Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 2.18.10

The Golden Temple Miracle
The vision, values and purposes of the Sikh Dharma community
By Krishna Singh Khalsa

Since 1972 the Sikh Dharma community and the Golden Temple-Yogi Tea businesses have been respected and regarded as inseparable. Three of the qualifications for living a Sikh Dharma way of life are: to spend several hours before sunrise in yoga, meditation and prayer each day, work effectively and honestly to create prosperity, and to share with those in need. Work is inseparable from our worship and giving is inseparable from receiving. 

Golden Temple was a miracle. It started with only $600, three used pizza ovens and a group of enterprising young yogis who needed to create their own jobs. In 1972, with long hair, a full beard and wearing a turban, finding employment was difficult. 

Our businesses started cooperatively. Synergy, mutual intelligence and collective resolve manifested what money alone could not. Golden Temple grew to $60 million in annual sales, more than 350 living wage jobs, trend-setting healthful products, and a large market share for granolas, Peace Cereals and Yogi Tea. Soon the majority of workers were non-Sikhs, but we all worked together like family. We shared our wealth. Sikh Dharma held Golden Temple in trust for the community. We didn’t sell out to greed-based capitalism. Until now.

Internationally, we established many landmark businesses: A national chain of vegetarian restaurants, a brass bed factory, a natural shoe company, landscape companies, a security guard business with hundreds of millions now in annual revenue and a yoga organization that spans the globe. Workers were treated fairly and honestly in a “trust based” work atmosphere. Our management system recognized differences of perspective and opinion as intrinsic to the human condition. We use the tension between differences to create harmony, rather than conflict — much like using the tension on a guitar string to create music. 

We evolved an extraordinary business model where nonprofit organizations are sole owners of successful for-profit businesses. Profits fuel nonprofits to do service and work in the public interest. Our founder, Yogi Bhajan, inspired everything about this culture. He loved Eugene and visited here many times. Without him, none of this would have happened. 

Unfortunately, times and things have changed. Yogi Bhajan passed away in 2004. Prior to his passing, a system was created where his personal leadership was replaced by a group of trustees to hold the common wealth in trust, to manage and share the business profits with the nonprofits who own them. Obviously, motives must remain honorable and board of director operations must be transparent. A good system of organizational checks, balances, qualifications and oversight was established to keep “the trustees” honest and trust “worthy.” The documents establishing the trust were re-filed by the trustee group and their attorney three times in 2004-07. They were re-filed again in 2008, but all eligibility qualifications of conduct and personal character were eliminated.

The trustees abandoned all resemblance to the Sikh Dharma community and lifestyle. They‘ve acted in secrecy while purging Sikhs and other employees from positions they held and served for decades. Contributions to nonprofits dwindled to a fraction of 2004 levels, while their own compensations increased exponentially. We can follow the money and see what’s going on. It’s a complete corruption of their mandate of trust.

Last September, the Sikh Dharma board filed a lawsuit in Portland against the trustee board. By our best information and belief, we understand the trustees have sold Golden Temple to themselves as individuals for a fraction of its true value. They, now personally, intend to sell the company for its actual market value. Others have been lured by personal incentives to facilitate this theft of our legitimate nonprofit assets.

Guru Nanak, the 14th century founder of Sikh Dharma, said famously, “Nothing is higher than Truth, but higher still is truthful living.” As Sikhs we are moving in the courts and in our lives to transform and correct this wrong situation. We accept the situation as a “coming of age gift” and a wonderful challenge for living up to the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, who gave and sacrificed to manifest an evolutionary dream in the heart of Eugene.

Krishna Singh Khalsa is a community member of Sikh Dharma. He has participated in co-founding a number of highly successful businesses over the past 40 years, which were then donated to become Sikh community property for the funding of humanitarian projects through Sikh Dharma International — including restaurants, manufacturing, security businesses, food processing, financial management, information management and accounting, sales, marketing, and human resources.