“Serve all. Love all. Service of humanity is worship of God. There is no greater yoga than service of mankind.” These are the sterling utterances of Gurudev. He was an embodiment of karma yoga. He served his father and mother when he was young. He served his teachers during his student days. He served his patients as Dr. Kuppuswami in Malaya.
Thus it was service all along. Even when he was a monk in absolute seclusion, not speaking to anyone, engaged in intense spiritual sadhana–penance, meditation, introspection, study, silence–he used to go and work one hour a day or more at a little medical dispensary in Laxmanjula. Being an embodiment of selfless service as well as a qualified doctor, he was an ideal servant of the suffering and the sick, the yatris and the sadhus living nearby. And events are narrated how far he went to make his service one hundred per cent perfect and complete.
One of the earliest books that Gurudev wrote was The Practice of Karma Yoga. And from those earliest days till the very end of his life, he urged everyone to purify their heart through selfless service. He said: “The almost insurmountable barrier standing between the individual soul and God is the personal ego-principle.” In his short poem that begins: “Within you is hidden God. Within you is Immortal Soul. Within you is ocean of bliss. Within you is fountain of joy,” he adds the most significant words, “Kill this little ‘I’. Die to live. Lead the divine life.”
This means that the essence of divine life is the killing of this little “I”. The essence of divine life is a total renunciation of the self and dedicating oneself to selflessness–a total renunciation of self and selfishness and self-centred living and dedicating oneself to total unselfish service of one and all, seeing God in all. “Kill this little ‘I’. Die to live. Lead the divine life.” This is divine life–killing of the little “I”, dying to live.
Most significant is the simple prayer of Saint Francis who himself lived what he said in the concluding line of the prayer: “For it is in dying to the little self that we are born to eternal life.” Again: “Then shall I be free, when ‘I’ shall cease to be.” It is only when the “I” disappears that one can rise into the experience of real spiritual freedom.
All Gurudev’s life after Self-realisation, after becoming an enlightened sage and shining as a great light of the Himalayas, was a saga of selfless service–service of the poor, service of the suffering, service of the sick, service of the distressed, service of spiritual aspirants and seekers, service of all humanity, service of the whole world. In diverse, numerous ways, his entire life was one great, continuous stream of selfless service. He had even forgotten how to think of himself; he could only think of others. He lived thinking of others: “In what way can I be of benefit, in what way can I serve?” That was Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj till the very last days.
Gurudev declared in one of his eighteen handwritten autobiographical epistles: “I live to serve, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to raise the fallen, to console the distressed. This is my mission in life.” And anyone who has known him, anyone who has lived with him, anyone who has seen him instantly recognised: “Here is a totally selfless, dedicated human being.” He fulfilled to the very letter the scriptural description of this type of realised soul, who having attained illumination, having done everything that has to be done, having no desires because all their desires have been fulfilled through God-realisation, are seen to be, in the words of the Gita, “intent on the welfare of all creatures.”
Rare it is to find a parallel to the type of life–of lofty, sublime selflessness and total, wonderful, dedicated selfless service of all God’s creatures–that Gurudev was and placed before us as an ideal. It is to this embodiment of selflessness and selfless service, this great expounder of nishkama-karma-yoga, who boldly declared, “Service of humanity is worship of God,” that we pay our homage. May his blessings be upon us all!