'Be' with Swami Venkatesananda

Selfless service

That will be immediately clear if we realise that what is called service – nishkama karma, or what is even more beautifully put in the English language – self-less service, itself involves bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. Otherwise it is not possible. Nishkama karma is not selfless service or unselfish service as defined by someone else. How do you know if I am doing it unselfishly or selfishly? You consider it unselfish as long as I do not demand any fees from you. I may not be! I may be looking for something else, I may be more selfish than you think or realise. So what is unselfishness, what is selfless service? This selfless service is not possible without a certain realisation. So – serve, love, meditate, realise. Service follows and accompanies realisation – self-realisation. It is only when the self is realised to be non-existent that selfless service is possible.

I do not know if you are interested in playing with words. Aham kara and aham bhavana – very interesting words. Do you know from where the word aham comes? It is quite simple. They picked the first letter of the sanskrit alphabet ‘a’. They picked the last letter of the sanskrit alphabet ‘ham’. They put them together and one dot on top. So what is aham? Aham is nothing but a word! If you challenge the yogi, he says, ‘Alright then, show me what this aham is.’ This is nose, this is right ear, this is lower lip. Aham? It does not exist! So he says, ‘Aham is merely a word.’

This word, as a concept, arose or was introduced into our consciousness, which became the mind, the individualised consciousness, at some stage in our life when we were young. That has remained unquestioned, unexamined until today. It has been taken for granted, nobody has bothered to enquire if this aham is a reality. We have taken that for granted and built a whole edifice of avidya – ignorance around it. When this aham became a bit more intangible, it became aham bhavana. Aham bhavana means it is an inner feeling of aham. It is an inner feeling, I am the body. There is the mischief. This birth of the word and the corresponding concept gain the stature of a feeling. The feeling being aham bhavana or ‘I am the body’ – the root cause of all our troubles. This has somehow been introduced into us and it has been left unexamined. Therefore it has been taken for granted. When it becomes functional, the same bhavana becomes ahamkara! And so we have more or less got trapped into the idea, the feeling, the concept that aham is ego-sense, that it is somehow real.

Selfless service is possible only if this whole drama comes to an end, if this myth is exploded, if this ghost is laid. Only when a man realises that the self is not there, it is absent. Not when I think I am selfless, but when I have truly realised that the ‘I’ is non-existent. If I want him to smile, I tickle his foot! Selfless service becomes natural when the self is seen to be non-existent. Therefore selflessness means that in the case of that person the ahamkara does not exist at all! In which case his entire life becomes service. Gurudev used to insist upon this. That service of the poor, the sick, the destitute is important, but you need not go in search of all this. For whatever service you do, can be done with this ahamkara bhavana.

There is a most inspiring verse in the Bhagavad Gita. ‘He from whom all the beings have evolved and by whom all this is pervaded – worshipping Him with his own action, man attains perfection. (XVIII-46) Krishna here does not even suggest that this karma should be your dharma. Svakarmana – whatever you are doing, whatever you are made to do – right, wrong, virtue, vice – whatever it is, by treating all those actions as flowers offered at the Feet of the Omnipresent Being, man attains perfection. This was Gurudev’s life’s attitude.