DEC 2010 »Articles Index

Love and Service: Twin Stars of Brotherhood


A talk delivered at the Tenth World Congress of the Theosophical Society held in Rome from   10-15 July 2010. Mr Sundaram is the General Secretary of the Indian Section of the Theosophical Society, based in Varanasi, India.

Note: The author uses the term ‘man’ to refer to humankind, both male and female.


It is a common observation that society in general is passing through a crisis resulting in confusion and disorder on several fronts. The individual is lost in the crowd, deprived of his sense of belongingness, with the result he feels no moral responsibility towards his fellow beings. As stated by a social philosopher, ‘people in the present day world take interest in nature and man only if they provide some personal benefit to them’. Communities and society in general appear to be ‘mere sums of separate individuals’ and not ‘the totality of living relationships’. The members of the Theosophical Society, intellectuals and concerned people have a tremendous and trying task before them.

Ethical values in the modern world are given less importance as compared to materialistic values. People are so involved in a struggle for survival that they pay little attention to the concept of development. Development in the real sense means a sequence of continuous change for the better in the system existing over a considerable time. It should bring about change in inter-human relationships and standards of conduct. It should elevate not only people’s intellectual level but should also help in inculcating ethical and moral values. However, we find that people in general have taken the easy path to success. Individual interests, primarily economic as well as parochial, are putting people apart day by day. Whether one likes to hear it.or not, this is the picture of the modern age, the grim situation of the present day world. What is required is to create a positive frame of mind: one that is free from fetters and inhibitions and is not bound by the narrow consideration of interests.

Discontent, disharmony, mistrust, conflict and violence prevailing in society are facts of life. But in order to deal with such a situation we will have to seriously think and ponder over the positive factors and forces which can help and guide us to frame, formulate and systematically work out and plan our ‘law of life’.

The word ‘brotherhood’ has been used in different senses by different people, the most important and easily understood of these being ‘harmonious relations’. But it is much more. It also refers to the values of cooperation, common good, sharing and functioning as a responsible member of society. In order to reach this ideal of ‘brotherhood’ we must concentrate on the supreme values with which we agree and not on the matters which create tension and bring about disharmony. While the causes of disorder, disharmony, tension, conflicts and so forth have to be studied and understood in order to remove them, our effort has to focus on spreading the ideas which can positively strengthen the bonds of brotherhood, which can help in bringing people closer for the betterment and upliftment of society. Such an outlook and approach will not only deepen the intensity of our involvement in constructive activities but will also help in enhancing our level of performance in the responsibilities which we take up.

The relationship of man with man is what we are basically concerned with. It is a nearness of hearts that is needed and not just physical proximity, not merely living side-by-side but living together. So could there be a conscientious effort and thoughtful approach towards preserving and fostering the dimensions of fundamental human values? Could there be a process of inner change along with the worldly changes which will develop in people a sense of belonging to one another? We need to remember that what people in general call ‘progress’ is nothing if it leads to no corresponding inner change. There has to be a proper and harmonious blend of ‘hand, head and heart’ or soul-force for the making of a complete human being.

A realization of the unity of life and an understanding of the interdependency of all that lives are essential. Many of us go through life without forming a single meaningful relationship with those who belong to different socio-economic strata. The pioneers, leaders and scholars of Theosophy and the Theosophical Mission said in clear terms that in thought, speech, attitude and action one must rise above the considerations of caste, religion, sex, race, class and colour. They tried to draw people’s attention towards it and asked them to understand and live the real essence of religion. So, realisation of the oneness and unity of life has to be implemented and practiced in inter-human relationships. As mentioned by Dada Dharmadhikari, an eminent Gandhian thinker:

“To live is to relate and the purification of this relationship among human beings is what we call revolution and this revolution is the man’s vision of progress towards truth. The nearness of heart is the sign of progress and when people come close to each other then their relationship is pure and holy. And, thus whatever efforts will be made in accordance with Truth i.e. to promote inter-human relationship, unity and harmony among fellow beings will support and help in people’s progress and upliftment. It will develop in people a sense of belonging to one another. [1]

There have been some outstanding personalities in human history who stood by what they considered to be true and just. These great seers and teachers of humanity drew men’s attention to the path of moral and spiritual upliftment and laid great stress on the supreme value of moral regeneration over and above material advancement. They have been outstanding Guides showing Light to the entire world. [2]

Now the question arises as to why they were so keen in working for the welfare of all mankind. To me, there seems to be one motivating factor. A well known Urdu poet has said, of course in a different context, the word ‘Love’ in its compressed and restricted form resides in the heart of the lover; but when expanded pervades the entirety of mankind. In the case of Dr. Annie Besant we find that her love as well as concern for all mankind made her think and work with great zeal and enthusiasm. Her limitless love, which transformed into tremendous energy, courage and concern, resulted in her untiring efforts and actions towards the welfare of mankind. [3]

One might ask, what do we mean by Love? Several saints, poets and thinkers have explained it in different ways. Kabir, Tagore, J.Krishnamurti- they all have explained Love beautifully. M.K.Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave have talked about ‘Love Force’. But I would rather not go into those details. Here I would like to mention just three names in this context. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has defined Love as ‘compassion in action’ and ‘to care with concern’. ‘Love is a sense of caring with respect and responsibility’. Dr. Annie Besant has given a very broad and comprehensive concept of Love. She says: “Love is that Immortal Flame in whose Light one can perceive Truth. In the warmth of this Immortal Flame all the defects and vices flower into Shivam and Sundaram i.e. Welfare and Beauty.” And we all have read and heard that Dr. Besant herself was Love and Dignity personified. [4]

As stated by Dada Dharmadhikari,  “Only love can be the material of which a bridge of cordial social relationship could be constructed; because love is the best solvent of all isolationist tendencies, of all egoistic identities which we call ‘personality’. I am using the word ‘personality’ in a different sense, which is perhaps nearer to its original meaning. I am told that the original Latin word ‘persona’ means ‘mask’. It is not a reality. So when a man seeks to preserve his personality, which is not the reality, he seeks to protect himself from his fellowmen and adopts a defensive attitude. An attitude of defence isolates; whereas love is the best solvent of all ‘egomania’.” [5]

Now the root of man’s happiness lies in the warmth of human relationship – relationship between person and person. And people’s coming closer to each other in a positive way is a sign of progress. Such people do not live in a closed house. They, with a broad outlook, try to reduce the distance between themselves and their fellowmen.

Whatever man did to beautify his inner self is considered as development in the field of culture which is projected in the form of art, music, literature and so forth while civilization is considered as a process of material development. Culture in the Sanskrit language is called sanskriti.  “Sanskiriti can mean saha-kriti, meaning collective action or it can mean samyak kriti meaning proper action. I would prefer to emphasise a Sanskiriti which means ‘a proper action performed collectively’ by the concerned people for the betterment of society: an action which can bring respect and honour to the people. Such action, in the course of time, might become a part of our culture as well. Only an action which can bring respect, honour and integrity in a genuine sense of the term can provide us with a moral code. And, in this regard every value, norm, conduct and responsibility which we require for our healthy, harmonious and peaceful co-existence should be sought, located and learnt. If we want to regenerate our cultural, moral and spiritual values we should first analyse and try to understand our own thoughts and actions. [6]

What unites our fellow beings is as important as what makes a nation. The people of India, and people in other parts of the world as well, did unite on several occasions in the past. This shows that the tendency to help and the feelings of compassion and cooperation are inherent in mankind and they arise during a crises such as earthquake, flood, famine, communal tension, war and so forth. On such occasions people forget their petty differences and join together to cope with the situation.

Now the question is: why do we have to wait for some untoward happenings in order to get united? Why do we wait for such critical situations to help those in misery? Why does the sense of commitment which awakens during the hour of crises remain dormant during normal days? What prevents this spirit of collective consciousness to function and operate during normal days? After all, the maintenance of the collective consciousness is a very significant function of development and transformation. By proceeding in that direction we might be able to see and realise the beauty of performing proper collective action. Working together, thinking together silently, develops the feeling of togetherness and the perpetuation of this togetherness leads to a state of emotional integration.

Service is not mere action. It is not merely a relief work. It is not an ameliorative programme or a routine work. It is not even an act of charity. One does service because it is his spontaneous expression of love, care and concern. People with such a state of mind alone are able to see things as they are and as they can be. Service includes goodwill and a great sense of responsibility. The significant aspect of service is that it demands complete identification with the sufferer(s). The feeling of duality has no scope or place in it. Only then can one have compassion – which will prompt him ‘to feel for others’ and do something to relieve them from their misery. The civic, moral and spiritual character of society can be strengthened through service, cooperation and love only.

As observed by Professor B.Sanjeeva Rao, a close associate of Dr. Besant and Krishnaji :

Service without the background of selflessness is sterile, uncreative- work which we love to do and not under the compulsion of any motive. It is the right service and is its own reward. [7]

Then Prof. Sajeeva Rao says :

Sorrow when you do not try to run away from it, contains a healing power that transforms it into wisdom. We do not seem to understand this secret liberating power implicit in human suffering and we are perpetually trying to evade, escape from our troubles instead of trying to understand the meaning of suffering. [8]

Pain and suffering are the means of our awakening. [9]

In Dr. Annie Besant’s case we find that the personal suffering at the crucial stages of her life made her understand human suffering at large. The suffering of her child, her suffering for the child, transformed into compassion for humanity.

In this connection I would like to refer to a Bhajan- a devotional song composed by Saint Narasimha Mehata -  Vaishnava Jana.   Wherever and whenever this devotional song is rendered, people immediately associate it with Mr. M.K. Gandhi. Why? Because, Gandhi tried his best to live all those moral and spiritual values mentioned in the song. Narasimha Mehta speaks of the characteristics of a truly spiritual man whom he calls Vaishnava Jana. The first characteristic of such a person, according to the Saint Poet, is a sensitivity of consciousness so that he feels intensely the pain of the other person.

The Vaishnava Jana- the Spiritual man is he who feels the pain of another,
And even when he relieves the suffering of the other.
Does not feel even for a moment a sense of egoism.”

Gandhi was highly influenced by this devotional song. He was, in fact following the footsteps of Lord Buddha in showing the strong connection between the service of suffering humanity and the process of self-purification – interpreting spiritual life to be a life of service. [10]

I  would like to mention an incident narrated by a lady who lost her husband and two sons within a month. This happened in 1931. One day she went to meet Mr. M.K.Gandhi and the latter gave a patient and sympathetic hearing to her. He said, “ It is not so easy to overcome the blow which you have suffered. But I would suggest you – if you can do that – go and meet people whom you know – listen to their problems and sufferings – persuade them to come out with their problems and causes of their pain and sorrow and then try to work out solutions as to what best you can do to reduce their sufferings.” The lady concluded by saying that this suggestion from Gandhi provided a positive direction and constructive step to her – to forget her own sorrow and to help others to reduce their suffering.

“I will not do any harm to anyone”, is a very good idea. But a more positive step would be to ask “In what manner can I do good to others?” In other words, the perspective, the spirit and the attitude with which a work or a mission is carried out is very significant. During 1971, when a large number of refugees came to India from Bangla Desh, a renowned artist of Kolkata, helped some of them by giving money in order to buy sewing machines and other such equipments with which they may be able to earn and eke out their livelihood. But he asked them to repay the money given to them, in instalments. As it generally happens, the person who gives develops a sense of ego and the recipients suffer from an inferiority complex. In the aforesaid case, the artist was not interested in getting back his money. What he aimed at was that the refugees should become completely self-dependent and lead a life with dignity.

We have to ask ourselves – how can we generate, promote and strengthen the spirit of selfless service? How can one rise above narrow considerations and live a dedicated and unselfish life? How can the bonds of brotherhood be strengthened? How can we live in harmony with a sense of oneness with all beings?  Because as long as the feeling of duality is there, as long as the mentality to take up responsibility voluntarily is not there – the sense of involvement in any work cannot be there.

This brief talk may not be able to identify a remedy for the situation which we are facing. Neither is it possible to do so in the course of a single analysis. What seems important is to realise that the factors which count for brotherhood are possible to locate. So let us keep pondering over the issue and continue the dialogue in our Theosophical Lodges. It will help us in finding out ways to awaken sensitivity, a sense of awareness and the sense of urgency for a cause. It may help us to gather strength and courage to show our disagreement with thoughts and actions which cause social, moral and spiritual harm to the individual, group or society and at the same time guide us to earnestly put our efforts to working out and presenting an effective alternative based on love, concern, compassion and cooperation.

Behind the present crisis lies the crises in moral and spiritual values and it is only through an affirmation of what is just and right that we can give meaning to our lives. Unless the human mind perceives the moral and spiritual dimensions of living, disharmony, conflicts and misery will not abate.

I would like to conclude with Dr. Annie Besant’s words:

As service becomes our habitual attitude to everyone whom we meet we shall gradually find that everyone is profoundly interesting and that the giving of service is the greatest joy in life.


References :

  1. From the talk delivered by Dada Dharmadhikari at the Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi, on 7 October 1969.
  2. S.Sundaram, “Annie Besant – A Phenomenon”, The Indian Theosophist, Sept.-Oct.1997, Vol.96, Nos. 9 &10, The Indian Section, The Theosophical Society, Varanasi, p.277
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid, pp. 277-278
  5. Dada Dharmadhikari, Tasks of Social Research, Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi, 1965, p.34
  6. Veena Alase, “Ethinic Identity and National Integration – The Role of Culture and Education”, Gandhian Perspectives, Vol. IV, No.1, 1991, Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi, P.76.
  7. B.Sanjeeva Rao, Letters of Wisdom, Dipti Publications, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, 1989, pp.71-72
  8. Ibid, p.7
  9. Ibid. P.73
  10. Raghavan N.Iyer, Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi, New York, Oxford University Press, 1973, p.49


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