Swami Sivananda always emphasized that serving others is the stepping stone to spiritual life. Nishkama seva, selfless service, is necessary for self-transformation, to clean the rajo and tamo gunas of the mind. Selfless service doesn’t just mean work; you should have a feeling for it in your heart.
People are so busy running after money that there is no time for selfless service. The nuclear family is the beginning and end of all selfishness. No one worries about anyone else’s family. In India, if you visit forty houses, you will come across scarcity, suffering, poverty, darkness and dejection. Millions and millions of people have no shelter, no food, no cooking facilities, no toilet, not even water to drink.
What have you done for such people? You are wasting your time if you just wrestle with your own mind twenty-four hours a day. To find peace of mind you don’t have to go to a temple or church. You don’t have to become a sannyasin or yogi. You don’t have to practice asana, pranayama or meditation. Just do whatever you can with your mind, knowledge, influence and strength to help the underprivileged.
You may practice raja yoga, jnana yoga and bhakti yoga as much as you like, but they only pacify the mind for the time being. To bring about a change you need to involve your mind and your emotions, for which you need a system.
To deal with the mind, give it a proper duty that it likes, dedicate it to the service of an ideal that will make it happy. The mind enjoys serving those in need, finding out the problems of others and offering help. Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, capable or incapable, the mind can only be dealt with by a sattwic programming of dedication and self-sacrifice.
If you think of the misfortune of others, the mind melts. Suppose you have ten or twenty thousand rupees and the thought comes to your mind, let me help the poor with this money. If you actually do something to help the poor that day, your mind will feel very pleased and peaceful. You will feel so peaceful that you will not be able to express it in words.
I have lived a spiritual life for more than sixty years. I have practiced every form of yoga, but ultimately I found that when I began to think about others, God began to think about me. The mandate I received from God to care for my neighbours led me to ask myself how the world could benefit from my spiritual gain and self-realization. A metamorphosis took place in my personality, way of life and destiny. I changed my teaching and my way of thinking.
My only teaching now is to practice satkarma, selfless, positive actions. Do good acts and earn divine merit. When you serve your husband, wife and children, it is just karma. If you feed the hungry or help a poor person, that is selfless or divine karma. Satkarma is any act that helps somebody physically, mentally, spiritually, monetarily or in any other way.
Serve mankind, those who are sick, who are poor, who are bad, who want spiritual life, who want your love. Your dharma is to work for others. Until your heart is open to the suffering and misery of others, your sadhana will be in vain, like pouring water into a closed bottle. Whatever service you do for others helps to purify your self. Selfless service acts as a detergent and washes away the dirt of karma. In order to experience spiritual life while living in the world, enlarge the scope of your sadhana from asana, pranayama, japa and meditation to include serving those who are in need.
Does a river drink its own water? Do fruits and vegetables eat themselves? No, they give it all to us. This is paramartha, the highest service. Serving others selflessly, doing good works for others without any ulterior motive will become the social philosophy of the twenty-first century. It will be an age in which everyone will have a thought for others. To think about others is to think about God. To worship others is to worship God. This is the lesson those who are traveling on the spiritual path have to learn. Selfless service is a complete spiritual sadhana.