The ideology of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission is based on the age-old principles of Vedanta, adapted to the present age by Sri Ramakrishna through a lifetime of spiritual research. Swami Vivekananda spread the teachings of his master all over the world, and the Ramakrishna Movement started. This movement is characterized by its modernity, that suits it to our current times; its universality, that makes it relevant to all of humanity; and its practicality, that makes it highly adoptable to everyday life. The fundamental tenets of this ideology are as follows:
1. Realizing God is the supreme end: The ultimate goal of human life is realization of the Absolute, which many refer to as ‘God’. It was discovered by ancient Vedic seers or rishis that beyond the immediate world of sensory perception and intellectual pursuit lies a deeper stratum of reality, an infinity of immanent consciousness that they called ‘Brahman’. Though beyond the scope of human speech and thought in its pure form, it is possible to eventually understand the Brahman with both an impersonal and a personal approach. It is this ultimate understanding and enlightenment that is the supreme goal of life.
- Each soul is potentially divine: As follows from the concept of the Universal Brahman, every single being is a manifestation and a vessel of the Supreme Spirit which is the fountainhead of all bliss. Although each of us might not seem to be equivalent to God, this is merely an illusion arising from the limitations of sensory perception. Once we see through the illusion that makes us identify with our discrete bodies, we reconnect with our true Self and realize ourselves to be That Absolute.
- Synthesis of the Yogas: The connection with our True Self, which we are unaware of in our everyday lives, can be realized through the practice of Yoga. The word Yoga literally means ‘union.’ There are four prime ways of Yoga – Jnana Yoga (Union through Knowledge); Bhakti Yoga (Union through Devotion); Raja Yoga (Union through Meditation); Karma Yoga (Union through Action). Each of these Yogas is a self-sufficient way of realizing God. However, individual persons would find one Yoga or the other to be best-suited to their personal temperament. The Ramakrishna Order endeavours to cultivate a balanced, fully-functioning personality in the individual by combining all four Yogas into a holistic lifestyle. This is the ideal laid down by Swami Vivekananda, which he captured graphically in the emblem of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.
- Strength as a source of Morality: Swami Vivekananda believed that all immorality and decadence are, fundamentally, derivations of weakness. This weakness may exist on the physical plane, or on the intellectual or ethical plane, but ultimately it arises because of the false sense of limitedness that keeps us blinded to our true divine nature. Thus, an adamantine faith in our inner strength and tireless cultivation of our potentialities are the best ways to actualize morality. Levelling up, and not levelling down, is the right way to go about the world: so believes the Ramakrishna Order.
- Harmony of Religions: Sri Ramakrishna discovered anew the ancient truth that had been propounded thousands of years ago by Indian sages – ‘Like the rivers take various paths, straight or crooked, but reach the same great ocean, believers of various faiths follow their own unique paths to the same ultimate Truth.’ With wonderful scientific temper, he experimented and explored in different religious disciplines and finally arrived at the conclusion that their differences were merely cosmetic. His life became a beacon of harmonious coexistence of all religious sects and creeds, as well as a brilliant example of singularly individual spirituality.
- Harmony within Hinduism: It took a Sri Ramakrishna to re-affirm the basic unity of Hinduism and dissolve the perceived barriers between its numerous sub-disciplines. Hinduism, being one of the oldest spiritual systems in the world, has a plethora of philosophical schools under its umbrella, which came to be developed over time to accommodate every possible human personality. Sri Ramakrishna clearly demonstrated that all this variety is simply a matter of superficial convenience, and the fundamental idea is the same across all of them. All deities represent the same Brahman, all modes of religious belief represent the same spiritual progression – this is what his life represents.
- Harmony among world religions: A long time before any sense of global cultural harmony developed in the modern world, Sri Ramakrishna preached the gospel of coexistence and mutual acceptance among his admirers. Heads and shoulders above any contemporary religious figure, he wholeheartedly embraced every faith in the world as a true path to the Absolute, stressing the underlying unity of all systems of belief. Walking in his footsteps, Swami Vivekananda expounded the Vedanta as an Universal Religion that is superbly suited to the modern world, and highlighted how Vedantic philosophy acts as a receptacle accommodating all religious faiths.
- Avatarhood of Sri Ramakrishna: The Hindu religious tradition speaks of God being incarnated on earth in a mortal body, as an Avatára. These incarnations are, in Swami Vivekananda’s words, ‘the fair flowers of human life.’ Their purpose of existence is to serve as teachers to humanity and to ‘set the world right,’ so to speak. Scriptures would remain confined to closed books and never have much meaning unless great souls came and lived the principles stated in them. In the Ramakrishna Movement, Sri Ramakrishna is regarded as the Avatára of the modern age. His Avatárhood is special since it is truly the Incarnation for a global age – an embodiment of the teachings of all Avatárs who came before. This makes the Ramakrishna Order catholic to an unprecedented degree.
- A New Philosophy of Work: Swami Vivekananda formulated a new philosophy for the modern world that elevates work to the level of worship. Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, therefore, engage in their social activities with a strictly spiritual outlook. The principles of this outlook are as follows:
- All work is sacred: The Vedanta says that there is no real distinction between the earthly and the ethereal – since all is a manifestation of the same Absolute. It follows from this conclusion that every kind of work, be it big or small according to traditional ideas, is the work of God. The Divine is not confined to a shrine, but also felt equally in the humblest of objects; Sri Ramakrishna saw God even in the crockeries and potteries, as Swami Vivekananda had once remarked. So, the Ramakrishna Order regards all work as sacred.
- Work as worship: Following naturally from the previous dictum, work is essentially worship in the eyes of a Vedantin. All action is carried out with purity of purpose and non-attachment to the results thereof, all fruits of actions offered up to the Lord. This is no mere ritual, but a conscious effort to constantly identify with the Absolute, rather than with the fleshly human body.
- Service to Man is service to God: One of the most revolutionary of Sri Ramakrishna’s assertions was that a religious person should regard their fellow human beings not with mercy, but with humble servitude. This is a simple, yet outstandingly bold statement, deriving from the basic premise that Brahman is all-pervading and everyone has potential divinity within them. This is the approach of the Ramakrishna Order when it comes to serving humanity.
- Focus on service to the poor and the downtrodden: Swami Vivekananda clearly declared that no society can prosper while ignoring the sufferings of the downtrodden. He was, in fact, the first global person to give a socialist doctrine of practicable religion, where the poor are to be seen as manifestations of God on earth and served accordingly. Identification of the mortal with the Immortal is a huge step forward as far as the development of a religion is concerned, and this is what Swami Vivekananda achieved for the Ramakrishna Order. Bringing worshipful service to the needy is one of the great directives of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.
- Work is a spiritual discipline: When one engages in work with the mindset of a Karma Yogi who sees the Absolute in everything, work transforms into worship, and the worker transforms into a very special kind of worshipper. This form of worship is doubly rewarding, as it brings succour to the needy on the material plane, and elevates the service-giver on the spiritual plane, and ultimately combines the material and the spiritual in one divine continuum. This spiritual discipline, Swami Vivekananda believed, is best suited to the circumstances of the modern world.
Motto: The twofold aim of this form of service has been captured by Swami Vivekananda in the motto of the Ramakrishna Order: Átmano mokshártham jagad hitáya cha – ‘For one’s own salvation and for the welfare of the world.’ This encapsulates the whole ideology of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.