An argument was put forward: Isn’t it better to serve poor people without any desire, rather than to serve a spiritual person or Sannyasi with the desire to receive blessings in return?
From the spiritual perspective, Sewa or Service is done to purify the mind. It is perhaps the most difficult of all spiritual practices as it can be very challenging. When we start serving others, it helps in developing kindness, love, compassion towards all fellow beings. During the period, when we are serving others, we often fall short of certain parameters. Sometimes, we find that we are agitated or disturbed by events or behavior. This is the moment of introspection that gives us a chance to observe ourselves and to cleanse our mind of these impurities in the form of agitation and disturbances.
People often use this expression ‘I know that’ but they don’t really know it, for to merely know anything in terms of empty knowledge, without its practice, is not real knowledge. The mind has a quality that is not well understood by most Humans, the mind tends to absorb everything around us including the environment and therefore takes the form of the objects around us, be they objects of desire, hatred or merely objects within the scope of our five senses. The intensity however, may vary. Eventually, the mind will be formed by its associations. If the mind is in the midst of sensual pleasures and material objects it will make a person sensual, epicurean and hedonistic, whereas, a mind that is in the midst of spiritual pursuits, service to others and self development; will change to benefit the person by uplifting their consciousness. Ultimately, the mind is an instrument that can be molded, directed, formed and given a path on which you wish to take it, but this is easier said than done. The mind, as I mentioned before, will absorb everything around your environment; and whatever is happening all around you is rather difficult to control. So the important things to pay attention to are the environment you choose and the association that you form, be it your friends, colleagues or family. Therefore, the mind must be put to good deeds and connected to persons with higher thinking, higher goals and higher consciousness specifically for the sake of ensuring that it develops into a higher mind, but all this is, as much as, to keep the mind away from bad habits, poor character and actions that lower consciousness.
Often, when Hindus speak of spirituality and noble works, they accept Nish-Kaam bhav (The position of doing service to others without any desire for anything in return) as superior. This is absolutely correct; however, unless, a person is an enlightened master, there are two qualifications.
Firstly, a person who does any action irrespective of wanting or not wanting anything in return will always find that some exchange takes place. This exchange need not be financial, but it would be mental and emotional. The impressions of the people you interact with, will irrespective of your desire to accept or reject them, influence you. This may be in a positive or negative direction. Here, it must also be pointed out that the type of people with whom one associates with, affects the mind. People who spend time with criminals and prostitutes in an attempt to influence them to improve will find that some of their roughness rubs of them in return. One can find these social workers using foul language or policemen becoming harsher and more violent, whereas, their mental well being is also affected for the worse. However, when one reverses the equation and builds an association with people who have higher qualities, the effects will be that one will find that the mind becomes calmer, the actions and movements softer, the mental well being is better.
The second qualification is that when a person has a desire for enlightenment and liberation, for evolving to have a higher consciousness, such desire is not considered as a desire in Hindu thought, for the simple reason that the path from darkness to light has a positive effect. One cannot achieve liberation or be enlightened without walking on the spiritual path. To walk on the spiritual path, one has to have a desire for uplifting oneself. So any argument, that considers any action done with a desire to improve oneself, as inferior, is incorrect. Therefore, anyone saying that the service given to Sannyasis or Sadhus with the desire for receiving blessings or merit is inferior is simply going contrary to correct understanding of values. The desire to serve Sadhus is not based on the Tamasi emotion of greed, rather it is based on the Sattvik emotion of progress, of evolving and of higher values. Each human being wants to improve oneself for it is the desire of the soul to improve to progress.
For any person to progress spiritually, they have to develop two qualities. These are Knowledge and Compassion. Without knowledge your compassion will bind you to this world, without knowledge you will be blind. And without compassion your knowledge will not really bear fruit, it will never be true knowledge, for it will only be dry and sharp like a sword, bereft of sweetness. For knowledge to blossom one has to have regular spiritual practice and Vairagya (non attachment), while for compassion to develop, one has to have Love, Kindness and the quality of Service.
An effort to serve the poor will help change your consciousness, and it is a noble undertaking that must be pursued. However, the question raised here was serving the poor in comparison to serving Spiritual persons, Sadhus and Sannyasis, which is mistakenly considered as unimportant. When one serves the poor, one is not connected with Humans with higher consciousness. But when one serves a spiritual person, the connection is with a person who has higher aims and higher consciousness. So when one serves a spiritual person, the benefits of their Tapasya (penance) and blessings is received. These are received irrespective of whether you desire them or not, so one can do the same sewa with Nish Kaam bhav. These blessings help one to uplift the mind towards higher goals. They help instill a balance in the person, to centre the mind, to awaken a desire for knowledge, to make them more compassionate, to serve others and to change towards positive habits and positive goals. The service done for spiritual people helps one in being able to live life better and to serve others better, in fact, it would prepare a person to serve the poor better. Therefore, such service becomes a vehicle for change towards a positive direction. So choose wisely.
Bhagvat Gita 2:50. Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam. Yog is doing works skillfully.
(Choose that deed which leads you to higher consciousness, for that is doing works skillfully.)
(The explanation of this Shlok refers to a technical aspect of Samkhya Yog, however, this is one explanation from a specific point of view).