Early Years in India
Born Harbhajan Singh Puri, August 26, 1929, in the part of India that became Pakistan in 1948, he was the son of a medical doctor. He spent his youth in privileged environments in private schools and his summers in the exclusive Dalhousie mountain region of Himachal Pradesh. As a young boy he attended a Catholic convent school.
When he was just eight years old he began his yogic training with an enlightened teacher, Sant Hazara Singh, who proclaimed him to be a Master of Kundalini Yoga when he was sixteen and a half.
During the turmoil of partition in 1947, at the age of 18, he led his village of 7000 people, near what is Lahore Pakistan today, 325 miles on foot to safety in New Delhi, India, where he arrived with only the clothes on his back. Displaced Indians were given houses in India and soon he was able to continue his education at Punjab University where he excelled in debate and was a star athlete, playing both hockey and soccer and earning the name “China wall” from his opponents.
After graduating with a degree in Economics, he began service in the government of India, with India’s Internal Revenue Department, and supervised the creation of the IRS building in New Delhi. Shortly thereafter, he began to work for the Customs Service in India and become head of Customs at Palam International Airport (now known as New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Airport).
He married Inderjit Kaur in 1952. They had two sons, Ranbir Singh and Kulbir Singh, and a daughter, Kamaljit Kaur.
Throughout his academic career and government service he continued to teach yoga to people from all walks of life.
Early Years in the West
In September of 1968, he left India for Canada to teach yoga at Toronto University, carrying a letter of recommendation from Sir James George, Canadian High Commissioner in New Delhi, who had been his student. After two months in Canada, he flew to Los Angeles for a weekend visit. Arriving in Los Angeles virtually unknown, Yogi Bhajan met a number of young hippies, the spiritual seekers of that era, and immediately recognized that the experience of higher consciousness they were attempting to find through drugs, could be achieved by practicing the Science of Kundalini Yoga, while simultaneously rebuilding their nervous systems.
Breaking the centuries old tradition of secrecy surrounding the empowering science of Kundalini Yoga, he began teaching it publicly. With the yogic sciences of yoga, meditation, yogic philosophy and loving acceptance, he gave the soon to be called “Baby Boomers” an effective alternative to the prevalent drug culture. He called it the “3HO” (healthy, happy, holy) way of life.
From humble beginnings, teaching first at the East West Cultural Center and then in a student’s furniture store in West Hollywood, “The Yogi” was like a magnet. Students flocked to his classes. Soon he was teaching at colleges and universities, including Claremont and UCLA, and accepting invitations to teach in other cities.
When he became a United States Citizen in 1976, Yogi Bhajan changed his name legally to Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogiji.
Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan is considered the most comprehensive of yoga traditions, combining meditation, mantra, physical exercises and breathing techniques; it is a Raj Yog, encompassing the eight limbs of yoga into a singular practice of excellence and ecstasy. “Kundalini” literally means “the curl of the lock of hair of the beloved.” This poetic metaphor alludes to the flow of energy and consciousness that exists within each of us and enables us to merge with – or “yoke” – the universal Self. Fusing individual and universal consciousness creates a divine union, called “yoga.” The Upanishads, dating back to the fifth century B.C., describe the kundalini, although the oral tradition reaches back even further into history. For thousands of years, this sacred science and technology was veiled in secrecy, passed along verbally from master to chosen disciple.
Kundalini Yoga as a practice is a Raj Yoga and combines all the traditional eight limbs of Yoga. Yogi Bhajan was the student of two Masters. Sant Hazare Singh declared Yogi Bhajan a Master of Kundalini Yoga at the age of 16 1/2. Guru Ram Das, the Fourth Sikh Master, gave Yogi Bhajan his own Gur Mantra many years later, in the early years of his teaching in the West.
Kundalini Yoga was taught from Master to student for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years and intersects with the lineage of the Sikh Masters such as Guru Nanak, Guru Ram Das and Guru Gobind Singh for the past 500 years. Its sources include many other yoga Masters of the Northern Punjab region of India, as well as the unique contributions of the Gurus in the use of naad and Shabad Guru. Guru Nanak started the Udassi line through his son Baba Siri Chand, a Master who served and taught for more than 100 years. He taught to all existing lineages of that time and educated several of the Sikh Gurus in their youth. Yogi Bhajan was the first to openly teach Kundalini Yoga in the East or the West. The lineage is now held in legacy through the technology of the Golden Chain—a connection to the Masters through the subtle body.
From the time he arrived in the US, he often said:
“I’ve not come to gather students, but to train teachers”.
In 1970, he completed his first teacher’s training and the Kundalini Research Institute was formed in 1971 and went on to formalize the certification and training of teachers internationally.
Creating a Legacy
In July of 1969 the non-profit 3HO Foundation (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) was incorporated in California. 3HO’s service to humanity is through Kundalini Yoga, meditation and the Science of Humanology which improves physical wellbeing, as well as deepening spiritual awareness.
Under his guidance as Director of Spiritual Education, 3HO mushroomed worldwide, to 300 centers in 35 countries. In 1994, 3HO became a member of the United Nations as an NGO (Non-Governmental-Organization) in Consultative Status (Roster) with the Economic and Social Council, representing women’s issues, promoting human rights and providing education in alternative systems of medicine.
Traveling extensively in the 1970s and 1980s, Yogi Bhajan crusaded tirelessly to educate, uplift and enlighten everyone he met. His basic message was
“It is your birthright to be healthy, happy, and holy”.
In 1973, Yogi Bhajan founded SuperHealth, a remarkably successful drugless, drug rehabilitation program, blending the proven ancient yogic wisdom of the East with the modern technology of the West. SuperHealth was accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization and received its highest commendation. In 1973 it distinguished itself as being in the top 10% of all treatment programs throughout the U.S.
In 1989 Yogi Bhajan met with then President Mikhail Gorbachev and established addiction treatment programs in Russia based on the SuperHealth model.
Embodying a rare combination of spiritual and down-to-earth practical wisdom, Yogi Bhajan was equally at home in the pulpit, the podium, the board room, the living room or sitting on the grass in a park, teaching and educating people in all walks of life. His expertise and influence extended into the realms of communication, the healing arts, business, religion and government.
Becoming the Mahan Tantric (only living Master of White Tantric Yoga) in 1971, he conducted workshops in cities around the world. In 1987 he transferred these workshops to videotape, calling them “Renew to be New” Courses, which until the 2020 COVID outbreak, continued to be held worldwide. Read more about White Tantric Yoga. Find out more about the Mahan Tantric
Inspired and motivated by his words and adhering to the practices he taught, students created music, art, and poetry reflecting the universal wisdom he shared. Over 200 books have been written based on his teachings, as well as a wealth of CD’s, videos, paintings, and sculpture. He himself wrote over 30 books including, Furmaan Khalsa, Masters Touch and Mind and Its 81 Facets.
A loyal friend and mentor of Senators, Congressmen and Governors regardless of political affiliation, he promoted spiritual awareness in all arenas. An ardent advocate of world peace and religious unity, as the Siri Singh Sahib (Chief Minister of Sikh Dharma International), he met with world leaders of all faiths to encourage dialogue, including Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, the Dalai Lama, and two Archbishops of Canterbury. In 1995 he received the Courage of Conscience Award from the Peace Abbey in Sherborn, Massachusetts
In 1971, at the Celebration of Life Music Festival in New Orleans, he shared the podium with Swami Satchidananda and Swami Vishnudevananda. He participated in many interfaith forums and conferences, including the World Parliament of Religions. In the early 1970s, he helped organize the first ‘Meeting of the Ways’ in San Francisco and was co-founder of the Unity of Man Conference. He became Co-President of the World Fellowship of Religions in 1974. He served on the Board of Directors of the American Council of Executives in Religion and was a member of the Inter-religious Council of Southern California, the Rotary Club and the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
Man of Peace
In June of 1985, he established the first International Peace Prayer Day Celebration in New Mexico. His belief was that peace in the world could only be attained through people finding peace and harmony within their own lives, in their own homes and relationships. He started International Peace Prayer Day as a way for people of different faiths to come together and create a common prayer for peace.
Until the 2020 COVID outbreak, this event of musical celebration and interfaith prayer continued to draw several thousand participants annually, including prominent national and international leaders in the realms of religion, politics and humanity. At this event each year a person was honored and given a grant for leading the way in spreading the word of peace. These have included: Grandmothers for Peace, the Gesundheit! Institute, Alfredo Sfeir Younis and Dr. C.T. Vivian.