The issue of helping humanity can be seen at various levels. In a certain sense we all help each other, knowingly or unknowingly, we take care of those close to us physically or emotionally, help those in distress, express our gratitude towards some others through some means of help we may render. Thus seen, the urge to help is one of the impulses that characterise the nobler side of our humanity. It is also a first corrective to our grosser forms of egoism and reminds us that we are neither isolated nor alone. It is the very basis of any society, including a spiritual commune. The mistake that we however make is to believe that this kind of help is akin to leading a spiritual life. Helping humanity is directed towards human beings whereas true spiritual life is directed towards the Divine. This is the first point of divergence. Of course the former can be a preparation for the latter An altruist sacrificing his life at the altar of humanity or an ideal is getting ready, in this life or another, to sacrifice his ego-self at the altar of divinity. Yet the two are not the same nor always simply one step away. People who help others may be quite satisfied with this activity and may not feel the urge to go deeper within themselves to at least see the motive-forces behind their urge to help. They may even feel puffed up by their ‘helpfulness’ especially when there ego-self is fed with praise from others for their helpful nature. Others may be doing it for cruder motives such as securing a seat in some higher world through altruism, or to be remembered by others for their philanthropy. It is then simply a kind of ambition for name and fame which is obviously a big stumbling block towards true spiritual life.
Does it mean that a spiritual man should not be helpful or that he must remain absorbed in his narrow spiritual goal which may be just another kind of selfishness? Then what about the Gita’s famous dictum that a spiritual man is engaged ever in the good of all creatures, sarvabhutahiteratah? Well it all depends upon the motive that drives one towards spirituality? There is no doubt a spirituality often tainted by the selfish urge to have experiences, or being regarded as some kind of a yogi or siddha or at best to merge into nirvana and be freed from the chaos and confusions of worldly life. But there is another kind of spiritual life epitomised in the life and teachings of Sri Krishna and Sri Aurobindo. According to this line of spiritual self-evolution we must first and foremost concentrate on one’s own spiritual progress which runs for a while parallel with all our human activities but the central motive must change. Thus, even while we may be seemingly engaged in helping others it should not be a service of human beings, Nara-Sewa, but a service of the Divine through this, Narayana-Sewa. Though seemingly a small inner change it makes a vast difference for the growing spiritual life within us. In the latter we remain inwardly detached to our action and slowly the sense of doership and ownership which are the natural offshoots of rajasic egoism pass away from us. Then our -helping others’ no more binds us. Nor are we moved to help merely by pity or with the sense of moral superiority or sense of righteousness but simply as a natural expression of the Divine impulsion within us. In fact, when we are in that state then the valuation of things changes and we may well recognise that distributing blankets to the poor may be simply encouraging tamas whereas fighting a battle as Arjuna did may be a great help to propel humanity forward. In fact even the same activity such a feeding the poor may stem from either a very human motive or else by a deep spiritual angst and compassion towards suffering humanity. Much depends upon the inner motive that drives us to action. That is the second important thing in yoga. From the spiritual point of view it is not the action but the force that drives us to act, the motive and the state of consciousness behind it that gives determines whether it is spiritual or not.
Finally, what is the highest help that we can render to humanity? Isn’t it the gift of Light and Hope and Peace, to bring them into contact with the spiritual forces that would pull one out of Ignorance? Distributing blankets or feeding the poor may help the body in a certain limited way but awakening someone to the need of a spiritual change is a help that endures the rub and change of time and extends beyond a single lifetime of this body. But how are we going to do it if we ourselves have not directed our energies sufficiently to gather these spiritual forces or surrendered enough to be Her luminous channel freed from the ego-sense of ‘me and my-ness’.