BRAHMA KUMARIS TIMELINE
1884: Lekhraj Koobchand Kripalani, founder of the Brahma Kumaris was born.
1931: Lekhraj had three visions in Benares, stimulating a deeper interest in spiritual matters.
1932: Lekhraj left his work as a jeweller, retiring prematurely at the age of forty-eight.
1934: Lekhraj held satsang (religious gatherings) at his home In Hyderabad Sindh, reading and interpreting the Shrimad Bhagwad Gita, followed by collective chanting of “om.” Knowledge was based on Advaita Vedanta non-dualism.
1936-1940: Lekhraj felt an energy at work in him. He would spontaneously write ten to fifteen pages of text which he would read out to the sisters, who would become intoxicated and inspired by the teachings.
1936: Lekhraj established Om Niwas, a school for young children, and another house for women and older girls.
1937: A committee of nine, and subsequently seventeen, sisters was formed as a trust to manage the Om Mandli.
1937: Hindu family men reacted against Lekhraj and Om Mandli after wives made pledges of celibacy and girls began refusing to marry.
1938: The Anti-Om Mandli Committee was formed by Mukhi Mangaram, Lekhraj’s son-in-law and the husband of Nirmal Shanta, who was Lekhraj’s daughter.
1939 (March 26): Hindu ministers threatened to resign if Om Mandli was not banned, but Premier Allah Bux declared before the Sindh parliament that there was no legal basis for that action.
1939: Lekhraj ruled that anyone wanting to stay in the group needed a letter of permission from the head of their family.
1939: The community of approximately 300 moved from Hyderabad to Karachi and leased houses for the community.
1939-1942: The core philosophy was “Aham Brahm Asmi” (I am Brahm or I am God). The group named itself Rajsuva Asvamedh Avinashi Gyan Yagya.
1939–1943: The Anti-Om Mandli Committee pressured the Prime Minister and the Hindu Ministers of the Sindh Government to ban the Om Mandli.
1942: The first sketch of the Cycle of Time was drawn, a significant part of the group’s philosophy.
1942-1943: The first experience of trance mediumship occurred. The spirit identified as “Piyu” (meaning the beloved) spoke through a young sister for the first time. Piyu may have been the precursor to Shiv Baba, the entity later understood to be God.
1943: Sister Hriday Mohini (subsequently, Dadi Gulzar) revealed the presence of the Subtle Regions that she had experienced in her trance meditation. Knowledge of the Subtle Regions introduced a method of inquiring and learning from trance messengers to better understand the esoteric nature of their experiences.
1944: The first illustration of The Tree (of all religions) was created.
1945-1948: Brahma started being perceived as the manifestation of Vishnu and the reincarnation of Krishna.
1947: The partition creating India and Pakistan took place. Baba told members to go into deep silence to remain safe.
1949: The first widely disseminated Cycle of Time was drawn indicating their core philosophy of the period until the mid-1950s.
1950: The group of approximately 300 moved to Mount Abu, Rajasthan in the newly formed India.
1950s: This decade became known as the “Beggary Period” as there was a shortage of money, the community focused on learning, visitors were not encouraged, and self-sufficiency was emphasized over outsourcing.
1952: Brother Jagdish, who came to be considered the main intellectual and scholar of the movement, entered the movement.
1952-1960: A major transformation of group theology took place, embracing monism and rejecting omnipresence and defining the soul.
1962-1963: The soul was now understood to be a point of light. God was understood to be a separate and distinct point of light.
1965: Mama, the main sister of the movement, “left the body.”
1969: Brahma Baba did not live for 100 years as expected and passed away at the age of eighty-five.
1969: Brahma Baba handed over the administration and expansion of the organization over to Sister Manmohini and Sister Kumarka.
1983: Sister Manmohini passes, and Sister Kumarka (now known respectfully as Dadi Prakashmani) lead the organization until her passing in 2007.
2007: Dadi Janki, at the age of ninety, succeeded Dadi Kumarka as the most senior teacher of the Brahma Kumaris.
2020: Dadi Janki remained alive and active.
The Brahma Kumaris began as a small, caste-specific, spiritual community in Hyderabad, Sindh, India in the 1930s. The community was formally established in 1937, as a trust comprised of young women, but its formation can be traced back to 1932. The precursor to modern-day Sindh was Mohenjo-Daro. One of the world’s most ancient cities, it was the cradle of the Indus Valley. Archeological evidence indicates that region held a progressive society, a well-engineered and designed city. Socially there was equality between women and men, and very low rates of crime. By contrast, in the 1930s in some parts of Sindh many women were in purdah. Even in the contemporary world, some parts of Sindhi society expect women to wear soft shoes so they are not heard, to live behind blinds so they cannot be seen, and to move according to the instructions of a male relative. For some women, even looking at or speaking to a male outside her family is forbidden. These ideas are not native to Sindh but were adopted by Sindh locals upon arrival of Arabian culture. This tension was vibrant during the time of North West India after British colonisation, and just before the partition of India (hereafter, Partition). This was crucial to the development of the Brahma Kumaris.
The founder of the Brahma Kumaris was a successful middle-aged jeweler, Lekhraj Koobchand Kripalani (b. 1884 – d. 1969), residing in Hyderabad (in pre-Partition India). He was of the Bhaiband caste and born into a family who were devotees of Vallabhacharya (1479-1531), a Hindu theologian and philosopher. Vallabhacharya taught Shuddha (pure) Advaita (non-dualism), an interpretation of Vedanta that rejected asceticism and monastic life, suggesting that through loving devotion to God any householder could achieve salvation. This understanding influenced the early teachings of the Brahma Kumaris and may be at the heart of its role as a social reform movement.
Men in the Bhaibund caste typically worked as merchants and traders. Lekhraj was a model Hindu Sindhi who travelled between Kolkata, Hyderabad and Karachi for work. He was a successful middle-aged jeweler, counting royalty and dignitaries among his regular clients. Bhai Lekhraj was also a well-respected lay Hindu with a number of gurus. He was devout and known for the great respect he held for spiritual teachers. Above all though, he held God in the form of Nārāyan (or Vishnu) in the highest esteem.
The early days prior to Partition were highly esoteric. As many of the men in the community were away on business, Lekhraj would hold satsang that local women and children would attend. The gathering was focused around his readings of the Gita, after which they would collectively chant “om.” It was during these chants that attendees (mainly the women and girls) would start going into trance and having deep visionary experiences of light, deities and a new world. They would see Lekhraj in the form of Krishna and chase after him. This is where they first acquired the name, given by outsiders of “Om Mandli” (the circle of those who chant Om). These experiences were unfathomable in the beginning, so the Shrimad Bhagawad Gita became the main reference point for Lehraj to try to make sense of what they were experiencing. As time went on, sisters would go into deep trance states of meditation to seek clarification of their experiences. In this way, and through the mental churnings of Lehraj, the group developed their own understanding and interpretation of Advaita Vedanta and the Gita.
Distinctively, women and girls were demonstrating a natural proclivity to being spiritual teachers, (Image at right) which was supported by Lekhraj. This was in direct contrast to the social context of the time in which the notion of a female being a spiritual leader would have been squarely rejected. Furthermore, the disciplines they were living, which included celibacy, were not in line with Hindu family values of the early twentieth century, creating serious social upheaval. The 1930s and 1940s was a difficult period for the group as demonstrated by media coverage and written texts of court cases, political debate and social violence. However, their spiritual experiences apparently were profound and buoyed them during those challenging foundation years.
During the years preceding and after Partition of 1947, the group became much more self-reflective. Members sought to better understand the experiences they were having and what the implications for them, and the world at large, might be. They intentionally isolated themselves during Partition, having deep periods of meditation, and building a high wall around their community buildings, on the one hand to protect them from the outside world, and on the other hand to inspire them to remain in a deep reflective state.
In 1950, the atmosphere was still tense. The group was promised lodgings in Rajasthan and so made the decision to pack up and move. After settling in Mount Abu, Rajasthan, India in the early 1950s (which remains the current headquarters) Mama, the main sister and female leader of the group ensured the community became much more organised by bringing in systems, customs and rituals that had been lacking in the first couple of decades.
Due in part to the turmoil experienced in Sindh, Baba and Mama directed the community members to abandon Sindhi dress, language, and adopt the local Hindu dress, with sisters donning white saris and brothers the local kurta pyjamas. Further, they began the systematic Hindu temple practices and routines of early morning meditation, morning spiritual class and offering food. These were all devout Hindu practices and helped to establish them as a respected group. However, the community’s tumultuous history in Sindh was never completely forgotten, and they were still viewed with suspicion by some, and accused of hypnotism and magic by locals. Nevertheless, the furore died down and the group became a quiet and self-reflective meditation community, with small groups of sisters travelling to teach in different parts of India from the 1950s onwards.
Their first invitation overseas was to the World Religious Congress in Japan in 1954-1955 (Image at right). Mama passed away in 1964 and Baba in 1969. The first non-Indian student came in 1970, and the first overseas centre was established in London in 1972. From there, rapid expansion occurred during the late 1970s through to the late 1980s with young Western students joining at a rapid rate. In 1983, the Brahma Kumaris, as it was by then known, became a Non-Governmental Organization affiliated with the United Nations Department of Public Information and gained general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. This was significant for their international expansion and helped them gain further ground as a legitimate social reform movement representing women and Asia particularly.
In the 1990s, there was some upheaval in countries outside of India, with many adherents leaving and reconnecting with families and careers that they had left behind in the previous decades of spiritual fervour and enthusiasm. The 1990s was a period where many retreat centres were established, changing the nature of service and opening the doors more widely to members of the general public. Along with this, the group’s core messages and teachings toned down from quite esoteric to more mainstream. Courses like positive thinking and self-esteem became core offerings, in contrast to endeavours to become a golden-aged emperor or to reach one’s angelic stage, which were the earlier foci. These remain core practices for regular students; however, they are rarely discussed in the public domain.
In 2007, there was a review into the organisation known as Global Functioning, which saw the organization become more financially and administratively astute whilst also reflecting on why students had been departing in the prior decade. Since then, in countries outside of India, there have been a number of attempts at rebranding. These have reshaped the Brahma Kumaris into a much more mainstream group and, certainly through its digital brand, it is much less distinctive.
The earliest aims of Om Mandli were strongly aligned with Hinduism and its capacity for social reform: It was the work of Om Mandli to “understand the sublime teachings of Gita and Philosophy of Hindu life, or conditions of celibacy or Ghrist (sic) enjoined by religion, of the visions which by means of pure life can be seen such as Arjuna saw and are described in Gita.” (Pokardas 1939:36). However, not everyone saw it that way. It was the Hindus in Sindh who would try to disband the community through the courts, and who charged Om Mandli with bringing social collapse to the Hindu Sindh ways of life: “The interests of society in general and of Hindus in particular demand their (Om Mandli) suppression” (Pokardas 1939:37).
Although it is not discussed in later teachings, historical research indicates that Advaita Vedanta was significant in early interpretations of the groups experiences and founding doctrine and beliefs. As a devotional man, it seems that Lekhraj drew on Vallabhacharya’s teachings of Vedanta (non-duality), to interpret his, and others’, earliest esoteric experiences. There are further connections between Lekhraj and Vallabh: Vallabh’s home was in Varanasi, where Lekhraj went during his times of confusion and deep contemplation during Om Mandli’s foundation years. Furthermore, Vallabhacharya devotees are centred primarily in Rajasthan, the current location of Brahma Kumaris headquarters. Vallabhacharya also founded the Krishna-centred sect of Vaishnavism. Krishna would become a major visionary force in the Brahma Kumaris, as members would frequently have visionary experiences of Lekhraj as Krishna, and run and cling to him, often climbing into his lap and weeping during those periods.
This non-dualism is in direct contrast to current teachings, revealing conflicting worldviews and theological orientations over time (Ramsay 2009; Wallis 2002). The philosophy of non-dualistic Vedanta refers to the understanding of the true Self as Atman, or in other words pure consciousness. Vedanta explains that this Self is the same as God, which is pure unadulterated consciousness. There is no separation between the Self and God. A quote from the original teachings show their philosophical alignment with Vedanta-dualism during the groups establishment period which they immersed themselves. The community’s most esteemed sister explains:
I am ‘Aham Brahm Asmi’, (God) and the whole world is my Maya (creation)… The basis of Om Mandli teaching is that everyone is God, and that Om Mandli itself is God. I take everyone as Braham, i.e. God… I see no difference between what I call my own and of others. I see no difference between male and female. I never read any scripture. I consider that reading as idol worship… I consider that I am ‘Braham’. i.e Bhagwan, and hence I have not to bow before any scripture… I am different from the God as conceived, for I am a living and moving God (Bulchand 1940:45-47).
While in the 1940s Om Mandli were monists, by the time the late 1950s and early 1960s arrived, they had become clear dualists, teaching that God and Brahma were separate entities, as were atma (soul) and Paramatma (Supreme Soul).
In contrast to the early teachings above, contemporary teachings reiterate that:
First you should have the faith that you are a soul and not the Supreme Soul. God is not omnipresent as the sannyasis say. The Supreme Soul’s praise is extremely great. All of you were also pure in the golden age and have now become impure. There are the castes: Brahmin, deities, warriors, merchants and shudras. You are Brahmins, children of Prajapita Brahma. Who gave birth to Adi Dev, Brahma? Shiv Baba says: I entered this one and named him Brahma. I have adopted this one. This one is “The Lucky Chariot.” It is through this one that I enable you to attain victory over Maya (illusion) (BapDada 2003:2-3).
The first formal identification of the group was Avinashi Gyan Yagya (1942), followed by Rajsuva Asvamedh Avinashi Gyan Yagya in 1949. Ashvamedha refers to a Vedic yagya in which the horse is sacrificed by ancient Indian kings to prove their imperial and undisputed sovereignty. Rajsuva Yagna also comes from the Vedic tradition and refers to the consecration of the king with soma juice. The two rituals perform similar functions of sacrifice to ensure a long-lasting and certain sovereignty. In the Brahma Kumaris, the horse is a metaphor for body consciousness (wrong and materialistic thinking), and it is explained that body consciousness (incorrect identification with the body) must be sacrificed in order to attain the imperishable kingdom of self-sovereignty.
Rudra Shiv Baba has created this sacrificial fire of knowledge. This is the sacrificial fire of the knowledge of Rudra in which the horse is sacrificed to attain self-sovereignty (BapDada 2001:1).
While the community has identified as a yagya since its inception, the name of Shiva, which is absolutely core today, was absent from Brahma Kumaris literature for the first twenty years or so. The Om Mandli community interpreted gyan through Lekhraj’s contemplations and their direct experiences of him as Krishna and other esoteric experiences. It was after knowledge became more refined that the name Shiva was inserted into descriptions of the yagya.
Early teachings explained that those who had faith in Aham Brahm Asmi (I am the Creator of Creation) would become the first self-sovereigns born into the Adi Sanatan Devi Devta Dharma (original eternal deity religion). To believe in Aham Brahm (in dualism, and that the self and God were separate) was considered ignorance.
The experiences of the early period, including collective trance states of meditation, understanding of the self as God, and the imminent arrival of the new world is now at odds with contemporary Brahma Kumaris teachings. As time passed, and they matured and developed their own understanding, the philosophy was further clarified with the help of educated students who joined the movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
One senior brother, Jagdish (1929-2001), a former teacher and considered the intellectual of the organization, joined the organization in 1952 and was particularly influential. He helped to anchor Brahma Kumaris philosophy in a seven-day course for public learning and wrote prolifically on ways in which their knowledge was a novel and the one true understanding of the ancient Shrimad Bhagawad Gita.
The first lesson of Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga is the answer to the question of “Who am I?” Knowing the self is considered the most important first step in establishing a spiritual connection with the Divine. The soul is understood to be pure consciousness. From 1930 until the early to mid-1950s, members understood the soul [atma]and God [paramatma] were one and the same and had the form of infinite divine light. Their understanding was non-dualistic: God is omnipresent, has many forms and many incarnations. They believed Baba to be one of these incarnations, and the sisters and children in the community were also seen as forms of God.
Today souls are understood to be individual, indivisible, eternal and infinitesimal points of conscious light energy, residing in the center-most point of the forehead of each and every individual. Understanding of the soul as an infinitesimal point of light with the three faculties mind/ heart [man], intellect [buddhi] and impressions [sanskaras] was not revealed until 1957-1960. The clear distinction between the soul and the Supreme Soul that is now fundamental, would not be part of their teachings until well into the 1950s. It would not be until the late 1950s that the understanding of God as a distinct incorporeal personality would emerge.
Understanding now is firmly that the supreme amongst all is God Father Shiva, more commonly known by BKs as Shiv Baba. Shiv Baba is seen as possessing a unique personality that contains the penultimate attributes of love, peace, bliss, purity, wisdom and power. God is free from gender, although they use the male pronoun to identify God. God is beyond the cycle of birth and death and has a unique role to act as the Re-Creator of human beings. With inherent wisdom and power, God restores eternal souls to their original state of purity, completion and perfection through the connection established in Raja Yoga meditation. Through souls changing, the world changes. Shiva is the great social reformer.
Meditation is core to the group now. Today, BKs form a spiritual community with a lifestyle that is centered on the practice of Raja Yoga meditation. To be a BK or “Raja Yogi” today is to maintain a state of soul consciousness (as an entity distinct from the body) and to establish and sustain a mind-heart union with Shiv Baba. Adherents believe it is this connection that restores the purity of souls and therefore stimulates a return to the pure Golden-Aged world.
The only yogic practice mentioned in the foundation period is that of maintaining unmitigated faith in “Aham Atma So Paramatma” (I am the soul, so the Supreme Soul) or “Aham Brahma Asmi.” Offering instruction in meditation was a development of the 1960s and was a way to organize and disseminate what they had been learning, to a new generation of seekers.The group has had to adapt and change over the years, whilst remaining true to their core practice of “making effort” toward self-actualization.
Core and consistent to their philosophy is the Cycle: a 5000-year, endless repeating cycle of time comprising four ages of 1250 years each; Gold [satyug], Silver [tretayug], Copper [dwarparyug] and Iron [kaliyug]. A small fifth age known as the Confluence Age [sangamyuga] is the current period of human history and is a time of unique spiritual power and opportunity that connects the Iron Age of one cycle with the Golden Age of the next. The Confluence Age is characterized by God’s descent into Brahma and the eventual (and subsequent) transformation of both souls and matter (Om Radhe 1943:15, 30). The same knowledge is illustrated in the well-loved picture of the tree which comprises all religions. (Image at right)
With no absolute beginning or end, BKs use the metaphor of an eternal film (Babb 1986) or a never-ending theatre play that draws on the philosophy of cyclic time present in the East. BKs use the colloquial term “Drama” to describe the gradual change of the world through different epochs of history as souls take rebirth through time. The term, which also describes all events on the world stage, encapsulates the dramatic sense of theatre characterized in the Mahabharata, which is thought to be a reenactment of the current period of time in which BKs and their teachings of gyan feature.
Seeing the world as an endless, identically repeating, cycle of ascent and descent with a relative beginning and end (though always connected to the next cycle through the Confluence Age), those in the Mandli believed that God would be with them through it all: “God passes through all the four categories (castes) of humanity (time)” (Pokardas 1943:40). They assumed that God would be physically present in “Heaven” (the Golden and Silver ages) and “Hell” (the Copper and Iron ages).
Today they believe that God (Shiva) remains eternally outside the Cycle of Time, in the non-physical realm known as Nirvāṇa (the land of liberation), Moolvatan (the native land of essence) or Paramdhām (the supreme abode). God descends into the body of Brahma solely to teach. God is never subject to the law of entropy, the very phenomenon that brings souls and matter down from their perfection to the “end” of the cycle. Hence God (Shiva) remains eternally pure, perfect and unlimited.
All other souls are subject gradual entropic decline of purity and soul consciousness, losing spiritual energy through the natural passage of time. The entire world and its populations “travel” from a time of unity, peace and happiness in the Golden and Silver Ages, to the duality, suffering and sorrow of the Copper and Iron Ages.
Rituals performed by the Brahma Kumaris are designed to uphold and reinforce the core value of purity, and the primary aim of becoming “maryadapurushottam” (Ramsay 2009:139), the highest of all humans. This is to ensure an early birth of high status in the forthcoming Golden Age, the forthcoming paradisiacal era of the Cycle.
The typical day of a BK is structured around a series of restraints and practices.
The first practice is waking up at 3:30 AM and readying oneself to sit in collective meditation at 4 AM. Amrit Vela, also a Sikh practice, is a silent meditation conducted with the eyes open without any specific physical posture. BKs generally sit with other students in a room with a dim red light and quite mustic whilst focusing their attention on Shiv Baba. The light creates an appropriate mood and also reminds practitioners of the golden red light of “Nirvana” the native realm or original home of all souls and the Supreme Soul. Music is played at the beginning and the end of the meditation and sometimes throughout. Amrit Vela is usually conducted by a senior or practiced yogi who leads drishti meditation from the front of the room.
Drishti (Babb 1981:387-401) is the practice of momentary gazing at another person, whilst in a deep spiritual state of being. BKs often exchange of “drishti” during meditation, whilst giving or taking food or whilst greeting or departing from each other.
The next scheduled practice is morning spiritual class. Although times vary slightly in different countries, a general guide is meditation at 6am followed by a spiritual knowledge class known as “murli” from 6:30-7:30. From Monday to Saturday teachers read a “sakar (bodily) murli.” This is a three-page revised version of teachings that were originally spoken by and through Brahma Baba between 1964 and 1969 during his lifetime (hence the term sakar). On Sundays, teachers read an “avyakt (angelic) murli,” which are teachings given by the soul of Shiv Baba and the angelic form of Brahma Baba (hence the term avyakt). They were spoken through the trance medium of Dadi Gulzar in the years succeeding Brahma Baba’s death in 1969.
Some teachers conduct murli class in a didactic manner. Others encourage interaction or sharing stories. Once the class is over, there is a brief period of meditation after which people go to work or return home to start their day.
In the 1970s, senior sisters introduced the practice of traffic control. This is similar to the Islamic practice of prayer times and may have been influenced by Om Mandli’s early relationship with the Muslims of Sindh. Every couple of hours, music plays at centres. For BKs who work or live at home, there is now an app reminding them to stop for a few minutes and sit in quiet remembrance of God.
BKs have strict practices regarding food. Fundamentally, they do not eat food cooked by non-BKs. The food must be prepared by pukka yogis and cooked in remembrance of God. It is considered inappropriate to eat food cooked by someone who is not following the BK path of purity. Once the food has been cooked it is then offered to God. All BKs keep a set of small dishes, a special spoon and a tray for offering food or “bhog.” A small sample of each food is placed in its own covered dish, using the spoon. The yogi-cook then places the dishes on the tray on a small table and meditates with the intention of offering the food to God. The practice of each yogi is private and individual, and others may join or not. After offering the food, it is considered “brahma bhojan” the food of Brahma. It is then equivalent to prasad or holy food and contains extra spiritual energy and pure vibrations suitable for BKs.
The end of the day also comes with certain practices. BK meditate from 7:00-7:30 in the evening. Just before bed BKs complete a chart documenting their hours of remembrance, their spiritual progress and any obstacles or personal accomplishment or special efforts they may be making. Some write a letter to Baba. They then go to sleep in remembrance of Baba and the next day begin afresh with Amrit Vela. Additional restraints include a vegan or vegetarian diet free from onion and garlic, and no alcohol, drugs or tobacco.
The management structure in the BKWSU is theocratic rather than democratic. Roles are appointed from above, not voted on from below. This is the system from the 1950s when Baba appointed sisters to start travelling through India to teach. These sisters became senior sisters known as Dadis who would guide the organization after Baba’s passing. In the 1970s Baba, through trance communication, sent first country nationals to hold the most senior posts as Regional Coordinators (RCs) during overseas expansion. Those same six Regional Coordinators (RCs) who oversee international activities are all women of Indian origin and have resided in their new countries for decades. Postings are permanent and un-negotiable. The only way one would lose her post is to resign or to perform a serious breach of the BK principles such as breaking celibacy. There is a Regional Coordinating Team that numbers around 15 and comprises RCs and their closest colleagues.
Regional Coordinating Offices (RCO) are hubs that guide the organization throughout the world. London coordinates Western Europe, South Africa, the Middle East; Africa oversees all the countries on that continent except for South Africa; the United States of America is responsible for North, South and Central America and Caribbean Islands; Russia administers Eastern Europe; and Australia looks after Australia and Asia.
After RCs the next administrative layer is National Coordinators (NC). There is a National Coordinating Office in each country where BKWSU has registered centres. NCs may be local students or third country nationals. Since the mid-2000s, the system of NCs has started to give way to National Coordinating Teams. This structural change aims to make centres more collaborative and cooperative, while also removing the pressure from one person. Positions are not democratically determined by stakeholder vote, but rather assigned by senior position holders. National Coordinating Teams ideally comprise a representative cross-section of their larger communities.
BKWSU closely resembles a multinational corporation (MNC) in having home country nationals posted to key management roles overseas, with a degree of localization at the host country level (Smith and Ramsay 2019). The frequent use of third country nationals posted to lead over overseas branches attests to the strength of its organizational culture and the strength of shared values of its students.
After NCs, there are Centre Coordinators (CCs). CCs are recruited locally and internationally and are usually appointed by Dadis or RCs. In contrast, Centre Residents (CR) tend to be local BKs who have been dedicated students for a couple of years, and the decision is made locally with the NC or NC Team. Most placements now are made on a trial basis. The CR then has an opportunity to experience centre life firsthand and participate in the running of the centre. CRs are expected to assume the role of spiritual teacher as well as perform other duties like cooking, cleaning and administrating. NCs and CCs meet annually in Madhuban for a retreat that incorporates spiritual inquiry, study and meditation, and financial, structural and organizational concerns.
Most CCs and CRs work in a part time secular job, as student and public donations may not be sufficient to fund centre activities. The daily routine can be demanding, and so the CC often garners cooperation from others. Nevertheless, her home is “open to the public.” In the past the role was a spiritual one, with CRs offering support and wisdom to students and the public. In Australia, BK teachers must now learn a standardized curriculum that requires worldly certification, which is something previously shunned. The prestige associated with centre living has diminished in recent times, and so the past role of CC as spiritual counsellor and mentor has consequently lessened.
The mid-seventies were a key period for the Brahma Kumaris. Original documents cited 1976 as the year of destruction (BapDada 1969). By 1977, destruction had not occurred. Whilst this was the beginning of the organization’s international success as the West became fascinated with the East, this was also a time when some members became disillusioned with the failed predictions and left. A specific group of BKs had an alternate understanding of what was taking place in this period. First, they did not accept Sister Hirday Mohini (later called Dadi Gulzar) as the new chariot after Brahma Baba’s passing. Second, they claimed the part of Brahma was finished. Third they announced that a new chariot for Shiv Baba had been revealed whose name was Virendra Ram Dixit. Dixit was the reincarnated soul of Lekhraj’s business partner in the jewelry trade, Sevak Ram. Finally, they had a novel interpretation of murlis which they believed was advanced with respect to BK knowledge. This group organized themselves into a new organization called the Adhyatmik Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya (AIVV) and were colloquially labelled “The Shankar Party” by BKS, due to their dismissal of the continuing part of Brahma Baba. AIVV saw themselves and BKs as two halves of the same community. However, as the group was predominantly made up of disaffected ex-students of the Brahma Kumaris, BKs saw them as a renegade off shoot of the one true path. The AIVV predicted the year of destruction as 2008, which also failed. They maintain their prediction in the emergence of a sovereign golden aged kingdom in 2036 (AIVV 2020).
The Atman Foundation was a later group established in 1994 by former German BK teacher Heidi Fittkau-Garth. It was a small group of approximately thirty-two people and has no connection to the Atman Foundation that was created in 2005 and is based in the UK. There seems to be no similarity at all between the Brahma Kumaris and Fittkau-Garth’s Atman Foundation, other than Heidi was a member of both. The main practice of the Fittkau-Garth’s Atman Foundation was to hold “love rings” that were essentially orgies, which are at odds with the BK teachings of celibacy and practice of sexual restraint. There were unfounded allegations that the group had planned a ritual suicide. No evidence was produced, and Fittkau-Garth was acquitted of all charges in the mid-2000s. She then began to operate as a sole spiritual teacher without any organisation.
The most recent issue is benign although significant. In 2012, five years after the passing of the dearly loved Dadi Prakashmani, the nature of conversations between BKs, especially those outside of India, began to change. Informally and spontaneously BKs were having conversations in small groups on topics previously considered to be taboo: companionship, aging, health, sexuality and financial insecurity. There was also a yearning for a deeper authenticity in spiritual practice. This grassroots development inspired a pilot project that was conducted by two researchers and long-term practitioners (Ramsay Heise 2014). The internal inquiry was conducted as in form of an in-depth anonymous online survey. The survey was designed over a twelve-month period with input by Regional Coordinators and was intended to be the first phase of a long-term ethnographic study. The results were profound, showing a dedication to spiritual principles, a respect for the knowledge and meditation, and a deep value for friendships and connections formed within the group. Simultaneously, results revealed a dissatisfaction with the style of leadership, a decreasing relevance of Hindu style practices, and a move away from centre attendance. Once the summary data were published, the RCs removed their support for further research. Those who were interested in continuing the collaborative inquiry adopted the title of “Shift.” Shift BKs still engage and interact with the BK organisational structure, but say they live alongside it rather than within it.
Image #1: Sister in teaching position.
Image #2: Sisters in Japan.
Image #3: Tree of All Religions.
AIVV (Adhyatmik Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya). 2020. World Drama Wheel (Advance Course). Accessed from http://www.pbks.info/Website%20written%20materials/books/World%20drama%20wheel%20eng.pdf on 7 March 2020).
Babb, Lawrence A. 1986. “The Brahmakumaris: History as Movie.” Pp. 110-138 in Redemptive Encounters: Three Modern Styles in the Hindu Tradition, by Lawrence Babb. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Babb, Lawrence A. 1981. “Glancing: Visual Interaction in Hinduism.” Journal of Anthropological Research 37: 387-401.
BapDada. 2003. “Sakar.” Morning Murli. Mount Abu, Rajasthan: Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya, June 28.
BapDada. 2001. “Sakar.” Morning Murli. Mount Abu, Rajasthan: Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya, August 25 (revised).
BapDada. 1969. “Avyakt.” Murli. Mount Abu, Rajasthan: Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya, January 21.
Bulchand, Doulatram. 1940. Om Mandli. A True Authenticated Story about its Activities Being a Reply to “Is This Justice.” Hyderabad, Sindh: Anti Om Mandli Committee.
Kajaria, Nirmala. 1986. “Gyan Class for Children and Youth.” Presented at the Youth Retreat, Indraprasth, Australia.
Om Radhe. 1943. This Preordained World-Wide War of Mahabharata and its Result. Karachi: Avinashi Gyan Yagya.
Pokardas, Om Radhe. 1939. Is This Justice? Being an Account of the Founding of Om Mandali and Om Nivas and Their Suppression Under the Criminal Laws Amendment Act 1908. Karachi: Om Mandali, Pharmacy Printing Press.
Ramsay, Tamasin. 2009. Custodians of Purity: An Ethnography of the Brahma Kumaris. PhD Thesis, Social Sciences and Health Research, School of Psychology, Faculty of Medicine, Monash University.
Ramsay, Tamasin and Patrizia Heise. 2014. BK Community Survey Pilot Study (Complete Report). Unpublished. Accessed from http://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.1.3652.0560 on 10 March 2020.
Smith, Wendy, and Tamasin Ramsay. 2019. “Spreading Soul Consciousness: Managing and Extending the Global Reach of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University.” Pp. 205-34 In Globalizing Asian Religions: Management and Marketing, edited by W. Smith, H. Nakamaki, L. Matsunaga and T. Ramsay. Leiden: Amsterdam University Press.
15 March 2020