A young man was on the street, begging for food. From the look in his eyes and the marks on his arms, I could tell that he was a drug addict.
I turned away without responding. But then I thought, “What if I were as desperate as he is?” I turned to give him the lunch I was carrying. It was no sacrifice; I easily replaced it.
But I didn’t want to hand it over without making a contact with him. So I put my hand on his shoulder and didn’t give him the lunch bag until he looked at me.
He mumbled his mantra, “I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m not doing anything wrong.”
“I’m not accusing,” I said. “I don’t want to give this to you without greeting you as a friend.” For a moment he met my gaze.
Then he looked down again as he took the lunch. He said, “You remind me of my family that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
In the spiritual work that I participate in, through Ananda Sangha, we have no “social service” in a formal sense. But I don’t feel that we are being irresponsible.
I don’t to disrespect those who serve outwardly. It is great good karma to help others, especially if we sacrifice our own convenience to do so. I believe that we spend entire lives in service, before God allows us to enter a more inward, meditative path. It is the experience of helping others that builds the determination to serve by helping people change their consciousness – to feed the spirit as well as the body. I believe this is “social service” on the highest level.
Loneliness, poverty, war, and all of the other maladies that cause so much suffering are the result of wrong consciousness. With the practical teachings for inward communion with God, we are helping to solve those problems at their source.
When someone was urging Swami Kriyananda to put the full force of Ananda behind a specific environmental cause, he replied, “If everyone in the world lived as we do, the world wouldn’t have these problems.”
If, as Paramhansa Yogananda predicted, the world’s economic difficulties will grow much worse before they get better, it will not be easy. People will turn to temples and churches for help in their time of need.
We need to be spiritually ready. Perhaps the day will come when we feel inspired to take an active role in relief work. But we have to stay open to whatever God asks of us.
Mother Theresa often said that her life wasn’t dedicated to serving the poor. Her dedication was to do what Christ asked. He had asked her to serve “the poorest of the poor.” And so with her entire heart, mind, and soul, she obeyed her guru.
If Christ had asked her to serve in another way, she would have embraced that life. She was a saint not because she helped the poor, but because she had given herself completely to her God-realized guru.
When I was a young nun at Ananda, Swami Kriyananda told a group of us, “A mother labors unceasingly to take care of her children. If you choose not to have children, don’t think that this choice absolves you of the same degree of service. A mother’s devotion is focused on those to whom she has given birth. As nuns, your responsibility is to serve the whole world as your children.”
In these uncertain times, the world, more than ever, needs expansive spiritual consciousness. Negative, contractive consciousness – the thought that I will care only for myself and perhaps those closest to me, is what has gotten us into this mess.
Whether we feel called to embrace outward service, let us not be selfish inwardly. In our meditation, prayer, and everyday life, let us find the calm, joyous love of God and radiate it to others. This is the sacred responsibility that God places in our hands.
We must practice while it is still relatively easy. Let us offer ourselves to do God’s will, so that if world events follow a downward spiral, we will have the strength to serve in whatever way God asks.