Sister Hansa and the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University
You can’t turn down a personal invitation from Sister Hansa, a peaceful woman in a white sari who leads Sacramento’s monastic order of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University.
I wasn’t sure what the invitation was for, but nevertheless, on the morning of August 16, I eagerly arrived at the Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Meditation Center, a nondescript house located on Sierra Boulevard. A smiling sari-clad woman greeted me and led me into a glowing white room, where a dozen or so attendees already sat in folding chairs facing a dais. A conference call was underway with BK administrative head Dadi Janki, all the way from Madhuban, the university’s world headquarters in India. Sister Hansa translated Dadi’s message, then passed the phone around for some personal greetings and repeated offerings of “om shanti” (peace).
Meanwhile, I stared at the portrait over the dais of Brahma Baba, the institution’s founder. In 1936, at the age of 60, Brahma Baba experienced a series of visions that, according to the Brahma Kumaris Web site, “gave him new insights into the innate qualities of human souls, revealed the mysterious entity of God and described the process of world transformation.” This process, as he saw it, begins with self-transformation. Envisioning a world of gender equality and spiritual partnership, he placed women at the head of the organization. Today, BK meditation centers exist in nearly 100 countries, offering courses and programs free of charge. The BKs are also heavily involved in humanitarian efforts, particularly through supporting the United Nations. At the core of their teachings, taught in raja yoga meditation, is the belief that each one of us is an eternal spirit or soul, capable of realizing our true selves and developing a personal relationship with God.
Once the call with Dadi Janki ended, we began a half-hour meditation, in which we sat in “soul consciousness.” Then Sister Hansa talked briefly about the reason we were gathered today, for the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan, which celebrates the loving bond between brothers and sisters. The highlight of Raksha Bandhan is the tying of holy bracelets called “Rakhis.” Sister Hansa told stories from the Hindu scriptures of the Rakhi tradition, emphasizing that at the core of spirituality is love and respect. She added that traditionally, after tying Rakhi, each person is given a sweet—in this case a pistachio-flavored candy and a fresh peach—to remind us of our own sweetness.
“Are you ready? Is your wrist ready? Is your mouth ready for sweet?” Sister Hansa asked, smiling playfully.
When my turn came, I sat in a chair facing Sister Hansa, looking directly into her half-closed eyes. Her gaze was impersonal and penetrating, and at the same time infinitely loving. I leaned forward for her to press a star-shaped silver bindi to my forehead. Next I offered her my right wrist, and without moving her eyes from mine, she slowly tied the gold threads of my Rakhi. After receiving my sweets, I picked up a card with a blessing on it and bowed my head for another woman to sprinkle me with glitter.
People were slipping out after receiving their Rakhis, so I took their cue and respectfully bowed out, bidding the greeter “om shanti” as I left. Filled with a sense of lightness and goodwill, I spent the rest of my day in unself-conscious ease—visiting friends, shopping at the Co-op, reading at McKinley Park—all while wearing my star bindi and Rakhi. The Brahma Kumaris reminded me that any mode of spirituality based on love, respect and connecting to ourselves is essentially reiterating the same idea: that these physical bodies are merely the expression of a far more creative and complicated consciousness, and the only place we need go to “find God” is within.