K.P. Khalsa answers the question:
What is the nicest thing a non-family member has ever done for you?
You know, I have a very long story about a very long relationship here that involves thousands of nice things, and the person that I'm referring to is my spiritual teacher and Ayurveda mentor, Yogi Bhajan. We met when I was a teenager, and just had instant rapport, and he asked me if I would like to study with him individually. At the time I was a college student, kind of lost and drifting. I didn't even know what major to select in college, and plus, as many of you have heard, I had a life-threatening disease that was diagnosed when I was 10 years old, when I was told that I would be dead by 40. Well, when you're 10 years old, it's very hard to process that sort of thing, so I didn't really know what to make of that.
But I had increasing pain — it was a spinal degenerative disease — and my back was hurting more and more every year, so by the time I met my mentor Yogi Bhajan, I was having 24/7 back pain. I didn't mention it at the time, but I'm pretty sure that he knew that was going on. I was kind of a lost... This was during the hippie days. A lost hippie teenager having been given this slow death sentence. The first experience I ever had of having a pain-free moment from that experience was in a yoga class, before I met Yogi Bhajan — that's how we connected, I took a yoga class from a teacher that he had trained. I had a pain-free experience for about 15 minutes after this yoga class, and I said to myself, Well, if there’s one thing that can do that, there probably are other things.
Then, I continued to pursue those ideas, and then Yogi Bhajan came to town to do some teaching, and I just went up to say hello and to meet him, and our eyes met, and he didn't instantly peg me as the guy who would become his Ayurveda and herb apprentice. But very soon thereafter, a couple more meetings, I said, "Well this is a guy I'm interested in," and I arranged to be someplace where he was. After a couple more meetings, he just said, "Would you like to study this with me?" I had, of course, no idea what he was even talking about. I was way over my head and didn't know it, but I said, "Sure." That was the beginning of a 32-year relationship, where I studied Ayurveda, yoga, and herbalism in a traditional way.
Yogi Bhajan was just a fountain of information, and he was extremely generous. He was kind to everyone. Very generous, very kind, self-sacrificing. Spent hours with people that he didn't need to, to help them with psychological counseling, marital counseling, advice on diet, herbal medicine, whatever. He sort of pinned me as an herb guy, and so most of our instruction was about that, although I did learn a wide variety of those other things. I saw him do this with many, many people in a very kind way. There was no reason that he had to do that. He could teach his yoga classes, go home, and watch TV. But he felt motivated to help pass on this information. He described himself as a mailman, and he was just delivering the letter that someone had delivered to him; it didn't come from him. He had teachers for whom he was very grateful, and he was passing it on, and now I'm very grateful to be in that lineage of millennia-old knowledge.
The nice thing about it was just to take sort of a lost teenager, and very kindly take me basically into his family, and having become his Ayurveda and herb student. I sort of became an honorary member of the family. I spent endless times hanging around with his family and other people that were visiting his family, and got to know all of his siblings and everybody in the family. Everything about it was so nice, because I was so welcomed. It was so kind when I would be about to step my foot in the wrong direction, doing something without realizing it, he would kindly set me back on the right track.
As many Eastern spiritual teachers do, he used the carrot and the stick. Sometimes his corrections were a little bit... I'm not going to say harsh, but aggressive, or “Definitely don't do that.” Other times they were much kinder: “Well, I'm sorry that you've chosen to do that thing, but I think that you'll be better off if you don't. What do you think?”
The nice part about this whole experience was just everything about it — that a person would be so generous as to donate their entire life to hundreds or thousands of other students, people who just needed a 5-minute answer, or people that needed a 3-hour counseling session to save their marriage, or people who wanted Ayurvedic advice about their health condition. I saw so many times that people got benefit from just a very casual meeting — you know, “Just do this” — and their lives were transformed as mine was.
Because my relationship was so long, and I studied in an apprenticeship style, I got the whole thing spread out over all these decades, and many times he told me that the things he was telling me I wouldn't understand at the time he was telling me, but he said, "You'll finally figure this out 30 years from now." Now that it's been that long... you know this has been 48 years since this whole thing started, and my mentor Yogi Bhajan passed 15-plus years ago, but I'm still peeling the onion about things that he said then and, "Oh yeah, I get it. Now I know why he said that." And find myself saying that to my students.
I just found everything about it to be selfless, self-sacrificing... He completely dedicated his entire life to the welfare of other people, and again, everything from these very tiny things to these very big things. I was a big project, that's for sure. Looking back, I wished that I'd been more responsive to some of these ideas, because some of them were just so different than anything I'd ever been exposed to before, that I just couldn't buy it. I was resistant, but now, realizing that they came right straight out of standard Ayurveda, or yoga, the benefits of meditation, and using culinary herbs for healing, and just so many things like that.
Just to persist with a blockhead like I was, and just keep feeding that information at the speed that I could consume it, or faster than I could consume it, but at least I got the whole plan. The beautiful thing about this was that there was a complete glide path for these 32 years, and my last lessons were literally on his deathbed. And I was saying, "Don't let me bother you now with this kind of information." He'd say, "No, I promised this to you, and we talked 30 years ago, and I know I told you we would talk about this thing later; well, now it's later." And I very much had the sense of conclusion that his entire plan got worked out in perfect timing so that by the end, I got the last little dribbles. I've been able now to expand that into the lives of other people, and I only hope that I can be as kind to other people that are the recipients of this golden chain, as I was at that time.
Okay, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Yogaraj (Ayurveda), AD, DN-C, RH, LMT, NCTMB, has 48 years of experience in holistic medicine, and is one of the foremost natural healing experts in North America.
He’s President Emeritus of the American Herbalists Guild and trained with Ayurvedic master Yogi Bhajan for 32 years. He’s nationally credentialed to teach herbalism, yoga, and Ayurvedic massage, and is one of the first nationally certified instructors of Kundalini yoga in the United States.
K.P. holds a doctorate in Ayurveda. He’s a professor at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, a founding faculty in the Ayurvedic Sciences program at Bastyr University, and a faculty member in the Botanical Medicine Department at the National College of Natural Medicine, where he trains naturopathic medical students and teaches Ayurveda.
K.P. has written or edited 30 books, including major works on Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and physiology. His latest book, The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs, co-authored with Michael Tierra, brings Ayurveda to life in an understandable and practical way.
K.P. served 30 years as Senior Research Scientist and Chief Medical Formulator at Yogi Tea, an Ayurvedic medicinal tea company. He’s created over 400 of his own formulations and works closely with companies that supply high-quality herbal products to health professionals.
As a child growing up in Oregon, he had a rare, serious disorder, and several serious illnesses. As a young adult, he studied a wide spectrum of physical and mental health care therapies from all over the world, and was successfully healed. He focused especially on Ayurvedic medicine and on the therapeutic value of yoga, meditation, and other studies of consciousness.
Click here to visit K.P.’s website.
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This article appears in: 2019 Catalyst, Issue 11: Yoga of Healing and Awakening Summit