Spirit of Service

“Humanity and Divinity are inseparable,” says Sri Swamiji. Selfless service for the benefit of humanity is itself a spiritual sadhana if done in the right spirit. If the service is done with no ulterior motive of gain – materialistic or spiritualistic, then it verily becomes ‘karma marga.’ But it is easier said than done because the ego or the feeling of ‘I am doing this service’ is extremely hard to keep in check. However hard we try, it remains hidden and rears itself at our weakest possible moment – may be when somebody expresses disappointment in our work, insults us, or speaks highly of another person’s service, etc.

Sri Swamiji illustrates this with a beautiful example. There was a rich man who built a huge charitable hospital in a remote village. He invested in millions of dollars to procure the best equipment and the best doctors in town. At first, the hospital was always at full capacity. But after a few years, as the overall health of the population improved, the number of patients dwindled. The hospital staff recommended closing a major portion of the hospital. At this point, the man feeling dejected that all his hard work and money had come to naught, prayed to the Lord to send more patients! What an irony! He built a hospital to eradicate diseases and help the poor but in order to continue rendering ‘his’ service, he prays for the exact things that his hospital was built to fight and eradicate!

That is why, if the service is not rendered in the right spirit, the efforts will be in vain. Then what is the right spirit? The thought that the Lord or the Guru is acting through us and that we are just His instruments. Again, this is easier said than done. How can we ensure we work with that spirit always? Here is where spiritual austerities like chanting the Divine Names, japa, dhyana, etc. help. It helps to cultivate the right mindset. Just as we rub our hands with oil before cutting open a jackfruit, to prevent tainting our hands with the sticky juice, similarly, we need spiritual austerities to help us cultivate the right spirit for service.

Selfless service of any kind is noble but kainkaryam – service to Guru or the Lord, is supreme. It is out of sheer grace, it is bestowed on us. The scriptures say, the Lord created this universe just by wishing it (vishwam mAnasa eva). For someone who can create this entire universe by mere thought, do they really need us to accomplish their work? Yet, if they include us, it is only out of pure grace. So, it is even more critical that we understand the grace bestowed on us and perform kainkaryam with the right mindset.

Once Swami Shivananda, who was one of the sixteen monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, explained the philosophy behind his own service. It is a beautiful lesson for all of us on how to render service.

He said, “The Master does his own work. You and I are only instruments. Fix your mind on him – he will make you do what is to be done. Work done out of ego accomplishes nothing. What good does it do to the world? He who has performed much austerity, God makes him an instrument and works through him. He only works in the right spirit. Work that lacks that spirit is a waste of energy.

But, despite all this knowledge, when we are doing a kainkaryam, we get the feeling of “I am doing this kainkaryam”. In such a case, what should we do? Should we stop rendering the kainkaryam? Once, a devotee posed a similar question to Sri Swamiji. Sri Swamiji gave a beautiful reply to that devotee that gives a glimpse of the compassionate heart of Sri Swamiji.

He said that it is natural to get these kinds of thoughts and the fact that we are able to recognize the thought, “ I am doing this” arising in us and know that it should not be there is in itself a sign of progress. Let us say we are suffering from a disease. In order to be cured of the disease, first we need to know what disease we have and then take the right medicine. Similarly, knowing the thought exists is the first step in progressing towards the right mindset. He further added that being continuously engaged in kainkaryam itself will cleanse our thoughts and bring about the change. So, He said, one should not be deterred by such thoughts and stop doing kainkaryam altogether. Because, if we are not engaged in kainkaryam, we will engage ourselves in mundane activities or waste time watching movies, indulge in gossip, etc which will take us further away from the true purpose of life.

Therefore, let us have a genuine prayer to the Lord to give us the right spirit and strive to be of service to Him always! How fulfilling, meaningful and joyful life will then be!

By Sowmya Balasubramanian, Bay Area CA  – Based on the article, ‘Divine Dialog’ from EMM Nov 2017 issue & “God Lived With Them” – Book by Swami Chetanananda

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