A Lasting Effect
At our Satsang Centre there is an area of hardened ground that was laid down some years ago. It’s where sevadars and sangat collect. Here and there on this large expanse of concrete, if you look hard you can find a few small, delicate leaf prints. Whilst the concrete was still setting, some of the leaves must have drifted down from the trees above. So, while the leaves themselves disappeared long ago, their imprint has remained, a record of fragile beauty, of a moment in time. They make me smile.
Our actions in life, so quickly over and gone, leave a print just like the oak leaves, though less visible. We may think of this in a fearful way – our “karmic record”, all those mistakes we won’t be able to hide from on the day of judgement. But equally, isn’t it a happy thought that what we do matters? That the moment passes away but that what we do in it will remain, just as surely as the pattern in the concrete?
If we do things that are right and good, with an honest heart – kind words, a smile, looking out for someone in need – the benefit to others remains and becomes part of a general good that lives on long after us. Of course, the important thing, from our point of view, is to do this without expectation of reward; to love for love’s sake, for no other reason than that. In the gospel of Saint Matthew in the Bible, we read that Jesus advised:
When thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men.… But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.
If the one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, it means that we are not conscious of doing anything praiseworthy, let alone letting others know. We have to set our compass towards the positive and then just go for it. To avoid falling into the traps of egotism, once we know where we’re heading (towards our Master), a lack of self-awareness is the best protection. Where there was once self-interest, there can be concern for others.
There is a story of a child on a beach: he found thousands upon thousands of tiny sea creatures washed up on the tide line after a storm. He began to scoop up the dying creatures and hurl them back into the retreating sea. After he had been doing this for some time, making seemingly no impact at all, an adult came up and said, “You’re wasting your time. It’s not making any difference.” The boy just gave a look and picked up and threw another handful far out to sea. “It makes a difference to them,” he replied.
We should learn from the child and never be disheartened by the thought that we’re contributing so little. This is a mistake that we sometimes make in seva. We look for a ‘product’ at the end, something tangible to point at and say “I did it!” But that defeats the purpose of seva, which was never about ‘products’ or ‘us’ in the first place. In seva it’s more about just putting your hand up (metaphorically speaking) to say “Count me in!” It’s about giving our support, in any way we can, to something special and meaningful. Just as the child latched on in an unspoken way to the needs of the tiny creatures, so we latch on to the need for spiritual values to enhance all we do on the human plane. We may only carry a teaspoonful of earth to build the castle but it’s the fact that we do it at all that’s important.
One of the central characters in a nineteenth century English novel, Middlemarch,is a young woman who longs to do something great and meaningful. After she becomes resigned to a more ordinary and unremarkable life, the novelist concludes that although this was less than she had intended, her good and loving acts could be seen as “diffusive” – they made everything that little bit better. She writes, “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the [people] who lived faithfully a hidden life.” Maharaj Charan Singh says in Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. III:
We have a wrong concept if we think that our heart should not be soft. It should be very, very soft.… We should have a kind and loving nature and try to be helpful to others, good and kind, loving to everybody. Actually, when you love everybody, you don’t love the individuals, you love the Lord who is in everybody. When you are filled with love and devotion for the Father, you also develop a loving attitude towards his creation, even birds and animals.
Our lifetime is invaluable. We must always be careful to use it in the best direction. Any part of our time not used in spiritual practice is lost. Therefore you should always try to save your time for meditation, because to incline our mind and spirit towards the things other than the Holy Sound is to lose our fortune.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Dawn of Light