rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, in Chicago, complaining of blurred vision, difficulty swallowing and controlling the left side of his body. Steven H. Hanus, a medical student at the time, became interested in the case and worked with the chairman of the neurology department to determine the cause (he later published the results with several colleagues). The patient had been in excellent health, practicing yoga every morning for a year and a half. His routine included spinal twists in which he rotated his head far to the left and far to the right. Then he would do a shoulder stand with his neck “maximally flexed against the bare floor,” just as Iyengar had instructed, remaining in the inversion for about five minutes. A series of bruises ran down the man’s lower neck, which, the team wrote in The Archives of Neurology, “resulted from repeated contact with the hard floor surface on which he did yoga exercises.” These were a sign of neck trauma. Diagnostic tests revealed blockages of the left vertebral artery between the c2 and c3 vertebrae; the blood vessel there had suffered “total or nearly complete occlusion” — in other words, no blood could get through to the brain.
Two months after his attack, and after much physical therapy, the man was able to walk with a cane. But, the team reported, he “continued to have pronounced difficulty performing fine movements with his left hand.” Hanus and his colleagues concluded that the young man’s condition represented a new kind of danger. Healthy individuals could seriously damage their vertebral arteries, they warned, “by neck movements that exceed physiological tolerance.” Yoga, they stressed, “should be considered as a possible precipitating event.” In its report, the Northwestern team cited not only Nagler’s account of his female patient but also Russell’s early warning. Concern about yoga’s safety began to ripple through the medical establishment.
These cases may seem exceedingly rare, but surveys by the Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that the number of emergency-room admissions related to yoga, after years of slow increases, was rising quickly. They went from 13 in 2000 to 20 in 2001. Then they more than doubled to 46 in 2002. These surveys rely on sampling rather than exhaustive reporting — they reveal trends rather than totals — but the spike was nonetheless statistically significant. Only a fraction of the injured visit hospital emergency rooms. Many of those suffering from less serious yoga injuries go to family doctors, chiropractors and various kinds of therapists.
Around this time, stories of yoga-induced injuries began to appear in the media. The Times reported that health professionals found that the penetrating heat of Bikram yoga, for example, could raise the risk of overstretching, muscle damage and torn cartilage. One specialist noted that ligaments — the tough bands of fiber that connect bones or cartilage at a joint — failed to regain their shape once stretched out, raising the risk of strains, sprains and dislocations.
In 2009, a New York City team based at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons published an ambitious worldwide survey of yoga teachers, therapists and doctors. The answers to the survey’s central question — What were the most serious yoga-related injuries (disabling and/or of long duration) they had seen? — revealed that the largest number of injuries (231) centered on the lower back. The other main sites were, in declining order of prevalence: the shoulder (219), the knee (174) and the neck (110). Then came stroke. The respondents noted four cases in which yoga’s extreme bending and contortions resulted in some degree of brain damage. The numbers weren’t alarming but the acknowledgment of risk — nearly four decades after Russell first issued his warning — pointed to a decided shift in the perception of the dangers yoga posed.
In recent years, reformers in the yoga community have begun to address the issue of yoga-induced damage. In a 2003 article in Yoga Journal, Carol Krucoff — a yoga instructor and therapist who works at the Integrative Medicine center at Duke University in North Carolina — revealed her own struggles. She told of being filmed one day for national television and after being urged to do more, lifting one foot, grabbing her big toe and stretching her leg into the extended-hand-to-big-toe pose. As her leg straightened, she felt a sickening pop in her hamstring. The next day, she could barely walk. Krucoff needed physical therapy and a year of recovery before she could fully extend her leg again. The editor of Yoga Journal, Kaitlin Quistgaard, described reinjuring a torn rotator cuff in a yoga class. “I’ve experienced how yoga can heal,” she wrote. “But I’ve also experienced how yoga can hurt — and I’ve heard the same from plenty of other yogis.”
One of the most vocal reformers is Roger Cole, an Iyengar teacher with degrees in psychology from Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco. Cole has written extensively for Yoga Journal and speaks on yoga safety to the American College of Sports Medicine. In one column, Cole discussed the practice of reducing neck bending in a shoulder stand by lifting the shoulders on a stack of folded blankets and letting the head fall below it. The modification eases the angle between the head and the torso, from 90 degrees to perhaps 110 degrees. Cole ticked off the dangers of doing an unmodified shoulder stand: muscle strains, overstretched ligaments and cervical-disk injuries.
But modifications are not always the solution. Timothy McCall, a physician who is the medical editor of Yoga Journal, called the headstand too dangerous for general yoga classes. His warning was based partly on his own experience. He found that doing the headstand led to thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that arises from the compression of nerves passing from the neck into the arms, causing tingling in his right hand as well as sporadic numbness. McCall stopped doing the pose, and his symptoms went away. Later, he noted that the inversion could produce other injuries, including degenerative arthritis of the cervical spine and retinal tears (a result of the increased eye pressure caused by the pose). “Unfortunately,” McCall concluded, “the negative effects of headstand can be insidious.”
Almost a year after I first met Glenn Black at his master class in Manhattan, I received an e-mail from him telling me that he had undergone spinal surgery. “It was a success,” he wrote. “Recovery is slow and painful. Call if you like.”
The injury, Black said, had its origins in four decades of extreme backbends and twists. He had developed spinal stenosis — a serious condition in which the openings between vertebrae begin to narrow, compressing spinal nerves and causing excruciating pain. Black said that he felt the tenderness start 20 years ago when he was coming out of such poses as the plow and the shoulder stand. Two years ago, the pain became extreme. One surgeon said that without treatment, he would eventually be unable to walk. The surgery took five hours, fusing together several lumbar vertebrae. He would eventually be fine but was under surgeon’s orders to reduce strain on his lower back. His range of motion would never be the same.
Black is one of the most careful yoga practitioners I know. When I first spoke to him, he said he had never injured himself doing yoga or, as far as he knew, been responsible for harming any of his students. I asked him if his recent injury could have been congenital or related to aging. No, he said. It was yoga. “You have to get a different perspective to see if what you’re doing is going to eventually be bad for you.”
Black recently took that message to a conference at the Omega Institute, his feelings on the subject deepened by his recent operation. But his warnings seemed to fall on deaf ears. “I was a little more emphatic than usual,” he recalled. “My message was that ‘Asana is not a panacea or a cure-all. In fact, if you do it with ego or obsession, you’ll end up causing problems.’ A lot of people don’t like to hear that.”
This article is adapted from “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards,” by William J. Broad, to be published next month by Simon & Schuster. Broad is a senior science writer at The Times.
Editor: Sheila Glaser
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Premka Kaur Khalsa Affidavit
Yogi Bhajan Kundalini Yoga 3HO Akal Security
What did it mean to be Yogi Bhajan's "Personal" Secretary? Premka Kaur Khalsa explains.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
S. PREMKA KAUR KHALSA :
vs. : Civ. No. 86-0838 M
HARBHAJAN SINGH KHALSA YOGIJI, :
Et. Al., :
AFFIDAVIT OF PLAINTIFF S. PREMKA KAUR KHALSA
I, S. Premka Kaur Khalsa, now known as Pamela Dyson, the undersigned, hereby depose and state as follows:
1. I am the plaintiff in the above captioned action.
2. I have reviewed the Motion for Summary Judgment, and the Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment, including the portion of the memorandum captioned tt5tatement of Material Facts. I am making this affidavit in response to the claims, assertions and arguments set out in those documents.
3. This affidavit is made upon my own, personal knowledge. I gained my knowledge of the events described in the Second Amended Complaint filed in this case by living through them. Some of those events are described in the defendants memorandum, and I will discuss them here.
4. I am at present fortyfour years of age, and I have a good recollection of the events which are the subject of this lawsuit.
5. I became acquainted with defendant Yogi Bhajan in December 1968 when I became his yoga student. I was interested in taking yoga to combat the pain and problems I had with my back as a result of a prior horseback riding injury. Bhajan told me that he was a master of many kinds of yoga, and as a yoga master, he would determine the types of yoga I should use for my problems. At no time during these consultations with Bhajan concerning his classes did he discuss the Sikh religion with me, or describe any connection between the yoga classes and the Sikh religion. In fact, I do not even think that Bhajan told me that he was a Sikh, although I did learn that through my dealings with others who knew him, and from the fact that he wore a turban and did not shave.
6. At the time that I first became acquainted with defendant Bhajan in 1968, I did not follow the Sikh religion, nor did I know anything about the Sikh religion or Sikh teachings, nor did I have any interest in learning about the religion. I was a student of yoga, for the purpose of easing my back pain, and, although I was searching for spiritual enlightenment of some type, I was not at all interested in becoming involved in or adopting any religion in any form.
7. When I first began my classes with defendant Bhajan, he lavished a great deal of attention on me. I was extremely flattered by his interest, since I considered him to be a very charismatic man. He immediately began to exercise a great deal of control over my life.
8. Among the things which Yogi Bhajan had me do were to begin a special diet, and practice my yoga postures and chanting at 4:00 Oclock A.M.. When Bhajan set forth the chants he wanted me to do each day, he did not advise me that they were religious in nature, nor that they had any relationship to the Sikh or any other religion. He merely set the chants forth as a discipline and as part of the exercise and technique of yoga, and I followed them as such.
9. I understood that the chants Bhajan prescribed for me were a means of exercising discipline, both for the purpose of attaining physical benefits and as a means of my growing spiritually.
10. After I began my classes with Bhajan, he began making requests that I do various jobs for him, such as driving him to various appointments and classes, doing secretarial work for him, and demonstrating yoga postures and exercises at his classes. I did not know why he requested that I perform these duties for him, but he certainly did not tell me that my performing this role for him was in any way related to the Sikh religion. At that time, Bhajan had never discussed the Sikh religion with me, and I did not have any independent knowledge about the Sikh religion.
11. After a few classes with Bhajan, I felt that he had control over me. I realize in retrospect this control was attributable in part to the fact I believed Bhajan to be a great yoga master and a leader of an exotic, foreign religion. I was led to believe he knew secrets and had special, supernatural powers, and I wanted to impress him with my devotion and obedience so that he would teach me those secrets. However, at no time did I consider this control or influence to be in any way related to the Sikh religion or any other organized religion. It was because I held him in high esteem as my yoga teacher and as a yoga master that I initially believed in him and did his bidding.
12. As time passed, my relationship with Bhajan focused less on the physical aspects of the yoga and more and more on the notion that he had special powers and could lead me to conscious recognition of my connection with the larger universe. He told me that it was necessary for my well-being that I follow the yoga and fasting regimen that he prescribed, and to serve him as he demanded. Again, however, he did not explain this as being connected to the Sikh religion in any way. Rather, he professed to be able to see my future due to a power personal to him, and that I was destined to continue my relationship with him, or else I would become a physical cripple, go insane and die.
13. Bhajan did not, at that time, tie his view of my destiny to any tenets of the Sikh religion, or explain his feelings about my destiny as an outgrowth of any religious principles, Sikh or otherwise. At that point, he still had never discussed the Sikh religion with me, or given me any instruction in the Sikh religion.
14. Not long after Bhajan requested that I serve as his chauffeur, secretary and general aide, he began to have sexual intercourse with me. This relationship was not romantic or erotic. The first time was when I had driven him to the parking lot across the street from his apartment. He simply put his body on mine in a way which even then impressed me as being gross and impersonal; it occurred as just one more of the jobs which by then I was expected to do for him.
15. Bhajan never told me that this sexual intercourse was a part of the Sikh religion, or that it was necessary for us to engage in this act as a part of the Sikh religion. At the point when he initiated this sexual intercourse with me, he still had never discussed the Sikh religion with me, asked me to become a member of the Sikh religion, or given me any instruction in the Sikh religion. In fact, the sex was never presented or regarded as a part of any religion or religious experience. It was only later, when I asked him to reconcile his role as a professed, celibate religious leader with the fact he was having sex with more than one woman, that he put a religious gloss on the sex. He said he was actually living three lives in one, and that I was his spiritual wife in one of the lives.
16. About a month after I had begun taking yoga lessons from Bhajan, and after he had initiated sexual intercourse with me on several occasions, I heard rumors that Bhajan was having sex with a number of women who served as his aides, his secretaries, and in other capacities. I was frightened and upset when I heard that there was a possibility that he would be deported, or that a scandal would erupt because of these sexual liaisons. Because of my own experience, I believed that he could also be involved in other such sexual relationships. I wanted nothing to do with any situation where he was involved with several women, and definitely did~ not want to be involved in any scandal, should one occur. I therefore quit going to his classes, and stopped all contact with Bhajan for a time.
17. During the period that I stopped going to classes and acting as Bhajans chauffeur and aide, in 1969, Bhajan continued to telephone me and to try and get me to resume my yoga classes with him. I refused his calls when possible, and hung up when I heard his voice. I avoided all contact with him for approximately one and one-half months.
18. During this period away from Bhajan and from the yoga classes, my back pain recurred. Another of Bhajans yoga students had once adjusted my lower back, and I sought him out for help. When I went to see him at his house, the student I had sought out was not there, but Bhajan was. I did not know in advance Bhajan was going to be there.
19. Bhajan told me that I was causing my own back pain by refusing to continue my study of yoga with him. He mocked me, stating my destiny was beginning to come true; I would be in pain always if I did not serve him. He adjusted my lower back, which in fact eased my pain.
20. At that time, I believed that his yoga classes had helped me with my back pain. I was also unnerved and frightened by the fact that after leaving his classes and my association with him my pain had recurred, as though his prediction of my destiny were true. At that time, Bhajan did not explain my destiny as a tenet of Sikh religious philosophy, nor did he discuss the Such religion with me. He simply pretended to know the future.
21. I did not realize how great the extent of Bhajans influence over me was. I thought I could return to his classes and only be his student, while refusing to have any outside relationship with him. I had no interest in continuing the sexual relations between us, nor did I have any interest in becoming a member of the Sikh or any other religion. I only wished to return to his yoga class, and retain him as my yoga teacher.
22. Shortly after I resumed going to Bhajans classes, he requested that I a accompany him to a lecture. While I was in attendance at that lecture, and seated in a yoga position listening to him speak, I felt as though I came face-to-face with my own ego, and I just snapped. I began to cry. I felt that serving Bhajan would be the challenge that my life needed in order for me to stop allowing my ego and my intellect to control me.
23. After the lecture, I related my experience to Bhajan. He did not explain it as a religious experience, nor did he discuss it with me in the context of the Sikh religion. Rather, he just gave a knowing nod which, in my deluded state, led me to believe he was reading my mind and had somehow created the experience.
24. Not long afterward, Bhajan asked me to resume my role as his secretary and aide. He demanded that I spend most of each day with him, attending to his needs, and that I give him my paychecks from work. About that time it became impossible for me to do all of Bhajans bidding and still continue my employment.
25. When I left my job in order to give him the time that he required, Bhajan moved me into his home. Several months after I moved into his home, Bhajan re-initiated sex with me. Neither at the time that I moved in, nor upon his resumption of sexual intercourse with me, did Bhajan ask me to join the Sikh religion, tell me that I must become a Sikh, or give me any instruction in the Sikh religion.
26. In 1970 I became pregnant. I was having no sexual relationships at that time with anyone other than Bhajan, since Bhajan expressly forbade it. When I went to him with the news of my pregnancy, he advised me that he would take care of it.
27. Shortly thereafter Bhajan commanded that a trip to India be scheduled, and a group of approximately eighty (80) of us, including Bhajan and me, traveled to India. While we were in Delhi, a woman doctor came out to our campsite, supposedly to meet with and treat any of the women traveling in Bhajans entourage. She examined me, but Bhajan and I never discussed the examination or why she came to the campsite. Several days later, Bhajan requested that I accompany him to Delhi. Without consulting me or telling me what was going to happen, he took me to the clinic where this doctor performed abortions, and my pregnancy was terminated.
28. It was during this trip to India that defendants claim that I took Sikh vows. It is true that I participated in a ceremony, which Bhajan orchestrated, at the temple at Amritsar. However, at that time, I understood very little about the Sikh religion, or what the import of the ceremony might be. I did not make a decision that I wanted to become a Sikh or to take Sikh vows prior to going out to the temple or prior to taking the trip to India.
29. This was one of many instances, like the abortion related above, in which I did not choose my conduct or the way I wished to proceed with my life. Bhajan made the choice of what my action would be, and presented it to me as decided.
30. All of us who were on the trip to Amritsar in 1970-
1971 participated in what defendants call taking Sikh vows. I participated in the ceremony because Bhajan told me it was special, and he wanted me to do it. I had no independent recognition of the ceremony as a religious ceremony, nor did I know what place, if any, the ceremony had in the Sikh religion.
31. The manner in which I became a Mukhia is much the same as the manner in which I took the vows to become a Sikh. Bhajan did not explain what was involved in becoming a Mukhia, or what place, if any, the position had in the Sikh religion, although by that time I knew more about the Sikh religion. At that time I did not desire to be ordained as a minister of the Sikh religion.
32. I was ordained in a group ceremony during a summer solstice celebration in California. Bhajan was seated before the gathering, and he called individuals by name, over a loudspeaker, and announced that they were to be ordained. I was not consulted about this prior to the ordination, nor was I asked whether I wanted to be a minister. Like the others, I was told to line up and be made a minister. I did not know what meaning, if any, the ceremony had in the Sikh religion. At that time, Bhajan still had not shared or taught much, about the Sikh religion.
33. One of the roles Bhajan assigned to me was to serve as his author. In this role, Bhajan explained his thoughts and feelings to me, and told me what he wanted me to say on various topics. I then would sit down at the typewriter, and put his words, his thoughts and his concepts into wording that could more easily be understood by the Americans who would read these materials.
34. When I wrote things about the Sikh religion or its practices in the various publications and letters that the defendants have cited and attributed to me, I was only repeating what Bhajan had told me over and over, and what he was at that time telling me to write. Hence to say, as the defendants do, that I authored the works cited in their Motion and the Affidavits appended thereto is misleading. I wrote the words, but their content was dictated to me by Bhajan. He constantly told me that I was the perfect channel for him, and that I would allow him to flow through me and into the typewriter. Saying I was the author of those works is like saying a person who completes a paint by numbers picture is the artist of that picture. They surely put the paint on the canvas, but only in the squares as numbered on a picture that has already been drawn. So it was with me. I only verbally filled in the picture that Bhajan had painted.
35. Moreover, I could not have been the author of all of the documents which the defendants attribute to me. I did not speak the Punjabi language in which any sacred Sikh writings would have been produced. For example, the handbook Peace Lagoon, was not translated from the Punjabi by me, although the translation was attributed to me by Bhajan. Bhajan provided me with several different English translations, and I merely prepared yet another translation from those documents.
36. In their Statement of Undisputed Facts, the defendants have set forth the various titles which I held while with Bhajan, which are as follows: Mukhia Sardarni Sahiba; Secretary General of the Sikh Dharma Brotherhood corporation; VicePresident, Administrative Director and member of the Board of Directors of 3H0 Foundation; member of the Board of Directors of the 3H0 Foundation of New Mexico; and member of the Khalsa Council. While it is true that I held these titles, the titles do not have the significance which the defendants attribute to them. All of the entities of which I was an officer were in every respect controlled by Bhajan. There was nothing over which he did not maintain complete control. I had no decision-making or policy-making ability, despite my titles.
37. In the beginning, and at the time the documents attributed to me in paragraph five of the Statement of Undisputed Facts were written, I believed that the Khalsa Council would function as the policy-making body of the Sikh Dharma. However, this belief never came true. The Khalsa Council was permitted only to talk about, work on and deliberate over issues assigned to us by Bhajan, and any conclusions we reached had to be approved by Bhajan even before they could be stated outside of the Khalsa Council meetings, much less put into action in any way.
38. Defendants assertion about my review and approval power while Secretary General of the Sikh Dharma is completely false. Rarely, if ever, did I get to see the proclamations before they were transmitted to Bhajan. Any disagreements that I had with the proclamations, even if voiced to Bhajan in private, were immaterial. Bhajan proceeded with the business of the Sikh Dharma, and any other corporations, despite any objections I might make or disapproval I would voice.
39. Defendants also claim that I never objected to anything Bhajan did, and that I therefore consented to all of his actions and the actions of the corporate defendants. That is clearly not true, for I would sometimes, in private, disagree with Bhajan. However, I learned very early in my association with Bhajan that it was not worth the pain he caused to cross him or to object to plans that he made or directives that he issued. Bhajan either totally ignored my protests and continued as he had planned, or else humiliated and degraded me within the group and in front of others.
40. As examples of Bhajans reacting to my protests by ignoring them, I offer the following:
(a) As one of my purported functions as Secretary General of the Sikh Dharma Brotherhood, I was supposed to coordinate the affairs of the ashrams across the country. I wanted to coordinate these affairs in such a way that the ashrams could receive aid, monetary and otherwise, from headquarters, and that we at headquarters could strive to meet more of their needs. When I attempted to do this, I was told by Bhajan, and by others at his discretion, that I was to be sure that the dues were being paid, and not to involve myself in these other matters.
(b) When I sought to have the account ledgers from the collection of dasvanth (tithes) opened to the public (as I believed nonprofit religious corporations books were to be kept), Bhajan ignored my request, and never allowed the books to be open.
(c) When I, as supposed Editor-in-Chief of Beads of Truth, asked that the publication be focused more toward fulfilling the needs of the American Sikhs, Bhajan ignored me, and continued to direct that the publication promote him and promote his achievements in order to build him up in the eyes of the Indian Sikhs.
41. On other occasions, myprotesting his actions or disagreeing with his decisions turned into much uglier battles, in which I would be punished for my failure to conform to his directives. For example:
(a) In 1976, while I was living at the ashram in Espanola, Bhajan directed me to act as his sexual surrogate with another female member of the Secretariat. I was horrified and humiliated by this request, and told him that I did not wish to do it. He pressured and manipulated me and manipulated the other woman until we finally did attempt to perform as he demanded. I found it to be was horrible, and I refused to continue with it. Still Bhajan would try to get me to take up with members of the Secretariat by refusing to discuss corporate business with me until I told him that I would go ahead with the sexual encounter, or by sending the woman that he wanted me to service into my room at night when I was already in bed.
(b) Bhajan demanded that I coordinate his sexual liaisons with other members of the Secretariat, and arrange the orgies that occurred between him and several members of the Secretariat. I refused to participate in the orgies and in making the arrangements for them. I learned later that he then would discredit me behind my back as untrustworthy and advise the other women members of the Secretariat not to trust me in any matters. This would make my business dealings with them difficult, and was compounded by the fact that I did not know that he was instructing them in this manner out of my presence. There was always the threat of rejection by him and expulsion from the group, which was tantamount in my mind to becoming a cripple, losing my mind and dying alone.
(c) I met a man in California who I thought would make a good husband for me. While I was in New Mexico, I requested Bhajans permission to marry him. Bhajan refused, and told me that this man was a homosexual (which it turns out was not true). He then proceeded to arrange a marriage for this man. Bhajan commanded me to perform the wedding ceremony between this man and the wife Bhajan had chosen, knowing the emotional pain that this was causing me.
(d) While I was involved in marketing with the defendant corporations, Bhajan allowed several of the staff, including me, to attend a marketing class to learn how to present the corporate image in a positive way. Because this was the only class which Bhajan allowed me to attend while I was on staff, I became inspired by it and wanted to put the ideas to work. I requested that Bhajan allow the marketing consultant teaching the class to work as a paid consultant with us in preparation of press packets and other marketing materials. Bhajan at first refused, but finally relented, and let the consultant prepare press materials and a brochure protesting the armed forces refusal to allow a Sikh in traditional garb to join. When the marketing consultant failed to perform to Bhajans expectations, which were unreasonable in both time frame and cost, Bhajan refused to let us stop paying on the contract. Rather, every time we made a payment, he berated me for the marketing consultants failure and the fact that it was my fault that he had contracted with this individual in the first place. Bhajan ultimately declared the consultation to be a bust, and continually mocked me, stating that I was completely to blame. He raked me over the coals about it for months, both in public and in private. He constantly humiliated me about this failure, and brought it up at Khalsa council meetings for the next several months, until I wished that I had never ventured my opinion.
42. The defendants contentions about the date when I ceased to be actively involved are misleading. As with the instances of my abortion, my taking of the Sikh vows, and my ordination as a Muhkia, Bhajan never told me that I was removed from any of my positions or that I had ceased to be actively involved in the corporate affairs. As was typical in my experience with Bhajan, my consent was neither requested nor required for him to act. Bhajan to this date has never informed me when he stripped me of any of my titles.
43. I acknowledge that I was never on the payroll of 3H0 Foundation of New Mexico. However, that does not mean that I did not work for the 3H0 Foundation of New Mexico. I worked extensively for Bhajan personally, as well as for all of the corporate entities which Bhajan created. This includes the 3H0 Foundation of New Mexico.
44. When I signed the back of the check which defendants forwarded to me in Hawaii, I did not know the extent to which I had been injured by the defendants, or the extent to which Bhajan and the other defendants had controlled me and my actions.
45. Prior to my receipt of the check, I was never informed that a release would be necessary. The allegation in the Affidavit of Mukhia Sardarni Sahiba Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa (hereafter, Shakti,) at paragraph 24 is not true and is not supported by the letter she attaches. She did not ask me to sign a release, prior to sending me the check. Her letter merely refers to a necessary legal disclaimer, and I was never advised that it would be necessary for any such statement to be included on the check when it was forwarded to me.
46. At the time that I received the check, and endorsed it for the purpose if cashing it, I did not want to sever my employment relationship with Bhajan and the defendant corporations. I requested that Bhajan allow me to remain on the payroll and do translation work. I was shocked, humiliated and degraded when he absolutely refused to allow me to have any further employment relationship with him and the corporations.
47. I also feel that it is necessary for me to explain my relationship with Shakti, who has submitted her affidavit, and who explains our relationship as close personal friendship. I do not now consider her to be a close, personal friend, and did not truly consider our relationship to be a friendship, even while I was associated with Bhajan. Nobody had friendships within Bhajans circle. Pursuant to Bhajans demands, each of us was answerable only to Bhajan. Bhajan manipulated us into not forming personal friendships among our group. In fact, Bhajan encouraged each of us to inform him of whatever the others might tell us in confidence about him or about the group. This did not promote an atmosphere among the women of the Secretariat in which friendships could be formed. Moreover, I believed then and believe now that when I first became associated with Bhajan, Shakti was jealous of me and of my intimate relationship with Bhajan.
I DECLARE UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY THAT THE FOREGOING IS TRUE AND
Executed on January 8, 1988
Sex and The Secretaries
This is a true copy of a court document belonging to the public domain and is a matter of public record
Questions of right and wrong considered according to Sikhism. Sikhs believe that the purpose of life is to love God, and to use self-discipline to replace greed, desire, anger, and pride, with contentment, humbleness, and forgiveness. Sikhs emphasize the importance of work with hands, head, and heart in the service of themselves, their family, and the social community. In following God's will, Sikhs hope to lose their sense of the importance of themselves and their daily concerns, and to feel a sense of harmony with God.
For a Sikh, God is infinite and eternal, and the creator of all. He cares equally for all people, regardless of their religion, and God is within everyone. Sikhs believe that God is the source of love, and that people should act with love to God, to one other, and to the world. Meditating on God's name is one of the central spiritual activities of Sikhs.
There is no priesthood in Sikhism, because it practises equality of all, both men and women. Women read from the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book) in services in the gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), and can join the Khalsa (order or community of Sikhs). On joining the Khalsa, men are given the name Singh (lion), and women are called Kaur (princess). In practice, women have total spiritual equality with men, but the roles of men and women differ. Men are more active in society at large, and women have more responsibilities in the home. Restrictions placed upon women are of social rather than religious origin. Sikhs reject the caste system and do not believe in superstitious practices, consulting astrologers, ancestor worship, or wearing the sacred thread. This reflects the context, views, and practices of the founding gurus (see guru), in their opposition of aspects of the culture of Hinduism and Islam.
Following the Gurdwara Act (1925) in India, a committee of Sikhs was formed to manage the gurdwaras, known as the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). By 1945, the SGPC had convened a group of advisers from the worldwide Sikh community, which drew up a guide to the acceptable way of life for Sikhs, the Rehat Maryada. This sets out clearly acceptable behaviour for Sikhs.
© RM 2012. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.
The five Ks are:
Kesh (uncut hair)
Kara (a steel bracelet)
Kanga (a wooden comb)
Kaccha - also spelt, Kachh, Kachera (cotton underwear)
Kirpan (steel sword)
Kesh - uncut hair
(Corboy note--see that Turbans are not listed among the five Kakkars. And nothing is said about Sikh women being required or encouraged to wear turbans)
Various reasons and symbolisms have been put forward for the Sikh practice of keeping hair uncut.
Throughout history hair (kesh) has been regarded as a symbol both of holiness and strength.
One's hair is part of God's creation. Keeping hair uncut indicates that one is willing to accept God's gift as God intended it.
Uncut hair symbolizes adoption of a simple life, and denial of pride in one's appearance.
Not cutting one's hair is a symbol of one's wish to move beyond concerns of the body and attain spiritual maturity.
A Sikh should only bow his head to the Guru, and not to a barber.
It is a highly visible symbol of membership of the group.
It follows the appearance of Guru Gobind Singh, founder of the Khalsa.
Sikh women are just as forbidden to cut any body hair or even trim their eyebrows, as Sikh men are forbidden to trim their beards.
Kara - a steel bracelet
A symbol of restraint and gentility.
A symbol that a Sikh is linked to the Guru.
It acts as a reminder that a Sikh should not do anything of which the Guru would not approve.
A symbol of God having no beginning or end.
A symbol of permanent bonding to the community-being a link in the chain of Khalsa Sikhs (the word for link is 'kari').
The Kara is made of steel, rather than gold or silver, because it is not an ornament.
Kanga - a wooden comb
This symbolises a clean mind and body; since it keeps the uncut hair neat and tidy.
It symbolises the importance of looking after the body which God has created. This does not conflict with the Sikh's aim to move beyond bodily concerns; since the body is one's vehicle for enlightenment one should care for it appropriately.
Kachha - special underwear
This is a pair of breeches that must not come below the knee. It was a particularly useful garment for Sikh warriors of the 18th and 19th centuries, being very suitable for warfare when riding a horse.
It's a symbol of chastity.
A display of swords and knives arranged in the shape of the Sikh Khalsa symbol There is no fixed style of Kirpan, the ceremonial sword ©
Kirpan - a ceremonial sword
There is no fixed style of Kirpan and it can be anything from a few inches to three feet long. It is kept in a sheath and can be worn over or under clothing.
The Kirpan can symbolise:
The soldier part of the Soldier-Saints
Defence of good
Defence of the weak
The struggle against injustice
A metaphor for God
For a Sikh the fact that the Guru has instructed the Sikhs to wear the 5 Ks is an entirely sufficient reason, and no more need be said.
The symbols have become greatly more powerful with each passing year of Sikh history.
Every Sikh remembers that every Sikh warrior, saint, or martyr since 1699, and every living member of the Khalsa, is united with them in having adopted the same 5 Ks.
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Posted by Gursant on November 10
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh! The Khalsa has been victorious! The letter writing campaign worked because Parmarth Niketan Ashram has removed the pic(in the bulletin from 9 days ago) from their website of Sikhs doing Hindu Puja.
Now we must keep the pressure on Parmarth to cancel tomorrow’s anti-Sikh 11-11-11 “Aquarian Age” Shiv/Shakti event being sponsored by Yogi Bhajan fake Sikh Gurmukh Kaur and hosted by Parmarth Niketan Ashram! [www.parmarth.com]
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Write Parmarth Niketan Ashram to remove pic from their website of Sikhs doing Hindu Puja
Posted by Gursant on November 1
I just wrote the following letter to Parmarth which you can use as a template if you like for your own letter:
Dear Parmarth Niketan Ashram
Sikhs and Hindus live peacefully together but we respect each other's religious practices and faith. Therefore, as a Sikh and one who respects all religious faiths, I request you to remove this pic on the front cover of your website contact page which depicts 3HO Sikhs, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa and her husband Gurushabad Singh Khalsa doing Hindu homa fire puja. [www.parmarth.com]
Photo: Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa featured performing Hindu Puja on main website for Parmarth Niketan Ashram
SikhNet & Yogi Bhajan cult 3HO have consciously decided to position themselves as part Sikh & part Hindu !
Posted by Gursant on October 21
In this latest article published by SikhNet, SikhNet blatantly supports and promotes Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa and her anti Sikh activities!
Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa is an embarrassment to the Khalsa panth. Gurmukh has been photographed doing Hinduhoma fire pujas and doesn't even wear a Sikh kara*. Even in the pic above which SikhNet so blatently publishes shows Gurmukh Kaur doing homage to the sun in Rishikesh on the river Ganga where you can see a Hindu temple in the backgroud… Read More
(All true Sikhs must wear a steel bracelet--kara. See below)
Photo: SikhNet blatantly pictures Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa in the Ganga river doing Hindu puja to the sun in Rishikesh !