THE VEDANTA MOVEMENT IN NEW ZEALAND
The Early Years
In response to an appeal for a spiritual teacher made to Swami Vivekananda by the Hindu communities in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), he deputed his brother disciple Swami Shivananda to spread the message of Vedanta there. Swami Shivananda awakened an interest for the Vedanta philosophy among the Tamil and Singhalese population and began classes in Raja Yoga and Bhagavad Gita. His Gita classes were attended by several Europeans. The swami’s patient and proficient ways of teaching was deeply admired by his students.
He especially trained one of his students, Mrs. Elsie Pickett, to teach Vedanta to fellow Europeans. He gave her the name of ‘Hari Priya’ and sent her with his authority to Australia and New Zealand to prepare the way for a teacher of Vedanta there. She toured both countries, attracting interested earnest students and began classes in Adelaide, South Victoria and Nelson in New Zealand.
However, Vedanta was formally introduced to New Zealand by Ms. Blanche Baughan, a Maoriland poet, short story writer, novelist, mystic and social reformer. She had come to know about Vedanta while living in America and became a student of Swami Prakashananda, the then head of the Vedanta Centre of Northern California (San Francisco).
By 1916 Ms. Baughan was corresponding with Swami Prakashananda and Swami Prajnananda at the Advaita Ashrama (Mayavati). Her poems were being published in the Ramakrishna Order’s journal Prabuddha Bharata. She visited India also during this time. Mrs. Baughan passed away in 1957 and we do not have much information about the group that she had formed to study Vedanta.
Introducing Vedanta to New Zealand (1970 To 2000)
In 1976 Swami Damodrananda was posted to the Ramakrishna Mission in Fiji. In 1979 he was invited by Ms. Jean Watson, a social worker among the poor in India, for a week long retreat in Wellington. This was followed by an invitation from Mrs. Joy Cowley, a famous writer, for a similar retreat in Picton.
These visits introduced Swami Domodarananda to interested groups, such as students of the School of Philosophy and Religious Studies and departments of various universities in major centres in New Zealand. He was regularly invited to address these groups. Following these visits and addresses to these groups, Swami Damodarananda was, in his own words, ‘discovered’ by the Indian community, initially in Wellington and then Auckland and other centres.
In 1987 Swami Adibhavananda was also posted to the Ramakrishna Mission, Fiji. In 1988 he started visiting New Zealand and established very close contacts with the Indian (mainly Gujarati) communities in Auckland, Pukekohe, Hamilton, Rotorua and Wellington. Later Swamis Muktirupananda and Bhaktirupananda also visited New Zealand briefly while they were based at the Fiji centre.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Ramakrishna Mission Fiji started inviting senior monks of the Ramakrishna Order to visit Fiji on a regular basis. Among them were Swami Bhuteshananda, Swami Ranganathananda, Swami Gahanananda, Swami Atmasthananda, Swami Smaranananda, Swami Sridharananda and Swami Jagadatmananda .
Swami Damodrananda would accompany these visiting Swamis to various centres in New Zealand and Australia, where they inspired people to study the teachings of Vedanta as demonstrated in the lives of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.
Laying the Foundations (2000 to 2020)
In 2000 Swami Sridharananda arrived as the Head of the Vedanta Centre of Sydney and the Vedanta movement in New Zealand gathered momentum due to his regular visits twice or thrice in a year. He gently encouraged the New Zealand devotees to organize themselves into a formal group. Under his guidance and leadership, in 2007 the devotees purchased a property at 27 Arawa Street, New Lynn, Auckland and began conducting regular fortnightly satsangs. In 2008, the Ramakrishna Vedanta Centres of New Zealand was registered as a charitable trust. The devotees began to liaise with the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission in India requesting for affiliation of their centre to the worldwide Ramakrishna Movement.
In 2008 Swami Tadananda was posted to Ramakrishna Mission Fiji. He began visiting New Zealand frequently to conduct spiritual retreats and classes in various parts of New Zealand. Swami Suhitananda, the Vice President, visited Fiji in 2017 and 2019 to bestow spiritual initiation to the devotees and on both occasions visited New Zealand. Many devotees availed these opportunities to receive spiritual initiation to seriously pursue their spiritual goals. In the meantime, the devotees in New Zealand continued their requests to the headquarters for affiliation of the Centre.
Affiliation to the worldwide Ramakrishna Mission (2020)
Finally in 2020, the centre was accepted by the Trustees of the Ramakrishna Math, India, as an official branch of the organisation. Swami Tadananda, who had been visiting New Zealand for over a decade, was posted as the Minister-in-Charge.
Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre is a charitable Trust registered with the New Zealand Charities Services. The registration number is CC60351.
Donations to Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre are exempt from income tax.