The Ramakrishna Order, with headquarters in Kolkata, is one of the largest and most respected religious orders in India today. The Order was inspired by the great Bengali saint, Sri Ramakrishna. Shortly before his death in 1886, Ramakrishna encouraged his young disciples to formally renounce the world by giving them the ochre cloth of renunciation. He entrusted the care of these young men to his foremost disciple, Swami Vivekananda, who later, in 1897, founded the Ramakrishna Order.
The Seal of the Ramakrishna Order
The emblem depicts the four paths to God:
- The wavy waters—unselfish work.
- The lotus—love of God.
- The rising sun—knowledge.
- The encircling serpent—awakening of spiritual power.
The swan represents the Supreme Being or Godhead. By the union of these four paths, the vision of God is obtained. The goal of the Ramakrishna Order is written in Sanskrit on the emblem: May the Supreme Spirit illumine us.
The Ramakrishna Order was formed along two parallel lines: The Ramakrishna Math, which is primarily dedicated to spiritual development, and the Ramakrishna Mission, which is dedicated to social service. In a sense these twin efforts cannot be separated, since the motto of the Ramakrishna Order has been since its inception: “Liberation for oneself and service to mankind.”
There are over 166 official centers of the Ramakrishna Order, and many more unofficial, or unaffiliated ones. These centers not only cover the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent, but can also be found in Europe, Russia, Japan, South America, Africa, Canada and the United States.
Those branches of the Ramakrishna Order located outside India are generally known as Vedanta Societies, and are under the spiritual guidance of the Ramakrishna Order. The work of the Vedanta Societies in the West has primarily been devoted to spiritual and pastoral activities, though many of them do some form of social service.
On the Indian subcontinent, the Ramakrishna Mission has been in the forefront of philanthropic activities. Its first social service efforts—inspired by Swami Vivekananda—began in 1897. Since that time, the Mission’s activities have continued to expand up to the present day.
The Ramakrishna Mission has its own hospitals, charitable dispensaries, maternity clinics, tuberculosis clinics, and mobile dispensaries. It also maintains training centers for nurses. Orphanages and homes for the elderly are included in the Mission’s field of activities, along with rural and tribal welfare work.
In educational activities, the Ramakrishna Mission has consistently been ahead of its time. It has developed some of the most outstanding educational institutions in India, having its own colleges, vocational training centers, high schools and primary schools, teachers’ training institutes, as well as schools for the visually handicapped. It also has adult education centers through out the county.
Whenever disaster has struck, the Ramakrishna Mission has been there to offer relief from famine, epidemic, fire, flood, earthquake, cyclone, and communal disturbances.