|Doctrines|| ||The Mission follows the inspiration of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1834-86), whose spiritual experience included bhakti, Tantra, and Advaita Vedanta, as well as visionary realizations in Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, and from these experiences he claimed that all religions lead to the same divine realization. His chief disciple, Swami Vivekananda, who spread Ramakrishna's gospel to the world, said "Do not care for doctrines, do not care for dogmas...they count for little compared with the essence of existence in each man which is spirituality, and the more that this is developed in a man, the more powerful he is for good"(Speeches and Writings of Swami Vivekananda, Madras, n.d.[about 1909], p.31).|
Although Ramakrishna is believed to have said that there are as many paths to salvation as there are points of view, some of his followers today advocate a quite definite path. Ramakrishna's experience was that the truth of all religions is a manifestation of the Shakti, or Divine Mother, and that this divine power is at work with everyone, including the poor, and thus inspiring the Mission's social service.
|History|| ||Ramakrishna, the God-man of modern India, was born as Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya in the Bengal village of Kamarpukur in 1836. His father was a devout brahmin named Khudiram who the previous year on a pilgrimage to a shrine at a footprint of Vishnu at Gaya had a vision in which Vishnu promised to be born as his son. As a small boy Gadadhar loved to listen to recitals of Hindu myths and epics, afterwards telling them from memory to the villagers. He had his first religious ecstasy at the age of six. Gadadhar never went to school and stayed illiterate all his life.|
When he was sixteen he went to Calcutta to help his brother, a local teacher. Ramkumar also served as priest to some brahmin families and Gadadhar helped him with this. A rich widow, Rani Rasmani, constructed a Kali temple and other shrines at Daksineswar and Ramkumar became the priest of the Kali temple. Gadadhar after skilfully mending a Krishna image from one of the other shrines was put in charge after the priest who broke the image was dismissed. The widow's son-in-law suggested the young priest should be called Ramakrishna. After Ramkumar died in 1856, Ramakrishna became priest of the Kali temple. He developed a special attachment to the devotion of this awesome goddess, whom he spoke of as "Mother." His devotion to her and continued meditation and religious ecstasies to gain a vision of the goddess's cosmic form attracted disciples and followers. His cousin looked after the temple while Ramakrishna was in frequent trances, which worried his family and they arranged for his marriage. Because of the poverty of the family it was difficult to find a bride; Ramakrishna himself indicated where she would be found. She was only five years old and the marriage appears never to have been consummated. Ramakrishna saw the goddess in his wife and named her Sarada Devi.
For the rest of his life Ramakrishna oscillated between the Absolute and the Relative on the threshold of Absolute Consciousness. He explored other religions and the paths of different Hindu sects. He realised his identity with Christ as he had done with Kali. From about 1880 a group of young men from high-caste families in Calcutta, including Narendranath Datta, gathered around him and just before his death Ramakrishna initiated them as monks. Once Narendranath touched Ramakrishna in samadhi and immediately saw God himself.
Two months after the death of Ramakrishna in 1886 his chosen disciple Narendranath established the Math (monastery) at Baranagore near Calcutta. The Viraja (non-attachment) ceremony for the monks was on 7 May 1887. This day was Vaishakhi Purnima, the day of the birth, enlightenment, and passing away of the Buddha. Vows of celibacy and non-possession as well as formal initiation into sannnyas, total renunciation, took place. This required names to be changed and Narendranath became Vivekananda.
After wandering for some years as a mendicant, Vivekananda represented Hinduism at the World's Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893. He was a sensation as "the Hindoo monk" and a powerful revelation to the assembly. This gave Vivekananda an insight into the immense value of Indian thought to the West, and he saw clearly the vision of his life. At Chicago he launched the Ramakrishna Mission which was formally founded on his return to India in 1897. This was part of the Ramakrishna Movement, which played an important part in the renaissance of Hinduism and inspired the early Indian nationalist movement.
The Math moved to Alambazar in 1891 and to Belur in 1898, a suburban village near Calcutta. From January 1899 this became the home and headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission. This has become a beehive of hundreds of active missionaries on the Western model. In India there are 84 Maths and mission centres and there are 31 outside India in a dozen countries.
In 1954 the Ramakrishna Sarada Math was founded as a division of the Ramakrishna Mission. Inspired by Sarada Devi, wife of Ramakrishna, this is for the training of an order of women mission workers. A network of centres is being established in India and abroad, including one at Santa Barbara in California.
|Symbols|| ||Monks of the Ramakrishna Order profess Advaita Vedanta and Shankara sais worshipping the Supreme through symbols or icons was for the religiously small-minded. But there is a place for ritual in Advaita and the Ramakrishna monks have an elaborate ritual for daily arati services.|
The icon becomes a photograph or bust of Ramakrishna, as with the marble statue of him in the Belur temple sitting in lotus posture on a lotus. The simplicity of the temple is similar to the interior of Jain temples. Incense is used together with the handbell, flowers, oil lamps, and the shell symbolizing water and infinity, and some other symbols.
Symbols are reinterpreted in an Advaitic context, so that the five basic elements - a flower for earth, a shell for water, an oil lamp for fire, a fly-whisk for air, and a folded napkin cupped in the hand for space - represent not an offering to a god but the fundamental unity of the person - the microcosm - and the macrocosm of being.
|Adherents|| ||No register is kept of adherents as all are free to attend. However, Swami Dayatmananda, head of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre, Blind Lane, Bourne End, Buckinghamshire SL8 5LG, England, estimates the number of adherents in thousands. He says: "The reason for this is that our Order is not a sect, it does not keep a register of its members. All are free to attend. There are Hindus, Christians and others who follow their own religion but respect Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna" (Personal communication, 4 July, 1996).|
| ||On the western bank of the Hooghly at Belur in the northern outskirts of Calcutta. The address is:|
Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, P.O. Belur Math, Dt. Howrah, West Bengal 711202, India.