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THE SPIRITUAL SCIENTIST
A Cyber Magazine for Those Who Think
Vol 3 Issue 12
Is Manava Seva Not Madhava Seva?
(Is Service to Man Not Service to God?)
Picture the sights of a child with match-stick like arms and a bloated stomach indicative of chronic malnutrition, a
grief-stricken family standing besides the rubble that was their home prior to a devastating earthquake, a crippled
beggar struggling to drag himself along the floor on a metropolitan railway station, piteously calling for alms and a
bright-eyed young woman dejectedly contemplating the prospect of inevitable blindness due to not having money to do
a cataract operation. Graphic sights of human suffering like these touch the hearts of all sensitive human beings and
impel them to compassionate relief work according to their capacity. On seeing such intense suffering all around-
suffering which can apparently be counteracted by material means, some people tend to think of religion and worship as
an unaffordable luxury. And the idea of spending lavishly on religious worship while thousands starve to death appears
to be an expression of heartless apathy of the religious for the suffering of their fellow humans.
manava seva madhava seva essay in english and Hindi
Social service being a practical expression of natural human concern and compassion for the distressed, undoubtedly
has an important place in every civilized society. However slogans like “Manava seva is Madhava seva” (Service to man is
service to God) often have a covert undertone, “Religion and spirituality are unnecessary and indeed undesirable. These
are anachronisms from an age of sentiment, blind faith and utopian longings, which intelligent moderns should replace
with practical measures to uplift others.” In bringing about a better world, can service to man replace entirely service
to God? Or, even if God is not completely banished from modern human society, can service to God be kept on the
backburner till service to man brings about adequate alleviation of human suffering? We will address these questions in
this article by considering a widespread social problem – starvation and generalizing the principles explored therein for
THE CAUSES OF STARVATION
On seeing a starving person, an instinctive reaction is to want to give some food. This will certainly offer some
immediate relief, but a thoughtful person will also ponder: “A few hours later he will be hungry again. What has brought
this person to the stage of starvation? And how can that cause be permanently tackled?” Some of the sociological
causes of starvation relevant to our discussion are analyzed below:
- Wanton living and self-destructive behavior (among the poor):
Many people who can and do earn enough to at least make ends meet squander their hard-earned precious earnings on
bad habits like smoking, drinking and drugs. It is not uncommon for a social welfare worker to meet a family that is on
the streets facing starvation because the head of the family has lost everything – savings, furniture, ornaments,
house, job and even health – the basis of future earning – all due to his alcoholic addiction.
- Regular travelers generally
have the experience that many beggars refuse to accept food and want only money because they can use money to buy
cigarettes. Natural disasters like earthquakes are known to be big business opportunities for alcohol peddlers because
the quake-hit people tend to use the relief money not to rehabilitate themselves, but to get intoxicated and try to
forget their suffering rather than rectify it. Is providing material relief to addicted people not like pouring water into
a bucket with a large hole at the bottom? No matter how much they are helped materially, their situation will not be
truly ameliorated till their habits are rectified. And at a material level, national governments and international
organizations have been dismally unsuccessful in averting this tragedy of self-destruction.
- Greed and Exploitation (among the affluent):
The problem of starvation is not so much due to shortage of resources but due to
- manava seva madhava seva in telugu essay
- mismanagement of resources.
Mahatma Gandhi has stated, “There is enough in this world for everyone’ need but not for everyone’s greed.” A study
by the University of California’s Division of Agriculture Science shows that by practicing the best agricultural methods
now in use, the world’s farmers could raise enough food to provide a meat-centered diet for a population 10 times
greater than at present. And if people would be satisfied with an equally nourishing but mostly vegetarian diet, a
population 30 times greater than at present could be fed. (This is because for every 16 pounds of grains fed to beef
cattle, only 1 pound of meat is obtained in return) In her well-researched book Food First, Francis Moore Lappe points
out that much of the world’s best land is being misused for production of cash export crops. Both these causes of
under-use or misuse of precious land resources leading ultimately to starvation are entirely due to greed among the
Starvation does indeed occur sometimes due to factors beyond human control such as abnormally low rains, but even
then the impact of the natural calamity is compounded by the way humans respond to it. A study of the famines in
Africa showed that on every occasion the affected nation had within its own boundaries the food resources to feed its
starving citizens, but relief was intentionally withheld due to economic or political motives. The merchants wanted to
hoard the grains, cause artificial inflation and earn more profit. Or the politicians wanted to deprive regions supporting
the opposing politicians and thus settle old scores or gain greater strength. On some occasions the food-grains would
be allowed to rot in the go-downs while people all around would be starving. Or worse still the crops would be
deliberately burned or grains intentionally sunk in the oceans, while the poor all around were burning in hunger and
sinking to death.
During a morning walk through a slum area, Srila Prabhupada noticed some stout people jogging down the road. He
poignantly commented that in the huts people didn’t get enough to eat, while the wealthy tended to overeat and were
then forced to jog to decrease their weight! Consider further the following UNICEF statistics:
• To satisfy the world’s sanitation and food requirements would cost only US$13 billion – what the people of the
United States and the European Union spend on perfume each year.
• Nearly one in four people, 1.3 billion – a majority of humanity – live on less than $1 per day, while the world’s 358
billionaires have assets exceeding the combined annual incomes of countries with 45 percent of the world’s
Thus greed is one of the invisible yet universal causes of starvation. Can material welfare work counter greed? A social
worker may get charity from a wealthy person and use it for offering some relief. But as long as greed impels the
haves to exploit the have-nots at every level individually, socially and globally, will the relief that social welfare
offers be anything more than a drop of water in a desert?
IS MATERIAL WELFARE ENOUGH?
Taking the discussion to a more fundamental level, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to specify what exactly constitutes
service to man? In our context, it would refer to any activity that offers relief from human suffering. Hunger is
certainly a misery and feeding the hungry is undoubtedly a service. But does regular and nutritious food-supply solve all
the problems of life? If it did, then should the well-fed people not be problem-free and happy? We know from our own
experience that this is not true. Hunger is an acute problem that pushes us to immediate action, but when we are
relieved of hunger there are many other problems office tensions, family demands, relationship worries, financial
concerns, social obligations, to name a few – which continue to keep us in agitation and anxiety. Thus by feeding the
hungry without offering them any spiritual help, we are not solving their problem: we are merely changing the
form of their problem. This does not mean that we should be heartless and let the hungry starve to death, rather we
should recognize the limitations of material welfare and not consider spiritual solace to be redundant.
At this point a question is often raised, especially in the undeveloped and underdeveloped countries like India,
“Spirituality may have its place in human society, but first we need to take care of the body, then we can worry about
the soul.” Focusing on material progress without paying any attention to spiritual nourishment is exactly the path
followed by modern western society. Let us see what has been its result.
Modern society, buttressed by successes in science and technology, has progressed considerably in the physical
welfare of humanity in fields like medicine, transportation, communication, aerospace and so on. Simultaneously the
mechanistic scientific theories about the origin and purpose of the universe and life have given rise to a culture in
which most people tend to reject ar at least neglect the spiritual dimension of life. However whether the combination
of zealous material progress and total spiritual apathy has actually made people problem-free and happy is open to
question. Individually, anxiety, stress, loneliness, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide are alarmingly
spiraling Socially, maral and ethical values are being almost irreversibly eraded and divorces, childhood delinquency.
mindless violence and hardcore criminality are rapidly rising. Globally, we are being increasingly haunted by the
specters of terrorism and scientific nuclear, biological or chemical – holocausts. And overall the perpetual problems
of material existence old age, disease and death continue to crush us relentlessly, despite our much-vaunted
Moreover science in fields as wide-ranging as cosmology, anthropology, paleontology, sociology, psychology, biology.
chemistry and physics has come up with intriguing findings. These strongly suggest that bedrock tenets of spirituality
such as God and soul are very much a scientific possibility or even a reality. Certainly they are much more than just
sentimental longings of an unscientific mind, as was widely thought a few decades ago.
Consequently Western society, despite its tremendous material progress, is witnessing a significant revival in
spirituality. More and more people are turning to prayer, meditation and yaga to gain solace amidst reversals, conquer
self-destructive habits, pacify the stressed mind, discover a deeper meaning to life and achieve fulfillment higher
than that offered by inane mundane pleasures.
Thus what does an objective look at modern human society, unbiased by a modern superiority complex and un-
bewildered by the superficial glitter of technological gadgets reveal? It shows that seeking material betterment
without spiritual growth has not only not succeeded, but has also to some extent backfired. The late British historian
Sir Arnold Toynbee has noted, “The cause [of the world’s malady] is spiritual. We are suffering from having sold our
souls to the pursuit of an objective, which is both spiritually wrong and practically unattainable. We have to reconsider
our objective and change it, and until we do this, we shall not have peace either amongst ourselves or within each of
us.” The mistaken objective is the pursuit of materialism to the exclusion of spirituality.
THE ROOT CAUSE OF ALL SUFFERING
At this point, one may get the question, “Service to man may have its limitations. But how does service to God solve any
problems? And how are these spiritual solutions practically applicable in the modern world?” In our modern times the
words God and religion have acquired a lot of negative coverage and connotations. And the word spirituality, though
much more politically correct and socially acceptable, is little understood, despite being widely used. The Vedic texts
of ancient India give us clear answers to the fundamental questions of life such as the nature of the self, the cause of
suffering and the purpose of existence. The fundamental Vedic principles agree with the essential teachings of most of
the world’s major religions. Pertinent to our discussion, the Vedic texts give the most coherent and cogent analysis of
the cause and the cure for suffering.
The Vedic teachings begin by unequivocally asserting that our identity is not material, but spiritual; we are eternal
souls covered by temporary material bodies (Bhagavad-gita 2.13). We belong to an immortal realm, variously known as
the kingdom of God or the spiritual world, where we enjoy everlasting happiness in a loving relationship with the
Supreme Person, God. Known by various names such as Jehovah, Christ, Allah, Buddha and Rama in different religious
traditions, God is most fully described by the name Krishna (meaning “all-attractive”). In order to enable us to fully
experience the joy of love in the spiritual world, Krishna gives us free will to voluntarily choose to love and serve Him.
But when we misuse our free will and desire enjoyment separate from service to Him, we are placed in the material
world. Here we are given a material body, which causes us to forget our spiritual identity and offers us the sensory
apparatus for interacting with the foreign material environment. Within the framework of this bodily misidentification,
we seek different material relationships, experiences, possessions and positions according to our dreams and schemes.
As all the souls have unlimited desires for enjoyment and the resources of this world are limited, we undergo an
intense struggle for enjoyment. However being spiritual by constitution we can never become happy by gratifying our
body and its extensions, just as a driver can never be nourished by fuelling his car. Sa irrespective of whether we
succeed or not in our plans for material enjoyment, we remain mostly dissatisfied, the difference of dissatisfaction is
only in the degree. And ultimately all our dreams turn into nightmares as our bodies the very basis of all our
enjoyment are battered by disease, wrecked by old age and destroyed by death. Then based on our desires and
activities we are given other suitable bodies – human or subhuman. There we continue our vain struggle far existence
and enjoyment in a world of suffering and death. Thus material attempts for happiness are insubstantial – even when
successful they do not offer real lasting happiness, and futile they inevitably fail against the inexorable farce of
time, which deteriorates and destroys everything material. Only the souls in the human farm have sufficiently evolved
consciousness and intelligence to understand and remedy their terrible predicament in the material tabernacle.
Therefore the Vedic texts urge intelligent humans to dedicate themselves to spiritual emancipation, a purpose far
more lofty and fruitful than material well being.
In fact the Vedic texts declare that the sufferings within this world are specifically designed to give us an impetus to
raise our consciousness to the spiritual plane, where we automatically re-achieve our right to eternal happiness. Thus
for the errant souls who have rebelled against Krishna, this world is like a reformatory meant, not to torture them,
but to teach them to return to harmony with Him. Srila Prabhupada writes, “The miseries of material existence serve
to indirectly remind us of our incompatibility with matter.”
WELFARE WORK-SUPERFICIAL AND SUBSTANTIAL
Imagine a welfare worker who zealously seeks to transfer a prisoner from a dark dingy dungeon (a C class prison cell)
to a ventilated, clean room (a A class prison cell). Is his endeavor truly meaningful or productive? Such a change, even
if successful, serves neither the purpose of the prison reformation of the prisoners, nor the ultimate interests of
the prisoner freedom from captivity. The Vedic texts prompt us to ponder: are those offer material betterment
without spiritual elevation much different? Their efforts serve neither the purpose of the material world –
rectification of the rebellious mentality of the souls, nor their own ultimate interests – freedom from the inevitable
sufferings of material existence, repeated birth and death. Therefore Srila Prabhupada would often compare such
efforts to the blowing of a painful festering boil; despite the temporary relief, it does no actual good.
Worse still, the Vedic texts caution us, such efforts may even be harmful. A prisoner whose due term of punishment is
artificially waived may never learn his lesson; his criminal inclination may be perpetuated ar even aggravated. Similarly
the universal government represented by material nature puts different souls in different degrees of suffering
according to their own karma – either in their present or past lives. (We can see to some extent how natural justice
chastises wrongdoers. Lung and other respiratory disorders penalize smokers; liver diseases afflict alcoholics and
AIDS and other STDs punish illicit sex-mangers. We may not be able to trace the causes of all the sufferings of
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