Returning from Australia and working in J Walter Thompson advertising

Rare photo of Robert Chaen, during university days (circa 1978). He studied in St. Kevin’s College. and walked to college from a Toorak house with Mrs Turner and her two adult sons. This photo was taken in front the house, and the background is the famous Kooyong courts, where the Australian Tennis Open is held.
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Mrs. Turner, Robert’s landlady
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Robert’s first Christmas in Melbourne with the Turners

My first job after returning from Australia in 1981 was J Walter Thompson (now called Wunderman Thompson), in Wisma Damansara, one of the oldest buildings in Damansara Heights, a few kilometres from the Raja Yoga Centre in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. I was a Copywriter.

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More than half a year earlier my mother disowned me as her youngest son because I gave up my last year of university studies in Swinburne University, Melbourne, in order to dedicate my life to Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, in short BKs.

The official name of BKs in Hindi is Prajapita Brahma Kumaris Ishwariya Vishwa Vidyalaya प्रजापिता ब्रह्मा कुमारीस ईश्वरीय विद्या विद्यालय. I believed the world would end in 1986, fifty years after the beginning of Brahma Kumaris in Sindh, before the partition from India (originally known as “Om Mandali), with the predicted world war between Russia and United States, 5 year later. It didn’t happened.

When I showed signs that I was not a Hari Krishna, I didn’t wear saffron-colored Indian attire, or have my head shaven, with a topknot pigtail, and as a BK I had a normal job, my parents stop disowning me, and my brother, Tom.

My mum greatest fear at that time was I became a Hari Krishna devotee, wearing saffron-colored Indian attire and my head shaven, with a topknot pigtail.

In fact, my parents were so proud of me when I landed one of the most prestigious jobs in one of the world’s top advertising agencies, they gave me a second-hand car for the occasion. It was a beige Mazda 323 Hatchback, costing Ringgit 10,000.

Some of the most famous Dadis like the late Dadi Janki, the late Dadi Prakash Mani, the late Jagdish Chander, Dr. Nirmala, and some of the most senior BK teachers around the world such as Sister Maureen, my ex-Sister-in-Law, sat on my car as my eldest brother Tom or I drove them around, sometimes on inter-state godly service.

Meanwhile, back at the fancy, creative J Walter Thompson office, there were glossy coffee table advertising books, filled with sexy nude ladies and handsome men on the side desks of the Art Directors. They would show me sexy and suggestive TV commercials to inspire my creativity. But I was not tempted at all.


With my copywriting experience, I started to put small classified ads in the New Straits Times, which was the leading English newspaper in 1981. A few people started to take the free BK Raja Yoga 5 day meditation course.

One day, a Senior Copywriter, with her hair dyed with red highlights in punk hairstyle, answered if I would go lunch with her. I didn’t want to tell her I was not only a strict vegetarian but that I didn’t eat outside cooked by ‘impure’ people who are not practicing “Brahmacharya” or celibacy and other Maryadas or discipline by BKs. Plus I don’t want to go out, leading to date request. I was a twenty-two year old virgin, you know. I remain a virgin until I pass the 31 year old virgin mark.

I mean I didn’t even eat food cooked by my own mother, that was how strict the BK Maryada principles were – 4am Amrit Vela meditation, 6:00am daily Murli classes by Baba, the Supreme Soul and God of BKs, no sex, no masturbation, no porn, no entertainment, no music – no nothing!

Actually what was there to be attracted to what BKs call Kali Yuga or the old Iron Age which humanity had degraded to the lowest level. In any case, I believed the world would end soon in five years’ time in 1981.

I was practically living an austere monk’s renunciation life, that is giving up the world and leading a holy life or freedom from pleasures, lust, craving and desires. Yet I had a full time job in a top advertising agency, everyday surrounded by all types of worldly temptation for a young 22 year-old, fresh from giving up university life.

Anyways, for the Senior Copywriter with a shocking red-dyed punk hairstyle, in another occasion for some reason mentioned reading a small ad about a free meditation course. I took the opportunity to tell her that I was the one who posted the classified. She was intrigued. I simply told to attend the 5 day course the next Monday. I think I tried not to be her teacher, because it was very uncomfortable answering her curious questions. She did attend, and like they say the rest was history as she turned out to be Sister Helen (Ong) of Penang BK Raja Yoga Centre. She joined BKs around December 1981, and so she was one of first BK sisters, if not the first in Malaysia.

“The teacher of teachers”

It is in these mysterious ways, that the God-Universe and the angels attract individuals that cross path with me. I became “the teacher of teachers”, a solid foundation of “roots” that grew in many other places in S.E. Asia, Bali, and Europe.

One of the first BK students was Sister Philippa. She was a student. She later ended up in her home country, in United Kingdom, remember charity begins at home. I remember the first Malaysian brother BK Jothi was so infatuated with her, and Tom and I had to counsel and remind him to have yoga or union with Baba only. Jothi would drop by for a vegetarian lunch with us. It was very personal in the early years.

I carried the personal touch of personally cooking vegetarian meals for the BK family during weekends, and make a huge pot of Garam Marsala Indian-style milk tea for those who attended Murli class.

Tom and I had to constantly lead the flock of sheep, and made sure they don’t get too distracted from the main goals of being a “pakar” (Hindi for good) student strong in all principles.

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Maryadas – Principles for Brahmins, aka Brahma Kumaris, usually taught on the last day of the 5 day course.

One of my life goals at that time was to be in the highest 108 Rosary of the purest BKs, as was one of aims of BKs which was constantly taught in daily Sakar Murli classes. I myself heart personal stories from some Dadis aiming the highest to be in the 108. There was even speculation among Madhuban Dadis and Dadas who were confirmed in the Top 8 and Top 108, especially when a Dadi passed away like Mama, Big Didi, Jagdish Chandler, and Dadi Janki. I secretly believed I had a good chance to be in the Top 108 BKs which directly means having the highest status in Golden Age as maybe Lakshmi & Narayan, the emperor and empress of Golden Age, according to Shiva Baba’s teachings.

Therefore, with the secret life goal of aiming to be in the Top 108 BKs, I surrendered my life, skills, assets, and resources to Baba’s and BK service in Malaysia. I became the ‘The Teacher of Teachers”, because I have faith in the power behind the power behind that power, which you will find out later.