Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University
ब्रह्माकुमारी, pronounced: [brəɦ.maː.kʊ.maː.riː] (BKWSU) or Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya
(Sanskrit/Hindi: प्रजापिता ब्रह्माकुमारी ईश्वरीय विश्वविद्यालय ) is a monastic
, renunciate, millenarian new religious movement
(NRM) of Indian
origin whose teachings are based on practises involving both mediumship and channelling
. It promotes a form of meditation called Raja Yoga
, which differs from classical Raja Yoga
as described by Patanjali
. As a neo-Hindu
sect, the Brahma Kumaris pre-date the New Age
movement but have developed characteristics that link them to its thinking.
The origin of BKWSU can be traced to the group "Om Mandali", founded by Lekhraj Kripalani
(1876–1969) in Hyderabad, Sindh
in the 1930s. Lekhraj Kripalani, known as "Dada Lekhraj", "Om Baba" or "Brahma Baba" to his followers, was a Bhaibund merchant and follower of the Vaishnavite Vallabhacharya Sect
. Dada Lekhraj retired from his business in 1932 with assets of 1,000,000 Indian rupees
to turn to spirituality. Their original spiritual knowledge was obtained through divine revelations and divine visions of women who had the gift of trance-vision.
Lekhraj started holding satsangs which attracted many people and the group became known as Om Mandali. One of his main visions concerned the establishment of a perfected paradise after a kind of universal destruction of the cosmos, a destruction necessary for an ideal world to be established. In 1937, he named some of his followers as a managing committee, then reportedly transferred his fortune to the committee. Several women joined Om Mandali and contributed their wealth to the association as well.
Members of the local Bhaibund community reacted unfavorably to his movement. Many young married Sindhi women attended his ashram and were being encouraged to take vows of celibacy, so the Om Mandali was accused of breaking up families including that of his own daughter who he had married into the family of the leader of what was to become the Anti-Party. Om Mandali was denounced as disturber of family peace and some of the Brahma Kumari wives were mistreated by their families. Lekhraj Kripalani was accused of sorcery, lechery, accused of forming a cult and controlling his community through the art of hypnotism.
Children were removed from his school. Hindu members of the Sindh Assembly threatened to resign unless the Om Mandali was outlawed, so the Sindh Government used the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908 to declare it an unlawful association. Under further pressure from the Hindu leaders in the Government, the group was ordered to close and vacate its premises. To avoid persecution, legal actions and opposition from family members of his followers, the Brahma-kumaris moved from Hyderabad to Karachi, where they settled in a highly structured ashram. The Anti-Om Mandli Committee which had opposed the group in Hyderabad followed them.
In April 1950, after the Partition of India, the Brahma Kumaris moved to Mount Abu in India saying that they had been instructed by God to do so. After Dada Lekhraj's death in 1969, his followers expanded the movement to other countries.
Beginning in the 1950s, the Brahma Kumaris began an internationalization expansion program, establishing centers across India with female teachers. From 1964 to 1969 methods of outreach began involving exhibitions, seminars and conferences in different parts of India.
The leadership of the BK movement remains primarily female. For example, in the UK, only one-third of the 42 centers are run by males. According to the BKWSU website, there are currently 825,000 students and over 8,500 Raja Yoga centres in 100 countries and territories. According to sources quoted in the Adherents website, worldwide membership ranges from 35,000 (in 1993) to 400,000 (in 1998). The 2001 Census of the United Kingdom records 261 individual members.
In America the BKs were not allowed to call themselves a university, as they did not provide accredited courses and diplomas, and there they became known as the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization. "The term "university" could be retained at the United Nations, however, as this word is a literal translation of the Hindu original."
The Brahma Kumaris conduct seven one-hour-long courses in their philosophy and open-eyed meditation
technique. The organization offers courses in "positive thinking
", "Self Management Leadership
", and "Living Values." Service requires active support of the movement, especially by participating in its many proscelyting activities. Great emphasis is placed on the value of bringing converts into the movement, particularly converts who stick. Meditation is the movement's most significant 'effort'. Efforts to reform the Kaliyug are not in accord with Shiv Baba's will.
The Brahma Kumaris also have a number of voluntary outreach programs in prisons.
The headquarters of this group are in Mount Abu, Rajasthan. The reason why this place was chosen to be the spiritual capital of the sect is because this is where "the first deity, Brahma, had done his penance with the first goddess. Saraswati, 5,000 years previously; and all members of Om Mandali, now known as the yagya, now firmly believed that Baba and Mama were the reincarnation of those original deities.
The movement teaches that the world is approaching a time of great change that will be heralded by war, natural calamities and suffering. As a form of developing inner spiritual resilience, the Brahma Kumaris adopt a disciplined lifestyle which involves:
- Celibacy, including no sex within marriage. So long as chastity is followed, marriage and family life are allowed.
- Sattvic vegetarianism, a strict lacto-vegetarian diet (excluding eggs, onions, garlic and/or spicy food) cooked only by the self or other members. even excluding their own mother or relatives.
- Abstaining from alcohol, tobacco and non-prescription drugs.
- Regular early morning meditation at 4:00 to 4:45 am, called 'Amrit Vela.'
- Regular morning class at approximately 6:30 am.
- Men and women traditionally sit on separate sides of the room at the centers during classes.
- Brahma Kumaris can be identified by their frequent adoption of wearing white clothes, to symbolize purity.
- Recommends that companions be other BK Brahmins as opposed to those given over to worldly pleasures (non-BKs), known as bhogis or shudras (meaning 'untouchables').
- All except the very senior BKs in the Western branches must support themselves (most work), most BKs live in shared accommodation with other members enabling the organization to powerfully reinforce its beliefs.
In 1952, after a 14 year period of retreat during which the Brahma-kumaris published numerous pamphlets, newspaper articles and wrote letters to important national and international figures, a more structured form of teaching began to be offered to the public by way of a seven lesson course. The movement does not associate itself with Hinduism
but projects itself as a vehicle for spiritual teaching rather than a religion.
Central to its faith are the beliefs that:
- The human being is an eternal soul living within a physical body and is not the physical body which is dualistic "I am a soul, my body is a garment".
- Reincarnation happens only from one human body to another.
- Humanity is currently reaching the end of the current cycle and thus the world will be destroyed, a time referred to as "Destruction".
- Indian subcontinent will be the site of the future Golden Age paradise and that a form of Hindi is the original language of humanity, all other continents being destroyed.
- Followers are taught that only they will live in the coming Golden Age paradise as Gods and Goddesses.
- God has incarnated into Dada Lehkraj, the founder, and is teaching them directly and exclusively.
Brahma Kumaris are monotheistic in their doctrine. God, addressed by most BKs "Shiv Baba", is considered to be an eternal soul, a personality like human souls but the Supreme one (Paramatma) and "knowledgeful". His purpose is to awaken humanity and restore harmony, giving power through the Brahma Kumaris' practise of Raja Yoga
, eliminating negativity. He is not the creator of matter which is itself considered to be eternal. He is said to have spoken in person through the mouth of the organization's primary medium Lekhraj Kripalani and to be the destroyer of evil.
The BKWSU teaches that individual humans are like "tiny stars, minute points of invisible luminous energy that is the soul" which center around Shiva in the soul world.
Human and even animal souls
, called atmas, are believed to be an infinitesimal point of spiritual light residing in the forehead of the body it occupies. Souls are believed to originally exist with God in a "Soul World", a world of infinite light, peace and silence called Paramdham. Here souls are in a state of rest and beyond experience. Souls enter bodies to take birth in order to experience life and give expression to their personality. Unlike other Eastern traditions, the soul is not thought to transmigrate into other species and does not evolve but rather devolves birth after birth. Within this "point of light" all aspects of the personality are contained and is said to enter the human body in the 4th to 5th month of pregnancy.
The Brahma Kumaris believe that there are 3 worlds or dimensions; the physical universe, a soul world known as Paramdham and an intermediate region called "The Subtle Regions" where they claim to journey to experience visions regarding world history where Lekhraj Kirpalani and God Shiva combined as BapDada jointly communicate with the university. Souls exists in the soul world "totally untained by matter ... as a starlike point of light until they have to 'play their part' within the world drama on the physical plane" at whatever time in history they are destined to incarnate for the first time.
The Brahma Kumaris teach their own version of the "law of karma
" and believe that that status of a reborn individual is according to its state of consciousness.
5,000 Year Cycle
Time is cyclic
, repeating identically every 5,000 years, and composed of five ages
or "Yugas"; the Golden Age
, the Silver Age
, the Copper Age
, the Iron Age
each being exactly 1,250 years long, and the Confluence Age (Sangam Yuga
). The Confluence Age is said to be 100 years long, beginning in 1936 with the descent of Shiva into Lekhraj Kirpalani, during which present day civilization is to be completely destroyed by natural disasters, civil and nuclear war in an event called Destruction. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi
states this information is generally hidden from non-members.
During the first half of the cycle, procreation is believed to be possible through the power of yoga without sexual intercourse. The Universe is never transformed into primordial or atomic state matter, nor does the world ever becomes devoid of human beings.. Babb states that Brahma Kumari movement enter the fifth era (Confluence Age) with the expectation that they will become "fit to be reborn in the paradisical phase of the next world cycle ... indeed they are the very gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon imperfectly remembered through texts today".
Tree of Humanity
It is taught that all of humanity will die and return to Paramdham then take birth in the forthcoming cycle at their predestined time and place. This is portrayed as the "Kalpa Vriksha Tree", or the "Tree of Humanity", in which the founder Lekhraj Kripalani and his Brahma Kumaris followers are shown as the roots of the humanity. A new world order starting with the birth of Krishna and a population of 900,000 is believed to go on to enjoy 2,500 years of paradise as living deities before humanity splits and the religious founders incarnate. Each creates their own branch and brings with them their own followers from the Infinite Light, until they too decline and splits, schisms, cults and sects appear at the end of the Iron Age.
The aim of the individual Brahma Kumari is to gain a high status in the coming paradise where a select 108 who are 'totally victorious' and will rule there. Members of the physical families of Brahma Kumaris who have contact with the University are said to become members of the 16,000 top souls
and at the end of each Cycle, everyone will see visions in which their personal destinies will be fully disclosed.
The Brahma Kumaris teach a form of meditation
through which members are encouraged to purify their minds and 'burn away' the Karmic
effects of past misdeeds. This may be done by sitting tranquilly in front of a screen on to which Dada Lekhraj's image is projected, then making affirmations
regarding the eternal
nature of the soul
Lawrence Babbs described another practise where "the student or students sit in a semi-darkened room facing the teacher (usually a woman). Just above and behind the teacher's head is a red plastic ovoid that glows from a lightbulb within, in its center is a tiny hole which appears as an intense whitelight against the red glow. This device represents the Supreme Soul (known as Shiv Baba) who is the presiding deity of the universe. With devotional songs playing softly in the background, student and teacher gaze intently at each other, either in the eyes or at the forehead. While doing this the student is supposed to imagine him or herself as a soul and not as a body. The student is told to think of themselves as separate from the body, as bodiless, as light, as power, as bathed in the love and light of the Supreme Soul, and so on. This might continue for fifteen or twenty minutes". Babb also states that while staring (gazing into the eyes of an adept) at the teacher, many students experience visual hallucinations involving lights.
David Barrett states, "Unlike traditional forms of Hinduism, the Brahma Kumaris' teachings come not so much from ancient scriptures but from revelations given in trance states". However, these mediumistic messages known by Brahma Kumaris as "Murlis", read at the 6.30 am meetings, are slowly developing the nature of potential scriptures. The earlier ones channeled by Lekhraj Kripalani
while he was alive, are now repeated in a five year cycle. They are supplemented by later murlis, channelled by Hirday Mohini of Delhi in trance states, which are also written down.
There are two types of mediumistic messages; sakar and avyakt;
- Sakar Murlis refer to the original classes said to be spoken by "Shiva" through the medium of Lekhraj Kripalani in the 1960s, before he died of a heart attack on 18 January 1969.It should be noted that the original messages received by Lekhraj (in contrast to the newer ones by Dadi Gulzar) were not received under trance. In fact Lekhraj was fully awake at all times during the Murlis and had to be in order to learn the knowledge himself. These include teachings by Shiva and the life of personal experience of Lekhraj.
- Avyakt Vanis, or Murlis, refer to the teachings of Shiva and the soul of the deceased Lekhraj Kripalani combined through a medium named Hirday Mohini, or "Dadi Gulzar". The Brahma Kumaris believe that the soul of Lekhraj Kripalani has become perfect and now has the role of an angel. These messages are understood by members of the BKWSU to be the words of God. The Murli's are what the Brahma Kumaris use to direct their personal spiritual effort and institutional service.
One must complete the Brahma Kumaris foundation course before starting to attend morning murli class and visiting the headquarters in India during the period when the deceased founder communicates via a trance medium.
The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University is an international non-governmental organization (NGO
) in general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
and UNICEF. It is associated with the UN
Department of Public Information.
- The organization now has 100s of branches internationally and has co-ordinated three major international projects; The Million Minutes for Peace in 1986, for which it was awarded 7 UN Peace Messenger Awards, 1987 and Global Co-operation for a Better World in 1988. and in 1994, launched "Sharing Our Values for a Better World"
- Deceased chief administrator Prakashmani was awarded International Peace Messenger Award from the UN Secretary General in 1987 for the "Million Minutes of Peace" project.
- It was granted International Peace Messenger Initiative status by the U.N.for the Global Co-operation for a Better World campaign.
- Pioneering work in solar energy. Funded by the German Government and World Bank , BK follower Golo Pilz developed with inventor Wolfgang Scheffler and Gadhia Solar Energy Systems the world's then largest solar cooker of a hybrid nature backed up with an oil fired boiler, at the BKWSU headquarters in Rajasthan. The organization has since extended this project to its other Indian centers, funded by the Indian government, and attempted to establish local outreach programmes.
Use of channeling and mediumship
The BKWSU is believed by its members to have been established by Shiva Baba
(God-Father Shiva), described as the "Supreme Soul" and claimed to be the one God
of all religions through the medium
of the group's founder Lekhraj Kripalani
. From the beginning, a number of trance-messengers have received messages and teachings. Its mediums also directly channel
a messages from deceased senior Brahma Kumaris leaders. In its early days, children would commonly go into trances
, having visions of Krishna
and Golden Aged Heaven
and engaging in ecstatic
dances for as long as 7 days. A number of mediumistic female followers known as Sandeshputris
(trance messengers) also helped add to the group's spiritual knowledge through psychic
visions. Their founder, is also reported to have had visions of himself as Vishnu
, in which Vishnu said, "Thou art that
" (a well-known verse from the Chadogya Upanishad
God Shiva, and the deceased human founder Lekhraj Kripalani, continue to be channelled through a senior sister Hirdaya Mohini (referred to familiarly as Dadi Gulzar), at the organization's Rajasthan headquarters. The combined presence of the BKWSU's human founder and the spiritual being the BKWSU believe is God are referred to as BapDada (meaning Father and Grandfather) by BKs. The pair continue to direct the organization to this day.
Controversies and criticism
- Dr. John Wallis notes the re-editing of mediumistic messages and failed predictions of the End of the World which had been removed from the teachings and hidden from those that came later on.
- In a paper for the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Howell wrote that teenage girls surrendering to the organisation are required to pay the equivalent of a dowry to the organization. The payment was meant to prevent parents from "dumping" their daughters at the BKWSU as a way to avoid the costs of ordinary marriages. Return to the world for women who have has such a dowry paid for them is difficult.
- BK followers belief that the BKWSU is the precursor to all world religions, even those that predate it, which are seen as being only facets of "the complete diamond" Raja Yoga.
- The institution uses Hindu terminologies such as Raja Yoga, Bhagavad Gita to attract people but what is taught in the organization is completely different from what they supposed to mean in Hindu system of belief.
- Followers are encouraged to undergo a ‘death-in-life’ and ‘die towards the outer world’ renouncing their families and thus be ‘divinely’ reborn in the ‘divine family consequently, the Brahma Kumaris have been accused of breaking up marriages and families since the 1930s. In 2007, the British tabloid newspaper The Daily Mail reported Graham Baldwin, a former university chaplain and army officer who is president of the educational countercult organization Catalyst, stating that the former members and the families of members had told him that BKWSU has driven a wedge between husband and wife and that there were complaints that it encourages single women and widows to donate property and savings. The BKWSU, a organisation being notable for its sex ban, was said to have "used pernicious methods to control its followers". Ian Howarth of the Cult Information Centre, was further quoted about complaints that people have gone undergone personality changes after joining BKWSU and become alienated from their families. A BKWSU spokeswoman replied, "this is very much a minority thing", declining to comment on allegations that BKWSU encourages followers to donate property and savings.
- Questioned how dinosaurs fit within a 5,000 year Cycle of Time BK Neville Hodgkinson, a former scientific correspondent for an English national newspaper, questioned the existence of dinosaurs on the basis of the lack of bones that have been found whilst other BK follower argued that dinosaurs exist in a parallel space-time dimension and because of a warp hole end up in this dimension.
- The Brahma Kumaris have featured in the 'Wissen schtzt' reports of Austria (edited by then Austrian Minister for Family Affairs Mr. Martin Bartenstein), , Russia (International Conference "Totalitarian Cults - Threat of Twenty-First Century", Nizhny Novgorod, 2001) and in a MIVILUDES report submitted to the French National Assembly as a "sectes dangereuses" (harmful cult) and "groupe d'enfermement" (group of confinement). This has leading to the presecution of followers in local media leading to job losses after it discovered that they belonged to a secte and denouncement for their influence on children under their care.
Claim of divine indication
, the UPA
candidate and current President of India
, said on camera during the Indian presidential election, 2007
, that she had communicated with the spirit of the deceased leader of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University at their headquarters in Mount Abu
, Rajasthan. Patil added that she had received a mediumistic message
indicating great responsibility coming her way. She had gone to seek the blessings
of Hirday Mohini, also known as Dadi Gulzar or Dadiji.
Relationship with splinter and reform movements
The Advance Party
A number of Brahma Kumari splinter groups exist, the most notable documented by Dr. John Walliss as the Advance Party
, or "Shankar Party" to the BKWSU. elsewhere they are referred to as the Prajapita Brahma Kumaris
or PBKs . Walliss states that as Lekhraj Kripalani's original message of separation, spiritual introversion and violent Destruction becomes repackaged as the emergence of a New Age
through self-understanding and self-development, this direction has caused discontent within certain segments of the Brahma Kumari movement, likening them to the "Protestant Reformers
to the BKWSU's mediaeval Catholic Church
The "Advance Party" offer a radicalised rendition of the BKWSU's original millenarian message. In particular, they are exceptionally hostile to the University's New Age and UN involvement claim that Shiva is now manifesting Himself through a different medium to correctly interpret the original teachings and that Lekhraj Kirpalani's business partner Sevak Ram was the original medium. PBKs report hostile resistance from the BKWSU and Walliss met with a wall of silence and irate phone call from the University threatening him that the BKWSU would "block [him] every step of the way if [he] persisted along this line of investigation". The University restricting its member's "knowledge and access to the group so as to prevent any further defections." Founder Baba Dev Dixit was debarred from the BKWSU.
- Brasher, B.E. (1998). "Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem: Contemporary Apocalyptic Movements". Nova Religio 1 (2): 309–311.
- Arweck, E.; Nesbitt, E. (2004). "Living Values: an educational program--from initiative to uptake". British Journal of Religious Education 26 (2): 133–149. Retrieved on 2008-01-25.
- Skultans, V. (1993). "The Brahma Kumaris and the role of women". Women and Teachers and Disciples in Traditional and New Religions 47–62.
- Howell, J.D.; Nelson, P.L. (1997). "Structural adaptation and ‘success’ in the transplantation of an Asian New Religious Movement: the Brahma Kumaris in the Western world, Part I". Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 8 1–33.
- Howell, J.D. (1998). "Gender role experimentation in new religious movements: the case of the Brahma Kumaris". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 37 (3): 453–461.
- Babb, L.A. (1984). "Indigenous Feminism in a Modern Hindu Sect". Signs 9 (3): 399–416. Retrieved on 2008-01-25.
- Barker, E. (1986). "Religious Movements: Cult and Anticult Since Jonestown". Annual Review of Sociology 12 (1): 329–346.
External links Official BKWSU sites
- BKWSU.Org - Brahma Kumaris International website
- BrahmaKumaris.Com - Brahma Kumaris Indian website Other sites
- BrahmaKumaris.Info - Independent support website run by mainly ex-members and associates of the BKWSU
- ReachoutTrust.Org - Evangelical Christian group's perspective of Brahma Kumaris
- RickRoss.Com - End of the World Predicted. Website of Rick Ross, a consultant, lecturer and intervention specialist, with an interest in exit counseling or de-programming people from cults.
- PBKs.Info - Alternative interpretations of Brahma Kumaris' channelled messages