Swami Vivekananda’s struggle for building the Ramakrishna Math is well-known. He had to face enormous hardships in mobilizing the resources needed. Painstakingly, he had been able to establish the Math from the money he had collected as payments for his talks and as donations from devotees and well wishers. Most people who build institutions fall into the trap of the Institutions owning them completely. They get to identify themselves so much with the Organization that they do not know how to let go. Many a time such persons lose sight of their original objective and get consumed by the Organization that they are building. They forget the larger purpose for which they had established the Organization in the first place. They fail to understand that the Organization is to serve only as a means to meet their objectives.
Swami Vivekananda was very different in this regard. He had just returned from the West and was not keeping very well. His physicians had asked him to take complete rest and he had gone to Darjeeling for this purpose. After a few days of going there, he heard that plague had broken out in Calcutta and he rushed back. His thoughts at that moment are reflected in the letter that he wrote to Josephine Macleod on April 29, 1898. In that letter he said that he had decided to sacrifice his life in the service of the plague-stricken people of the city in which he was born and that would be the best way to attain Nirvana. At Calcutta, he found that the fear that had afflicted the minds of the people was deadlier than the disease itself. People were leaving their homes and the city in sheer panic. He understood the seriousness of the situation and printed a plague-manifesto to dispel their fears. This manifesto was distributed amongst the people and stated that the Ramakrishna Mission was there to help them in every way possible. He opened service centers in different parts of the city. All this relief work required a lot of money and the situation was getting desperate. One of Swamiji’s brother disciples asked him where the money for all this would come from. Without the slightest hesitation Swamiji replied, “We are monks. We can sleep under the trees and live on alms. If I can save the lives of millions, I do not mind selling the Math.”
While this incident shows the extraordinary compassion, boundless love and selflessness of Swami Vivekananda, it also gives another insight into his character. Swami Vivekananda saw the Ramakrishna Organization existing only for the service of the people. For him, this ideal was far higher than the mere existence of the Math. He saw the Math as the means to do the greater good of serving humanity. This was something that was not negotiable for him. He was even prepared to let go off the Math to ensure that people were served at their moment of need. For many of us who have built organizations in his name, this is indeed a very ominous message.