The founder of the Brahma Kumaris, Brahma Baba, envisioned a time when people from all over the world would come to Mt Abu to learn about spirituality and experience inner peace. That was in the early 50’s, just after the Brahma Kumaris community moved there from Karachi, following the partition of India and Pakistan. In 1976, I was part of a small group from the UK, Australia and Germany visiting Mt Abu for the first time. We were welcomed with love and wonderful Indian hospitality by the elder sisters (the leadership is in the hands of women) and the rest of the community there. After that first trip, I decided that I wanted to help others gain the spiritual treasures that were opened up to me on that journey.
I started helping at the first BK centre in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1978, and, in 1982, moved to the London centre. By then the London centre was assuming the role of international co-ordinating office, as work began to spread around the world – as well as the UK. Those first two or three years in London I did not find easy. I was thrown in at the deep end of administration and events organisation – without any experience. I think the only office training I had had was learning touch typing one summer in my dad’s office, when I was 15 and looking for something to do! Luckily, I could learn fast and gradually gained confidence in a range of tasks, such as PR and media, arranging travel, organising and running meetings and events. This made me rely on my spiritual resources and stop trying to be the best at everything, which was a habit of mine. It was good to be able to make mistakes, learn from them and move on.
From meeting in small houses and community centres for our morning class (each day we gather at 6.15am to meditate together and share some of the teachings given by the founder), we were able to build our own centre in 1991, and added a further building in 2003. Global Co-operation House was a place where we could hold daily courses and activities for the public, as well as major events (the hall seats 500) and from where we could reach out into the community.
Today, about 300 meet there every morning from a wide variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. There is a varied menu of courses: Raja Yoga meditation, stress management, positive thinking, anger management and self-esteem. Hundreds of speakers (BKs and others) share their views and experiences in talks, seminars and workshops on subjects ranging from leadership values to vegetarianism. Every December they put on a pantomime for the local community and local schools, when, over 14 performances, some 7,000 people visit the house.
I have enjoyed working with a variety of groups, who wanted meditation and spiritual skills training brought into prisons, to social workers, healthcare workers, educators, those recovering from substance abuse, youth trainers and young people, women’s and men’s groups and many others.
One of the most innovative programmes has been Spirituality and Men, now running for nearly 10 years. In a women-led organisation, men got together to start this group to explore aspects of personal transformation.
The 1993 opening of the Global Retreat Centre in Nuneham Courtenay, just south of Oxford, allowed us to start holding residential retreats in a tranquil and enabling atmosphere. These help individuals clarify their vision and purpose, experience their inner being and their relationship with God. People find out about each other, too. At one seminar, which brought together staff from all levels of the prison service, a prison auxiliary expressed how touched he was to find out that prison governors also had feelings of humanity! People begin to see that there is another way of doing things, of stepping out of the prevailing culture of competition and consumerism and to bringing spiritual values such as compassion, respect and love into their lives. There we sometimes host dialogues for leaders and for people of different faiths. Each summer, the children of BK families and youth groups spend five days having fun there, while learning to be better human beings.
People ask whether we are a cult trying to convince gullible minds. I think that the best way to answer this question is an invitation to come and experience it for yourself! People also question if we have any motive behind offering everything for free. Our position is: can you charge for peace of mind, which is everyone’s right anyway? If people benefit from something, they will want to give. We all work as volunteers – as a full-time volunteer my needs are met, but I do not receive wages.
Being involved in all of these activities has given me a tremendous amount of joy, but, above all, I am filled with gratitude that I have been able to use my life to help others in whatever small way I could. If people come to me feeling very unhappy and I am able to help them figure out a way forward, so that they go away smiling, that’s the best and most important part of what I do. It’s where I see God’s magic at work.
I now visit Mt Abu frequently. I love to be in the spiritual atmosphere, which somehow takes you into its arms and rocks you. You forget whatever you have left behind. Everything assumes a sacredness there, whether the cooking and offering of food to God, the early mornings (we meditate at 4am) or the distinctly Indian way of telling you that everything is always OK in the bigger scheme of things because God is in charge. On a recent visit, I was meditating with a group of 25,000 people – and that included several thousand from 96 countries!
I’ll write more about the meditation experience in tomorrow’s blog.