By Ruth Broyde Sharone
The Brahma Kumaris (literally, daughters of God) community has its spiritual roots in Hinduism but is a new religious movement, led by women. ‘Brothers’ are welcomed in supportive roles. Known by their friends as BKs and headquartered in central India, these sisters share the gentle discipline of Raja Yoga meditation with millions around the globe, welcoming all religious traditions as authentic expressions of faith and practice.
STANDING ON THEIR SHOULDERS
At 95, Dadi Janki, the administrative head of the worldwide Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University and community, is a marvel of agelessness and youthful appeal. A tiny woman with gray hair and creased forehead, she is simultaneously funny, playful, feisty, and deeply serious about the message she wants to convey as widely as possible. It is the same message nearly a million BK adherents around the world transmit in their teachings and daily lives. Peace of mind, they believe, is the chief requirement for each of us in order to be able to collaboratively achieve world peace.
This year’s annual Peace of Mind Retreat at Mount Abu in Rajasthan, India, sponsored by the global Brahma Kumaris community, was held the first week in October. As a guest I had an opportunity to witness the devotion and enthusiasm of some 250 people who gathered from 57 countries around the world. Fifty came from Russia, though only four out of 250 guests came from the United States. We came from many lands and many faiths. My new friends included two Greek women, an Iraqi doctor living in Dubai, a Reiki teacher from Jordan, a Turkish student, an Austrian documentary filmmaker, an Israeli chirologist, a journalist from Argentina, an Australian financial director, a communications specialist from Canada, a Spanish teacher, a Portuguese doctor and her husband, and a banker from Mauritius.
The friendliness, hospitality, and equanimity of the BK community on Mount Abu is perhaps the greatest testimonial of their teaching. A recurring theme of the week-long retreat was stopping each hour for a few minutes to “check in,” to remind ourselves that we are spiritual beings. Each hour an evocative, lilting Hindi song is broadcast throughout the buildings and across the mountain. They humorously call it “traffic control” to untangle the traffic jams in our endlessly busy minds. People halted their conversations in mid-sentence, interrupted their chores, and sat quietly to meditate, eyes-open. It reminded me of my Jewish tradition, where we are urged to say at least 100 blessings a day to connect to the divine. It was a potent reminder of how, in all faiths, a life of self-discipline is essential if you are committed to spiritual development.
This year the Brahma Kumaris celebrate the 75th year since Dada Lekhraj, a wealthy, retired jeweller from Hyderabad (now a part of Pakistan), started the movement. In 1936, Brahma Baba, as he is affectionately known, publicly revealed the visions that suggested he was being used as a “divine instrument.” Those visions led to the establishment of the Brahma Kumaris community. Brahma Baba became the teacher for nearly 400 young women who underwent strict training and education in spiritual self-discipline. He chose women to lead the movement he said, since they work the hardest, have the best ideas, and have been ill-treated.
Brahma Baba’s legacy and the contributions of the earliest adherents continue to inspire devotees around the world. Today there are more than 8,500 BK centers in 110 countries.
BKs are also well-known for their charitable acts, especially on Mount Abu, where they have established themselves as teachers and healers. A modern hospital provides low-cost care for not just the BK community but the entire population of Rajasthan. (A visit to the dentist and an ex-ray for an infected tooth cost me only $10.) Several years ago Dr. Vinay Laxmi, a charming gynaecologist, launched a program in several surrounding villages to provide natal care for mothers and good nutrition for their children. I visited one of the villages and met ‘miracle children’ who would have died or been severely crippled from malnutrition and sickness were it not for the BKs’ dedication. Dr. Laxmi and I parted with a warm hug. Eyes twinkling behind her glasses, she murmured, “Remember, God is just one thought away.”
BK communities everywhere help coordinate local interfaith engagement since their students often follow other religions. I encountered Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists and all manner of free-lance ‘spiritual seekers’ on Mount Abu, the highest peak in the Aravali Range. No one, the BKs emphasize, is asked to relinquish his or her faith or religious practice. The meditative exercises they teach to quiet the mind – Raja Yoga – is extremely user-friendly.
Dressed in their white saris, BKs can be found at interfaith gatherings large and small. They regularly participate in Parliament of the World’s Religions and United Religions Initiative activities.
My interview with Dadi Janki, facilitated by a young, articulate assistant, Suman Kalra from England, was both delightful and inspiring. Perpetually in motion as she travels the world, Dadi Janki logs as many miles as an airline pilot, but with no visible signs of fatigue. She told me that she never suffers from jet lag and boards and deplanes without feeling the stress of changing time zones, climates, or cultures. She’s travelling on divine clock time, she assures me, so her body doesn’t register the variations. At 95, day after day, she receives guests and adherents, one after another, hour after hour. Each connection is an opportunity to speak about her passion for promoting “peace of mind.”
We can achieve that peace of mind, Dadi Janki and her BK sisters and brothers suggest, through regular meditation and an understanding that we are each divine souls, fundamentally and irrevocably connected to the Supreme Being. When we get absorbed in our outer material “package,” our bodies, we disconnect from our spiritual source. Dadi is convinced that is how we have lost our way and cannot achieve world peace.
After speaking, she offers each one in the room toli, a sweet desert accompanied by an inspirational card and the silent blessing of her gaze. She showered me with gifts at the end of the interview but insisted that she didn’t need a gift from me. My visit was “her gift,” she told Suman, who translated for us.
Nevertheless, the next day I was able to sneak a gift into her hands: a tiny wooden oval box that served as a pencil sharpener. She opened the box to discover a bright-red wooden ladybug, wiggling and jiggling. On the inside cover the message read “I love you.” Dadi Janki laughed heartily in pure, unadulterated enjoyment. For a moment I imagined this 95-year-old sage as a six-year-old child. I managed to plant a quick kiss on her forehead before taking my leave. Her sweet smile in response still lingers with me.
Many charming and memorable stories were shared about Dadi Janki that week. I particularly relished the one about political leaders and heads of state who were invited to experience “peace of mind” at a special retreat for them at Mount Abu. “You are most welcome to attend,” Dadi Janki told them all, “but leave your thrones behind. Here we all sit in the same kind of chair.”
Completing these lines, it occurs to me that I’ve been sitting for more than three hours at my computer without a “check in.” A delicious “peace of mind” moment greets me as I slip past the demands of the day. Traffic control!
You can reach Ruth Broyde Sharone at email@example.com.