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Humble beginnings of an extraordinary Institution

June 15, 2012

Great Institutions do not get built overnight. The sweat and hard work that goes into building them is usually not visible to many. Many organizations start off as the vision of one or two people. Over time, hundreds need to work together in unison to build them. The Ramakrishna Math and Mission is one such Institution. Today one can see hundreds of its centers around the world. They run schools, hospitals and other welfare and spiritual activities through these centers. It is very difficult for a lay observer today to understand the struggles and the hard work that hundreds of monks, inspired by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, must have put in to make the Mission what it is today. It is also difficult for one to believe the hurdles and obstacles that Swami Vivekananda faced when he set up the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, Swamiji wrote, “Then came the sad day when our old teacher died. We nursed him the best we could. We had no friends. Who would listen to a few boys, with their crank notions? Nobody. At least, in India, boys are nobodies. Just think of it – a dozen boys, telling people vast, big ideas, saying they are determined to work these ideas out in life. Why, everybody laughed. From laughter it became serious; it became persecution. Why, the parents of the boys came to feel like spanking every one of us. And the more we were derided, the more determined we became.”

These young unmarried disciples of the Master, who belonged to his inner circle, had attended on him day and night at the Cossipore garden house, where Sri Ramakrishna had spent the last days of his life. After his passing away, most of them returned to their families against their will. They had not yet formally renounced the world. For a short while they kept their family names. But Sri Ramakrishna had made them renounce the world mentally. He himself had initiated several of them into the monastic life, giving them the ochre cloths of sannyāsis.

But two or three of the Master’s attendants had no place to go. To them the large-hearted Surendra, who was a householder devotee of Ramakrishna said, “Brothers, where will you go? Let us rent a house. You will live there and make it our Master’s shrine; and we house-holders shall come there for consolation. How can we pass all our days and nights with our wives and children in the world? I used to spend a sum of money for the Master at Cossipore. I shall gladly give it now for your expenses.” Accordingly he rented a house for them at Baranagore, in the suburbs of Calcutta, and this place became gradually transformed into Math, or monastery. For the first few months Surendra contributed thirty rupees a month. As the other members joined the monastery one by one, he doubled his contribution, which he later increased to a hundred rupees. The monthly rent for the house was eleven rupees. The cook received six rupees a month. The rest was spent for food.

Narendra who was busy conducting a law suit pertaining to his family, used to spend the night at the monastery. He exhorted the others to join the brotherhood. Lest this devotion should become dammed up within the narrow limits of a creed or cult, the leader forced them to study the thought of the world outside. He himself instructed them in western and eastern philosophy, comparative religion, theology, history, sociology, literature, art and science. He read out to them the great books of human thought, explained to them the evolution of the universal mind, discussed with them the problems of religion and philosophy, and led them indefatigably towards the wide horizons of the boundless truth which surpassed all limits of schools and races, and embraced and unified all particulars truths. This was how the Ramakrishna Math and Mission began from a small, dilapidated rented house from very humble origins.

Kannada version in Prajavani (21-Jun-12)

Balu