How is spirituality nurtured? More particularly, how is it nurtured through acts of service?
It is essential to remember that every human being is composed of two parts: the lower personality (body, desires, lower mind) and higher individuality (impersonal mind, transcendent consciousness, and true Self). These two can be symbolised by two triangles: an inverted triangle below, and an upright triangle above.
The nurturing of spirituality starts with the strengthening of the higher impersonal mind or abstract mind. The impersonal mind is a loftier level of thinking that recognises the nature of things regardless of how such things will benefit or harm oneself. On the other hand, the lower or grosser mind links automatically with one's desire such that it thinks in terms of how to satisfy a particular desire. Thus it is frequently referred to as the desire-mind (kama-manas), a combination so potent that it governs the lives of the majority of humanity.
For example, when I come upon a wallet on the street, there are two possible reactions to it. A common reaction is: "How lucky I am today, finding a wallet with money in it. I will be able to buy things I need with this. Oh, I'll tell my children about it." Another reaction is: "Oh, somebody lost a wallet. I must try to find the owner. Perhaps he is very anxious by this time."
The first reaction comes from our personal, egoistic self, the lower triangle. It readily thinks about its own needs and desires, and acts constantly to benefit oneself, even if such an action is unfair or even unkind. One derives pleasure from Vincente Hao Chin, Jr satisfying the desires of this self. The second reaction comes from a deep recognition of the objective reality of things (for example, “I don't own the wallet”) regardless of how I may or may not benefit from a situation. It is an impersonal perception that we are all naturally capable of, although in some it is clear and strong, while in most people it is much weaker than the loud voices of the self-centered ego.
The second reaction comes from a deep recognition of the objective reality of things (for example, “I don't own the wallet”) regardless of how I may or may not benefit from a situation. It is an impersonal perception that we are all naturally capable of, although in some it is clear and strong, while in most people it is much weaker than the loud voices of the self-centered ego.
This impersonal thinking faculty is a midway point towards the true spiritual state that is variously called buddhi, prajna, ananda, contemplative consciousness or intuition. Such a spiritual state perceives things differently. It senses a non-separation between itself and other things. Its nature is a non-divisive one, because such division or differentiation is a creation of the thinking ego. The sense of compassion is natural to it, for it perceives a quality of oneness with whatever is perceived. Thus its spontaneous nature is to share without distinction of who the recipient is, like the Sun that radiates sunshine to anything or anyone, or to empty space. It is not about giving, but being one’s natural self – a self that spontaneously radiates what it has.
The Nature of the Personality
But the emergence of this deeper spiritual nature is obstructed by thick layers of conditioned habits and tendencies in the personality. It is like a bright lamp covered with thick mud. The light cannot shine out until the mud is transformed into transparent material.
The average individual is very absorbed with the needs and preoccupations of the psychological self -- a self heavily conditioned by the upbringing and influences of society. Such conditionings tend to reinforce self-centredness -- the need to satisfy the needs of oneself, one's family, one's group or one's country. The voice of this personality is very strong and drowns out the feeble intimations of the spiritual consciousness, even if the latter is already budding. The stronger is the contrary conditioning of the personality the less is spirituality perceptible.
It is important to note that when actual service work is encouraged in a person especially while young, the contrary conditionings of the self-centered personality are weakened. Each time we see someone made happier because of small altruistic things that we do for them, our personality is gladdened too and thus encouraged to do more for others. Each time we do such service work, there is something in our higher nature that resonates and which responds, no matter how feebly. Through repetitive acts of service, the nature of the lower personality gets more and more aligned with the higher spiritual nature, and the latter has then more opportunity of expressing itself outwardly and being felt by the personality. In turn, the personality becomes more responsive to subtle spiritual nudgings.
Service-orientedness can thus in fact start with a self-centered agenda - a desire to be recognised or even the desire to be spiritual. But as one repeatedly does service work, then one realises that there is meaningfulness and significance in doing things for the welfare of others without regard to any benefit to oneself. Gradually, one will feel that, by itself, a compassionate concern for the benefit of others is an intrinsically worthwhile act. It does not need rewards to validate itself. This perception of meaningfulness has, as its byproducts, a sense of fulfilment and happiness.
Parents and schools should expose their children and students to compassionate activities. Bring them to charitable activities and allow them to give things or do things for the less fortunate. Young children may not fully understand things yet, but they will absorb the subconscious impression that doing service to others is a natural thing to do. Even if we do not speak about spirituality, such an upbringing will contribute much to the moral character and happiness of the individual. It will help bring about an uplifting of the depressing conditions of society, and thus contribute to the collective evolution of masses of people. But, more importantly and in the long run, such tendencies towards outward compassionate action will help accelerate the individual's growth towards self-actualisation and perfection.
Vincente Hao Chin, Jr is the President of Golden Link College, a theosophical school established by the Theosophical Order of Service in the Philippines, an organisation in which he served as Chairman for many years. He has also served as the President of the Theosophical Society in the Philippines and the Indo-Pacific Federation of the Theosophical Society. He is the author of several books including The Process of Self-Transformation.
Originally written for the Souvenir publication of the Regional Conference and the Annual Meeting of the TOS Mahabharat Group, Odisha, India 2014 – Reprinted with permission.