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What’s the ugly truth about human beings?

We are selfish.

It’s as American psychologist David Seabury once said, “No man will work for your interests unless they are his.”

Now, stop to think about this.

Think about the last time that you helped out your family or a friend. Why did you do it?

For most of us, the answer is simple: we help others because we expect something in return. For example, we may lend a friend some money with the expectation that they too will return the favor when we need it. We reach out to our friends and listen, knowing that when time comes, we will need a sympathetic ear.

Essentially, selfishness is embedded in human nature. However, as American President John F. Kennedy stated in one of his most powerful speeches, “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.” Our mortality simply does not allow us to become individual islands. We are all interconnected, and each one of us must do our part to further the progress of society through service.

A woman named Jane Addams recognized the importance of service almost 120 years ago. Moved by the poverty she saw in the world, Addams began a settlement home called Hull House in Chicago, where she provided food, shelter and education facilities for people in need. Addams not only created Hull House as a place of safety and comfort for those people living on the streets, she also used it as a spring board to advocate and train other women to speak up for issues like child labor, women’s suffrage, and social welfare. For her brave efforts, Jane Addams became the first woman ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Like Addams, we are all able to contribute to the development of society in a powerful and meaningful way. Performing social service grants us the ability to do things without expecting anything in return. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Consciously or unconsciously, every one of us does render some service or another. If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger, and it will make not only for our own happiness, but that of the world at large.”

Consider the story of a young attorney named Marian Wright Edelman. In 1973, Ms. Edelman entered the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol to discuss and educate members of Congress about issues that affect children across the country.  She fought to attain care for homeless, handicapped and abused children. She strived to improve policies related to foster care and adoption. That year, Ms. Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund and truly carried out the motto of this noble foundation: To leave no child behind.

She once said that, “If you don’t like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time.” She is one of many leaders throughout history who have worked for the well-being of society as a whole. Our world is always in need of selfless people like Ms. Edelman. So, why can’t we be one of them?

We have the power to change the world.

We have the ability to shape society, cultivate a healthy world for our children, and change the course of history. And we simply have to look to our beloved guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, for inspiration. Swamishri is the ideal of compassion and forgiveness; he is truly a symbol of selfless service to society. He lives by his motto, “In the joy of others lies our own.”

Once in 1971, there was a procession organized on the streets of Nadiad. Swamishri was seated on a decorated chariot. The streets were baking under the sun. Narayanprasad Swami did not have his sandals. Swamishri noticed that and then called him closer. Swamishri  said, “Here, take these sandals and wear them. It is not good to walk bare footed under this scorching sun. The sizzling pavement may damage your health.” Narayanprasad Swami accepted these sandals as a blessing and put them on. After a few moments, he realized that these were Swamishri’s sandals. So he instantly removed them.  Swamishri noticed and said, “I didn’t give you the sandals to hold in your hand. Wear them.” Swamishri’s simplicity and sheer concern for others radiates through small examples such as this.

Swamishri often tells us that when we perform seva, we should do it with the knowledge of the glory of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. Only then will we understand the greatness of all people that come into the company of God and his Ekantik Sant. Once the greatness of these devotees is understood, then it becomes easier for us to learn from their humility and to do their seva. As Yogiji Maharaj states in the Yogi Gita, "One should do seva as a servant of servants." That way, when you do seva, the selfish aspect dissolves as you are doing that seva with the understanding of that person’s greatness.

Late on a cold winter night in 1977, Swamishri arrived in Ahmedabad with a few sadhus and youths. As everyone was getting ready to sleep, Narendraprasad Swami was looking for a blanket for a sick yuvak who had a fever and couldn’t tolerate the bitter chill. After much searching, Narendraprasad Swami gave up. Later, Swamishri went into the youth’s room and gave him a blanket. It wasn’t until morning that everyone realized Swamishri had given the youth his own blanket while using only his thin upper garment for himself.

This is Swamishri, and this is one of numerous examples of his selflessness. Under Swamishri’s guidance, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha and its allied trusts have taken on initiatives designed to help those in need during times of natural disaster and calamity. Swamishri himself makes sure that the victims are taken care of and that their needs are met. When he hears about the disaster and suffering of the people, Swamishri also feels their pain. 

In the early hours of January 26, 2001, a tragic earthquake hit Gujarat, rattling the state to its core. Thousands of people were dead, numerous homes were destroyed, and lives were altered forever. The earthquake, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, had an unprecedented impact on Gujarat. Within hours, Swamishri had arranged warm meals for survivors. He mobilized the Sanstha’s sadhus and volunteers to begin emergency relief work. At the BAPS relief camps in and around Bhuj, more than 40,000 people were fed warm meals on a daily basis. In an unmatched show of attention to detail, Swamishri called the main sadhu in Bochasan to ensure that the grains being used for these meals were of the highest quality. In Atladra, Swamishri instructed volunteers to put two green chilies in every food packet distributed to far-flung villages because the people of that region had a preference for spicy food. For an entire year, Swamishri coordinated long-term relief efforts to rebuild homes, villages and schools. Today, those villages are considered among the finest rebuilt settlements in Gujarat.

When politicians approached Swamishri to thank him for these outstanding new villages, Swamishri immediately said that it is all due to Maharaj and Swami. Never has Swamishri taken the credit for himself. He always says that whatever took place did so because of Maharaj and Swami's blessing and wishes. This is what sets Swamishri apart from the rest of us. While we are quick to pick up the compliments given to us, Swamishri is ready to pass them onto Maharaj and Swami remaining selfless in all actions.

Through Swamishri’s guidance, we have the foundation and the tools necessary to affect long-term change both outside and within Satsant. We simply have to get started. In the words of Marian Wright Edelmen, “We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.” 

We can make a difference. We simply have to get started.

Other Articles by Sonal Patel

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