When you ask a BK if the Brahma Kumaris is a religion, the answer is usually "No". Most BKs identify with it as a spiritual path. The conceptual divide between religion and spirituality is a nebulous one, and the two terms have also taken on different meanings over time.
Consider the word dharma which, commonly translated as 'religion' actually more accurately means the way in which one exists in the world. However, religion in the English vernacular is identified with the ways in which existential meaning and faith in the transcendent become organised and structured as a system of meaningful endeavour in people's lives. In recent years, an increasing number of people have started identifying as 'spiritual' rather than religious, as religions have become political tools and instruments of extreme and sometimes violent ideologies.
The conventional distinction is that religions are social institutions that involve relations of power, systems of knowledge in the form of doctrines and theologies, and ritual behaviours demonstrated through institutional harbors such as churches, temples and mosques. By contrast, spirituality refers to private, internal processes that are negotiated and narrated by the self, sometimes within or through religion, sometimes despite religion or in its absence.
While religions traditionally require conformity from their believers, spirituality frequently manifests in different forms of experience and expression; although it tends to unfold in a religious context, it embraces diversity. In many cases the basic tenets of a given religion provide meaning to life, as well as the strength to cope with the various experiences of suffering that arise. How much of this relates to an individual’s spiritual strength in the context of a religious framework remains a question.
For BKs, it is often cited as important that the ethereal, the internal and invisible become immediate, obvious, tangible and useful. That it become a lived experience and not just an ideal to aspire to.
The Brahma Kumaris offers those within its community prescribed ways to experience the spiritual world in the midst of their daily lives. There are four disciplines that frame Brahma Kumaris spiritual practices: gyān (knowledge), yoga (meditation), dharnā (virtuous
inculcation) and seva (service).
- Knowledge is the understanding of fundamental spiritual truths as understood by BKs,
- Meditation is the means by which BKs reflect on those truths and enable their manifestation in different states of consciousness.
- Virtuous Inculcation is the act of demonstrating, in one’s life, peace, power and virtues as obtained through knowledge and meditation.
- Service brings together the first three in a way that can bring peace, power and happiness to others.
These four 'disciplines' offer BKs balance between a life of contemplation and a life of self‐directed action. At the same time, BKs as individuals enjoy considerable autonomy, and for this reason, refer to themselves as spiritual rather than religious. Even so, the Brahma Kumaris as a movement is tightly organized and rule bound, and certainly fits with any definition of a religion, with its scriptures, rituals and criteria for membership.
(Portions of the blog above were drawn from Custodians of Purity)