Meditation center adds spirituality to Western Addition

Brahma Kumaris has occupied a corner Victorian at Baker and Hayes streets since the 1980s. (Leslie Katz/S.F. Examiner)

Practitioners at a San Francisco meditation center marking more than 30 years in a Western Addition Victorian are inviting newcomers to try out their brand of spirituality.

“I would like to spread this knowledge so that everyone has access to peace and happiness,” says Vaishali Jogi, describing her participation in Brahma Kumaris, a nonprofit headquartered in Mount Abu, India.

Next week, the organization brings Sister Shivani, a BK teacher with a TV show in India called “Awakening” (whose motivational videos on YouTube are viewed by millions) to San Francisco and Marin on her first West Coast tour; in The City she’ll speak on “Thriving In Uncertain Times.”

Admission to the events is free, as are all programs offered by the non-governmental organization funded solely by donations. It was founded in 1936 in Pakistan (now India) by Lekhraj Kripalani, a businessman who had a series of divine visions that prompted him to begin leading a contemplative life.

Today, he’s known as Brahma Baba. His picture hangs in the parlor in the distinctive home at 401 Baker St., one of 8,400 BK centers in 120 countries.

Jogi (aka Sister Vaishali), an accountant at City College of San Francisco and BK proponent for 20 years, meditates and teaches at the site, which is home to longtime members including “elder” sisters Sukanya Belsare, a program coordinator and former engineer, and Kyoko Kamura, a music teacher, who reside there.

“We practice open-eye meditation; we’re in a state of peace,” says Sister Kyoko, describing Raja Yoga meditation, in which each individual goes on a journey of self-discovery.

“The goal is to come back to the nature of your true self,” says Sister Sukanya, adding that change in the world starts after people, through these practices, abandon body consciousness for “soul consciousness.”

The sisters, who don’t describe their practice as religion (Vaishali says she was drawn to it because there are no priests, preachers or gurus) wear all white. The saris, they say, denote peace, purity and serenity and act as uniforms, which encourage discipline.

Serious practitioners — there are about 100, mostly women, in the Bay Area and 1 million worldwide, the sisters estimate — have prescribed guidelines, including non-violence, vegetarianism (and eating only pure, healthy food), appreciation for nature, gathering with like-minded others and daily meditation.

Every hour at every meditation center, a minute of soothing music is piped in, during which members observe 60 seconds of silence.

“We call it traffic control,” says Sister Sukanya, who mentions, “There’s an app for it!”

Community engagement is another aspect of their practice; regular drop-in meditations are offered for people ages 16 and older, and the center also offers “living values” and conflict resolution workshops for families, and summer camp for children.

The group also operates a meditation and retreat center in Novato.

Thriving In Uncertain Times
Presented by Brahna Kumaris
Where: Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St., S.F.
When: 6 p.m. June 14
Admission: Free (registration required; donations accepted)

Brahma Kumaris has occupied a corner Victorian at Baker and Hayes streets since the 1980s. (Leslie Katz/S.F. Examiner)

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