Question: What do storytellers from South India, a professor from Stanford University and two renowned sages have in common? Answer: Beautiful insights into the role of service in self-realization.
We were blessed over the weekend of February 4th to have with us the co-authors of Infinite Vision – Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy, a professor with a scientific approach to the journey of the self – Prof. Shariq and two stellar experts in the philosophy of Vedanta – Swami Viditatmanandji and Swami Swatantranandji.
We had the honour of interacting with these guests over a couple of days, including a beautiful evening at ESI Sughad. It all started off with Pavi and Suchi sharing their 5 year journey in understanding the Aravind Eye Care story. In spite of all the numbers that rolled out – 32 million eye tests, close to 4 million eye operations, this was clearly not a story of statistics. It was a humble journey of an effort rooted in compassion. The story of a retired 58 yr old Dr. V who set out with an intention of performing eye surgeries using just 11 beds. 35 years and 21 eye doctors in the family later, we now witness the world’s largest eye care institute that allowed people to ‘pay if they can afford to’ and receive the best treatment possible. The most powerful moment came when they read out an entry from the journal of Dr. V. After all those decades of service it read:
“Attachment to your village, your hospital, your state or country – that must go. You must live in your soul and face the universal consciousness. To see all as one. To have this vision and work with strength and wisdom all over the world. To give sight to all.”
Swami Viditanandji followed up with a simple definition of service – anything that manifests as a result of Love and Compassion in your heart. What is most important, is to serve with our hands, with a simple connection to what is being built at every step. Enough of the planning, service is time to do, and to feel. To serve with a sense of offering is the greatest gift we can receive. To ‘offer’ is to be ‘human’.
Swami Swatantranandji spoke about the sustainability of our service. It is of two kinds he said – internal and external. The internal service can be equated to the roots of a plant, while the leaves and flowers that blossom, are a manifestation of this. There is no either – or. They must exist together, or else it is unsustainable. He added that this is a time for us to constantly look within – and that is our greatest service to ourselves.
Prof. Shariq added his insights into the importance of a community and environment. We are all connected to one another through time via ancestors, and through space via a universal consciousness. If we work on it, he said, the time for a global humanitarian community would not be far away. Through his ‘Swagyan’ program – a structured discussion via Skype with students across the worlds in diverse backgrounds, his research helps identify the critical factors that go into creating an eco-system. His understandng is that ‘Swagyan’ or Self Understanding is the most powerful tool for creating any form of service environments.
At a powerful dinner in silence that followed, you could see that everyone had enough to chew on, and reflect. We often talk of the sustainability and impact of the work we are constantly doing. This night provided us insight into what exactly is sustainable service. Diverse speakers with diverse subjects came together to share stories about one simple fact – it is internal work that is constantly creating the most sustainable, impactful and beautiful manifestations of service.