Why do we serve?

Tim Boyd – India, USA

Theosophy TB 2

Conventional Darwinian thinking emphasizes the survival of the fittest. From such a selfish, or evolutionary sense, service could be seen as a questionable activity. What is the advantage of serving, of being the one who bestows an advantage to another? Yet, it seems that we are hardwired with an inescapable urge to be compassionate. We cannot help it. Otherwise, why would it be that so much of our attention and effort is put into helping or aiding the very weakest among us? This is what we do instinctively, naturally.

As we age and become weak and infirm, or as we become sick, the evolutionary advantage would seem to be to look out for yourself and move on, but that is not what we do. Our energies, our attention, are inevitably focused on the weakest among us.

In Buddhist terms, the word used is “compassion”. It has become a buzz word in the world today, and it should be. In Buddhism there is a very specific definition of compassion. They would say that it is “the desire to alleviate the suffering of others”. So when we are behaving in compassionate ways we are working to-ward alleviating the suffering of others

H. P. Blavatsky’s The Voice of the Silence presents another way to look at compassion. In that short book we find the enigmatic word: “Compassion is no attribute. It is the Law of laws”. This is a very broad statement which seems to be clear and unambiguous, but what does it mean?

What is the compassion that rises to this level, superseding every other law we are aware of – gravity, thermodynamics, karma? Clearly this is not limited to a behavior in which we are attempting to alleviate suffering. Conscious compassionate activity, which we name “service”, is a subset of this great compassion.

It may be helpful for us to examine the inner dynamics of what is going on when we behave compassionately. For the normally self-centered individual it is as if they operate within a shell or bubble. There is an intense focus on those sensations, circumstances, and activities that benefit the self. What lies outside of the personal shell is of less concern. However, in those compassionate moments when we witness and feel a desire to help with the suffering of another, this shell of self-concern enlarges. It expands to embrace the needs of the suffering “other” in much the same way one addresses their personal need. This is the dynamic of compassionate activity.

When we are compassionate toward an individual, our circle increases to that extent. When we feel compassion for our loved ones or friends, it increases even more. Carried to its extreme we find that there are no limits to that circle – all beings fall within the range of this compassion. This is the example of all the great beings that come to earth – the Buddhas, Jesus, Krishna. Compassion as the Law of laws is nothing less than the Law of Unity, the recognition of the indivisibility of All Life.

So why do we serve? Mainly because we do not really have a choice. We live in a world where all things are interdependent. To the extent that we awaken, open our eyes, and look, then our options become few. Then compassion becomes an attractive pathway because it is necessary.

The Theosophical Order of Service (TOS) has a motto: “A union of those who love in the service of all that suffers.” What is it that makes theosophical service different from other service organizations – the Red Cross, feeding the hungry, or animal protection? In essence, nothing, except it is theosophical. What makes it theosophical is the recognition of union in the act of serving – the Union, the Oneness, the Unity of those who love.

Love as a word is understood in many different, sometimes strange, ways. Here Love is the expression of Oneness, of spirituality. We link ourselves in bonds of love. We serve because in some phase of our unfoldment we become awake, aware of certain undeniable facts of existence, the most obvious and immediate being that we are One, and our service and life flows from that.

But what is service? The dictionary will say something like action done in order to help others. There is always a focus on the idea that we are acting on behalf of the other. There are infinite ways in which we can serve, but not all service is equal. There is a core idea in theosophical teachings that “motive is everything”. Our motivation completely colors the actions that we take, so much so that the same action taken by someone with a different motivation is a very different service than the action taken by another.

For example, in the United States, whenever a political election is being held, a very common experience is that politicians who are seeking to be elected to office, want every opportunity to appear in front of a camera, so that they can be seen by potential voters. Politicians will engineer a photo opportunity, where they will come to a homeless shelter. On the other 364 days of the year, they will not be seen there. But when the cameras and the media announcement go out, they are right there in line at the “soup kitchen” seeming concerned about feeding the hungry and the poor. Yet standing next to the politician will be someone who is there regularly because their motivation is: “I’m here because I witness suffering and I want to do my part to try to alleviate it.” So day after day that person serves.

Each hungry person gets his plate of food, each one eats and satisfies his hunger. To the person who receives the food from the politician, the effect on his appetite is no way different from the effect of the person who is giving it with love and compassion. For all those people the tightness in their stomach relaxes and they have a sense of satisfaction, of their hunger being ameliorated. From the point of view of the hungry man the same act produces the same result. The food from one man is no less filling than the other’s. The difference is the impressions that are developed in consciousness by acting in a certain way, predisposing us to act that way again.

For the person of compassion each bowl of soup and interaction expands the sense of connection with others. It influences their life in terms of how they will touch the world. In the person who
is there purely for a political motive, the tendency toward selfishness is strengthened. Motive is everything. So there is a motivation that is theosophical.

How do we serve?

As human beings, one of the things we gain from the theosophical approach is the clear recognition that we are multi-dimensional beings. We function on many levels. We are able to serve on multiple dimensions. One of the beauties of Theosophy is that it addresses the cause of all human problems. That cause is our conviction, confirmed in every moment, that we are all fundamentally separate from one another. HPB called it the “heresy of separateness”. We believe it for very good reason. I remember Radha Burnier used to say: “If I tell my hand to open or close, that is what it does. If I tell your hand to do it, nothing happens.” This exemplifies the moment-to-moment confirmation that we are separate.

However, our deeper experiences con-firm something quite different – that our separateness is an appearance, superficial, whereas the reality beneath the surface is one of interconnection. At the level of thought and emotion we find a shared-thought atmosphere. In the presence of people who are depressed or down, our energy is affected. When we are with uplifting, inspired, enlightened people, we are similarly affected. The scriptures of the world talk about this. In Christian scripture it says: “If I be lifted up, I will raise all people to me”. That is what we do from the theosophical point of view.

We also work at other levels. When we work together, as a group, things happen that many would describe as miraculous or as impossible. It is not just an arithmetic multiplication of our potentials; it is far beyond that. Learning to work together is a training, even though we do not yet resonate with everybody equally. We have to come together in these groups that constantly challenge us to develop the capacity to unite. First we recognize, then submerge those aspects of our nature that we may feel are so important, but which only serve to divide us.

This is the prescription for the future, based on a certain principle. The fact that groups have the capacity to do things that no individuals can, is rooted in a spiritual principle. It has been stated in various ways, but perhaps the one we are most familiar with is: “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” When we are gathered with a certain focus, one of the results is we find that there is something more around us, a presence; we feel ourselves expanding. It is one of the principles of the work that we do, and it is able to create changes of a remarkable kind.

It does not matter so much what it is that we do, but how it is that we do it is all-important. Any consistent service is a basis for profound self-transformation. Gandhi’s words: “To a hungry man, a piece of bread is the face of God.” On whatever level that hunger operates, to the degree to which we are able to help quiet it, allows for something hidden to make itself known; something greater.

As multidimensional beings the type of transformation we talk about in the TS world can take place from two directions: from the bottom moving upward, or from on high moving downward. I have known people who stopped eating meat because they read it was good for their personal health, that it could help them lose weight, and have more energy. Basically their reasons for adopting a vegetarian diet were self-centered. Often these people, upon starting their new diet, felt an upsurge in their energy making it possible to connect with others more actively.

They found that their participation in a wider life in-creased. This started them thinking more broadly about the universal and divine. So, a piece of food led them to a dimension of spiritual awareness. I have also seen the reverse happen. Where someone had a spiritual experience and it filtered down to their physical behaviors and habits. It is all interconnected, and to the extent that we try to divide it, we are mistaken. We are engaged in only one thing always – one life undivided and everywhere present in its fullness. Unity is the one thing we keep in front of our minds.

What do we do?

What is it that each one of us does when we find ourselves in this world with a whole palette of issues to choose from? What is our calling? There was a story in one of the world scriptures about a very poor woman who had really little or nothing, and she heard that there was a great master who was coming her way, and she thought: “With this great being who is coming, what do I have to give? What do I have in my house?”

That is the question for us: What physical possessions do we have, or what do we have in the house of our conscious-ness? No one is so poor that they have nothing. Then how do we learn to give? Whether we give of our thought, of our food, or our experience that might be helpful to another, all of those are gifts that we have to give to this world, which if we choose not to give, not only do the gifts die with us and do not pass on, but our potential to enhance the world also withers.

There is power in a very simple word that we say every day, some of us more than others, so much so that we ignore it and its capacity and power, its potential for good. The word is “Yes”. It is not just a word. At its deepest level it is a state of being that we can embrace. The mind that utters to this world, “Yes, I will; yes, I am open”, is connected. There is a greater life which we sense, but somehow cannot realize. In saying “Yes” to a suffering fragment of that greater life, we connect ourselves. We have to learn the openness, the freedom, and the power that comes from a spirit that can say “Yes”.

These are just a few thoughts in terms of the work that we are here to do, and, more importantly, the work that we are actually capable of doing.

[From: The Theosophist, March 2019]

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