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Sunita MaithreyaThe Spiritual Basis of Service

Dr Sunita Maithreya

“The true theosophist is the Philanthropist who — ‘not for himself, but for the world he lives.’…” reads a message from a Master of The Wisdom.  Service without spirituality is like a mechanical form without a soul, while spirituality divorced from service is like a soul still seeking a form to express itself. Spirituality and service are symbiotic.  If we look around us, there is much suffering in this world. To say that it is the ‘collective Karma’ of the world, and leave it at that, is cruel indifference. To seek an opportunity to serve and see oneself as a part of the Karmic process of ‘suffering and relief’ is the true spiritual basis of service. The Theosophical Order of Service weds spirituality to service in all its activities.

I am a doctor; and the nobility of my profession has come into question in today’s world, which is not entirely without reason. We have the Divine Doctor in the Eastern faiths and the Sweet Physician in Western religion. This ideal seems to be hidden from our view in this day and age where almost everyone seems to ask, “What is in it for me?”  When a patient walks into the doctor’s clinic, does the doctor look at it as an opportunity to serve, or does he look at it as a purely commercial proposition? Are we not in a world where we see human beings as usable resources, animals as food and trees as fuel? We seem to be making door-mats of every living thing with our selfish attitude.

It is true that mere ideals without implementation are like a disembodied spirit in search of a form to express itself. Very often, our lives are the very contradiction of our ideals.  We profess to be philanthropists, but are miserly when it comes to helping others. We work for animal causes and have pets at home, but fail to see how much silk and leather we use and the animal food we consume. Do we ask the question, “How was it made?”? Do we ask the question, “What does it contain?”, when either using or consuming a product?  Take for example, a simple thing like plastic. We condemn it every day, and yet do not hesitate to ask the shopkeeper for an extra plastic bag to keep things in. Incidentally, the children of the Round Table and some members of the TOS have made cloth eco-bags, but only a few were sold. Not many think it is important to care for the world in practice, although they certainly do in thought.

We need to ask, “How can we think globally and act locally?”  One way is to start by examining where we are going wrong both individually and collectively. This examination should be carried out with the spiritual tool of svadhaya or self-study. Having looked at each problem both subjectively and objectively, we move to the next step. This is to ask how best we can solve the problem. Dr Annie Besant’s life is one of the greatest examples of self-study. So was Gandhiji’s. They were never ashamed of facing themselves with the ruthless honesty that is required in this matter. It was this self-study that enabled them to realise what was wrong both within and without, both with our motives and with our actions. Let us look at a story from Gandhiji’s life. Once a mother brought a little child to Gandhiji saying that he was eating too much sugar. She requested Gandhiji to advise the child. Gandhiji requested that they come back a fortnight later. He then advised that child to abstain from consuming sugar in excess. He was asked why he did not do it a fortnight ago, when he was asked the first time. He replied, saying that he could not advise the child to do something that he could not do himself. He spent a fortnight practising abstinence from sugar, before advising the child. The spiritual basis for service implies that the person who serves should be pure within, before he serves.  We cannot have dirty hands when we serve food to others. Similarly, we cannot serve others if our motives are not pure.

We are too often looking and waiting for big opportunities to come our way to serve. In the meanwhile, we waste all the small opportunities that are staring us in the face. Look at what Mother Teresa says, in this context: “A smile must always be on our lips for any child to whom we offer help, for any to whom we give companionship or medicine. It would be very wrong to offer only our cures; we must offer to all our hearts.”

They say, “Charity begins at home”. Let us look at how we treat our servants. Do we pay them well? Do we give them enough holidays? Do we take care of their medical needs? Do we help in their children’s education? Look at our own families. Do we visit our grandmothers or do we only send flowers to the old people’s home we have dumped them in? Are we busy partying when our children have exams? A great Master of the Wisdom once wrote, “Does it seem to you a small thing that the past year has been spent only in your ‘family duties’? Nay, but what better cause for reward, what better discipline, than the daily and hourly performance of duty? Believe me, my ‘pupil’, the man or woman who is placed by Karma in the midst of small plain duties and sacrifices and ‘loving-kindness’ will, through these faithfully fulfilled, rise to the larger measure of Duty, Sacrifice and Charity to all Humanity — what better path towards the enlightenment you are striving after than the daily conquest of Self, the perseverance in spite of want of visible psychic progress, the bearing of ill-fortune with that serene fortitude which turns it to spiritual advantage…”.

There is yet another aspect to this subject. If service is truly spiritual, there is little or no self in it. Under such circumstances, one needs to begin on a project and all help soon follows. In small as well as great things, we should learn to have faith in our Inner Self. Not only do answers to problems come from there, but it almost seems that the Universe is conspiring to make things happen in the most inexplicable ways. There are times I have sat helpless in my clinic when a patient needs a medicine, which he cannot afford to buy. It is not uncommon that a Medical Representative walks in to drop off some samples of the very medicine needed at that moment.

Even for making a diagnosis, one needs to have the right answer from the Inner Self. People in the modern world seem to believe that with the advancement of medical electronics and the invention of new diagnostic equipment, the battle of diagnosis has been completely won. This is not true. The reports provide us with data. This data is information to the well-informed doctor. This information is knowledge to the intelligent doctor and finally this knowledge is wisdom to the enlightened doctor. This enlightenment is not a stage reached by any doctor in his career. It is indeed a state experienced by a doctor who is receptive to his inner voice or intuition. The diagnosis, at the end of all the analysis, appears like a flash before the mind’s eye and sometimes is so far away from the rational conclusion one would reach using just a logical process of reasoning. This is truly a meditative, spiritual experience, which is substantiated by the tools provided by modern exact science. The ‘hunch’ you often have and the answer you have often ‘imagined’ proves to be the right and even the accurate answer. Such perception in the middle of a difficult situation is not just an educated guess or a calculated risk the intuitive physician makes or takes. There is the ring of truth in the answer, which has the certainty of knowledge. One may believe that there is somewhere a reservoir of knowledge and resources, in some kind of a latent and subtle form. The sensitised instrument within the human being connects with this potential force. It draws down and enables the manifestation of this force in the form of a diagnosis, a solution or even an available resource. The whole sequence seems like magic, but a magic that has the quality of certainty.

Today scientists like Dr Rupert Sheldrake speak of ‘morphic resonance’. Not long ago Carl Jung spoke of the ‘collective unconscious’. Each expression seemed in its time to have been revolutionary, only to be accepted by conventional science in due course. That subtle plane of consciousness spoken of by mystics, occultists and theosophists will perhaps become a self-evident fact to science. Its immeasurable potential for all possibilities will be recognised by all scientists. There will come a time when, like downloading information from the Internet, we will be able to draw resources from the atmosphere around us. That is when service will merge and blend with spirituality not only in intention but in action and practice. It is a time when spirituality will be the sole impetus for service. One will begin to serve because one is an instrument of service in the hands of the Divine, and not because of having taken a rational decision to serve.

There is a message which is part of the famous Jubilee Address. It is important for us to listen and internalise these lines:
You cannot truly be students of the Divine Wisdom, save as you are active in the service of the Divine Life.  Where trouble is, where suffering is, where ignorance is, where quarrel is, where injustice is, where tyranny is, where oppression is, where cruelty is – there must we find the earnest members of our Society.


Excerpts from the talk given by Dr Sunita Maithreya the TOS Session of the 133rd International Convention of The Theosophical Society on December 30, 2008


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