The organizations were brought into existence by Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886), the great 19th-century saint from Bengal who is regarded as the Prophet of the Modern Age, and Sri Ramakrishna’s chief disciple, Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), one of the foremost thinkers and religious leaders of the present age, who is regarded as ‘one of the main moulders of the modern world‘, in the words of an eminent Western scholar A.L. Basham.
Although Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission are legally and financially separate, they are closely interrelated in several ways and are regarded as twin organizations.
These twin organizations have set in motion a non-sectarian, universal spiritual movement which has been silently working for more than a hundred years to catalyze the spiritual regeneration of humanity.
The chief catalyst in this ongoing transformation is India’s ancient religious philosophy known as Vedanta. Although several other systems of philosophy arose in India at different times, they were confined to small groups. Vedanta alone has remained the dominant philosophy of India’s religious tradition from Vedic times to the present day. In modern times this ancient system of thought has been purified, unified and energized by Sri Ramakrishna, and expounded in the modern idiom by Swami Vivekananda and thus made available to all people all over the world without any distinctions of caste, creed or race.
The Ramakrishna Order does not believe in conversion, nor does it indulge in the occult or the sensational. The Order places utmost importance on personal spiritual unfoldment and selfless service. Inspired by the idea of the harmony of all faiths, its centres encourage adherents of different faiths to meet in a spirit of friendship and mutual appreciation, and to learn from one another without having to give up one’s own faith. In the words of Sri Ramakrishna:
“God has made different religions to suit different aspirants, lives and countries … all doctrines are only so many paths; but a path is by no means God Himself. Indeed one can reach God if one follows any of the paths with whole-hearted devotion.”
MOTTO: The motto of the twin organizations is Ātmāno mokṣārthaṃ jagata hitāya ca, “For one’s own salvation and for the welfare of the world”. It was formulated by Swami Vivekananda.
IDEALS: Work as worship, potential divinity of the soul, and harmony of religions are three of the noteworthy ideals on which these two organizations are based. It is this ideal of service to man as service to God that sustains the large number of hospitals, dispensaries, mobile medical units, schools, colleges, rural development centres and many other social service institutions run the twin organizations.
Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission are worldwide, non-political, non-sectarian spiritual organizations which have been engaged in various forms of humanitarian, social service activities for more than a century. Inspired by the ideals of renunciation and service, the monks and lay devotees of the Math and Mission serve millions of men, women and children, without any distinction of caste, religion or race, because they see the living God in them.
The headquarters of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission are situated at an area named Belur in the district of Howrah, State of West Bengal, India. The entire campus of the headquarters is popularly known as ‘Belur Math’.
BELUR MATH, sprawling over forty acres of land on the western bank of the River Hooghly (Ganga), in Howrah district, is a place of pilgrimage for people from all over the world professing different religious faiths. Even people not interested in religion come here for the peace it exudes. The serene campus of Belur Math includes temples dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda, in which their relics are enshrined, and the main monastery of the Ramakrishna Order. The place has been sanctified by the stay of Swami Vivekananda and most of the monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna who spent several years here. Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi also visited this place on several occasions. The room in which Swami Vivekananda attained Mahasamadhi has been preserved here. The headquarters of the worldwide twin organizations known as Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission are also situated here. An added attraction is the Ramakrishna Sangraha Mandira, a museum where several articles connected with Sri Ramakrishna and his disciples are exhibited. The green lawns and lush growth of trees and bushes everywhere add to the serenity and beauty of the place.
The work of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, which was put on a firm foundation by Swami Vivekananda, has steadily grown over the years and the number of branch centres has multiplied. They have now more than 200 branches in different parts of India and abroad, devoted to the twin ideals of contemplative life and service of God in man. Their service activities cover different areas of human need and social welfare such as education, healthcare, rural development, self-employment, women’s welfare, interfaith understanding, moral life, spiritual guidance, and relief and rehabilitation work for victims of calamities. The branch centres of the Math and the Mission run hospitals, dispensaries, mobile medical units, colleges, schools, polytechnics, hostels, orphanages, libraries, publication houses, rural development centres, etc catering to the needs of thousands of people. The twin organizations have also been ever vigilant and intensely active in rendering relief to the victims of earthquakes, floods, famines, epidemics, cyclones, riots and such other calamities.
The ideology of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission 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.
1. Selflessness, Sacrifice, Love: The principle of selflessness or unselfishness is an essential teaching of the Holy Trio, and constitutes the very first step in the three main spiritual paths of Karma, Bhakti and Jnána. Monks of the Ramakrishna Order look upon their Sangha as the mystical body of Sri Ramakrishna, and they learn to merge their individual egos with 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 practising self-analysis, learn to identify themselves with the Pratyagátman 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.
The ideal of service followed in the Ramakrishna Movement is based on the principle Ùiva-jñáne jæva-sevá, to serve man as potentially Divine. However, it is not easy to serve everyone, especially the poor and the sick, in a spirit of worship. This ideal of service calls for a lot of sacrifices, the sacrifice of one’s time, energy, comforts, etc. It is these sacrifices which the members of the 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.
2. 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, and 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
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.
Medical Service: The Ramakrishna Math and Mission has 14 hospitals, more than 100 outdoor dispensaries and more than 50 mobile dispensaries (which serve mostly in rural and tribal areas). The hospitals and dispensaries are situated in cities, towns, and even in little villages in the Himalayas and are meant primarily for the poor. Lakhs of patients were treated in these medical centres. Besides these, a considerable number of medical camps are organized, mostly in rural areas, where thousands of patients are treated, and many patients are operated on for cataracts free of cost. The Ramakrishna Math and Mission run 7 nurses’ training centres where about 700 students are trained in nursing every year. Two old-age homes for men and one for women are also maintained.
Educational Work: The Ramakrishna Math and Mission run 1 university with 5 off-campus faculty centres, 7 colleges, including 1 Sanskrit college, more than 500 schools of different grades, 2 schools of languages, 4 polytechnics, 6 junior technical and industrial schools, 79 vocational training centres, 100 hostels, 6 orphanages, 2 centres for the disabled, 1 school of Vedic education, and 129 non-formal education centres.
Work in Rural and Tribal Areas: For rural and tribal people, the Ramakrishna Math and Mission run 2 institutes of agriculture and 8 rural development training institutes. Besides, farmers are taught improved methods of cultivation and also provided with agricultural inputs and financial help. Projects such as construction of toilets and pucca houses, wasteland development, holding farmers’ fairs, soil testing, planting of fruit and forest trees, etc are undertaken. Drinking water is provided by digging borewells and tube wells.
Welfare Work: Both the headquarters and its branches provide scholarships and stipends to a large number of students, medical aid to poor patients and monetary help to aged and destitute men and women. This was in addition to the huge sums spent by our educational institutions for the benefit of poor students and by the hospitals and dispensaries for the treatment of poor patients.
Work for Women: The twin organizations serve women through the maternity sections of their hospitals, an old-age home for women, schools of nursing, self-help groups and vocational training centres for rural women and providing monthly allowance to widows.
Activities for Youngsters: In all the educational institutions run by the Ramakrishna Math and Mission special attention is paid to character-building and spiritual orientation of students. Apart from this, many of the branch centres conduct programmes for youngsters which provide recreational, cultural and spiritual activities for them outside their school and college hours. The range of activities include chanting of hymns, devotional singing, participation in literary activities and games, instruction on character building and ethical life, telling stories about great people, etc.
Spreading Religion and Culture: This is accomplished through a large number of libraries, lectures, discourses and seminars, audio-visual units, exhibitions, museums, retreats, and publishing books, journals, etc. The Math and Mission publish 22 journals in 15 languages. Books on Vedanta, the message of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda, spirituality and world religions in almost all the major languages of India and in some of the important languages of other countries are published from the 18 publication centres. In English alone more than 1,000 titles are brought out. Hundreds of titles have been brought out in almost all regional languages, including some tribal languages.
Spiritual Service: Almost every Math centre maintains a shrine dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna where ritualistic worship is offered to Him every day. At dusk árati is done along with congregational singing of vesper hymns and bhajans in which monks and devotees participate. On festival days and on the birthdays of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda, special spiritual programmes are arranged in which thousands of people participate. The birthday of Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha and Jesus Christ are observed in all our centres. Another form of spiritual service is talks and advice on spiritual topics given by heads of centres and other monks to devotees, and the retreats and devotees’ conventions (bhakta sammelan) are organized at the centres for the benefit of devotees. The most important form of spiritual service, however, is dikshá or spiritual initiation given by the President, Vice-Presidents and a few selected senior monks of the Ramakrishna Order to sincere spiritual seekers.
Work Outside India: Swami Vivekananda was the first religious leader of India to spread Vedanta philosophy and spirituality in the West in an organized way. The seeds of thought that he sowed in the closing years of nineteenth century later sprouted and developed into what is known as ‘Vedanta Movement’ in the West. The first centre of Vedanta Society was started by Swamiji himself in New York in 1894. Now there are 13 such Vedanta Societies in the US. Outside the US also centres of Ramakrishna Math (and, in a few cases, centres of Ramakrishna Mission) have come into existence, invariably at the initiative of local devotees, in many of the cities in the West and in the East.
In most of the centres outside India, except Bangladesh, Fiji, South Africa and Sri Lanka, the main type of service conducted is spiritual. The Swamis in charge of these centres give discourses, classes and lectures on Vedanta scriptures and the message of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda. Individual spiritual guidance is given to sincere seekers. The aim of this kind of service is to enable people to find ultimate fulfillment and meaning in life within their own socio-cultural and religious milieu. Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission do not conduct any kind of proselytizing activity.
More details on the history, ideals and activities, along with the latest statistics, of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission are available <here>
More details on the Ramakrishna Math & Mission Centres are available on <belurmath.org>