If anyone knew beyond doubt that by service to others, his own soul would be lost, would he serve? If Jesus knew that by sacrificing his life on the altar of ignorance he would displease God, would he have acted as he did? No. Though Jesus had to lose the body, he knew he was gaining his Father’s favor. All the martyrs and saints make a good investment—they spend the little mortal body to gain immortal life.
Even the most self-sacrificing act of service to others is done with the thought of self. It is logical, therefore, to say that the higher selfishness, or the good of the higher Self, is the goal of life rather than service to others without thought of self.
Different kinds of selfishness
We must, however, clearly distinguish between three kinds of selfishness—evil, good, and sacred. The evil kind is that which actuates a man to seek his own comfort by destroying the comfort of others. To become rich at the cost of others’ loss is a sin. Modern depressions are caused by evil selfishness, which leads to unequal prosperity amidst plenty.
The businessman who thinks and acts only for himself, thinking neither of his clients or customers, nor of those dependent on him for support, is engaged in evil selfishness. Such a man is acting against his own selfish interests, for in time he too will suffer. Evil selfishness hides its destructive teeth of suffering beneath the seemingly innocent assurances of comfort and gain.
To delight in hurting others’ feelings by carping criticism is another form of evil selfishness. This malignant pleasure is not conducive to any lasting good.
Good selfishness, by contrast, causes a man to seek his own comfort, prosperity, and happiness by also making others more prosperous and happy. The businessman who by honest, wholesome, constructive actions looks after his own and his family’s needs, is engaged in good selfishness.
Unlike evil selfishness, which isolates a person and shuts out the rest of humanity, good selfishness reaches out and brings everyone into the circle of brotherhood. Good selfishness yields many harvests—return services from others, self-expansion, happiness, divine sympathy.
To avoid the pitfalls of evil selfishness, a person should first establish himself in the good forms of selfishness, where he thinks of his family and those he serves as part of himself. From that attainment, he can then advance to the practice of sacred selfishness (or unselfishness, as ordinary understanding would term it), where one sees the entire universe as oneself.
Becoming the Self of all
To be sacredly selfish is to seek happiness in the joy of others, and to try constantly to remove the wants of larger and larger groups of people. The man of sacred selfishness, using his best judgment and intuition, helps others with health, food, work, success, and spiritual emancipation, without expectation of reward. Knowing that we are all children of the one God, he lives to love his brethren.
Whenever the man of sacred selfishness thinks of himself, he thinks, not of the small body and mind of ordinary understanding, but of the needs of all bodies and minds within the range of his influence. Whenever he does anything for himself, he does only that which is good for all.
The man of sacred selfishness takes on the suffering of others to make them free from further suffering. He views all his earthly losses as deliberately chosen by him for the good of others. The man of sacred selfishness becomes the mind and feeling of all creatures and his “self” becomes the Self of all. He whose body and limbs consist of all humanity and of all creatures experiences the universal, all-pervading Spirit as himself.
The altar of all-expanding goodness
Good selfishness and sacred selfishness put one in touch with God, resting on the altar of all-expanding goodness. Those who have realized this truth work conscientiously only to please the ever-expanding presence of God within.
Krishna to Arjuna:
One who beholds My presence everywhere, And all things dwelling equally in Me, He never loses loving sight of Me, Nor I of him, through all eternity. That yogi finds security in Me, Who, though his days be rushed and action-filled, Is anchored inwardly, at rest in Me, And worships Me in every living form. That one, Arjuna, is the best of men, And truest he, of yogis, whose heart feels The joys of all, their pains, their searing griefs, With equal care as though they were his own.
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, stanzas 30-32.