On April 19, a lecture organized by the meditation group Brahma Kumaris (BK) was held on the second floor of Bauer Hall. The lecture, entitled "From the Inside Out - A Silent Revolution,” was conducted by Australian BK member Lee James and translated into Korean by fellow BK member Professor Ryu Jeong-hee from the Graduate School of Interpretation and Translation, who also organized and promoted the event. Mr. James was visiting Korea on a tourist visa when he gave the lecture.
In the email invitation sent to Korean professors, Mr. James was described as an expert counselor, and in the lecture itself, Mr. James described himself as a successful and experienced counselor. Reviews and advertisements for previous lectures by Lee James describe him as a management trainer, a psychologist, a world renowned youth counselor, and one of 8 psychologists chosen by the UN to counsel 9/11 victims. Despite those claims, Mr. James has no formal counseling qualifications, is not a member of any professional counseling bodies, and is not a psychologist.
Mr. James’ CV describes his one man show The Quiet Guy as being internationally acclaimed, but the Gazette couldn't find any information about it on the Internet to support that “internationally acclaimed” description. Mr. James’ CV also stated that during the 1980s he was at the “forefront of Australian drama,” but no mention was made of any productions he worked on, and no Australians the Gazette spoke to had heard of him.
Other claims made on Mr. James’ CV and comments made by him during the lecture that could not be independently verified include post-trauma work with 9/11 survivors at Ground Zero in New York, hostage negotiations in Aceh Indonesia, counseling former Aum Shinrikyo cult members, helping victims of the 2003 Iranian earthquake, and solving a problem for American scientists who were confused about experiment results obtained from an underground atom accelerator in Virginia.
In answering some initial questions from the Gazette, Mr. James said, “My counseling work has never been professional, but I have been paid for it in Japan teaching therapeutic communication to doctors, nurses, and med students.” Mr. James also said that the CV that was distributed to Keimyung staff was an old one and he hadn't realized it had been included with the invitation email. Mr. James did admit to exaggerating his resume in the past and promised to take steps to ensure CVs sent to promote his lectures in the future are more open and honest. He has, however, so far not responded to further questions.
Brahma Kumaris describes itself on its websites as, “an organization that acknowledges the intrinsic goodness of all people, and teaches a practical method of meditation that helps individuals understand their inner strengths and values.” They also describe themselves as “a well known spiritual value based educational institution which has gained global acceptance and unique international recognition.” Mr. James considers BK a spiritual organization. Critics and former members describe it as a totalitarian cult that demands absolute obedience from its members.
BK brochures and cards bearing two BK websites, www.bkkorea.org and www.bkwsu.org, as well as contact information were distributed to attendees before and after the lecture. Despite that promotion of BK, at no time was any information about BK provided during the lecture and there was no question and answer session following the lecture. Although attendees new to BK left the lecture having received no information about the group, BK officials left the lecture with the contact information of most attendees having requested that information from those entering the lecture hall.
According to another official BK website, www.brahmakumaris.com, the group was founded in India in 1936 after its founder, Dada Lekhraj (1876 – 1969), known to followers as Brahma Baba or Baba, was possessed by the Hindu god Shiva. BK claims that Shiva entered his body via a red ball of light and gave him secret revelations concerning the imminent end of the world. One witness is quoted as saying, “The eyes of Dada had become completely red, as if a red light was glowing inside him. His whole face had become red, and even the room was now illumined, with reddish, otherworldly glow.” On the Internet there are promotional videos made by BK that depict Shiva as a ball of light entering and then speaking through Dada.
That site also describes revelations given to Dada by God of a post-apocalyptic heavenly world that will come into existence after the destruction of this world. “Based on our real life experiences we clearly know that it was God, the Supreme Soul, Shiva, Himself, had entered into his body. It was God who had revealed the truth about the coming destruction, and of the establishment of the heavenly world which would then follow.” The references to Shiva and the end of the world heralding a new heavenly world are chillingly similar to the teachings of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, whose leader Shoko Asahara now awaits execution in a Tokyo prison for ordering the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks.
While the advertised subject of the lecture was meditation, Mr. James echoed BK doomsday prophecies by sharing his belief that the world will undergo a cataclysmic change between 2008 and 2012. He was vague about what this change entailed and about how he knew it was coming, but to support his claim he referred to a Mayan prophecy which predicts the world will end on December 21, 2012.
Casting doubt on Mr. James’ ability to predict the future are allegations that BK has made numerous such prophecies in the past that have all failed to eventuate. The years 1950, 1976, and 2000, amongst others, were reportedly touted as years in which the world would end. Former member Adam Shudradas told the Gazette that BK uses the fear of an impending doomsday to cement allegiance and exploit followers. Ian Haworth, an expert on cultic groups who operates the London based Cult Information Center, said he was aware of BK and he had received complaints and letters of concern about its activities in the UK.
Also disturbing are allegations of restrictions placed on deeper members. Those restrictions include no friends outside the group; no movies, TV shows, novels, or magazines; no romance or any kind of sexual activity, even in marriage; and a blind unconditional acceptance that the group’s teachings represent the sole word of God. Another criticism of concern that has been directed against BK is that they breakup families by encouraging members to end relationships with family members who have not joined the group. Those allegations, as well as more critical information, can be found at www.brahmakumaris.info.
The official Australian BK website, www.brahmakumaris.com.au, displays speeches by current leader Dadi Janki that call for complete obedience and the abandonment of reason. In her speech of October 14, 2006, she said, “If your intellect begins to voice doubt, just give it a slap!” The content of those speeches and others lends credence to the allegations leveled at BK.
Dadi Janki, now in her nineties, has been a member of BK from the beginning. Her current official title is Joint Administrative Head of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. According to the BK website, www.companionofgod.com, and the Korean BK site promoted at the lecture, Dadi Janki was declared by scientists from the University of Texas’ Medical and Science Research Institute in 1978 as having the most stable mind in the world.
The Gazette contacted an archivist at the University of Texas Archives who replied, “I have searched the likely places and found no mention of the experiments performed on Dadi Janki in 1978. Indeed, I didn't even find any University of Texas organization called the Medical and Science Research Institute." Despite evidence that the institute that ran those experiments never existed, Dadi Janki recently described to the Indian news site www.tribuneindia.com the experiments carried out on her and repeated the claim that University of Texas scientists declared her mind the most stable in the world.
While Mr. James acknowledged that BK had come under severe criticism, he added that BK was making changes as a result. Critics of the group, however, remain skeptical that any changes of worth have taken place. The use of the lecture to promote BK without giving any information about BK and especially the messianic claims of its leader suggests that they still have a long way to go until they become an open and transparent group worthy of trust. It is worth noting that one of the criticisms leveled at BK on the Internet is that they use non-religious introductory courses in “positive thinking” to recruit new members and only introduce them to Baba once membership has been cemented. That is a description that would seem to apply to Mr. James’ “meditation” lecture.
Of particular concern to Keimyung as a Christian university are the BK teachings that oppose Christian teachings. Mr. Shudradas said that central to BK beliefs is the idea that their dead founder and the God Shiva communicate with the current BK leadership by way of channeling. That is confirmed by Dadi Janki's speeches in which she states she communicates with Baba daily and relays his messages. Mr. Shudradas added that BK also teaches that Christianity does not offer the path to salvation; in fact no religion does, except BK. Those claims are consistent with another recent Dadi Janki speech, “Only we know the secrets of God. God, only we know who You are, where You live and what Your secrets are.”
Mr. Shudradas stated that the official, but guarded BK view of Jesus Christ is that he had two souls, one of which was a BK one. Furthermore, all the major religions were similarly founded by twin-souled prophets. Despite being founded in 1936, BK teaches that their religion is the precursor to all of the world’s religions. When the end of the world does occur, BK teaches that its members will rule the new heavenly world as gods and goddesses. That is also consistent with material found on official BK websites.
The Gazette hoped to interview Professor Ryu to discuss the issues raised in this article, but after initially agreeing to be interviewed she changed her mind and said, "It is not worth my time to discuss this."
While the rights of individuals to choose and practice their own religion should be upheld, that respect should not be extended to groups that use deceptive and manipulative recruiting tactics. Unfortunately, there are many such groups out there that recruit on university campuses. Keimyung University needs to be much more vigilant in future and greater scrutinize groups seeking to lecture and recruit on campus.