THE RAMAKRISHNA ORDER
(An overview and history)
Kindly supplied by the Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre whose details appear at the end of this material.
The foundations of the Ramakrishna Order (Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission) associated with the hallowed name of Sri Ramakrishna, were laid in India by Swami Vivekananda in May 1897.
Even while preoccupied in America with lecturing, writing books, and other activities, Swami Vivekananda exhorted his brother disciples in India to bring into existence an order of monks devoted to the life of renunciation and other spiritual disciplines, from among whom teachers and workers could be sent all over the country and abroad to spread religious ideas in their broadest form, as illustrated in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. With equal urgency he asked them to carry on, in conjunction with the householder devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, missionary, philanthropic, and charitable activities among the people, irrespective of caste, creed, or colour and regarding them as veritable manifestations of God. Shortly after his return to India he formed, in 1897, an organization called the Ramakrishna Mission Association, and through it carried on philanthropic and missionary activities.
In 1899 a monastery was established at Belur, on the bank of the Ganges, near Calcutta, in order to train monks in the life of God-realization and service to men in all possible ways. This monastery was called the Ramakrishna Math. In 1901 Swami Vivekananda executed a trust deed vesting the properties of the Math in a body of monastic trustees. Soon it became the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Order, which took over the activities of the Ramakrishna Mission Association. Swami Vivekananda passed away in 1902.
The Ramakrishna Order is, first and last, a spiritual organization that seeks to help its members in the realization of God. The various activities performed by its members are not of the nature of mechanical social service; they are modes of worship.
THE RAMAKRISHNA MATH
The branch centres that were gradually established in various parts of the country were generally called Ramakrishna Maths. In these monasteries the monks of the Ramakrishna Order reside and practise spiritual disciplines. New students are also accepted here and trained for monastic life. The disciplines consist of meditation, worship, and study of scripture. An important function of the maths is the regular worship of the Deity and the celebration of various religious festivals, through which the spiritual life of the aspirants is quickened. The senior qualified monks engage in preaching activities. Publication of books and magazines is undertaken by some of the Math centres. The Ramakrishna Maths affiliated to the Belur Math are under the control of the trustees of the Belur Math. The branch maths and the math at Belur were from their very inception treated as part of a single organization. The income of the Ramakrishna Math consists of private subscriptions and donations from devotees and friends, earmarked for worship, maintenance of the monks undergoing spiritual disciplines, celebrations of religious festivals, and so forth. In several maths this income is augmented by proceeds from the publication of religious literature.
THE RAMAKRISHNA MISSION
After the passing away of Swami Vivekananda the monks of the Ramakrishna Order devoted themselves, with indefatigable zeal, to philanthropic and missionary work. Their help was sought at times of flood, famine, epidemic, and other calamity. Some started educational institutions. And, as the scope of their activities expanded, their responsibilities grew. Very soon it became expedient to give the public work a legal status, and accordingly a separate organization was founded in 1909, under the name of the Ramakrishna Mission, registered under Act XXI of 1860 of the Governor-General of India in Council. The management of the Ramakrishna Mission was vested in a governing body. The trustees of the monastery at Belur became ex-officio members of this governing body. Thus both the Belur Math and the Mission were placed under the control of the same group of monks.
Technically and legally the Ramakrishna Math is different from the Ramakrishna Mission. But the name of the Ramakrishna Mission is often loosely used by the public to designate the activities of the Ramakrishna Math as well. Properly, however, the Math stresses worship, and the Mission, work. The monks residing at the maths devote their time to their personal spiritual development, whereas the monastic workers of the Mission engage in philanthropic activities. But both the Math and the Mission are closely associated with each other in that both are under the management of boards of trustees and directors the members of which are identical, both have their headquarters at the Belur Math, and the principal workers of both are the monks of the Ramakrishna Order. Very often the members of the one are shifted to the other. The monks of the Math engage in the activities of the Mission when they wish to practise spiritual discipline through the service of men; and the monks of the Mission dwell at a math when they require solitude and contemplation for communion with God. By temperament some are fitted for Mission work and some for life in the Math.
The activities of the Ramakrishna Mission may be broadly divided into two classes: temporary and permanent. The temporary work consists in the organization of relief at times of such calamities as famine, flood, fire, cyclone, and the outbreak of epidemic disease. The permanent work consists mainly in the establishment of educational institutions, hostels for students, hospitals and dispensaries.
Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) is the God-man of modern India. Today, all over the world, he is being recognized as of the spiritual line of the great prophets, such as Krishna, Buddha, and Christ. His entire life was dedicated to the most exalted experience of spiritual consciousness. A passionate lover of God from his early boyhood, at the age of sixteen he went to Calcutta, where he was disgusted by the materialism of the enlightened citizens of the great metropolis. He refused to direct his attention to secular studies, devoted himself to prayer and meditation, and became finally a priest in a temple outside the city, where God is worshipped as the Mother of the Universe.
By severest self-control and discrimination, detachment and contemplation, prayer and longing, he attained the vision of God. Later he practised various disciplines of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam, arriving through each at the one spiritual experience, namely, a God-consciousness transcending the limitations of name and form, ritual and dogma, creed and belief.
In various ways Sri Ramakrishna tasted divine bliss, sometimes totally merged in God, sometimes as a child of the Divine Mother. He regarded the whole universe as the manifestation of the Divine Spirit, and all living beings as so many forms of the Godhead. His love of men rose above all consideration of caste, creed, or race. Never a word of condemnation regarding other religions came from his lips. His life was a living laboratory of religious experimentation, and he a verification not only of the Eternal Religion of the Hindus, but of all faiths and creeds.
Attracted by his spiritual power, people of all faiths and classes came to him—men and women, young and old, educated and illiterate, agnostic and orthodox. All felt the radiation of his spirit and were uplifted in his presence.
With special love and effort Sri Ramakrishna trained a band of young monastic disciples, who, at his bidding, took the vows of realizing God and serving humanity.
Foremost among the young disciples was Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). From his boyhood he had practised utter self-control and purity and been eager to cultivate the spiritual life. He wished to be instructed by a teacher who had had direct spiritual experience. Sri Ramakrishna, on first meeting him, immediately recognized in the young disciple many potential spiritual qualities. And though the Swami had come under the influence of the agnostic Western culture, his innate spiritual nature received from his great Master a new impetus.
Sri Ramakrishna trained this youth to be the leader of the disciples destined to embrace the monastic life. He taught him the time-honored spiritual disciplines of Hinduism, and Swami Vivekananda was blessed with many spiritual experiences. One day, however, the Master admonished him to give up the selfish idea of his own salvation and dedicate himself to the service of others. He asked the disciple to see God with eyes open, in the sick, the poor, the illiterate, the destitute, and in all human beings, and to regard service to these as an efficient form of worship. He impressed on him the realization that it is as important to behold God with eyes open as to behold Him with eyes closed in meditation.
After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna in 1886, Swami Vivekananda and several other disciples renounced the world and devoted themselves to the practice of austerities and meditation following the traditional Hindu method. In the course of his life as a wandering monk, the Swami came to know the degradation of the Indian masses, their ill-health, poverty, and illiteracy. His tender heart bled for their suffering. He realized that his mission in life was to uplift his countrymen from their pitiful condition. He felt it was the will of God that he should not lead the life of a recluse in the wilderness or in a cave of the Himalayas, but that his life should be consecrated to the welfare of others.
In 1893 the great Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago in connection with the World’s Colombian Exposition, and here Swami Vivekananda represented the ancient religion of India. His interpretation of the Hindu faith, and of religion in general, impressed the Americans with his breadth of vision and his all-inclusive outlook. His magnetic personality, saintly character, and unimpeachable integrity attracted the truth-seeking people of the New World to the Hindu religion. The Swami, too, with his insatiable curiosity, studied Western culture, and particularly its various organizations for the promotion of the material happiness of men. Hospitals, educational institutions, laboratories, and other products of science and technology, drew his special attention. He wanted to introduce some of these to India for the health and comfort of his countrymen. And on the other hand, with his prophetic vision he foresaw that in the near future the Western world would require spiritual teachers from India. He stood at the confluence, as it were, of two mighty streams of civilization: the youthful scientific culture of the West and the ancient spiritual culture of India. That vision of Emerson and the Transcendental Movement regarding the marriage of the East and the West was given by the new prophet of India practical shape.
Swami Vivekananda succinctly summarised Vedanta thus.
a. Each soul is potentially divine.
b. The goal is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature external and internal.
c. Do this by work, or worship, or psychic control or philosophy, by one or more or all of them and BE FREE.
d. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, dogmas, books, temples etc are all secondary details.
Main Teachings of Sri Ramakrishna:
- God exists and can be seen.
- The goal of life is to realize Him.
- He is with form, without form, and beyond both.
- Intense yearning and a personal relationship with God are necessary to see Him.
- All religions and Yogas are valid. Through any one of these God can be realized, if one is sincere. If we follow any path or Yoga with single mindedness we reach Him through His grace. However Sri Ramakrishna used to say that for the generality of people Bhakti Yoga combined with Jnana and Karma is the most suitable path for this age.
- What prevents us from seeing God is Maya. Maya is attachment to the world. The strongest form of Maya is `sex and money.’ Therefore one should try to rise above these two.
- One must be truthful. Truthfulness is the Tapasya of Kaliyuga. Sri Ramakrishna put the greatest emphasis on truthfulness.
- All religions and all Yogas are valid. Through any one of these God can be reached.
- Hence one should never criticize any religion or saint or holy man just because they are different from ours. One should honour all holy persons.
- For householders Sri Ramakrishna’s advice is :
- Sing the name and glories of God.
- Cultivate holy company.
- Go to a solitary place now and then and call on God with intense yearning.
- Discriminate always.
- Serve the poor and needy according to means.
- Live like a maidservant in a rich man’s house.
- If one practises these teachings one obtains the grace of God, and he will be blessed and will obtain Mukti or liberation.
These are the teachings the devotees and followers of Sri Ramakrishna are expected to
accept and practise.
1. To be aware that the goal of life is God-realization.
4. To discharge one’s duties in a spirit of dedication to God.
(Till March 2000) Excluding the Headquarters at Belur, there were 141 branches. Of these 60 were Mission centres, 56 Math centres, 25 combined Math & Mission centres.
Of these 106 centres are in India, the rest outside India.
Through these centres the Ramakrishna Order carries on spiritual, cultural, educational, and medical activities.
Sri Ramakrishna Math & Mission
P.O. Belur Math
West Bengal 711 202
EPABX phones:- 033-654-1144/1180/5391/8494
Many centres have their own web sites. But following the above one can get links to others.
It is difficult to say the exact number of the followers of Sri Ramakrishna all over the world. It is believed that they number in several thousands.
RAMAKRISHNA VEDANTA CENTRE