History of the Ramakrishna Order
From the RAMAKRISHNA MATH CHENNAI WEB http://www.sriramakrishnamath.org/whatitis/belurmath.shtml
Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission
If Indian civilization has endured so long, it is only because of the tremendous vitality of the Hindu religion supporting it. And the vitality of the Hindu religion has been maintained by a continual process of self-renewal. The quickening impulse for the rejuvenation of religion comes from a divine source. When virtue declines and evil prospers, a special manifestation of God known as the Avatar appears and starts the rejuvenation process. The accumulated dirt and debris of outmoded customs and ideas are cleared, hidden sources of power are tapped and a new vitality flows into the old religion.
As in the past, in the 19th century there came such a renewal, and the result was 'for the first time in the history of India an order of monks found themselves banded together.' And this is the Ramakrishna Order, widely known as Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, initiated by Sri Ramakrishna, nurtured by Sri Sarada Devi, and propagated by Swami Vivekananda.
During the last days of Sri Ramakrishna his disciples gathered around him. Among them were a few young men specially trained by him to take to the life of renunciation and service, and continue the spiritual ministry that he initiated. Among these young men the most talented was Narendranath who came to be known as Swami Vivekananda.
After Sri Ramakrishna's passing away the young disciples consolidated themselves into an Order under the leadership of Narendranath. They left their hearth and home, and took to the life of renunciation. Their whole time was devoted to the practice of austerities, and the study of scriptures. In spite of their austerities and wanderings throughout India, they never abandoned their sense of being members of an Order brought together by the love of Sri Ramakrishna and the sense of a mission that he had transmitted to them. The centre of their rallying was the shrine where they preserved Sri Ramakrishna's relics and carried on his service in a small rented house at Baranagore in Calcutta. This became the first centre of the Ramakrishna Order.
The Order received its definite shape, both in its form and function, after Narendranath emerged as a world figure, under the name of Swami Vivekananda, from the great Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in 1893. His ideas about Sri Ramakrishna's mission had by that time become clear. He now recognized in the group of his sannyasin brother disciples, whom Sri Ramakrishna had commissioned to be formed into an Order, the nucleus of the spiritual organization for working out the mission of the Great Master. The place where the relics of the Master were preserved had formed the headquarters of this Order, but it was as yet improperly housed, and it was the aspiration of Swami Vivekananda even before he left for the West to build a permanent centre for the Order to house the relics and to carry on its mission.
While Swami Vivekananda was feeling the urge to organize his fellow-monks into an Order, an identical resolution was being formed in the mind of Sri Sarada Devi, the consort of Sri Ramakrishna. In a talk with a disciple, she once said that she used to pray so that the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna may live together and people afflicted with the sufferings of the world should come to them and get peace of mind by hearing from them His words.
This desire of Swami Vivekananda and Mother was fulfilled when Swami Vivekananda was able to purchase a large piece of land on the bank of the Ganga and build the Belur Math with the donation of a Western disciple. But before that, the Order functioned at Alambazar and at Neelambar Babu's garden-house at Belur for short periods of time successively.
Now Belur Math is the Headquarters of the world-wide Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.
While giving a shape and a habitation for the Order, Swami Vivekananda gave it also a definite ideological background. He states: 'This Organization is His (Sri Ramakrishna's) very body, and in the Organization itself He is ever present... He who worships the Organization worships the Lord, and he who disregards the Organization disregards the Lord.' In the light of this conception the Ramakrishna Order becomes the symbol of Sri Ramakrishna and the medium for the working of his will. Its service thereby becomes the service of him. He attached great importance to work done with this devotional spirit. The work done in the Order is only a service of God through the living social symbol.
This devoted work has always to go hand in hand with ardent meditation and deep self-analysis, without which work, however vast it might be in extent and in worldly values, ceases to have any spiritual significance.
The work in the Order ranges from the running of small monastic centres to the management of big publishing houses, of colleges and other educational institutions, of workshops and engineering institutions, of big hospitals and invalids' homes, of huge relief operations in famine and flood stricken areas, and so on. Side by side there is considerable preaching work, involving the production of books and periodicals, lecturing to audiences of learned and cultured persons as well as common people, and organizing and leading Vedanta Centres abroad in Asia, Europe, America and Russia.
Besides the Headquarters and 30 subcentres the Order's Centres are distributed as follows :-
Andaman 1, Andhra Pradesh 4, Arunachal Pradesh 3, Assam 3, Bihar 2, Chandigarh 1, Chattisgarh 2, Delhi 1, Gujarat 3, Jharkhand 5, Jammu & Kashmir 1, Karnataka 6, Kerala 8, Madhyapradesh 1, Maharashtra 3, Meghalaya 2, Orissa 3, Rajasthan 2, Tamilnadu 13, Tripura 1, Uttar Pradesh 6, Uttaranchal 5, West Bengal 35.
USA 12, Bangladesh 10 and 1 each in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Fiji Islands, France, Japan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Zambia.
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.