The myth of social service || Acharya Prashant (2015)

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Question: Ramana Maharshi has said that “Till you reach the stage of gyaan (self-knowledge) and thus wake out of Maya (ignorance), you must do social service by alleviating suffering, wherever you see it. But you must do it without the feeling that ‘I am the doer’. You must help the other man as a means of worshipping God in that man.”

What is this social service that Ramana Maharshi is referring to? One who himself is suffering, can he bring relief from suffering to others?

AP: What is the cause of one’s suffering? That one cannot look within; one cannot look at himself. If you ask Ramana Maharshi, he will say – “Lack of self-enquiry is the only cause of suffering”.

When you enquire into your suffering then you see that the sufferer is just a joke.

The words of a Saint have to be understood in great Silence, with great care and respect. Otherwise, there is a danger of bringing in some perspective from here and there. So, here is Ramana Maharshi talking to somebody and the somebody is saying, “I am suffering”. The moment he says that ‘I am suffering’, Maharshi knows that this fellow is suffering because of lack of self-enquiry. He is suffering because he is continuously looking outwards and not within. Otherwise, he couldn’t have suffered.

The one who is looking outwards can look only outwards; at least for the while, at least as Maharshi says, “Till you reach the stage of gyaan and thus wake out of this Maya.” He is admitting that it will take you time. Mark his words – “Till you reach the stage of gyaan and thus wake out of this Maya, you must do social service.” So, Maharshi is telling him, “You will take time”. And til the time gyaan arises in you, you will continue to look outwards. You cannot look within. So, when you cannot look within, then obviously you cannot look at your own suffering. You cannot really observe what is happening within. You are looking outwards and you will continue to look outwards.

So, all right, you cannot look at your own suffering, then at least look at the sufferings of others. The best would have been to look at your own suffering. Go into your own mind. But you are incapable of it. You will take time to come to that point. Till you come to that point, you have no option, but to continue looking in the direction that you are currently looking in. And what is that direction? Outside. So, all right, look at others then. Looking at yourself requires a lot of detachment. You are looking outside, continue looking outside. Look at others. Look at their suffering; look how they are suffering.

Now, we very well know of a couple of things. One, the mind is one. The suffering of mankind is one. If you can really know why your neighbour is suffering, you will know why you are suffering – because you do not suffer for multiple reasons. We really suffer for one reason only. You have proven yourself incapable of looking at yourself. So, all right. Look outside and try to see why anybody suffers. In trying to see why anybody suffers, you will come to the root of your own suffering also.

But at the same time, just as you cannot really, honestly look at yourself, using your own eyes, you will also not be able to look honestly at others. You will try to look at them, you will proceed to an extent and then you will fail. And then you will realise the need to have clean eyes. Whose clean eyes? Your own. You will have to turn within, to clean your eyes.

Maharshi’s words are like a very well-structured technique, a technique that does not arise from planning or thought, but from his meditative understanding. Are you getting it?

You remember that woman who came to the Buddha – “My son has died and I hear that you are a holy man. You will have to bring him alive again.” Now the Buddha could have talked to her about Anicca, Anatma, about the temporal nature of beings, right? He could have dealt with her in principles, in theories and words. He could have told her, “Can you look within and identify who really is suffering and mourning the loss of the child?” But the Buddha did not do any of this. He said “All right. You go to the village.” because you are capable only of looking outside. Where does the son exist? Outside. Where has the son died? Outside. So, you are looking only…? Outside. “All right, outside there exists a village also. Go back to your village and bring me a few grains from a household that has seen no death”. He did not tell her to enquire within her own mind. Why? Because she was incapable of enquiring. Had she been capable, would she have come to the Buddha with this kind of a request – “Bring my son to life again”?

So, to this woman, it is important that treatment is given considering the real state of the patient. So, she is sent to the village and she is going from door to door, enquiring whether there is any house that has seen no death. And she doesn’t find any. And by evening she returns to Buddha, falls at his feet, and says, “I have understood”. The Buddha could have preached her for months and she won’t have understood.

Maharshi is doing the same thing. He is saying, “All right, you are suffering. Now go out and try to relieve other’s suffering.” You will fail. You will find that you cannot relieve their suffering, just as the woman failed to find any house that had seen no death. Similarly, this man who has been advised by Maharshi will go out, try to relieve others of their suffering, and will fail. In this failing, he will discover the root of suffering. In looking outwards, he will come back within.

So, do not think that social service is possible to be done by this man. That is your question. You have queried rightly. You have asked, “Can a suffering mind really be of help to others?” Yes, your doubt is well-placed. This man really will not be able to relieve anybody’s suffering. But in trying to do that, he will come upon the Truth, like that woman.


~ Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session: Acharya Prashant: The myth of social service

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5 comments

  1. The thought to alleviate the sufferings of others will caress a being only when he has unraveled the genesis of his own suffering, and how organically it is different from the genesis of other sufferings. It will caress a being only when he has become sensitised towards the prevailing diversity in the nature of sufferings, and that each of them has their own isolated genesis. Similarities in the nature of sufferings can only invoke sympathy, and it is their dissimilarities which profusely instil a will in a being to distil the miseries of his fellow being.
    Suffering doesn’t have a centre of core that needs to be discovered, but there are millions of distinctive fragments which millions of hearts behold. But life and humanity do have a core which needs to be and can be gathered comprehensively by not excessively indulging in our own sufferings but by immersing ourselves in the adversities of people and helping them reach their own human inside.

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  2. The thought to alleviate the sufferings of people will caress a being only when he has unraveled the genesis of his own suffering, and how organically it is different from the genesis of other person’s sufferings. It will caress a being only when he has become sensitised towards the prevailing diversity in the nature of sufferings, and that each has their own isolated genesis. Similarities in the nature of sufferings can only invoke sympathy, and it is their dissimilarities which profusely instil a will in a being to distil the miseries of his fellow being.
    Suffering doesn’t have a centre of core that needs to be discovered, but there are millions of distinctive fragments which millions of hearts behold. But life and humanity do have a core which needs to be and can be gathered comprehensively by not excessively indulging in our own sufferings but by immersing ourselves in the adversities of people and helping them reach their own human inside.

    Like

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