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Inspirational Article


Sacred Selfishness

by Paramhansa Yogananda

From East-West Magazine, November-December 1929

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The Law of Service to others is secondary to, and born out of, the law of self-interest and self-preservation. The real reason behind the scriptural injunction to "Serve thy fellowmen" and  "Love thy neighbor as thyself" is the law of service, by which devotees expand the limits of their own selves.

Gaining God's favor

To serve others by financial, mental, or moral help is to find self-satisfaction. If anyone knew beyond doubt that by service to others, his own soul would be lost, would he serve? If Jesus knew that by sacrificing his life on the altar of ignorance he would displease God, would he have acted as he did?

No. Though Jesus had to lose the body, he knew he was gaining his Father's favor. All the martyrs and saints make a good investment—they spend the little mortal body to gain immortal life.

Even the most self-sacrificing act of service to others is done with the thought of self. It is logical, therefore, to say that the higher selfishness, or the good of the higher Self, is the goal of life rather than service to others without thought of self.

The cause of modern depressions

We must, however, clearly distinguish between three kinds of selfishness—evil, good, and sacred. The evil kind is that which actuates a man to seek his own comfort by destroying the comfort of others. To become rich at the cost of others' loss is a sin. Modern depressions are caused by evil selfishness, which leads to unequal prosperity amidst plenty.

The businessman who thinks and acts only for himself, thinking neither of his clients or customers, nor of those dependent on him for support, is engaged in evil selfishness. Such a man is acting against his own best selfish interests, for in time he will suffer. Evil selfishness hides its destructive teeth of suffering beneath the seemingly innocent assurances of comfort and gain.

To delight in hurting others' feelings by carping criticism is another form of evil selfishness. This malignant pleasure is not conducive to any lasting good.

Good selfishness leads to self-expansion

The businessman who, by honest, wholesome, constructive actions looks after his own and his family's needs is engaged in good selfishness. Good selfishness causes a man to seek his own comfort, prosperity, and happiness by also making others more prosperous and happy.

Unlike evil selfishness, which isolates a person and shuts out the rest of humanity, good selfishness reaches out and brings everyone into the circle of brotherhood. Good selfishness yields many harvests—return services from others, self-expansion, happiness, divine sympathy.

To avoid the pitfalls of evil selfishness, a person should first establish himself in the good forms of selfishness, where he thinks of his family and those he serves, as part of himself. From that attainment, he can then advance to the practice of sacred selfishness (or unselfishness, as ordinary understanding would term it), where one sees the entire universe as oneself.

Becoming the Self of all

To be sacredly selfish is to seek happiness in the joy of others, and to try constantly to remove the wants of larger and larger groups of people. Using his best judgment and intuition, the man of sacred selfishness acts without expectation, and helps himself "as the many" with health, food, work, success and spiritual emancipation. He lives to love his brethren, for he knows we are all children of the one God.

The man of sacred selfishness takes on the suffering of others in order to make them free from further suffering. He counts all his earthly losses as deliberately chosen by himself for the good of others, and for his own and ultimate gain.

His entire selfishness is sacred, for whenever he thinks of himself, he thinks, not of the small body and mind of ordinary understanding, but of the needs of all bodies and minds within the range of his influence. When he does anything for himself, he can do only that which is good for all.

The man of sacred selfishness becomes the mind and feeling of all creatures and his "self" becomes the Self of all. He whose body and limbs consist of all humanity and all creatures finds the universal, all-pervading Spirit as himself.

The altar of all-expanding goodness

Good selfishness and sacred selfishness put one in touch with God, resting on the altar of all-expanding goodness. Those who realize this truth work conscientiously only to please the ever-directing God-peace within.