Religion: Yogi Bhajan's Synthetic Sikhism

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The adherents are flushed with the rosy beauty of new faith. "We got involved in Sikhism so we could re-establish a direction in our lives based on real principles," a young Jewish woman at a Los Angeles ashram told TIME Correspondent James Wilde.

Chimed in an ex-Catholic who misses the Latin Mass: "The demystification of the church turned me off." Even a Massachusetts girl who has broken with the movement says wistfully, "At the ashram we had the nucleus of a real family. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced."

Bhajan has important backers in India. High Priest Guruchuran Singh Tohra, president of the management committee for northern India's Sikh temples, confirms that his council has given "full approval" to 3HO and recognizes the yogi as a preacher. Tohra, however, says that this does not mean Bhajan is the Sikh leader of the Western Hemisphere, as he claims. The Sikhs do not create such offices. Nor, Tohra adds, has the committee given Bhajan the rarely bestowed title, Siri Singh Sahib (the equivalent of saying "Sir" three times), which he uses.

Bhajan has his critics—and they are severe. Many traditional Sikhs insist that yoga has no place in their religion. Sikh Historian Trilochan Singh says Bhajan's synthesis of Sikhism and Tantrism is "a sacrilegious hodgepodge." Far more important, High Priest Jaswant Singh, a leader of the Sikhs in eastern India and comparable in status to Bhajan Backer Tohra, last week denounced Bhajan's claims. He and his council professed to be "shocked" at Bhajan's "fantastic theories." Yoga, Tantrism and the "sexual practices" taught by Bhajan, the council declared, are "forbidden and immoral."

There are more delicate matters at issue, many raised by people who knew Bhajan when. Judith Tyberg, respected founder of Los Angeles' East-West Center, where Bhajan briefly gave courses, questions his knowledge of Kundalini yoga. She fired him from her faculty after three months for another reason —which she refuses to divulge.

Bhajan has repeatedly been accused of being a womanizer. Colleen Hoskins, who worked seven months at his New Mexico residence, reports that men are scarcely seen there. He is served, she says, by a coterie of as many as 14 women, some of whom attend his baths, give him group massages, and take turns spending the night in his room while his wife sleeps elsewhere.

Colleen and her husband Philip, Bhajan's former chancellor, who quit last year, say they could no longer countenance Bhajan's luxurious life-style when so many of his followers had to scrimp along. Filmmaker Don Conreaux, an early apostle, says that originally the yogi was "against titles, against disciples. Now he teaches only obedience to him." When Philip Hoskins quit last year, he says, Bhajan told him he would suffer 84 million reincarnations and be "reborn as a worm for betraying your teacher."

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