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Texas Faith: Finding faith, purpose as a Vedanta nun
Hunter Johnson Follow @HJuncensored Email email@example.com
Pravrajika Brahmaprana stands in front of the Vedanta Society’s shrine, which is decorated for Christmas. Pictured behind her are important Vedantist figures (from left) Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sarada Devi. (Hunter Johnson/Staff Contributor)
With so much fighting in the world between various religions, it can be hard to think of places where they come together harmoniously. As it happens, one of those places is in North Texas.
In Irving, at the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of North Texas, one can find Pravrajika Brahmaprana. Petite and welcoming, she owns extensive knowledge of world religions, from the saints of Catholicism to the teachings of Buddha and history of Hinduism.
As a Vedantist nun, it makes sense that Brahmaprana should be so well informed on different faiths. While some may confuse it as just a branch of Hinduism, Vedanta is its own philosophy. Tracing its origins to the ancient scriptures of India known as the Vedas, the Vedanta philosophy teaches that God exists in every being. As such, its basic teaching is that our real nature is divine.
Vedanta also states that religion is a search for self-knowledge; it is how people can find God within themselves. Vedantists don’t see other religions through a lens of right or wrong. They instead see all faiths as different paths leading to the same truth, Brahmaprana said. This allows individuals from various faith backgrounds to practice Vedanta together.
“In our tradition, we have Jews, we have Christians, we have Catholics, we even have some Muslims who are also Vedantists,” Brahmaprana said.
Brahmaprana began her faith journey when she was born into an Episcopalian family in Seattle, Wash. When she was 12, her parents became disillusioned with their church and decided to teach their daughter about God themselves.
By the time she went to college in the late 1960s, however, Brahmaprana had become an agnostic. Despite what she’d learned about God, she said she found that many churches lacked a mystical element and simply preached to do good deeds. Furthermore, she came to seriously question the purpose of life when her father died.
“It was a very deep period of questioning, and I just didn’t see a value of belonging to a religion if … somebody had made it up,” she said. “I wasn’t interested in bandages; I wanted the real deal.”
The opportunity for her to find meaning in life would present itself while she was studying in Los Angeles. One of her professors at Occidental College, a Calvinist minister, began to teach a comparative religions course. The class would expose Brahmaprana to numerous faiths from across the globe, including Vedanta.
“One day, our teacher said we were going to the Vedanta temple to meet the spiritual grandson of Ramakrishna,” she said, referring to the grandson of one of Vedanta’s greatest figures. “So we went to the little temple in Hollywood; and when I walked into the temple, there was this little holy man sitting in the shrine cross-legged giving a … class. And I don’t remember what he said, but I knew that he was a man of God, and I knew then that religion was true.”
Inspired, Brahmaprana decided to immerse herself in Vedanta. She said that she “inhaled” the teachings of her spiritual mentors over the course of a month, finding purpose and a sense of belonging along the way.
Practicing the meditations and experiencing the lifestyle fueled her decision to become a Vedanta nun. Brahmaprana officially joined the society in 1973 after finishing college. She remained at her monastery for several years as a semi-cloistered nun before she began to speak about Vedanta across the country.
In the years since, an important part of her work has been interspiritual dialogue. Because of the belief that all faiths lead to the same truth, Vedanta places a high value on religious harmony. Interspiritual dialogue is important to the Vedanta philosophy because, as Brahmaprana explained, it is more than people just discussing different beliefs.
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“What happens in an interspiritual dialogue,” she said, is that “you are going very deeply into other people’s lives. It’s not just simply ‘I am representing my religion,’ [but more] I am representing myself as a deeply committed practitioner in my tradition … I am a spokesperson for myself in my tradition.”
Dialogue on that level, Brahmaprana said, goes beyond basic religious doctrines and delves into spiritual perspectives. She added that exposure to people’s personal religious experiences can lead to positive self-analysis and faith development. As a result for Brahmaprana, her understanding of God’s presence is ever evolving.
“As we change the way we view ourselves, we change how we see the world. I’m not the same person a year ago as I am today. The spiritual life, it’s organic; it changes us,” she said. “And so these encounters, especially the deep spiritual friendships I’ve developed here in Dallas … I treasure them.”
Brahmaprana also treasures her Vedanta work and faith.
“I love my work here, and I consider every person that comes here as very special and part of our family,” she said. “I feel like it’s the Lord’s work.”