Aliens in the Parish

They stand at the fence, gazing at the house and its occupants. "We are
treated as an exhibit", Halina says. "Sometimes they get confused and
go away. Sometimes they act like they have other reasons to stand
there."
After Sunday mass, people from the parish go on ‘excursions’, as Halina
Paradela, the founder and spiritual leader of the Polish Brahma Kumaris
community, describes it. Other students call them ‘pilgrimages’:
Catholics coming to see what the sekta looks like. Brahma Kumaris’
tactic to deal with this organized ‘gazing’ is to start conversations,
to go out and talk to the people.

The Brahma Kumaris Meditation Centre is situated next to a Catholic
Church in Rakowiec, Warsaw – a district just a couple of minutes’ bus
ride from the centre. The previous owner of the villa, built in the
thirties, had no money for a major renovation and decided to give the
house to Brahma Kumaris. They rebuilt the house and established a
meditation centre where students can practice Raja Yoga, a technique of
self-development.

This is when the conflict started. Now, the priest wants to take over
the house. Apparently, he cannot tolerate a spiritual community with a
strange religious tradition in the same neighbourhood as his church. He
is starting an anti-cult campaign. During long sermons, he repeats his
assertion that a dangerous sekta is living in the neighbourhood. In his
opinion, Brahma Kumaris is a threat to children, and parents should
take action to protect them. He claims that the sekta took over the
house illegally and that they had no permission to rebuild the house.
He collects more than seven hundred signatures against the sekta.

The "sekta" Brahma Kumaris was founded in 1939 by Dada Lekhraj. He
established the spiritual university after having a series of powerful
visions. In them he was given the mission to support women, so he
nominated 12 young girls to administrative positions. Decades later the
feminist ideology of Brahma Kumaris also expanded to the West. At the
beginning of the eighties, the Brahma Kumaris community was founded in
Poland. Its story so far has been very ambivalent: At one point, two
agents from the secret services, who were actually employed to spy on
the Brahma Kumaris, converted and emigrated to India to be closer to
the main meditation centre.

Religious minorities are often accused of drug use, kidnapping and
participation in international secret conspiracies and mental
manipulation. The mass media and anti-cult organisations in Poland
allow no exceptions.

So the Brahma Kumaris community became a target. People from the parish
and journalists became curious about the house. Journalists working for
tabloid press started to write articles about the dangerous sekta and
the ‘illegal building’. They accused Brahma Kumaris of kidnapping a
‘little girl’. Her mother asked journalists to help her to get her
daughter back from the sekta. They prepared a TV program. They did not
say that this ‘little girl’ is a 28-year old woman who decided for
herself to practice Raja Yoga.

In his sermons, the priest stresses that the sekta works in
co-operation with the Devil. He calls the Brahma Kumaris community a
Satanist sekta. When the community tries to settle the conflict he
refuses to talk to them. Some people from the neighbourhood say that
the main reason for the priest’s anger is the fact that he wants to
take over the house. They say that in the past he took over other
houses illegally himself, destroyed them and built a huge church in
their place.

The Brahma Kumaris community doesn’t want conflict; they want dialogue.
They talk to people, explain, reduce prejudice. This way the atmosphere
in Rakowiec improves, but it’s still not good. Once a man came and said
to Halina: "I had to have a drink before coming here. Tell me, who are
you really?" 

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