My first encounter with the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKs) was in Edinburgh during the long, hot summer of 1976. At 21, newly qualified as a speech therapist, not long married and enjoying a well-earned break, I did not exactly expect something profoundly life-changing to happen to me. I just wanted a holiday! But a lady in white (we wear white as a symbol of purity and simplicity) passed by and handed us an invitation to a ‘Raja Yoga exhibition’. The exhibition was of paintings describing the BK philosophy but I think the most interesting exhibits were the people we met there. The fact that they were certainly peaceful, yet so full of life, fascinated me and I thought, “I want something of what they have.”
Together with David, my husband, we stayed around for a few days to learn more. We had both been meditating for some time and wanted to deepen our experience. Raja Yoga meditation is really a contemplation or awareness of the original nature of the self as a soul and an experience of a loving relationship with God. God had been part of my life since childhood; the idea of God as a totally benevolent being and, more than anything else, being able to experience that divine love, was very attractive to me.
I think what was equally important was the absence of any frills, i.e. the sort of miracles or promise of material gain that can ‘prove’ the existence of a metaphysical or spiritual reality. The proof is simply up to me, what I am experiencing and how my life is changing for the better.
David and I spent the second week of our holiday at the BK centre in London. BK teachings had only come from India to the West two years before and so things were on a very small scale. The centre was two small damp rooms, a tiny kitchen and shared bathroom in the Kilburn area of North West London. Just a few months before we visited, the terraced house next door had been bought. Coming to the centre in London was also my first real encounter with Indian culture, although not entirely unfamiliar, as my parents were married in Calcutta and we were brought up (in Liverpool) with stories of India. Raja Yoga has something for everyone, regardless of background or culture, and today our centres reflect the local culture but at that time it did feel like a world apart.
Many things changed after that first week in London. David went back to work as a dentist and I started my first job as a speech therapist, but we also began meditating daily. We were already vegetarian but also stopped eating eggs, onions and garlic (they affect one’s ability to meditate), and we actually started some teaching of BK philosophy and meditation from our home in Leeds.
What was really amazing was making our first trip that December to the BK headquarters in Mt Abu, in North West India. In the Aravali range of mountains in the Rajasthan desert, Mt Abu is something of a Shangri-La. I will write more about India in tomorrow’s blog.
You can imagine that family, friends and work colleagues thought we’d both ‘lost it,’ and I must admit we were somewhat evangelistic at first. When you have found something that is so special to you, you cannot understand why everyone else does not feel the same way! As we gave up trying to integrate our ‘spiritual life’ and ‘worldly life’ and, instead, began to live our worldly life in a spiritual way, we – and the people around us – began to feel a lot better! We had found a spirituality that brought something special into everything that we do and greatly improved the quality of our life.
In a spiritual life you are tested – you meet yourself all the time – and you grow and learn and move forward. I have grown and I have seen the BK organisation grow in the last 31 years. From small beginnings in Kilburn and a presence in about six countries, the BK now has centres in 100 countries, a large international centre in London, a beautiful retreat centre in a stately home near Oxford, affiliation with the United Nations and so much more. I think, above all, I have watched, and been very much part of, the BKs’ integration into community life. We work with many organisations and professional groups and help those who are disadvantaged or marginalised, encouraging spiritual growth, a connection with God, values in everyday life, self esteem – indeed everything that can create a better life. The BKs have certainly helped me to create a wonderful life (and it’s not over yet!)
More about what the Brahma Kumaris have to offer everyone in tomorrow’s blog.