The message of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda is so universal, so full of possibilities, so beneficial to humanity that it cannot be confined to only one channel, tradition or institution. In fact it has spread out beyond institutions to become a global movement or “one of the mega-trends of modern history,” as the American professor of history Carl T. Jackson has put it.
One of the unique features of this Movement is the close cooperation between monks and lay devotees in a spirit of mutual love and respect. Another unique feature is the spirit of harmony that prevails in the Movement which enables people belonging to different castes, religions and races to live together as divine children of divine parents.
The lay devotees of Sri Ramakrishna are found in almost all parts of India and in some other parts of the world. Wherever they are, they form groups and start Ashrams, study circles, etc. Many of these centres have temples dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna. Some of these centres were originally started under the influence of some of the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna or their disciples. Most of these centres are managed by lay devotees, and function independently of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. There are hundreds of such non-affiliated centres in India.
These non-affiliated centres follow to a great extent the ideals and principles of Ramakrishna Mission such as ATMANO MOKSHARTHAM JAGAD HITAYA CHA, “For one’s own salvation and for the good of the world.” They conduct activities similar to those conducted by Ramakrishna Mission such as running schools, hostels, orphanages, non-formal schools, coaching centres, dispensaries, mobile medical units, rural development work, and also undertake relief work during calamities. These activities are carried out on the basis of the principle, shiva jnane jiva seva (“Service to man as service to God”) and “work as worship”.
BHAVA PRACHAR COMMITTEE
Owing to these common features, the need to bring these non-affiliated centres closer to the main stream represented by Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission was being felt for many years. As a first step in this direction an apex committee, known as Bhava Prachar Committee, was formed at the Headquarters of Ramakrishna Math, Belur Math, in the year 1980. This Committee consists of senior monks of the Ramakrishna Order, with the General Secretary as its ex-officio chairman and another senior monk as its Convenor. The Committee functions only in an advisory capacity.
BHAVA PRACHAR PARISHADS
Under the overall guidance of the above-mentioned Committee at the Headquarters, coordinating committees of lay devotees, called Bhava Prachar Parishads, were formed in India. A Bhava Prachar Parishad is a representative body. Each Parishad is formed by two representatives from each non-affiliated member centre in the area. For instance, if there are 10 individual centres in an area, the Bhava Prachar Parishad of that area will have 20 members. Each Parishad has a Convenor who is elected by the members of the Parishad from among themselves. He does all the executive work. Apart from the Convener, each Parishad has one President and one or more Vice-Presidents, who are monks nominated by the Committee at the Belur Math Headquarters.
FUNCTIONS OF BHAVA PRACHAR PARISHADS:
A Bhava Prachar Parishad has three main functions.
- It provides liaison between monks and lay devotees, that is, between the Bhava Prachar Committee, consisting of monks of the Order at the Headquarters of Ramakrishna Math, and the non-affiliated member Ashramas in a particular area.
- The Bhava Prachar Parishad coordinates the work of the non-affiliated member centres of the area, and provides a common forum for those centres to discuss their problems and exchange their views.
- Each Bhava Prachar Parishad keeps a watch on the working of the non-affiliated member Ashramas under it, and sees whether they follow the ideals and principles of Ramakrishna Movement. The apex Committee at Belur Math has formulated 10 guidelines for the non-affiliated member centres. The Bhava Prachar Parishad sees to it that all the member Ashramas under it function within the framework of these guidelines. These Ten-point guidelines are given below.
To be eligible to be a member of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Bhava Prachar Parishad, a non-affiliated centre, sometimes referred to as a “private centre”, will have to abide by the following rules:
- The private centre should be registered as a Religious Trust and/or under the Societies Registration Act and must follow the spiritual and ethical ideals and principles of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission and conduct their activities along the lines of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.
- The private centre should have a close rapport with, and a loyal attitude towards, the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.
- The members of the management committee of the private centre (by whatever name that committee be called) should have no connection whatsoever with politics or political parties. The members should also have no connection whatsoever with groups and organizations that are not approved by the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.
- No Swami who has left the Ramakrishna Order for whatever reason (except purely medical) should be allowed to stay in or be associated with the private centre.
- The private centre should maintain proper records and books of its finances and accounts which should be audited annually by Chartered Accountants.
- The private centre, besides its other activities, must render some social service, curative and/or preventive, among the poor of the immediate neighbourhood.
- The private centre should take up some welfare work among the rural Harijans and/or Girijans and/or other backward communities.
- The private centre should pay attention to the youth of the locality. Weekly or fortnightly study circles, annual competition in essay-writing, recitation, music, elocution etc. may be organized. Grown-up boys and girls should have separate study circles. Swami Vivekananda’s birthday, i.e. 12th January, declared as the National Youth Day by the Government of India, should be observed by every centre.
- Besides holding classes on the scriptures, the centre should arrange for sale of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature for propagation of the inspiring message of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Movement. Moreover, each centre should have a library with sufficient number of books on Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literarture.
- Whenever occasion arises, the private centre should render relief services to people suffering from calamities. It may be done independently or under the guidance of the Math and the Mission.
The centres under a Parishad should jointly hold an annual celebration. The prominent centres can take up the responsibility of organizing the annual celebration by rotation. Besides the traditional puja, aratrikam, prasad distribution and religious discourses, one day may be devoted exclusively to the cause of the youth and children. Competitions in recitation, elocution, music, etc., held in different centres may have their culmination here. One morning, a procession of devotees and boys and girls of local schools and colleges may be led through the streets of the town/village where the celebration will be held. It should usually be followed by a short public meeting.