Peace and Purity: The Story of the Brahma Kumaris, A Spiritual Revolution

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9781558749627: Peace and Purity: The Story of the Brahma Kumaris, A Spiritual Revolution
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In 1936, a 60-year-old businessman in India had visions of a new world order of peace, love and truth. Such was the strength of his message that he drew a gathering of several hundred people, most of whom were women. Just over sixty years later, this obscure group, the Brahma Kumaris (BK) has become a highly respected worldwide movement with over 5,000 centers in 102 countries. The organization runs high-level conferences, a state-of-the-art hospital, retreat centers and courses for managers, healthcare workers, corrections officers, teachers and other professionals. It has also gained consultative status at the United Nations and is renowned for practical yet imaginative global campaigns such as the Million Minutes of Peace Appeal.

This fascinating book recounts the early beginnings of the Brahma Kumaris in the Sind region of India and the persecution they faced as their religious and social message went against mainstream Hindu thought.

Peace and Purity tracks the expansion of the group worldwide through the sixties, seventies and eighties when the group had become so important that it often focused on achieving peace on a political rather than spiritual level. Author Liz Hodgkinson describes how this unique organization headed by women has gradually attracted many thousands of people from all backgrounds to get involved in its teachings. The book concludes with several BK scholars answering questions of faith.

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About the Author:

Liz Hodgkinson is a London-based journalist and author specializing in alternative health, popular psychology and spirituality. She contributes articles on a wide variety of subjects to publications all over the world, and has written more than 40 books. Hodgkinson first encountered the Brahma Kumaris in 1981 and has followed their fortunes with interest ever since.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

It all seemed so typically Indian, even for those who had never been to India before. We arrived, a small group of bewildered, exhausted, bedraggled Westerners, at Ahmedabad airport in the middle of the night, to be jostled and hustled continuously by a seething throng of raggedly dressed men hopefully offering every tourist service imaginable: a taxi, accommodation, food, drink, sightseeing tours, snacks, carry your luggage, look after you, take you to good hotel, very cheap . . .

It was, in fact, every tourist's worst Indian nightmare: to be swooped on and hassled by hordes of dirty, unshaven men at a time when resistance was at an all-time low. But we were not tourists, exactly. We were delegates, on our way to a week-long Peace of Mind Retreat at Mount Abu, headquarters of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. And before long, representatives of this university, with long years of practice in fending off unwelcome vendors, came to our rescue.

The two white-clad BK brothers (both Westerners) who met us steered us straight towards a waiting Brahma Kumaris bus, and out of the way of the shouting, jostling, insistent vendors.

Brother David, a blond-haired British dentist who had become a BK more than two decades previously, opened up the luggage compartment of the bus and inside the darkness, something stirred. One of our number sprang back in alarm. "What was that?" they cried. "There's a creature at the back of the luggage compartment, I swear it! Or am I hallucinating?" We were all so exhausted, so dazed from lack of sleep and fifteen or more hours spent in continuous uncomfortable transit that we had difficulty in distinguishing dream from reality. But another traveller said: "Yes, something did move. I saw it too."

David, veteran of very many night trips to collect foreigners from Ahmedabad, laughed. "That's the luggage wallah," he explained, as the small creature of the night began to arrange huge amounts of luggage in the boot of the bus. We dimly wondered whether our luggage was actually on the bus―in all the chaos it seemed impossible―but at this stage we couldn't really care. All we wanted now was some sleep.

Within about five minutes of boarding the BK bus we were at their Ahmedabad Center which looked, even in the pitch black of the Indian night, gleaming and imposing and rather ornate in the Eastern style. It is a large new center, built specially to accommodate the ever-growing hordes of people who now jet in from all over the world to make their pilgrimage to Mount Abu.

Mount Abu is a good five hours' drive from Ahmedabad and, although there has been talk for many years of constructing an airport on the mount, at the time of our visit this had not even begun to happen.

On sleepwalking out of the BK bus, we were assigned temporary rooms at the Ahmedabad Center in order to freshen up before making the onward journey by hired coach. We were requested to be outside the front door and ready, with our luggage, by eight sharp, so as it turned out there would be little chance of much sleep that night, as by the time we got out of the coach and reunited ourselves with our luggage (amazingly, every piece was on board) it was 5:00 a.m. already.

The Ahmedabad Center, staffed by young Indian women wearing white saris, bustles twenty-four hours a day with visitors from all over the world. Phones, faxes, e-mails, mobiles are kept constantly busy as sisters arrange flights, passports, visas, tickets and argue forcibly with Indian officials to make the impossible happen.

There were four of us altogether in our "freshen up" room: myself, two delegates from America, and Maureen, the wife of David the dentist and herself a dedicated Brahma Kumari. Maureen, a small, dark Liverpudlian, who is often mistaken for an Indian, was on her twenty-second trip to India, so it was all old hat to her. She unwound her white sari to have a (cold) shower in the bathroom, while the rest of us tried to put our heads down for an hour or two's nap before resuming our journey. Sleep though, was impossible, tired as we were: For one thing, the Ahmedabad Center was extremely noisy with bells and phones and loudspeakers constantly going (the BKs worship silence and after only a few minutes' experience of the non-stop cacophony of India, one can appreciate why), and for another, we were actually too exhausted to sleep. None of us could wind down enough.

So it was without great effort that we assembled on the steps of the center after breakfast, at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. By now, not only was it broad daylight, but all of Ahmedabad had woken up, and were letting us know it. Slim, brightly dressed women with bare midriffs swayed along with their red cotton skirts brushing the ground as they herded tiny donkeys, weighed down with panniers of sand, on to a building site. There they emptied the sackcloth panniers as the donkeys waited patiently to be taken to collect the next load―the construction industry in India! At the same time, cows, buffaloes, pigs, sheep, dogs wandered by themselves down the unmade-up road as cars, lorries and scooters, all madly hooting, swerved to avoid them.

It was a picturesque-enough scene, and those with enough energy or presence of mind to preserve it forever got out their cameras and camcorders and began snapping the local life being played out before them. It was all very filmic, but where, we dimly wondered, were our coaches? Aha, at ten past eight, on time for India, they trundled up. Good. Oh, no, spoke too soon. True, three smallish coaches―full-size ones can't negotiate the narrow and bendy track that winds perilously up to Mount Abu―turned into the road. But there they stayed, down at the bottom. We picked up our luggage to meet the coaches but the BK sisters supervising the event motioned us to put our cases down. Something was up. Something was wrong. A couple of sisters went up to the drivers of the coaches, and heated discussions, accompanied by wild arm and hand gestures and much head-nodding, ensued.

But no progress appeared to be made. The coach drivers got into some kind of furious argument with each other as we zonked-out travellers stood there continuing to take in the slow-moving, good-humored peasant life around us.

At last, at 10:00 a.m., only two hours after our scheduled departure time, the drivers' argument seemed to be settled and we thankfully clambered into the coaches. BK sisters and brothers brought on board bottles of mineral water, fruit and food for the journey. Our advance literature had warned us not to be tempted by any roadside food vendors, however delicious the food looked and smelled, "for your own good."

At ten past ten, having hooted the various animals and vehicles on the side street out of the way and made it out on to the main road, the coaches stopped again and the drivers got out for another argument. Then, after that was settled, each coach had to stop a few yards down the road to fill up with petrol, prompting the logical question from one of our number: "Why couldn't they have filled up before setting off, when the petrol station was only a few yards from the center?"

As with so many apparently logical questions, in India there was no easy answer to that, so the traveller sighed, shut his eyes and tried to go to sleep. But however tired, the constant honking of traffic―all vehicles in India sound their horns all the time―the bumps in the road, the lack of leg room in the coaches and general discomfort of the seats made any kind of sleep impossible. For most of us, that is. I glanced over at Maureen, the British-born BK, to find her deeply, blissfully, enviously, asleep. As a seasoned traveller in India, she could, it appeared, take it all perfectly in her stride.

A number of toilet stops were scheduled along the way, and these were an experience in themselves. The toilets, attached to hotels or restaurants, were not only filthy, but of the squatting type. Because of the difficulty in using them and the squeals of disgust, each fifteen-minute toilet stop took well over an hour, adding horribly to the length of the journey. Then the ascent of Mount Abu was not for the faint-hearted: hairpin bends, sheer drops on either side, lorries and coaches careering past us all made us wonder what on earth we had let ourselves in for. Throughout the journey we were ashen from fatigue and fear.

We were supposed to be at our destination by lunchtime. But because of the many delays, it was actually after 5:00 p.m. when the coaches eventually turned into the wide gates of Gyan Sarovar, or Academy for a Better World, our destination. By this stage we were beyond tiredness, beyond sleep, beyond even speaking. But we were not too exhausted to notice the utter, utter contrast between the chaos, dirt and disorganization of the India we had experienced so far, and this place.

It helped of course that the sun was still shining brightly in a cloudless sky, in complete contrast to the dreary, cold November we had left behind in London, and that the weather was warm. But Gyan Sarovar, the newest and in some ways most impressive of all Brahma Kumaris enterprises, was much like reaching a fairy-tale castle, a Garden of Eden, after untold horrors and privations on the way. On each side of the wide driveway was a landscaped garden bursting with trees, bushes, shrubs, flowers and potted plants in thousands of separate containers. The aspect was so pleasing, so welcoming, so well-designed, it looked as though some feng shui expert had been at work, as throughout most of India even large important buildings have a cluttered, higgledy-piggledy air.

But here, subtly lit fountains played in the middle of sparkling ornamental lakes. There were huge, life-size elephants, camels and kangaroos in topiary, rising out of the ground on firm big feet. The buildings themselves were modern, white and shining, built right into the rock. And it was all clean, so clean, with not even a blade of grass or leaf out of place. It was so, so―well, unIndian.

The inhabitants were all clean and shining too, the sisters dressed in white saris and the brothers in white kurta pajamas. Most looked Indian, but one or two―including my ex-husband who was wearing a large badge which said Usher―were Western.

Could this really be India, we marvelled to each other, agreeing that the complex looked more like a prosperous little university campus in Florida than anything we had either seen so far, or imagined, in India. Gyan Sarovar―the term means Lake of Knowledge―is modern, efficient, built to a streamlined, logical plan, and it is state of the art, too, as it pioneered the use of solar panels in India for heating and electricity.

But although our initial impression of Gyan Sarovar was of a pastoral paradise, such as poets have described, with its fountains, thousands of trees, vines, flowers and rolling lawns and warm spring-like weather, this particular terrestrial heaven, as we were soon to learn, is a busy place, organizing conferences, seminars and tutorials all year round, for both Indians and foreigners.

Our group checked in, were assigned rooms and handed information packs in pale-blue plastic folders. Then we made our way to Harmony House, which was the main accommodation block, and discovered that the introductory session of the conference was to begin in only a few minutes, at six o'clock. So no sleep for a few more hours, we sighed.

Harmony House, though, was another pleasant discovery. At the end of a gentle slope, it has been especially designed to meet the needs of sophisticated, critical Westerners. As such, it is somewhere between a retreat and a modern university hall of residence. Most of the rooms are twin-bedded and all have shower rooms with Western flush toilets and basins. The rooms are simply furnished, with cheap fabrics and fittings―the university does not believe in unnecessary frills and fripperies―but are adequate and comfortable. By now completely on automatic pilot, I showered (the water was blissfully hot, thank goodness), changed from my dark travel clothes into more suitable white trousers and sweater, and made my way to the main auditorium, noticing a big sign outside the accommodation block informing guests they were to be fully dressed at all times when venturing out of their rooms, and that strict celibacy was to be observed. Perhaps not so much like a college hall of residence then after all!

The conference I had come to attend was called Peace of Mind―the Mount Abu Experience, and had been organized by the Australian branch of the BK for non-Indians.

Harmony Hall, the auditorium, seats 1,500, and has simultaneous translation facilities for about twenty different languages. These were needed immediately, as the 250 or so delegates at this conference came from around forty-five countries including the United Arab Emirates, Latvia, Vietnam, Japan, Brazil, China and Malaysia. At a quick glance, there seemed to be about twice as many women as men and the entire Japanese contingent, consisting of the tiniest grown-ups I have ever seen, was female.

The program started with a song, and then there was an introductory talk by Charlie Hogg, an amiable Aussie who had become a BK twenty-three years previously, when a wandering hippie and seeker. Now he is a middle-aged man running a thriving and innovative BK center in Australia. This was followed by a talk in English from Nirwair Singh, an urbane and stylish man from a Sikh background who has been a BK living at Mount Abu since 1963.

The final part of the program before dinner was a short talk in Hindi by Dadi Prakashmani, the worldwide administrative head of the organization. Dadi (the term means elder sister) joined the institution in the mid-1930s as a teenager, and has never known any other life. Her talk centered on the great need for peace in the world today, and ended with the thought that if a person has happiness, then they have everything. Without happiness, life has no meaning, and nothing else makes up for it.

After all the talks finished, we were invited to go up to Dadi and receive our gifts, which included a large woollen shawl, still in its polythene wrapping. These shawls were to become invaluable garments, we learned, in the week that lay ahead. It was cold in the early mornings and evenings, and shawls were the ideal wraparound warmers for this climate.

We paraded out of the auditorium and were shepherded into the vast self-service dining hall for dinner. The tables were large and square, each seating about eight people. The food was Indian vegetarian, although as a concession to the Westerners present there were mountains of chips (fries) and also bread and butter. There was water, tea or coffee to drink. No alcohol is allowed at this or any other BK center.

After dinner on this first night there were no more programs, so, at last, we could all go thankfully to bed. I was grateful that I had been assigned a room to myself―most people had to share―and it was not long before I fell into a profound and lengthy sleep. I even slept through the loudspeakers which awoke the faithful for four a.m. meditation the following morning.

The rest of the week followed a busy and productive schedule. There were talks, seminars, dances, dramas, visits to places of interest nearby, meditation sessions, question-and-answer sessions, group sessions, shopping trips and opportunities to share experiences. The Spiritual University, which has been in Mount Abu since the early 1950s, now has five separate complexes on the mountain, each impressive in its own way.

At its heart is Madhuban, the original site which is about half an hour's drive away from Gyan Sarovar...

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Book Description HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd, Australia, 2002. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. In 1936, a 60-year-old businessman in India had visions of a new world order of peace, love and truth. Such was the strength of his message that he drew a gathering of several hundred people, most of whom were women. Just over sixty years later, this obscure group, the Brahma Kumaris (BK) has become a highly respected worldwide movement with over 5,000 centers in 102 countries. The organization runs high-level conferences, a state-of-the-art hospital, retreat centers and courses for managers, healthcare workers, corrections officers, teachers and other professionals. It has also gained consultative status at the United Nations and is renowned for practical yet imaginative global campaigns such as the Million Minutes of Peace Appeal. This fascinating book recounts the early beginnings of the Brahma Kumaris in the Sind region of India and the persecution they faced as their religious and social message went against mainstream Hindu thought. Peace and Purity tracks the expansion of the group worldwide through the sixties, seventies and eighties when the group had become so important that it often focused on achieving peace on a political rather than spiritual level. Author Liz Hodgkinson describes how this unique organization headed by women has gradually attracted many thousands of people from all backgrounds to get involved in its teachings. The book concludes with several BK scholars answering questions of faith. Seller Inventory # AAC9781558749627

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