Moving from one religion to another has become almost a daily event for Britney Spears.

Britney the 'cult' hopper?Formerly Baptist Britney has gone from Kabbalah to Hindu and now it’s “yoga.”

Spears was spotted dropping in on “Singh Khalsa” reportedly a “yoga master” and “Sikh.”

The pop star is receiving some kind of “therapy” from the man in his LA home allegedly based upon “ancient Kundalini yoga practices” reports Ireland On-line.

However, it looks like the devotee of a group often called a “cult” has actually taken in the pop star.

Khalsa is associated with 3HO, which stands for the “Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization,” founded by the now deceased “Yogi Bhajan,” a notorious guru that built a following in the United States beginning in the 1970s.

Not exactly a mainstream Sikh, Bhajan was often derided by his more orthodox brethren as a bit of a heretic.

The man revered by his American devotees as “Sin Singh Sahib” was once sued  by his own secretary for fraud, deceit, assault and battery.

A leader immediately below Bhajan that largely ran his New Mexico ashram was indicted for drug running, racketeering and money laundering.

Not exactly the kind of people Ms. Spears should hanging around with now is it?

The star seems to be on an odd spiritual journey and two of the groups that she has wandered into, former galpal Madonna’s Kabbalah Centre and now 3HO have been called “cults.”

Is Britney Spears becoming a “cult hopper”?

Yogi Bhajan told his followers to place this photo on an altar

Now deceased “Yogi Bhajan” (a.k.a. Harbhajan Singh Puri), a notorious guru and purported “cult leader,” was recently honored posthumously through a joint resolution of the United States Congress. Followers of the man who took the title “Siri Singh Sahib” (SSS) now boast that their dead leader shares the same honor bestowed upon Martin Luther King, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa reported Indian Express Newspapers.

This is just one more accolade arranged by diehard SSS devotees and the guru’s old political cronies since his death on October 6, 2004.

Bhajan was the founder and absolute leader of a relatively small group called the “Healthy, Happy Holy Organization” (3HO) based in the United States with a membership of a few thousand Americans that often took on Sikh names like “Singh,” “Khalsa” and wore white.

Prominent sociologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Offshe stated in an affidavit that “3HO exhibits characteristics common to cult organizations.”

The well-scripted praise heaped upon Bhajan since his demise includes no less than a “presidential proclamation” by George W. Bush and flags ordered lowered to half-mast by the Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson.

The resolution by congress cites the alleged cult leader’s “legendary compassion, wisdom, kindness, and courage.”

However, his former followers have less than glowing things to say about the dead guru. Many claim that 3HO exploited them and hurt their families. And some women have said that the guru’s attentions were less than spiritual. A former secretary once sued Bhajan for sexual harassment and gross misconduct.

Her lawsuit stated, “The method by which Bhajan induced others to follow him was to pose as a Yoga master and teacher, and then covertly subject yoga students to a process of mental and emotional conditioning in which their personalities are disrupted and ultimately destroyed.”

But lawsuits against Bhajan and/or his businesses were quietly settled and the guru lived a life of luxury, until his death last year at 75.

Harbahjan Sigh Puri (a.k.a. “Yogi Bhajan”) immigrated to the US in the 1970s and built a following amongst largely white, middle-class Americans. He started as a yoga teacher, but soon declared himself a religious leader. His idiosyncratic brand of religion was a blend of yoga, meditation and his quirky personal philosophy. And that composite belief system was frequently denounced and/or criticized by more mainstream and traditional Sikhs.

Over the years Bhajan put together a multi-million dollar financial empire, largely through the devotion, donations and hard work of his American followers. His business interests included AKAL Security, one of the largest private security companies in North America, which relied heavily upon government contracts. He also marketed teas, herbs and assorted health food.

In the 1980s SSS’s right hand man “Gurujot Singh Khalsa” (a.k.a. Robert Alvin Taylor) was criminally indicted for conspiring to import more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana into the US. He was subsequently sentenced to a term in federal prison.

Bhajan was also known for his astute political connections and New Mexico was his main sphere of influence. 3HO maintains a large compound near Espanola, NM where numerous programs and retreats are staged.

Governor Bill Richardson, a long-time political crony, once rushed in a state-owned helicopter to be on time for his appearance as a keynote speaker at an event within the guru’s ashram.

The House resolution honoring Yogi Bhajan sponsored by US Congressman Tom Udall of New Mexico passed by a voice-recorded vote of 405 to 0.

Reportedly 3HO has spread south from New Mexico to old Mexico, and has a following in that nation’s capital city.

Mexican devotees wear the typically white dress of Bhajan’s followers and practice his peculiar form of “Kundalini Yoga” reported India Abroad of Toronto.

SSS may be dead, but his multi-million dollar financial empire and old political cronies continue to live on. This can be seen not as a legacy of “legendary…courage,” but as the residue of collected political favors, business connections, continued proselytizing, real estate assets and plain old hard cash.

President Bush has issued a “proclamation” honoring the leader of a small fringe group of unorthodox “Sikhs” Associated Press and KOBTV in New Mexico.

One thousand of the faithful converged on Santa Fe to pay their last respects to the dead leader Harbhajan Singh Puri, known to his followers as “Yogi Bhajan.”

Bhajan died a few days ago from heart failure at 75.

The guru died a rich man and controlled numerous lucrative companies run by his devotees, including AKAL Security, which was launched from his New Mexico ashram.

Akal now boasts a billion dollars in government contracts.

It seems somewhat sordid that some prominent politicians seem to think they owe something to the old guru, who was accused of sexual assault and battery and considered by many of his former followers to be something less than a “holy man.”

However, the likes of no less than two New Mexico governors and now a sitting US President have honored the man many called a “cult leader.”

The group the guru started in a Los Angeles garage in the 1970s known as the “Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization (3HO) has little more than a few thousand faithful and has been dwindling for years.

Nevertheless “Yogi Bhajan” got quite a sendoff, offering proof that political patronage, repeated campaign contributions and savvy business deals is what really counts amongst many politicians in America.

Note: See previous story about the life and times of “Yogi Bhajan”

Harbhajan Singh Puri, known to his devoted followers as “Yogi Bhajan,” is dead at 75, reports the Times of India.

A former customs agent in New Delhi, Bhajan emigrated to the United Stated from India through Canada during the 1970s guru craze. He eventually became a Los Angeles yoga teacher and ultimately formed a religious group known as “3HO” (The “Happy, Holy, Healthy Organization”).

Like other pop gurus Bhajan had his share of celebrity followers.

3HO has been linked to singers Courtney Love and Seal. And a popular LA yoga teacher and 3HO member attracted celebrity students such as Madonna, Rosanna Arquette, Melissa Etheridge, Cindy Crawford, David Duchovny and Sherilyn Fenn.

However, despite its name 3HO had many unhappy former followers and ironically the guru that claimed his yoga made its adherents healthy, was plagued by perpetual illnesses and died from heart disease.

Bhajan also had a history of allegations regarding rather unholy sexual misconduct.

He was repeatedly accused of exploiting female devotees and once sued by his personal secretary for “assault and battery.” The case was later quietly settled out of court.

Yogi Bhajan’s followers preferred to address him as “Siri Singh Sahib,” but he was also known as a “cult leader” and once compared to Rev. Moon founder of the Unification Church.

Prominent sociologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Offshe said in an affidavit that 3HO “exhibits characteristics common to cult organizations.”

The self-proclaimed “world Sikh leader” actually ruled over a relatively small religious following composed primarily of Americans and situated largely in New Mexico, Arizona and California within small insular communities.

Bhajan’s faithful were known for their yoga, vegetarian diet and white dress code.

In India, Sikhs allow democratic elections of priests and oppose personality cults. Yoga has no part in Sikhism, and India’s Sikhs are known to be meat eaters and often wear colorful garments.

Despite a historic rift between mainline Sikhs and Bhajan’s American disciples an Indian Sikh leader eulogized the alleged “cult leader” as “a tech-savvy new age guru” who propogated “the message of Sikism,” reports Indo-Asian News Service.

Bhajan’s religious compound near Espanola, New Mexico experienced an exodus of members in 1985 and 3HO today appears to be an aging and dwindling group.

Nevertheless New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson declared, “Yogi Bhajan a leader in the Sikh community nationally and internationally…[and]…a great friend of New Mexico” reported The Albuquerque Journal.

Richardson benefited politically from 3HO support and its members made substantial campaign contributions.

The governor has ordered flags throughout the state to be flown at half-mast for two days to honor Yogi Bhajan.

Perhaps Gov. Richardson overlooked these prophetic words of Bhajan who once told his followers, “Your dead bodies will lie on these roads, your children will be orphans, and nobody will kick them, rather, people will eat them alive! There will be tremendous insanity. That is the time we are going to face.”

He concluded, “So you have two choices: be a Sikh, or a sick.”

Hardly the thoughts of a benign spiritual leader and “friend.”

Bhajan was a relentless self-promoter and his multi-million dollar business empire is likely to be his most enduring legacy.

The web of corporate holdings he once controlled includes Akal Security, a company responsible for $1 billion dollars in US government contracts, according to a recent article run in the New York Times.

How could “homeland security” be in any way dependent upon a company linked to an alleged “cult,” which also has a closely related history of criminal indictments regarding one of its past and most prominent leaders?

Yogi Bhajan’s trusted subordinate, Gurujot Singh Khalsa (AKA Robert Alwin Taylor), was convicted for conspiracy to import marijuana, racketeering and money laundering. He also attempted to obtain illegal weapons.

Ironically, while Gurujot served time in a federal prison Akal Security began to turn a profit for Yogi Bhajan and his 3HO followers, largely through federal contracts.

The legacy of loot left behind by Bhajan is considerable and no doubt his surviving family will live comfortably.

Somewhat uncomfortable though is the thought of Akal as part of America’s “homeland security” and a US governor pandering to a purported “cult” by memorializing a man many considered little more than a megalomaniac.

Note: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson later declared October 23rd officially “Yogi Bhajan Memorial Day.”

Yoga has become a popular form of exercise and something of a sensational craze in recent years.

Many Westerners are enthralled with the practice and hope that yoga will help them to shed pounds and firm up. Some say it may also lead to a sense of inner calm and tranquility.

Numerous yoga studios have opened up almost everywhere, from major metropolitan areas to large towns.

But how can a hopeful student find a reputable studio with a good teacher?

Most seem to rely on word-of-mouth endorsements from friends, but there are some organizations that register schools and teachers.

One such body is called the “Yoga Alliance” (YA), its mailing address is in Reading, Pennsylvania. YA was officially established just a few years ago in 1999.

But the background history of some YA board members is rather disturbing. It seems nearly half at one time or another have been involved with groups called “cults.” And some of the schools registered at YA are associated with “cults.”

For example, the alliance includes on its list of schools the 3HO ashram in Espanola, New Mexico, the Integral Yoga Center of Richmond, Virginia and Ananda Yoga of Nevada City, California.

All three of these groups have less than laudable histories and they have also often been called “cults.”

A close look at the resumes of YA board members reveals some interesting connections.

Kartar Singh Khalsa, Co-head of Teachers Outreach, is a devotee of Yogi Bhajan the founder of 3HO.

The group Ananda Marga first initiated Steven Landau, Chairman of the YA Newsletter Committee.

Carol A. Stefanelli, head of the group’s Networking Committee, once studied with Swami Muktananda the founder of Siddha.

Mary Lynn Tucker, Co-chair of the Outreach Committee, studied yoga with Swami Satchidananda and lives near the ashram the guru created named “Yogaville.”

Rich McCord, Chairman of YA’s pivotal Standards Committee, actually teaches at the Ananda Church of Self-Realization, which has been labeled a “cult” in court.

Ananda’s founder J. Donald Walters was found guilty of sexual misconduct and plaintiffs were awarded a staggering multi-million dollar judgment.

Interestingly, the last “face-to-face” meeting of the YA board was actually held at the so-called “Ananda Village,” in California.

Isn’t this a bit like the “foxes guarding the hen house”?

Anyone considering yoga classes with teachers and/or schools registered by the Yoga Alliance might want to exercise a bit of caution, before beginning any of their exercises.

The governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson was recently scrutinized for flying around in a helicopter that costs the taxpayers of his state $495.00 per hour reports Albuquerque’s KRQE TV.

One of the governor’s stops was at an “International Peace Prayer Day” at the so-called “Sikh Dharma” (also known as 3HO) near Española on June 21. Richardson was the keynote speaker at this event.

However, the Española religious enclave has a troubled history and it has been called a “cult.”

Mainstream Indian Sikhs have often dismissed and disavowed both 3HO’s leader and his teachings.

Critics of Yogi Bhajan, founder of the group, say the authoritarian guru not only exerts dictatorial control over his followers, but also has a historical predilection for demanding sexual favors too.

Bhajan’s devotees are largely a collection of counter-culture “hippie” holdovers from the 1970s. Westerners who typically changed their Anglo surname to “Singh” and “Khalsa” and/or whatever else their guru wanted.

Bhajan and his associates have a history of scandals, ranging from financial fraud, to sex and illegal drug trafficking.

Guru Jot Singh (also known as Robert Alvin Taylor) a key leader within 3HO who now lives in the Española community, was indicted as an international drug smuggler. Taylor was caught and convicted for the illegal importation of marijuana and served a sentence in federal prison.

Why would Governor Bill Richardson, a former US congressman, past Secretary of Energy and United Nations Ambassador agree to be a “keynote speaker” for such a specious group?

This is an interesting story that began decades ago.

It seems that Bill, a dedicated fund-raiser, probably feels indebted to the guru for his generously arranged campaign contributions. And a cursory check over Richardson’s historic contributors list will reveal more than a few “Singhs” and “Khalsas” that helped to fill his campaign coffers.

Somewhat disturbing though is the length Bill Richardson was willing to go, in an effort to help out his friend the guru and the Española “cult compound.”

On October 25, 1985 Congressman Bill Richardson was “hand-delivered” a letter from the Chancellor of the “Sikh Dharma.”

The letter said in part; “We have been informed that the above [phone] numbers are and have been the subject of electronic surveillance by the United States government during the past several months…Would you please make an inquiry with the Justice Department, the CIA, the National Security Commission and any other government agency that may be involved in this surveillance and inform me of the results of your inquiry.”

Bill did exactly what was asked. He sent a letter days later to the FBI.

Richardson wrote, “I have received the attached letter from one of my constituents…Any information you can provide my office to help us respond…will be most helpful.”

The congressman also assigned one of his staff “to handle [the] matter.”

In December the FBI responded, “A check was made of our records here at FBI Headquarters and in our offices in Albuquerque and Los Angeles, and no information was located to indicate that the Sikh Dharma Brotherhood is now or has been the subject of electronic surveillance by the FBI.”

But what Bill didn’t know is that he had contacted the wrong federal law-enforcement agency.

Apparently it was the DEA that likely had the “cult” under surveillance, as the eventual arrest of Guru Jot Singh in 1987 for drug-trafficking would seem to indicate.

An interesting footnote is that another congressman also wrote the FBI about the New Mexico “cult” years earlier.

In 1979 then Congressman Jack Kemp wrote to the director of the FBI, “May I please have your assistance in addressing the concerns expressed to me in the enclosed letter from my constituent regarding the group her sister is a member of? As you will note, [she] is extremely concerned about the activities of the leader of this group and feels that her sister is a victim rather than a member…Has the FBI ever had occasion to investigate this group or the activities of its leader, Yogi Bhajan…if it is suspected that this man is in violation of a federal law…can some action be initiated.”

Kemp’s constituent wrote that her sister was “unable to reason” due to the influence of Bhajan and his “Western cult.”

She also said, “The only vacations [my sister] takes are for the purpose of taking more courses from Yogi Bhajan, for which she and her husband pay. Meanwhile Yogi Bhajan is well fed and maintained. He drives a late model Lincoln Continental and lives in a mansion in Los Angeles.”

In the years since, despite criminal convictions and lawsuits, Yogi Bhajan continued to prosper. At times his followers might be caught in various scandals, but their guru kept living the good life.

And at least one of his thriving businesses, Akal Security would benefit from government contracts.

After 9-11 the Albuquerque Tribune quoted an AKAL spokesperson describing the burst of activity after that tragedy.

“The largest portion of our work is federal government facilities – courthouses, offices, military, NASA…we’ve added several hundred people to those contracts…especially…in Manhattan, a few blocks from the World Trade Center…150 court security officers [are] at that courthouse,” the newspaper was told.

Akal, became the single largest court security contractor for the U.S. Marshals Service. The company received a five-year, $88.2 million contract to provide federal court security services within the Fifth Judicial Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

In New Mexico alone Akal reportedly provided services at the Santa Fe airport and to railroads and utilities.

Akal is directly controlled by Khalsa International Industries and Trades (KIIT), “A family of international businesses…In the vision and under the mentorship of Siri Singh Sahib [also known as Yogi Bhajan]” says a Sikh Dharma newsletter.

Akal states at its official website; “In 1987, Akal began providing contract security services to the U.S. Government…[and] received numerous contracts to protect critical national facilities, including White Sands Missile Range, U.S. Army Records Center, and DEA’s International Intelligence Center…many more officers serve on federal contracts protecting major government office buildings, federal detention facilities, and critical military installations.”

How did Akal do so well?

Were there special connections or considerations that helped Akal start and then sustain such stunning growth within the lucrative government end of its burgeoning business?

Maybe Governor Bill Richardson knows?

Did this “cult” of constituents benefit from its special relationship with the man who now hops by helicopter to keep his appointment as their “keynote speaker”?

And by the way, should Akal with its dubious “cult” background, be providing security at “critical national facilities…DEA’s International Intelligence Center… federal detention facilities, and…military installations”?

Maybe the department of Homeland Security should check all this out?

Note: All the letters cited were obtained from federal files under the Freedom of Information Act.

Increasingly, more and more Americans are engaging in the practice of Yoga.

Men now make up 23% of the 15 million yoga enthusiasts within the US. “They’re in it for the exercise and the physical benefits—hold the chanting and the New Age vibes,” reports Newsweek.

But beware. Some groups called “cults” use yoga as a means of recruiting new members and exercise is not all they are teaching.

Some yoga groups and teachers are essentially interested in proselytizing. And if you are not interested in their beliefs, their yoga classes are probably not for you.

Controversial organizations such as 3HO and Integral Yoga International (IYI) may practice “yoga,” but they also promote a student/guru arrangement and religious belief system with an authoritarian figure at the top.

A plethora of neo-eastern gurus and “New Age” types are hoping to cash in on the yoga craze.

Health and diet “guru” Dr. Dean Ornish says “he has found evidence that yoga can help fight cardiovascular disease” and this may be true. But Ornish himself is a long-time follower of IYI and its recently deceased Swami Satchidananda.

So it seems that there may be more to the diet doctor’s regime than meets the eye.

Newsweek appears to have carefully avoided endorsing any particular yoga school or teacher, which is wise. But others in their enthusiasm regarding this pop craze have been less prudent.

Supermodel Christy Turlington’s yoga book praises many groups, which have been referred to less glowingly as “cults.”

Donna Karan once promoted IYI within Vanity Fair magazine, without apparently doing much of a background check.

Don’t make Donna’s mistake.

Researching a yoga school or class before enrolling is certainly wise. Most are perfectly safe places to exercise and get in shape, but some are worrisome.

“Check first, enroll later,” might be a good motto.

A quick rule of thumb might also be, if you see some guru’s picture on the wall, or religious statues in the entrance area or practice room, something more than yoga might be lurking within the instruction.

Newsweek says, “There’s a yoga bonus: the way it sharpens your mental game…the meditative breathing calms their nerves and hones their focus.”

Maybe so, but meditation can also render practitioners more suggestible. And it’s important to understand just who you are becoming suggestible to and within what type of environment.

A group with a hidden agenda can use meditation to download its program.

Again, the overwhelming majority of yoga schools and classes are benign, healthy and likely to be beneficial to their students.

The point is to be an informed consumer.

In an effort to establish meaningful criteria for judging yoga teachers the California Yoga Teachers Association has established a Code of Ethics.

This code can be a useful tool in gauging the behavior of yoga teachers, how they treat their pupils and conduct classes.

A fertile new ground for “cults” and/or “cult like” groups seems to be business training through seminars, courses and/or workshops.

What could be more profitable than marketing a group’s beliefs and spiritual solutions, with the spin that they somehow have a profitable business application?

An apparent example popped up in a Phoenix newspaper this week in the form of a “workshop” called “The Invincible Salesperson,” offered by a controversial organization named 3HO led by Yogi Bhajan.

3HO didn’t clearly identify itself within the business blurb.

The “Darshan Khalsa workshop” includes “six private consultations” for only $345, according to The Phoenix Republic calendar.

However, 3HO and its guru are more readily known for yoga, meditation and wearing white. And their past pupils have been busted by the FTC for fraud, not to mention the criminal enterprise of drug running.

Never mind.

It seems that some groups called “cults” feel marketing their beliefs as a business course is good for their “bottom line.”

A similar spin has been used by Scientology, though a closely related enterprise called Sterling Management, which essentially touts its founder L. Ron Hubbard’s teachings as a “technology” with applications for business.

But all these courses and seminars ultimately appear to lead participants to the same conclusion.

That is, the sponsoring group’s religious beliefs and practices are a means to improve business.

What’s wrong with that?

Well, this isn’t exactly “business” training, but more like proselytizing and religious indoctrination accomplished through the facade of business training.

However, salvation to a for a business and/or a professional isn’t really based upon subjective beliefs, but rather the objective reality of making money.

In India police are cracking down on “God men,” reports The Telegraph.

Authorities in Calcutta are warning residents to beware of the gurus and swamis who say they have “supernatural powers” and can effect mystical or magical cures.

One police commissioner said, “We will do everything to guard Calcuttans from the clutches of such swindlers.” He added that they frequently prey upon the sick who are in a “vulnerable state.”

Will this crack down eventually include more established Indian gurus such as Sai Baba, who supposedly possesses “supernatural powers”?

Probably not.

But at least in India some attention is being paid to this issue.

In sharp contrast within the United States “God men” like Brooklyn born Frank Jones, who calls himself “Adi Da,” most often operate with impunity.

And then there is the lucrative “faith healing” business, which supports apparent posers such as the popular Benny Hinn. Hinn lives lavishly off of the millions contributed by his faithful, that believe “cures” come from heaven during his crusades.

Does America need a crack down? There certainly seems to be plenty of gullibility on this side of the globe.

American showman P.T. Barnum once claimed that “people like to be humbugged.” And he was attributed incorrectly, as the originator of the old adage; “A sucker is born every minute.”

But despite such observations Westerners often suppose smugly that they are somehow less susceptible to spiritual hucksters, than say people in Calcutta.

However, the facts don’t support such an arrogant conclusion. There seem to be plenty of suckers ready to buy or believe almost anything in America.

Historically, many Indian gurus and swamis sensed this and moved to the United States. Swami Satchidananda, Yogi Bhajan and Bhagwhan Shree Rajneesh are three examples of such migrating “God men” who marketed their “supernatural powers” in the United States.

Books have been written about the “vulnerable state” of many Western spiritual seekers visiting India such as Karma Cola by Gita Mehta. And the more common category of largely domestic seekers is examined in The Faith Healers by James Randi.

People often ask, “How are cult members recruited?” And then say, “Are they stupid or what?”

The point seems to be no one normal or intelligent would join a “cult.”

And so often, no one knowingly does.

For example, as pointed out previously, “cult” involvement might begin through a seemingly benign “style” of “yoga class” recommended through a website, magazine or book.

Another example can be seen within the Wichita Eagle newspaper today.

Under the heading “Health Calendar” the Kansas daily lists “Kundalina Yoga” under “Classes,” which is associated with Yogi Bhajan (3HO).

Under “Counseling” there is Scientology ad offering “free personality, IQ and stress testing.”

Not everyone knows the background of 3HO and Scientology. But both groups have been called “cults.”

Maybe someone looking for an exercise class thinks, “Hey yoga might be fun.” Or a curious reader decides to check out their intelligence and/or personality traits by being “tested”?

This could potentially be an unknowing point of entry into the world of “cults.”

That is, just picking up the daily paper and responding to an innocuous ad.

Simple isn’t it?