Service as a Universal Path

 Douglas Keene – USA  


  Douglas Keene, National President of the Theosophical Society in America

Service comes in many descriptions and circumstances. This can be as simple as a smile, lending a caring ear, or treating others with respect. Fulfilling our family obligations, work duties, and community responsibilities can all be seen as service and perhaps is needed before we extend our efforts beyond our individual commitments.

Service (karma) is one of the three aspects of the theosophical life, along with devotion (bhakti) and knowledge (jnana). These are also the 3 classical paths of Yoga. Service is so fundamental to a spiritual consciousness, it is sometimes not separated out as its own pathway. We may struggle with gaining devotion and knowledge at times, but service is always available to us.

Through the study of Theosophy, we realize we are an individual in appearance only. Our true nature is inherently intertwined with all others; in fact, all life is part of the one universal and indivisible whole.

How then, can we express our beliefs in a coherent and harmonious way that may benefit all those with whom we are inseparable?

As we experience the world, both directly and indirectly, we wish our lives in some way to benefit parts of humanity.  We can have minor and even major impact on societies, particularly if we act collectively. What is the world, other than a collection of individuals?

Certainly, we can focus on our own development. We can attempt to follow the Ten Commandments of Judaism and Christianity, the Paramitas of Buddhism, the Yoga Sutras of Hinduism, or the Golden Stairs of Theosophy, although likely imperfectly.

However, individual progress is not generally sufficient, and we seek ways in which to contribute to the betterment of humankind. If we are alive, we must act, for even in inaction there is action. Karma is the path of action, and ultimately has the ability to lift the burden of humanity.

Therefore service, however we may define it, must include altruism as its basis.

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Annie Besant, when writing in The Spiritual Life states that:

… only by service this fullness of life is made possible; the whole of the universe is yoked to service of humankind. Every individual should be pledged to the service of humanity, past, present, and future, humanity evolving up to the divine personage, eternal, immortal, indestructible. That should be the object of life, the goal of evolution.

These high ideals may not be attainable in the short-term for most of us. However, our lives consist of many small steps and decisions that may have large consequences. If we can keep an eye on the ideal, then that can help motivate us and direct our day-to-day choices.

Energy moves from our inward nature to our outer world. Because of this, it is not simply our actions that matter, but the motivation behind them. We wish to bring some essential aspect of ourselves, our true being in its most purified form, to the outer experiences in which we are involved. If our motives are selfish, no matter how beneficial the activity, we do not grow spiritually.

Yet, if we are selfless, nearly any activity would likely be rooted in divine intention. Internal purification is therefore necessarily entwined with external performance. It is helpful to reflect intuitively on intention and choice. The appearance of service only is a hollow shadow of true service. If our motivation is pure, results are not essential. We need to work intelligently and be willing to learn from our mistakes. However, success is not always measured by outcome from a spiritual perspective.

This is comforting in a world of stress and strain. This reminds us that we are on a path, although difficult and challenging, that will eventually bring us to a brighter light, a deeper peace.

Let us try to uplift our fellows as selflessly as we are able!

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