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Service as Sacred Labour
by B.L. Bhattacharyya
The words ‘labour’ and ‘service’, taken out of our TS and TOS context, generally refer simply to the fulfilling of a duty or work often in exchange for remuneration. We talk of a young girl “going into service” as a maid, for example, or of a young man “serving his time” as an apprentice, or of men “labouring” on a building site or out in the fields. Labour or service, in this general sense of work, is fundamental in our lives. There is rarely a time when we are not working. From the moment we are born, some part of us is working. The body works to grow and our brains work to learn how to understand the world around us. Even now as we all sit here, we are working in some way.
Service in the TS and TOS context, however, is thought of as something more than this kind of work. When we work to benefit others, or do something to minimise the suffering of the poor, we give of ourselves for something intangible. We give freely because it is the right thing to do. When it is given without thinking, when it is given from our heart, it is given with love, affection and benevolence. It becomes sacred because it is given purely with the intention of relieving another’s suffering. It is truly altruistic. It is a sacred labour.
Sacred labour creates positive Karma. The Law of Karma states that “As you sow, so must you reap.” Whatever action we take creates a reaction of which we are a part. So we must constantly be aware of whether the action we take is the correct action. In the book At the Feet of the Master, Krishnamurti writes, “Between right and wrong it should not be difficult to choose, for those who wish to follow the Master have already decided to take the right at all costs.” This means that we are willing to choose that path which may be more difficult to live, but in the end, it serves more people. It is a choice that puts our attention outside of ourselves.
As a pilgrim to India in 1893, Annie Besant believed she had found the land of the great Masters and felt she could learn something from the people of the country. But what she learned was very different from what she expected. She noticed that Indians had forgotten their glorious old culture and traditions. Instead people were killing animals as a sacrifice and donating large sums of money and ornaments to temples in the hope of obtaining a good life. Little attention was given to those who were poor or sick. Cruelty and superstition were abundant such as untouchability due to the caste system and the concept of sati or bride burning.
Annie Besant was instrumental in changing many of these beliefs and educating the public. She stressed the Vedic belief that the sacred resides in everything and everyone and encouraged Indians to rule their own country. Annie Besant realised that we cannot change wrongs without action. We must act but we must be aware of how those actions will affect others. Are we doing the action for the benefit of ourselves or for the whole?
In his talk We Help Ourselves, Not the World, Swami Vivekananda also stressed the need to understand how our actions affect ourselves and others because we are one. To be able to help another should be looked at as a gift we can give others. 0opHe stated, “We must do good; the desire to do good is the highest motive power we have, if we know all the time that it is a privilege to help others. Do not stand on a high pedestal and take five cents in your hand and say, ‘Here, my poor man,’ but be grateful that the poor man is there, so that by making a gift to him you are able to help yourself. It is not the receiver that is blessed, but it is the giver. Be thankful that you are allowed to exercise your power of benevolence and mercy in the world.”
As we can see, no work, no sacrifice can be sacred without love. The message given in At the Feet of the Master states that will, wisdom and love are three aspects of the Logos. If we wish to do the Masters’ work, we must do it through love. We all need love. The whole of creation is held together by the bonds of divine love and compassion. In HPB’s Voice of the Silence she asks, “Canst thou destroy divine COMPASSION? Compassion is no attribute. It is the LAW of LAWS – eternal Harmony ... a shoreless universal essence, the light of everlasting Right, and fitness of all things, the law of love eternal.”
The work of the Theosophical Order of Service is sacred. It was started to provide TS members with a platform to put theosophical concepts into action; to make those principles concrete. Can there be anything more sacred? It is right action with love and respect, with compassion between the server and served. It is service to the living god within every being.
We have had plenty of examples of service as sacred labour from the leaders of the Theosophical Society and the Theosophical Order of Service. Our International President Mrs Radha Burnier has been working for the welfare of others for most of her life. Through her Watchtower notes, she directs the attention of all TS/TOS members and readers of The Theosophist to the need for right action, to minimise cruelty, superstitions, prejudice and sufferings of all beings. But the world is not free from these vices despite the amount of work we have done. This also is part of sacred labour. No matter how tired we become or how weary of the world we may be, we must not lose sight that our labour is for a higher cause, a greater cause, a sacred cause.
One of the teachings in H. P. Blavatsky’s Practical Occultism states “The god in us – that is to say, the spirit of Love and Truth, Justice and Wisdom, Goodness and Power – should be our only true and permanent Love, our only reliance in everything, our only Faith which standing firm as a rock, can forever be trusted; our only Hope, which will never fail us if all other things perish; and the only object which we must seek to obtain, by our Patience, waiting contentedly until our evil Karma has been exhausted and the divine Redeemer will reveal to us His presence within our soul.”
As members of TS and TOS, as spirits of Love and Truth, Justice and Wisdom, Goodness and Power, we should work together following the footsteps of our great leaders to awaken the consciousness of Humanity through that sacred labour which is dedicated service full of love and compassion. In the words of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, “Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment. It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of the creation.”
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