The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I slept and dreamt that life was a joy.  I awoke and saw that life was service.  I acted and behold, service was joy.

--Rabinranath Tagore

When I got up this morning, I read Tagore's wonderful quote--since then, it's been going through my thoughts.  
Service, with a capitol S, is such a huge concept.  In all the world's major religions and spiritual paths, Service is a significant component. But sometimes I think we separate our actions of Service from our daily practice, from our Day.   
Why do we create a duality? 
Somehow, Service gets qualified as an activity performed on certain days, between particular hours, in a prescribed environment.  For example, we might volunteer at the local food bank:  we sign up to distribute food, put in a few hours at the pantry, then leave, going on to other activities and obligations.  We go on with the rest of our Day, perhaps without much thought for what we've just done.  And we know we will return a week later, because it's already scheduled on the the calendar.
Of course, it's a great and worthwhile thing to do, any volunteer work is, but today I've been considering how Service can go far beyond what the day planner prescribes.  Service can be Life.
Indeed, some of us devote an extraordinary  lifetime to serving others.  But I don't want to beat myself up because I haven't sold my possessions and said goodbye to family and friends to work with orphans  in Dafur.  Of course there have been plenty of times when I've thought, "With all the world's pain and suffering, what am I doing to help?!?"    
Today, I'm thinking more in terms of following a daily intention to hold all sentient beings in gentleness, with the concept of Ahimsa, non harming.  And I begin by treating myself with gentleness.  If I don't begin with myself, then I have nothing to give.  This is surely service, because it creates gentle connection, and those connections influence others.  This is where joy can be found.
Service can be as simple as asking your next door neighbor's child if she would like to hunt in the garden for insects, or calling a friend just to tell him he was on your mind, or ironing your husband's favorite shirt, the one that NEVER gets ironed, but that looks spiffy when it's done.  
Today, this is what I'm considering as "service":  brushing the dog (and leaving the undercoat out for the birds to use for nests), using my own shopping bags at the market, walking to work (without my iPhone/iPod/iWhatever glued to my ear), finding someone who might like the old camping gear in the garage, using the public library instead of buying another book from Amazon, donating an old cell phone to the Women's Shelter, taking a deep breath after being cut off at the drive-thru, smiling at the young mom whose child is having a very public melt down, eating the first meal of the day mindfully, so that later I can reflect this calm to others...the list really does go on and on, and often these are actions we take without thinking.  But it is service.  It creates connection.
Once we consider service from a more encompassing  perspective, all of living comes under its' umbrella.  If we understand Tagore's quote, we understand what he means by "joy"! 
No separation between our breathing and our serving.  No separation between our intention and our action.   
As humans, we always hope, after all our intentions and actions, that everything will go as we wish.  But that's not how it works.  Once an action leaves our physical sphere, we have released it into a world where it will bounce like a marble in a pinball game.  How the world responds is beyond our control, but certainly what comes from the heart is always true, and creates a further groove for truth.   When we understand this, service becomes practice, becomes our deep living path, and then perhaps, we can release all expectation.
This is where joy can be found.

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