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Why Serve?


Swami Chinmayananda

Address At Leslie Sawhny Anniversary Function

On 15th May, 1983

We live. in a society. If each one of us were to live on a solitary island, this problem and this discussion would not be necessary. It is only when we live in a society that this question arises. Society is not merely individuals put together; there must a cohesiveness between the individuals. This orchestration of individuals, living an integrated life, makes a. perfect community or a society, and such societies and communities put together, become a nation. So, national integration, you may call it, (social integration, you may call it, or common strength, you may call it) is in each individual learning - to live -by depending upon all of the others. This larger viewpoint is generally lost sight of, and the entire orchestration in the social living pattern breaks down. When it gets shattered, it creates discordant, noisy living in the state, and many calamities attack that weak society. History has again and again proved that as long as a community is integrated and united, as long as this mental harmony in society is maintained, that community will remain undefeated, living in unity, and with great courage, easily prepared to face any great challenge from outside. When there is no integration, there may be billions in number, yet there is no strength, determination, or accepted policy in the community.

Now the question arises : Integration of what? It is not the similarity of colour, the uniformity in dress or food, or use of some national language that brings about this integration. The integration that we are talking of now is in our mental and intellectual discipline and beauty.

Physically we cannot be one. You are not me even size or shape or colour. Physically we are all separate individuals. When I am hungry, if you, eat for me, my hunger is not be sated. Physically we are separate units, but a harmony can be brought about at our mental and intellectual levels. was to bring about this mental harmony that the great thin and masters of yore spent many, many years, nay, generation on experiments. All the great scriptures, especially the Upanishads, indicate the amount of study that they have undertake to find out how they can tune up or tame this wild, intelligent animal called man. These Riches were students of life and they wanted to know how best life can be organised, so that out o each one of us the best can come out, and life can be enriched Those were the days when they were not anxious to raise "the standard of living". but what they strove for was to raise "the standard of life" in each individual.

These experiments were undertaken by those great masters of yore, at a time when modern science and its rational procedure were not even born. Even in those distant days, every subject of enquiry studied by them was exhaustive and deep. They thoroughly investigated, experimented with, and drew their convincing conclusions regarding the limited fields of the human mind. They reached out into realms beyond the mind. They found that members of a given community can be disciplined to uphold healthier values only in the field of community action. When men share the same values a gracious melody is created in the lifestyle of the people. As long as every one of us lives in our own indulgence, this harmony can never arise in our living. To a large extent, it is true and we have demonstrated this on two occasions in this country: when Pakistan threatened, there was such a great sense of integration, so suddenly, that it that it was unbelievable! When China threatened our country, again, overnight, this integration became visible. Why? A great national threat. And therefore, everybody talked action, they worked together for a single common goal and got themselves uplifted into a great, ' unconscious harmony between themselves. In the field of action alone we can learn to live wit others. So long as we are not entering into some common field of action, where we can put our shoulders together and work with a single inspiring great aspiration to achieve a common great goal, there can arise. no harmony between individuals.

Therefore, our scriptures were always insisting that each one of us has to fulfill his duties - to do our duty towards on neighbours, our family, our community, our nation. Even a the international field we have got certain responsibilities. To fulfill our individual duties is a must, a criterion, a religious responsibility, according to the great rishies of yore.

All those who are working, sweating and labouring, all physically endeavour; but this cannot be termed as "work". Physical labour, functioning under the impulses of the moment, is the life of an animal, not the glory of man. Though the animals in their functions also act, it is not called work, even though their work is generally beautiful, often even splendid the weaving of the spider, the beehives that the bees construct. We don't say that the bees are structural engineers or architects, because they are all doing it instinctively; they are not intelligently acting. There can be no creativeness in their work. They are merely acting. But man, on the other hand, with his intelligence, can analyze the problem that is in front of him, study the problem exhaustively, and can try to intelligently act upon the present problem to reshape it into a more covetable beauty for the future.

Intelligent action is called "work". It is through work that we have progressed from the cave-man of the stone-age to the modern citizen. All these achievements are built with work and not with impulsive actions. Animals act, and they have been acting, but there is no progress about them. In the past there were beehives, and even today they are but the same beehives. Never have the bees ever thought of putting a porch so that they can come and dry themselves under the porch in the rainy season. They have never thought about it and they will never think about it. They can make only the same beehive even today. Intelligently they cannot initiate any new program or independent action. Man alone can do this : hence his achievements.

"Intelligent action" in the outer field is called "work?". When individuals are working, blindly prompted by selfishness and goaded by selfish desires, the great masters encourage them; for at least they are men alive, and are doing their best to achieve, though perhaps towards wrong ends. All work continuously all people sweat and toil. Yet, there is a contradiction we watch in the human society. When we look around, we see that when A, B and C are functioning in the same field with equal sincerity, yet only C spectacularly achieves, while A and B exert laboriously, but nothing appears to come out of it all. Somehow or the other, great results do not come from all efforts. When we watch this, we act confounded at the palpable injustice in nature. Why should A, B and C, three persons, work equally hard in the same field outside, when only one individual succeeds, while all others are marked as failures? We think it is a question of luck, it is a question of fate, a lack of God's grace: so many vague notions are accepted, in order to explain this repeated paradox in life.

The scientific thinkers are not satisfied by these kinds of unintelligent conclusions. They, the Rishies, analyzed and reached some beautiful conclusions with which today, surprisingly enough, our modern psychologists also have fully concurred.

Why is it that even ten people are not able to work together? That harmony between them gets broken, the pleasing orchestration in their coordinated work fails. Why does this happen? Think. Four brothers together work in a firm. So long as their father is alive, we find all the four brothers are together and the father is the head, and they form a beautiful team. Then et the father die. In a short time, that beautiful cohesiveness gets lost and the firm becomes four little shops ! Where has the earlier integration in the family gone? Each individual develops in himself more selfishness, and the harmony gets broken. Where selfishness is not, integration automatically comes.

Today, in the modern Science of "Management", they indicate the same harmony in work with a new term, "the dynamism of togetherness". Where this harmony is broken, this orchestration has failed, the common spring of inspiration gets dried up, and each individual in the group becomes selfish.

They say that two factors in our bosom bring about either in their maladjustment, disintegration, or in their healthy working, the capacity to blend ourselves together with others in any work - are our ego and egocentric (selfish) desires. Therefore, many a time it is said that the only sorrow of the Lord in the heart of-all is that we block Him by our selfishness and our selfish, personal desires. When the scriptures declare that to act without selfishness is to flood our life with unbelievable dynamism, we generally jump to the conclusion that this philosophy is impractical and that it is stupid. "Who can live in this world without ego? Whenever my ego is not functioning, I am either asleep or I am under chloroform. When a whole nation is without ego, then, number one, the nation must become completely poor, undynamic, idle, and weak. No national programs will be possible. "Number two: who can work without desire ? When there is no desire, where is the motivation?" It is this philosophy that loses; it is the people of our generation who stand to lose.

Many are the people in our society or community, even living people, who have shown that whenever they work together without any egocentric desires, the society, the community, is most benefited. They become dumbfounded, in wonder, because a sense of reverence grows towards such a person of dedication to service. Did Jesus talk of selfishness? Did Buddha undertake his work because he wanted respect and reverence from people? What was their motivation? And without motivation, out of the sheer love of it, has any one of you ever made any sacrifice, as these masters have done all their life-time ? In case you observe even casually, you will find that those people who had made a mark upon their era are all people who had risen above their petty selfishness and their empty personal desires, and had worked for one program or the other, keeping one inspiring and great Vision in front of them.

Then does the philosophy of work mean to say that the human intellect (,Which alone can have desires), which the Lord has so lavishly given to us, is a liability upon man'? Only unintelligent animals appear to have no desires. They don't know how to plan and keep a given desire steadily in front of them, and pour out their efforts in order to reach their fulfillment. It is true. Animals have not the capacity to work consistently towards a fixed goal. Man alone has that capacity. And you say that you should not have any desire when you are working. Think! Others argue : "Must be the karma yoga of the Geeta is a false philosophy! Seva is not proper! No one should do any Seva for anyone! Each one is to be arrogantly egoistic, and act on vigorously. Then the country will progress, as the western countries today!"

This is A typical example. All our millions have become utterly selfish. Here we are : after some thirty-six years of planning and working, yet nothing moves forward. Some do work, and all others undo the same accomplished work. Thus, every community and national program gets self-cancelled. A lot of effort is certainly being made. I am not saying that my country is sleeping. There is a lot of work undertaken, but no result comes of it! Why? Self-cancellation of our own endeavours with our own selfishness.

Out of this chaos, how can we bring about the harmony in life and the musical melody of disciplined existence ? The great Rishies point out the "karma yoga spirit" in the fields of work. That is exactly why I suggested that "Why Serve" can be our topic for today. Whenever I ask the youngsters, the teenagers, or the officers and others : "Why don't you serve the society?" very often they have asked me this plain question: "Why serve ? What has society done to me, except to pull me down ? And 1, in spite of society, have somehow climbed up, and today I am, let us say, at the peak. And now you crowd round me, telling me to serve the society. Why should I serve it ? What has it done for me? How does it deserve my service?" Please recognize that it is not for the sake of society we appeal to you to serve. It is solely in your own interest that you must serve.

Never think that you can change the world. You cannot. Yet, you must try to serve the world as best as you can, for your own inner growth and mental satisfaction.

When a problem confronts us, there are two stages of our response. One, the stage of planning. At this stage, I examine the problem very carefully in the light of my past experiences; I collect all the data regarding the problem, study the problem completely, and then with my knowledge and ability, I plan for a future reward, for which I direct my entire energy. At the planning stage, let us use all our past. experiences, and our ability to visualize the future factors. After having planned, we shall roll up our sleeves and tuck in our shirts, tighten our belts and enter into our field of action. It is then that the Geeta says: now let both our ego and our anxiety and expectation of the fruit be eliminated from our concern. This is one of the greatest scientific truths that the teachers have taught us.

What is the ego ? Everybody says, "Ego is necessary and it cannot be eliminated." Admitted; everything you say is accepted. But what is the ego? Very rarely have we thought of it. Suppose you are in a train compartment and there is nobody else but you and a solitary co-passenger. For some time both of you keep quiet. But you are an Indian, and you cannot keep quiet for long without chattering. So, slowly, say after two or three stations, you get tired of the artificial physical silence and, therefore, you ask him,' "Aap kahan se? (Where are you from? I don't think we have met before.)" This is a request to explain to me who he is.

When a man then asks you, "Please explain to me who you are," meaning, your ego, your individuality, what things will you tell him? "I am the son of so and so, I was born in such and such a village. I had my early education there and then my uncle took me to Bangalore, and there I had my college education. And, in the college, I stood first class first in my final. Then, I did a course in a commerce school. My uncle himself helped me to get a job. And then the company appreciated my work and gave me my first raise. At that time my uncle suggested that I marry his daughter. So I married her. And we were living together. The company started more and more to depend upon me, as I was honestly and sincerely working for them .........

And you, the listener, get more and more enthusiastic and encourage him. He spills out his remembered experiences of his life until this date. So "I" means all lived and remembered experiences of the past. Whenever one of you says "I", it means what? It means all your memories bundled together. This total memory of the past constitutes the ego.

Desire is our ardent expectation to enjoy the fruit of our action (karma phala): To give up this anxiety (karma phala tyaga) is one of the cardinal instructions for discovering dynamism in our activities. One may ask, "without thirst for karma phala, where is the motivation to act ?" Karma phala is the result of an action. Does the result of an action come before the action, or at the time of the action, or after the action? Do you pass the exam before the exam, or in the examination hall, or days and months after the exam? Do you harvest before sowing, or at the time of the sowing, or some months after sowing? The "result of an action" can come only after the action!

We are great people, no doubt, but we cannot now act in the past, nor can we now act in the future. I have to wait until yesterday becomes today, then only can I act! We can act only in the present. The "result of an action" will come only afterwards, and therefore belongs to future periods of time. When I am working and functioning today, if I waste my mental vitality and intelligence in becoming anxious over the fruits of my actions (which means the unknown future), I am dissipating my mental vitality. My present action becomes incompetent, in every way confused, and an incompetent, slip-shod work of today can never yield great results tomorrow !

What is wrong then when the Geeta teaches us that when we are acting in the present, lift our minds from all fields of its dissipation. Dissipation in the mind over the past is called "ego". Dissipation in the mind about the future is called "desire ' for the fruit". Without dissipating the mind's vitality, either with memories of the past or anxieties for the future, plunge yourself into the present field of action with all your dynamism, then the action cannot ever fail. Think. Man is made to win and succeed, not to lose and fail.

But when the selfishness is fattened, the ego gets bloated and everyone becomes anxious to get greater profit than all others, without putting forth any effort. The result is, not only you get disintegrated in your personality and your efficiency grows low, but that the team spirit in the community is broken. To detach myself from the past (the ego) and the future (the anxiety for the selfish self), and to bring my mind into the present and apply it vigorously to the piece of work at hand, is the answer given by those masters who discovered, lived, and were alive - to the mechanics of work. When your work is centered in the present, you outshine your own abilities. When the mind is not wandering into the past or the future, but is where your hands are working, you are at a new level of consciousness, in which work becomes "inspired activity".

Masterpieces are never repeated. No artist can repeat his masterpiece. Such splendid work comes through the artist, he cannot produce a similar one again. The artist will have to confess: "I did it; but I cannot do the same again; it came through me at that time when I was in a special mood."

He was then not himself. He was not himself - his ego. He was not wasting himself remembering the past, nor anxious of the future. He became, as it were, one with the beauty of the theme, and in that inspired mood he accomplished it.

Every one of us, at some inspired moments, does our work joyously. Many of us would like to admit in ourselves that that piece of work "came through me, I did not do it" because it was not an egocentric action; the action bubbled out of him. This is what happens when you live and work in inspired moods. Not only does such a piece of work outshine our own ability, but it is supremely rewarding to the performer. You feel already rewarded by the work itself, the sheer joy that floods through your bosom transcends all imagination. A majority of us do not realize this, and, therefore, we work "for wages". Wages, however much you may get, do not and cannot satisfy us. We feel no satisfaction, because there is no inner sense of fulfillment arising out of all our effort.

The selfless work you do becomes spectacularly beautiful and rewarding to the community and society. Thus, you are rewarded, your work becomes splendid, and the society and the community, nay, the world around really gets benefited by such truly selfless work. This is the reason why every prophet's work blesses people for generations. They, in their own times, seem to have done almost very little, but as centuries roll by, they gather a strange and mysterious momentum of their own. Compare it with the work of a Stalin, or a Hitler or a Mao. All of them also worked. But when they died, the world immediately rejected them. Their graves were opened up! The very monuments built upon their tombs were pulled down in anger and hatred !

Prophets were people who worked without organizations or modern methods of communication, and with no sophisticated propaganda machinery. These mighty prophets, true "masters of work", even 2500 years after their death, are still moving people, shaping the hearts of people. Why? I am not trying to tell you that they worked at a spiritual level; but we can understand at our own intellectual level that their minds and intellects had not a trace of ego. They wanted nothing, expected nothing, demanded nothing, desired nothing but the sheer joy of serving. They did it all in Love. And you see the secret dynamism in such work of pure, selfless love.

And in our life, we live just the opposite. At all levels, in all professions, we have become the most notorious people in the world, extremely selfish, totally unconcerned for others. When you have this kind of citizen, there is neither a city nor citizen. This is not the way to live. This way we are only bringing about disintegration again and again. Our communal vitality is lost; we are becoming a population, that is all.

A geographical area where a population lives is called a country. A geographical area where a people live is called a nation. By merely mentioning the work "national", as in national integration, national progress, or national program, we. do not become a nation. An area becomes a nation when a people come to live and strive therein; a land where a population survives is not a nation. How are we to turn a population into a people? This is nation-building, and thereafter we can accomplish all economic and political plans most effectively for the development of our society.

But where is the nation today? It is a geographical area no doubt, where a confused society or a population is living. To bring about that harmony, not at the physical level, but a harmony of thought, harmony of goal, harmony of inspiration, is to build a nation. This is based on scientific truths, rational and consistent. The nation-building should necessarily have a goal for the whole nation, with which each one can get himself inspired. It is only with such a devoted goal in life that we can surrender our ego and our selfish desires, rise above them and come to live like angels upon the earth; in such a community, in the highest spirit of inspired joy, everyone can work and grow in mutual happiness.

Why serve? It is for you to realize now.