History of Ridgely

Ridgely Manor, circa 1900

The estate was created by Francis Leggett in the early 1890s; he later became a friend of Swami Vivekananda and the first president of the Vedanta Society of New York (founded by Swamiji in 1894). Ridgely has been the home of Leggett’s heirs since his death in 1909.

While visiting America in 1993, Swami Gahanananda, vice-president of the Ramakrishna Order encouraged the Vedanta societies to purchase the Ridgely property. After some time the newly formed Sri Sarada Society worked for several years to acquire it.

A portrait of Francis Leggett from a family album.

In March 1997 the Trustees of the Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission(Belur Math, India) decided to seriously pursue the acquisition of Ridgely.Persistent efforts included a thorough feasibility study, which enabled Swami Swahananda to authorize the purchase of Ridgely. A large downpayment, offered by devotees in America, was accepted in August, 1997, and by May 1999 a total of over $1.2 million was raised. With the help of an interest-freeloan of $400,000 that was given to the retreat, the mortgage was paid in full by mid summer 1999.

As of January 2005 the interest-free loan was also paid back in full. This was made possible through a bequest of Sister Gargi (Marie Louise Burke) and the generous donations of many people. Since 1997,we have raised over$2 million that has permitted us to purchase the property, convert the property from private to public use, pay off the loan,and make needed renovations and improvements.

Going forward, our fund raising efforts must be directed toward the establishment of an endowment fund to ensure Ridgely’s long-term security!

You can read a detailed account of Swami Vivekananda at Ridgely in a chapter titled “The Great Summer” in Swami Vivekananda and the West: New Discoveries by Marie Louise Burke. Please also see the history of Vivekananda Retreat Ridgely.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. Why is Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely important?

    Swami Vivekananda, the first person to bring the message of Vedanta to the West, stayed at Ridgely on three occasions. He felt he could be himself there, relax and recover from the strain of his intense work. Now, this serene atmosphere – made so by Swami Vivekananda’s extended stays there – is available for spiritual seekers.

  • Q. Who has been living at Ridgely for the last 100 years?

    Until 1997 Ridgely was the home to three generation of the Leggett family. The buildings, particularly the Manor House, remain very much as they were in the days of Swami Vivekananda. Some of the furniture used by Swamiji remains in the houses.

  • Q. What happens at Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely?

    The resident minister and a small volunteer staff live there and serve the retreatants, pilgrims and local seekers. In addition to classes and other events, spiritual advice and guidance are also available. Two group meditation periods are part of the daily routine along with other scheduled retreat programs. Retreatants may participate in any of Ridgely’s programs or they may wish to design their own private retreat. See our Calendar for more information on Classes and Events.

  • Q. When and how can I come to visit or stay at Ridgely?

    Please call, fax, write or e-mail us to find out availability. For day visits you must call at least a day in advance. The Retreat is open year-round, and is accessible by air, rail, bus or auto. See our visitors page for more information. For overnight stays you must apply a minimum of five days in advance.

  • Q. How long can I stay at Ridgely?

    Arrangements can be made to stay from a few days to a few months. Contact gitaprana@ridgely.org for details.

  • Q. Where can I get more information about retreats, conferences and seminars, and other activities?

    Sign up for our newsletter, friend us on facebook and add us to twitter. You can also see our Calendar for more information on Classes and Events.

  • Q. How can I help Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely?

  • Board Members

    The current members of The Board of Directors of Vivekananda Retreat Ridgely are:

     

    1. Swami Sarvadevananda, President;
    2. Pravrajika Gitaprana, Vice-President, Treasurer;
    3. Dr. Shelley Brown, Vice-President;
    4. Pravrajika Shuddhatmaprana, Secretary;
    5. Swami Tyagananda;
    6. Peter Hirshman;
    7. Swami Atmajnanananda;
    8. Mitu Hirshman;
    9. Tapas Mukherji;
    10. Ratna Mukherji;
    11. Manoj Ray;
    12. Sudeshna Ray;
    13. Carolyn Hansen;
    14. Chandi Sanyal;
    15. Paromita Roy

     

    About Ridgely

    This is the main entrance to Vivekananda Retreat Ridgely

    Ridgely! During Swami Vivekananda’s first and second visits to America he spent in all at least twelve weeks of rest and revitalization at that beautiful estate, speaking day and night of God and of things of the Spirit, transporting those around him. Now Ridgely is open to spiritual seekers from all over America, indeed from all over the world, as a retreat center.

    Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely, dedicated as an ashram under the Ramakrishna Order of India on October 11, 1997, is a place of pilgrimage and retreat for those who want the opportunity to engage in intense spiritual practices. As Revered Swami Bhuteshananda, the late President of the Order said in a letter of August 22, 1997, “Swami Vivekananda loved Ridgely, and on all the three occasions that he visited there, he was deeply impressed by the peaceful atmosphere of the place. The strong spiritual current that Swamiji has left behind will never go in vain. As a result of that the Vivekananda Retreat has come into existence. This is indeed a marvelous gift from Sri Ramakrishna to His admirers and devotees… I hope the Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely will be a great source of peace and spiritual support to the seekers of God.”

    The Vivekananda Retreat provides a unique opportunity for aspirants to integrate and intensify their spiritual practice in an environment that is surcharged with Swamiji’s spiritual power. The Retreat is under the spiritual leadership of Swami Swahananda, who was initiated by Swami Vijnanananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. Retreatants, guided by the minister-in-residence, Pravrajika Gitaprana, will attend scheduled classes, practice meditation, and absorb the serenity that is Ridgely.

    You can read a detailed account of Swami Vivekananda at Ridgely in a chapter titled “The Great Summer” in Swami Vivekananda and the West: New Discoveries by Marie Louise Burke. Please also see the history of Vivekananda Retreat Ridgely.

    About Swami Vivekananda

    A portrait of Swamiji

    Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) was the foremost disciple of Ramakrishna and a world spokesperson for Vedanta. His lectures, writings, letters, and poems are published as The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. He felt it was best to teach universal principles rather than personalities, so we find little mention of Ramakrishna in the Complete Works. Swami Vivekananda represented Hinduism at the first World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 where he was an instant success. Subsequently he was invited to speak all over America and Europe. He was a man with a great spiritual presence and tremendous intellect. Most of the Vedanta Societies which were founded in America and Europe up through the 1930s can trace their origins directly to Vivekananda or the people who heard him speak from 1893 through 1900. After his first visit to the West, Swami Vivekananda returned to India and founded the Ramakrishna Order in 1898. (source:Vedanta Society of So. California) You can read the complete works of Swami Vivekananda here (opens in a new window).

    You can read a detailed account of Swami Vivekananda at Ridgely in a chapter titled “The Great Summer” in Swami Vivekananda and the West: New Discoveries by Marie Louise Burke. Please also see the history of Vivekananda Retreat Ridgely.

    Swamiji(left) is seen sitting on the back porch of Manor House

    Celebrating Sri Sarada Devi (2014)

    Retreat Celebrating Sri Sarada Devi Dec. 13 and 14 Pravrajikas Gitaprana, Shuddhatmaprana and Virajaprana

    We will be celebrating the birthday of Sri Sarada Devi with a weekend retreat. Gitaprana and Shuddhatmaprana will be joined by Virajaprana. She is a sister of the Vedanta Society of No. Calif in San Francisco who is taking a few months of retreat with us here at Ridgely. Haha! We put her to work! She is a wonderful speaker and you will be glad that we did.

    Here is the schedule for the retreat:

    Saturday, Dec. 13

    10am Intro 10:15 Pr. Shuddhatmaprana: “A Mother’s Heart” talk followed by discussion

    12:30pm LUNCH

    1:30pm Pr. Virajaprana “Holy Mother’s Common Sense” talk followed by discussion

    3pm group reading and discussion of THE TEACHINGS OF HOLY MOTHER

    Sunday, Dec. 14

    10am Pr. Gitaprana “Mother in Form, Mother in Everything” talk followed by discussion

    11:30 We will all perform a guided mental worship followed by kirtan/bhajan singing.

    1:00 LUNCH

    All are welcome to attend all or part of this retreat. Please RSVP this week if you are coming. If you are a singer and would like to lead some bhajans or kirtan, we would be glad to have you. All song offerings should be sing-along simple.

     

    Please be aware that, as winter has arrived here at the retreat, we could be compelled to cancel this retreat with short notice due to snow and icy conditions.

    Guest Blogger: Shivani

    One day, during the garage sale at Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely I found the book that is a constant inspiration to me: the“Shrimad Bhagavad Gita” translated by Swami Swarupananda which I will quote heavily below. I had read the Bhagavad Gita before, few different “interpretations”, but this one, almost word for word translation spoke to my soul.

    Having asked the big “WHY??” of my being here, now, on this earth for many years, I was very fortunate to come to Ridgely and get introduced to such truth and to discover the teachings of Swami Vivekananda.

    The “impulses of passion”, the onslaught of thoughts troubling our mind due to Karma and the habits we formed, what is termed our “lower nature” is very strong and in being unconscious of this we make ourselves miserable. Unaware that we need to work to overrule all the attachments and aversions of our senses, we go like sleepwalkers through life. The Gita teaches that:

    He who here … living in sin , and satisfied in the senses… he lives in vain.(III 16)

    This was how I was feeling, so why was it that way? Again, the Gita has the answer I was looking for:

     The turbulent senses… do violently snatch away the mind of even a wise man… (II 60)

    So what could I do, far from being wise or anywhere close? There again, I learned the answer from the Gita:

    Knowledge is covered by… the unappeasable fire of desire (III 39)

    And:

    In tranquility, all sorrow is destroyed. (II 65)

    Easy for you to say was my first thought. But with the supporting community of Vivekananda Retreat, I realized that we are all dealing with the same problems mankind has for centuries. In the Gita, Arjuna asks:

    But impelled by what does man commit sin, thoug against his wishes…      constrained as it were by force? (III 36)

    Shri Krishna answer is:

    It is desire – it is anger… of great craving, and of great sin; know this as the foe here (in this world). (III 37)

    The senses, the mind, and the intellect are said to be its abode: through these,  it deludes the embodied by veiling his wisdom. (III 40)

    Thus, knowing Him who is superior to the intellect, and restraining the Self by the Self, destroy… that enemy, the unseizable foe, desire. (III 43)

    Freed from attachment, fear, and anger, absorbed in Me, taking refuge in    Me, purified by the fire of knowledge, many have attained My Being. (IV 10)

    Thus, from the classes and talks with the Pravrajikas, with the teachings of the visiting Swamis and spiritual seekers who come to Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely, I learned about the One that is all and I practice.

     

    I practice and practice,
    Then forget that I know
    Forget my practice
    But, in winter, the snow flakes
    Cooling my head
    In spring, the babble of birds
    Waking me up at sunrise
    In summer, soft warm wind
    Whispering through the fields
    In fall, fabulous colors
    Reminding me that all is One
    And in this environment,
    I am always brought back to my practice.
    I know what I am to do:
    Rise the Wind
    The sweet Wind of Knowledge
    To blow the smoke
    The smoke hiding the Fire
    The Fire that is all.

    Swami Vivekananda tells us again and again to seek the truth within ourselves as in the Gita:

    Better is one’s own Dharma, (though) imperfect, than the Dharma of another well-performed. Better is death in one’s own Dharma: the Dharma of another is fraught with fear. (III 35)

    Swami Vivekananda emphasized that within ourselves lays the answer and one is to search it for oneself, not blindly follow another’s truth. By searching within one “un–covers”, “remembers” the truth that is. Swamiji’s strength of character, pure knowledge and enthusiasm is catching here where he spent so many weeks. When reading his teachings or listening to the Pravrajikas uttering his words, I feel such strong conviction, I have glimpses of remembrance that yes, all is within, it is so simple for me to see yet so difficult to do. The senses, attachments and aversions are very strong but here I have discovered a map, it is now up to me to follow my path, I may go the wrong way from time to time but I have the map and can always go back and start again.

    All quotes are from the “Shrimad Bhagavad Gita” translated by Swami Swarupananda

    Poems by Michele C. Placais, reproduction with permission only.

     

    Ridgely in the New York Times

    On December 12, 2008, Ridgely was featured in the New York Times, in an extensive article about ashrams and retreats in the New York Area by Shivani Vohra.  This post contains a small excerpt, and you can find the link to the full article below:

    It began at 4:30 on a Saturday morning.
    The three dozen participants started out with two half-hour meditation sessions before dawn. They then spent the next two hours doing what’s called work practice, which consisted of scrubbing toilets and raking leaves, all in silence. . . (which led to more meditation, cleaning the . . . dishes, and sleeping in dorm-style accommodations.) Sunday was an abbreviated version of the day before.
    . . . Perhaps what was the most unusual aspect of this austere weekend . . . was that many of the attendees were not adherents of Eastern religious practices, but were part of an increasing number of nonbelievers who are seeking stress-free, spiritual and often inexpensive weekend breaks at local ashrams (isolated communities formed around a guru who follows Hindu philosophy) and Buddhist monasteries (residences for monks).
    . . . the rigorous agenda over the . . . weekend actually left him refreshed. “It wasn’t fun in the traditional sense, but it was the opposite of my life in New York City and a return to a very uncomplicated way of living,” he said. “It gave me the rest and relaxation I was looking for.”

     

    You can find the full text here.