The Yoga of Selfless Service

In order to attain success in yoga, practice is necessary. Have no patience with theoretical spirituality. By contemplating in a closed room for years, you may not advance more than a few steps. One cannot reach perfection or freedom from the effects of karma merely by renouncing action. The effects of past actions can only be washed away by fresh, virtuous actions in the present, that is, by karma yoga and seva, or selfless service. There is no other way of purifying oneself. There is no other method of getting rid of unwanted impressions and desires.

The training of karma yoga

No meditation and samadhi are possible without a preliminary training in karma yoga. Yoga is not hidden in caves or sequestered forests. It is not to be found in mountain herbs. God is not a coward that He needs to run away from towns, cities and villages. He is all-pervading. Yoga does not force you to flee from your worldly career to solitary places. It does not ask you to hide in a Himalayan cave for attaining supreme peace. It tells you to resist unrighteousness, develop uplifting virtues and try to attain self-realization in and through the world.

The doctrine of a nishkama karma yogi is, “Do all actions without the expectation of fruit.” To work without attachment is doubtless a difficult and uphill task. But it becomes easy and pleasant for one who cultivates patience and determination. Do you expect anything from your small child if you do him some service? In a similar manner you have to work for others also without expecting anything. You have to expand your heart and think that this whole world is your own self.

In the beginning this may give you a little pain because you have never done it before, but when you have tasted a bit of the bliss of karma yoga, you can never leave it. The force of karma yoga will induce you to work more and more, with greater zeal and enthusiasm. You will begin to feel that this whole world is a manifestation of divinity. You will gain immense inner strength. Your heart will be filled with sympathy, mercy and pure love.

In the beginning all your actions may be selfish. But if you work hard in the field of karma yoga for two years, five actions may be unselfish and ninety-five selfish. Scrutinize your motives, purify them and struggle hard. After some years of hard, incessant struggle, fifty actions will become unselfish. A good time will come when all your actions, one hundred per cent, will be purely unselfish. The time will not be very far if you keep the ideal before you daily and struggle hard to reach it, and if you are sincere and earnest in your purpose.

You will have to become a karma yogi if you want to experience the final beatitude. Everybody will come to this state, if not now, maybe after several hundreds of births. But the question is: why not now? Cut short the cycle and enjoy supreme bliss right now in this very second, in this very birth. This is wisdom.

Letting go of expectation

Ignorant people say that one cannot work without any motive. It is a great pity that they have not understood the essence and truth of karma yoga. Their minds are clouded, and saturated with fantastic desires and selfishness. They cannot grasp the underlying truth of karma yoga. They judge others from their own standpoint. Their minds and brains have been so hardened they cannot vibrate properly to understand what a motiveless action is.

When the thought of doing good becomes part and parcel of one’s very being, then one will not entertain the least motive. One will take immense delight in serving others, in doing good to others. There is a peculiar joy and bliss in the practice of vigorous karma yoga. The karma yogi gets inner spiritual strength and power by performing selfless and motiveless actions.

If you find it difficult to work without any motive, have one strong motive for freedom when you work. This will not bind you. This will destroy all the other lower selfish motives and will eventually die by itself, just as the stick used in burning a dead body burns the dead body and is itself consumed in the end. The joy of a developed karma yogi is really unbounded. Words cannot adequately describe his exalted state and inward happiness.

Look at the stupendous and magnanimous work turned out by Lord Buddha, Sri Shankara and other such karma yogis. Their names are still remembered. The whole world worships them with reverence. Can you attribute an iota of selfish motive to their actions? They lived for rendering service to others.

Nature dispenses the fruit of actions according to the motive. If the motive is pure, you will get divine grace and purity of mind. If the motive is impure, if you expect fruit for your actions, you will have to return to this world to reap those fruits. You will have to take birth again and continue to perform virtuous and vicious actions through the force of attraction and repulsion. You will be entrapped in the never-ending wheel of births and deaths.

A method of purification

What is the object in karma yoga or seva? By doing service, you purify your heart. Egoism, hatred, jealousy and the idea of superiority vanish. Humility, pure love, sympathy, tolerance, and mercy are developed. The sense of separateness is annihilated. You get a broad outlook of life. Eventually, knowledge of the Self is attained.

Real spiritual progress starts in selfless service. The sustained practice of seva prepares the mind for the reception of light and knowledge. Every good deed is a grain of seed for eternal life. If you can remove selfishness from your nature, half of your spiritual sadhana is over. Therefore, do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all people you can, in every place you can, at all times you can, with all the zeal, strength, love and interest you can, as long as ever you can. Your nature must be to do good. Doing good and bringing happiness to others brings goodness and happiness to you. A special power comes from the divine source to those who have a pure and steady love of humanity. The more you spend your energy in elevating and serving others, the more divine energy will flow into you.

The path of karma yoga, which eventually leads to the attainment of the infinite bliss of the Self, cannot be futile. Every action brings about an immediate purification of the heart. You do not lose anything in karma yoga. Even if you do a little service to the country, the society or to suffering individuals, it has its own advantages and benefits. It prepares the antahkarana, inner instrument, for the reception of the knowledge of atman. The samskaras or impressions of these good actions become embedded in your subconscious mind and their force will propel you to do some more good actions. Think how best you can utilize your energy, your intellect, your education, your wealth, your strength or anything you possess, for the betterment of others. When you die, your actions only – good and bad – will follow you. You live in vain if you do not have a generous heart.

Be a little more patient, a little more forgiving, a little more charitable, a little more loving and a little more devoted to service. Bring solace where there is affliction, strength where there is weakness, light where there is darkness, hope where there is despair. Understand the suffering of others and be ever ready to help them. The spirit of service must deeply enter into your very bones, cells, tissues and nerves. The reward is invaluable. Practise and feel the cosmic expansion and infinite ananda. Tall tales and idle gossip will not do. Develop enthusiasm. Be fiery in the spirit of service.

He who ignores his own pleasures and comforts and always tries to help others is really an advanced student in the path of spirituality. He carries the master-key to unlock the realms of spiritual bliss. Selfless service will reveal to you the identity of humanity. It will take you to the door of intuition. Identify yourself with all; love all, and constantly remind yourself of your essential divine nature. One can conquer the whole world through love, humility and service. Feel that you are one with the whole universe. The whole world is bound to work with one who feels one with the world.