Compassion is concern for suffering and the desire to eliminate it. Seva is a Sanskrit word spoken in yoga circles that means selfless service. Bodhicitta is a Buddhist term, one form of which involves doing good for the sake of others. Both represent compassion in action performed selflessly. There is an intention to eliminate suffering with no attachment to outcome – no expectation of repayment or reward.
A sense of equality and interconnection also lies at the heart of selfless service. Unlike acting out of pity or sympathy, when we act out of compassion we recognize the universal in suffering and we experience a mutual uplifting. We are not helping the helpless, saving sinners, or assisting the disadvantaged. We are simply benefiting each other.
When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union – Bhagavad Gita
Ultimately we all suffer together and elimination of suffering in one reduces the suffering of all, if only incrementally. As the saying goes, hurting people hurt others. When suffering is decreased, hurtful behavior often decreases as well. The world becomes a better place to live for everyone. Selfless service is a devotional practice that often benefits both receiver and giver. In fact, there is a growing research base showing that compassion is good for our health.
Anyone can practice compassion in action. It is the intention that matters most.
Helping out is not some special skill. It is not the domain of rare individuals. It is not confined to a single part of our lives. We simply heed the call of that natural impulse within and follow it where it leads us. – Ram Dass
Through these selfless acts we soften, become more open, and transcend ego to connect with the universal. We begin to see through the conditioned stinginess and defensiveness that can be our habitual reaction to the school of hard knocks. In this way we develop a broader perspective which allows us to be wiser and happier.