Ramakrishna Math is the administrative legal organization of the Ramakrishna Order, which is considered part of the Hindu reform movements. It was founded in 1886 by Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramhansa at Baranagar Math, Baranagar near Calcutta (now Kolkata), India.
Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission are headquartered at Belur Math, in West Bengal, India. Both are legally and economically separate but they are closely related. So, they are considered twin organizations.
Centers of Ramkrishna Math
The Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission have 214 centers all over the world:
- 163 in India,
- 15 in Bangladesh,
- 14 in the USA,
- 2 in Russia, and South Africa,
and each in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, Netherlands, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and United Kingdom.
There are also 45 sub-centers – 22 in India and 23 outside India, under different centers.
Besides these branch centers, there are about one thousand unaffiliated centers, called ‘private centers’, all over the world started by the devotees and followers of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.
Ramakrishna Math consists of monks. The Ramakrishna Order is the monastic lineage. In January 1886 at the Cossipore House, Ramakrishna founded the Ramakrishna Order by giving the ocher cloth of sacrifice to his twelve disciples close to him.
In 1886, when Master Sri Ramakrishna passed away, the young disciples under the leadership of Swami Vivekananda organized themselves into a new monastic order.
The original monastery at Baranagar is called Baranagar Math. In January 1899, it was shifted to Belur, Howrah.
Mother Of Order
Sri Sarada Devi popularly called Holy Mother and Sangha Janani (Mother of the Order). She played an important role in the establishment of the Ramakrishna Order,
During the early days, when young monks were wandering about impoverishment, it was the holy mother who gave them encouragement, inspiration, and prayers.
During his lifetime, Ramakrishna trained his young disciples with Narendranath (the future Vivekananda) as his anointed leader.
It is these disciples – some of whom were also blessed with monastic robes by Ramakrishna himself, that formed the core of a new monastic order that bears his name now.
Swami Vivekanand and fifteen others were founders of this order. They assumed a new name with formal monastic vows.
From February 1892 to February 1898, the Ramakrishna Math was located at Alambazar, half a mile from Dakshineshwar Temple.
Nilambar Mukherjee Garden
Before moving to Belur Math, the math was temporarily moved to the Nilambar Mukherjee Garden for a short period.
This monastery serves as the Mother House for all the monks of Ramakrishna Order, for both Ramakrishna Math and/or Ramakrishna Mission.
Motto and emblem
Vivekananda realized that every organization which has an intention to guide people have some motto. So, he placed before it the motto: आत्मनो मोक्षार्थम् जगद्धिताय च – Atmano Mokshartham jagaddhitaya cha (‘For the liberation of the Self and service to the society’). He also designed a distinctive emblem that effectively reflects its motto.
It has a beautiful swan against the backdrop of the rising sun, surrounded by undulating water, which produces a beautiful lotus flower with a few leaves. This entire picture is surrounded by a dagger snake.
While the motto adds a social dimension, the purely personal, aspect of self-centered cultivation, the symbol – which represents a balanced combination or harmony of all four yogas – enhances that cultivation more broadly.
Swami Vivekananda explained the imagery in the following terms:
“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.”
Vivekananda’s unique philosophy of life in front of the Ramakrishna order automatically divided his actions into two important, but parallel, areas.
The atmamoksha aspect resulted in the establishment of the Ramakrishna Math, an organization catering mainly to the spiritual needs of its voters as well as the monks of the order.
On the other hand, jagaddhita aspect gave rise to a sister organization, concentrating solely on public service activities.
Characteristics of Ramakrishna Math
The Ramakrishna movement does not identify itself with any particular sect or group or tradition. It embraces the entire gamut of religious-spiritual development of the entire Hindu culture over the last five thousand years or more.
It also has room for other religions and faiths. The Ramakrishna Math, therefore, also allows people outside Hinduism to adopt monastic life following exemplary basic monastic themes in the life of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda.
From his foundation years, Ramakrishna monks have chosen to live in a group. Although from time to time, the monks would walk in solitude or wander alone, the spirit of brotherhood among them was too strong to keep anyone away from the monastery for long.
Since Sri Ramakrishna himself declared on the Sadhu Sangha (Holy Company), it is natural for his disciples to seek each other’s company. The greatest benefit of the sangha (organization of monks) is strengthening the spiritual vibrations of each other and removing one angularity.
The philosophy of service of this union is serving Jiva as Shiva (God). Thus, usually, the only function of social service is advanced to spiritual practice.
“No work is secular” is a popular dictatorship in the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda circle. In addition, its members practice the teachings of Karma Yoga of ‘perfection in action’, therefore, as a spiritual discipline one has to complete any work done with efficiency.
Attitude toward social reform
Swami Vivekananda urged for ‘root and branch reform’ and not just for superficial progress or development. Real improvement begins with improving and refining one’s own character.
Character building and personality development are some of the activities undertaken by the Ramakrishna Center to bring about real lasting change in society. Therefore, the Ramakrishna order is not directly included in any social reform.
Attitude toward politics
Swami Vivekananda strictly prohibited his organization from taking part in any political movement or activity with an unaware view of the future.
Why? Because the monk is a world citizen, hero, a man of God! (And, world citizens do not manipulate politics, whereas God has no politics.)
Ramakrishna Math was registered as a trust in 1901. The management of the monastery lies in the Board of Trustees who are monks only.
The monastery is a separate legal entity with its branches. It has well-defined rules of procedure. It emphasizes religious practices and the promotion of religion.
The monastery has its own separate fund and maintains detailed accounts which are reviewed yearly by qualified Chartered Accountants.
In meeting with the order’s senior monks, the trustees elect from among themselves one president, three vice presidents, one general secretary, and four assistant secretaries.
The President, also known as the ‘Sanghguru’, is the supreme head of the entire organization and has the sole authority to declare the sanyas or mantras.
Presidents, vice-presidents (or heads of a foreign center) also have the right to give initiation or mantra initiation to devotees who desire it.
The Secretary-General is the administrative head of the organization. However, their power is limited to executing decisions taken by the members of the trustee / governing body, although they are at liberty to act in matters of day to day administration. Assistant secretaries work under his guidance.
The individual centers of the monastery are appointed by the management and mission, by secretaries, by trustees/members of the governing body.
Again, their centers are expected to further their work with the help of monastic members allocated to volunteers and paid-workers.
As of 31 March 2014, there were 409 monastic members, 254 lay members, and 181 lay associates.
The fundamental truth taught by all religions is that man has to change his base human nature into the God who is within him.
In other words, he must reach into the most mysterious area of his existence, in which his unity with all mankind lies. And Vedanta can help us to approach and live with the truth that reveals our true nature – the divinity hidden in man.
Vedanta is not a particular religion but a philosophy that contains the basic truths of all religions.
It teaches that the true nature of man is divine; It is the purpose of man’s life on earth to share and reveal the divinity hidden within him, And this truth is universal.
Thus Vedanta gives a universal message, the message of harmony. In its insistence on the divinity of man and the personal experience of the truth of God in the universality of truth, it has kept the soul of religion alive since the age of the Vedas (ancient scriptures). In our time too, there have been people like Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and Gandhi.
Read about Pandita Ramabai