True religion is not talk, or doctrines, or theories, nor is it sectarianism. It is the relation between soul and God. Religion does not consist in erecting temples, or building churches, or attending public worship. It is not to be found in books, or in words, or in lectures, or in organizations. Religion consists in realization. We must realize God, feel God, see God, talk to God. That is religion.
Swami Brahmananda (21 January 1863 – 10 April 1922) was born as Rakhal Chandra Ghosh. Rakhal was devoted to God and used to practise meditation even in boyhood. At the age of 12 he was brought to Kolkata for his studies. There he met Narendra (later known as Swami Vivekananda) and, under his influence, joined the Brahmo Samaj. Sri Ramakrishna had had a vision in which he saw the Divine Mother showing him a child who would be his son. As soon as Rakhal came to Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna recognized him to be that child, and treated him like a son. After a few visits Rakhal came to Dakshineswar to live permanently with Sri Ramakrishna. Under the Master’s guidance, he practised intense spiritual disciplines, and attained high levels of spiritual illumination. After the Master’s mahasamadhi in 1886 when the new Monastic brotherhood was formed at Baranagar, Rakhal joined it. He underwent sannyasa ordination and assumed the name Brahmananda. Two years later he left Baranagar Math and lived an intensely contemplative life at Varanasi, Omkarnath, Vrindaban, Hardwar and other places. During this period he scaled the highest peak of non-dualistic experience and used to remain absorbed in Samadhi for days together. In 1890 he returned to the Math. After establishing Belur Math monastery when Swami Vivekananda got Ramakrishna Math registered as a Trust, Swami Brahmananda became its President. He held this post till the end of his life. He gave up his body, after a brief illness, on 10 April 1922. At the place where his body was cremated in Belur Math, a temple now stands in his memory.
Swami Abhedananda (2 October 1866 – 8 September 1939) was born as Kaliprasad Chandra. Born in a fairly well-to-do family, Kali had a great eagerness to learn yoga from his boyhood. He gained a good grounding in Sanskrit and English. At the age of 18, when he was studying for the school final examination, he went to Dakshineswar and met Sri Ramakrishna. Under the guidance of the Master, Kali practised meditation and was soon blessed with several visions. Kali became a frequent visitor to Dakshineswar. He served the Master during his last illness. After the Master’s passing away, he joined the Baranagar Math and underwent sannyasa ordination, assuming the name Swami Abhedananda. At the Baranagar Math he used to shut himself up in a room and do intense meditation or study. This earned him the sobriquet “Kali Tapasvi”. He spent several years visiting places of pilgrimage on foot. In 1896 Swami Vivekananda brought him to London for Vedanta work there. The next year he crossed over to USA and was given charge of the newly founded New York Vedanta centre. His profundity of scholarship, incisive intellect and oratorical power elicited widespread admiration, and people thronged to listen to him. He was also a prolific writer and his books on life after death, etc are famous. After his long and successful work in America Swami Abhedananda returned to India in 1923. Soon he established a separate organization named Ramakrishna Vedanta Math and started living at the new centre. However, he maintained cordial relationship with his brother monks at Belur Math which he visited occasionally. He left the mortal frame on 8 September 1939.
Swami Shivananda (16 December 1854 – 20 February 1934) was born as Tarak Nath Ghosal. He saw Sri Ramakrishna for the first time at the house of Ramachandra Datta in May 1880. A few days later he went to Dakshineswar and surrendered himself fully to Sri Ramakrishna. From then on he began to practise intense prayer and meditation under the Master’s guidance. Three years later his wife died; Tarak renounced hearth and home and started living sometimes in a devotee’s house and sometimes in lonely places. After the Master’s mahasamadhi, when Baranagar Math was started, Tarak was one of the first to join the brotherhood. With sannyasa ordination he received the name Shivananda. He, however, spent several years leading an intensely contemplative life at different places in north India, and returned to Math in 1896. When Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897, he sent Swami Shivananda to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to spread Vedanta there. A year later Swami Shivananda returned to Math. In 1902, just before Swami Vivekananda’s mahasamadhi, he went to Varanasi to start the Advaita Ashrama there of which he remained the head for seven years. In 1910 he was elected Vice-President of Ramakrishna Mission. In 1922, after the passing of Swami Brahmananda, he became the second President of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. He travelled to different places blessing sincere seekers with spiritual initiation. Like Swami Brahmananda, he stressed meditation along with work. He gave great importance to prayer as a form of Sadhana. He was full of love and compassion, and sincere seekers flocked to him.
In April 1933 he suffered a stroke and developed paralysis of one side. On 20 February 1934, a few days after Sri Ramakrishna’s birthday, He left the body for the heavenly abode.
Swami Premananda(10 December 1861 – 30 July 1918) was born as Baburam Ghosh. Baburam first heard about Sri Ramakrishna from the great devotee Balaram Bose to whom his elder sister was married. While studying at the Metropolitan Institution, Rakhal (later known as Swami Brahmananda) was his classmate. One day Rakhal took Baburam to Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna recognized Baburam to be an extraordinarily pure soul (“pure to the marrow of his bones”), an ishvarakoti. Soon Baburam lost interest in his studies and came to live with Sri Ramakrishna as his attendant. During the Master’s last illness at Cossipore, Baburam was one among those who nursed him round the clock. After the Master’s passing, when the new Monastic brotherhood was formed at Baranagar, Baburam joined it. He underwent sannyasa ordination and assumed the name Premananda. Except for short pilgrimages, he spent his days mainly at the monastery when it was in Baranagar and also when it was shifted to Alambazar. When Belur Math was established, Swami Premananda took charge of worship in the shrine. Later he became the Manager of the Math. The pure unconditional love that he radiated exerted tremendous influence on those who came into contact with him, and hundreds of devotees flocked to see him. He had a motherly interest in feeding people, but he also inspired them with his spiritual exhortations which flowed out from the depths of his heart. Towards the end of his life he went on a tour of East Bengal. There his radiant personality and inspired talks created great enthusiasm, particularly among the youth. On his return, he fell seriously ill, and passed away at Balaram Babu’s house on 30 July 1918.
Swami Ramakrishnananda (13 July 1863 – 21 August 1911) was born as Shashi Bhushan Chakravarty. Shashi’s father Ishwara Chandra Chakravarty was an expert in ritualistic worship, and Shashi imbibed from him love for ritualistic worship. After passing out of the village school, he went to Kolkata and lived with his cousin Sharat (later, Swami Saradananda) for higher education. While studying in college Shashi and Sharat joined the Brahmo Samaj, and heard about Sri Ramakrishna from Keshab Chandra Sen himself. In October 1883 they visited Dakshineswar and were deeply attracted to Sri Ramakrishna. The Master used to say that Shashi and Sharat had been the followers of Jesus Christ in their previous birth. Shashi distinguished himself most by the self-sacrificing spirit and devotion with which he served Sri Ramakrishna during his last illness at Shyampukur and Cossipore. After the Master’s passing he joined the Baranagar Math and underwent sannyasa ordination, assuming the name Ramakrishnananda. He took charge of the worship of the Atmaramer kauta, the urn containing the relics of Sri Ramakrishna in the Math’s shrine. He felt the living presence of the Master, and so his worship was not a mere ritual but loving service to a living God. It was Swami Ramakrishnananda who formulated and introduced the system of daily ritualistic worship to Sri Ramakrishna that is followed in the Ramakrishna Movement. He seldom went out on pilgrimage, and devoted himself to daily worship at the Math. But when Swami Vivekananda, after his return from the West, asked him to go to Chennai and open a branch centre of Ramakrishna Math there, he obeyed without any hesitation. Incessant work, however, told upon his health, and he contracted tuberculosis. He breathed his last in a state of ecstasy on 21 August 1911.
Swami Saradananda (23 December 1865 – 19 August 1927) was born as Sarat Chandra Chakravarty. Born in an affluent family, Sharat was always calm and quiet and pious in his boyhood. He joined the Brahmo Samaj along with his cousin Shashi and in 1883 they went together to Dakshineswar Sri Ramakrishna drew them to Him like a powerful magnet. During the Master’s last illness Sharat also, like Shashi, dedicated himself to serving the Master day and night.
After the Master’s passing, Sharat joined the Baranagar monastery and took the vows of sannyasa assuming the name Swami Saradananda. After spending a few years in pilgrimage and tapasya along with his brother monks, he returned to Baranagar Math in 1891. When Swami Vivekananda started extensive preaching work in the West, and felt the need for another brother monk to assist him, Swami Saradananda was brought to the United States in 1896. But Swami Vivekananda, who founded the Ramakrishna Mission soon after his return to India in 1897, saw that a highly capable person like Saradananda was necessary to manage the affairs of the Math and the Mission. So Saradananda was called back to Kolkata and made the General Secretary of Ramakrishna Math and the Mission, a post which he held for nearly three decades till the end of his life. By his mature wisdom, clear thinking, strength of mind and devotion to Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother, he guided the course of the twin organizations in those formative years when political agitation against the British rule was gaining momentum in India. He took upon himself the full responsibility of looking after the needs of the Holy Mother whether she stayed in Jayrambati or Kolkata. Another work of his was writing the monumental biography of Sri Ramakrishna known as Sri Ramakrishna Lila Prasanga in Bengali (translated later into English under the title Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master). He was loved and respected by hundreds of people. He was a great support especially to women. In the first week of August 1927 he suffered a stroke. Two weeks later on 19 August 1927, he breathed his last.
Swami Niranjanananda (Some day in 1862 - 9 May 1904) was born as Nitya Niranjan Ghosh. Born in a middle class family, Niranjan came under the influence of a group of occultists when he was a teenager, and it was in their company that he first visited Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar. The Master took Niranjan aside, and cautioned him about the dangers of occult practices. Niranjan followed the Master’s advice and began to practise meditation under the direction of Sri Ramakrishna.
During the Master’s last illness Niranjan served the Master with unflinching devotion. After the Master’s passing, when the new monastic brotherhood was formed at Baranagar, Niranjan joined it and after sannyasa assumed the name Niranjanananda. After staying at the Math for three years, he went on pilgrimage to different places in India, and also visited Sri Lanka. Swami Niranjanananda was very much devoted to Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. Sri Ramakrishna regarded Niranjan as an ishvarakoti, an ever-perfect soul endowed with special divine attributes. Towards the end of his life he went to Hardwar for tapasya. There he had a severe attack of dysentery and passed away on 9 May 1904.
Sri Ramakrishna regarded Niranjan as an ishvarakoti, an ever-perfect soul endowed with special divine attributes.
Swami Yogananda (30 March 1861 - 28 March 1899) was born as Jogendranath Roy Chaudhury. Jogin was one of the six disciples whom Sri Ramakrishna regarded as ishvarakotis. He was spiritually inclined from boyhood. He first met the Master when he was studying for school final examination. Since he lived in the neighbourhood of Kali Temple, he started visiting Sri Ramakrishna frequently.
After the Master’s passing, Jogin accompanied Holy Mother her on pilgrimage. At Vrindavan she initiated him by giving a sacred Mantra. After his return from the pilgrimage he joined Baranagar Math and took the vows of sannyasa, assuming the new name Yogananda. However, he dedicated his life to the service of Holy Mother. Whenever Mother visited Kolkata, Swami Yogananda would arrange for Mother’s accommodation, usually in rented premises, and stayed with her to look after her needs. He also spent some time in Varanasi and other places doing severe austerities which told on his health.
When Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission on 1 May 1897, he made Yogananda its Vice-President (Swami Brahmananda was made the President). Owing to his delicate health, he did not live long. He passed away on 28 March 1899 at the age of 38, causing much sorrow to Holy Mother and the other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.
Swami Abhutananda (Unknown - 24 April 1920) was born as Rakhturam, usually called Latu.
Speaking about Latu Maharaj, Swami Vivekananda once said, “Latu is Sri Ramakrishna’s greatest miracle. Having absolutely no education, he has attained the highest wisdom simply by virtue of the Master’s touch”. Latu was the only disciple of Sri Ramakrishna who could not even read or write. He was born of very poor parents in a village in Bihar. He lost his parents in early boyhood. Poverty forced his uncle to take him to Kolkata where Latu was employed as a houseboy in the house of Ramachandra Datta, a close devotee of Sri Ramakrishna. The Master recognized the dormant spiritual potential in the boy and asked Ram to allow Latu to stay at Dakshineswar as an attendant. Under the guidance of the Master Latu practised intense sadhana, spending whole nights in meditation, a habit which he followed all through his life.
After Sri Ramakrishna’s passing, Latu joined Baranagar Math, and was ordained a sannyasin bearing the name Adbhutananda. He, however, spent most of his time in contemplation on the bank of the Ganga or in a room in Balaram Babu’s house.
Swami Vivekananda established Ramakrishna Mission on 1897 and Belur Math in 1898. Latu Maharaj with his deep absorption in contemplative life could neither take up the service activities of the Mission nor follow the discipline and routine of the monastery. So Swami Vivekananda permitted him to follow his own way of life. After some years Adbhutananda moved to Varanasi where he lived alone, but his needs were taken care of by the Ramakrishna Home of Service. At the end of a brief ailment he passed away in a meditative state on 24 April 1920.
Swami Turiyananda (3 January 1863 - 21 July 1922) was born as Harinath Chattopadhyay. Born in a well-to-do family, Hari lost his parents in boyhood and grew up under the care of his eldest brother. After passing the school final examination he did not go to college. Instead, he devoted his time to meditation and the study of Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta. When he was about 17 years old he visited Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar for the first time, and after that he started going to the Master frequently. The Master regarded him as a yogi. Hari was a member of the team of youngsters who served Sri Ramakrishna during his last illness at Cossipore.
After the Master’s passing, Hari joined Baranagar Math and underwent sannyasa ordination assuming the name Turiyananda. After three years he left the monastery and spent his time doing tapasya at different places, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of his brother monks. When Swami Vivekananda went to the West for the second time, he took Swami Turiyananda with him. When Swamiji went back to India, Turiyananda continued his work first in New York and Boston and later in California. However, his health deteriorated and he left America in June 1902. On his arrival in India, he was shocked to hear of the passing of Swami Vivekananda. Turiyananda spent the next several years practicing intense contemplation in Vrindavan, in different places in the Himalayas, in Dehra Dun, Kankhal, Almora, etc. He finally settled down in Varanasi in February 1919. During the last few years he suffered much from diabetes. He passed away on 21 July 1922 repeating Upanishadic Mantras.
Swami Trigunatitananda (30 January 1865 - 10 January 1915) was born as Sarada Prasanna Mitra. Born in an aristocratic family, Sarada studied in the school of which Mahendranath Gupta (popularly known as M.) was the headmaster. After Sarada passed the school final examination, M. one day took him to Sri Ramakrishna. Owing to his parents’ opposition Sarada could not visit the Master frequently. When the Baranagar Math was established, Sarada joined it and underwent sannyasa ordination assuming the name, Swami Trigunatitananda. He spent a few years visiting the holy places and doing tapasya. He was endowed with strong physique and indomitable courage. In 1896, at the behest of Swami Vivekananda, he bought a press and started the monthly journal Udbodhan in a rented room. This is the first journal of the Ramakrishna Order and is the oldest surviving religious journal of its kind in India. After Swami Yogananda’s passing away, he served the Holy Mother for three years until he left for America. At the behest of Swami Vivekananda he went to America in 1902 and took charge of the San Francisco centre. His holy life, selfless love and unmistakable marks of spirituality attracted a large number of students and disciples. He was, however, a strict disciplinarian. One of his main achievements in San Francisco was the construction of a new building for the centre. Incorporating certain unique architectural features, this building, known as ‘Hindu Temple’, still stands as a monument to the eternal truths of Vedanta and the immortal spirit of man.
One day when he was conducting a spiritual discourse, a former student of his who had become mentally deranged, threw a crude bomb at him, killing himself and seriously wounding Swami Trigunatitananda. The Swami remained calm and enquired about the student. However, he finally succumbed to the injuries on 10 January 1915.
Swami Subodhananda (8 November 1867 - 2 December 1932) was born as Subodh Chandra Ghosh. Born in an affluent family, Subodh was spiritually inclined from boyhood. While studying in class eight he heard about Sri Ramakrishna from his father who was a follower of Brahmo Samaj. One day in 1884 Subodh walked all the way to Dakshineswar in the company of a friend. Sri Ramakrishna received them with great love. After that Subodh went to the Master several times. Owing to the opposition of his parents, he could not stay with Sri Ramakrishna or serve him during his last illness. But the Master understood his difficulty and made him his own through his boundless love.
He joined the Baranagar Math and was ordained a sannyasin bearing the name Subodhananda. Since he was only nineteen and the youngest of the group, he was endearingly called ‘Khoka’ (which means ‘child’) by Swamiji and other monastic brothers. He spent several years travelling in different parts of India performing tapasya. After Swami Vivekananda’s return from the West when Belur Math monastery was established, he felt himself quite at home there. He visited East Bengal (now Bangladesh) twice and inspired many people with his talks and loving conduct. All through his life he combined in himself the simplicity of a child and the wisdom of an illumined soul. He passed away in Belur Math on 2 December 1932.
Swami Vijnanananda (30 October 1868 - 25 April 1938) was born as Hari Prasanna Chatterjee. Hari Prasanna had the good fortune to see Sri Ramakrishna when he was a small boy. He met the Master when he was studying at St. Xavier’s College where Sharat (later, Swami Saradananda) was his classmate. During the first meeting Sharat was with him. Later he visited the Master alone several times. Sri Ramakrishna gave him important instructions regarding spiritual life and blessed him in several ways. After receiving his engineering degree in 1892 he got the job of district engineer at Gazipur. However, the fire of renunciation which Sri Ramakrishna had lighted in him, was burning, and he finally renounced the world in 1896 and joined the Alambazar Math where the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were staying.
When the Belur Math property was purchased, Hari Prasanna’s knowledge of engineering proved to be a great asset. His first task was to remodel the existing building and build new ones including the shrine. The consecration of the new premises took place on 9 December 1898. Another major work he executed at Belur Math was the construction of a strong embankment on the bank of the Ganga in front of the main building. Another most important work that he undertook was the preparation of a plan for a new temple of Sri Ramakrishna based on the ideas given by Swami Vivekananda and supervising its construction. On 9 May 1899 Hari Prasanna formally took sannyasa and assumed the name Vijnanananda. Swami Vivekananda asked Vijnanananda to start a new centre in Allahabad and, accordingly Vijnanananda left Belur Math in 1900. In Allahabad he lived a more or less secluded life, immersed in sadhana, reading and writing. He also went on pilgrimage to many places. On the demise of Swami Akhandananda, the third President of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Swami Vijnanananda became the next President in March 1937. As President of the Order, Vijnanananda was full of love and compassion and initiated many people into spiritual life. On 14 January 1938, Swami Vijnanananda performed the dedication of the new temple of Sri Ramakrishna at Belur Math. He spent his last days in Allahabad and entered mahasamadhi on 25 April 1938.
Swami Akhandananda (30 September 1864 - 7 February 1937) was born as Gangadhar Gangopadhyay. Born in an orthodox family Gangadhar lived a pure, disciplined life from boyhood. At the age of nineteen he went to Dakshineswar Kali temple. Sri Ramakrishna received him cordially and gave him several instructions. Since then he started visiting the Master. When the Baranagar Math was formed after Sri Ramakrishna’s mahasamadhi, Gangadhar did not join it immediately. Instead, he set out on a long pilgrimage in 1886. After three and a half years, he returned to Baranagar monastery in June 1890. He then took sannyasa vows formally and assumed the name Akhandananda. In mid-July 1890 Swami Akhandananda again set out, this time in the company of Swami Vivekananda, on a pilgrimage which took them to different places in the Himalayas. When Swamiji left for the West, Akhandananda continued his wanderings in western India. In 1934, after the passing away of Swami Shivananda, Swami Akhandananda became the President of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Owing to old-age ailments he became weak. He passed away on 7 February 1937.
Swami Advaitananda (Some day in 1828 - 28 December 1909) was born as Gopal Chandra Ghosh. Advaitananda was oldest in age among the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna; in fact he was older than Sri Ramakrishna himself by eight years. Gopal-da was an employee of Beni Madhav Pal of Sinthi who was a Brahmo and also devoted to Sri Ramakrishna. At the age of 55 Gopal-da lost his wife, and became grief-stricken. A friend took him to Sri Ramakrishna. After two or three visits he was so much drawn to the Master that he gave up hearth and home and came to live with him. Gopal-da was the only male devotee, other than Latu, to whom Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi talked directly. He would run errands and do shopping for her. During Sri Ramakrishna’s last illness Gopal-da served the Master with devoted care.
After the Master’s passing, Gopal, Latu and Tarak continued to stay at Cossipore garden-house for some more time, and they were the first to join the Baranagar Math. He underwent sannyasa ordination and became Advaitananda. After a year he went out on pilgrimage to different places and also did tapasya for several years in Varanasi.
When Belur Math was established he settled himself permanently there, and did various types of work especially growing vegetables. After a brief illness he passed away, while remaining fully conscious, on 28 December 1909.
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