The Art of Service

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has said,

” When you have come to this world, do something good that benefits everybody. Do not stay entangled in thinking only what you will get. There is nothing for you to take away from this world. There is nothing to take away from here. You have come to give. You have come here to do something beneficial for everybody. And you should all get together in doing service.”

As I reflected over this profound wisdom today, I got to thinking whether there were any guidelines for doing service. I went through some books looking for this and found this story that my grandfather had written about service.
Riverside

Maharishi Mandavya was a great scholar in ancient times and had many disciples. One day, two of his disciples went from his ashram to the nearby riverside to gather flowers and fruits. While doing so, they observed a big scorpion slowly crawling along the riverbank.

One of the disciples cautioned the other, “Please keep away from the poisonous creature, as per the advice of our Master, to keep aloof from evil people and things.”

In the meantime, the scorpion slipped from the bank, fell into the river and was struggling for life. Upon seeing this, the second disciple immediately bent down, lifted the struggling creature with his hand and placed it upon the shore. While doing so, he was stung by the scorpion, causing him much pain.

The first disciple, on seeing the suffering of his friend, rebuked him and said, “You have ignored the teachings of our Master, and hence are in pain.”

“No,” said the other fellow, “I was only following the teachings of our Master, and how can they be wrong?”

While debating about the teachings of the Master, and its effects, the unfortunate scorpion again slipped and fell into the water, prompting the second disciple to lift it again from the water. In this process, he was once again stung by the poisonous creature.

Though he was in pain, the second disciple explained, “Our Master has taught us not to forsake our helping nature, but serve everyone, even though others might not appreciate or reciprocate it. While it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, it is my nature to help and save the scorpion.”

“But our Master has also taught us to keep away from evil people and rings, to protect and preserve our own safety. You have violated it and hence you are suffering.”

As they were unable to solve the apparent contradictions in the Master’s teachings, they both went back to him and explained their misgivings.

Maharishi Mandavya heard them with a smile and calmly said, “Both of you are partially right and partially wrong in understanding my words. There is no contradiction in them.”

“When I taught you to keep aloof from bad people and things, it was to save you from pollution through contact with evil. Any sensible person will do the same, unless he is strong and confident of reforming the evil doer.”

“When I taught you not to forsake your helping attitude, it was only to strengthen your basic human nature to serve. You should be like a true doctor who does not distinguish between friend and foe in relieving or reducing pain.”

“In the present case, the second disciple should have combined both the teachings of aloofness and service. It was his duty to save a struggling creature, but he could have used a stick to lift the scorpion and not his bare hands. By such action, he would have saved the poisonous creature’s life, and also saved himself from its sting.”

“But what to do if the bad thing is big and strong?” asked another disciple. “Then,” said the Master, “your first duty is self-preservation, as the instinct of survival is a basic fact of Life. Once safe, you can try to immobilize it, using the powers at your disposal,”

This interesting tale reveals how we could help others, without hurting ourself, using some guidelines for service as enumerated by our ancient Masters. This story was adapted from Tales for the Young and Old, by Acharya Ratnananda.

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