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The Prosperous Yogi

  Photo: Yogi Bhajan teaching in 1969 

Dispelling the myth of the ''begging bowl"

By Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa

In September of 1929, when the stock market crashed (three months after I was born), the Roaring Twenties went out with a whimper bringing on the Great Depression of the thirties. So I was known as a "depression baby."

My mother supported my two brothers and me by selling World Book Encyclopedia door-to-door in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Without a car, in rain or snow, heat or cold, she knocked on doors and kept food on our table. She never let us think we were poor, but we certainly weren't rich. There was no money for frills, and nothing could be wasted. Recycling was a way of life.

The positive side of this was that I received solid training in economizing. My mother was adamant about paying bills on time and maintaining a good credit rating. She taught us that it was a disgrace to be a "deadbeat." If you can't make a full payment, then you contact the creditor to establish your good intentions, and at least make a partial payment.

Most of all she taught us, "Always honor your word." (No wonder Sikh Dharma, which is based on the worship of truth, appealed to me years later!). She also had the habit of saying, when the rent was due, "Kids, I have to make a sale, and I know the Lord will provide." And of course, He did.

The downside of a childhood in the depression years was that, despite the emphasis on character values, there was a constant feeling of lack. I accepted as a fact of life that we couldn't afford a lot of things we might have wanted. I developed a "poverty complex."

When I was in my twenties (in the 50's), I studied Eastern philosophy and read stories of many saints and yogis, all of whom seemed to be renunciates and ascetics. Mentally I accepted the "loincloth and begging bowl" school of spirituality.

When I met Yogi Bhajan in December of 1968, I thought money and possessions were not compatible with being on a spiritual path. The concept of wealth and affluence was not in my psyche. You can imagine what a shock it was to hear him say, "Poverty is a curse." What he explained was that the more you have, the more you can give and share with others.

From the self-limiting "I can't afford to give" to the expansive, "God is the greatest Giver so the more we give, the more Godlike we become," was a big leap. But I saw how Yogi Bhajan went from having practically nothing (materially, that is), when I met him, to becoming amazingly affluent. I know it's because he was constantly giving. Plus, he worked.

The ethic he shared with his students was "work is worship." And he encouraged them to start businesses so that they could earn righteously and at the same time provide jobs for other "longhairs" of that baby boomer generation. He set the example right from the start, earning his own living by teaching and lecturing.

Even when he had practically no money, he always carried himself like a king. In the early days in Los Angeles, he astounded (and horrified) the woman at whose center he had just taught a class, when on our way to dinner at the nearby cafeteria, he gave every cent of the money he had just earned to a blind man selling pencils on the street. The lady said, "What have you done? How are you going to pay for your meal?" The Yogi said, "Not to worry, my Guru will take care of me." And sure enough, a student who had recognized Yogiji picked up the tab even before it was presented.

Yogi Bhajan's unswerving faith that his God and his Guru would always take care of him amazed me. (He always said, "My God and my Guru," affirming the reality of their intimate relationship.) I do believe prosperity is a combination of faith and the principle of the vacuum—give, so that the abundance in the Universe can come to you to fill the void.

Yogi Bhajan traveled and lectured, taught classes two times a day, six days a week in LA, earning and giving. In 1972 he bought the building at 1620 Preuss Road, which became Guru Ram Das Ashram. A few years later, he gave the property to Sikh Dharma. He didn't believe anything belonged to him per­sonally: everything belongs to God; we are the caretakers.

Many of the students who came didn't have any money, so Yogiji would scatter coins in front of the entrance so they could pay before taking the class. He knew the principle inherent in Kundalini Yoga: "If you come empty-­handed, you go empty-handed." He wanted each student to get the most out of every class. Once he told us that the job of a teacher is to train people to give.

He had left a lucrative position in India to come to the West. He left against the advice of the pundits, in spite of the fact that he was close to being eligible for a retirement pension. But, as usual, he listened to his intuitive guidance, ignoring warnings that it was not an auspicious time to leave and the predictions that he would have a very hard time.

Sure enough, his luggage was lost in Amsterdam, en route to Canada, and when he arrived in Toronto, he learned that the man who had promised him a job at the university had died in an automobile accident. No job, no money, but he held onto his faith. He often said that he had earned plenty of money when he served the Indian government (he'd been an officer in the army, and later a customs officer), so how could he remain poor when he was serving the One who created everything?

With just his Air India carry-on bag and $35, he started life in the West. Determined to earn his own living, he got a job as a shipping clerk in a book­ store, and somehow he survived, wrapping newspapers around his thin shoes to keep out the cold as the bitter northern winter advanced. Later, he found a yoga studio where he could teach. Then one weekend in December of 1968, he came to Los Angeles to visit. Again, without a job, and practically no money, he started giving of his time, his love, and his knowledge to the young people he met whose souls he recognized as those destined to be teachers for the Aquarian Age. He not only taught Kundalini Yoga kriyas but he also taught how to prosper personally, socially, and spiritually.

Yogi Bhajan knew that prosperity comes to those who give. He helped people take a leap of faith and empty the cup, so the Giver of all could fill it. When anyone gave him a gift, it went on his altar, and he prayed for the giver.

What we say and what we think sets energy in motion either negatively or positively. Fear blocks our prosperity; a mindset of lack creates and perpetuates poverty. This doesn't mean that we should be extravagant or foolish with our money, but rather that we intelligently budget ourselves, and prioritize our time and our money, knowing that the first bill to be paid is to the Infinite.

So, the first one-tenth of the day is given to sadhana, your daily spiritual practice, an investment of time with a guaranteed 10% earning rate of blessings! And the first one-tenth of income is tithed, opening the avenue for the Giver of all to provide greater and greater abundance in our lives.

Another secret to prosperity is to maintain an attitude of gratitude. Just as human beings tend to want to give more to those who appreciate their gifts, it seems that God responds the same way. (After all, aren't we made in God's image?) So no matter how much or how little we think we have, and that of course is a relative, subjective judgment, it pays to be truly grateful. Not only will we feel happy and fulfilled, but God will be more inclined to offer us more!

May we all be blessed to live consciously as givers, so we can prosper as bountiful, blissful, and regal human beings.

[Originally published in Aquarian Times, Autumn, 2001]

Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa was Yogi Bhajan’s first student in the United States. He gave her the title of Divine Mother of 3HO. She has been teaching Kundalini Yoga since 1969. She is the author of Toolkit for Teaching Beginners, 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.