Finding Happiness in Selfless Service

natural living selfless service volunteer

When I was a child, my parents would take my brothers and I with them to volunteer in a soup kitchen on Saturday mornings. We all helped in preparing the meal and serving it to the people who came to eat there. I remember sometimes people asked us if we could make something extra for them – a cheese sandwich for later or maybe something they could take to a friend who was sick or otherwise prevented from coming in person. It seemed no one ever felt inconvenienced by these requests. Rather, we all really liked helping and felt a natural joy in being of service to others. I remember honestly liking the people who came in and really looking forward to serving them each week. I did not see a dirty person or an undesirable person – I saw a person. And I felt in my heart a natural, spontaneous, desire to do something nice for this person. To do so felt naturally wonderful. There is something about the act of striving to bring more happiness into the lives of others that naturally grows the happiness in your own heart.

In the Vedic yoga system, selfless service is considered to be essential to the health and happiness of the living being. Both Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga incorporate this principle. Selfless service is also a core teaching in many other scriptures of the world and the lives of saintly people throughout history attest to the value of this type of service.

A person does not have to be a great saint, however, to experience the natural joy of serving selflessly. Even if one is not able to dedicate their entire life to serving others or to be completely free of selfish desires, a person can still taste the sweetness of helping others in the same way that I did as a child. You can volunteer to help people in material distress, to give up some of the time and energy you would have spent in pursuing material pleasures and instead use it to try to bring some happiness and warmth to the hearts of others. Even dedicating just one morning or afternoon per week can be life-changing.

Moreover, volunteering with your kids is a wonderful way to teach by example and also give them the opportunity to develop this virtue early in their lives. Many parents would like their children to be less self-centered, but just telling them they should be or even explaining why they should be, does not give them the personal experience which will actually allow them to realize this for themselves. By giving them opportunities and encouraging them in activities that will awaken their natural attraction for selflessness, you will be giving them the most amazing gift.

There are many forms of selfless service and when people refer to service being selfless, they may be talking simply about unpaid work (volunteering) or they may be referring to selfless service in its purest form. The core of selfless service is that you are not working for personal gain, but are are actually sacrificing your time and energy for the benefit of someone other than you. An interesting paradox in selfless service is that when you give of yourself freely, without thought or desire for personal gain, you actually do benefit on a much higher level – in your heart. It is not a business exchange, it is a loving exchange. The deep joy that you feel in your heart when selflessly giving to another is the natural effect of sincerely caring for that person. It springs from an innate recognition of our common spiritual essence, our relatedness as one family in the truest sense.

When we consciously understand in our hearts and minds that we are spiritual beings, not the material bodies we are temporary wearing, we automatically recognize that we are all related as one family. This recognition naturally increases our desire to love and care for one another, regardless of material differences such as ethnicity, religion, nationality, social status, age, gender, appearance, etc. We feel natural joy in being loving with our spiritual siblings and our Supreme Mother/Father. Selfless service is essentially loving service. Each of us has a natural desire to love, to be loving toward others. When we are truly loving another, we are not thinking about ourselves, we are only seeking to care for this other person, to bring them happiness. And we cannot help but be happy in our hearts in the happiness of someone we love.

When our natural desire to render loving service is restricted only to those who we identify as biological extensions of our body or to those we consider desirable because they can give us some material benefit, we keep ourselves from the full true experience of it. However, when we allow this natural tendency to have its full expression in unconditional love for the Supreme Person and for all living beings, we experience selfless, loving service in its truest and purest form.

Even if you only have an intellectual understanding of our essential relatedness with one another, selfless service with a sincere desire to develop real love for others and for the Supreme Person will lead to spiritual realization – especially when combined with spiritually-nourishing activities such as the yoga meditations we discussed in earlier articles (Kirtan, Japa Yoga, and Gauranga Breathing). As you develop spiritually, you will find that selflessness comes more easily, spontaneously, and naturally to you. You will find that you really like to be kind to others and you like helping them, that it brings incredible joy to your heart. You may even discover for yourself that selflessness is your natural state of being.

 

Here are some nice quotes on selflessly serving to inspire you:

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Mahatma Gandhi

“Consciously or unconsciously, every one of us does render some service or other. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and will make, not only our own happiness, but that of the world at large. ”
Mahatma Gandhi

“Love is not patronizing and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same — with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead.”
Mother Teresa

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
Albert Schweitzer

“Love is Sacrifice. When you love, sacrifice is easy. And when you really love, sacrifice is joy.”
― Gramma Roxie Owens

Finding Real Shelter in Hard Times – Part 2

woman tree roots natural living

As discussed in earlier articles, we are spiritual beings currently living in a material body. Because of this, we have grown accustomed to operating on the superficial, material level. We look for safety in material ideas and objects, trying to take shelter, trying to find a sense of happiness, peace, and solace in so many things. Some people turn to intoxicants or other forms of escapism in times of trouble. Others take some comfort in having accumulated monetary wealth, social prestige or power. Some try to take shelter in having a great amount of creative talent, a sharp intellect, or physical beauty. Some people feel a certain measure of safety in being very pious or austere. There are even those who try to find peace in steering their mind toward positive thoughts. There are so many material things – mental and physical – that people try to take shelter in and although they may experience some measure of comfort, they never actually reach a level of feeling completely safe, completely happy. Instead they experience persistent anxiety, restlessness, discontent, and an insatiable desire for something they do not have.

If a person is taking shelter in something material, they are putting themselves in a very precarious position. The nature of material things is that they are temporary and can be easily lost or destroyed through unexpected circumstances. The fear of loss associated with things considered essential to a person’s happiness causes constant anxiety. So by taking shelter in material things, a person will not only be in constant anxiety about losing his false shelter, but he will be making himself vulnerable to intense misery and suffering in the event of its actual loss. Many times people take shelter in having a happy marriage, a loving family, lots of money, a prestigious position in society, or good physical or mental health, then lose it suddenly,  and they are completely devastated. And you will see others who experience devastating material loss and yet they are not devastated. Why?

Because these people, while they may be appreciating the material gifts that come to them, they do not base their happiness upon them. They may be experiencing some superficial happiness or distress from them, but much deeper than this superficial happiness or distress that comes and goes with the waves of material fortune, is a connection to a spiritual source of happiness. The happiness they are experiencing is through a permanent, soul-level connection which they have cultivated through spiritual activities. Even when the person, the soul, leaves the body at the time of death, this connection remains and the person can continue to grow this spiritual connection lifetime after lifetime. This is real shelter. It is transcendental to material circumstances and one who cultivates this deep connection and takes complete shelter in it, will not experience anxiety in life or devastation at death – because their happiness does not depend on material circumstances.

This state of deep spiritual connection cannot be achieved through material means. It cannot be attained through positive thinking or creative visualization. It cannot be developed simply by joining an organization or taking on a new label or belief system. It is not a material thing to be bought and sold, awarded, earned, or inherited.  And it cannot be faked. The only means to attain this connection is through an individual person’s sincere cultivation of it in conjunction with the Supreme. This is because this connection is a relationship. More specifically, it is a unique, personal relationship that an individual soul develops with the Supreme Soul.

In the Vedic yoga texts, a method for cultivating this connection is prescribed for each age, or yuga. In this particular age, the method is very simple and accessible to all. A person can cultivate a loving relationship with the Supreme by regularly hearing and repeating the transcendental names of the Supreme. These names are purely spiritual and inseparable from the Supreme, so by hearing and chanting them, one is actually placing oneself in direct contact with the Supreme. This direct contact has been compared to the sun. As the sun purifies physical objects of impurities, direct contact with the Supreme purifies a person’s consciousness of impurities. As a person continues to chant these names, his consciousness becomes more and more clear and his love for Supreme naturally flourishes.

The soul who sincerely and humbly strives to cultivate this relationship will feel a deep and constant spiritual happiness growing in his heart as a natural result of the growing relationship and actual love that he is feeling. It is this relationship –  and the happiness, fulfillment, safety, peace, love that inherently belongs with it – that allows a person to be strengthened, comforted, nourished, revitalized, inspired even in the midst of material difficulty and tragedy. Even a small measure of growth, of sincere trust and love in this relationship, can help a person remain steady and comforted throughout unwanted material difficulty. And, as a person continues to cultivate this relationship, continues to take shelter in the Supreme – all the while regularly hearing and repeating the names of Supreme – he will find that inevitable difficulties can actually serve to deepen and strengthen this very special connection. When a person has the opportunity to realize this for himself, through his own personal experience, he will know that he has found real shelter.

Kirtan, Japa Yoga, and Gauranga Breathing are three excellent yoga meditations that incorporate the hearing and repeating of the transcendental names of the Supreme. For detailed instructions on these simple meditations that anyone can do, please follow the links below:

Kirtan

Japa Yoga

Gauranga Breathing

 

Finding Real Shelter in Hard Times – Part 1

It is inevitable that a person will encounter difficulties in their life. It does not matter how much material wealth, power, fame, beauty, knowledge, etc. that a person accumulates, they will face many challenges throughout a lifetime and some of these challenges will be so very difficult that a person will feel overwhelmed, terrified, bewildered, devastated, lost, vulnerable, powerless.

I remember going through a period of my life where I thought I could actually somehow avoid difficulties. I first tried manipulating my external environment and later my mind and emotions to get rid of the difficulties in my life. And what I found was that trying to avoid all difficulties was far worse than just dealing with them as the arose. It did not stop the difficulties – it just made every little thing into a difficulty.

When you look at the big picture, you can realize that there is relatively little that we can control. We cannot control the weather, other people, animals, the environment, physical laws of nature – we even have trouble controlling our own bodies, minds, and emotions.

When you realize how little control you actually have and how many opportunities there are for difficulties to arise, you will likely feel the need for something solid to move you through the difficulties you will encounter- something that will help you stay strong, focused, grounded throughout the trials and tribulations of life. It is like trees being blown by the wind. If you take a look at trees that grow in a very windy area – by the beach, for example – you will see that they are often growing diagonally instead of straight up, bent over by the force of almost constant coastal winds.  But although the trees are blasted by the winds so frequently that they growing this way, they are not blown over. This is because they have very deep and strong roots that keep them solidly in place.

Many people’s lives are this way, too – so filled with challenging situations and circumstances that they feel like they are constantly being blown by heavy winds. Others may have mostly peaceful life situations, but are occasionally hit with hurricane force winds. In either situation, what is needed is the same. We need deep roots. We need a strong connection to the foundation of our existence. When we have this deep connection, we are able to not only move through difficulties in life, we are able to grow through them.

So where is this deep connection to be found and how can we develop it?

To be continued in Part 2 of Finding Real Shelter in Hard Times