We are told to put others needs before our own and serve others. How far do we go with this, because some people take advantage of our kindness?
Well, this has been my problem too, and I have never been able to understand it, I lived with my Guru who was a type of man who always put the needs of others first but by that he gained, he did not lose anything. Materially he gained, his name and fame spread, his personality became great, he became the Guru of thousands and millions of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Roman Catholics, Protestants and all kinds of people. So many people used to come to him and he always put an other's need before his own.
Even when I used to cook for him, let us say a South Indian dish, or roti, or rice, first he used to keep some chapattis and dhal separately on another plate and tell me, "Give it to that Swami." First, that was the order, and then he used to eat. He had a very simple process before eating. When the food came to him, first he took a little piece of rice (rice of course he never ate himself), roti, dhal, and vegetables, and put them on the ground. Most Hindus do it. They say it is an offering to the gods, to divine beings. There are people who even before eating take a chapatti and go to the cowshed and give it to the cow because according to the Hindu religion, feeding the cow is the highest dharma, the greatest religion and the greatest spirituality. They do it every morning and at food time also. So, he used to do that first and then keep something aside for some swami or something like that. That is just a simple example.
People gave so much to Swamiji! Every day, blankets and clothes and sweets and fruits and biscuits and money, and he just kept on giving and feeding, from human beings to monkeys! In Rishikesh there used to be a lot of monkeys in those days, and they were rowdies, not gentlemen. They were very shrewd. There used to be a very big kitchen with a hall. We used to close the door and eat, and the moment we opened the door, monkeys with great speed used to go into the kitchen and take up twenty rotis.
We used to carry the tiffin for sick people from the kitchen which was on the Ganges bank. On the way the monkeys used to attack and take away the rotis, vegetables and all kind of things. But Swami Sivananda fed them every Friday morning, and this was the duty of the swamis. On Thursdays, so much horsegram was soaked in water, and on Friday morning on the terrace, some swami used to go: "Oh, oh", and the monkeys used to come. Because Swami Sivananda said, "Monkeys represent the great Hanuman, the monkey god". He thought like that. It was not possible for me to think that way.
Such great figures as Swami Sivananda come ready made: they come with that dharma or nature. In the case of most people, doing good to others can also be an egoistic action. You are propelled by your own ego and in order to feed that ego you do good to others, because that gives you satisfaction. However, there are people in this world who always consider that it is their duty to do good to others and who have been born only with that purpose. There have been many stories in both East and West where such people are born who consider others' needs superior to their own.
Now comes the point of exploitation and misuse of that attitude. I think it is not true, no, it is not true. If one has this attitude as a part of one's personality and if one is not doing it out of one's own ego, or in order to satisfy oneself or to impress others, and so on and so forth, not just from charity or altruism or humanitarianism (it is his dharma, his nature), then in the personality of the other party to whom the help is being extended, a change takes place and they are transformed. Likewise, saints and sages, sadhus, mahatmas and divine messengers have transformed the lives of many people.
It is not easy to practise this but I think most of us do it in a very limited sense. We keep the needs of our children ahead of our needs. If we love somebody, our child or our lover or beloved, or our friend or husband or parents (sometimes it happens) we always place their needs ahead of our own. We have been practising it, but the point is here we are practising it because we consider that person as ours - my daughter, my son, my darling. That mineness has to go away and that is the difficult part.
When there is someone who is not yours in any way, a stranger, a monkey, or an animal or anybody, if you are able to extend that part of your spirituality to him then it means that you have become selfless. That is called selfless service, selfless action. When you are looking after your own child, it is not a bad action, when you keep the needs of your nearest and dearest one ahead of your needs, it is all right, there is nothing wrong in it, it is not unethical or immoral, it is necessary, but it is an outcome of your selfishness, because your self is involved in it.
It is this involvement of your self which makes you sacrifice, makes you become kind and keep the needs of others ahead of your own. If this selfishness can be extricated, if it is not a part of your personality, then whatever you do, you will not think of what you are going to get out of it, or what you are going to lose.
I am sure that when Swami Sivananda did these things, he did them without any thought of self. He did many funny things, ah yes, I cannot even relate to them. It is so difficult, for we people who are so practical and pragmatic, to understand what he was doing, but at the time when he was doing them I always thought that he never considered what he was going to gain thereby. The only thing that was in his mind was, "God is in every form". That was his view. "The monkey is God, and these boys, these ladies who are here, these ashramites, they are all God, our guest who has come is God. Therefore, if anybody is sick or if anybody is unwell or unhealthy or in trouble, if anybody is in this way or that way, I am not helping him for my gain, and I am not even helping him for his gain but I am worshipping God".
That is the attitude of saintly people. Everybody has a different attitude. Saintly people have the attitude of divinity, and the people who are charitable, humanistic, philanthropic, etc., have the attitude of doing good to others, they are working for other people.
In Rishikesh there are many people suffering from leprosy. They used to beg on the road. Swami Sivananda brought them together and had a nice colony arranged for them. Many times the local leaders, politicians as they are called, used to come and praise him, saying that he was giving a great social service. Swami Sivananda used to say only one thing, "If you serve others selflessly then some of your bad karmas are written off, because karma encounters karma, karma contradicts karma, that is how the multiplication of karma takes place." In my opinion, you have to consider this deeply, do not just do it emotionally. After all, if you can reach that height, as many great people have, it is worth having.