Published 23 October 2001
SERVICE IS a tricky word. It is our nature to serve something or someone - a child, a parent, a grandparent, a pet, a manager, a teacher, or an elder. Selfless service, one with no expectation of immediate return, is something that every parent experiences. But even parents expect or at least hope that when they are old and feeble, their offspring will look after them.
These days, service with no thought of return is indeed rare. Service may be a popular topic, but 'devotional service' is a sure conversation stopper. The tendency to exploit is so prominent, and so much is based on the unspoken assumption that 'might makes right', that it?s considered downright stupid to be selfless. But there are signs of change. Why did so many affluent Westerners flock to Kolkata - sometimes referred to as the derriere of the world - to be part of Mother Teresa's mission?
The tendency toward charity is still alive. But charity without God is missing. Religion has become increasingly social, a stepping-stone to and a part of material success. The trivada principle of artha, kama and dharma - without moksha - has become a way of life.
It's fair to say that spiritualism is dead or dying. Religion has become a no-no and the G-word (God) is pretty much taboo, just as the S - and F ? words were a few decades ago. When it comes to God, the public square is naked. Our democracy is increasingly secular. In the minds of many, service to humanity is service to God. But for the aspiring spiritualist, the reverse is what counts.
Agni Purana states that "One who builds or helps build a temple for Lord Vishnu becomes liberated along with eight forefathers". At least in this country, there is a strain of God consciousness in people's blood.
The unprecedented popularity of the Ramayana telecast is testimony enough. What we lack as a society is spiritual purity ? giving with no expectation of return. The problem is that too many of our godmen, rishis and gurus are counterfeits. The Fourth Tempter in T. S. Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral refers to the arrogance of martyrdom. The pride of the archbishop leads to his downfall. We live in a world where there are a thousand charlatans for every genuine person of God. Even among the 'holy' there is pride; pride that generates the pollution of consciousness and a hypocrisy that thinking people simply cannot tolerate. True saintliness is marked by genuine humility, and humility is based on the principle that everything belongs to God, including all the 'good' qualities of the sadhu.