I am currently writing a book with the working title Ananda Seva, about the power of selfless service and how it can help dissolve the ego. Paramhansa Yogananda taught a path to liberation that combines both meditation and service. There is a wealth of resources to train and support aspirants in meditation: teachers, books, courses, meditation centers, websites, and apps. But even though most people spend much more time in outward activity than they do in meditation, very little is available that focuses on service as a spiritual practice. Even a little training in right attitudes and practices can turn our activity into a true spiritual path.
Can selfless service truly be a pathway to enlightenment? Swami Kriyananda told us this story: A young man came to an ashram to receive training from a guru. The guru assigned him the job of collecting wood for the cooking fires. Day after day, the youth continued his task, his whole focus on his job, unaware of the passage of time. One day, as he returned to the ashram, a tuft of his hair got caught between two sticks of wood, and he saw that his hair had turned completely white. He was stunned to realize that he was now an old man, and a great sadness overwhelmed him. His whole life, he felt, had been wasted—he’d never even studied with his guru. Thinking these thoughts, he began to cry.
At that very moment the guru rushed out, and hastily stretched out his hand to catch the first tear as it fell. “Don’t you know,” he said lovingly, “that if the tears of such a great soul as you were to touch the ground, there would be famine in the land for seven years?” The guru then tapped him over the heart, and the man entered the highest state of samadhi. Such is the power of selfless service.
The book has an interesting origin. Five of us, all disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda and good friends, were sitting together in a restaurant in Delhi, India. We had spent the previous day together in Brindaban, where the Paramhansa Yogananda Public Charitable Trust is serving several thousand homeless or destitute widows. We were discussing the wonderful staff and how more than a third had recently learned meditation and become disciples of Yogananda.
Then a flash of insight came: Even though their day was spent serving, they had almost no formal training in service as a conscious spiritual practice. Service, rather than meditation, is by far the dominant part of most people’s day; even the most dedicated meditator is likely to spend vastly more time in activity than in his meditation room. It became obvious that a book is needed to show why service is so important to our spiritual development, and how to do it properly.
As the four others continued their discussion, a powerful torrent of thoughts, ideas, and inspiration began to flow in me. Within fifteen minutes I had jotted down the basic concepts that compose the chapters of the book. Along with this strong flow of energy, there came a joyful sense of approval. It felt to me that the ideas were being blessed by Babaji himself.
Here are just a few of the key concepts:
Ananda Seva (joy-filled service) can truly be a way of dissolving the ego.
We should serve with a flow of God’s love, both seeing those we serve as a form of the Divine and feeling that it is the Divine who is serving through us.
The attitudes with which we serve are more important than the type of service.
Our primary goal in serving others is to uplift consciousness, both theirs and ours.
Ananda Seva should be done with high energy and magnetism using practical, efficient methods.
Our service should be rooted in a daily practice of meditation.
I am doing my best to follow these principles even in the writing of the book—to feel that it is the Divine Hand writing through me.