Ideology of Ramakrishna Order
VEDANTA & INDIAN CULTURE
Indian culture is believed to be at least five thousand years old. It has been able to maintain unbroken continuity for such a long time, overcoming innumerable internal dissensions, many invasions by foreign hordes and two centuries of subjugation by a European power, mainly because of the spiritual vitality of the Hindu religious tradition which forms it’s living core. The Hindu religious tradition it’self is a vast and complex confederation of religions which has no founder, no defining creed, no centralized authority. Nevertheless, it has maintained overall coherence, vitality and far-reaching influence for many centuries, mainly because it is based on a dynamic philosophy of life known as Vedanta.
Vedanta is not a religious creed or dogma which people accept out of fear of divine wrath or human wrath. Vedanta represents the timeless quest of the human soul for the Eternal and the Infinite. It is the outcome of the enquiries conducted by the ancient sages of India into the mystery of life, mystery of death, mystery of consciousness, mystery of Existence -much like the philosophical specula of ancient Greeks and the researches conducted by modern scientists. But, unlike these Western thinkers who relied on external observations, the ancient Indian sages, known as Rishis, developed technique of inner concentration, collectively called Yoga. The transcendental knowledge gained by the Rishis through Yoga was transmitted through the disciples who gathered around them. The records of this transmission of knowledge came to be known as Upanishads. The concepts of the Upanishads, most of which were articulated by the sages between 1,000 b.c. and 300 b.c., were systematized in subsequent centuries to form the Vedanta philosophy. Vedanta thus stands for the body of eternal truths and laws of the spiritual world which are universal, just as the truths and laws of the physical world discovered by modern science are universal.
Another unique feature of Indian culture is the spirit of religious toleration and freedom provided a hospitable environment for numerous sects, schools of thought and alien religions to flourish in India. Indian culture developed not by suppressing religious freedom or by destroying dissenting groups or alien cultures, but by integrating their best elements into it’s own body. Furthermore, at critical periods in the history of Indian culture, great personages like Sri Krishna, Shankaracharya and Sri Chaitanya appeared and facilitated this integration process.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Western culture, with it’s glorification of reason and science and proselytizing zeal, posed a great challenge to Indian culture, while their secular values individual freedom, social equality and justice attracted the intelligentsia of the land. It was then that Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda arose and met the challenge by revitalizing Vedanta and by incorporating the best elements of Western culture into it. Since the Western world it’self has been in a critical situation caused by the erosion of moral and spiritual values owing to the onslaught of materialism, the lives and message of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda have significance for people all over world.
One of the significant achievements of Swami Vivekananda is the rejuvenation and modernization of Hindu monasticism. Under the inspiration of Sri Ramakrishna, a monastic brotherhood by name Ramakrishna Math was started at a dilapidated building in Baranagore, in north Kolkata in 1886. It was later moved to a better building in Alambazar, Kolkata. With the funds provided by a Western follower of Swami Vivekananda, a big plot of land was acquired on the western bank of the Ganga at a place called Belur, and the monastery was finally shifted there on 2 January 1899.
It became a registered institution by name “Ramakrishna Math” when, on 30 January 1901, Swamiji executed a Deed of Trust, and vested the power of it’s administration in a Board of Trustees consisting entirely of monks. Branches of Ramakrishna Math soon came to be founded in different parts of the country. Although rooted in the three-thousand-year-old monastic tradition of India, and forming a part of the Ten Orders (dashanami) established by Shankaracharya in the 8th century a.d., the Ramakrishna Order represents a new pattern of monastic life which combines some of the best elements of the monastic traditions of the East and the West.
One of the main features of this new pattern of monastic life is the emphasis on service. All monks of the Ramakrishna Order when they are ordained as Brahmacharins (novices) take, apart from the vows of chastity and poverty, a vow of service to the poor, the sick and the ignorant. The Ramakrishna Math centres are meant not only for the dwelling of monks but also for service to society.
Another feature of this new pattern of monastic life is it’s modern outlook. The emphasis is on inner purity and detachment rather than on outer show. The monks wear tailored garments, live in houses with modern amenities and use modern modes of communication and travel.
Thirdly, the life of the monks, both individual and collective, is governed by definite rules and regulations originally framed by Swami Vivekananda. At present only unmarried young men in the age-group 18-30 are admitted as preprobationers. After one year of preprobationership and four years of probationership, the seeker is ordained a Brahmacharin and, after a further period of four years, if found fit, he is ordained a Sannyasin and receives a new monastic name.
Another feature of Ramakrishna Math is it’s universal outlook. It admit’s into it’s monastic fold not only people belonging to different castes of Hinduism but also people belonging to other religions. Not only Indians from various regions speaking different languages, but also Americans, South Americans, Russians, Japanese, and people of other nationalities-all live together in peace in Ramakrishna monasteries like children of the same parents.
This is the miracle that Sri Ramakrishna has brought about. He was a great lover of mankind. His love knew no distinctions of caste, creed or race. It is his love that is holding the whole monastic Order together. People join Ramakrishna monasteries not merely because of their attraction for monastic vocation but also because of their love for Sri Ramakrishna. Devotion to Sri Ramakrishna is yet another distinctive feature of the new type of monasticism of Ramakrishna Math.
Unlike the Ramakrishna Math which is a purely monastic institution, the Ramakrishna Mission is a public Association or Society open to monks as well as lay people. Any person who has faith in Sri Ramakrishna and his message and is in sympathy with the ideals and activities of the Ramakrishna Mission is eligible for it’s membership. Lay people help the monks in running educational, medical and other types of institutions. The Ramakrishna Mission was registered as a Society on 4 May 1909. It also has branches all over India and in some other countries.
The Ramakrishna Math is administered by a Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees has an elected President, one or more Vice-Presidents, a General Secretary, one or more Assistant Secretaries and a Treasurer.
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) it’self serves as the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission.
All letters regarding administrative matters of the Math or Mission are to be addressed to the General Secretary, who functions as the chief executive.
A branch centre of Ramakrishna Math has as it’s head an Adhyaksha appointed by the Trustees. A branch centre of Ramakrishna Mission is governed by a Managing Committee appointed by the Governing Body of Ramakrishna Mission. The Secretary of this Committee functions as the head of that branch.
The ideology of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission consists of the eternal principles of Vedanta as lived and experienced by Sri Ramakrishna and expounded by Swami Vivekananda. This ideology has three characteristics: it is modern in the sense that the ancient principles of Vedanta have been expressed in the modern idiom; it is universal, that is, it is meant for the whole humanity; it is practical in the sense that it’s principles can be applied in day-to-day life to solve the problems of life. The -basic principles of this ideology are given below:
God realization is the ultimate goal of life: One of the important discoveries made in ancient India was that the universe arises from and is sustained by infinite consciousness called Brahman. It has both impersonal and personal aspects. The personal aspect is known by different names, such as God, Ishvar, Jehovah and so on. Realization of this Ultimate Reality is the true goal of life, for that alone can give us everlasting fulfillment and peace.
Potential divinity of the soul: Brahman is immanent in all beings as the Atman which is man’s true self and source of all happiness. But owing to ignorance, he identifies himself with his body and mind and runs after sense pleasures. This is the cause of all evil and suffering. As ignorance is removed the Atman manifests itself more and more. This manifestation of potential divinity is the essence of true religion.
Synthesis of the Yogas: The removal of ignorance and manifestation of inner divinity leading to God realization are achieved through Yoga. There are four main Yogas: Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge); Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion); Raja Yoga (Yoga of Meditation); Karma Yoga (Yoga of Work). EachYoga is an independent means of realizing God. But since each Yoga involves the cultivation of one of the faculties such as reason, feeling or will, a combination of all the four Yogas is necessary for the development of a balanced, ‘fully functioning’ personality. It is this synthesis of Yogas that Swami Vivekananda regarded as the ideal of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. This ideal finds expression in the EMBLEM of the twin organizations shown here, which was designed by Swamiji himself.In the emblem the wavy waters represent Karma Yoga; the lotus flower represents Bhakti Yoga; the rising sun represents Jnana
Yoga; the coiled serpent represents Raja Yoga; the Swan represents the Supreme Self. The meaning of the ensemble is: by the combined practice of all the four Yogas the Supreme Self is realized.
Morality based on strength:According to Swami Vivekananda, weakness is the main cause of immorality, evil and suffering in life, and the cause of weakness is ignorance about one’s true nature as the Atman. Knowledge of the Atman gives us tremendous strength to overcome our weakness and lead a virtuous life. Everyone is endowed with so many potentialities, but owing to fear and weakness, most of these potentialities remain unactualized. When, through knowledge of the Atman, fear and weakness are overcome, these potentialities manifest themselves. Swamiji called this process ‘man making education’.
Harmony of Religions: Although the idea that ‘one Reality is known by different names’ (Vedas) and the idea that ‘different spiritual paths lead to the same goal’ (Gita) are found in the Hindu scriptures and in the teachings of several Hindu saints, Sri Ramakrishna was the first person in history to show through direct experience the transcendental unity of all religions. His message implies two kinds of religious harmony: harmony within Hinduism and harmony among world religions.
Harmony within Hinduism: Sri Ramakrishna did not identify himself with any particular sect of Hinduism but accepted Hinduism as a whole. He showed that Dualism, Non-dualism and other schools of Hindu philosophy represent different stages of the integral experience of Reality, and that the various Hindu deities are different aspects of one supreme Godhead. His message has brought about a great deal of harmony among the Hindu sects, and Sri Ramakrishna himself has become the symbol of the unity of Hindu religion.
Harmony among world religions: It should be noted that Sri Ramakrishna recognized the differences among religions but showed that, in spite of these differences, they lead to the Ultimate Truth. This is the meaning of his famous maxim, Yato mat, tato path, “As many faiths, so many paths”.
Apart from this, Swami Vivekananda also held that the religions of the world are expressions of one eternal Universal Religion. Since Vedanta contains all the basic principles and laws of the spiritual world, Swamiji regarded Vedanta as that eternal Universal Religion. That is to say, Vedanta can serve as the common ground for all religions.
Avatarhood of Sri Ramakrishna: According to the Hindu religious tradition, God incarnates himself as Avatara in every Age in order to give a new message to humanity suited to the needs of each Age. In the Ramakrishna Movement, Sri Ramakrishna is adored as the Avatara of the Modern Age. What this means is that his life and teachings have opened a new way of salvation for humanity. The uniqueness of Sri Ramakrishna’s Avatarhood is that it embodies the spiritual consciousness of earlier Avataras and prophets, including those who are outside the Hindu fold, and is in harmony with all religious traditions. In all the institutions of the Ramakrishna Order, worshipful reverence is shown to all Avataras and the founders of all religions.
A New Philosophy of Work: Swami Vivekananda has given a new philosophy of work for the modern world. All work in the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission is done according to this philosophy of work, which is based on the following principles.
All work is sacred: According to Vedanta, the physical universe is a manifestation of God known as Virat. Hence, as Sister Nivedita has stated, there is ‘no distinction between the sacred and the secular’. What this statement means is that all work is sacred. Even menial work such as sweeping the floor or mending shoes is to be done with as much attention and devotion as work in the shrine.
Work as worship: The Gita (18.46 & 9.24) states that the all-pervading God is the ultimate source of all work and the enjoyer of the fruit’s of all sacrifice. Hence all work is to be done as worship and the fruit’s of actions are to be offered to the Lord.
Service to man is service to God: One of the important principles Swami Vivekananda learned from his Master was siva-jiitlne jiva-seva, ‘to serve Jiva as Shiva’. Since man is potentially Divine, service to man is indeed service to God. Instead of looking upon a needy person as an object of pity, he is looked upon as an object of worship. Such an attitude elevates both the giver and the recipient.
Focus on service to the poor and the downtrodden: Swami Vivekananda was the first religious leader in India to speak for the poor and the downtrodden and to state boldly, ‘He who sees Shiva in the poor, in the weak and the diseased, really worships Shiva; and…..with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees Him only in temples.’ It was Swamiji who coined the word daridra-narayana to refer to the poor. Swamiji’s love and concern for the poor continues as a directive principle in the Math and Mission’s service programmes.
Work is a spiritual discipline: When work, any work, is done fulfilling the above conditions, it becomes a spiritual discipline: the mind gets purified and the potential Divinity of the soul manifests itself more and more. Thus work done as worshipful service benefits the doer himself spiritually: it becomes a spiritual discipline or Yoga. It is with this understanding of work as a spiritual discipline (Karma Yoga) that all the service activities of the Math and Mission, such as giving food and clothing to the poor, nursing the sick, etc, are undertaken. Thus service done as worship of God in man helps in two ways: it helps physically or mentally the person who is served, and it helps spiritually the person who serves.
This two-fold aim of service activities, indeed the whole ideology of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, has been put in a nutshell in the MOTTO of the twin organizations, Atmano mokshartham jagad hitaya cha, ‘For one’s own salvation and for the welfare of the world’, formulated by Swami Vivekananda.
SERVICE AS A WAY OF LIFE
The ideology of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission outlined above finds expression through their multifarious activities. These activities cover different areas of human need and social welfare such as education, health, rural development, self-employment, women’s welfare, inter-faith understanding, moral life, spiritual guidance, and relief to victims of calamities. All these activities are conducted as service, service to God in man.
In the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, service is not restricted to a particular type of activity conducted at a particular time, but is a way of life. Even when the monks are not doing any service in the outside society, they do service within the monastic community. And there is no time limit or age limit for this. The monks continue to engage themselves in various service activities until they are incapacitated by illness or extreme old age.
Service as a way of life followed in Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission has certain distinctive features. Some of these features are mentioned below.
Selflessness, Sacrifice, Love: The principle of selflessness or unselfishness is an important teaching, of the Holy Trio, and constitutes the very first step in the three main spiritual paths of Karma, Bhakti and Jnana. Monks of the Ramakrishna Order look upon their Sangha as the mystical body of Sri Ramakrishna, and they learn to merge their individual egos in the collective will of the Sangha. Furthermore, all their work and its fruit are offered as worship to the Lord. Individual members of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission do not claim credit for their actions; all credit goes to the Sangha. They engage themselves in service activities not for self-glorification but for the ‘greater glory’ of the Lord. Ramakrishna Order monks also follow the path of Jnana and, by the practice of self-analysis, learn to identify themselves with the Pratyagatman or Inner Self which is the unchanging inner witness of all thoughts and actions. Through all these means the monks learn to be unselfish and unegoistic.
As already mentioned, the ideal of service followed in Ramakrishna Movement is based on the principle Siva-jnane jiva-seva, to serve man as potentially Divine. It is not, however, easy to serve all, especially the poor and the sick, in a spirit of worship. This ideal of service calls for a lot of sacrifice, sacrifice of one’s time, energy, comforts, etc. It is these sacrifices which the members of Ramakrishna Movement undergo, without any expectation of reward, recognition or fame, that make their ideal of service authentic.
The motivation for service and sacrifice is love. The love that flows through Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission is Divine Love -the pure, imperishable love of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda for humanity. This Divine Love is the force holding together the Sangha, unifying monastic brothers and lay devotees.
Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: These three great ideals of democracy, about which humanity has been dreaming and talking for centuries, are becoming a social reality, in a silent and unobtrusive way, in the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission circles. Swami Vivekananda has repeatedly stated, ‘Liberty is the first condition of growth.’ Freedom from religious bigotry, intolerance, hatred and superstitions, freedom from religious, social and racial prejudices, in a word, freedom of thought and belief -this is a central fact in the Ramakrishna Movement. Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission’s activities aim at the welfare of all people without any distinctions of caste, creed or race. The rich and the poor, the Brahmin and the Harijan, Hindus, Muslims, Christians -all are treated as children of the same Divine parents. These institutions follow Vivekananda’s view that social equality is to be brought about, not by a process of ‘levelling down’ , but by ‘levelling up’ , that is, not by pulling down those who are already up but by raising up those who are down.
Excellence, Efficiency, Teamwork: These three qualities are generally associated with business enterprises, but they are the governing principles in all activities undertaken by Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. Since all work is done as worship, and only the best things are offered to the Lord, the members of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission try to do their allotted work in the best way possible. Care is taken to avoid waste or loss of any kind. Other than the minimum necessary for the maintenance of the institutions and their inmates, all the resources are used for the welfare of society. Again, as the monks are united by the strong bond of monastic brotherhood, they find it easy and natural to work as a team, and this has contributed much to the success of the twin organizations.
Truthfulness, Honesty, Transparency: Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission scrupulously follow all statutory and contingent rules and conditions with regard to receiving and spending funds, which come mostly through public donations and government grants. Their accounts are regularly audited and made available to the public. Transparency in financial matters is a hallmark of the Math and Mission.
Social commitment without politics: In a democratic country which follows the principle of ‘Welfare State’, any kind of social service necessarily involves interaction with the Government. However, being a spiritual organization which aims at the spiritual regeneration of humanity, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission maintain their position above active politics and political affiliations.
MAIN SERVICE ACTIVITIES
The main activities conducted by Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission are given below.
Relief and Rehabilitation Work: Right from 1897, when Ramakrishna Mission was founded, it
has conducted extensive relief operations for the victims of natural disasters such as cyclone, flood, earthquake and fire almost every year and man-made calamities such as riots. In 2014-15 a sum of about 6.34 crore rupees was spent for the benefit of more than 3 lakh people belonging to about 2640 villages. A … summary of some of the major relief projects undertaken by the Math & Mission for victims of disasters in recent years is given below.
Assam, Bihr, Gujarat,Tamil nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal
Distribution of the following items among thousands of affected people, as per their need: rice,dal (lentils),chira (rice flakes), flour, sugar, I edible oil, milk powder, biscuit’s, drinking water,saris, dhotis, blankets, utensils, tarpaulins, solar l lanterns, etc. Further, at certain affected places houses and school/college buildings were constructed.
Arunachal Pradesh , Assam , Odisha
Assam , Kerala,
Tamil Nadu, West Bengal
Tamil Nadu , Telangana
In 2017-18, a total of 59,098 blankets and 2,27,429 winter garments were distributed through 102 branch centres in India and 6 branch centres in Bangladesh among the poor people affected by severe cold, flood, fire, etc.