The Beginning of 3HO
By Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa
Yogi Bhajan was making soup in the kitchen of the East-West Cultural Center in Los Angeles when he told me, “I have a vision, to create an organization called “3HO,” the Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization, and you’ll be the Mother.” Without hesitation I replied, “Thanks a lot, but no thanks. I’ve already raised my son – and I definitely don’t want any more responsibility; and furthermore, I don’t like organizations.”
Fortunately, he didn’t listen to me. Through the years, despite all the opposition and stupidity (starting with me!) that he patiently endured, Yogi Bhajan continued to follow his inner guidance, manifesting his vision and fulfilling his God-given destiny.
He understood that some formal legal structure was needed to allow the teachings of Kundalini Yoga to become widespread. So, we did incorporate 3HO in July of 1969, and of course I dealt with all the “organizational” paperwork involved! But at the heart of it all was Yogiji’s true intention of creating a family of people who practice Kundalini Yoga, people who could and would live for each other, not just with each other – and certainly not at each other!
When I met Yogi Bhajan in December of 1968 it was still just the dawning of the Aquarian Age, but as a Master Yogi, a visionary, and a man dedicated to serving God and “his” Guru by serving people, he was always one step ahead of Time. He saw what the years ahead would bring and was determined to provide guidance and technology to empower people. On January 5, 1969, at his first public lecture in the United States, he stated, “It’s your birthright to be Healthy, Happy, and Holy—and the practice of Kundalini Yoga is the method to claim that birthright.”
As you can see from the “Yogi Bhajan Everyday” Calendars, his words were impactful, quotable, and amazingly prolific. He lived his life as an example of what he taught, always putting the good of others ahead of his own comfort and convenience.
Except for me, who had reached the advanced age of 40 in June of 1969, the yoga students who came to his classes were in their teens and early twenties. Just a few at first, then dozens and soon hundreds flocked to see “The Yogi.” And applying what he taught, “Sat Nam” became our greeting (people called us the “Satnamers”), and our wardrobes became all white – the universal color that contains all colors and expands the aura. He meant what he said when he announced that he had not come to get disciples, but to train teachers, and so a handful of us began teaching early in 1969. I was the first, covering his classes when he started traveling throughout the United States.
He and I designed 3HO stationery and had it printed at a shop owned by Margaret Kiyabu near the East-West Cultural Center. I opened a bank account for 3HO, where I deposited the class donations that I had counted out on my living room floor. In 1976 a student made a large contribution, and the Secretariat building on Robertson Boulevard was purchased. 3HO finally had real offices, sharing the building with Sikh Dharma and the Siri Singh Sahib Corporation.
Within the first year or so, Yogi Bhajan sent out teachers to open 3HO centers (we called them “Ashrams”) starting with Washington, D.C. and Florida as I recall. Then there's a great story about how Nirvair Singh and Kaur took off driving to Alaska, just on faith! No one got any advance money, however, the universe was ready and waiting for 3HO, and things just opened up organically. As Yogi Bhajan used to say, “Faith moves mountains; otherwise even stones are heavy for a man.” We thought it was a tremendous achievement when there were eight 3HO Centers in the United States. This “organization” has a life of its own, and has grown organically with God's blessing and Guru's grace. In the beginning, some people started restaurants or cleaning services to support the ashrams. In the early 70's in Hawaii the teacher in charge there drove a taxicab. It took some time until teaching Kundalini Yoga became a source of income for the Directors - and students.
I was a bit put off at first by the name 3HO, and I told Yogi Bhajan I was concerned that “Holy” sounded sanctimonious, or “holier than thou.” He explained that by “Holy” he meant two things: (1) being grateful for each breath we receive, consciously aware that each inhalation is God's gift of life, and (2) not doing to anyone what you don’t want them to do to you. Certainly a commendable way to live!
One thing that particularly impressed me about “The Yogi” was his total faith in “his God, and his Guru,” with whom he seemed to have a direct connection and intimate relationship. He knew that with the practice of Kundalini Yoga, and living the 3HO Lifestyle (getting up in the ambrosial hours, taking a cold shower, and doing sadhana every day), we could all develop that same relationship. He truly wanted us to become “ten times greater” than he. Many of his statements have been repeated so many times they may seem like clichés, but they have power, because what he spoke was true. When he said, “Don’t love me, love my teachings,” he was preparing us to carry on his legacy, and not be dependent upon his personality (as charming and charismatic as he was!).
When I think of 3HO, which has become a world-wide organization, with centers in more than 72 countries with Kundalini Yoga teachers on every continent, I see the imprint of this one man’s dedication, courage, and commitment to make his students “ten times greater.”
3HO Events are an expression of Yogi Bhajan's ability to make every gathering into a party, a celebration. He encouraged (and often directed – especially at Women's Camp) students to create music, poetry, and art. 3HO is, in effect, a subculture within the culture everywhere its teachings are practiced. From the first Summer Solstice he attended as a guest in 1969 (1970 was the first Solstice that 3HO sponsored), to the huge Yoga Festivals in Europe and the Annual Winter and Summer Solstices (Florida and New Mexico) with thousands of attendees, Women's Camps, and Children's Camps, Yogi Bhajan's 3HO has made its mark on the world, bringing joyful experiences of powerful technology—and increasing spiritual awareness. 3HO is still committed to improving the quality of life for anyone who wants to “belong” to the 3HO Family. (Anyone who practices and/or teaches the 3HO Lifestyle is a “member” of 3HO.) And let's not forget the International Kundalini Yoga Teachers Association (IKYTA), which is a part of 3HO, and KRI, the Kundalini Research Institute, that Yogi Bhajan established early on.
It was my privilege to serve as Yogi Bhajan's Executive Secretary during his lifetime, but the greatest honor he gave me (despite my opinion at the time) is the position of “Mother of 3HO.” I'm so proud of how 3HO has served and continues to serve humanity in the spirit and following in the footsteps of Yogi Bhajan, Master of Kundalini Yoga.
May God bless us all to be healthy, happy, and holy—grateful for having discovered this excellent way of life!
Humbly yours, with all Love in Divine,
Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa
Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa was Yogi Bhajan’s first student in the United States. She has been teaching Kundalini Yoga since 1969. She is the author of Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power; Kundalini Postures and Poetry; and Marriage on the Spiritual Path: Mastering the Highest Yoga. She is a frequent movie-goer in the City of Angels.