Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Acts of Selfless Service

Selfless service, known as Seva in the Yoga tradition, is another universal spiritual practice. It is one of the main themes of the Bhagavad Gita and a central part of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, the Abrahamic faiths. "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many," Mark 10:45. "And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, 'If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all'" Mark 9:35. 

Selfless service to others is seen as indirect service to God. 

Matthew 25:40-45New International Version (NIV)

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me,you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Selfless service is distinct from financial donations to charities. To meet the requirements of selfless service one must perform concrete acts which benefit people in need, such as serving in a soup kitchen, volunteering in a hospital, working as a volunteer fireman and visiting the elderly who are homebound.

If we don't consciously choose to incorporate selfless service into our practices, it can very easily get overlooked. During Lent and other periods of structured devotional practice, we are reminded to include selfless service into our routines. 

If you ever visit an ashram, you will notice that every resident does some kind of regular service without payment. Buddhist and Christian monastics also perform many acts of selfless service as part of their regular spiritual practice. 

There are many opportunities to volunteer as little or as often as you like through local charitable organizations, churches and temples. 

As a youth, my parents had me volunteer in different capacities and were always involved themselves, to this day, in regular acts of selfless service. As an adult, my volunteering has been sporadic, but I have loved visiting the elderly, volunteering with Big Sisters, volunteering at a local hospital, serving lunch at a school, and only twice so far (!) serving food at a homeless shelter. Some years my volunteer work has amounted to very little time, only 20 hours or so. This is because of moving, work obligations and losing touch with the organizations where I had the volunteering opportunities. 

For most people, selfless service requires a commitment to a group of organization of some sort. A useful activity during Lent or any spiritual sadhana would be to find an organization that's a good match for you, and sign up! 

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