To fully convey the impressions that are deepest within me of the early years in Europe, I wish I could show moving pictures and video glimpses of expressions and situations: like Tantric in Holland, the Siri Singh Sahib’s eyes as he counselled, welcoming smiles in Hamburg, a Golden Temple Restaurant kitchen scene.
And then I remember the sounds of the Siri Singh Sahib’s voice, the melody of voices translating into languages of the Mediterranean and the North, at the Yoga Festival, the clatter of pots, and the hum of restaurant machines in the Golden Temple Restaurants. The Golden Temple Restaurants were the hub of our 3HO life in Europe in the early days. They were at the heart of our growth as a group and in each of our psyches, our memories of working there live on and warm us even now.
The first Golden Temple was in Amsterdam. The second in London, then Hamburg, then another in Amsterdam, and then Copenhagen. I can remember Saturday nights in Amsterdam, lines out the door.. .the din of voices…two turbans bowed in work behind the counter…a bright face at the cash register…a gliding white waitress…the music of Jewels from the East filling our hearts and minds.
Then at 11:00 pm…one cook is gone. The other mops. The dishwasher sits outside the kitchen with a cup of Yogi Tea and a bowl of apple crisp. Jewels from the East is almost blaring now. The last waitress comes out with her coat and scarf on. The cook starts clattering with the pots—preparing chick peas for tomorrow’s langar. Then we are out and are very happy. The night flushes our cheeks, the canals glisten, and inside all of us echoes the music of the past six hours.
Monday morning at 10:00 am… a bang at the door. In comes the ashram dog, tail wagging, then a clatter of trolley wheels, boxes of carrots and potatoes, and the voice of the market man, his red beard matching the dog’s red fur. The man doing the juices has been gone too long—fell asleep on his break again! The machine man crouches in a new hiding place behind the baking kitchen, quickly reading Anand Sahib before the cook catches him.
At 3:00 pm that afternoon, the manager pleads with that night’s cook to rise out of his sick bed. Back at the ashram, five minutes before yoga class, we wonder who’s teaching tonight? Has anyone seen him?
I remember long family meetings, karma yoga (this has to be done, that wasn’t done right, will it ever end?). Family breakfasts and lunches around the long, low wooden table, winter vacation, visitors, Gurdwara, warm faces and smiles, snow fights, walks along the canals, cups of tea. All these sights, sounds and smells are part of the history etched in our memories.
Of the Golden Temple Restaurants, two now survive as private enterprises. Today we are professionals, businessmen, parents, teachers. We have beautiful children with bright faces, penetrating clear voices and destinies we can only guess at. We have spread out to Spain, Italy, all over Germany, to the Scottish Highlands, up to Norway, down to South Africa. Our incomes are mostly greater, and our expenses definitely are. We meet at ‘management committee’ meetings and at the Yoga Festival.
It was back in the beginning of the ’70’s that a student-teacher in Phoenix named Sat Kartar Singh and his wife went to Europe to begin teaching the 3HO/Sikh Dharma lifestyle. Holland isn’t the easiest place to be when you look different. In some countries they stare. In others they are merely polite. In others they ask questions. In Holland, they don’t ask questions. They laugh hysterically. Amsterdam at that time, however, was also a magnet for seekers and travelers from Europe, North and South America, Australia and Israel, and so our lifestyles also stimulated curiosity.
They started teaching yoga in Vondel park, opened the first Golden Temple Restaurant in Europe, and in their spare time ran a free kitchen. The expanding ashram crowded into a two-room apartment above the restaurant, until a student handed over the down payment for the ashram house at Den Texstraat. I remember a local doctor who treated ashram members without charge in all the years I was there; he had seen Guru Ram Das in a dream!
3HO Amsterdam became a center of energy and coziness with two busy restaurants, a health foods store, jewelry shop and Shakti shoes, a network of classes in and around Amsterdam, and nationality count that would be any sociologist’s dream. A typical example might be the summer of 79 (I used to write it down for fun): five Dutch, five Americans, one Belgian, one French, two Israelis, one Australian, one Canadian, one Argentinian, one Chilean, one Puerto Rican, two Italians and one German.
It was in Amsterdam that teachers lived, trained and then went out to open new European centers: the Gurudass’s to Barcelona; the Guru Hans’s to Paris, the Tarn Taran’s to Hamburg; Guru Meher Singh to Rome; the Sat Raj’s to Copenhagen and eventually we went to Oslo. In Amsterdam we also offered forty-day teacher training as well as summer work in the restaurant, winter vacations, and the opportunity to experience life in a large sangat.
Once, leaving behind a skeleton crew at the restaurant, about ten or fifteen of us loaded into the van and took off for a weekend in England, home to the world’s largest Sikh community outside of India and home to 3HO’s first European ashram. The London ashram, then in a wooded, quiet, suburb, was roomy and comfortable. Along with a number of English Sikhs, two Punjabi Sikhs lived there as well, and many more Indians came Saturday afternoon to help prepare and cook langar. We worked together, and then sat together in the Gurdwara. Cozy, blissful! Wahe Guru! The next day we squished into the ashram van to go sing and play kirtan at two large Indian Gurdwaras. Kartar Kaur said this was the normal weekend schedule for members of the London ashram.
In Copenhagen, the Sat Raj’s were putting their Amsterdam experience to good use. The Danish Golden Temple Restaurant was soon awarded three stars, and Sat Raj Kaur Khalsa, who had arranged many of the yoga classes in her home country (Holland), was doing the same there. Even the ashram reminded you a bit of Amsterdam with Dutch, American, Danish, French, Scottish, and Swedish members.
The 3HO Yoga Festival held in Loches, France (its first year was in 1977), was growing to become the high point of the year for hundreds of teachers and students throughout Europe, and was a time to meet the master, the Siri Singh Sahib, and was indeed a rare opportunity in Europe. Here in France he would walk around, sit on the lawn with us, or talk with us in the living room or on the porch of his chalet.
In 1974, M.S.S. Tarn Taran Singh was still scrubbing the kitchen floors in Amsterdam. S.S. Tarn Taran Kaur was minding the children. Both were thinking this post looked pretty permanent. And lo and behold, just when they resigned themselves to God’s Will, off they were on the next train to Germany. “Ill never open a restaurant,” thought Tarn Taran Singh— (the Golden Temple Restaurant in Hamburg opened two years later). Tarn Taran Kaur wondered if people would come to the ashram, and someone came the first night.
I met the Tarn Taran’s in 1975. The ashram was situated on the third floor of a run-down wood board building. But once inside, it had the quality of a peaceful, radiant oasis. Three women slept in the sadhana room, four men in the living room, the Tarn Taran’s and their daughter were next door in a little side room with cardboard walls. No question about getting up for sadhana here! At that time I was a student in Norway and after riding on the train from Norway, and then across a strange German city on the underground, I was greeted by welcoming faces and the brightness and harmony of the ashram. 3HO is the greatest! In a minute I had a cup of Yogi Tea in my hands and was seated happily on the couch in the living room among friends.
The next day I was already an adopted son, packing Yogi Tea, delivering cakes and learning how to cook. We went to the country one weekend, staying at the villa of a friend of the ashram. At the end of the weekend, the owner told us she had seen many spiritual groups come and stay here, but we were the first ones that were really a family!
The Tarn Taran’s haven’t exactly had to complain about lack of challenges. Money was very tight, though they never let their guests realize it. Ashram personalities and family meetings were often ‘heavy’. Many of their best students had a way of moving on to Amsterdam or America. The first ashram burnt down. But as the Siri Singh Sahib says,
“We don’t pray for things to go smoothly, but for the strength to face the odds and be victorious!”
“Germany is where it’s happening,” Tarn Taran Singh told me once knowingly. Whether this was prophecy or recruitment, there are today about eighty 3HO teachers in the Hamburg area, a network of
centers spanning Germany, and a successful restaurant, health food store and Yogi Tea business.
By the early ’80’s a shift in European energy seemed to be occurring. People were leaving Amsterdam to teach in other cities. The wandering ranks of the ’60’s and ’70’s were thinning, and the nature of yoga students seemed to be changing. There were increasingly more professionals and business people, settled with families.
In Hamburg, Tarn Taran Kaur had her pregnancy programs endorsed by most of the city’s physicians, and was teaching a stress- away class at IBM. Tarn Taran Singh was running teacher training programs. In Italy, a group of 3HO teachers in Rome who were medical professionals themselves, could plug right into the professional world, and their yoga center has grown and grown! Guru Shabd Singh founded a Gatha School, also in Rome, which has become nationally acclaimed. Sat Kartar Singh and Narayan Kaur have spearheaded the building of a Gurdwara outside of Rome in Formello.
The changes of the ’80’s have also had a housecleaning effect in 3HO Europe, and by February, 1988— I might as well say February 2nd, when the Siri Singh Sahib told us we would be spit out of the cobra’s mouth—a new European spirit definitely seemed to be emerging.
3HO’s administrative body had moved several years ago from an informal group of 3HO teachers to an appointed Khalsa Council. Now, to add some new life to the older appointed body, the European management committee was born, comprised of about fifty 3HO teachers from all over the European region, including South Africa.
These two councils, the old and the new, met in Hamburg at the end of May, 1988, along with the Secretary General MSS Sardarni Guru Amrit Kaur…Staying together in the ashram, we discussed, shared experiences, did yoga, took walks, ate, laughed, sang and meditated.
Many of us had barely met each other before. It was an administrative expansion of 3HO Europe, an experience full of inspiration and joy, a feeling of family, a consolidation to prepare for whatever the Guru might have in store in the coming years.
In addition to this article, the 1988 Winter Beads of Truth, had many articles on different communities around the globe, including Germany, Holland, Britain, France, Spain, Norway, Greenland, Switzerland and Mexico.