devotion

Humility in Service

The rains of God’s mercy cannot gather on mountaintops
of pride, but flow easily into valleys of humbleness.

—Paramahansa Yogananda

Humility by its nature does not invite attention, but seeks the lowliest place. When Master speaks of returning to earth to visit, he says, “I will sit in the back. I will know them, but they won’t know me.” When we act with humility, we come from what we really are, the soul. The soul knows itself to be a child of God, part of and one with Spirit. 

Some years ago the SRF Hollywood Temple presented a play based on Master’s story of the angel Narada who was sent to Earth by God to find the greatest devotee. He found a young man who had much faith in God, but was drunk all the time. Another devotee was an ascetic, a hermit who followed all the rules of self-discipline with great pride. In the play, the prideful ascetic said to Narada, “If humility is what you are looking for, kind angel, you have come to the right place! Not to boast, but if humility were water, being around me, you would need a life jacket!” Of the two, God was most pleased with the drunken young man who had great faith that God would come in preference to the self-disciplined ascetic who was bloated pride. 

Service is a powerful way to develop humility, because it takes the self out of the picture. In my short time in Yogananda Seva (YSO), I have again and again found great relief in the affirmation: “Thou art the doer, not I. Thy will be done, not mine.” So few words! Yet they are like a deep bell resounding through me, allowing ego’s mistaken ownership of thoughts and actions to fall away.

Serving in a YSO project allows us to experience freedom from false credit-taking. One volunteer said, “Pure giving gets me out of my head. I stop thinking about my problems and anxieties. I’m so immersed, so tuned into giving and doing for others and my Guru, joy just rises. There is so much joy in that fellowship, the joy of serving the guru with other devotees! People need to discover what guru-seva is. There’s something mysterious about it. There are layers and layers to it.”

Paramahansa Yogananda says, “If you work with the consciousness that you are doing it to please God, that activity unites you with Him.” He continued by saying, “Cease to think that you are working for yourself….If I were working for myself, I would be worrying all the time. But, since my object in working is only to serve God, the results are His, not mine. This is the way to transcend the law of karma.”

I tend to  think of guru-seva as doing things, bringing changes or improvements on behalf of the Guru’s mission in the world. But recently the thought came: while I am focused on the outer aspects of the service I am performing, maybe Master’s purpose in having me serve him is the opportunity to develop in me divine qualities like humility and selflessness. This idea of his working within me as I work without for him, brings a deep sense of his love and care.

We know that service is one of the three ways enumerated in the Bhagavad Gita of tuning in with the Guru. The Sanskrit word seva means the act of selfless service, performed with a spirit of love and humility. The guiding principles of Yogananda Seva include attitudes that promote these: “Cultivate humility, thereby freeing ourselves from the sense of self-importance by recognizing that God is the Doer.”

In Autobiography of A Yogi, Lahiri Mahasaya recounts an unexpected meeting with his guru, Mahavatar Babaji, at a Kumbha Mela at Allahabad. Lahiri Mahasaya recounted thinking an ash-smeared ascetic he saw was hypocritical, “wearing the outward symbols of renunciation without a corresponding inward grace.”

“No sooner had I passed the ascetic than my astounded eye fell on Babaji. He was kneeling in front of a matted-haired anchorite.

“‘Guruji!’” I hastened to his side. “‘Sir, what are you doing here?’”

“‘I am washing the feet of this renunciant, and then I shall clean his cooking utensils.’ Babaji smiled at me like a little child; I knew he was intimating that he wanted me to criticize no one, but to see the Lord as residing equally in all body-temples, whether of superior or inferior men.

“The great guru added, ‘By serving wise and ignorant sadhus, I am learning the greatest of virtues, pleasing to God above all others — humility.’”

Only by complete surrender can you make God answer. He is very humble. Only in humbleness can you find Him. 

—Paramahansa Yogananda