THE BRAHMA KUMARIS
In traditional Hindu religion patriarchal sects are the most profuse. However, this is not so for one contemporary sect, the Brahma Kumaris (Daughters of Brahma) (Babb 399). Although the Brahma Kumaris was founded by a man, Dada Lekhraj, its female membership is three times higher than male (Wallis 72). It is not just the case that females are predominant in numbers, they are held as more spiritually significant than males and hold the power of control in the community. Dada Lekhraj’s higher regard for woman has been said to date back to his days as a successful diamond merchant in the province of Sindh. (Wallis 33). His success in the position apparently helped him to gain an above ordinary insight into women’s concerns, due to his regular contact with them (Wallis 34). In the late 1930’s when Lekhraj had reached the age of sixty, he began to have frequent startling visions of the deities Siva and Visnu, along with images of the destruction of the world (Wallis 34). These visions of demolition were followed by images of an earthly-like paradise, unlike what Lekhraj was living in. This paradise included things like sexual equality, food in abundance, and painless death (Wallis 34). Lekhraj retired from his profession as a consequence of these visions, as they became so prevalent at one point he seemed to act as a medium in order to deliver a message from Siva: “I am the Blissful Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Knowledgeful Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Luminous Self, I am Shiva, I am Shiva…I am the Form of Self, the Form of Knowledge, the Form of Light” (Wallis 376). Following this episode, Lekhraj began to preach to those around him that everyone is a soul trapped in an earthly existence. It was not long before many others, predominantly women, began to experience similar visions and came to him (Wallis 376). These women, who were permitted to very few social outings, were allowed by their husbands to attend satsangs (religious meetings) with Lekhraj (Hodgkinson 10). They called him Om Baba and these satsangs became known as the Om Mandli, the absolute circle or association (Babb 402). The Om Mandli is considered the foundation that would eventually become the Brahma Kumaris University (Wallis 35).
In 1937, Lekhraj put his entire trust and fortune into nine women who formed the administration and managing committee of the group, which had changed its name to prajipita brahmakumari ishvariya vishvavidyalaya or the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (Wallis 36). His initial goals for the university can be summed up in this quote:
Dad Lekhraj gave special encouragement to women to develop their spiritual lives and take leadership positions…some few years after his life transforming visions, he came to believe that celibacy was necessary to achieve salvation, he rejected the Hindu practice of restricting the elevated status of celibate seeker to men (Howell 454).
Lekhraj believed that the Bhagavad Gita had become distorted and filled with errors, yet he had personally experienced its authentic truth as a ‘modern-day Krsna’ (Wallis 34). Their promotion of celibacy is what initially caused the Brahma Kumaris to be so poorly received by opposing groups (Babb 411). These opposing groups, mostly consisting of men whose wives had taken a vow of chastity, rose up against the Brahma Kumaris, and pushed them into a period of persecution and isolation (Wallis 377). Lekhraj heavily interpreted this segregation as a reoccurrence of the Pandavas isolation in the major Sanskrit epic, Mahabharata (Wallis 38). The rest of the Indian population can then be inferred to represent the Kauravas.
In the 1950’s, as a consequence of the Brahma Kumaris moving from Sindh to Mt. Abu Rajasthan, the situation changed and Lekhraj began to emphasize worldly service over isolation and rejection of the rest of the world (Wallis 379). He allowed his teachings to extend to outsiders with the desire to expand his university. The first centre to open was in Delhi in 1952, following through Asia to London in 1971, to the United Kingdom, Europe, and eventually the rest of the world (Wallis 380). Today, the Brahma Kumaris presents itself as a ‘divine university’ and offers many classes in knowledge of doctrine and meditation (Babb 404). As of 2007 there was 450 000 members of the Brahma Kumaris University, in 4000 centers, in 77 countries worldwide (Wallis 380).
The Brahma Kumaris believe that their members should live like the Goddess of Prosperity, Laksmi, and her husband, Narayan (Visnu) – and love one another with pure spiritual love, and no physical love (Babb 403). This enforces their most important norm; the practice of celibacy. Celibacy relates back to Lekhraj’s vision and of everyone being a soul. His belief is that we are atmas (souls), and how we identify ourselves becomes conflicted with the physical bodies we inhabit in the prakriti (material world) (Babb 405). The true home of our atmas is the paramdhari, the ‘supreme abode’, and our souls periodically leave the paramdhari to inhabit bodies in the material world, thus forgetting who they are (Babb 405). This idea of a lost soul is what the Brahma Kumaris recognize as our problem. Every 5000 years the world begins a new cycle of history and rejuvenates itself; currently we are at the end of the cycle and as Lekhraj foresaw, soon the world will be destroyed in order for this to happen (Babb 407). The view of the destruction of the world is referred to as millenarianism (Wallis 32). The Brahma Kumaris believe that it is at this point of destruction that all souls will return to the paramdhari and await renewal into the new cycle. Siva, the supreme soul, through Lekhraj will make knowledge of our separation from our souls available to those souls prepared to listen. These will be the souls that will be transferred into the next cycle (Babb 407). Lekhraj’s belief was that he had prepared his followers, the Brahma Kumaris, for this by fulfilling his instructions initially put forth to him through his visions. His belief included the idea that everyone (namely, the Brahma Kumaris) who ends up in the beginning of a new cycle becomes a deity who endures no hardship or pain, and at every new beginning sexual intercourse is said to be nonexistent and unknown. This is because it is ‘inconsistent’ with the purity of the deities (Babb 406).
Male and female deities are equals in the beginning and have a special power that allows them to conceive without intercourse. As the introduction of intercourse becomes prevalent, their level of purity will decline and this power will diminish causing the earth to move from svaj (heaven) to narak (hell) (Babb 407). It is sexual lust that is the cause of all other violence and evil in humanity, including the onset of inequality and suppression towards women, which will continue to happen with each cycle (Babb 408). Sexual lust is what causes the destruction of the world, and celibacy can be seen as the way of the deities, in the eyes of the Brahma Kumaris. This goes along with the fact that initiation into the sect requires you to ‘die’ in your previous life, as you are born again into the divine family of the Brahma Kumaris where you receive a divinely inspired name (Wallis 38).
The act of celibacy can be seen as a traditional aspect of religion, which ironically is one of this ‘new age movement’s’ primal norms. Along with celibacy, the Brahma Kumaris have other rules that govern day-to-day behavior. Abstaining from meat and alcohol, along with other ‘passion-inducing’ foods and drinks is enforced (Babb 411). Raja Yoga is the central element associated with communication to Siva, the supreme soul. (Wallis 52). The meditation associated with Raja Yoga is considered to be a technique that helps a person discover the soul’s consciousness and gain experience to oneself as a soul rather than a physical body (Babb 411). Raja yoga is a gateway to the access of one’s own atman, their true identity.
Babb, Lawrence (1984) “Indigenous Feminism in a Modern Hindu Sect.” Signs 9, 3. p. 399-416.
Hodgkinson, Liz (2002) Peace and Purity: The Story of the Brahma Kumaris: A Spiritual Revolution. Florida: Health Communications Inc.
Howell, Julia Day (1998) “Gender Role Experimentation In New Religious Movements: Clarification of the Brahma Kumaris Case.” Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion 37, 3. p. 453-461.
Wallis, John (1999) “From World Rejection to Ambivalence: The Development of Millenarianism in the Brahma Kumaris.” Journal of Contemporary Religion, 15, 3. p. 375-385.
Wallis, John (2007) The Brahma Kumaris as a ‘Reflexive Tradition’: Responding to Late Modernity. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.
Mt. Abu Rajasthan
Article written by: Katrina Nogas (March 2012) who is solely responsible for its content.