The four levels of service

Everyone serves; that’s the nature of the soul; to serve. If we don’t serve god and His dear children, the other living entities, we’d land up serving our own mind and senses. And the difference is former service would fill our lives with unending happiness whereas the latter would only aggravate our suffering in this material world.

Level 1- No service; only glory

Many in this world seek to cut corners; they would try to put as less work as possible but constantly seek to optimize their returns. It’s common to see both an employer and an employee compete and squeeze out as much as possible from the other.

Even while practicing spiritual life we may imagine that we’d advance despite a callous attitude in our practices. We may not serve others sincerely yet if we are appreciated for our services, we feel happy. We may even take credit for ourselves that is due to others

Level 2- Service and glory

Some live with integrity and hard work. They would put in sincere efforts and also expect a commensurate return in terms of appreciation or recognition for their services.

I knew a friend in our monastery who sincerely worked hard the whole day. However at times he would lose his temper and express his need for reciprocation from others. And when others did speak kind words, he’d feel solaced. He was dedicated to serve, yet wished others notice it.

Level 3- Only service, no glory

Our monastery had a shoe stand that would be crammed with lots of shoes and many pairs would even lie outside the rack, scattered and stinking. However every morning it would be spotlessly clean and in order. A leader of the ashram wondered who cleaned up the mess and when. He quietly spied and was amazed to discover that one unassuming monk would wake up each night around 2.00 am and clean up the shoe rack unknown to the whole world. This happened for weeks and this simple monk was happy that no one knew he had done it and yet they all benefitted from his service.

Some people are like that; the inner contentment they experience from service helps them transcend the petty need of being recognized for it.

Level 4- Only service and others’ glory

And yet there are a rare few who would put their heart and soul to serve and please others but make the other person feel he is the one who has done a favor on them. For example a cook may prepare a big feast for other devotees in the ashram but make them feel they are being kind to him by honoring the food. In other words, not only such a person serves selflessly, he also makes the person receiving his service as a special soul.

In the ‘Journey Home’ the author Radhanath Swami writes about his travels in India as a young seeker. While in Patna, young Richard was a guest at Rama Sevaka Swami’s ashram. One day a sadhu cooked kichadi for them but it was too hot and spicy. With each morsel that Richard put in his mouth, he felt a blazing fire and thought the agents of death were hovering above his head. Finally when he somehow managed to finish what was on his plate, the sadhu rushed to serve him seconds. Despite Richard’s feeble protests, the sadhu poured out another ladle of the food and Richard thought how simple and innocent this sadhu was that he wished to serve him. So just to please him, despite personally facing many inconveniences, Richard ate the kichadi and smiled at the sadhu in gratitude. He undertook pain to give pleasure to the other person who cooked the food. Although it was an austerity for Richard to eat that food, he let the sadhu feel special that his cooking was well appreciated and he had indeed done Richard a great favor.

This is a classic case of the fourth level of service where a person renders service yet makes the recipient of his service as his benefactor. That’s the culmination of an attitude of selfless service.

We may take a long time to reach this stage, yet we can surely aspire to at least attain the third stage where we serve without any motivation for personal honor or reward. Only then will our service be recognized by Krishna, God, as worthy of being rewarded with the gift of love for God.

Image Courtesy: Annamrita (Radhanath Swami earlier Richard serving Khichadi Prasadam to school childrens)

Comments (1)

  1. Anish says:

    Hare Krishna Pravuji,

    The article is very nice.

    Would you please mention some other example of level-4 service on the basis of other services in a temple.
    Thank you,

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