Ramakrishna Mission is an Indian religious organization which forms the core of a worldwide spiritual movement known as the Ramakrishna Movement or the Vedanta Movement. The mission is a philanthropic, volunteer organisation founded by Ramakrishna’s chief disciple Vivekananda on 1 May 1897. The mission conducts extensive work in health care, disaster relief, rural management, tribal welfare, elementary and higher education and culture. It uses the combined efforts of hundreds of ordered monks and thousands of householder disciples. The mission bases its work on the principles of karma yoga. The mission, which is headquartered near Kolkata at Belur Math in Howrah, West Bengal, subscribes to the ancient Hindu philosophy of Vedanta. It is affiliated with the monastic organisation Ramakrishna Math, with whom it shares members.
Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836–1886), regarded as a 19th-century saint, was the founder of the Ramakrishna Order of monks and is regarded as the spiritual founder of the Ramakrishna Movement. Ramakrishna was a priest in the Dakshineswar Kali Temple and attracted several monastic and householder disciples. Narendranath Dutta, who later became Vivekananda was one of the chief monastic disciples. Shortly before his death in 1886, Ramakrishna gave the ochre cloths to his young disciples, who were planning to become renunciates. Ramakrishna entrusted the care of these young boys to Vivekananda. After Ramakrishna’s death, the young disciples of Ramakrishna gathered and practised spiritual disciplines. They took informal monastic vows on a night which to their pleasant surprise turned out to be the Christmas Eve in 1886.
After the death of Ramakrishna in 1886, the monastic disciples formed the first Math (monastery) at Baranagore. Later Vivekananda became a wandering monk and in 1893 he was a delegate at the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions. His speech there, beginning with “Sisters and brothers of America” became famous and brought him widespread recognition. Vivekananda went on lecture tours and held private discourses on Hinduism and spirituality. He also founded the first Vedanta Society in the United Statesat New York. He returned to India in 1897 and founded the Ramakrishna Mission on 1 May 1897. Though he was a Hindu monk and was hailed as the first Hindu missionary in modern times, he exhorted his followers to be true to their faith but respect all religions of the world as his guru Ramakrishna had taught that all religions are pathways to God. One such example is his exhortion that one can be born in a church but he or she should not die in a church meaning that one should realise the spiritual truths for themselves and not stop at blindly believing in doctrines taught to them. The same year, famine relief was started at Sargachi bySwami Akhandananda, a direct disciple of Ramakrishna. Swami Brahmananda, a direct disciple of Ramakrishna was appointed as the first president of the Order. After the death of Vivekananda in 1902, Sarada Devi, the spiritual counterpart of Ramakrishna, played an important role as the advisory head of a nascent monastic organisation. Gayatri Spivak writes that Sarada Devi “performed her role with tact and wisdom, always remaining in the background.”
The Math and the Mission are the two key organisations that direct the work of the socio-religious Ramakrishna movement influenced by 19th-century saint Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and shaped by his chief disciple Vivekananda. Also referred to as theRamakrishna Order, the Math is the movement’s monastic organisation. Founded by Ramakrishna in 1886, the Math primarily focuses on spiritual training and the propagation of the movement’s teachings.
The Mission, founded by Vivekananda in 1897, is an humanitarian organisation which carries out medical, relief and educational programs. Both the organisations have headquarters at the Belur Math. The Mission acquired a legal status when it was registered in 1909 under Act XXI of 1860. Its management is vested in a Governing Body. Though the Mission with its branches is a distinctlegal entity, it is closely related to the Math. The elected trustees of the Math also serve as Mission’s Governing Body. Vedanta Societies comprise the American arm of the Movement and work more in purely spiritual field rather than social welfare.
The Ramakrishna Math is administered by democratically elected Board of Trustees. From amongst themselves the Trustees elect President, Vice-Presidents, general secretary, Assistant Secretaries and Treasurer. For the confirmation of the election of the President, Vice-Presidents and the general secretary, the opinion of monks of twenty years standing is sought and taken.
The Ramakrishna Mission is administered by a Governing Body, which is composed of the Trustees of Ramakrishna Math. The headquarters of Ramakrishna Math at Belur (popularly known as Belur Math) serves also as the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission. A branch centre of Ramakrishna Math is managed by a team of monks posted by the Trustees led by a head monk with the title Adyaksha. A branch centre of Ramakrishna Mission is governed by a Managing Committee consisting of monks and lay persons appointed by the Governing Body of Ramakrishna Mission whose Secretary functions as the executive head.
All the monks of the Ramakrishna Order form the democratic base of the administration. A representative meeting of all monks is held every three years when the report of all the activities of the Organization are approved and the accounts passed and guidance sought for further development.
This conference places its seal of approval on the decisions taken by the Trustees elected by them and gives policy guidance.
The scope of the Administration follows the detailed rules made by Swami Vivekananda when he was the General President of Ramakrishna Mission after the monastic brothers opined that there should be specific rules for the work of the Ramakrishna Mission (as the Ramakrishna Movement is commonly known). These rules were dictated by Swami Vivekananda to Swami Suddhananda, between 1898 to 1899, and has been accepted as the consensus of the opinion of all the monks of the Ramakrishna Mission then, consisting of all the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and their disciples. Later for clear and formal legal confirmation of these rules, a Trust Deed was registered by Swami Vivekananda and many of the other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, during 1899 – 1901.
The motto and principles
The aims and ideals of the Mission are purely spiritual and humanitarian and has no connection with politics. Vivekananda proclaimed “Renunciation and service” as the twofold national ideals of modern India and the work of the mission strives to practice and preach these ideals. The service activities are based on the message of “Jiva is Shiva” from Ramakrishna and Vivekananda’s message of “Daridra Narayana” to indicate that service to poor is service to God. The Principles of Upanishads and Yoga in Bhagavad Gita reinterpreted in the light of Ramakrishna’s Life and Teachings is the main source of inspiration for the Mission. The service activities are rendered looking upon all as veritable manifestation of the Divine. The Motto of the organisation is Atmano Mokshartham Jagad-hitaya Cha. Translated fromSanskrit आत्मनॊ मोक्षार्थम् जगद्धिताय च it means For one’s own salvation, and for the good of the world..
After the death of Ramakrishna in 1886 his young disciples organised themselves into a new monastic order. The original monasteryat Baranagar known as Baranagar Math was subsequently moved to the nearby Alambazar area in 1892, then to Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House, south of the present Belur Math in 1898 before finally being shifted in January 1899 to a newly acquired plot of land at Belur in Howrah district by Vivekananda.This monastery, known as the Belur Math, serves as the Mother House for all the monks of the Order who live in the various branch centres of the Math and/or the Mission in different parts of India and the world.
All members of the Order undergo training and ordination (Sannyasa) at Belur Math. A candidate for monastic life is treated as a pre-probationer during the first year of his stay at any centre, and as a probationer during the next four years. At the end of this period he is ordained into celibacy (Brahmacharya) and is given certain vows (Pratijna), the most important of which are chastity, renunciation and service. After a further period of four years, if found fit, he is ordained into (Sannyasa) and given the ochre (gerua) clothes to wear.
Matter of Voting in Indian Election by Ramakrishna Mission Monks: Almost 95% of the monks possess voter ID cards. For the sake of identification and particularly for travelling, almost 95 per cent of monks are forced to seek a voter ID card. But they use it only for identification purpose and not for voting. The Mission, had, however, supported the freedom movement, with a section of the monks keeping close relations with freedom fighters of various camps. A number of political revolutionaries had later joined the Ramakishna Order. As individuals RKM monks may have political opinions but those are not meant to be discussed in public.
Designed and explained by Swami Vivekananda in his own words:
The wavy waters in the picture are symbolic of Karma; the lotus, of Bhakti; and the rising-sun, of Jnana. The encircling serpent is indicative of Yoga and the awakened Kundalini Shakti, while the swan in the picture stands for Paramatman (Supreme Self). Therefore, the idea of the picture is that by the union of Karma, Jnana, Bhakti and Yoga, the vision of Paramatman is obtained.
The principal workers of the mission are the monks. The mission’s activities cover the following areas,
• Health care
• Cultural activities
• Rural uplift
• Tribal welfare
• Youth movement etc.
The mission has its own hospitals, charitable dispensaries, maternity clinics, tuberculosis clinics, and mobile dispensaries. It also maintains training centres for nurses. Orphanages and homes for the elderly are included in the mission’s field of activities, along with rural and tribal welfare work.
The mission has established many renowned educational institutions in India, having its own university, colleges, vocational training centres, high schools and primary schools, teacher-training institutes, as well as schools for the visually handicapped. It has also been involved in disaster relief operations during famine, epidemic, fire, flood, earthquake, cyclone and communal disturbances.
The mission played an important role in the installation of photovoltaic (PV) lighting systems in the Sundarbans region of West Bengal. Due to the geographical features of the Sunderbans, it is very difficult to extend the grid network to supply power to its population. The PV lighting was used to provide electricity to the people who were traditionally depending on kerosene and diesel.
The mission is a non-sectarian organisation and ignores caste distinctions.
Ramakrishna ashrama’s religious activities include satsang and arati. Satsang includes communal prayers, songs, rituals, discourses, reading and meditation. Arati involves the ceremonial waving of lights before the images of a deity of holy person and is performed twice in a day. Ramakrishna ashramasobserves major Hindu festivals, including Maha Shivarathri, Rama Navami, Krishna Asthami and Durga Puja. They also give special place to the birthdays of Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda and other monastic disciples of Ramakrishna. The 1 January is celebrated as Kalpataru day.
The math and the mission are known for their religious tolerance and respect for other religions. Among the earliest rules laid down by Swami Vivekananda for them was, “Due respect and reverence should be paid to all religions, all preachers, and to the deities worshiped in all religions.” Acceptance and toleration of all religions is the one of ideals of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Along with the major Hindu festivals, Christmas Eve and Buddha’s Birthday are also devoutly observed. Cyril Veliath of Sophia Universitywrites that the Ramakrishna Mission monks are a relatively orthodox set of monks who are “extremely well respected both in India and abroad”, and that they “cannot be classified as just another sect or cult, such as the groups led by the gurus”. Veliath writes that “of the Hindu groups I have worked with I have found the Ramakrishna Mission to be the most tolerant and amenable to dialogue, and I believe that we Christians couldn’t do better, than to cooperate wholeheartedly in their efforts towards inter-religious harmony. Bob Robinson writes, “Unlike more militant Hindu organisations, the mission has consistently advocated and itself displayed a tolerant, friendly attitude towards minority religious traditions and a sympathetic acquaintance with at least parts of the scriptures of those faiths.”
Awards and Honorable Mentions
Bhagwan Mahavir Foundation Award (1996).
Dr. Ambedkar National Award (1996).
Dr. Bhawar Singh Porte Tribal Service Award (1997–98).
In 1998 the Mission was awarded the Indian government’s prestigious Gandhi Peace Prize.
Shahid Vir Narayan Singh Award (2001).
Pt. Ravishankar Shukla Award (2002).
National Communal Harmony Award (2005).
The Ramakrishna Mission was selected for an honorary mention of the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for Promotion of Tolerance and Non violence 2002.
The Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama of Chhattisgarh’s Narainpur was jointly selected for the 25th Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration for the year 2009 with musicianA.R.Rehman for their services in promoting and preserving national integration.
In a speech made in 1993, Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO, stated:
I am indeed struck by the similarity of the constitution of the Ramakrishna Mission which Vivekananda established as early as 1897 with that of UNESCO drawn up in 1945. Both place the human being at the center of their efforts aimed at development. Both place tolerance at the top of the agenda for building peace and democracy. Both recognize the variety of human cultures and societies as an essential aspect of the common heritage.
In 1980, in an act that caused “considerable debate” within the order, the mission petitioned the courts to have their organisation and movement declared a non-Hindu minority religion.Many generations of monks and others have been of the view that the religion propounded and practised by Ramakrishna and his disciples is very much different from that practised by Hindu masses then. They held that the Ramakrishna’s “Neo-Vedanta” is a truer version of the ideals of Vedanta. So it was honestly felt that this makes the followers of Ramakrishna eligible for the legal status of “minority”. It is possible that the immediate cause for the appeal for minority status was because there was a danger that the local Marxist government would take control of its educational institutions unless it could invoke the extra protection the Indian constitution accords to minority religions. While the Calcutta High Court accepted Ramakrishna Mission’s pleas, The Supreme Court of India ruled against the Mission in 1995. The Mission found it advisable to let the matter rest. Today it remains as a Hindu organisation.
Branch centres of the math and the mission
The Universal Prayer Hall of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, Agartala, was inaugurated on 7 February 2012 by the Vice-President of the Belur Math, Smaranananda ji Maharaj. This formed a part of the celebrations of the 150th birthday of Vivekananda. The project and celebration is the outcome of laborious efforts of Purnatmanandaji Maharaj, Secretary of the Agartala branch of the Belur Math.
Presidents of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission
The following is the list of presidents (spiritual heads) of the Monastic Order.
1. Swami Vivekananda (1897 –1901) (General President)
From 1901 the term ‘General President’ was dropped and the term ‘President’ was adopted
1. Swami Brahmananda (1901–1922)
2. Swami Shivananda (1922–1934)
3. Swami Akhandananda (1934–1937)
4. Swami Vijnanananda (1937–1938)
5. Swami Shuddhananda (1938–1938)
6. Swami Virajananda (1938–1951)
7. Swami Shankarananda (1951–1962)
8. Swami Vishuddhananda (1962–1962)
9. Swami Madhavananda (1962–1965)
10. Swami Vireshwarananda (1966–1985)
11. Swami Gambhirananda (1985–1988)
12. Swami Bhuteshananda (1989–1998)
13. Swami Ranganathananda (1998–2005)
14. Swami Gahanananda (2005–2007)
15. Swami Atmasthananda (2007–)
Apart from Direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, some of the other notable monks of the order are
1. Swami Abhayananda (Bharat Maharaj)
2. Swami Adidevananda
3. Swami Ashokananda
4. Swami Atmaprabhananda
5. Swami Balabhadrananda
6. Swami Budhananda
7. Swami Nirvedananda
8. Swami Ghanananda
9. Swami Jagadananda
10. Swami Niranjanananda Junior (Pandalai Maharaj of Haripad)
11. Swami Sharvananda
12. Swami Sukhananda
13. Swami Chitsukhananda of Haripad
14. Swami Nikhilananda
15. Swami Nityaswarupananda
16. Swami Paramananda
17. Swami Prabhavananda
18. Swami Premeshananda
19. Swami Purushottamananda of Vasishtaguha
20. Swami Purushottamananda
21. Swami Shambhavananda
22. Swami Siddheshwarananda
23. Swami Tapasyananda
24. Swami Yatishwarananda
25. Swami Ranganathananda
26. Swami Lokeshwarananda
27. Swami Swahananda
28. Swami Gokulananda
29. Swami Kirtidananda
30. Swami Lokeshwarananda
31. Swami Kshmananda
32. Swami Prameyananda
33. Swami Kalyanananda
34. Swami Bhaskarananda
35. Swami Tyagananda