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The Philosophy of Service
Scope for Selfless Service
The scope to become unselfish is very vast; from individual to family, from family to province, from province to national, and from national to international level unrestricted vistas are open for every person to express his/her inherent unselfish nature. Probably we name this self-expressing quality as evolution in ethics - 'Not I, but Thou!' In fact, nature forces us to become selfless in spite of our selfishness at biological level and brings up the hidden spiritual dimension to our personality. It brings out necessary refinement in intellect to sharpen the reason and leads us to intuitive realization of virtue of selfless behaviour and attitude. But this process is very slow and calls for conscious and deliberate efforts on the part of the individual as well. More a societal structure can exhibit such conscious trends, better is the ethical growth seen in it.
Philosophy of service is closely linked with moral and ethical social code. It is a two-way exchange; to become selfless one has to engage in service, and more a person becomes selfless the more he/she enjoys serving others. The process is part of nature; whether one is willing or not, every person per force has to fall, sooner or later, in line with unselfish pattern of behaviour. Aided by the compulsions of social organization, the individual as a unit further accepts ethical dictates that force him to share both pleasure and pain with others. Joys he willingly accepts, but suffering he refuses to share. The social ethical code comes through judiciary to warn such selfish persons to part away with some of their wealth, comfort, and other privileges. 'Seats 5 to 10 are reserved for ladies', this may be cited as an example of legal compulsion that makes the society follow such norms. This is the beginning of renunciation as well.
When this is the case, is it not desirable to try voluntarily to become selfless! It lessens the friction and struggle with nature; the fight an individual is sure to lose with this ruthless adversary. Social structure might appear to be objective, but is in fact a subjective compulsion. We can interact with our near and dear ones smoothly in an attitude of humility and gratitude only if we refuse to see the other as an object, and accept him/her as a subjective extension of our personality. The same principle is applicable to all fellow human beings in a society. They are not objects to be exploited, but subjects of our worship.
Grades in Service
History records names of only those who have had made themselves broad in heart by serving others by realizing them as their subjective extension. The concept of ideal social order - Rama Rajya - is the highest realization of this concept of renunciation and service. Willing engagement in selfless act is called as service. Service to others includes need-based, active, and proactive aspects. When a neighbor is ill and is taken to the hospital, it is a need-based service. To construct garden and playgrounds is an example of active service, and to struggle to make the downtrodden aware of their dignity is a proactive service. The person who struggles for the last kind of endeavor is the most respected person, and indeed might sooner or later be worshipped as God depending upon the cultural tradition he/she is born in. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi can be mentioned as examples, although, such persons of high character are born in every country and in every era.
Still higher but not well-recognized or accepted grade of selfless service falls under the category of spiritual awakening in the heart of masses. Such persons have the knowledge of divine nature of every soul/being, and therefore they bestow a serene and benevolent influence of peace and bliss all around. While Raja Ram Mohan Roy may be categorized as one of the greatest social reformers India has ever produced, Swami Vivekananda can be called spiritual reformer of similar capacity whose influence can be seen to persist and expand beyond the former. In no way this should be seen as an attempt to denigrate someone, but the facts are there for everyone to see. We are interested in reasons behind such trend and facts. And the reason is that, I must repeat, while one was a proactive reformer pertaining to the matter social, the other was proactive reformer pertaining to the field of spirituality.
Such gradation is necessary to study the philosophy of selfless service and its varied outcome depending upon with what underlying concept one bases his/her work and expends energy. Due to reasons inexplicable, or which we need not go into details at this time, such spiritual reformers are grouped under the 'honored' category of 'religious persons' or God-men, probably because it is easy to put them at a bay that way. History is replete with such wonderful men of spiritual realization who in turn have inspired many others to undertake social reforms through selfless action. Sri Ramakrishna is the basis of all creative actions undertaken by Swami Vivekananda. Can this ever be denied? And now millions in turn are being influenced to undertake selfless work in the footsteps of the Swami.
Serving God in every human form is the service at its best. It glorifies the human as a divine and dignified being, and is the most rational and effective way to eradicate many social evils and deficiencies. There is no need to link such persons of spiritual knowledge and convictions born out of such realizations to religion, the word that is unfortunately shunned now-a-days as a poison would be under the name of secularism.
C S Shah