Switzerland has played a small but significant role in the history of Ramakrishna Order. Swami Vivekananda spent two weeks in Saas Fee in 1896.
Saas Fee lies in an idyllic valley surrounded by the highest mountains in the Swiss Alps. These eleven mountains higher than 4000 meters above sea level reminded Swami Vivekananda of the Himalayas in India and he called them the small Himalayas. This gave him the idea to create an Advaita Ashrama in the Himalayas which took form in Mayavati on 19th March, 1899.
The Swiss Devotee, Sister Bhakti (Helen Rubel), played an important part in enabling Swami Vivekananda’s vision of a Universal Temple that enshrined the Holy Presence of Sri Ramakrishna. Ms. Rubel, a native of Zurich, almost single-handedly financed the entire construction of this temple at the headquarters of the Ramakrishna movement in Belur Math, India. The design of the temple was envisioned by Swami Vivekananda and the architect was Swami Vijnanananda, a direct monastic disciple of Ramakrishna. Sri Ramakrishna Temple was consecrated on 14th January, the Makar Sankranti Day in 1938.
Establishing Vedanta in Switzerland
Swami Yatiswarananda visited and taught in Switzerland in 1933 for a few years. Here an extract from the Book Swami Yatiswarananda as we knew him
He also started guiding devoted groups of earnest seekers in different Swiss cities, Zürich, St. Moritz, Geneva and Lausanne. These groups were small study-circles where inspired talks were given by the Swami. Moreover these centres had been kept interlinked.
Accordingly, Yatiswarananda made Zurich his headquarters in Switzerland. From there, he transited his teaching to all the centres in the different cities to keep alive the flickering flame of spirituality in the hearts of all the devotees.
In 1958 Swami Nityabodhananda came to Geneva and started to teach Vedanta, a Vedanta association was formalized in 1962 followed by a permanent Center in 1972.
He was followed by Swami Amarananda in 1989.
Founding the Group VSCZ
The German-speaking part of Switzerland did not have easy access to a Ramakrishna-Vedanta Centre. Swami Ranganathananda requested one of the long-time devotees, Gabriella Steyer, to start a Study Group in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. However, it was only in 2013 during the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, where many devotees from different parts of Switzerland gathered for the celebrations in Saas Fee, that this idea could come to fruition. When exchanging ideas among the devotees in Saas-Fee and Zurich, one felt a long-awaited desire within many devotees to meet likeminded people in the German part of Switzerland.
Two supporters, Rita Kaufmann and Tushar Ghosh, exchanged this idea already in August 2013, before they met in Saas Fee and subsequently became active.
A first meeting was held on 20th October 2013 which was attended by 9 devotees. At that time, it was decided to create a Group that would meet once a month in a devotee’s house to discuss the lives and teachings of the Holy Trio (Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda.) Regular meetings were held for some years. The program was a mixture of devotional activities (singing, reading, pujas), philosophical discussions and meditation. The birthday anniversaries of the Holy Trio were also regularly celebrated. The group also would often invite Swamis of the Ramakrishna Mission to lead spiritual retreats. At the request of Swami Amarananda the group developed an official Constitution with objectives, activities and principles of governance. The group was given the name Vedanta Study Circle, Zurich (VSCZ) and was formalized on 12th April 2020, Easter Sunday.