Vedanta, as revealed to the saints of Ancient India, teaches that man’s real nature is divine, that the true object of human life is to unfold and manifest this divinity and that truth is universal.

Vedanta believes in one God who has both ‘transcendental’ and ‘immanent’ aspects. God-vision can be obtained by controlling nature, internal and external, and through paths (yogas) of knowledge (Jnana-yoga), selfless work (Karma-yoga), devotion (Bhakti-yoga), and psychic control (Raja-yoga).

Vedanta accepts all the religions of the world and reveres the great prophets, teachers, and sons of God because it recognizes the same divine inspiration in all.

The Ramakrishna Order is founded on the ideals of Vedanta as propounded by and exemplified in the lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, the great saint of Modern India, and Swami Vivekananda, his chief disciple and himself a great spiritual luminary.

The Order that came into being after Sri Ramakrishna’s passing away to keep alive his ideal has now 171 branches in and outside India, with its Headquarters at Belur Math. From a legal point of view, the organization has two distinct wings — the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. But this distinction is tenuous, often overlaps, and therefore, more theoretical than real. The Math and the Mission are closely related, for the Governing Body of the Mission is made up of the Trustees of the Math and the administrative work of the Mission is mostly in the hands of the monks of the Math. Though the origin of both the Math and the Mission can be traced back to the days of the Baranagar monastery, the Math was registered as a trust only in 1901, and the Mission, a registered society, in 1909, twelve years after it had been started by Swami Vivekananda on 1 May 1897. People, however, loosely use the name ‘Ramakrishna Mission’ to mean both the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission.

To stress the point: though both the Math and the Mission take up charitable and philanthropic activities, the former lays emphasis on the spiritual development of people and the latter gives priority to welfare work. The motto the twin organizations follow is the same, one that Swami Vivekananda put before them, ‘Atmano moksartham jagaddhitaya ca’ — doing good to the world with a spirit of worship and thus paving paths for one’s own salvation. The following paragraphs will show in brief how the Math and the Mission carry out this ideal of Swami Vivekananda into practice:

The Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission have been from their very inception doing relief services in times of natural calamities like flood, famine, drought, etc. Public support is the principal resource on which relief work depends.

Medical Services:
As part of their program of service to the sick and the ailing, the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission run indoor hospitals, out-patient dispensaries, mobile health units, etc. It has (1) 14 hospitals with 2,061 beds (2) 95 out-patient dispensaries and (3) 28 mobile dispensaries. The Mission has also a T.B. Sanatorium at Ranchi in Bihar State and a T.B. Clinic in Delhi.

Educational Activities:
A nation is advanced in proportion as education and intelligence are spread among the masses, said Swami Vivekananda and he urged ‘Education, education, education alone’ as the panacea of the problems of India. The Math and the Mission, therefore, with their limited resources, try to educate people so that they may play their role in the making of a better India. Among the educational centres they run at present, there are five Degree Colleges, five Teachers’ Training Colleges, eleven Higher Secondary Schools, 34 Secondary Schools and 137 Schools of different denominations, seven Junior Technical Industrial Schools, two Institutes of Agriculture, two Schools of Languages, one Sanskrit College, two Sanskrit Schools, four Polytechnics, one Computer Centre, and 471 non-formal education units. Besides, they have 97 Students’ Homes, Hostels, and Orphanages and also a Blind Boys’ Academy.

Work for Women:
‘All nations have achieved greatness by paying proper respect to women’ and a country can’t progress by neglecting its womenfolk, just as a bird can’t fly without one of its wings’, said Swami Vivekananda. The Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission, therefore, do not neglect or look down upon women. Relief and medical services are rendered to men and women alike. A woman can visit the shrine of a centre, attend its public celebrations, classes and meetings, enjoy library facilities just as a man does. Besides, some of the centres have units working exclusively for women. To name only a few of them: (i) Maternity sections at the hospitals in Calcutta, Trivandrum, and Vrindaban, (ii) the Domiciliary and Maternity Clinics at Jalpaiguri and Khetri, (iii) the Invalid Women’s Home at Varanasi, (iv) the Sarada Vidyalaya at Madras, (v) three Girls’ High Schools at Jamshedpur, (vi) the Sarada Mandir at Sarisha and (vii) four Training Schools for nurses at Trivandrum, Vrindaban, Itanagar, and Calcutta. Through literature and preaching, the monks of the Ramakrishna Order keep reminding men of their duties toward women and of the respect men ought to show them. But keeping in mind Vivekananda’s view that women’s problems could be better solved if they were taken care of by women themselves and that male interference in women’s affairs might do more harm than good, they work for women only in a limited way. The major portion of this task they leave to be accomplished by the Ramakrishna Sarada Math and Sarada Mission, which is exclusively a women’s organization, having the same ideals but completely separate from the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission.

Work for Youth:
Vivekananda’s hope and confidence lay in the youth of the country. The Math and the Mission, therefore, pay special attention to the young, to their moral uplift in particular. Besides a good number of schools and colleges they run, the monks always try to keep in touch with the young. Through study circles, seminars, and youth forums, youths are made acquainted with the message of Swami Vivekananda. Special mention should be made in this connection of the Vivekananda Study Circle of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Calcutta. It is a youth forum that meets once in a fortnight at the Institute and organizes youth conventions in Calcutta and rural areas at weekends.

Attention to Weaker Sections:
In extending medical services, distress relief, and education, the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission pay special attention to the needs of those who are weak both from the material and cultural points of view. Within their limited resources, the Order tries its utmost to alleviate the conditions of the poor, the backward, and the tribal people in different parts of the country. The aim is to restore their lost individuality, to expose them to the world at large.

The Math and the Mission do these in three ways : (a) by bringing such backward people from rural areas and exposing them to mainstream Indian Culture; (b) by sending out dedicated workers to rural areas where they impart secular knowledge, so as to raise them gradually to a status of equality with the rest of the people of India; (c) the medical and educational institutions run by the Math and the Mission cater to poor and backward people and extend relief operations in times of need. All these are done by the Math and the Mission in no spirit of pity but in a spirit of worship of God.

Spiritual and Cultural Work:
Both the Math and the Mission lay emphasis on the dissemination of the spiritual and cultural ideas of India. They do this through regular classes, meetings, public celebrations, the publication of books, etc. Attempts are made by these means to make people aware of their moral and spiritual legacy, of the fact that life becomes worthwhile when one lives for others. In the case of religion, they preach only the universal truths of the Vedanta exemplified in Sri Ramakrishna’s life and teachings. People are made to understand that they are potentially divine and that they have immense possibilities.

These messages are carried to a larger section of people through the publication of books on Ramakrishna-Vivekananda, Vedanta, and Indology. More than ten centres publish books in English, Bengali, Hindi, and other Indian languages, and the Math and the Mission have more than 500 titles and 12 journals.

Foreign Centres:
Both the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission have a network of more than 140 branches all over the world. With their faith in the unity of mankind as taught by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, the Math and the Mission are inspired by the principle of give-and-take, reciprocity in their dealings with the West. India has to learn from the West, said Swami Vivekananda, the conquest of external nature and the West has to learn from India the conquest of internal nature. The two cultures are thus complementary to each other. In addition to India, the Math and the Mission have centres in the U.S.A., Canada, Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, Fiji, Mauritius, Singapore, Bangladesh Sri Lanka, and Australia where the monks of the Ramakrishna Order are actively engaged in preaching the Vedanta and the universal message of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda.