By Suma Varughese
Sr Shivani, the young and popular spiritual teacher of the Brahma Kumaris, says that she is nothing but an instrument in the hands of the Supreme Power, says Suma Varughese
I have been enormously privileged to have met Sr Shivani on many occasions. For the last several years, Sr Shivani has been inseparable from the inaugural address of the Life Positive Expo in Delhi. And each time, my respect for her has only increased. Tall and slender, dressed in pristine white, hair in an unassuming plait, her pretty face glows with peace, calm and purity. Being in her presence is as refreshing as having a glass of the purest water. She slakes your thirst with her life-giving insights.
Although only 43, Sr Shivani’s wisdom and penetrating clarity have supported and transformed millions of viewers through her popular TV programme, Awakening with the Brahma Kumaris, which is aired every night on Aastha TV at 10.30 pm and every morning on Headlines Today. She broadcasts the highest truths – everyone is a soul on a journey with sanskars inherited from another life. How then can we expect them to be like us? Instead, can we accept them and through that acceptance influence them to change, she asks. From supposedly agreeing with the listeners on the inevitability of judging or criticising or expecting, she gradually turns the tables on us as she proves that there is nothing more natural than accepting and embracing the other.
An engineering graduate with a gold medal to her credit, Sr Shivani joined the Brahma Kumaris at the age of 25. She is married and lives with her businessman husband in Gurgaon.
At the recent Delhi Expo, she was mobbed by the participants, including a rather garrulous old lady who cornered her repeatedly, even when she was in conversation with others. Even though she tested my patience, Sr Shivani smiled with unflappable calm, listening and soothing in her own gentle way. After her inaugural address at the Expo, I spent an hour with Sr Shivani for the purpose of the interview. Excerpts:
Your TV programme happened inadvertently, I hear.
I was doing ground work, production, scripting, for the Brahma Kumaris’ TV show. The brother who was in charge of the studio pushed me into it. He said, ‘No one is there. You do it.’ I didn’t feel I was right for it. One because of my age – 35 – in an organisation where everyone was my senior, and secondly, you are representing the thoughts of an organization. But he really pushed me into doing it. He said, ‘You are an instrument, just do it.’
We looked around for an anchor and invited Kanupriya. We sat on two chairs. She said, ‘What should we talk about?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. You choose.’ She said, ‘People are looking for happiness. Shall we talk about that?’ It was so unprepared and you could even say, unprofessional. The only thing I did then was to connect to the Supreme Power. I said, ‘I have no idea what is going to happen. You can get done whatever you want.’ That is the first time I experienced the meaning of complete surrender. Where your own mind and intellect is doing nothing. That day, we shot about eight episodes. And when those eight episodes went on air, they got a very good response.
Because they got a good response, this brother said, ‘Let’s do it again.’ I said, ‘You don’t know what happened last time. It does not happen every day.’ For me it was like a miracle. He said, ‘It will happen again.’ So I sat a second time and did the same thing. And the same thing happened very beautifully. When we did it two three times like that, I spoke to Kanupriya and said, ‘It’s not right that we are not preparing. Let us prepare and sit down.’ We chose the topic of relationships and I prepared on the points to share. When we sat, we did not use a single point that we had prepared. That is when I realised that this is something very different. I told Kanupriya, ‘It has nothing to do with you and with me. The Supreme Power is using us, so we better just sit with a silent mind and not use our intellect on it.’ Now it is seven years and more than 600 episodes later. Each one is a very beautiful learning. I get to learn a lot.
Are you surprised yourself with what you have said?
A lot! In a day we shoot about five, six episodes so all the content does not sink in. But when I sit and watch on TV, there have been times when I hear the question, and even though it has already been shot, I don’t know the answer. Then I see myself giving the answer and I say, ‘Makes sense. Good answer!’ (laughs). I met a sister the other day, and she said, ‘You know what, I listen to your CD and I learn.’ I told her, ‘I do the same.’
But you live this understanding, right?
I learn only when it comes out. Even today, if I have to learn anything new, I have to go and shoot!
Do you still feel that what you say is representative of the Brahma Kumaris, or is it something that comes from you?
Completely representative of the Brahma Kumaris. Brahma Kumaris is about Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga is about the soul, God, the supreme soul, karma and time. These are the four dimensions of the BK philosophy. And the entire Awakening series discusses these four things. When you talk about soul, you talk about the qualities, the sanskars of the soul, then come qualities like acceptance, relationships. It is basically a practical extension of the core philosophy.
Spiritually, we know we are souls, but when we come back to work and family, we have the same mindset – my husband, my child. We are not able to bring the word ‘soul’ home. It remains a concept. We cannot look at our colleagues or juniors or seniors as a soul on the journey with sanskars. That is the only thing this TV programme has done. It took the spiritual principle to your home or work life in an absolutely simple way. The only other thing is that spirituality is often very profound. Very deep. I look at myself as a student or as a kindergarten teacher. That is the reason why it becomes easy for people to understand.
But do you ever feel restricted by the fact that you are representing an organization?
Whatever is coming out of me is only what I have learned there. It is giving me the highest understanding, and answers up till now of all the questions I have had. Actually organisations are nothing. No religious founder, Jesus Christ, or Gautam Buddha, came down to establish a religion. They were only sharing. Instead of connecting to the teachings, we got connected to the teacher. The teachings were the same. I looked at you and said, ‘You listen to Gautam Buddha and I listen to Jesus Christ, so you and I are different.’ Had I said, ‘You follow Buddha’s teachings and I follow Christ’s teachings, and since both the teachings are the same, you and I are the same,’ religion would have united us. Teachings unite us, but if we connect to the teacher we get separated.
Similarly, organizations are nothing. They teach what every religion taught. I take the teaching from the organization. I take a healthy way of living from there. I like the way I have changed myself in terms of the time I sleep, the time I wake up. I wake up by four in the morning and sleep by 10. I loved to eat out. Today, I would not eat out because I have understood that vibrations affect food, so let’s eat food that is cooked in a state of peace and calm.
But Shivaniji, sometimes you can hurt people by refusing food they offer with love…
The way it’s been taught is that vibrations affect food. So if you eat in a restaurant, you are eating food cooked with the intention of earning money. The result is that most of us have money as a priority in our lives.
That is an interesting perspective.
Why is it said that the way to a man’s heart is through the food? If you cook for him, your vibrations go into his food, your mind goes into his mind, and your mind and his mind get connected. When a mother cooks for her children, her love, her patience, create a bonding in the family. If a cook makes the food, he is cooking as an employee, for money.
Not if he loves the family…
Then he has to look at it as his family. Someone who used to come to the BK centre once said, ‘For the last one week I have been having dreams that I am looking for a house in a slum area. Is this my future?’ He was a very rich person. After about 10 days the lady who cooked for him came and asked for a loan of Rs 25,000 to buy a room. After that, his dreams stopped. And then we understood. The lady said, ‘I have been so worried for the last 10 days because I did not have a room in which to live.’ Her anxiety was on her mind…
If you go to someone else’s house and if they give you food cooked with love, you can eat it, right?
What happens is, over time, you will have to keep yourself a little stricter, or else you will land up having food almost everywhere. I don’t know who has cooked in the house. If you have cooked, it is one thing, but if a staff member has cooked, then it is a different thing. It is not only about money. Let’s say I have a sanskar of anger, and I am working hard at it. If I eat food cooked by somebody with a very strong sanskar of anger, all my efforts will go waste.
But how powerful is food as compared to other factors…like will?
Food is very powerful because it is taken three to four times a day. That is why tamasic food has an effect. On the body and the mind.
But you hurt people when you do this…
Once they understand, then they don’t get hurt. If I have high cholesterol and I don’t eat fried food, people will not get hurt about it. So now everyone around me knows. They make it a point to get all the best fruits in the market – dry fruits, juices. ‘You have this, no problem. But you come.’
You have now become one of the most recognisable faces of the Brahma Kumari movement. Has it created any conflict at all?
At the Brahma Kumaris, there is no guru. Dadis are very clear that they are not the source of the knowledge. The source of knowledge is God, who we call Shiv Baba, the point of light. Not a human figure. And we all know that it is His task to create transformation in the world, and He is using all of us in different ways. My role has only got highlighted because it is media. But the amount of work the sisters and brothers are doing! What the Dadis are doing, I cannot even imagine. Today, when everything is so comfortable it is not a big deal. But to do it when there was nothing and to come as a child, and to leave your house, and to start from scratch. The other day one of the Dadis was sharing with me. ‘We had two saris only because we could not afford three. We could not afford a dhobhi, and we could not afford an iron. We would wash the sari, dry it, and when we sat to give the class, we would fold it and sit on it.’ What have we done in comparison? Nothing. And they know that it is the efforts they put in over the last 80 years, their vibrations, their tapas, that is getting the results. They set the foundation. Without their acceptance, I cannot do what I am doing. They can tell me right now and I would stop. They are spending money on making the programmes. If they didn’t support it, they would stop.
Instrument-consciousness is a very important concept in spirituality. He is the musician. We are the instruments. One day He will play the tabla, one day the harmonium, depending on the message He wants to communicate with His children worldwide. The instrument does not say, Why me? Why not you? The Dadis have understood this very well. They have seen how the organisation has grown. They have seen how God has used everyone.
Tell us a little about your own evolution.
When I came into the BKs, I was 25. Academically doing very well. Family life was also fine. It was picture perfect. Good social circle. Just married. I was not looking for spirituality…
But my mother used to go to the BK centre. Seeing her live that life, seeing the changes in the vibration of the house, seeing her change from being worried, edgy, getting hurt, being sensitive, to becoming more stable, more strong, that inspires you to see that there is something here.
I was then staying in Pune, and was extremely happy there. For 30 years it was my firm belief that I could shift to any city in India but not Delhi. I didn’t like Delhi. It was so different from Pune, culturally, climatically. And one morning when I was sitting in meditation at 4 am, there was this very strong message that I had to go from Pune. When it comes so strongly, your logic accepts it. Where, I didn’t know. Thena few days later, I saw the scene that my whole family – my parents, husband, my brother – is leaving from here and shifting to Gurgaon.
My husband’s first reaction was, ‘Take it on blank paper in writing from me, I will never shift.’ Within a few months, don’t know how and why, but he said, okay. When it is His work, you get everyone’s cooperation. And today I understand why I had to shift. If I was sitting in Pune, I would not have been used for all this.
Was that the first time you got such a message from God?
Before that, my husband was diagnosed with excessive parathyroid hormone. It is a very rare disorder. Muscles become weak, skeletal system becomes weak. The doctor said, ‘There is no one in India who is an expert in this. You will need to go to the US.’ The next morning I sat at 4 o clock for my meditation. And the name of the doctor came to me like this, as if someone had flashed it to me. I waited for nine o clock to call him. He was in Mumbai. He said, ‘Just pack your bags and come, and I will do the surgery myself.’ When I showed the whole report to my doctor, he said, ‘If anyone in the country could have done it, it was this person.’ It gives you goose pimples. It is life changing. Even now, to go for any programme, I will first connect there. Then you really start living your life like an instrument. You are going where He wants to send you. Because I believe that the people sitting in the audience have told God their problems. They have not told me. If I give a session, I will do it according to what I want to talk about. But He wants to answer their problems, for which He has to use somebody. It is beautiful how people come later on and say, ‘Oh, I just needed this today.’
How do you cope with your enormous popularity?
I thank God for the fact that I have not taken anything personally. Because I know it is Him doing it, and not me. Even today, it happens that everything is ready and cameras are rolling, and it just does not happen. We speak but both Kanupriya, Sureshbhai (Suresh Oberoi, the other anchor she works with), and I know that this is not His, this is ours. So we decide to pack up. We know that any time, God can stop using us. People say, God has blessed you and I say, God has not blessed me, He is using me. If he has given it to me, then it becomes my property. If you are very clear about that, criticism and fame, both are the same. It is like this Samsung phone. You can criticise it or praise it. Does not matter. I haven’t made it (laughs). If this had not happened, I could have probably messed up my life. People of all age groups coming and saying, ‘You changed my life, you did this, you did that.’ Had I to take it personally, I would suddenly think I have become very big and that would have messed up my spiritual journey. Everytime someone shares their journey of transformation, it is only a beautiful realisation, God is healing them.
Most importantly, if someone were to say, ‘Today what you did was not very good’, you can just fall flat. You can’t handle criticism after that. I have understood now that if you remain stable in appreciation, then you will be able to take criticism. Otherwise, if things did not go well, it would become my responsibility, I would get stressed. It would become like a profession.
You have given the secret of all success.
Instrument-consciousness is very important, especially for all spiritual work. I have understood that if you start accepting appreciation, your energy, instead of flowing outward, it flows inward. You are not a giver any more, you are a taker. And everywhere you are looking for who is appreciating me?
Are you enlightened?
I don’t know what that means!
Bottomline: Freedom from suffering
No. There is still suffering. The magnitude may have changed. But there is suffering. I can experience anger, hurt. But the amount of what it was earlier and now have changed. Earlier, anger used to be verbal. You are talking and shouting. Today, it can be at a thought level, because you are not accepting something. You are a little irritated inside. But now you are not blaming the other person, you are taking responsibility. And then, quickly, you are able to resolve it.
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