The roots of Indian culture are sown deep into spiritualism. And yogis for centuries have emphasised the importance of absolute bliss that comes with spiritual practice. While one may think being spiritual is related to one's personal identity, the recently concluded three-day conference at Shantivan in Abu Road highlighted the idea of encouraging peace and spiritual practice in every sphere of life for global peace. Titled Empowered Media For Global Peace and Harmony the conference was organised by Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya (PBKIVV).
Established in 1936 by Lekhraj Khubchand Kirpalani in Karachi of undivided India, the Shantivan ashram is located at the foothills of Mount Abu in an area of 50 acre land. With its presence in 180 countries with over 8,000 branches, the institution is revered for its work toward empowering women and teaching spiritual practices.
We met PBKIVV's Rajyogi Brahma Kumar Nikunj at his residence in Shantivan post the conference. He is famous among the Brahma Kumaris for his simplicity and humility with practical knowledge of diverse subjects. Popularly known as Nikunj Bhai, the young spiritual leader spoke to Free Press Journal about the institution's vision of empowering women across the country, navigating spirituality in daily lives, and how the PBKIVV tries to bridge the gap between the East and the West through meditative practices. Excerpts:
In a nutshell, what does PBKIVV stand for and how has it evolved since its formation in 1936?
The name of this organisation itself suggests that it is a women-centric and women-managed organisation. By far, I think this is the only organisation which is completely managed and run by women on a larger scale. The vision of this institution was to empower women. We learned that the founder had one thought in mind that women can do much more and women can contribute to creating a new world in a much better way than men can do. The organisation was called Om Mandali until India's partition. But when they came to Mount Abu, Rajasthan, it was named as Prajapita Brahmakumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya.
To sum it up, the organisation works towards women's empowerment. Every organisation evolves and so do we. We are recognised by the United Nations. We are defined under 12 values – living values. Based on those values we have been running our value programs across the globe. Gradually we developed different wings like media, women, children, security services, business, travel and transport, and shipping wing among others. These wings cater to different needs of the institution.
Being a women-led institution, What were the initial challenges to building a strength of followers, especially convincing men to work under the leadership of women?
None actually! The founder of this organisation was a very learned person. He took a back seat and put women at the forefront from the very start. So anyone coming to the organisation was to follow the women who were leading. Moreover, women in Brahma Kumaris have a lot of compassion and wisdom to offer and none of the men I know ever felt uncomfortable working under their leadership.
When we talk about women's empowerment, one of the prominent aspects that gives women strength is financial independence. How does the institution encourage that?
Before financial independence comes spiritual wisdom. We try to give them the values of self-respect and teach them to respect themselves. Across the globe, we see women being exploited and the biggest reason for it is that women think of themselves too less and society has made them believe that. The majority of women think they are only there to take care of the kitchen and male member has a say in everything. From the beginning, girls are being put in the back seat. The secondary treatment is the issue but women get conditioned like that by parents and family members. We teach women to know that they too have rites. I think this is the empowerment we give them so that they can choose what they want without any pressure and fear.
Brahma Kumari's ashram in Mount Abu |
Are there any employment opportunities for female residents at the ashram?
We don't take any donations and there's no external source of income to the institution. So we can't give any employment to anyone. We are not into any commercial activities. We are a spiritual organisation imparting education. If we go to that track, we will lose our mission. When there's money, our institution is not there. We don't take money or give money. We have 21 lakh people associated with this organisation, if each one of them contributes one rupee each day, we have enough money to take care of the entire family so we don't need external funds for the organisation. We are teachers and we can only give education.
The 21st-century generation seldom believes in spiritual institutions or any Guru for that matter. Does Brahma Kumaris have any program to build that trust for the institution among GenZ?
We don't go out searching for people. For us surviving is not an issue because we are not running a business. It's been many years, people come on their own. I feel a lot of youngsters come here because they feel quite familiar with the sisters. They get motherly feelings from them. GenZ likes listening to motivational talks online and nothing beyond that. They are commitment-phobic and it's fine till the time they are learning values. Many youngsters come here during their trip to Mount Abu, participate in meditation classes and go back. We have a presence on social media but that's not to associate people but to be at par with what's happening at the global level. Every year, lakhs of foreigners visit this place so we have to be modernised. We have to provide them basic facilities including the internet and reach out to them through digital platforms.
If you talk about global presence, what do you think attracts people from abroad to Brahma Kumaris despite different cultures?
What attracts them is the selfless love, which they have never experienced. Their meaning of love is more physical but for us, it is about soul and complete devotion. People across the world want to know about India and Indian culture. They want to know what God and the soul are. That curiosity brings them here. They feel like coming home.
Does the institution promote Sanātana Dharma principles?
We believe in being the soul rather than the body. Our greeting line is Om Shanti, which means soul and peace. We believe this body is just a home for a soul, there's no religion per se for the soul. All these religions are related to the body and we consider humans to be not bodies but souls. India has the oldest civilization, but when it comes to religion we have diversity. The fabric of this country is such that it will stay harmonious. We say one needs to rise above the body and see the oneness. If we see that, we know that the only religion is humanity and peace. There's no difference in humans so where's the question of fighting?