“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
A man died and was transported to hell.
He was surprised to find hell a beautiful place, except that all the people there were emaciated. He went to the dining hall and saw that even though the food was plentiful, everyone’s health was bad.
His curiosity piqued, he wracked his brain for a clue to solve this riddle. He then found that the inhabitants were given long-handled ladles to use while eating. This was such a difficult and awkward way to eat that hardly any food reached their mouths. As a result, they were starving.
After several meals in hell, the man was suddenly transported to heaven. At first, he was overjoyed. Then, he went to the dining hall and was dismayed to find that the same ladles were used there. However, everyone looked happy, healthy and well-fed. Then he noticed that instead of trying to feed themselves, the inhabitants were serving each other conveniently with the ladles.
The selfishness of those in hell had warped their thinking to only focus on themselves, and the generosity of those in heaven had enabled them to think of each other and in so doing, save each other.
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
True fellowship lies in service.
Service is an offspring of love and compassion, and is sustained gracefully when it is not rooted in self-advertisement.
A growing number of us feel we are no longer needed, no longer useful, no longer one with our societies. The marvellous thing about compassionate fellowship is that once a distressed person feels that somebody cares about him, he is often able to begin caring more about others.
Love liberates love: it is as direct and miraculous as that.
Working for the less cared for gives us inner strength. Deep in our hearts, most of us yearn to be useful, and hope that we can wipe away a few tears, because we know the joy which this simple act generates. No amount of hormones cannot produce that natural verve of ecstasy.
If we concentrate on selfless service to others and make it our mission, this duty can become a deity, and keep our hearts and minds clean and spotless. In whatever station of life we are placed, we can do this. We don’t have to go out and look for an opportunity. Our opportunity stands before us all the time, in whatever we do. If we are mothers, we should be great mothers; if we are civil servants, we should serve people with sincerity, honesty and commitment.
True authenticity and altruism only becomes possible, however, when we are deeply aware of our failings and inadequacies. St. Augustine put it in a telling manner,
“Si fallor sum.” (I err, therefore I exist)
Caring beyond our own walls is not just a matter of altruism; it is enlightened self-interest. Service rendered unasked enriches our lives.
“The work of an unknown good man is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground greener.” ~ Thomas Carlyle
The motto of the world’s pioneer social service organisation, Rotary International, is worth quoting too:
“He perfects most who serves best.”
Self-sacrifice is also inherent in the ideal of service. The late John Kennedy phrased it more eloquently when he said,
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Or, as Gandhi put it:
“Remember that man is representative of God to serve all that lives. Let service be your sole joy and you will need no other enjoyment in life.”
Many of us work zealously in our professions, crafting and using the shrewdest strategies to outmanoeuvre our peers so that we can emerge at the top of the heap. Yet, when it comes to our personal lives, we shun our moral responsibilities toward our brethren. This philosophy does work in the short term, but in the Autumn of our lives when our moral compass becomes more sensitive and we take stock, disillusionment and gloom overtake us.
Several hundred years ago, the great philosopher Confucius said:
“Perfect virtue is when you behave to everyone as if you were receiving a great guest. Not to do to others as you would not have them do to you. Within the four seas all are brothers.”
The recognition of the need of an active brotherly concern for the welfare of others is the basis of a peaceful society; this is what we have been taught through the wisdom of the ages.
George Bernard Shaw’s words, pregnant with meaning, are as relevant to us today as they were during his own time:
“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch that I have got hold of for the moment.”
The great mystic, St. Francis of Assisi, was a living symbol of selfless service who illumined the hearts of mankind in the 13th century. He always felt a quiet but deep happiness in seeking out the society of the rejected. These step-children of destiny, like all creatures who lived and suffered and died, were not only related to him, but were actually a part of him. His heart went out especially to the failures, the unfit, the misfits, those who could not “get on” in life, the weak whom nobody would employ, and the meek whom nobody would heed:
“The united ripples of one ocean, the integrated bodies of one soul, the unbreakable continuity of one eternal life,” he emphasized, “To me you are more than a brother, you are an ailing member of my own flesh and blood; your pain is my pain, and your joy is my joy…It is the will of God that I should listen to all those in distress.”
Adi Shankaracharya once set out to locate the ideal place for his first monastery. He wanted it to be in a place where each inhabitant lived in harmony and trust with the other. His search culminated where he saw a serpent protecting, with its hood, a pregnant toad from the falling rain. The fully relaxed and trusting toad was basking under the shelter of the serpent, which was otherwise its natural enemy and lived on such small, helpless creatures.
This narration is illustrative of the fact that in a serried group where trust, understanding, love and care reign, the atmosphere is infused with healthy and positive vibrations. In such a place, each inhabitant supports and is supported by the other. This naturally brings out the best in all involved, serving as it does to neutralise and cleanse all hostile feelings, which verily are the greatest stumbling blocks to all progress.
“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people—first of all for those upon whose smiles and well being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies the ties of sympathy bind us. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” ~ Albert Einstein
Author: Moin Qazi
Image: Allison Sabrie, with kind permission
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren