Printable version
Related Pages
Font Size    

Karma Yoga, The Yoga of Service

by Swami Sivananda

What is the object of Seva or service? Why do you serve the poor and the needy and the suffering humanity at large? Why do you serve society and the country? Yes, by doing service you purify your heart. Egoism, hatred, jealousy, the idea of superiority and all the kindred negative qualities will vanish. Humility, pure love, sympathy, tolerance and mercy will be developed. The sense of separateness will be annihilated. Selfishness will be eradicated. You will get a broad and liberal outlook on life. You will begin to feel oneness and unity. Eventually you will obtain knowledge of the Self. You will realise "One in all" and "all in One". You will feel unbounded joy. What is society after all? It is nothing but a collection of units or individuals. The world is nothing but a manifestation of God. Service of humanity and the country is, in fact, nothing short of service of God. Service is worship. But one should serve with Bhava. Then alone he can have quick realisation and purification of the heart.

The sense of separateness is a colossal fetter. Kill this sense of separateness through Brahma Bhavana, by developing Advaitic unity of consciousness and by means of selfless service. This sense of separateness is an illusion created by ignorance or Maya.

Develop keen enthusiasm for disinterested, selfless service. Be kind to all. Love all. Serve all. Be tolerant and generous towards all. Serve the Lord in all. That is the way to reach the goal.

Just as a mother who has lost nine children loves the only surviving son so dearly, so also you will have to develop boundless love for all beings. This is the first and foremost qualification for an aspirant. The astral body of one who has this boundless love will shine with magnificent brilliance and lustre. There will be a glow of ineffable splendour.
He who ignores his own pleasures and comforts and tries to help others always is really an advanced student in the path of spirituality. He carries the master-key to unlock the realms of spiritual bliss.

You must be able to think quickly and act promptly with unerring precision and profound concentration in times of emergencies. You must take care to see that you are not rash and impetuous. You must be cool and collected.

Many aspirants of the present-day prefer to do some pleasant work, some writing, some collection of flowers for Puja, arranging books in the library, some typewriting, some kind of supervision and management work, etc. They dislike works such as drawing water and hewing wood, cleaning dirty utensils, washing clothes, sweeping, cooking, cleaning bedpans and nursing the sick. They consider these works as menial. They have not tried to understand the real spirit of Karma Yoga and Vedanta. They are yet Babus. They need rigorous discipline and training. I will put these Babu-aspirants to carrying the motion-buckets of the sick for a year, washing plates for another year, and sweeping the room and washing the clothes of the sick the third year. Then alone they will become real aspirants. Then alone they will be ready for the commencement of meditation.

If an Ashram is not properly conducted, the kitchen becomes a fighting centre. The whole Maya is in the kitchen. Aspirants begin to fight there. One aspirant says: "I did not get any ghee or vegetables today." Another aspirant says: "The dal soup was very watery. Viswaranjan added plain Ganga water to the soup. He dislikes me." But if there is a really developed Karma Yogi to train the young students, the real Advaita Vedanta begins in the kitchen of an Ashram and ends in the Vasishtha Guha of the Himalayas. A kitchen is the best training ground or school for developing tolerance, endurance, forbearance, mercy, sympathy, love, adaptability, and the spirit of real service for purifying one's heart and for realising the oneness of life. Every aspirant should know how to cook well.

If one lives with his Guru, he must be prepared to do willingly any work assigned to him. If you create interest in work which the mind revolts against, you later like to do any kind of work. By so doing, you will undoubtedly develop your will-power.

Balance of mind brings about real lasting happiness to a disciplined man. It is not a commodity which can be purchased on the market. It is indeed a rare gift which can only be attained by protracted selfless service with Atma Bhava, equal vision, controlled Indriyas and self-restraint, by developing virtues such as adaptability, broad and generous tolerance and a high degree of endurance, serenity, calmness, control of temper and by removing anxieties, worries, fear and depression by spiritual Sadhana and meditation. It is serenity and balance of mind that can give real, eternal happiness to man. The wealth of the three worlds is nothing when compared to the bliss enjoyed by that great soul who has serenity and a balanced mind. Now, tell me honestly, where is bliss? Who is a great man? Is it in a wealthy king with an unbalanced and unbridled mind, living in a palace, or in a poor saint with a magnificent calm and balanced mind and living in a grass hut on the banks of the sacred Ganga?

If you want to serve another man truly, you should try to please him in all respects. You should not do anything that pleases you only. You should do such actions as can bring him immense happiness. This will constitute real service. But generally under the camouflage of serving others, people try to please themselves only. This is a serious mistake. He who gives the handle of a sharp knife to another to hold, holding the sharp blade himself does real service. A real Sevak rejoices in suffering. He takes on his shoulders the most responsible, difficult and the most arduous and uninteresting of works and kills his own little self just to please others. He willingly undergoes pain and suffering in order to serve and please others.

To stop the breath by means of Kumbhaka for two hours, to twirl the beads for twenty-four hours, to sit in Samadhi for forty days in an underground cellar without food by cutting the frenulum linguae of the tongue and practising Khechari Mudra, to stand up on one leg in the scorching heat of the summer sun, to do Trataka on the sun at midday, to chant Om, Om, Om in silent and sequestered jungles, to shed an ocean of tears while doing Sankirtan-all these are of no avail unless one combines burning love for Him in all beings and a fiery spirit of service in serving Him in all beings. Aspirants of the present-day are sadly lacking in these two indispensable qualifications. And that is the root cause why they do not make any headway at all in their meditation in solitude. They have not prepared the ground, I mean the Antahkarana, by protracted practice of love and service in the beginning. I have seen several Bhaktas in all my experiences of life in this line-Bhaktas who wear half a dozen rosaries around their necks and wrists, and mutter Hare Rama Hare Krishna day in and day out with a long Japa Mala in their hands. These Bhaktas will never approach a sick man even when he is in a dying condition and give him a drop of water or milk, and ask: "What do you want, brother? How can I serve you?" Out of curiosity they will be just looking at him from a distance. Can you call these people true Vaishnavites or Bhaktas? Can there be an iota of real benefit in their meditation or Bhajan? A Jinda Narayana (living Narayana) in the form of a sick patient is in a dying state. They have not got the heart to go and serve him or even to speak a few kind and encouraging words at a critical juncture, when his life is trembling in the balance! How can they expect to have Darshan of that all-merciful Hari when they have hearts made of flint? How can they hope for God-realisation when they have not the eyes to see God in all beings and the spirit of service to serve Him in all these forms?

That man who has knowledge and devotion can alone do really efficient service to the country and the people. Jnana and Bhakti must be the rock bottom basis of Karma Yoga. Jnana can be combined with Karma Yoga, or Bhakti Yoga can be combined with Karma Yoga in the beginning with much advantage. The Jnana-Karma-Yogi thinks and feels that he is serving his own Atman and realises Advaitic consciousness. The Bhakti-Karma-Yogi thinks and feels that he is serving his Lord in all, his own Ishtam and realises God-consciousness and has Darshan of his Beloved. Mere philanthropical work out of sympathy without devotion and knowledge is nothing more than social scavenging. It is not Yoga or worship. It is on a lower plane. It cannot elevate a man much. The progress is dull and slow, if progress you can call it. Remember, it is the mental attitude or Bhava that does immense good.

A Karma Yogi who does all work in the form of worship of God in the beginning, who surrenders his body, mind, soul and all his actions as flowers or offerings at the Lotus Feet of the Lord, who is ever absorbed in the Lord by constant thought of God, loses himself in God-consciousness by total self-surrender. He gets absorbed in God. His will becomes one with the Cosmic Will. That is his last and advanced stage. He realises that whatever is going on in the world is but the Lila of the Lord or divine sporting. He realises the truth of the utterances in the Brahma Sutras: Lokavattu lila kaivalyam. He feels that he is one with the Lord and that he is a partner in His Lila. He lives for Him only. He lives in Him only. His thoughts and actions are now of God Himself. The veil has dropped. The sense of separateness has been totally annihilated. He now enjoys the Divine Aishvarya.

A doctor who works in the hospital should think that all patients are manifestations of God. He should think that the body is the moving temple of God and that the hospital is a big temple or Brindavan or Ayodhya. He should think: "I am doing all my actions to please the Lord and not to please my superiors." He should think that God is the inner ruler (Antaryamin), that He alone manipulates all his organs from behind, and that He is the wire-puller of the body. He should think that He works to carry out the Divine Will in the grand plan or scheme of things. He should consecrate all his actions at His Feet, whether they be good or bad. He should then say: Om Tat Sat Krishnarpanamastu or Om Tat Sat Brahmarpanamastu in the end and at night when he retires to bed. This is Jnanagni or the fire of wisdom or the fire of devotion that destroys the fruit of action, brings about Chitta Suddhi, knowledge of the Self and final emancipation. He should never dream even: "I have done such meritorious acts. I will get an exalted place in Svarga, etc. I will be born in the next birth as a rich man." By means of constant practice of this nature he will slowly get mental non-attachment towards work. A lady, when she does her household duties, should also entertain the above mental attitude. In this manner all actions can be spiritualised. All actions will become worship of the Lord. A man can realise Godhead in whatever situation he may be placed in life, if only he works with this right mental attitude.

May the great Lord, the Flute-Bearer of Brindavan, the lover of Radha, the joy of Devaki, grant us right belief, Suddha Prem, right mental attitude and inner spiritual strength to do selfless service to the world, and to realise Godhead even while remaining in the world, by doing Nishkamya Karma Yoga with Narayana Bhava, by remembering Him at all times and by offering all actions, body, mind and the soul at His Lotus Feet! May the blessings of Siva and Hari be upon us all!

copyright © 2020 the divine life society. All rights reserved.