The Fight For Yogi Bhajan’s Empire
By Kamalla Rose Kaur, Special to Sikh News Network
Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 | 12:11 am
Siri Sikhdar Sahiba Sardarni Guru Amrit Kaur Khalsa testified in an Oregon court that she was to carry out Yogi Bhajan's mission but was fired by his business leaders in a 2007 reorganization allegedly to unjustly enrich themselves.
Photo Source: Courtroom View Network
Before his death in 2004, Yogi Harbhajan Singh Khalsa told his longtime secretary, Sardarni Guru Amrit Kaur Khalsa, that after he was gone she would become the Siri Sikhdar Sahiba of Sikh Dharma International, she testified in the Multnomah County Circuit Court in Portland, Oregon.
Former religious leaders of Sikh Dharma International, the religious community that Yogi Bhajan created in the 1970s, are battling Yogi Bhajan’s business community. A handful of business leaders are accused of unjustly enriching themselves after a 2007 reorganization, and squeezing funding to the religious nonprofits.
"When the Siri Singh Sahib (Yogi Bhajan) considered succession, it was clear to everyone that no one could replace him," she said on June 6. "But in his creating this position (Siri Sikhdar Sahiba) in Sikh Dharma International, it was the closest to giving someone the duty to carry, in trust, the vision of his mission."
Khalsa defined “Siri” as “great” or “chief,” “Sikhdar” as “one who serves or protects the Sikhs,” and “Sahiba” as "minister." The title would give her a lifetime appointment as "the chief spiritual minister who upholds the mission of Sikh Dharma (International)," she said.
The duties of the Siri Sikhdar Sahiba include hosting the Southern California Baisakhi celebrations and giving a yearly speech to thousands of Sikhs there, and maintaining the organization's good relationship with the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee leadership in Amritsar, she said.
Steps towards Khalsa's official installation as the new SSS of Sikh Dharma International began soon after Yogi Bhajan's death. She was first required to travel to Darbar Sahib and do forty days of meditation. Her ordination in April 2005 was in front of the Khalsa Council, she said.
The Khalsa Council is a large body that meets twice a year, comprised of legal ministers of Sikh Dharma International. The Khalsa Council is the parliament of Sarkar-E-Khalsa, according to its Web site. Sarkar-E-Khalsa means ‘government of the Khalsa’, and was the name of the Sikh country under Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
But Khalsa did not remain SSS for long.
Yogi Bhajan left the financial control of his empire to members of the Unto Infinity board of directors, which also overseas the Golden Temple food company. Its fiduciary duty was to fund the religious nonprofits.
On December 9, 2009, Unto Infinity fired Siri Sikhdar Sahiba Sardarni Guru Amrit Kaur Khalsa, her staff and the other members of the Sikh Dharma International board of directors, and installed new religious leaders.
Khalsa and the rest of the splintered group formed Sikh Dharma Worldwide and set up the Sikh Dharma Legal Defense Fund on Facebook. The SSS and her followers have been raising money to pay for lawyers to fight Unto Infinity and Golden Temple Management in court ever since.
But this is not the first time Khalsa has been involved in a lawsuit.
In 1986, her younger sister, Katherine Felt, sued her and Yogi Bhajan, alleging that Khalsa helped Yogi Bhajan with assault and battery, false imprisonment and involuntary servitude, among other serious charges. The case was settled out of court.
Khalsa served with Yogi Bhajan’s personal staff for thirty years, beginning in 1974, when the young community was known as Sikh Dharma Brotherhood.
“The new development was initially received with great joy by the Sikh community,” says a 2007 World Sikh Council – America Region document on the history of the council’s formation. But that changed when “Sardar Harbhajan Singh had sought to establish his hegemony over all Sikhs.”
In a 1975 letter to the Internal Revenue Service, Yogi Bhajan claimed that “the Sikh Dharma Brotherhood is the corporate structure of the carrying on of the affairs of the Sikh religion in the Western Hemisphere, Europe, Canada, Mexico, United States, Central and South America,” and that “the Siri Singh Sahib is a position with administrative and religious authority similar to the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church,” according to WSC-AR, a coalition of 47 American gurdwaras and Sikh groups.
Although Yogi Bhajan’s community has always used “Sikh” in its name, many of its practices, such as Kundalini and Tantric yogas, have always been contrary to Sikh beliefs and practices.
“There were other, perhaps more fundamental, problems as well,” the WSC-AR document says. “To justify his interpretation of the faith, he (Yogi Bhajan) stated in the 'Sikh Dharma Brotherhood’ (magazine) in spring 1977 that: “Guru Gobind Singh forgot somewhere to write that the Khalsa shall do Pooran Praan Tapaa. That's the only way I can figure it out.” In the spring 1976 issue of the same magazine, discussing his achievements, he stated: “It is the first time the real perfect shape of the Khalsa came into existence. It did not happen in the time of Guru Gobind Singh. I see and now look back at the Sikh history. We have done - a handful of us - a more tremendous sacrifice for the sake of humanity on this planet than anybody can relate to.””
Some time after the 1986 Felt case, the community’s name changed from Sikh Dharma Brotherhood to Sikh Dharma International.
On Friday, June 17, 2011, the last day of the trial for financial control of Yogi Bhajan’s empire, Judge Leslie Roberts said the 2007 reorganization made by Unto Infinity and Golden Temple Management, which gave a handful of the Golden Temple executives 90 percent of the company's profits, was "unfair."
John McGrory, the religious leaders’ attorney, proposed appointing Khalsa as receiver. She would be sole director of the board overseeing Golden Temple and the other companies and nonprofit organizations until additional directors are installed.
Roberts is expected to reach a verdict soon.
Anju Kaur, staff journalist, also contributed to this report.