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 explains:"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."
It takes a long time-most of our life-to understand that we can only change ourselves, not the world. A story is told of a wise man in his sixties who said, "When I was twenty years old I thought the world was not as it should have been; I should do my bit to change it. So I prayed: 'O God, grant me the strength and wisdom to change the world.' When I was forty I began to understand how futile my attempt was. Then I thought that maybe I should narrow down my field. I prayed: 'O God, grant me the strength to change those around me.' The futility of this also was borne home to me by the time I was sixty. Wisdom then dawned on me. I prayed: 'O God, grant me the strength to change myself.' "
Swami Vivekananda compares the world to a dog's curly tail that can never be straightened even with extraordinary effort. The sum total of good and evil remains the same, and the world continues to be a multitude of dualities: pleasure and pain, praise and blame, gain and loss, and so on. Says Swami Vivekananda: "I once read a sermon in which it was said, 'All this world is very good, because it gives us time and opportunity to help others.' Apparently, this is a very beautiful sentiment, but is it not a blasphemy to say that the world needs our help? We cannot deny that there is much misery in it; to go out and help others is, therefore, the best thing we can do, although in the long run, we find that helping others is only helping ourselves." The world is only a training ground. By doing selfless work we strengthen our character and manifest more of our divine nature. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, "The world is a grand moral gymnasium wherein-Sri Ramakrishna we have all to take exercise so as to become stronger and stronger spiritually."
If the world is never going to change, do we then keep quiet when we see the suffering of others? Far from it. Our service becomes elevated to spiritual discipline when we realize that we are just instruments in the hands of God, and act according to His will.