By Suma Varughese January 1998 ‘Satyug is as sure as death’, says Dadi Prakash Mani, head of the Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya. The 60-year-old woman-dominated order headquartered at Mt Abu in Rajasthan, India, abjures rites, rituals and idol worship and focuses on meditation and purity to bring people to soul consciousness, ushering in a golden age With a last silent goodbye to the dazzling blue sky, crisp mountain air and our benevolent hosts, I shove my bag into the dickey of the video coach taking us back to Mumbai. I am conscious of walking with unusual care and precision, and I hug to myself the rest of my baggage: a newfound sense of purpose, rockhard focus and solemn stillness. Not a bad dividend for just four days spent at Gyan Sarovar, housing the Prajapita Bhahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidylaya’s Academy for a Better World, at Mount Abu in Rajasthan. A youth festival on the value-based society had brought some thousand of us to this craggy mountain top, 4km from the headquarters of this 61-year-old spiritual movement (or World University as they prefer to call themselves). Looking down at the magnificent complex, I was impressed. Here was a thoroughly modern, hi-tech cluster of buildings. The sophisticated, elegant architecture with an edifice of brown sandstone, the high standards of construction and, above all, the state-of-the-art facilities conveyed an impressive drive for quality and completion without regard for expense or effort. I was to learn later that an open-fisted yet scrupulous employment of money and material, and regard for comfort and appearance characterized the Brahma Kumaris (BKs). Abundance, not austerity, was their keynote. A public address system and close-circuit TV networked the vast complex. The main edifice contained a meditation hall and a conference hall, with a seating capacity of 1,800 people. Next to it was the training center, with 13 seminar rooms and offices for their internal operations. It also accommodated the Spiritual Applications Research Center which tries to correlate spiritual and scientific research. Residential enclaves dotted the landscape. At one end, facing an ornamental lake, was an elegant chalet for the dadis, the group of elderly women who run the organization. Beautifully landscaped gardens provided a verdant background. The beauty of the surroundings was somewhat marred by the gaudy pennants on the walkways, and streamers and lights festooning the buildings. But a penchant for kitsch, I soon realized, was one of the few regrettable aspects of the BK culture. Over the next few days, I set out to understand and experience that culture. There was much to like about this quaint woman-dominated order, and little to reject, save their aesthetical flaws and the more arbitrary tenets of their philosophy. What I would principally remember them for was the sincerity, serenity and control that marked their actions, and their overwhelming sense of service. I have seldom felt as well looked after and cosseted as I did at Gyan Sarovar. I recall Gayatribehn, 31, our escort to Mt Abu, coming to Ahmedabad station to receive us at 5 a.m., looking fresh, crisp and capable, and solicitously offering to carry my bag for me. That same sense of service rose to embrace us from all sides at Mt Abu. Dadi Prakash Mani, the strong faced immensely capable looking administrative head of the organization, set the tone for our stay at the inaugural function itself, when she fervently extended to us a welcome so warm that she hoped it would not be equaled even in the house of God. At the end of the function, she insisted on meeting all thousand of us, presenting each with a woolen shawl, and a delicious sweetmeat as prasad. They have an endless supply of these delights, held in vast steel containers, which they liberally hand out at all meetings, pretty much like a real dadi (grandmother) would to her favorite grandchildren. Even the boarding and lodging facilities were munificent. The bedroom, which I shared with a delightful college principal from Madhya Pradesh, India, was well-furnished and comfortable, containing a well-sprung mattress and thick blanket. Likewise, the food. The BKs adhere to a very satvic (ascetic) food code: vegetarian, and free of garlic, onions and chillies. ‘Yatha anna, tatha mana (whatever our food, likewise our mind),’ intoned the keeper of the prasad section, solemnly. Indeed, such is the importance they place on pure food that no one, including householder members, eat out. In the dining halls, their sense of service rose to new heights, as solicitous Brahma Kumars and Kumaris went from table to table, smilingly offering second helpings. Such hospitality (somehow so Indian in character) is a reflection of their founder’s inclination, a one-time diamond merchant from Hyderabad, India, named Dada Lekh Raj. Known as Brahma Baba, he had often expressed the view that as a servant of God he was supposed to give to every guest ‘such comforts and care as should give him the feeling that it was the House of God’. The solicitude continued till the end. At the close of the festival, some of the BK’s took us sightseeing to the breathtaking Delwara temples, ending with a picnic at a beautiful landscaped park (one of their many gifts to Mt Abu) called Peace Park, where we played some rousing games, the BKs danced the garba (an Indian folk dance), and all ate bhelpuri, a savoury Indian snack. And when they finally waved us goodbye, it was with packets of food for the journey. Their spiritual intensity is an equally attractive feature of their character. The BKs are up at 3.30 a.m., and occupy themselves until 7.30 a.m. with Raj Yoga (their form of meditation). After a short break for breakfast and work (Karma Yoga), they assemble at 10.30 a.m. for one more Raj Yoga class. At five, they have a Gyan Yoga class, followed at 7 p.m. by another round of meditation and a spiritual service news class at 8.45 p.m. In between, the BKs must find time to look after visitors and guests. All this often means a very long working day, yet their sense of service buoys them and keeps them going. Says Radhabehn, 38, attached to the Goregaon center in Mumbai: ‘Service to humanity gives me internal satisfaction and the feeling that I’ve made something of my life.’ Walking towards a group of ladies busy in the kitchen, Arvindbhai, 32, who mans the vegetable department, offered them a choice. Would they like to break for lunch or would they prefer to do seva (service)? In unison, the ladies chorused: ‘seva’. Nevertheless, Arvindbhai packed off the older ladies for lunch, and did so in style, summoning the lift to take them to the ground floor dining hall, and solicitously seeing them into it. What a lesson in labor management! B.K. Gokak, 38, who looks after the accounts at Pandav Bhavan, a job which takes 14 to 15 hours a day, says: ‘I’m never tired or bored. I feel someone else is doing the work.’ Atmaprakash, 46, a gold medallist in M.Sc, sums it up: ‘This is a university. Those who help others honestly and sincerely make spiritual progress.’ The schedule for visitors was less rigorous, though we were given full exposure to their spiritual philosophy and practice. At 6.30 every morning, we would straggle bleary-eyed for a meditation session. The BK’s believe that it is impossible to meditate upon something one doesn’t know, and since they meditate not by watching the breath or the mind, or by using a mantra, but upon God, we were given a succinct picture of their version of divinity. For a populist movement, their strain of spirituality is fairly pure. The emphasis is not on rites, rituals or idol worship, which they abjure, but on the fact that we are souls. Losing sight of that fact and falsely identifying with the body has caused all the evils of our times such as greed, anger, lust, they say. Retribution lies in moving towards greater soul consciousness and realizing the soul’s natural attributes such as joy, peace , love, harmony, balance. One does this by contemplating upon God, the Supreme Soul, who, like us, is an incorporeal point of light to whom the BKs give the name Shiva. This Shiva, however, is not to be confused with the member of the triune godhead, who they call Shankar. At the start of meditation, a red wall-lamp (all rooms, including guest bedrooms, are provided with these) is switched on, casting a lurid glow in the room, which supposedly resembles the color suffusing God’s domain. Paramdham. In the middle of the lamp issues a point of light upon which we are asked to gaze while the teacher intones a combination of guided visualizations and affirmations such as: ‘I am a soul. I am eternal, immortal, conceit,radiant and self-luminous…’ How effective is this meditation? Personally speaking. I found it difficult to concentrate open-eyed, yet did experience calm and greater stillness at the end of the 10 minutes. The BKs, naturally, report extraordinary results in concentration, personality development and spiritual prowess. Says Atmaprakash: ‘I used to smoke and drink. Today, I have conquered 70 to 85 per cent of my vices. I’m now looking for perfection.’ Satish Kumar, 37, has never trained in music , yet he is today the chief songwriter of the organization. ‘It is the fruits of devotion,’ he says. Theirs is a resolutely dualistic philosophy. The soul is eternal and has an existence of its own, and cannot therefore merge with the Supreme, they say, shooting down advaita, or the non-dualistic theory of Vedanta . Liberation, then, or going beyond the cycle of birth and death, is an impossibility. ‘The souls have to come down to act in the cosmic drama,’ they say. This adherence to the
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