The Ramakrishna Vedanta Society
I visited the Ramakrishna Center of Boston for a Sunday, Satsang meeting. “Sat” means “true” and “sanga” means “company.” This usually refers to the “highest truth,” being in the company of a guru, being in a discussion and/or reflection with others, and/or singing “devotional songs” (“Satsang,” 2013). Here, many were gathered to meditate, reflect, and listen to readings and songs presented by members of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society, as well as Swami Tyagananda who is the live-in teacher and minister of the center. The present Ramakrishna Vedanta Center was founded in 1941. Vedanta first came to the Boston area in 1893 and the very first center was built in Boston in 1910 (Ramakrishna Vedanta Society, 2013a). Swami Vivekananda was the original founder of the Ramakrishna Order located in Belur Math, India and brought Ramakrishna Vedanta to Boston in 1893 (Ramakrishna Vedanta Society, 2013b).
The Ramakrishna Order is the largest order in all of India. Branches of the Ramakrishna Order can be found all around world (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 2013a). The Ramakrishna Order’s ideas and teachings come from Sri Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna was born in 1836 and died in 1886 of throat cancer. From the time he was very young until the end of his life he is said to have carried “love and purity.” Sri Ramakrishna was intent on getting in touch with the “Divine Mother” Earth. He was said to have reached her and received her guidance and blessings in all respects. Sri Ramakrishna engaged in Vedantic meditation with a monk who became one with God after “forty years of penance,” while Sri Ramakrishna accomplished this after just one day. He began to explore all religions, not just Hinduism. He explored the Muslim religion, Buddhism, and even Christianity. He began to spread the word of what he had found, which was that God can be found in all religions and all have the same goal. His teachings are recorded in a book called The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (Divine Life Society of South Africa, 2007).
The ideas and teachings of Vedanta and Ramakrishna are combined at the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society. Vedanta is a philosophy which was also founded in India. Vedanta combines “four yogas of devotion, service, meditation, and knowledge [which] are found in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam” (Hourihan, 2008). Hourihan states in his text, “Vedanta is one of the six main schools of philosophy in Hinduism. We don’t hear very much about the other systems of thought in the West because they are not as exportable, not universal enough to have made the passage to the West” (2008). Vedanta follows Ramakrishna’s ideas because its ideas view all religions and life as being unified. The Vedanta idea is that we all seek peace, joy, and oneness (Hourihan, 2008).
Vedanta contains a few basic philosophies. “Veda” means “knowledge” and “anta” means “the end of” or “the goal of” (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 2013b). The first idea is that all of existence is oneness. Everything is unified. This oneness accounts for the Earth and all living things. Not just humans, but also bugs, birds, the sky, the ocean, and on and on. The self is infinite in this sense. If one separates from this oneness, they will then suffer (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 2013c). The next idea is the concept of Maya. Maya means an illusion. Meditation is supposed to clear up this illusion. People are clouded by “egotism, selfishness, hatred, greed, lust, anger, [and] ambition,” and the goal of meditation is to reach “truthfulness, purity, contentment, self-restraint, and forbearance” (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 2013d). The Vedanta Society also believes in Karma and reincarnation. Karma means “action” or “the result of action.” This simply means that if you do good, good will come to you. If you do bad, bad will come to you. The Vedanta belief is also that your soul never dies. When you die, only your body dies, but your life is infinite (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 2013e). Truthfulness and unity reached through meditation brings about the idea of harmony of religions. This idea explains that God and self-realization are similar in all religions. One can choose to follow a specific spiritual path, but they can do so while learning from others around them and by valuing the other religions around them. There should be no fighting over religions because they each hold a truth (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 2013f). Lastly, is the idea of the avatar which means “descent of God.” This refers to God taking a human form because it is what people can relate to. They can then see him as a father, mother, and so on. God takes the form of the things that people love. Even though every follower of a religion may see their God in a different form they are still unified; it is all one truth and oneness (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 2013g).
Swami Ramakrishna was the teacher and guru of Swami Vivekananda who then spread the ideas of Ramakrishna Vedanta into the West. Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Order after Swami Ramakrishna’s death. The Ramakrishna Order oversees all Ramakrishna Vedanta centers throughout the world. The Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission are both the same organization who have two different roles. The Ramakrishna Math is a monastery and spreads the Ramakrishna ideas of spiritual development. The Ramakrishna Mission is an organization made up of monks who follow Ramakrishna. Their role is to perform different social services. Many of these social services are performed within India. These life works are in effect because the saying of the Ramakrishna order is “Liberation for oneself and service to mankind” (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 2013a).
The Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of Boston serves everyone. Many people of the Hindu religion do attend the meetings primarily because Vedanta is based off of Hinduism (Hourihan, 2008). During the Satsang Swami Tyagananda spoke about how all religions are one and how everyone holds a truth which come from the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 2013g). When I was talking to a man at the Ramakrishna Vedanta Center who commuted there every Sunday morning with his wife and children from Medford he explained that many who attend the meetings practice Hinduism, but the meetings and meditations are always open to anyone and everyone. He explained that we are all on a spiritual journey together. This is what the meditation was for, and he said that everyone was always open to answering any and all questions that we had. Maybe in a way this was one way of them serving others as well.
The Ramakrishna Vedanta Society’s culture influences yoga through its ideas about calming the mind for the purpose of liberating oneself and finding oneness (Vedanta Society of Southern California, 2013a). The practice of yoga in the form of raja yoga is used to quiet the mind in order to set the soul free. Swami Tyagananda explained that the spirit is always calm, and it is our mind and body whom are seeking to be calm along with our soul. That is a difficult task to accomplish. He explained that we must live conscious lives because everyone strives for a calm and collected mind. The montras used during the Satsang related to these ideas. These montras maintained the ideas of peace, joy, happiness, and unification. They also spoke about loving Mother Earth and loving all human beings and everything on our planet. This was also evident in the music that was played, which were almost used as meditations. This montras related back to the idea of oneness, not just with human beings, but with everything on Earth. The idea of raja yoga is used for us to find this oneness so that we can love and serve others. Raja Yoga was very important during the meeting I attended and it was the ideas of Ramakrishna Vedanta that influenced all meditations. I saw this especially when meditating. We were meant to practice patient self-control, and that time was also meant for us to contemplate the readings that were read to us.
There are various theories of yoga that are the basis for practice at the Ramakrishna Center. Pranayama is an important one. At many points during Satsang we meditated and focused on our breathing. This brought us to a conscious state. Your breath is something that is constant and we just have to become more aware of it. Swami Tyagananda directed us to breath in peace, love, and compassion and to breath out anger, fear, and frustration. This caused us to focus our prana. He explained that our bodies and minds want to be calm. This takes Dharana or “mind control” which is an extremely difficult task to accomplish. This idea of mind control related to Maya and how we need to let go of the illusions that we have in order to have a clear and collected mind. This relates to the idea of union and finding your higher self. In order to focus our energy we must have Yama or “self-control.” This self-control allows us to follow our Niyama or “religious duties.” Sri Ramakrishna believed that a religious duty is to accept all religions and learn from them, and serve others. Samadhi or “Brahma realization” is also a large part of this practice (Ankerberg & Weldon). At one point while we were focusing on our breathing Swami Tyagananda told us to focus in on our hearts. He said that in our hearts is where God resides, and that we should focus on our breathing and feel our God there.
To me contemplation and consciousness was a large part of the practice at the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society. Consciousness was meant to be used in order to quiet our minds, feel joy and union, and to feel closer to God. Contemplation was important because Swami Tyagananda spoke about accepting all religions. This idea had become more clear to me after this research because this is one of the main ideas of Sri Ramakrishna. One of the ideas that definitely stuck out to me was when Swami Tyagananda told us to remember that we are all going to die one day and to think about that every day because that is the one thing in life that is certain. That idea did not seem to be scary to me. It is actually especially beautiful in a sense because one of the Vedanta believes is that the soul never truly dies. We are divine beings. That is what was emphasized. That is hard to wrap my head around, but it is a concept I am going to continue to contemplate and explore. The last piece that stuck with me was when Swami Tyagananda spoke about how you would like to feel on the day when you are going to die. No one wants to feel hatred, no one wants to be in a fight and feel feel, anger, or frustration. We want to feel peaceful, loving, compassionate, and one with the universe. We should strive for this everyday. That is something that will stick with me.
Ankerberg, J., & Weldon, J. (n.d.). Yoga Theory and Practive: Separable? Retrieved from
Divine Life Society of South Africa. (2007). Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886). Yoga Lessons for Children, 7. Retrieved from http://www.dlshq.org/saints/ramakrishna.htm
Hourihan, P. (2008). Children of Immortal Bliss. Retrieved from http:// www.vedanticshorespress.com/what-is-vedanta.htm
Ramakrishna Vedanta Society. (2013a). History. Retrieved from http://www.vedantasociety.
Ramakrishna Vedanta Society. (2013b). Home. Retrieved from http://www.vedantasociety.
Satsang. (2013, February 25). Retrieved February 25, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
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Vedanta Society of Southern California. (2013g). The Avatar: God in Human Form. Retrieved from http://vedanta.org/vedanta-overview/the-avatar-god-in-human-form/