(1 Feb '01)
Question: Amma why do you give so much importance to selfless service?
Mother: Meditation and studying the scriptures are like two sides of a coin, the coin of spiritual life. But the engraving on that coin is selfless service, and that is what gives it its real value.
A student who has just completed his medical studies is still not competent enough to treat patients. He first has to work as an intern for a period of time.
It is the experience he gets during the internship that gives him the practical knowledge he needs, and which allows him to apply all that he has studied. It’s not enough if what you have studied remains as nothing more than theoretical knowledge in your intellect: you have to translate it into action. However much you study the scriptures, you still have to train the mind to overcome trying situations; and the best way to do this is through karma yoga (the path of action without selfish motives). It is when we go out into the world and work in various situations that we can see how our mind reacts to different circumstances. We cannot know ourselves unless we are forced to face difficult situations. A frozen snake lying in the snow may appear to be gentle and harmless. But remove it from there and let it be touched by the warm rays of the sun. Then you will see its true nature. Similarly, as soon as the right circumstances arise, you will experience how your latent vasanas (tendencies) raise their hoods. You can then eliminate them, one after the other. Selfless service provides ample opportunities for such situations, and this will strengthen your mind so that you can overcome any situation in life.
It is our compassion and acts of selflessness that take us to the depths of spirituality. Selfless action is the means by which we eradicate the ego that is concealing our true Self. Detached, selfless action leads to liberation. Such action is not just work; it is karma yoga. Lord Krishna said to Arjuna, “I don’t have anything to attain in the three worlds, yet I am constantly engaged in action.”
The Lord’s actions were detached and purely selfless. This is the path that Krishna advises Arjuna to follow.
A person wanted a smooth, round stone to use for puja (worship). He wandered in search of such a stone, and finally climbed a mountain, hoping to find such a stone at the top. But when he finally reached the mountaintop, he saw to his great disappointment that there were no smooth, beautiful stones. In his anger and despair he grabbed hold of an ordinary rough stone and hurled it down the mountainside; then he climbed back down. When he reached the foot of the mountain, he suddenly discovered a beautiful, smooth, perfectly shaped round stone — just the type he had been looking for — lying on the ground. It was the same stone that he had thrown from the top of the mountain! On the way down it had struck against other rough stones and in this way had got rid of all of its sharp edges. It was by colliding with other stones that the rough stone had become smooth and round and fit for puja. Similarly, it is when we move down from the mountaintop — that is from the plane of the ego, down to the plane of humbleness — that the rough, sharp edges of our ego are removed. We do this by interacting with others in the course of our selfless actions.
We cannot gain anything from the ego or from egoistic attitudes. We are benefited only by our humility. When several stones are put in a drum and are whirled around together, the stones get rid of their sharp edges and become smooth and well-shaped. So, too, having a selfless attitude and doing selfless actions remove the sharp edges of the ego within us. That is why Amma gives so much importance to selfless action.
As long as you have an ego, you need the guidance of a spiritual master. To a disciple who lives his life in accordance with the Guru’s will, each action is a way to remove the sharp edges of the ego. The disciple thinks of each action as an opportunity, which the Guru provides him with to attain that end. There is no selflessness in the Satguru (Self-realized Guru). The Guru lives entirely for the disciples. The disciple should totally surrender to the Guru. Just as a patient lies down without resisting, allowing the doctor to operate on him, the disciple should surrender himself completely to the Guru and move according to the Guru’s will.
But Amma doesn’t say that action alone will lead you to your goal. Karma (action), jnana (wisdom) and bhakti (devotion) are all essential. If the two wings of a bird are bhakti and karma, its tail is jnana. Only with the help of all three can the bird soar into the heights.
To be able to confront the different situations in life with presence of mind and mental poise, you first have to train the mind. The field of action provides the ideal ground for this training. What the seeker does with his mind intent on the goal is not mere work, but that which will lead to liberation. For the sadhaks, every action he performs is sadhana (spiritual practice); for the bhakta, every action is a form of worship; and for the disciple, it is a way of serving the Guru. The Guru is not a person — he is a personification of all the divine qualities. He is a pure emanation of Supreme Wisdom. Musk has form and fragrance, but in the next moment it has no form. Though the Guru has a form, he is formless. He is beyond all forms and attributes. The Guru belongs to the whole world. He lives only for other, never for himself. By serving such a Guru, the disciples attain the state of Supreme Consciousness. Every action that the disciple does as service to the Guru or to others becomes yoga, and leads him to liberation.