Ramakrishna Movement

(The excerpts below are from the speech deliv­ered by Swa­mi Gahananan­da­ji, the then Gen­er­al Sec­re­tary of the Rama­kri­shna Math and Rama­kri­shna Mis­sion, on 27 Decem­ber 1990 at the Con­fer­ence of Rama­kri­shna-Vivek­a­nanda Per­avi, Tamil Nadu, India, orga­nized by Sri Rama­kri­shna Math, Madras. Swa­mi Gahananan­da­ji lat­er became the 14th Pres­i­dent of the Rama­kri­shna Math and Rama­kri­shna Mis­sion and passed away in Novem­ber 2007)

Sri Rama­kri­shna is the cen­tral source of all pow­er in the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment. He came with a world­wide mis­sion, and all the activ­i­ties now are going on in his name are to be regard­ed as man­i­fes­ta­tions of his divine mis­sion. He is the focal point upon which the lives of the men and women and the func­tions of the var­i­ous insti­tu­tions of the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment con­verge. The Upan­ishad says Yatra viś­vam bha­vati eka nidam: “Where the whole world finds its com­mon nest, i.e. com­mon home.” This is indeed true of Sri Rama­kri­shna, although it may take more time for the world to real­ize this fact. Devo­tees of Sri Rama­kri­shna con­sti­tute a sin­gle fam­i­ly. We may have been born in dif­fer­ent places, we may speak dif­fer­ent lan­guages, we may have dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al back­grounds; nev­er­the­less, we all belong to the same fam­i­ly of Sri Rama­kri­shna. The foun­da­tion of this world­wide fam­i­ly was laid by Sri Rama­kri­shna him­self dur­ing his life­time.

What does the word “Move­ment” mean in this con­text? The rapid spread of the influ­ence of a set of moral and spir­i­tu­al ideas among a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple is what “Move­ment” means. A Move­ment is much vaster than an insti­tu­tion and is more dynam­ic than a sect. The Rama­kri­shna Move­ment sat­is­fies both these con­di­tions. It is one of the most pro­gres­sive move­ments of the present cen­tu­ry. Some of the high­est and noblest ideas and ideals of the mod­ern world have been giv­en to this Move­ment by Sri Rama­kri­shna and Swa­mi Vivek­a­nanda.

The Rama­kri­shna Move­ment con­sists of four streams. The Rama­kri­shna Math and Rama­kri­shna Mis­sion togeth­er form the main­stream. These twin insti­tu­tions were start­ed by Swa­mi Vivek­a­nanda at the behest of Sri Rama­kri­shna and with the help of the oth­er great dis­ci­ples of the Mas­ter, and the orig­i­nal inspi­ra­tion and pow­er are main­tained through an unbro­ken suc­ces­sion of spir­i­tu­al teach­ers and cen­tral­ized admin­is­tra­tion.

The lay devo­tees of Sri Rama­kri­shna form the first stream of the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment. The lay devo­tees have as impor­tant a part to play in the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment as the monks. It may be remem­bered here that Sri Rama­kri­shna did not encour­age his house­hold­er dis­ci­ples to renounce the world. On the oth­er hand, one of his teach­ings was that house­hold­ers also could real­ize God by ful­fill­ing cer­tain con­di­tions. And sev­er­al of the Master’s lay dis­ci­ples proved through their exem­plary lives the truth of his teach­ings. These exam­ples should inspire our house­hold­er devo­tees to tread the spir­i­tu­al path with faith, hope, and dig­ni­ty.

The lay devo­tees of Sri Rama­kri­shna include quite a num­ber of young men who do not want to mar­ry but who for var­i­ous rea­sons can­not become monks. In every Ashra­ma, you will find these young men doing a lot of vol­un­tary ser­vice. They are usu­al­ly referred to sim­ply as “Vol­un­teers.” They belong to the sec­ond stream.

Sri Sara­da Math and Rama­kri­shna Sara­da Mis­sion may be said to con­sti­tute the third stream of the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment.

The “Pri­vate Ashra­mas” func­tion­ing inde­pen­dent­ly, with­out admin­is­tra­tive affil­i­a­tion to the Rama­kri­shna Math and Rama­kri­shna Mis­sion, con­sti­tute the fourth stream of the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment. Of course, there is noth­ing “pri­vate” about them. They are indeed pub­lic insti­tu­tions based on the Rama­kri­shna-Vivek­a­nanda ideals of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and ser­vice.

The Rama­kri­shna Move­ment has as its com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tics cer­tain tra­di­tions and val­ues. Some of these are enu­mer­at­ed below:

  • No mir­a­cle-mon­ger­ing. Sri Rama­kri­shna nev­er encour­aged inter­est in mirac­u­lous pow­ers as it is a great obsta­cle to spir­i­tu­al progress. The fol­low­ers of the Mas­ter are expect­ed to be free from reli­gious hypocrisy and spir­i­tu­al pre­ten­sions.
  • Mod­ern out­look. In our way of life, social man­ners, per­son­al habits, and atti­tudes, we should be mod­ern and pro­gres­sive. Relics of past social cus­toms like caste dis­tinc­tions have no place in our indi­vid­ual or col­lec­tive life.
  • Non-sec­tar­i­an approach. Swami­ji has stat­ed that the one thing Sri Rama­kri­shna nev­er liked was set­ting lim­its to God. God has infi­nite pow­ers and can assume var­i­ous forms. A true fol­low­er of Sri Rama­kri­shna looks upon all reli­gions as valid means of real­iz­ing the ulti­mate Truth and regards the var­i­ous cul­tic prac­tices and spir­i­tu­al tech­niques as suit­ed to dif­fer­ent tem­pera­ments. Those who belong to the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment should nev­er asso­ciate them­selves with fanat­i­cal reli­gious groups or lead­ers.
  • Love. Sri Rama­kri­shna was the embod­i­ment of love. It man­i­fest­ed itself ful­ly through Holy Moth­er. And Swa­mi Vivek­a­nanda sac­ri­ficed his life for the wel­fare of human­i­ty. The love of these great per­son­ages is a pre­cious her­itage of the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment. Love must man­i­fest out­ward­ly as hos­pi­tal­i­ty. Hos­pi­tal­i­ty has been one of the time-hon­ored virtues of Indi­an cul­ture. And in the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment, hos­pi­tal­i­ty has always been asso­ci­at­ed with our Ashra­mas.

The Rama­kri­shna Move­ment stress­es on three more prin­ci­ples in our prac­ti­cal life:

  • First of all comes char­ac­ter. Unselfish­ness, truth­ful­ness, and puri­ty in per­son­al life are essen­tial virtues for a work­er of the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment. In order to do the work of the Lord, we need great inner strength. True inner strength can come only through inner puri­ty.
  • The sec­ond prin­ci­ple is spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Though moral­i­ty is essen­tial, mere moral­i­ty can­not bring last­ing peace or ful­fill­ment. The Rama­kri­shna Move­ment is pre-emi­nent­ly a spir­i­tu­al move­ment.
  • Final­ly, the prin­ci­ple of social ser­vice. Although there are now a num­ber of oth­er orga­ni­za­tions active­ly engaged in social ser­vices, the need for social ser­vice has not been reduced.

Swa­mi Vivek­a­nanda wrote in one of his let­ters:

A hun­dred thou­sand men and women, fired with the zeal of holi­ness, for­ti­fied with the eter­nal faith in the Lord, and nerved to lion’s courage by their sym­pa­thy for the poor and the fall­en and the down­trod­den, will go over the length and breadth of the land, preach­ing the Gospel of sal­va­tion, the Gospel of help, the Gospel of social rais­ing-up — the Gospel of equal­i­ty.

It is the duty of every one of the mem­bers of the Rama­kri­shna Move­ment to strive his utmost in bring­ing to fruition this great wish and hope of Swami­ji.