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. ”
“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