Purohit Swami was born in India in 1882. In 1931 he visited England and met the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. The outcome of that meeting and the friendship that ensued were the translations of the Gita and the Ten Principal Upanishads that are still much in use to-day. In this passage of his autobiography he speaks of service:
To be a servant is a good touchstone of spiritual life. A man may be willing to give money, to give much of his time to others, but not his body like a slave. Egoism always stands in the way. That is why many saints undergo a rigorous period of personal service. My master loved me, always looked after my comforts first, praised any good action, and forgot to chide me for mistakes. He accepted with perfect cheerfulness whatever was offered. This was not service in a strict sense, but only a first lesson.
My master said: ‘What is yoga? Yoga is skill in action, as the Lord Shrikrishna says in His Geeta.’ As he spoke I suspected what was in store for me. The greatness of yoga lies in application of life.
Only by serving a man who neither loved nor respected me, who was thoroughly worldly and yet thought himself a holy person, could I learn the meaning of service. The idea was not without its romance, and appealed to my ambition.
I took a place as an ordinary servant on a mere pittance per month, and one meal a day, full time and no luxuries. I brought my wife with me and she also served as an ordinary servant in the household. The children were with us, and food and raiment for them were included in the terms. Thus began my third stage in life, Vanaprastha, or the preparation for complete renunciation.
I was managing the business of my employer from morning till midnight; a terrible task which taught me what real hardship meant. The Sanskrit verse says: ‘The religion of service is extremely difficult; even for great yogis.’ I was cashier, accountant, clerk, supervisor, manager and porter. There was no question of appreciation for whatever was well done, my employer took the credit; but failure was always due to me. This is the real power of money; in that world virtue adheres to wealth; a beggar like me has none. A rich man is supposed never to lie or commit sin. Riches is knowledge, riches is virtue, riches is power, riches is divinity, and the man without riches is a brute and deserves to be kicked. He does not deserve to live in this world at all. Such is the theory of wealth.
My concern was not with humiliation or indignity, but with service and love. To love a man incapable of reciprocating the feeling is walking on fire, and to me fell the honour of attempting it.
My master helped me in my ordeal. He was in the thick of the fight, guarding me, helping me and giving me his spiritual consolation.
I had no knowledge of this world. Now I began to learn. Thank Heaven for giving me a chance of seeing the other side of things. I was associated with my employer to such an extent that people marvelled; how could they understand? Few understand spiritual trials. ‘Once a friend, always a friend’, was my motto. Disinterested service was my watchword. Now in spite of sincere efforts, I gave satisfaction to no single soul. To convince anybody of your motives is very difficult. Your task is to convince yourself, and act with God in your heart and God overhead.
That I did, and came successfully through after four years’ trial; Then I gave notice and left. My wife and children went to the ashram of my master, and I went to Bombay.
(Shri Purohit Swami ‘The Autobiography of an Indian Monk’ Ch. 23)
Some might think that it is not difficult to find ungrateful and awkward people to serve. They may seem to be there in abundance. Whatever the case, however, it is possible to use the situation to good advantage. The chance is to use any situation to practise service and devotion. Whether that is towards a particular person or some institution or ideal will vary.
This can be done in the understanding that in fact the devotion is towards universal truth. Some may call that God or the Lord or the Absolute. In any event an action performed in this spirit will be refined and uplifting.