PATH OF SELFLESS SERVICE
Arjuna asked: If You consider that acquiring transcendental knowledge is better than working, then why do You want me to engage in this horrible war, O Krishna? You seem to confuse my mind by apparently conflicting words. Tell me, decisively, one thing by which I may attain the Supreme. (3.01-02)
Arjuna was in the mode of delusion; he thought that Lord Krishna meant a contemplative life was better than doing one’s normal duty in life. Some people are often confused and think that salvation is possible only by leading a life devoted to scriptural study, contemplation, and acquiring Self-knowledge. Lord Krishna clarifies this by mentioning two major paths of spiritual practice — depending on the nature of the individual — in the following verse:
Lord Krishna said:
In this world I have stated a twofold path of spiritual discipline in past – the path of Self-knowledge for the contemplative ones and the path of unselfish work (Seva, KarmaYoga) for all others. (3.03)
“Seva” or “KarmaYoga” means sacrifice, selfless service, unselfish work, meritorious deeds, giving away something to others. Some people often get confused like Arjuna and think that leading a life devoted to scriptural study, contemplation, and acquiring transcendental knowledge may be better for spiritual progress than doing one’s worldly duty.
A God-realized person does not consider him or herself the doer of any action, but only an instrument in the hands of the divine for His use. It should be further pointed out that both metaphysical knowledge and selfless service are means to attain the Supreme Being. These two paths are not separate, but complementary. In life a combination of these two modes is considered the best. Carry both selfless service and a spiritual discipline of acquiring Self-knowledge with you as stated in the following verses:
One does not attain freedom from the bondage of Karma by merely abstaining from work. No one attains perfection by merely giving up work because no one can remain actionless even for a moment. Everything in the universe is driven to action -helplessly indeed – by the forces of Nature. (3.04-05)
It is not possible for anybody to completely abandon action by thought, word, and deed. Therefore, one should always be active in serving the Lord by various means of one’s choosing, and never be without work because an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Performing action till death with a desireless frame of mind is better than abandoning work and leading the life of an ascetic, even after God-realization because even an ascetic cannot escape the impulse of action.
Anyone who restrains the senses but mentally thinks of sense pleasures is called a pretender. (3.06)
One’s growth comes from working selflessly rather than giving up work and practicing sense-control before one is naturally ready for it. Bringing the mind under control is difficult, and spiritual life becomes a mockery without mastery over the senses. Desires may become dormant and rise again to give trouble, just as a sleeping person wakes up in due course of time.
The four goals of human life — doing one’s duty, earning wealth, material and sensual enjoyment, and attaining salvation — were designed in the Vedic tradition for gradual and systematic growth of the individual and the progress of society. Success in spiritual life does not come from prematurely wearing saffron clothes just to maintain an Ashram or livelihood without first conquering the six enemies — lust, anger, greed, pride, attachment, and envy. It is said that such pretenders do a great disservice to God, society, and themselves and become bereft of happiness in this world and the next (BP 11.18.40-41) A pretending monk is considered sinful and a destroyer of the ascetic order of life.
WHY ONE SHOULD SERVE OTHERS?
One who restrains the senses – by a trained and purified mind and intellect – and engages the organs of action to selfless service is considered superior. (3.07)
Perform your obligatory duty because working is indeed better than sitting idle. Even the maintenance of your body would be impossible without work. (3.08)
Human beings are bound by work (Karma) that is not performed as a selfless service (Seva, Yajna). Therefore, becoming free from selfish attachment to the fruits of work, do your duty efficiently as a service to God for the good of humanity. (3.09)
TO HELP EACH OTHER IS THE FIRST COMMANDMENT OF THE CREATOR
In the beginning the creator created human beings together with selfless service (Seva, Yajna, sacrifice) and said: By serving each other you shall prosper and the sacrificial service shall fulfill all your desires. (3.10)
Nourish the celestial controllers with selfless service, and they will nourish you. Thus nourishing one another, you shall attain the Supreme goal. (3.11)
A celestial controller or guardian angel means a supernatural ruler, a celestial person, an angel, an agent of God, the cosmic forces that control, protect, and fulfill desires. Even the gates of heaven shall be closed to those who try to enter alone. According to the ancient scriptures, helping others is the best meritorious deed one can do. The wise seek to serve themselves in the service of others while the ignorant serve themselves at the cost of others. To serve each other is the original or first commandment of the creator that has been restated by Lord Krishna in the Gita. God has given us talents to help us serve, and in serving others we grow spiritually. We take birth to help each other, to understand, care, love, give, and forgive each other. According to Muniji “Giving is Living”. Giving makes the world a better place for all humanity.
It is believed that selfishness saps our natural health and immune system also. When we take steps to move ourselves away from self and think about the needs of others and how to serve them, a physical healing process seems to set in motion. This is especially true if we personally help a person we may never meet again in life.
The celestial controllers, being nourished and pleased by selfless service, will give you all desired objects. One who enjoys the gift of celestial controllers without sharing with others is, indeed, a thief. (3.12)
One who makes no sacrifice, but grabs everything without helping others, is like a thief. It is said that celestials are pleased when people help each other. The capacity of the giver increases by the grace of God, fulfilling all desires to give. The spirit of cooperation – not competition or confrontation – between human beings, between nations, and between organizations seems to be hinted here by the Lord. All the necessities of life are produced by dedicated sacrificial services of other people. We are created to depend on each other. The world has been called a cosmic wheel of cooperative action by Swami Chinmayananda. Cooperation, not competition, is more conducive to overall progress of the individual, as well as society. Nothing worthwhile can be achieved without cooperation and help from others. The world would be a much better place if all inhabitants cooperated and helped each other, rather than fight or compete with each other. It is the selfish motive that prevents cooperation even between spiritual organizations. One who can truly say “All organizations, temples, mosques, and churches are our own” is a true leader and a real saint.
The righteous who eat after sharing with others are freed from all sins, but the impious who cook food only for themselves (without first offering to God or sharing with others), in truth, eat sin. (3.13)
Food should be cooked for the Lord and offered first to Him with love before consuming. Children should be taught to pray before taking food. The house rule should be: No food before prayer and thanking the Lord. Lord further states that helping others is divine:
The living beings are sustained from food grains; grains are produced by sacrificial work or duty performed by farmers and other field workers. Duty is prescribed in the scriptures. Scriptures come from the Supreme Being. Thus the all-pervading Supreme Being or God is ever present in selfless service. (3.14-15)
One who does not help to keep the wheel of creation in motion by sacrificial duty (Seva) and rejoices in sense pleasures, that sinful person lives in vain. (3.16)
A grain of wheat is a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains (John 12.24). Saints, trees, rivers, and earth are for the use of others. However, there is no prescribed duty for the enlightened ones as explained below:
For one who rejoices only with the Supreme Being, who is delighted with the Supreme Being, and who is content with the Supreme Being alone, for such a Self-realized person there is no duty. Such a person has no interest, whatsoever, in what is done or what is not done. A Self-realized person does not depend on anybody, except God, for anything. (3.17-18)
All duties, obligations, prohibitions, regulations, and injunctions are meant to lead one to perfection. Therefore, a perfect yogi who has Self-knowledge, detachment, and devotion has nothing more to gain in this world by doing worldly duty.
LEADERS SHOULD SET AN EXAMPLE
Always perform your duty efficiently and without any selfish attachment to the results because by doing work without attachment one reaches the supreme goal of life. (3.19)
In no other scripture, written before the Bhagavad-Gita, has the philosophy of KarmaYoga — the unselfish devotion for the welfare of humanity — been so beautifully expounded. Lord Krishna has elevated the idea of altruism to the highest form of worship and spiritual practice. By altruism, one obtains grace, by grace one gets faith, and by faith the ultimate Truth is revealed. One immediately feels better by helping others and comes one step closer to perfection. Swami Vivekananda said: Work done for others awakens the subtle and dormant divine power, Kundalini, within our body. An example of attaining Self-realization by persons while doing their worldly duties is given below:
King Janaka and many others attained perfection of Self-realization by selfless service (KarmaYoga) alone. You also should perform your duty with a view to guide people and for the welfare of society. (3.20)
Those who do selfless service are not bound by Karma and attain salvation (VP 1.22.52). Nothing is beyond the reach of those who have others’ interest in mind. Swami Harihar says: Selfless service to humanity is the true service to God and the highest form of worship.
Because whatever noble persons do, others follow. Whatever standard they set up, the world follows. (3.21)
People follow whatever great persons do (BP 5.04.15). Jesus said: I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you (John 13.15). A leader is obliged to set higher ethical, moral, and spiritual standards for the general population to follow. If the leader fails in this regard, the quality of the nation’s life declines, and the progress of society is greatly hampered. Therefore, leaders have a great burden on their shoulders. The life of a true leader is the life of service and sacrifice. Leadership should not be an enterprise for becoming rich or famous.
O Arjuna, there is nothing in the three worlds — heaven, earth, and the lower regions — that should be done by Me, nor there is anything unobtained that I should obtain, yet I engage in action. (3.22)
If I do not engage in action relentlessly, O Arjuna, people would follow the same path in everyway. These worlds would perish if I do not work, and I would be the cause of confusion and destruction. (3.23-24)
WHAT SHOULD THE WISE DO TO THE IGNORANT
The ignorant work with attachment to the fruits of work for themselves, and the wise work without attachment for the welfare of the world. (3.25)
The wise should not unsettle the minds of the ignorant who are attached to the fruits of work, but should inspire others by performing all works efficiently without selfish attachment. (See also 3.29) (3.26)
Doing one’s duty without a personal, selfish motive is an exalted state given only to the enlightened ones. This may be beyond comprehension of ordinary people. The mark of genius lies in the ability to handle two opposed ideas and paradoxes, such as living in the world with detached attachment. Most people work hard only when they have some motivating force, such as enjoyment of the fruits of work. Such persons should not be discouraged or condemned. They should be introduced slowly to the beginning stages of selfless service. The excessive attachment to possessions, not the possessions themselves, becomes the source of misery.
Just as one has to pray and worship with single-minded attention, similarly, one should perform worldly duties with full attention, even while knowing full well that the world and its affairs are transitory. One should not live thinking only of God and neglecting one’s duty in the world. Yogananda said: Be as earnest about meditation as about earning money. One should not live a one-sided life. The importance of controlling the senses and ways to combat ego are given below:
ALL WORKS ARE THE WORKS OF NATURE
The forces of Nature do all work, but due to delusion of ignorance people assume themselves to be the doer. (See also 5.09, 13.29, and 14.19) (3.27)
Indirectly, God is the doer of everything. The power and the will of God do everything. One is not free even to kill oneself. One cannot feel the presence of the omnipresent God as long as one feels: “I am the doer”. If one realizes – by the grace of God – that he or she is not the doer, but just an instrument, one at once becomes free. A Karmic bondage is created if we consider ourselves the doer and enjoyer. The same work done by a Self-realized master and an ordinary person produces different results. The work done by a Self-realized master becomes spiritualized and produces no Karmic bondage because a Self-realized person does not consider oneself the doer or the enjoyer. The work done by an ordinary person produces Karmic bondage.
One who knows the truth about the role of the forces of Nature in getting work done, does not become attached to work. Such a person knows that it is the forces of Nature that get their work done by using our organs as instruments. (3.28)
Those who are deluded by the illusive power (Maya) of Nature become attached to the work done by the forces of Nature. The wise should not disturb the mind of the ignorant whose knowledge is imperfect. (See also 3.26) (3.29)
The enlightened one should not try to dissuade or detract ignorant ones from performing selfish actions that they do deluded by the forces of Nature, because doing work – and not the renunciation of work in the initial stages – will ultimately lead them to realize the truth that we are not the doers, but divine instruments only. Working with attachment also has a place in the development of society and in the life of common people. People can easily transcend selfish desires by working for a noble goal of their choice.
Do your prescribed duty, dedicating all work to God in a spiritual frame of mind, free from desire, attachment, and mental grief. (3.30)
Those who always practice this teaching of Mine – with faith and are free from cavil – become free from the bondage of Karma. But those who carp at this teaching and do not practice it, should be considered ignorant, senseless, and confused. (3.31-32)
All beings follow their nature. Even the wise act according to their own nature. If we are but pawns of our nature; what, then, is the value of sense restraint? (3.33)
While we cannot and should not suppress our nature, we must not become victims but rather controllers and masters of the senses by using the discriminative faculties of human life for gradual improvement. The best way to control the senses is to engage all our senses in the service of God.
TWO MAJOR STUMBLING BLOCKS ON THE PATH OF PERFECTION
Attachments and aversions for sense objects remain in the senses. One should not come under the control of these two because they are two major stumbling blocks, indeed, on one’s path of Self-realization. (3.34)
‘Attachment’ may be defined as a very strong desire to experience sensual pleasures again and again. ‘Aversion’ is the strong dislike for the unpleasant. The search for peace of mind, comfort, and happiness is the basis of all human endeavors, including the acquisition and propagation of knowledge. Desire — like any other power given by the Lord — is not the problem. We can have desires with a proper frame of mind that gives us control over attachments and aversions. If we can manage our wants, most of the things we possess become dispensable rather than essential. With a right attitude, we can get mastery over all our attachments and aversions. The only necessity is to have a frame of mind that makes most items unnecessary. Those who have knowledge, detachment, and devotion have neither likes nor dislikes for any worldly object, person, place, or work. Personal likes and dislikes disturb the equanimity of mind and become a hindrance on the path of spiritual progress.
One should act with a sense of duty without being governed by personal likes and dislikes. Selfless service is the only austerity and penance in this age by which anyone can reach God while living and working in modern society without going to the mountains and jungles.
Everybody benefits if work is done for the Lord, just as every part of the tree gets water when water is put at the root of the tree rather than on individual leaves. Attachments and aversions are destroyed in a noble person at the onset of Self-knowledge and detachment. Personal likes and dislikes are two major obstacles on the path of perfection. One who has conquered attachments and aversions becomes a free person, and attains salvation by doing his or her natural duty as stated below:
One’s inferior natural work is better than superior unnatural work. Even death in carrying out one’s (natural) duty is useful. Unnatural work produces too much stress. (See also 18.47) (3.35)
One who does the duty ordained by nature is freed from the bonds of Karma and slowly rises above the worldly plain (BP 7.11.32). One who takes on work that was not meant for him or her certainly courts failure. One evolves by the work best suited to one’s own nature or inborn tendencies. There is no perfect occupation. Every occupation in this world has some faults. One should keep oneself free from concern over the faults of one’s duty in life. One should carefully study one’s nature to determine an appropriate occupation. Natural work does not produce stress and is conducive to creativity. Walking uphill, vocationally, against one’s natural tendencies is not only more stressful but also less productive, and it does not provide opportunity and leisure time for spiritual growth and development. On the other hand, if one follows a very easy or artistic path, one may not be able to earn enough to satisfy the basic necessities of (family) life. Therefore, lead a simple life by limiting unnecessary luxuries, and develop a hobby of selfless service to balance the material and spiritual needs of life. The balanced life is a happy life.
LUST IS THE ORIGIN OF SIN
O Krishna, what impels one to commit sin or selfish deeds as if unwillingly and forced against one’s will? (3.36)
Lord Krishna said:
It is the lust, born out of passion, that becomes anger when unfulfilled. Lust is insatiable and is a great devil. Know this as the enemy. (3.37)
The mode of passion is the absence of mental equilibrium leading to vigorous activity to achieve desired fruits. Lust, the passionate selfish desire for all sensual and material pleasures, is the product of the mode of passion. Lust becomes anger if it is unfulfilled. When the attainment of fruits is hindered or interrupted, the intense desire for their achievement turns into fierce rage. Hence, the Lord says that lust and anger are two mighty enemies that can lead one to commit sin and turn one astray from the path of Self-realization, the supreme goal of human life. Actually, mundane desire compels a person to engage in sinful activities in spite of his or her will. Control your wants because whatever you want wants you. Lord Buddha said: Selfish desire is the root of all evils and misery.
As the fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror by dust, and as an embryo by the amnion, similarly, Self-knowledge gets covered by different degrees of this insatiable lust, the eternal enemy of the wise. (3.38-39)
Lust and Self-knowledge are eternal enemies. Lust can be destroyed only by Self-knowledge. Where lust resides, and how one should control the senses to subjugate lust are given below:
The senses, the mind, and the intellect are said to be the seat of lust. Lust deludes a person by controlling the senses, the mind, and the intellect and veils the Self-knowledge. (3.40)
Therefore, by controlling the senses, first kill this devil of material desires (or lust) that destroys Self-knowledge and Self-realization. (3.41)
The mighty enemy, lust, enslaves the intellect by using the mind as its friend and senses and sense objects as its soldiers. These soldiers keep the individual soul deluded, and obscure Absolute Truth as a part of the drama of life. The success or failure of our role in action depends on how we handle our individual role and reach our destiny.
All desires cannot — and need not — be eliminated, but selfish desires and motives must be eliminated for spiritual progress. All our action — by thought, word and deed — including desires, should be directed to glorify God and for the good of humanity. The scriptures say: The mortal, when freed from the captivity of selfish desires, becomes immortal and attains liberation even in this very life (KaU 6.14, BrU 4.04.07)
HOW TO CONTROL LUST
The senses are said to be superior to the body; the mind is superior to the senses; the intellect is superior to the mind; and the Self is superior to the intellect. (3.42)
Thus, knowing the Self to be the highest, and controlling the mind by the intellect that is purified by spiritual practices, one must kill this mighty enemy, lust, O Arjuna, with the sword of true knowledge of the Self. (3.43)
Uncontrolled worldly desires will ruin the beautiful spiritual journey of life. The scriptures provide ways and means of keeping the desires born in the mind under proper control. The body may be compared to a chariot upon which the individual soul – as passenger, owner, and enjoyer – is riding on a spiritual journey towards the Supreme Abode of the Lord. Duty and Self-knowledge are the two wheels of the chariot, and devotion is its axle. Selfless service is the road, and the divine qualities are the milestones. The scriptures are the guiding lights to dispel the darkness of ignorance. The five senses are the horses of this chariot. Sense objects are the roadside green grasses; attachments and aversions are the stumbling blocks; and lust, anger, and greed are the plunderers. Friends and relatives are fellow travelers whom we temporarily meet during the journey. Intellect is the driver of this chariot. If intellect, the charioteer, is not made pure and strong by Self-knowledge and will power, then strong desires for sensual and material pleasures – or the senses – will control the mind (See 2.67) instead of the intellect controlling the mind. The mind and senses will attack and take control of intellect, the weak charioteer, and lead the passenger away from the goal of salvation into the ditch of transmigration.
If the intellect is well trained and purified by the fire of Self-knowledge and discrimination, the intellect will be able to control the sense-horses with the help of spiritual practice and detachment, the two reins of mind, and the whip of moral conduct and spiritual practices. The charioteer should hold the reins under control at all times; otherwise, the sense-horses will lead one into the ditch of transmigration. A single moment of carelessness leads to the downfall of the seeker. Finally, one must cross the river of illusion (Maya) and, by using the bridge of meditation and the silent repetitive chanting of Lord’s name or a mantra to still the ripples of mind waves, reach the spiritual shore of trance. Those who cannot control the senses will not be able to attain Self-realization, the goal of human birth.
One must not spoil oneself by wrongful temporary pleasures of the senses. One who can control the senses can control the whole world and achieve success in all endeavors. Passion cannot be completely eliminated, but is subdued by Self-knowledge. The intellect becomes polluted during the youthful years, just as the clear water of a river becomes muddy during the rainy season. Keeping good company and setting a higher goal of life prevent the mind and intellect from becoming tainted by the distractions of sensual pleasures.