Service and Spirituality
How Service Becomes a Spiritual Discipline
Our gifts to others can include service of several kinds. According to the Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 17), superior service is that which is offered to a worthy recipient, at the right time and place, without expectation of a return or favor, without desire for the fruit of action, and with due respect to the recipient. Only this kind of service can help us in our spiritual growth. To render such service we need discrimination, training, and self-effort. Without these, service will just be another activity and not a means for inner purification. Combined with sacrifice and austerity, service leads to purity of mind and inner growth.
Service as Worship
He who accepts our service gives us an opportunity to practice selflessness and become pure. If we expect anything from him, our service becomes unproductive and meaningless. We should rather be grateful to him. Swami Vivekananda’s words in this regard are valuable:
“Look upon every man, woman, and everyone as God. You cannot help anyone, you can only serve: serve the children of the Lord, serve the Lord Himself, if you have the privilege. If the Lord grants that you can help any one of his children, blessed you are; do not think too much of yourselves. Blessed you are that that privilege was given to you when others had it not. Do it only as a worship. I should see God in the poor, and it is for my salvation that I go and worship them. The poor and the miserable are for our salvation, so that we may serve the Lord, coming in the shape of the diseased, coming in the shape of the lunatic, the leper, and the sinner!”
“No beggar whom we have helped has ever owed a single cent to us; we owe everything to him, because he has allowed us to exercise our charity on him. It is entirely wrong to think that we have done, or can do, good to the world, or to think that we have helped such and such people. It is a foolish thought, and all foolish thoughts bring misery. We think that we have helped some man and expect him to thank us, and because he does not, unhappiness comes to us. Why should we expect anything in return for what we do? Be grateful to the man you help, think of him as God.”
No One Is Dependent on Us
Our sojourn in this world is brief, lasting but a few decades. Millions of people come into this world and leave it without creating the slightest ripple. The drama of life continues without them. Death is the greatest leveler. The body of a king and that of a pauper both return to dust. It is the mind that undergoes refinement and becomes associated with another body fit for its further evolution. The less we are attached to the body—ours as well as others—the more will we progress spiritually. When we grow in wisdom we understand that the world is not for our enjoyment, but for our spiritual growth. Says Swami Vivekananda, “The world is a grand moral gymnasium wherein we have all to take exercise so as to become stronger and stronger spiritually.”
When we know that the world can very well go on without us, we become more sober. When we realize that no one is dependent on us, we begin to work without attachment. Swami Vivekananda’s words explain this point:
“It is a weakness to think that anyone is dependent on me, and that I can do good to another. This belief is the mother of all our attachment, and through this attachment comes all our pain. We must inform our minds that no one in this universe depends upon us; not one beggar depends on our charity; not one soul on our kindness; not one living thing on our help. All are helped on by nature, and will be so helped even though millions of us were not here. The course of nature will not stop for such as you and me; it is, as already pointed out, only a blessed privilege to you and to me that we are allowed, in the way of helping others, to educate ourselves.”
(To be continued) —Swami Yuktatmananda
Copyright© 2011, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York.