Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University
|Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University|
|Type||Millenarianist New Religious Movement|
|Official languages||Hindi (language)|
|Founder||Lekhraj Kripalani (1876–1969), known as "Brahma Baba" to the followers|
|Key people||Janki Kripalani, Jayanti Kirpalani|
Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University is an educational organization founded in India in 1937 that offers instruction by nuns based on teachings that are derived from mediumship and channelling. A modern Hindu sect, the Brahma Kumaris articulate millenarian teachings.
The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and UNICEF. The organization now has hundreds of branches internationally and has co-ordinated three major international projects; The Million Minutes for Peace in 1986, for which it was awarded seven UN Peace Messenger Awards, 1987 and Global Co-operation for a Better World in 1988.
The beginnings of Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKWSU) can be traced to the group "Om Mandali," founded by Lekhraj Kripalani (1876–1969) in Sindh (modern Pakistan) in the 1930s. Known as "Dada Lekhraj" to his followers, Lekhraj Kripalani was a follower of the Vaishnavite Vallabhacharya Sect. The group began when "Om Baba," as Lekhraj was known at the time, retired from his successful jewelry business had a series of visions and other transcendental experiences.
Lekhraj started holding gatherings that attracted many people and the group became known as Om Mandali, so named because they would chant "Om" together before having discourse on spiritual matters in the traditional satsang style. Their original spiritual knowledge was obtained through divine revelations and divine visions of women who had the gift of trance-vision. 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."
They allowed people from any caste to attend their meetings, and many women joined Om Mandali. It became clear that women had a special role in the group, and in 1937, a managing committee was formed of eight women, with another woman, Radhe Pokardas Rajwani (then known as "Om Radhe"), as president. The group advocated that young women had the right to elect not to marry and that married women had the right to chose a celibate life. Such decisions were traditionally the exclusive right of the men in the patriarchal Indian society.
Members of the local Bhaibund community reacted unfavorably to thes movement. Many young married Sindhi women attended the ashram and were encouraged to take vows of celibacy, so the Om Mandali was accused of breaking up families. Om Mandali was denounced as a disturber of family peace and some of the Brahma Kumari wives were mistreated by their families. Lekhraj Kripalani was accused of sorcery, lechery, forming a cult, and controlling his community through the art of hypnotism.
Children were removed from their 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.
To avoid persecution and legal actions, as well as their own safety, Om Mandali decided to leave Hyderabad and gradually relocated their activities to Karachi in the latter half of 1938. Approximately 300 members moved. The Anti-Om Mandli Committee which had opposed the group in Hyderabad followed them.
In April 1950, after the Partition of India, they moved to Mount Abu in India saying that they had been instructed by God to do so. From its beginning the organization's focus was on education rather than forms of worship, and for this reason Om Mandli renamed itself as Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University.
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. After Lekhraj's death in 1969, his followers expanded the movement to other countries.
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 over 8,500 centres in 110 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.
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:
- Strict celibacy.
- 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 A.M. called 'Amrit Vela.'
- Regular morning class at approximately 6:30 A.M.
- 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.
God (Shiva), 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' practice 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 KripalaniBabb, 1986, 112-113. </ref> 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 fourth to fifth month of pregnancy.
The Brahma Kumaris believe that there are three 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.
5,000 year cycle
Time is cyclic, repeating identically every 5000 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.
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.
The Brahma Kumaris believe that practice of Raja Yoga enables spiritual progress as well as having pragmatic benefits in one's everyday life. For this reason meditation is usually taught and practiced with open eyes.
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 A.M. 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 January 18, 1969. These include teachings by Shiva and the life of personal experience of Lekhraj.
- Avyakt Murlis (Avyakt vanis or "angelic versions") which 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 ascended to the angelic world and thus the term avyakt which means "not in the physical form, or angelic," is used for these messages.
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.
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. Its mediums also directly channel messages from deceased senior Brahma Kumaris leaders.  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
As has been the case with most New religious movements (NRM), the Brahma Kumaris have suffered persecution and criticism since they began. They have been involved in several controversies, a few of which are listed below:
- When the organization started, empowering women to assert their right to remain celibate, particularly in marriage, was a prime factor in the controversy that arose in the 1930s as it directly challenged the dominance men held over women in patriarchal India.
- Followers are also 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  As a result of this and the promotion of celibacy, the Brahma Kumaris have been accused of breaking up marriages and families since the 1930s.
- Dr. John Wallis notes the re-editing of mediumistic messages  and failed predictions of the End of the World  
- 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).
- Jon Klimo, Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources. (North Atlantic Books, 1998, ISBN 978-1556432484), 100.
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- ECOSOC. UNO. Retrieved September 20, 2011.
- List of UN NGO and respective status within UNICEF. UNO. Retrieved September 20, 2011.
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- John Walliss, The Brahma Kumaris As a Reflexive Tradition: Responding to Late Modernity (Ashgate Publishing, 2002, ISBN 978-0754609513), 99–129.
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- Lenore Manderson, Wendy Smith, and Matt Tomlinson (eds), Flows of Faith: Religious Reach and Community in Asia and the Pacific (Springer, 2012, ISBN 978-9400729315).
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- Elizabeth Abbott, A History of Celibacy (James Clarke & Co., 2001, ISBN 0718830067), 172–174.
- Liz Hodgkinson, Peace and Purity: The Story of the Brahma Kumaris a Spiritual Revolution (HCI, 2002, ISBN 1558749624), 2–29.
- David V. Barrett, The New Believers: A Survey of Sects, Cults and Alternative Religions (Cassell & Co., 2001, ISBN 978-0304355921).
- Brahma-Kumari Radhe, Is this justice?: Being an account of the founding of the Om Mandli & the Om Nivas and their suppression, by application of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908 (Pharmacy Printing Press, 1939), 5–36.
- Peter Clarke (ed.), Encyclopedia of New Religious Movements (Routledge, 2005, ISBN 978-0415267076), 63–64.
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- Frank Whaling, "The Brahma Kumaris." Journal of Contemporary Religion 10(1) (1995): 3–28.
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All links retrieved December 20, 2016.
- Reender Kranenborg, Brahma Kumaris: A New Religion?. CESNUR
- Brahma Kumaris, World Spiritual University interreligiousinsight.org
- BKWSU.Org - Brahma Kumaris International website
- BrahmaKumaris.Com - Brahma Kumaris Indian website
- BrahmaKumaris.Info - Independent support website run by mainly ex-members and associates of the BKWSU
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