The Dynamics of Selfless Service
Sri Swami Sivananda
This article is a chapter from the book Ethics of the Bhagavad Gita.
Before proceeding to consider the bearing that the Ethics of the Bhagavad Gita has upon the various aspects of human conduct, it is important to emphasise that the cosmic love that forms the fundamental basis of these ethics is not an ideal to be fondly meditated upon, nor an idol to be bowed to from a distance, nor even an idler’s subject-for-gossip. Cosmic love is a very, very hard taskmaster. No doubt it is elixir for the inner spirit, a tonic for life itself and a fountain of eternal youthfulness and dynamism; but it has often demanded and inflicted a heavy toll on the physical, grosser and material part of man. Cosmic love is the confluence of paradoxes. This is extremely important to note and bear in mind always. It demands great sacrifices which are always made with the greatest delight. It demands ruthless renunciation of worldly pleasures and comforts; and this renunciation is embraced with ecstatic bliss. It demands the merciless severance of all worldly connections, relationship and affections; even this is done with a cheerful face and joyous spirit. Cosmic love only demands the annihilation of what in truth is a limitation, a littleness, a bondage, a painful condition (though in an unenlightened state, this might appear to be pleasurable!), in order that you might enter the Kingdom of Limitless Joy, Infinite Bliss, Ineffable Peace and Immortal Life.
For the sake of Dharma Lord Rama renounced His Consort. Cosmic love transformed Prince Siddhartha into a mendicant, wandering along the streets of his erstwhile kingdom, with a begging bowl. In order that mankind might awake from the slumber of ignorance and walk the path of righteousness, Lord Jesus sacrificed His Life itself on the Cross. Beware of paying lip sympathy to cosmic love!
Ask yourself: “How near have I approached the ideal of Sarva-Bhuta-hite-ratah (devoted to the welfare of all beings)?” That is the acid test of cosmic love. Not a moment of time is yours; it is given to you for being utilised in the service of humanity. Not a grain of food, nor a copper coin, nor a sublime thought, nor even a spiritual experience, is given to you for your private consumption: Cosmic love demands that you should share all with all. The food that you give your own body, the clothes with which you cover it, and the knowledge that you pour into your mind, have justification only in the measure in which your body is utilised in the service of humanity, and the mind is made the instrument through which solace, peace, happiness and enlightenment is brought to His children. Otherwise: Bhunjate te-tvagham Papa Ye Pachanyatmakaranat: if you cook food for your own consumption, you eat not food but terrible sin! Here, food is used symbolically. It refers to everything. Your wealth, your physical strength, your intellectual acumen and your spiritual light are all for others, for all beings.
But this does not give you a licence to interfere in other people’s affairs, and in the name of cosmic love and selfless service, disturb the peace and create disharmony in the world. We have seen how sometimes big nations vie with each other in “rendering help to backward nations” “civilising an uncivilised country” “educating the illiterate masses” “raising the standard of living of the poor” — these are all cloaks which often hide nefarious intentions. The motive behind is not cosmic love, but masked selfishness and greed. Therefore, the Lord warns that Svadharme Nidhanam Sreyah, Para-Dharmo Bhayavahah. Our Puranas and stories of saints are replete with exemplars of the performance of duty. Cosmic love only demands that you should be beyond Raga (attraction towards particular persons and things), Dvesha (dislike for some persons or things) and Bhaya (fear). In the heart must be enshrined the light of the Truth “Sarvam Brahmamayam” “Isavasyamidam Sarvam” “Ahamatma Gudakesa Sarvabhutasaya sthitah” and this light must be ever kept alive in the heart. All your actions should be performed in this light. Then, the very performance of your own duty, with the right spirit of selfless service of humanity, would itself liberate you from Samsara Sve Sve Karmanyabhiratah Samsiddhim Labhate Narah–“Engaged in the performance of his own duties, man attains to Perfection.”
The inner Bhava, or attitude, transforms work into worship. The heart is filled with cosmic love; and the inner spiritual vision perceives the Lord present in all things and His Consciousness pervading every thing that exists: it is easy to understand how this man would behave towards people and how he would perform his daily duties. The bottle of medicine is filled with God’s Power; the patient standing before you is God in human form; he accepts the doses of medicine you give him; it is your worship of God. You won’t throw away anything, you won’t behave rudely towards anyone; you won’t treat anyone or anything with contempt. For, you perceive that all things and all beings are filled with His Glory, His Light, His Life and His Love. That is cosmic love. Therefore, Svakarmana Tamabhyarchya Siddhim Vindati Manavah–By Worshipping the Lord with the flowers of his daily activities, man attains to Perfection.
May you all shine as Jivanmuktas, Jnanis, Yogins and Bhaktas in this very birth.