By Swami Bhaskarananda
Swami Bhaskarananda is the Minister-in-Charge of the Vedanta Society of Western Washington. This article appeared in in the Winter 2001 issue of Global Vedanta.
When I visited Brazil the first time, several years ago, a friend there said to me, “Swami, do you know that we have a Ramakrishna Mission in Brazil?”
I was really surprised to hear that. The Ramakrishna Mission is an Indian-based religious and philanthropic organization with several branches outside India, but at that time there was none in Brazil. As a monk of the Ramakrishna Mission, I was certainly expected to know that. I emphatically said, “It’s impossible! The Ramakrishna Mission has no branch in Brazil.”
Nevertheless, the friend insisted that what he had told me was quite true, and that how the Ramakrishna Mission happened to be in Brazil without the knowledge of the Ramakrishna Mission in India was nothing short of a miracle.
The miracle took place in the city of Belo Horizonte, capital of the mineral-rich state of Minas Gerais. A planned city founded in 1897, Belo Horizonte is the third largest in Brazil.
In that city lived a gentleman named Mr. Arlindo Correa da Silva. He was born on June 2, 1910, in the city of Campina Grande in the state of Paraiba in northern Brazil. He studied at a Baptist college in Recife, the fourth largest city of Brazil and the capital of the contiguous state of Pernambuco. He was trained as an accountant, but chose to become a journalist in order to fight injustice, social abuse, and corruption in his country. At the age of 22 he moved to Belo Horizonte, joined the Spiritist church and started a journal named O Poder (The Power).
In 1954, by the time he had married and was in his forties, he had a vision of Sri Ramakrishna. He had already read a French book on Sri Ramakrishna—L’ Enseignment de Ramakrishna [The Teachings of Ramakrishna]—and must have seen Sri Ramakrishna’s picture in it. Sri Ramakrishna said to him, “I am going to send one of my sons to you.” So saying, Sri Ramakrishna disappeared.
Shortly thereafter he had another strange vision while bathing alone in a small pool in his home. A person arose from the water in front of him and said, “My name is Brahmananda; I am a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. He has sent me to help you.” These visions took Arlindo totally by surprise. They also scared him.
At that time Arlindo was associated with a well-known Spiritist teacher named Francisco Xavier, also called “Chico Xavier.” Arlindo described his visions to him, wanting to take his counsel. Chico Xavier reassured him and said, “Don’t be afraid, in the Gospels Jesus has said, ‘In my Father’s house there are many rooms.’” Arlindo understood that he must have entered another room of God’s house. All his fears disappeared.
From then onwards Swami Brahmananda began to appear to Arlindo every now and then and give him guidance. Swami Brahmananda instructed Arlindo about what religious books to read and also asked him to serve the poor children of the city. Even a copy of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna came to him—an unexpected gift from a friend!
In 1955 he started to care for children in his own home. Some of them lived with him; others went home at night to their families. Arlindo named his organization Missao Ramakrishna—Portuguese for Ramakrishna Mission. Eventually the organization was officially registered on February 6, 1959. Arlindo became its President and held that position until he passed away on June 20, 1993.
As the number of children increased, Arlindo’s own house proved to be too small for Missao Ramakrishna. Professor Arlindo (as he came to be called) sold whatever he could and bought a fairly large piece of land at a low price in Betim, a small town 50 kilometers away from Belo Horizonte. Later another house was acquired in Belo Horizonte to be used as the headquarters of the Mission. Nowadays, however, the headquarters is located at the original home of Professor Arlindo. The building has been modified to suit the requirements of the headquarters.
The first building of the Mission in Betim, constructed with the help of a bank loan, was inaugurated on March 31, 1960. The second building was built in 1961. At first there was a great scarcity of water on the Mission’s property in Betim. A firm was hired by the Mission to dig an artesian well. Several holes were dug, but they could not find any water. Then one day Swami Brahmananda appeared before Professor Arlindo in a vision, and pointing to a rocky spot on the property, said that water would be found there. Accordingly, digging was done on that particular spot and an abundant water supply was found. Later a second artesian well was dug, also following the instructions of Swami Brahmananda. All the water needs of the Mission are now adequately met by these two artesian wells. The Mission now has some fruit trees and a large vegetable garden, all irrigated by the water from these wells.
The journal O Poder, once an organ of the Spiritist movement, now mainly spreads the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, the Holy Mother Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Brahmananda and other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. The journal has a fairly wide circulation all over Brazil.
To make the Mission financially self-sufficient, a small macaroni factory and a factory that manufactures wire netting were started. The products of these two businesses are in great demand in that rural area. Wire netting is used there for fencing properties, vegetable gardens, etc. There is a small workshop there to teach automobile mechanics, and a second workshop containing several handlooms that are used to instruct the women and children in how to produce various handloom products.
In the May-June/1993 issue of the bimonthly journal Vedanta for the East and West, Swami Bhavyananda of the Bourne End (England) Vedanta Society wrote a beautiful article entitled Further Wanderings in Argentina and Brazil: Pages from a Journal. In that article he wrote about the Missao Ramakrishna in Brazil, describing among its attractive features its prayer hall or “temple” in Betim for the children. Swami Bhavyananda writes:
At 7 pm everyone goes to the temple, where they sing little hymns in praise of Sri Ramakrishna, the Holy Mother—whom the children affectionately call Little Mother—Swami Brahmananda, Sri Krishna, Jesus, etc. These hymns, mantras as the residents call them, were taught by Swami (Brahmananda). On this point, there is another interesting story:
When Swami Ritajananda (who was then the head of the Centre Vedantic Ramakrichna of Gretz, France) visited the Mission in March, 1992, he was surprised to hear a hymn that is very well known in South India, but being of a regional kind, is little known elsewhere. The children love to sing these hymns, and they often begin to sing spontaneously while they are doing their daily tasks, such as washing the dishes, sweeping the floor and even playing.
Miracles do happen, even these days! And one of them has happened in the city of Belo Horizonte in Brazil.
According to the latest reports from Missao Ramakrishna about 15,000 children have been given various kinds of help so far. In recognition of the excellent philanthropic work of the Mission, it has recently been awarded the prestigious Premio Itao/Unicef prize.