Swami Vivekananda met with thundering applause for his speech at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago (USA) in 1893 that reverberated throughout the world. When he returned, his countrymen recognized him as their undisputed cultural leader. His message: "Nations like individuals must help themselves. Every nation, every man and every women, must work out his or her own salvation," gave concrete shape for the foundation of a new organization 'Ramakrishna Mission' on May 5, 1897 a service wing of the monastery. Though he passed away at an early age of 39, his institutions still flourish.
He was chief disciple of Ramkrishna Parmahamsa .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. Swami Vivekananda 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"
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.
Ramakrishna, the God-man of modern India, was born as Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya in the Bengal village of Kamarpukur in 1836. His father was a dedicated Brahmin 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. Gadadhar after skillfully mending a Krishna image from one of the other shrines was put in charge after the priest who broke the image was dismissed in a 'Kali temple'. The widow's son-in-law suggested the young priest should be called Ramakrishna. After Ramkumar,his brother, then priest of the temple 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 when they got married. 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 realized 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) near Calcutta. On 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, used to take 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 This gave Vivekananda an insight into the immense value of Indian thought to the West, and he saw clearly the vision of his life and he launched the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897 in India. 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 Monastry 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. In 1954 the Ramakrishna Sarada Math was founded as a division of the Ramakrishna Mission. Inspired by Sarada Devi, wife of Ramakrishna, this was for the training of an order of women mission workers.
Monks of the Ramakrishna Order profess Advaita, Vedanta and Shankara, worshipping the Supreme through symbols or icons for the religiously small-minded. But there is a place for ritual in Advaita and the Ramakrishna monks has an elaborate ritual for daily aarti 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.
The Ramakrishna Mission acquired a legal status when it was registered in 1909 under Act XXI of 1860. Its management is vested in a Governing Body. Though the Mission with its branches is a distinct legal entity it is closely related to the Ramakrishna Math. The Trustees of the Math are simultaneously the members of the Governing Body. The administrative work of the Mission is mostly in the hands of the monks of Math. The Mission has its own separate funds, for which it keeps detailed accounts, audited annually by chartered accountants. The Math and the Mission both have their Headquarters at Belur Math.
To a large extent, the Ramakrishna Mission has avoided controversies through its policy of non-involvement in politics. However, in a move that was highly controversial within its own ranks, the Ramakrishna Mission went to the courts in the 1980s in order to have the their organization and movement declared as a non-Hindu minority religion. According to the leadership, the mission did this purely as a matter of political necessity: there was a danger that the local government would take control of its charitable schools unless it could invoke the extra protection the Indian constitution accords to minority religions. The Supreme Court of India ruled against the Mission, citing many pages of evidence that it had all the characteristics of a Hindu organization.
The wisdom of the attempt by the Mission's leadership to characterize the Mission as non-Hindu was widely questioned within the membership of the organization itself, and the leadership today embraces the Mission's status as both a Hindu organization and as an organization that emphasizes the harmony of all faiths. Most members - and even monks - of the Ramakrishna mission consider themselves Hindus, and the Mission's founding figures, such as Swami Vivekananda never disavowed Hinduism.
This episode highlights the legal and constitutional discriminations in India against the Hindu majority, most urgently those in education and temple management. The constitutional bedrock of these discriminations is Article 30, which accords to the minorities the right to set up and administer their own schools and colleges, preserving their communal identity (through the course contents and by selectively recruiting teachers and students), all while receiving state subsidies. This same right is not guaranteed to the majority.