What Is Service?

Questioner:

I don’t understand what real service is. What is service?

Swami Premodaya:

The first thing to understand is: you’re already serving. Whoever you are, however you live, whatever your life is, you’re already in service to something. There’s no way around that. A human life is a service vehicle. You’re serving something.

If you’re the average American, you’re serving money and things. That has to be said as the basis, before you say anything else, about service. So nobody’s not serving. You do have some choice about what you serve and how to serve it. But do you have a choice about whether you get to serve something? No. If you’re alive, you’re serving something.

Actual service, in regard to an actual genuine guru, is another matter. That’s the rarest opportunity, for the most pure sadhana, the most pure type of spiritual practice—for the simple reason that, by accomplishing the service—by doing the service—you’ve bypassed all egoic tricks and traps—because you don’t have to have a certain attitude, and you don’t have to do a certain way—you just have to do the service. It’s self-fulfilling, in that sense. The ego can’t be involved. If it’s actual service, the ego is bypassed, just by the action of the service itself. And anytime the ego is out of the picture, you’ve raised yourself, you’ve gotten one notch further. So service is the most beneficial opportunity in spiritual life. That’s the second thing that has to be said.

The third thing that has to be said, is that almost none of us are ready for service—because actual service has to be non-attached, non-egoic, not performed or carried out with any feeling of fulfillment—and is (now we’re talking about in relation to ‘if you have a guru’) accomplished involuntarily, as a function of the disciple/guru relationship. So you’re, in essence (if it’s real service) drawn into service. And the service amounts to a non-attached, worship-based, activity—not meaning that you worship the guru—but meaning that the doing of service itself (whatever the task is or activity is) amounts to worship itself.

Service is prayer in action. Service is when you become the prayer. And that prayer uplifts you. The problem is, that it isn’t prayer unless you’re in the proper state. Most of us are far from it.

This is why in the East, service is a privilege. Out of 10,000 disciples, 9,000 may ask to do service. Out of that 9,000, three are told “yes, you may do service”. Why are 8,997 told “no”? Because they’re not ready; they’re too impure.

So real service is a privilege. We don’t understand this, in this country. This is better understood in the East, particularly in India and Tibet, where this is within the culture—this is traditional, this is well un- derstood. To be granted the privilege of service by the guru, in those situations, is considered a fantastic boon, a fantastic situation—because it means the guru is saying “you’re ready”. You’re good enough, you’re pure enough—you’ve come far enough—that your service has value. Your service can actually be used, rather than it just looks like service on the outside, but on the inside, there’s nothing in it (because your ego’s involved, because it isn’t the real deal yet).

My problem is, I’m a little, local neighborhood guru. I don’t have thousands of disciples or people who support me. I have you, which I’m eternally grateful for. And I don’t care how many people come, don’t come, who’s interested, who’s not—I have to do my job. And the trouble is, I’m only one guy, and it’s a lot of work! (even having a little mom-and-pop spiritual center). So I have to rely on volunteers. And don’t think that I don’t love and appreciate everything the volunteers here do. We wouldn’t exist without the volunteers. But the problem is people convince themselves that they’re doing service, without having taken up the attitude—the inner attitude—that turns the service into a self-purification (that actually benefits you beyond description). Now, even doing the service that isn’t yet the real deal, will benefit you tremendously.

Service is the highest form of spiritual practice, but you get that benefit only if you prepare yourself to actually engage in selfless, ego-less service. Up until that point, it amounts to at least some degree of self-gratification. Real service has no self-gratification in it. Real service is actually selfless.

The boon of service is: for every moment you’re doing the service, you are in selflessness—you are out of the ego. Every moment you’re not in your ego, is good for you. Every moment you’re not in the ego, is more practice on how to (once-and-for-all) step away from that. And that’s what the spiritual path is: learning how to not live in your ego.

Nothing works better than service… There’s no better opportunity in a human life for actual advancement.

You can actually tell the ego to go screw itself, because basically, by simply doing the service, the ego is left out of the picture. That’s the beauty of it. No other practice, no other spiritual practice of any kind (and there are wonderful and tremendous and effective spiritual practices—lots of them) guarantees the immediate subjugation of the ego. Do the service, and the ego’s not in it. Even if the ego’s in it, the ego’s actually not in it, because you’re doing the service.

And the ego can’t abide with it. It’s like kryptonite. Guru service is kryptonite, to the ego. If you mature in your service, you’ll see…

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