“O son of Kunti, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.27)
यत् करोषि यद् अश्नासि
यज् जुहोषि ददासि यत्
यत् तपस्यसि कौन्तेय
तत् कुरुष्व मद्-अर्पणम्
yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
yat tapasyasi kaunteya
tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
Friend1: You’ve heard it many times.
Friend2: What is that?
Friend1: It arrives with a specific attitude. Defensiveness. Though no one is specifically challenging them, they feel they need to retort, to present a counterargument.
Friend2: Who is “they”?
Friend1: The people who push forward this philosophy.
“Service to man is service to God. Be kind to the poor. Elevate the downtrodden. That is more important than opening a temple and worshiping a deity. In fact, without such service the offerings to God are not accepted.”
Friend2: Ah, yes. We certainly do hear this quite often.
Friend1: What is your response?
Friend2: Do I have to give one?
Friend2: There are so many ways to address this.
Friend1: You mean “refute.”
Friend2: Not necessarily. If I choose the approach of agreement, then I can point to an incident in the Ramayana. Prior to leaving for the forest for fourteen years, Shri Rama explains to His wife Sita Devi that the parents are something like the living deities. If we worship God and godly figures properly, then why not the people who are before us right now?
अस्वाधीनं कथं दैवं प्रकारैरभिराध्यते।
स्वाधीनं समतिक्रम्य मातरं पितरं गुरुम्।।
asvādhīnaṃ kathaṃ daivaṃ prakārairabhirādhyate।
svādhīnaṃ samatikramya mātaraṃ pitaraṃ gurum।।
“How can we worship in various ways the Divine, who is not within our reach, if we neglect mother, father and guru, who are within our reach?” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 30.33)
Friend2: You have the opportunity to show your true character. Shri Rama’s father gave the order for the son to leave, to abandon the throne that was rightfully going to be His. Rama obliged. He did not fight. He accepted because there was honor of the father, who was pious in every way.
Friend1: And disobeying that order would be like going against a living deity.
Friend2: Right. Only in special cases do you get reciprocation from the object of worship in the temple. Normally, you realize the benefits in other ways. Most often there is the change in consciousness. Rama did not even need to worship, as He is the Supreme Lord Himself, but He did so to set the proper example.
Friend1: Okay, but what if you wanted to refute the original argument?
Friend2: What exactly is “service to man”? Is it simply giving people food to eat? That is noble, for sure, but what happens if the recipients grow up to be criminals? You are then complicit to some degree.
Friend1: They will say that such service pleases God the most.
Friend2: Actually, that is another flaw in the argument. You have to reference authority. You cannot just make stuff up. Shri Krishna advises Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita to do everything important in life as an offering to Him. Whatever gets consumed, whatever gets sacrificed, whatever charity is given away, whatever austerities are performed – tat kurushva mad arpanam.
Friend1: Okay, so wouldn’t the person doing “service” to mankind be doing that as an offering to God? Let’s say that I open up a hospital. I name it after an avatara of Vishnu. Is that not an offering?
Friend2: Again, it should be authorized. It should be with the proper consciousness and also the proper understanding of the Almighty. Another person could feel like they are doing service by killing hundreds of people at once. They use the “offering” excuse. Will that work?
Friend1: Of course not.
Friend2: Then? The truth is that worship in the temple, singing songs in glorification, spreading the virtues found in Vedic literature – this is actually the best service to mankind. It brings a lasting benefit to everyone affected. King Parikshit learned he had only seven days to live. He did not spend it eating his favorite dishes. He did not open a hospital. He sat down on the banks of the Yamuna and heard Shrimad Bhagavatam. He did not eat or drink anything. There was austerity. There was charity in giving up the kingdom.
Friend1: You could probably say that he was being selfish. He wasn’t necessarily concerned with others.
Friend2: Yes, and who is expected to be at such a time? Yet look what happened. That decision to hear the glories of Shri Krishna, without cessation, benefitted the entire world both at the time and moving forward. We are still benefitting today through that choice. He performed the best service to man because he followed authority. He did not make up some method of service and then try to invoke God at the tail-end.
Made up service time to spend,
Then invoking God’s name at end.
Argument commonly of this kind,
That superior to deity in mind.
But like Parikshit decision key,
Benefit entire world to see.
That simply glories to hear,
To guru and Krishna coming near.