Actions can be broadly classified into three types: unproductive, productive and inspired. In reality there is no action that does not produce some result. However, most of our actions in our day-to-day life do not produce any positive, substantial or long-term results, nor do they give us a sense of achievement like, for example, watching television, going to parties, visiting bars, chatting over the phone or engaging in mundane conversations. Certainly there may be an initial sense of thrill or excitement in them, but their effects are certainly not long-lasting, and we must admit that we indulge in most of these activities without any specific purpose or goal.
Indeed, very often it is simply to get away from the boredom we experience in life. All actions done with a specific purpose or goal in mind, planned out and executed intelligently to bring about a desired result, is called `work’. Our day-to-day duties at home, in the office or in society constitute work. Work produces results, which can be used to build our lives.
There is a sense of achievement and by this we can fulfil many of our desires. But when work becomes routine, it becomes monotonous; one tends to then seek change and end up indulging in unproductive activity to escape from boredom.
Work without inspiration becomes `labour’. Labour is tiring and painful. The result of labour is never fulfilling. A labourer always complains that he has not got his just result. All selfish work eventually becomes labour where `more pay and less work’ becomes the policy. Most of our work these days has become mere labour: children labour through school; mothers find work at home tedious; fathers find their field of work unsatisfying and often jump into the rat race, all of which breeds countless worries and numerous tensions.
Love transforms work into `inspiration’, with efficiency as its result. And efficiency in work naturally brings about success, no matter what one’s field of pursuit. Not only is there a sense of achievement and satisfaction, but also an extreme sense of joy. Unlike all other forms of action which are fulfilled only in their results, inspired activity is a fulfilment in itself. In other words, the desired joy is gained not upon completion of the action, not afterwards, not in the distant future, but in the very action itself, as one works, there and then.
Selfishness downgrades work, making it sheer labour. On the other hand, selflessness uplifts and transforms work into inspiration. Selfishness can end only with love. Only when there is love in the heart can we be ready to give up our own selfish wants and desires in order to bring joy and happiness to others.
When actions are dedicated with love to a higher altar or goal, the ego with all its selfishness dissolves. The higher and nobler the altar of our love, the greater the dedication and surrender, and the greater the inspiration and joy. Thus, inspired work done with dedication is an expression of love.
Such `love in action’ alone is called seva or service.
The great master, Swami Chinmayananda, said it beautifully: “Everyone with knowledge exerts, sweats and toils… But only a few succeed in life. They generally forget that the mind is the ‘doer’ in us, and the body is but our tool. Learn to bring your mind to where your hands are working, then see the results. Actions become excellent, and success is the tribute life pays to excellence”.
Such seva not only enriches the performer materially and spiritually, it also benefits many around. The wise have said: “That alone is living by which many others live”. This is called the yagna spirit in the Bhagavad Gita — the spirit of sharing.
The whole universe is the expression of this giving. The sun gloriously burns to give warmth and light, the ocean sacrifices itself to become vapour, the clouds condense into rain and gushes into streams to quench the parched earth and the earth in joy tears open its breast to nourish the world with abundance… Thus the universe resolves as adoration to the universal spirit and every action becomes worship.