In the first post of 2018, I had talked about the XYZ of spiritual actions. During the weekly Sunday conversation, the question asked by some of the community members was – “in some way, aren’t all actions spiritual in nature?”. Some posed the question a different way – “are there any actions that are not of a spiritual nature?”.
These beautiful questions led me to consider the ideas of service and duty, as related to our actions. I went back to re-read some portions of my dog-eared “Karma Yoga” book that contains several essays by Swami Vivekananda, describing “The Yoga of Action”. Some of the essays therein are titled “Each is great in his own place”, “The Secret of Work”, “What is Duty”, and more. You get the idea – it is my go-to companion when I have a question about “action” that needs some clarity.
The essay titled “what is duty” delves into how the definition of “duty” can vary, based upon our upbringing, the values we are imbued with, the role(s) that we may be playing in the society that we may currently live in, and so on. The nature of duty is that it is flexible, and that it varies in time and space, as we live our lives. Among all the varying hues of “what is our duty”, there seems to be universal agreement on one idea of duty:
“Do not injure any being – not injuring any being is virtue”. – Vivekananda
The notion of “duty” can also create internal friction. What is my duty as a brother? As a father? As a husband? As a son? As a volunteer? As a spiritual seeker? The answer that I give to each of these questions often determines the nature and the attitude with which I perform my daily actions. Some mornings, particularly when it is oh-so-cold outside, I would rather sleep in than face my duties of the day. So how do I overcome this internal friction? One answer is to remember the gift of pure love and joy for the work that a sense of duty has brought to me. When I learn to act with unselfishness, without motive, the coarse friction of duty can quickly dissolve into love – like the grains of brown sugar in a cup of warm tea…
Yet it is work done through the sense of duty that leads us to work without any idea of duty; when work will become worship – nay, something higher – then work will be done for its own sake” – Vivekananda
And so it is that a sense of duty can subtly transform into a sense of service. Heaviness (duty) transforms into lightness (service) when viewed through the lens of selflessness. A sense of service elevates us from a lower plane (of existence) to a higher plane, where the Self can shine through. How do we transform, rise? It is by doing the duty next to us, in whatever role that we find ourselves. We gain strength by doing so. And we go from strength to strength, to higher states, by doing our actions with as much love, joy and selflessness as we can imbue into them.
Our attitude of service (before self), even as we keep doing whatever happens to be our duty, can thus becomes the secret of work.
What are your thoughts on duty and service? What has been your experience with the two? Are they different or are they the same for you? When we develop an attitude of service (towards others), do we really help them or do we actually help our own selves?
P.S. We continue our ‘action-based’ theme for this New Year of 2018 with a conversation about ‘Duty and Service’ – Sunday, January 14th 2018 at 9amET/2pmUTC on twitter. Please join us! If you have ideas, questions or suggestions for the #SpiritChat community in 2018, please share in the comments. Namaste, and thank you! -Kumud.
In the middle of a heavy winter, a light spring broke through… as duty seemed to transform to service…