Selfishness arises from us failing to realize that we gain more from giving than from taking. Our mistaken belief that we are separate from others leads us to behave selfishly. We fail to consider the deep interconnectedness and oneness of all life, and act from the small perspective of our own egos or personalities, creating more separation. Yoga teaches us to open up our awareness beyond our small and limited perspectives, and to begin to recognize the divine Self that is in all.
In the beginning of my days of being a karma yogi in the Ashram, I did not believe I was selfish, but I was selfish without knowing it. I remember my first reaction: having to serve food to the guests and the students, I thought to myself, “I am not a waitress.”
Having to wash the clothing of the residents in the community I thought, “How terrible that I have to wash peoples’ clothing!” Always there was an “I” that gave judgment to everything, and there was a very strong sense of, “I like this, but I don’t like that.”
Yoga teaches us that we are far more than our ego and the stories we assemble about who we are and what we like or don’t like. It teaches that we are happier when we begin to move out of our egoism and away from these thoughts, beginning to serve others, regardless of whether the mind likes it at first. Through this service, one begins to experience an expansion of his or her sense of self, feeling the deep joy that comes from moving beyond separation.
We all know this great feeling when we manage to let go of our individuality and feel a sense of oneness with another person or a group, and we also know the feeling of separateness that leads us to feel isolated, unsupported or unloved. In life we often strive to define ourselves through our personalities, seeking to stand out in an egoistic way; but this is a mistake that leads to suffering. We forget that the way to get love is to offer love, not to try to be loved based on the limited personality. The more love we give, the more our lives will fill up with love.
Therefore, the secret to happiness is to love selflessly. This love in action that leads us beyond selfishness is called Karma-Bhakti Yoga, or the Yoga of Selfless Love in Service.
This conscious service and love redeems our selfish actions from the past. Nothing happens by accident; everything and everyone we encounter in life, the people and circumstances, even if they are difficult, are opportunities for us to serve and to love, and to work out our karma.
In yoga we often speak of moving beyond the bondage of karma. We need to remember this purpose. This means reaching a place where we are completely fulfilled and desireless. This is the state of love without selfishness.
Reflecting on the meaning of life and its sufferings will bring us to the determination to cut through to the root cause of our suffering, which is our spiritual ignorance. This will motivate us to do selfless service for our own sake, and not only for other peoples’ sake.
As we first begin on the path of selfless service, we may think that we do it to serve someone else or to love someone else, but as we grow in selflessness, we experience our true Self, which is the nature of the divine love that liberates us and others from suffering. It is only through experiencing this divine love and oneness that we become liberated. May you all become great servants of humanity!
To understand more about Karma Yoga, please enroll in the Karma Yoga program, as well as apply for the seva study program at the ashram.
© Swami Sitaramananda 2014 No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the author.