Sri Ramakrishna says: “Through selfless work, love of God grows in the heart. Then, through His grace, one realizes Him in the course of time.” (1)
Why does selfless work cause the love of God to grow in the heart. Well, here’s my guess on it.
The love of God is inherent in us. But it’s buried under what we add to it. In my view, life is so planned that any worldly product of our mind is capable of concealing God – for a time. Then God’s love and light begin to seep through any crack that exists in the wall, any chink in the facade.
In my opinion, God has designed life with a longing for Him/Her/It built into us. Sri Shankara called it the longing for liberation (2) and it’s like a long, long cord that He (She/It) tugs on to draw us ineluctably and over long stretches of time, back to Him. On other occasions I’ve compared it to a homing beacon or a lighthouse directing the travelling ship.
The obstacles to feeling that love and realizing Him must be renewed every day. We have to erect the wall of selfishness over and over again. We have to desire the things of the world over God day after day. If we stop focusing on ourselves and desiring the possessions and pleasures of the world over the love of God, then these barriers, which are not self-replenishing or permanent, begin to crumble and fall away, albeit slowly.
If we actually engage in work that’s selfless, we begin to remove the wall between us and God, brick by brick. Why? because selflessness is a divine quality. We begin to become more like God is. Becoming like God eventually leads to knowledge of God because, I think, that’s the way God designed things.
At first not much is removed and not much love for God is felt. But little by little renunciation of or dispassion towards the things of the world grows, as Sri Ramakrishna testifies: “Renunciation means to have dispassion for the things of the world. One cannot acquire [it] all of a sudden. They must be practised every day.” (3)
Undoubtedly everything is sped up these days so that it would probably be easier and quicker to develop detachment now than it would’ve been a century ago.
Detachment applies to everything impermanent, worldly, and sensory. It doesn’t apply to anything permanent, divine, or supersensory.
It isn’t that one needs to avoid the former. It’s more that we need to be equanimous with having or not having it, doing or not doing it, being or not being it. It needs to be OK with us that we have it and OK that we not have it. We need to be equal-minded and not lose the balance of our mind.
To not lose the balance of the mind means to remain in the center, in the heart, where the soul resides. The soul is God. So we let go of “I want,” of ego and desire, of selfishness and worldly pleasure, and remain in the center, where God is to be found.
We let go of them, and watch the facade of ignorance and wanting crumble, exposing the love of God that God has built into us, which cannot ultimately be squelched and will always eventually reassert itself and carry us all home.
Some reach home in the morning, some in the afternoon, and some in the evening, but all eventually reach home and realize their true identity as God. Detachment from the things of the world speeds us on our way. And selfless service is how detachment manifests in our relations with others.
(1) Paramahansa Ramakrishna in Swami Nikhilananda, trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1978; c1942, 109. [Hereafter GSR.]
(2) See “The Longing for Liberation” at http://goldenageofgaia.com/spiritual-essays/the-longing-for-liberation/.
(3) Paramahansa Ramakrishna in GSR, 179.