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Tantric Yoga in the Mountains of New Mexico

In a grassy meadow at the 7500-foot elevation in the Jemez mountains of northern New Mexico, a thousand young Americans (most of them between the ages of 20 and 25) gathered for ten days of spiritual exercises at the time of the summer solstice in June, 1973. They arise at four a.m. every day and assemble before sunrise (wrapped in blankets against the morning frost) to sit on the ground in rows in front of an outdoor stage. Together, they begin the day with a mantra in Punjabi (a Sanskritic language) in order to "tune in" to the spiritual practices that are to follow.

First there are several hours of kundalini yoga a series of strenuous physical exercises, chanting, and meditation aimed at acquiring conscious control of body and mind processes and preparing one for "God realization." Then there is the ceremony of the raising of two flags: the American flag and the "flag of the Aquarian nation" this "nation" being the peaceful people of the "Aquarian Age" or millenium for which this cult is preparing accompanied by the singing of "God Bless America" and a prayer for the American nation. After a vegetarian meal (typical of almost all the new cults) and lectures on spiritual and practical subjects, all prepare for a long session of tantric yoga.

Tantric yoga has been little heard of and almost never practiced in the West up to now. All authorities agree that it is an extremely dangerous exercise, practiced always by male and female together, that evokes a very powerful psychic energy, requiring close supervision and control. Supposedly, there is only one master of tantric yoga living on the earth at any one time; the exercises at "Solstice" in New Mexico were led by the "Great Tantric" of our days, Yogi Bhajan.

All, dressed identically in white, sit down in long, straight lines, men opposite women, packed shoulder-to-shoulder down the lines and back-to-back with the next line. About ten double lines stretch out from the stage, each 75 feet long; assistants make sure the lines are perfectly straight to assure the proper "flow" of the yogi "magnetic field."

The chanting of mantras begins, with special chants invoking a departed guru who is Yogi Bhajan's "special protector." The Yogi himself, an impressive man six feet four inches tall with a great black beard, dressed in white robe and turban appears and begins to speak of his dream for "a new beautiful creative nation" of America which can be built by the spiritual preparation of people today; the tantric exercises, which are a key in this preparation, transform people from their usual "individual consciousness" to "group consciousness" and finally to "universal consciousness."

The exercises begin. They are extremely difficult, involving strong physical effort and pain and evoking strong emotions of fear, anger, love, etc. Everyone must do exactly the same thing at the same time; difficult positions are held motionlessly for long periods; complicated mantras and exercises must be executed in precise coordination with one's partner and with everyone in one's own row; each separate exercise may take from 31 to 61 minutes. Individual awareness disappears in the intense group activity, and strong after-effects are felt physical exhaustion and sometimes temporary paralysis, emotional exhaustion or elation. Further, since no one at "Solstice" is allowed to converse with anyone else, there is no opportunity to make rational sense of the experience by sharing it with others; the aim is to effect a radical change in oneself.

Following afternoon classes in such subjects as Oriental arts of self-defense, practical medicine and nutrition, and the running of an ashram, there is an evening session (after another meal) of "spiritual singing:" Sanskrit mantras are sung to current folk and "rock" music, "rock festival" and "joyful worship" in a foreign tongue are joined together part of Yogi Bhajan's effort to make his religion "native American."

The religion described above is a modern adaptation of the Sikh religion of northern India, joined to several practices of yoga. Called the "3HO" (Healthy Happy-Holy Organization), it was founded in 1969 in Los Angeles by Yogi Bhajan, who originally came to America to take up a teaching position and only incidentally became a religious leader when he discovered that his courses in yoga appealed to the "hippies" of southern California. Combining the "spiritual" search of the "hippies" with his own knowledge of Indian religions, he formed an "American" religion that differs from most Eastern religions by its emphasis on a this-worldly practical life (like the Sikhs in India, who are mostly a merchant class); marriage and a stable home life, responsible employment, and social service are required of all members.

Since its foundation in 1969, "3HO" has expanded to over 100 ashrams (communities which serve as gathering-places for non-resident participants) in American cities, as well as a few in Europe and Japan. Although externally it is quite distinct from the other new Eastern cults (full members of the cult formally become Sikhs and thereafter wear the characteristic Sikh turban and white clothing), "3HO" is one with them in appealing to ex-"hippies," making an "expanded" (or "universal" or "transcendental") consciousness its central aim, and in seeing itself as a spiritual "avant-garde" that will bring about a new millenial age (which most groups see in astrological terms as the "Aquarian Age").

As a cult that advocates a relatively normal life in society, "3HO" is still just as much a "sign of the times" as the Hindu cults that promote an obvious "escapism;" it is preparing for a "healthy, happy and holy" America totally without reference to Christ. When convinced and "happy" Americans speak calmly about God and their religious duties without mention of Christ, one can no longer doubt that the "post Christian" age has come in earnest.

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