This blog is about the nature and importance of service.
Bishop Richard Harries, on the subject of serving the needs of others, quoted from T.S. Eliot’s poem Four Quartets:
“We are to care for others but not allow ourselves to be thrown by what life throws at us. And we will care aright if we have that inner stillness. If we can be still inside ourselves.”
That sums up very nicely the key point we have made, that when we come to the state of inner stillness through more quiet time, then we will naturally care more for others and less for ego-based Me.
In considering the fundamental nature of service, there are three vital elements that influence the quality:
Intention is the motive behind the service, that is, for whose benefit is the service. We may perform an action that, on the surface is for the benefit of another, yet if the real motivation is for the sake of one’s self, the quality of the action will suffer.
Attention, which relates to the execution of the service, is at its finest when done attentively with love and care. We have shown that such actions are helped by mindfulness, being in the present moment.
Here is a quote about intention and attention working together from Leon MacLaren, the founder of the School of Philosophy and Economic Science.
“Love removes all personal obstacles in service, devotion establishes direct relationship, all the steps leading to a proper completion of an action fall into place. It creates happiness for the person who serves and procures most benefit to the recipient of the service.”
Retention refers to the degree to which we claim credit for our actions. Actions performed to satisfy the need without any personal claim on the results, has a finer quality than the same action performed for the sake of a result that is claimed by ‘me’. We have addressed the importance of attending to an action in the present moment and also the need not to claim the results, be they positive or negative.
Here is a brief expansion of the various levels of intention i.e. to whom the service is dedicated. Picture a series of circles from small to large. It begins with the small circle in the middle, Me. This represents the situation where we act solely for our own benefit; one serves ‘Me’. I am the main beneficiary; my advancement; my enhancement; my pleasure are the main motivators. It is rather small and limited perspective.
The next stage is one of opening out to a larger circle which is ‘Family’ which includes the smaller circle Me. This represents that state when our thoughts, speech and actions are devoted to the service of the family; our wife, husband, children, parents, grandparents, cousins etc. I am sure we have all experienced this expansion. What happens is that the boundary, that limited attention to ‘Me’ dissolves and we take in quite naturally something larger. When we are in this state, what does it feel like? Isn’t it a most natural response to ‘sacrifice’ your own concerns for that of your mother, father, brother, sister, child? Me is part of the whole, called family, so ‘Me’ continues to be looked after.
The next stage is what we will call ‘Community’. It can include your neighbours, the town where you live, the company you work for, the club in which you are a member, the charity that you serve, etc. Here again we see the same principle; there is an apparent sacrifice of my own time, energy, even money. There may be less time with the family all for the sake of what is seen as a greater good. Now remember we are looking at intention. This stage is only valid if our true motivation is for the good of the ‘Community’. Some people participate actively at this level, but often the inner intention and motivation continues to be ‘Me’. It is the mark of a great team or an excellent company, when team or company ‘spirit’ is strong and consistent. This spirit, which with effort can be maintained over a long period, sustains an enterprise and enhances its reputation. It also makes the activity attractive and many people desire to be associated with it.
Going further, we can act for the sake of the ‘Nation’. Times of disaster, crisis and war are examples of people realising higher human potential inspired by this wider view. Competing in the Olympics or the World Cup for your country can generate great energy and enthusiasm on the part of the performer and the audience of supporters. Performance is enhanced due to the high degree of support being offered by other people. There are men and women in all aspects of everyday life who have a strong sense of devotion to the service of the ‘Nation’. There are those great teachers and leaders in all cultures, who have worked tirelessly for the benefit of ‘Mankind’, and there have been a few people whose life has been devoted to the betterment of the entire ‘Universe’. With intention at this level, one is certainly working towards the common good.
Here is a wonderful quotation from Albert Einstein about expanding our circles.
“A human being is part of the whole, called by us,‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest –a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
The idea put forward by many people is that real happiness comes from caring for and serving other people.
“Man finds happiness only in serving his neighbour. He finds it here because in rendering service to his neighbour, he is in communion with the divine spirit within them.” Leo Tolstoy
The final and most potent motive for action is when we serve from a real sense of love. The ego-based ideas and desires have been put aside, as our whole energy and emotional power is channelled into providing a needed service. The needs of other people become the paramount concern and there are no claims for anything in return. Providing service based on love is most satisfying. Here is some guidance offered by the Indian sage Sri Shantananda Saraswati:
“Being happy in other people’s happiness melts the heart. The heart having melted a new relationship arises and the quality of responses changes. A different spirit of devotion comes about and the activity gets the flavour of love. If one could be made to understand that caring for oneself is bondage, while feeding others is freedom, then life would be easy for all.”
The next Blog is about the importance of serving a real need in society today- Climate Change.