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Bhagavad Gita/The Path of Selfless Service

Meditation and Reading taken from The Bhagavad Gita, trans. Eknath Easwaran
All other text is by Cynthia Stewart

Today's Themes

Karma yoga, the path of selfless service, is in many ways similar to the kindness and charity enjoined by nearly all religious traditions, with one central difference: rather than seeing actions as done in the service of the divine, the devotee following this path understands that it is actually the divine who is acting through him or her: “Those who follow the path of service, who have completely purified themselves and conquered their senses and self-will…think always, ‘I am not the doer” (Chapter 5.7-8).

What is present but often implicit in other traditions is made explicit here: the actions must be done with no thought of compensation or reward, even the reward of a good hereafter. In this we see the impersonal law of karma at work: an action taken even with the thought of gaining otherworldly merit creates karma, or entanglement with the material world; it matters little that it is good karma, for it is still entanglement. Only action that is done completely selflessly carries no karmic debt. But make no mistake, this is not some economic transaction: the heart of this service is love, and its ultimate goal, as with all paths, is union with Brahman.

Words used in this session:
Arjuna – the warrior prince who must fight the army led by his cousins in order to establish his father’s right to the ancestral throne.
Brahman – the changeless Reality behind all of creation
karma – this means both action and the results of action, which can last across lifetimes

Call To Worship

What service do you bring with you today?
What simple kindness do you have to offer?
Some strong arms for carrying? Gentle hands for nurturing? A friendly smile for greeting?
Here we welcome all your service,
Even if it is but the grace of gratitude for the services done for you.
Here service is our act of faith.

Meditation

Fulfill all your duties; action is better than inaction. Even to maintain your body, Arjuna, you are obliged to act…At the beginning, [humankind] and the obligation of selfless service were created together. “Through selfless service, you will always be fruitful and find the fulfillment of your desires”: this is the promise of the Creator.

Chapter 3.8-10

Reading

Every selfless act, Arjuna, is born from Brahman, the eternal, infinite Godhead. He is present in every act of service. All life turns on this law, O Arjuna. Whoever violates it, indulging his senses for his own pleasure and ignoring the needs of others, has wasted his life. But those who realize the Self are always satisfied. Having found the source of joy and fulfillment, they no longer seek happiness from the external world. They have nothing to gain or lose by any action; neither people nor things can affect their security.

Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world: by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind…

Those who act in accordance with these divine laws without complaining, firmly established in faith, are released from karma. Those who violate these laws, criticizing and complaining, are utterly deluded, and are the cause of their own suffering.

Chapter 3.15-20, 31-32

Benediction

If today you let joy rather than pleasure be your guide;
     if you let a service rendered with no thought of return take precedence over one where payment is demanded;
if you let the holy act within and through you;
     if you make even the tiniest difference in the life of even the tiniest being;
if you go to your rest satisfied that you have done these things,
     then may you rise again tomorrow and do them once again.

OM shanti shanti shanti