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3HO/Sikh Dharma of the Western Hemisphere: The ‘Forgotten’ New Religious Movement?



This article will give a general overview of a Sikh movement that originated in the 1960s with an immigrant from India known as Harbhajan Singh, a Khatri Sikh. His initial aim was to teach yoga in Canada, but the job he was promised did not materialize, and thus it was that he turned his attention towards California. In Los Angeles, he took on a new name, Yogi Bhajan, and soon surrounded himself with eager students. An ashram was built soon thereafter and by 1969 his ‘Healthy, Happy, Holy’ group was incorporated as a tax exempt organization. Although Bhajan was from a traditional Sikh family, he increasingly focused on Kundalini Yoga and Tantra in his teaching and practices. However, Sikh teachings were also incorporated into his message, a message that was largely directed towards a white, middle-class, counter-culture audience. Needless to say, the Punjabi Sikh community has had a mixed reaction to the ‘Gora’ (white) converts, particularly with regard to the accretions and modifications to the Sikh traditions, upheld by Bhajan and his followers. This article will address aspects of 3HO (or Sikh Dharma in the Western Hemisphere) in its current manifestation that resembles characteristics of new religious movements, particularly its claims to universality and purity within its own manifestation of ‘true’ Sikh identity.