Activities of the Ashrama along the lines laid down by Swami Vivekananda – "Atmano Mokshartham Jagadhitaya cha" or "for the liberation of self & welfare of the world."
At the time Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was born, Hindu soceity in the eighteenth century was passing through a period of decadence. It was the twilight of Mughal rule. The 22 British rule was already founded. In the wake of the British merchants came the English Educators, social reformers and Christian missionaries – all bearing a culture very alien to the Hindu mind. The Hindu young men were offered the heady wine of Western culture of late eighteenth century and they drank it to the very dregs.
While large parts of Hindu life was dominated by superstitious practices and religious dogmas, the first effects of the draught was a complete effacement from the minds of young Hindus of time honored beliefs and traditions. The world perceived of senses was all that existed. God and religion were illusions of untutored mind. So atheism and agnosticism became the fashion of the day.
This does not look very different from India today. Due to the advancement of Information Technology, all nations have come close. Watching the developed nations at such a close quarters, one wonders if the Western style of life is the right one? The Wstern lifestyle is tuned towards enjoyment while Hindu way of life is tuned towards “renunciation”. Western style is to believe that one is responsible for one’s destiny, whereas common people in India believe God makes our destiny. The West is all about being “go getters” while Hindu way is “there is nothing much in this existence to go after”.
Is there any truth in the Hindu way of life, as it looks to common people? Or is the western way the correct one? While the traditional Hindu mind has been taught to “Bear and forbear, the evanescence of the sensory world; a reality beyond this world of sense perception; one wonders if all that is true. Why not just live and enjoy like how western people do? Why should one worry about the world beyond? These are the questions that assail us even today. Knowing that the country would be at such crossroads, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa came down to earth. He lived the life to show to the world, what living was all about, what the aim of human existence was. Out of his immense sympathy he left his illustrious disciple Swami Vivekananda to carry forward his teaching.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa knew vey well that the world needed answers to these questions. He trained his disciple so that his disciple could scatter these precious truths to the world at large – scatter the truth that both East and West ought to learn. “You are seeking such an insignificant thing” Said Sri Ramakrishna to Swami Vivekananda when the latter said that he would like to be immersed in Samadhi for days and come out only for a morsel of food. “There is a state higher than that even. Is it not you who sing, ‘Thou art all that exists?’ I thought you would be like a banyan, sheltering thousands from the scorching misery of the world. But now I see you seek your own liberation.” A few days later, however, Shri Ramakrishna blessed him with the experience of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. When the beloved disciple came back from that state, the Master said: “Now, then the Mother has shown you everything. Just as a treasure is locked in a box, so will this realization be hidden from you and the key shall remain with me. You have work to do. When you have finished it, the treasure will be unlocked again, and you will know everything then just as you do now.” And, thus, the beloved disciple of the Master worked on incessantly for the next 16 years with a zeal that one rarely sees, surmounting mountain high and unthinkable obstacles, not even caring for his own liberation on the way, till his body broke down under the stress of intense work at the relatively young age of 39 years and five months. And a work was set into motion that laid a strong foundation once more for Hinduism to stand on a firm footing this time against the onslaught of narrow-mindedness and sectarianism and bigotry on 23 the one hand and western and modern science on the other hand – and thereby vindicating Sri Krishna’s teaching that the Lord manifests his power again and again to protect the Eternal Religion!
After passing away of the beloved Guru in 1886, swami Vivekananda brought all the young disciples together at Baranagore math. He had experienced “Nirvikalpa Samadhi”. He was clear on what he needed to do . He had scorned a life of riches, name and fame that his brilliant intellect would have brought him. He walked out of his fatherless family for whom he was the eldest son. That was not an easy sacrifice. But he said, “In a larger interest, what if one son is sacrificed or if one family is on streets?” He practiced severe tapas alongwith his brother disciples in Baranagore math. In 1888, he left the monastery to wander alone as a penniless monk.
Between the closing of 1888, when Narendranath first left on his temporary excursions, and the year 1891, when he parted from his brethren alone and as an unknown beggar, “to be swallowed up in the immensity of India”, there came over him a remarkable change in outlook. When he first left in 1888, it was mainly to fulfill the natural desire of an Indian monk for a life of solitude. But when he left the monastery in 1891, it was to fulfill a great destiny. By then he had realized that his was not to be the life of an ordinary recluse struggling for personal salvation. Many times he had tried it: he had entered the deepest of Himalayan forests to lose himself in the silent meditation of the Absolute. Every time he had failed. Something or other brought him back from the depths of meditation to the midst of the suffering masses, beset with a thousand and one miseries. The sickness of a brother monk, or the death of a devotee, or the poverty at the Baranagore monastery, was enough to disturb him. More than all, the fever of the age, the misery of the time, and the mute appeal issuing from the millions in oppressed and downtrodden India pained his heart. He lived in anguish during that period, in a seething cauldron as it were, and carried within himself a soul on fire whose embers took years to cool down. As he moved from place to place in the north, and later on in the south, studying closely the life of the people in all strata of society, he was deeply moved. He wept to see the stagnant life of the Indian masses crushed down by ignorance and poverty, and the spell of materialistic ideas among the educated who blindly imitated the glamour of the West but who never felt that they were the cause of India’s degeneration and downfall. Spirituality was at a low discount in the very land of its birth. The picture of ancient India, once the envy of the world, came before his eyes vividly in all its grandeur and glory. The contrast was unbearable. Things should not be allowed to drift in this way. He visualized that India must become dynamic in all spheres of human activity and effect the spiritual conquest of the world, and he felt that he was the instrument chosen by the Lord to do it. He had heard about the parliament of religions being held in Chicago from Thakore saheb Jaswant Singhji of Limbdi who was the Prince of the State. The Thakore Saheb was a man or progressive views and had himself been to America and England few years before.
This thought evolved in his mind and he somehow felt that The Parliament of Religions was being held for him. However, he waited for more concrete approvals from His Master before he resolved to go. 24 A vision of His Master and encouraging letter from Holy Mother finally told him that his Master indeed wanted him to go to America. Swami Vivekananda traveled to America as an unknown and after his first address at the Parliament of Religiones he now became known to the whole world. He had told Pramadadas Mitra earlier: “When I shall return here next time, I shall burst upon society like a bombshell, and it will follow me like a dog.” “We are so many Sannyasins wandering about, and teaching people metaphysics – it is all madness. Did not our Gurudeva say, “An empty stomach is not good for religion?” … Suppose some disinterested Sannyasins, bent on doing good to other, go from village to village, disseminating education and seeking in various ways to better the condition of all down to Chandala – can’t that bring forth good in time? We have to give back to the nation its lost individuality, and raise the masses.
Swamiji further writes from America to his brother monks, “If you want any good to come, just throw your ceremonials overboard and worship the Living God, the Man- God – every being that wears a Human Form.” “To do the highest good to the world, every one down to the lowest – this is our vow…Ramakrishna Paramahamsa came for the good of the entire world.”
He took the momentous decision to go to the West to raise funds for the uplift of the Indian masses, by giving in exchange the rich spiritual treasures that India had accumulated through centuries, and which he himself had inherited from his Master. The Parliament of Religions was a huge success. Swami Vivekananda was now famous in America. He diligently followed up this success with lot of lectures. He traveled to places within US lecturing. By the time he returned he had concretized plans to start Vedanta Soceity in New York. The Swami had seen by now the best and the worst of both the East and the West. He was now convinced that each had something to learn from the other. “I believe that the Hindu faith has developed the spiritual at the expense of the material,” he said, “and I think that in the West the contrary is true. By uniting the materialism of the West with the spiritualism of the East, I believe much can be accomplished.” He set sail again to London in 1896. Though he was busy with his work in the West ne never forgot his original mission. He was constantly in correspondence with his disciples in Madras and elsewhere, guiding, instructing, and encouraging them to push on with the work in India In the middle of November 1896, he suddenly decided that he must go back to India.
So he asked Mrs. Sevier, after a class talk, to book their berths for India from Naples by the earliest steamer available. On 16th December the Swami left London with the Seviers and visited Dover, Calais, Mont Cenis, City of Pisa, Florence, Rome, Vesuvius, and Pompeii, before taking the boat at Naples on 30th December 1896. In Rome, at St. Peter’s, he was struck by the resemblance between the Christian liturgy 25 and the Indian ceremonies. At Naples, Mr. Goodwin joined the party, and they arrived in Colombo on 15th January 1897.
The news of the Swami’s return had already reached India. He was no longer the unknown, wandering Sannyasin. The great work he had done for India in the West had become known throughout India. From Colombo to Madras, in all the important cities, committees consisting of all sections of the society had been formed to accord him a fitting reception. Two of his brother disciples and others from the north hastened to Ceylon and to Madras to receive him. Everywhere people gathered in hundreds to have his darshana and pay him homage. There were grand processions along richly decorated streets strewn with flowers; and triumphal arches, religious chants, addresses of welcome, and suitable replies by the Swami were the order of the day. Incense was burnt before the houses, and the sacred water of the Ganga and rose water were sprinkled on him. The newspapers carried editorials on the Swami. At Ramnad, where he arrived on 26th January, the Raja of Ramnad himself drew the carriage in which the Swami was being taken in procession. Inspired by the Swami’s message, he fed thousands of the poor. But the grandest reception awaited the hero at Madras, where the admirers were expecting him for weeks in feverish excitement. Madras had been mainly instrumental in sending the Swami to the West, and so it was but natural that the city should give him a hero’s reception. He was taken in procession through the streets which were profusely decorated with triumphal arches, flags, festoons, and flowers. Thousands gathered in the streets just to have a look at him, and during his stay there he was presented with twentyfour addresses of welcome in various languages. The horses of the carriage in which he was conducted were unharnessed and the citizens themselves drew it. The public life of the city was suspended for nine days. He was accommodated in the Castle Kernan, a palatial building belonging to Mr. Biligiri Iyengar.
All along the route of his tour, specially in Jaffna and Kumbakonam, he gave inspiring lectures, reminding the people of the glory of India’s past and exhorting them to apply themselves to the task of raising her to her ancient splendor. But it was in Madras that he gave full expression to his ideas. On the third day after his arrival, a public address of welcome was presented to him at the Victoria Hall, but it was too small to contain the large gathering. The Swami at the insistent demand of the enthusiastic public waiting outside, spoke to them in the open from the top of a coach in “the Gita fashion”, urging them to maintain their enthusiasm and utilize it for the service of India. During his stay in Madras the Swami gave five public lectures, the subjects selected being “My Plan of Campaign”, “The Sages of India”, “Vedanta in Its Relation to Practical Life”, “The Work before Us”, and “The Future of India”. In these, the Swami addressed the whole of India, and here one finds his message to India expressed in the most inspiring language.
For the purpose of establishing his work on a firm basis, the Swami summoned all the monastic and lay disciples of Shri Ramakrishna to a meeting at Balaram Bose’s house on 1st May 1897. He told them that he had come to the conclusion that without an organization nothing great and permanent could be achieved, and proposed that an association be formed in the name of the Master known as the Ramakrishna Mission. The aims and ideals of the Mission as propounded by the Swami were purely spiritual and humanitarian. The Mission had nothing to do with politics. Suitable resolutions were passed to this effect and the Ramakrishna Mission 26 came into being. The Swami himself became the General President, Swami Yogananda the Vice-President, and Swami Brahmananda the President of the Calcutta center.
He formed the Ramakrishna Mission on May 1 1897, with the following ideals: “The aim of the Sangha is to preach those truths which Shri Ramakrishna has, for the good of humanity, preached and demonstrated by practical application in his own life, and to help others to put these truths into practice in their lives for their temporal, mental and spiritual advancement.” “Atmano Moshartham Jagathithaya cha” (For the Liberation of the Self and For the Good of the World)’.
Thus this order was born.
Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission are together referred to as the Ramakrisna Order. From the legal point of view the organisation has two distinct wings – the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. But this distinction is tenuous, often overlaps and therefore, more theoretical than real. The Math and Mission are closely related.
To stress the point – though both the Math and the Mission take up charitable and philanthropic activities, the former lays more emphasis on spiritual development of the people and the latter gives priority to welfare work.
The motto the twin organisations follow is the same, one that Swami Vivekananda put before them: ‘Atmano Mokshartham, Jagad Hitaya Cha’
There are over 138 official centres of the Ramakrishna Order, and many more unofficial, or unaffiliated ones. These centres not only cover the length and breadth of the Indian sub-continent, but also are in Europe, Russia, Japan, South America, Africa, Canada and the United States.
(taken from Life in Indian Monastries by Swami Bhaskarananda)
In short, the ideal of the Ramakrishna Order is to strive for inner perfection through God-realization and at the same time to work for the good of the world.
The aim of the monastic Order is to practice and preach the Eternal Religion (Sanatana Dharma), as embodied in the lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi, and Swami Vivekananda.
The motto of the Ramakrishna Order is Renunciation and Service, and the Harmony of Religions.
The method is Work as Worship.
The activities of the Order are ritualistic worship, meditation and spiritual instruction; training of monastics; propagation of ethical, spiritual and cultural values through preaching and publication of books and magazines; providing general and technical education built on an ethical and spiritual foundation; running orphanages; medical services; relief and rehabilitation during natural calamities; integrated rural development and welfare programs; and religio-cultural activities.