Serenity on a Platter

Manila Bulletin, July 27, 2007
Life and Leisure

by Ethel Timbol

The chef, Cecilia Montoya, was given the name Sister Sushila which in India means "one who is serene." As head cook of the Brahma Kumaris, Sis. Sushila prepares vegan meals guaranteed to nourish the body with food to energize and yet calm you.

Thanks to my colleague Emmie Velarde, I have sampled Sis Sushila's cooking a good number of times such as my most favorite cuapao stuffed with kangkong stalks and minced mushrooms doused in sweet sauce.

Sis Sushila used to be an accountancy agent in the BIR, a job she shunned soon after joining the Brahma Kumaris center in Dagupan.

Because she enjoyed cooking even as a child, tutored by her grandmother in Pangasinan where the family meals were mainly Ilocano, it was only natural that she would end up in the kitchen.

At the BK center in Dagupan, she learned to cook "vege-meatarian" meals through recipes from friends and cookbooks.

The Inner Peace BK center in Bagkitan St., Makati, is only one of over 8,000 BK centers in 129 countries. We have eight centers in the Philippines and one retreat house in Tagaytay, the Center for Spiritual Learning, which is the only one in all of Asia.

My friend Emmie would always celebrate her birthday at the BK center in Bagtikan although it normally does not serve meals except when there are whole day training programs and meditations led by Sis. Rajni.

Sis. Rajni, who hails from New Delhi, India, started the "movement" (a word she
dislikes) in the Philippines 35 years ago at the urging of Filipino journalist Marge Enriquez.

The Brahma Kumaris began in the early 20th century, started by the son of a village schoolmaster, Brahma Baba. Brought up in the Hindu tradition, Brahma Baba later became a successful jeweller and diamond trader.

At the age of 60 when his colleagues were talking of retiring, Brahma was recharging his own life, strangely "energized" by the principles of quiet reflection and solitude.

Spurred by visions which visited during his meditations, Baba founded the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University in Karachi Sindh (now part of Pakistan) in 1936. The community of 300 people spent their time in intense spiritual study, meditation and self development. In 1951, the community moved the university to Mt. Abu in Rajasthan, India.

To this day, devotees flock to Mt. Abu in October just as the Muslims head for Mecca. They seek peace and a higher spiritual light in the inner soul.

Their motto - "when you change, the world changes" -makes good sense.

Among these "changes" is the diet which is what I am most interested in now.

So, to discover healthy, nourishing food, Annie Ringor, Toni Gregory and I visited the Center for Spiritual Learning in Tagaytay.

We were welcomed by Sis Sushila, Sis Rajni, and Sis Alma Echano. The latter hails from Daet Bicol, and used to work as a chemist in the San Miguel glass plant, being a BS chemistry graduate of Adamson University.. Today, Sis Alma teaches meditation at the BK centers.

They are all volunteers who give their time and service to the Brahma Kumaris cause, yet who remain professionals in the outside world. For instance, Sis Lila, aka Lourdes Aseneta, works weekdays as a teacher/trainor for companies.

On weekends, one will find her in any of the BK centers.

Sis Timi, the "assistant cook," is both an English teacher and computer specialist outside the BK center.

The girlish looking Sis Ria, another volunteer, is a college teacher at UP Diliman.

We were joined at lunch by Timmy Cruz, the singer/ entrepreneur, who volunteers as "hardinera" of the Brahma Kumaris retreat house. Her own little "farm" in Tagaytay is a green haven that she herself had landscaped.

Because of the growing interest in vegan food, the Brahma Kumaris centers in Bagtikan and in Kamuning, Quezon City, conducts cooking classes on request.

You can call them at 890-7960 and 922-9231.

But if you'd like to sample the cuisine first, you can drop by at the "Unknown Chefs" food festival being mounted by the I Can Serve Foundation (composed of cancer survivors) on Aug. 11 and 12 at the Rockwell Tent in Makati.

The basic principle of a vegan diet is simply . nothing that destroys life nor offends the olfactory senses, only food that nourishes. So obviously, all seafoods and meats are out, including egg, as well as garlic and onions.

But no need to feel deprived.

At the retreat house, they serve homebaked pandesal, cereals, "bacon" and "adobo", siopao using delicious vegemeat, cuapao, luga, lomi, salads galore, fruits in season, and an amazing tarragon & mint tea.

You can make reservations there at tel. 413-2128 or (046) 890-2257 or email

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