Brahma Kumaris

Doctrines The teachings of the Brahma Kumaris are called Raj Yoga. They are derived from traditional Hindu yogic practices but have also been Westernized following the movement's growth in the West. The philosophy is more dualistic than most Hindu-based NRMs. The key mantra is: 'I am a soul, my body is a garment', and the aim is to realize one's essential nature as a soul, partly through the purification and sublimation of the body and its needs and desires. The main practice is simple meditation, morning and evening. There is a growing emphasis on social and environmental action, education and human rights. The movement is also moving into management training, offering courses on positive thinking, stress reduction and leadership, with an emphasis on the importance of spirituality in business. A key belief is that 'When we change, the world changes'.

History The founder of Raj Yoga was Dada Lekhraj (1877-1969), a diamond merchant now known as Brahma Baba, who claimed to receive visions of Shiva instructing him to found a new world order. The movement was unusual in being run by women from the beginning. The heads of the main centres and most of the teachers and administrators are still women. The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKWSU) as it is now known has spread throughout the world since the 1970s, as predicted by Brahma Baba, and is particularly successful in Britain, supported by the indigenous Indian community. It recently opened a retreat centre in a former stately home in Oxfordshire. In 1980 the organization became affiliated with the United Nations as a non-governmental organization, and has sponsored many peace initiatives, human rights and educational projects under its auspices. Only a small percentage of the membership work for the movement full-time, living in communal centres, but it has a large and influential grass-roots membership who donate time, money and other resources to it. It has many supporters among governments and the business community. It is less controversial than many other NRMs but has been criticized for its evangelical activity under the guise of social work, and for the damaging effects of celibacy upon family life.

Symbols Raj Yoga has dropped much of its original Hindu symbolism, but full-time members still wear white, either saris or Western-style clothing, symbolizing purity. Purity is the aim of the practice and ascetic regime, with a strong emphasis on celibacy which is essential for full-time male and female members, including married people; this is a departure from the Hindu prescription of celibacy for older men. The food comprises a simple, non-spicy Indian vegetarian diet. Images of Brahma and Shiva are central to the meditation practice. There is also devotion to Brahma Baba, although he is not formally regarded as a guru to be worshipped. There is a millennialist belief, based on Hindu cosmology, that the present world cycle will end in destruction to be followed by a golden age centred on New Delhi, but this belief is downplayed in the West.

Adherents The official literature of the Brahma Kumaris claims 250,000 regular students worldwide, though this may be an overestimate (Skultans 1993, 49). There is a preponderance of members in India and Britain.

Main Centre
 PO Box No 2, Mount Abu, Rajasthan 307501, India. International Centre 65 Pound Lane, London NW10 2HH, UK.