“Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.65)
Friend1: Devotional service. We use that term quite often.
Friend2: It’s the preferred English translation for “bhakti-yoga.”
Friend1: Bhakti is love and devotion. Where does this idea of service come in?
Friend2: Yoga is a connection, a link. The individual with the Supreme. It’s a link in devotion.
Friend1: Yeah. So?
Friend2: How else would that link be established and maintained, other than service?
Friend1: You can be devoted to someone and not be their servant.
Friend2: As in?
Friend1: The spouse. That is a partner. A good friend. An equal.
Friend2: I’ve got news for you. Each one of those people is rendering service.
Friend1: True, but they are not designated as “servant.” That has a negative connotation to it. People don’t want to be lower on the organizational chart. If they ever have to assume that role, they count the days until the experience is over. That is the entire objective in what is called “upward mobility.”
Friend2: I’m starting to understand now. It’s not the service aspect that bothers you. It’s the title that seems kind of demeaning.
Friend2: For starters, do you know that in recent times high class individuals would refer to themselves as “your humble servant” quite often?
Friend1: I did not. How recent?
Friend2: A few hundred years ago. Go research the correspondence of the founding fathers of the United States of America. Benjamin Franklin used to end his letters with something like, “I beg to always remain, your humble servant.”
Friend2: It wasn’t weird. It wasn’t demeaning. It was the etiquette of the gentleman. To be of service to someone is to show affection.
Friend1: Devotees are thus being gentlemen-like?
Friend2: That is one of their characteristics. They are perfect gentlemen. They are well-behaved. They are polite. They are free of the most harmful sinful tendencies like drinking, smoking, and gambling.
Friend1: I understand what you are saying, but try telling this to people who have had bad experiences in established institutions of bhakti-yoga.
Friend2: Well, that’s a different issue. I’m referring to the devotee who is actually in bhakti-yoga; not the pretender.
Friend1: Service in yoga is exalted, then? It’s not demeaning.
Friend2: It’s the most exalted. This is because Bhagavan is not an ordinary object of service. He takes to heart even a single good gesture. He never forgets. Remember that He explained this to Arjuna when giving the history of the Bhagavad-gita.
“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)
This shouldn’t require a theoretical explanation, either. Just take a look at some of the most famous devotees.
Friend1: Hanuman comes to mind.
Friend2: Do you think he considered the service to be demeaning? He risked his life. He carried Rama and Lakshmana on his shoulders. He did both the most amazing things and the most menial in his service. He was never too proud to help Rama, an incarnation of God.
Friend1: I guess that’s the issue. We are conditioned to think of the servant role as low, something from which to advance.
Friend2: Conditioned is the perfect word. Material existence is about competition and constantly increasing sense gratification. Spiritual existence is about remaining in the constitutional position, that of servant of God, who is always connected with us.
Bhakti as service translated,
How yoga to work related?
Not of the ordinary kind,
Where demeaning in mind.
Like Hanuman putting on his shoulders two,
Anything for Rama and Lakshmana to do.
Service gentleman-like in this way,
For God in topmost position to stay.