You quickly learn your weaknesses while serving others. The world is like a big mirror—it shows you your ugly spots, your weaknesses. Through service you can learn to recognize your own weaknesses and work to correct them.
Sometimes the best test is what you call menial work. You often hear how great sages tested themselves in this way. To see if he had become proud after becoming a big guru, Ramakrishna went to the slum areas and washed the toilets with his hair. Jesus washed the feet of his followers. Great men have done this. So go, take the dirtiest, nastiest job. Remember that you are not doing the job for the sake of the work as much as for yourself. It’s easy to simply go to the corner and meditate. But there’s another form of meditation—action. During Karma Yoga you meditate on what you’re doing. You watch your feelings and watch your mind. It’s a mental training program.
Practice Karma Yoga whenever you have the opportunity. In this practice you see your limitations and drawbacks, you test yourself in the field. You will understand your attitudes and moods better than when you’re alone. Through Karma Yoga your heart, mind, and body will soon be cleansed. Of course, you should not ignore other practices, and you need not do Karma Yoga twenty-four hours each day. If you are very tired or have some sort of emotional or psychological problem, come back, sit down quietly, and analyze your problem. “I went there to serve him, but for some reason I became annoyed— probably when he didn’t thank me. Yes, I expected his thanks. That’s not right. That’s how my mind became disturbed. Next time, I’ll do the same thing, but I won’t look for thanks.” This way you shape your mind well. By such analysis you can soon reduce the tendency that disturbs your peace. If you ignore the disturbances and simply try to continue your service, the problem will come back again and again.
Making a mistake is not really bad. The minute you realize you have made a mistake, think, “Why? How? What caused this mistake? Where did I err? If I hadn’t done that, this would not have happened. Okay, next time I won’t allow that to happen.” An intelligent person will learn something from a mistake, but a fool will make the same mistake again and again. We fall down and then we get up and walk. Let our failures be stepping stones to our success. All the great people, the sages and saints, have also fallen many times before they achieved their goals.
Often you are still selfish in a subtle way even though you think you are not attached to the fruits. If you insist others should be happy because of what you ‘re doing, then you are still attached. You will build up anxiety, which makes you unfit to help. Instead, it’s better just to think, “Well, I have done my duty to my satisfaction; I am not the destiny maker.” If a man has done certain things and is destined to be unhappy for some time, you cannot make him happy however much you try. The satisfaction of having tried within your limit should be enough for you. Do what you can within your limit, and then transfer the case to the Higher Court.
Use wisdom to analyze your motive. Don’t always think simply which yogurt tastes better to eat. That’s not deep analysis. Find out what will bring peace and joy to yourself and others. Always analyze in those terms. Karma Yoga alone is enough to save our soul. You won’t have to force yourself to serve others if you know the benefits of such service. You’ll be frightened to be selfish for fear of losing your peace. The greatest joy in life is doing something for somebody else. Unfortunately, many people have never tasted real joy, but once you do, you will never want to do something only for yourself again. You will look for opportunities to serve. Whether it’s day or night, you won’t want to miss that extreme joy of dedicated service. It will haunt your personality forever. Become a public food. Offer yourself to others. Your life can be a beautiful fruit for all humanity to enjoy. Even your eating can be an offering. Who is digesting your food?’ “I am the digestive fire,” says the Lord, “I am also in the stomach. “ Don’t think that you are eating for your own sake. The food goes into this divine fire.
Even when you take a shower, think, “I am washing the Lord’s temple. I am dressing the Lord’s temple. He is seated here. I am feeding Him. “When you go to sleep, think,“ “I am putting Him to sleep.” Thus, every act becomes an offering; your very life becomes an offering. That’s the trick of Karma Yoga. When you do everything for the sake and joy of just doing it, as benefit for the whole world and not for your own personal benefit, you retain your joy. Don’t think that you get joy by doing this. The joy is in you always. You must do something, because you can’t simply sit there quietly doing nothing. Your actions allow you to retain the Supreme Joy.
To taste that joy, begin by setting apart a week once every month or two. Say, “This is my Karma Yoga week. I should be totally selfless the entire week. I won’t do anything for my sake.” Or just choose one day—like fasting day—and say,—“This is my selfless day.” Everybody should set aside some time for this, just to get a taste of that joy. Then you can expand it more and more. When you do this, don’t worry about others, such as your friends or even your family members. Someone in your family might say, “Hey, you’re constantly doing for others. Don’t you know that you have a husband, you have a wife, you have children. They are missing their benefits.” It’s not that you should ignore them. But don’t continually spend all your money, energy, and time serving one or two people alone. The husband might demand all the wife’s service. “You are my wife. You take care of me first.” You can simply say, “Sir, there are certain things that you deserve and need. I do them for you. But the rest of the time other people need me more. Sometimes, my dear, you demand too much.” You can say that. There’s nothing wrong in it. No one can own you. If there is an opportunity to do something more important for the public, that’s God’s work. Don’t forget you have first responsibilities to your husband or wife, but see that they don’t demand more than they are due. Your life must be well divided this way. It’s something like having five children. If one child constantly demands your attention: “Carry me, Mom. Carry me,” and you always do as he asks, you will ignore all the other children.
Subramanya Bharati, a great and saintly poet, lived in India earlier in this century. He had foresight and his words were awakening. He knew a great deal about Yoga. In one poem he wrote, “The essence of scriptures is Karma Yoga. That alone can save us. Service, service, service, that is enough for us.” Master Sivananda always said, “Serve and love. Service comes first. Serve with love, because without love you cannot serve. Without control of your passions and selflessness you cannot serve. You become a Yogi just by serving. Everything else comes automatically. Lose not even a single opportunity to serve others.