This morning I was reading a book by David Hulme, the editor of the journal 'Vision', called 'Apostles: First Followers and Their Faith (Vision Media Publishing, 2010)'. The following is an excerpt from the foreword of the book, that made me reflect on some discussions that are currently taking place within the Brahma Kumaris about changes within the organization. Hulmes comments are in italics. My comments follow.
By the first part of the second century, (the early New Testament Church that had grown so quickly in numbers and spiritual strength in the first century), had all but disappeared in the historical record… it was as if a great curtain came down on the Church… When the curtain began to rise again 20 years later, the church that emerged was very different from the body the apostles had nurtured.
As with all religious movements, there is a clear ideal and core body of knowledge established among the founder and first generation. As time goes by, recollections of these often take the form of stories that tell of great virtue and strength against remarkable adversity and hardship. The Brahma Kumaris is no different, no less than the Church, and the story of origin of this curious organization, is compelling.
Since the passing of Dadi Prakashmani (1922-2007) who was widely considered an exemplar who lead the organization through decades of global expansion with grace, love, courage and humility, things have changed. The change has been acknowledged at all levels of the organization, and various attempts have been made to manage it. The challenge faced by everyone within the organization to some degree is to welcome the expansion while returning to the vision and ideals of practice, taught by the founder.
An attempt at this was Global Functioning. In 2007, the same year that Dadi Prakashmani passed, Global Functioning was established as an initiative to "review(ing) the needs of the Brahma Kumaris worldwide to assure that, with the expansion of the family and the growing complexity in these times, we have the right kinds of guidance available to BK center coordinators, main instruments (living at or supporting the centers,) and regular students... We want to assure that we have credible processes in place for applying our principles in the accurate running of the global organization in alignment with the laws and human rights conventions of the 21st century world and with our own Divine Constitution and other foundation documents. We are considering ways in which our guiding principles need to be updated to meet the demands of these changing times and of the expanded family." (Workbook for Moving Our Global Functioning Forward, 2008)
For the last seven years, there have been more committees, boards, groups, teams and levels of administration added than in the entire 75 years before that. Informal conversations among many indicate there is a concern at the increasing departure within the organization from the feeling of belonging, commitment, vision, love and practice of the ‘early days’. This ‘problem’ is not unique of course to the Brahma Kumaris. I return to David Hulme who speaks of the writings within the Christian Church, and whose reflections are relevant to the Brahma Kumaris:
Much of what has been written has come from authors who have filtered their conclusions through the traditions and teachings of a church farther and farther removed from the earliest believers… Few have labored to fully understand the teachings and practice of the first followers in their first-century cultural setting and their deep connection to the Hebrew Scriptures.
In a similar vein, there seems to be an attempt to modernize the Brahma Kumaris and to adapt and adjust to suit the needs of the world; To become legitimate, more new age, and more eclectically spiritual than spiritually revolutionary. The earliest Brahma Kumaris teachings were steeped in Hindu bhakti culture and broadly contextualized within understandings of the Shrimad Bhagawad Gita. The principles and lifestyle were influenced and effected by Hindu/ Muslim/ Sikh cultures who were each geographically and ideologically significant to the community. Yet, as with all religions, the path is held as an ideal of purity, as beyond influence, as above culture, as greater than tradition.
I believe a time has where we need to explore history and conduct research from within the organization, in a way that is self-inquiring rather that self-affirming, in a way that is self-explorative rather than self-congratulatory. This would be an exceptional act of humility and grace.
Perhaps it is time to offer a fresh perspective on a generation who really did provide timeless teachings. A perspective that acknowledges the heart of the teachings, while understanding that the teachings are profoundly influenced by tradition and exceedingly shaped by culture. A perspective that has the courage to look deeply within.