“By the spell of illusion one tries to be happy by serving his personal sense gratification in different forms which will never make him happy. Instead of satisfying his own personal material senses, he has to satisfy the senses of the Lord. That is the highest perfection of life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)
The soul is happiest when serving. This property is known as its dharma. The word “dharma” does not directly mean “to serve,” but when the true definition gets broken down as it relates to the individual, then there can be no other meaning. Dharma is the essential characteristic. Consider fire. How do you know that you’ve seen fire? How do you know that you are in its presence?
“The fire has heat and light. Fire burns. Only fire can behave like this. If I see heat, light and burning, then I know that fire is in front of me.”
If we take these features away, the fire ceases to exist. The essential properties are its dharma. Similarly, in water there is wetness. In clouds there is fog. In grass there is the green color. So many distinguishable characteristics are there for the many varieties of objects we see in front of us.
The human being is an interesting species because of its intelligence. It is not as fast as some animals. It cannot eat as much as others. It may not live as long as the trees. It does not have the ability to live in the ocean or survive subzero temperatures for long. Yet it has intelligence. With this tool at its disposal, it can find ways to adapt that other species can’t.
Even with its advanced intelligence, it cannot live forever. It must die, just like the other species. The other species eat, sleep, mate and defend. This means that an advanced intelligence is not required to do these things. Within the human being, the enhanced ability is to be used for finding a unique kind of happiness. There is the question of “why do I exist?” The human being can ask this question, but if it does not find a suitable answer, it will be forever unhappy.
The answer comes through dharma. The essential characteristic of all sparks of spirit is service. In the lower species, so much ignorance covers up the vital spirit soul that knowledge of this characteristic gets lost. The human being has less ignorance covering it, so it has the chance to remember this characteristic and act accordingly.
We have evidence to go by for seeing the essential characteristic. Let’s take this exercise. Who is happier, the person who always looks to eat nice things or the person who cooks nice things for others? Who is happier, the person who only buys things for themselves or the person who tries to put a smile on someone else’s face? In general, the person who serves others is happier. During tough economic times, the person interviewed on the street answers that they are doing okay, but that they are worried about their neighbor. They are concerned with the suffering they see on television. They may have hardships of their own, but they think that others are worse off.
Using a little intelligence, we see that the best way to make others happy is not to simply give them things. If I have things and am not fully satisfied through them, it means that those things aren’t so important. Rather, it is the service I find that makes me happier. By extension, others will be happy through service also.
In comes bhakti-yoga. This gives a chance for service to every living entity. Large or small, old or young, wise or not so bright – no one is excluded. Bhakti-yoga translates to “devotional service” in English, and the devotion is towards the Supreme Lord. His essential characteristics are eternality, bliss and knowledge. He is meant to be served, and all other souls are meant to serve Him. This is the natural order. Any deviation from this leads to misery. Conversely, any approach made towards the center of the reality leads to bliss.
Devotional service at the local level can follow one of nine different methods. The principal ones are hearing and chanting. I can sacrifice some time to hear about God. This is devotion if I’m hearing properly. If I hear that I am God or that anyone can become God, then my hearing is not in bhakti-yoga. If I chant the name of anyone except God, then my service is in kama, or lust, and not bhakti.
na jāyate mriyate vā kadācinnāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥajo nityaḥ śāśvato ‘yaṁ purāṇona hanyate hanyamāne śarīre
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
An easy way to hear and chant simultaneously is to recite the holy names in the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The best way to serve others is to give them the chance to hear and say these names. Giving this gift is also service, as it increases the range of the devotional culture. So as part of my bhakti-yoga, I’m giving someone else the chance to serve as well. From my own experience I know this to be the true means towards happiness. I will see others happy, and that will come back to me as well. It’s a win-win situation, and it continues endlessly. Dharma always stays with the object in question, and the object that is spirit soul never gets annihilated. It is not slain when the body is slain.
What the best thing to give,
So that others happy to live?
From object to object no taste,
Limited pleasure, effort like a waste.
From service to get happiness true,
That opportunity can give to you.
From bhakti-yoga, service in devotion,
God conscious soul stopping rebirth’s motion.