|Krishna and Arjuna (from San Francisco Asian Art Museum)|
Tasmad asaktah satatam karyan karma Samacara
Asalto hy acaran karma param apnoti purusah
This verse is translated as “Therefore without any attachment, without interruption, perfectly perform prescribed actions since by performing prescribed actions a person achieves the highest good.”
In “The Essence of Spiritual Life,” Swami Rama explains that to do selfless service one needs to cultivate two qualities: non-attachment and a loving attitude to do selfless service. Selfless service requires that an individual perform any service without any attachment or expectation and remain unaffected by the results of such service. At the same time, such an individual needs to cultivate a loving attitude toward such a selfless task, without developing any stress from it, no matter the outcome. However, if you do not love doing some task and yet you do it, it creates a conflict in mind leading to an emotional upheaval. So learn to create love toward your selfless duties. Furthermore, notice if you are happier and satisfied at the end of the day because this is what true karma yogis have experienced; seek them out and you will commonly hear them saying that the more they serve selflessly, the more true happiness they receive. Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa come to mind if I am asked to name some karma yogis.
The essence of the Bhagavad Gita, which is repeated throughout the text, emphasizes the benefits of selfless service. Here is how Krishna puts it, regarding selfless service in Chapter 2:
“Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward, Work not for a reward; but never cease to do thy work. Do thy work in the peace of Yoga and free from selfish desires, be not moved in success or failure”—translated by Juan Mascaro.
And this approach—performing a task without any expectation, letting go of all results, whether good or bad, and focusing on the selfless action alone—is the essence of karma yoga. In the light of non-attachment, the selfless doer attains freedom from emotional disturbances, including but not limited to desires, ambitions, fear, worry, anxiety, judgment, rage, etc. This leads to true happiness.
A recent research study on volunteerism and its effects on longevity, "Motives for Volunteering Are Associated With Mortality Risk in Older Adults,” by Konrath, et al, confirms the importance of selfless service as advocated by the Bhagavad Gita. According to this study, people who volunteer may live longer than those who don’t, as long as their reasons for volunteering are to help others rather than themselves. Researchers analyzed data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study that followed a random sample of 10,317 Wisconsin high school students from their graduation in 1957 until the present. In 2004, respondents reported whether they had volunteered within the past ten years and how regularly. Respondents also mentioned their reasons for volunteering by answering ten questions. In that list were some questions regarding motives that were more oriented toward others and some that were more self oriented. The researchers then determined how many of the respondents were still alive in 2008. Following were the observations drawn from this interesting study:
- Nearly 2.3 % of the volunteers had died, compared to 4.3% of non-volunteers. The frequency of volunteer time mattered as well; less than 2% of the regular volunteers had died as opposed to 2.5% of occasional volunteers.
- The participants who volunteered only for compassionate reasons achieved the most health benefits. However, the ones who volunteered purely for personal gain or self growth were as likely to die as those who didn't volunteer at all.
- Respondents who listed social connection or altruistic values as their predominant motive were more likely to be alive compared with non-volunteers.
It is easy to understand why volunteering with an altruistic attitude helps an individual to live longer:
- Stress reduction. When helping others, the body releases an important hormone called oxytocin, which assists in buffering stressful thoughts.
- Morale. Merely thinking of a selfless service releases certain “feel-good”chemicals namely dopamine and serotonin (lack of which have both been linked with depression and other mood disorders.
- Self confidence. Self-esteem builds and confidence levels grow when you are passionate about something and helping others in need
- Health and pain reduction. Helping others has proven to help with chronic pain and cardiovascular health.