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Service as Sacred Labour
Cynthia Trasi

A talk given at the International TOS Conference in July 2013


When I saw the word ‘labour’ in the title my mind immediately dwelt on the labour of giving birth throughout nature, laboured breathing, the various forced labour camps, child labour and The Labours of Hercules.

Sacred labour, that which is divine, dedicated, consecrated, sounds so much sweeter; yet it too involves hard work, suffering, even sacrifice. The Path is long and arduous, with many pitfalls. Master KH told us that all our bodies, the subtle as well as the physical, have to be strong and healthy for the journey. We have to have determination and will, like John Bunyan, who wrote: “He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster, let him in constancy follow the Master ... I’ll fear not what men say, I’ll labour night and day to be a pilgrim.”

In the world of mythology Hercules can be seen as the Sun God, who passes through the Twelve Labours, which are linked to the twelve signs of the Zodiac. This is indeed service to everything ‘under the sun’, for what can we do without it? But, as Geoffrey Hodson writes, the life-story of Hercules (Heracles) may be interpreted as a description of the experiences of every neophyte who successfully treads the Path. The Labours are a series of penances considered impossible to perform. Each Labour allegorically describes an interior task, which will help spiritual evolution by gaining victory over, and transmuting into power, every undesirable quality. The first Labour is the killing of the Nemean Lion. The lion represents all the animalistic qualities we acquired in the animal kingdom. They are the least desirable attributes, but the hardest to transform into the opposite spiritual qualities. The fifth Labour is the cleaning out of the Augean Stables.

Geoffrey Hodson says: “look within and, evoking the inmost will, wisely, skilfully, direct the purifying powers – the fresh and clean river waters – of the higher, spiritual Selfhood into and throughout every thought, feeling and action of the ‘stable’ of the lower mortal personal nature, to cleanse them of all impurities.”

But, the task of self-perfecting is never undertaken by the aspirant for self-gain, but solely for the attainment of greater effectiveness in the service of others. The Hero is each one of us and we should serve both individuals and the whole of humanity.

H. P. Blavatsky (HPB) writes in The Voice of the Silence that “to live to benefit mankind is the first step.” Goodness me! That doesn’t give me much excuse for leaving service till later. Oh well, at least I’m a Theosophist, and the Master KH wrote, “None of you can be so blind as to suppose that this is your first dealing with theosophy.”

But what is it that HPB wrote in her little book Practical Occultism? In comparing theosophy and occult science she states that “it is easy to become a Theosophist. Any person of average intellectual capacities, and a leaning toward the metaphysical; of pure, unselfish life, who finds more joy in helping his neighbour than in receiving help himself; one who is ever ready to sacrifice his own pleasures for the sake of other people; and who loves Truth, Goodness and Wisdom for their own sake, not for the benefit they may confer – is a Theosophist.”

That description makes me feel ashamed that Master KH had to say, “Remember you are Theosophists.” It makes me realise that to be a true Theosophist is to live a life of service, a life of Sacred Labour.

Dr Annie Besant said that “no one really is a thorough member of a society like ours, unless he or she has taken up some kind of service to others. The life of the Spirit consists in giving continually. You cannot hope that spiritual life shall pour into you from above, unless the life you are receiving pours out from you in every direction.” The service demanded is that unselfish service that gives everything and asks for nothing in return.

Let us look once more at HPB’s beautiful poetry in The Voice of the Silence: “Let thy Soul lend its ear to every cry of pain like as the lotus bares its heart to drink the morning sun. Let not the fierce Sun dry one tear of pain before thyself hast wiped it from the sufferer’s eye. But let each burning human tear drop on thy heart and there remain, nor ever brush it off, until the pain that caused it is removed.These tears, O thou heart most merciful, these are the streams that irrigate the fields of charity immortal.”

Quite a lot is asked of us it seems, but we have not been left without help. Characters in mythology and fairy tales, and great souls who have gone before us, all teach by example. A Master or Adept is one who is a servant to all, seeking no reward. He uses his knowledge to help humanity. Masters show us what is possible and it gives us encouragement.

Clara Codd wrote that like apprentices we should study and watch the technique of great souls. As we ourselves advance and create for ourselves new values, we shall the more readily recognise those who are living examples. But Clara warns that there will be stagnation unless the results of our study and meditation are applied in service. Steps along the Path are steps in understanding, expressed in action. All life should be our field of service, including the mineral, plant and animal kingdoms. Our hearts have to be big enough to take everything in. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, it is an opportunity for service.

Clara tells us that St Catherine of Sienna prayed that she would be granted the favour of seeing spiritually the beauty of every human soul. She was told that she would need to banish from her heart all anxious thoughts concerning herself and her salvation, so that she was not distracted from service to others. That is a very tall order.

T.Subba Row called this a self-denial which is not time-bound, but must be eternal, and the object of which must be the spiritual enlightenment of the human race. (Now that is the highest of all tall orders! And as the British playwright Tom Stoppard wrote: “Eternity’s a terrible thought. I mean where’s it all going to end?”)

Subba Row continues: “so the motive is all important. If you give no space to your own troubles you have plenty of room for the problems of others. This divine insight is the greatest power of service the occultist can obtain; to such power we should all aspire, being aware that we should want to aid others in their way.”

Sri Ram reminded us that we cannot be choosy about whom we wish to serve. It is my own experience that it is often the one whom others do not deem worthy of help and friendship, or the person I have to struggle to have patience with, that grants me the honour of friendship through kindness and service. Sri Ram wrote, most exquisitely, “When all life becomes a poem of service, in the true, pure, inward sense, then all life grows exceedingly beautiful; it unfolds like a flower.”

And so it seems to me that Service is Sacred Labour and Sacred Labour is Service. I do not have the words to express well what I feel, so I will end with words from RamanaMaharshi: “Correcting oneself is correcting the whole world.The Sun is simply bright. It does not correct anyone. Because it shines the whole world is full of light.Transforming yourself is a means of giving light to the whole world.”

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